My favorite place in the world to visit is Rome, Italy. Anyone who knows me even a little knows that much about me. I love Rome.
The problem is, so do countless others. It does not matter what time of the year you may travel to the Eternal City, long lines are the name of the game. Because of the immense crowds of people who travel to Rome, one always spends too much time waiting to get into an attraction.
This is most true with the Vatican Museum. It is not uncommon for the line to the museum to be a half mile long and ten people deep, especially on the last Sunday of the month, when admission is always free.
The Vatican Museum is one of the premier museums in the entire planet; it is massive. But what draws the crowds is the Sistine Chapel. The only way the general public will ever have access to the Sistine Chapel is through the museum, so people pay. The Sistine, of course, is famous because that is where popes are elected, but it’s even more famous because of Michelangelo’s painting of the ceiling and front wall. Just as people go to the Louvre in Paris to see the Mona Lisa, so people go to the Vatican Museum to see the Sistine Chapel.
I have been blessed to have gone through this world-class museum countless times, and I have to say that I am less impressed with the Sistine Chapel than I am with the part of the museum called “The Hall of Maps,” which is a very long hallway with painted maps of all the cities in the Papal States during the 16th century. Another part of the museum that in my opinion is more impressive than the Sistine is the tapestries that flank the walls of many parts of the museum (some of which were actually produced to be hung in the Sistine Chapel).
If you have been there, you know what I am talking about. One word describes it: “wow.” Many of these tapestries are 15 feet high and 30 feet long (my guess). Either way, they are massive, and they are so incredibly detailed in the scenes they are portraying, whether they be biblical scenes or a scene from the life of one of the popes. There is no doubt that it took millions and millions of hand movements to make these massive, breathtaking pieces of art.
I have never had the opportunity to see the back side of one of these tapestries, but I am sure they are like any other tapestries in that they probably look like a bunch of threads sewn together that don’t look to make any sense, which would be understandable, because the artistic side is the front.
Now suppose I randomly pulled on a single thread on the reverse side. Would it affect the front, artistic side? Absolutely. Pulling any one thread would affect the scene on the front image.
Here is my point: When it comes to the scriptures there is some similarity to those amazing tapestries in the Vatican Museum. There are many parts of the Old Testament that are painful to listen to and even more painful to read, and often they can seem to make no sense, with little to no connection to who we are as Christians.
There are many examples of this, but here is one from the First Book of Samuel, “There was a certain man from Ramathian, Elkanah by name, a Zuphite from the hill country of Ephraim. He was the son of Jeroham, son of Elihu, son of Tohu, son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. He had two wives, one named Hannah, the other Peninnah” (1 Samuel 1:1-3). This is actually one of our lectionary readings, and I always feel sorry for the person who has to read it, but it is so important. If we took this little “thread” out of the Old Testament, we wouldn’t have Samuel, the son of Hannah, and if we didn’t have Samuel, then David would not have been anointed king, and if David was not anointed king, then there would be no Jesus of Nazareth from the line of King David.
The point is that every single paragraph, sentence, word, and punctuation in the Old Testament is important and inspired. We might read a particular verse like the one above and really scratch our head about it, but taking it out or ignoring it would be like pulling a single thread out of the massive tapestries in the Vatican Museum: It would alter the whole scene.
When we sit in the pews during Mass it might be tempting to go into a pious coma during the Old Testament reading, because often it’s a bunch of strange names that make no sense, but we need to know that no matter how confusing one of those readings may sound, it is a thread in the masterpiece of the word of God, which revealed to us the Divine Word.
And as trivial a passage might seem, there is never anything trivial in the inspired text.