2003) Was Jesus Part Irish? (a)

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The next two meditations were taken from a sermon I gave on St. Patrick’s Day of 2019.

Gospel:  Luke 13:31-35  —  At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else.  Herod wants to kill you.”  Jesus replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’  In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem! “

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.  Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

     On this St. Patrick’s Day, I will try to make the case that Jesus was at least part Irish.  I base this not on any historical evidence, but on the fact that Jesus could, at times, display some very Irish characteristics in his personality and ways of dealing with people.  If you bear with me for a little bit of silliness as I pursue this line of thought, I will, by the end, get around to today’s Gospel text, and perhaps make a serious point out of it all.

     Actually, I am a bit of an expert on the Irish, even though I am of 100% German descent.  I base my knowledge on the fact that I grew up with so many of them.  I grew up in a town that was made up of about half Germans and half Irish, and not much of anything else.  In fact, when I was in grade school, on the afternoon of St. Patrick’s Day each year, all classes would be dismissed and everyone would go to the gym for a basketball game—the German high school boys against the Irish boys.  What about the others, you might ask; didn’t they get to play?  That question never occurred to us, because back then in my hometown you were either German or Irish (for the most part).

     Even though the town was so ethnically and culturally divided, we all got along pretty well—that is, just so there was no intermarriage.  We all had strict orders from our grandmothers to not marry or ever even date anyone from the other side.  There were to be no German Lutherans marrying Irish Catholics, or it meant big trouble.  It happened all the time, of course, but it always led to an uproar.  In fact, this week’s local newspaper featured a married couple now in their 70’s, the Grand Marshalls of this year’s annual St. Patrick’s Day parade.  He is a one hundred percent Irishman whose family came from County Cork, Ireland, 150 years ago.  She is full-blooded German.  She said her dad ‘flipped his lid’ in 1966 when they told her parents that they were engaged.  Her dad hollered, he said many bad words, and then he refused to talk to the quiet young man.  The young man then went off to the Vietnam War for a year with that angry old German on his mind to worry about all the while.  After several years things got better, but that is how it was back then.

     Cross-cultural friendships were no problem, so along with friends named Schultz, Schumann, and Albrecht, I had friends named Flaherty, Murphy, and O’Brien.  We knew that we had different rules to follow at church.  For example, we had to memorize the catechism and they had to go to confession.  But none of that presented any problems for our friendship.

     It was working on farms that I noticed the differences most—first when I would work for different farmers baling hay and cleaning barn, and then when I was working for my dad picking up milk at dairy farms.  Generally speaking, the Germans were organized, meticulous, on schedule, and frugal.  Generally speaking, the Irish were easy-going, cheerful, generous, and didn’t watch the clock as close.  And, as you know, all personality traits have their advantages and disadvantages.  German milk houses were neat and clean with everything in order, and the driveways were always clear for backing the truck up to the barn.  The Irish farmers were usually not as tidy, and might not always get around to fixing things right away, so time would be wasted with things like blown fuses.  Sometimes I would have to back the truck in around the manure spreader, a tractor, and four bicycles that were left all over the yard.

     The meticulous Germans were orderly, but they could be difficult.   They weren’t always pleased about a kid picking up their milk, they watched me like a hawk, and they were unforgiving of mistakes.  The Irish were usually pleasant, relaxed, and more than happy to give the new kid a break.  Then again, the Germans were always done milking at exactly the same time.  You could depend on it.  But some of the Irish were very inconsistent and could make scheduling a route difficult and drive the milk hauler crazy.  However, when we baled hay, the frugal Germans would work us harder and pay us less.  The Irish made sure we brought a friend or two along for the fun of it, and, so we didn’t have to work so hard to earn the generous wages they paid us.

     It wasn’t that one group was better than the other.  Generally speaking, they were just different, and oftentimes, the same characteristic could be both a blessing and a curse.  I liked the easy-going nature of the Irish, but only to a certain point.  They could become sloppy and irresponsible.  I liked that the Germans were meticulous and dependable; but again, only to a certain point.  Sometimes they could be unreasonably uptight, demanding, and harsh.   And, of course, there were always exceptions to everything I just said.  That is why I kept saying ‘generally speaking.’  You could never say ‘the Irish are always like this,’ or ‘the Germans are always like that.’  But there definitely were those tendencies, for good and ill, in each.

     Just like there are different ways to be a farmer, there are different ways to be a Christian.  And some of these differences, generally speaking, can also follow cultural tendencies.  The German theological tradition has often been, as you might expect, thorough, orderly, comprehensive, and sometimes very narrow and strict.  Theology is important, Germans want to get things right.  Therefore,  if someone has something wrong we want to work it out, even if that means fighting it out, and there has been plenty of that.  The Irish theological tradition, sometimes now called Celtic Christianity, inherited from St. Patrick, is broader, less meticulous about the finer points of theology, and more a matter of the heart and spirit.  It is a more easy-going, cheerful, even playful approach to the faith, which can be good; but can also, at times, lack substance and be a little too vague for me.  Again, I am speaking in broad generalities.  And, I am not talking about politics, like the troubles of Northern Ireland where the political differences are unfortunately along religious lines.  Nor am I speaking about church structures and politics, Catholic or Protestant.  I am speaking about how serious Christians, in both traditions, have thought about, written, and lived out their faith, theologically and devotionally.  (continued…)