had been a tax collector. He was intimately familiar with debits,
credits, and balances,
and was, in a sense, closer to the Mathematekoi of Pythagoras
– who understood the world and reality at large in terms of numbers,
not as analogous to reality but as constitutive of it — than he
was to, say, the minutiae of Mosaic Law which also, to a lesser
extent, was iterated in terms of numbers.
Given Saint Matthew's
facility with logical things that culminated in correct conclusions,
the purpose to this otherwise tedious preface to his Gospel is to
legitimize the Christ as the Son of David, an attempt at a kind
of Rabbinical “proof” necessary to establishing the legitimacy of
Jesus as the Christ. The genealogy numerically affirmed what Mary
already knew without counting.
Literally we say,
as in the Shakespearian Sonnet, “How do I love Thee, O, my God?
Let me count the ways — for I have the numbers nailed down.”
And yet Jesus Himself admonishes us against this:
do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard
because of their many words. Do not be like them. Your Father knows
what you need before you ask him.”
(Saint Matthew 6.7-8). We are urged
to pray incessantly, but not mindlessly, not for the sake of achieving
a “numerical superiority” as though we can overwhelm, overcome,
God by our incessant utterances said largely in rote — and achieve
a higher “score” than our Publican neighbor.
Rather, think of it
like this: if another dared speak this way to us,
we would certainly part ways quickly, realizing that this man, this
woman, is mumbling something of which we happen to be the opportune
and unfortunate occasion. I do not understand her as speaking
to me! She is reciting something to me that appears to have
little to do with me, and which really is not being said, in any
meaningful way, to me. Her words are many – but they
do not qualify as talking to me. She will nevertheless
leave satisfied that she has communicated well with me simply because
she has said much.
We are often like that with God
We are more concerned with numbers – especially the fulfilling of certain numbers – than with speaking to God from our hearts as we would speak to a real Person.
Any prayer uttered quickly and by rote, for the sake of its simply having been said, fulfilled, is at least implicitly disingenuous. It is not entirely unlike our asking one another upon meeting, “How are you?”. We do not really want to know, we largely do not care, and we say it as a matter of convention. We are sick as dogs, and reply, “Good, and you?” They say they are “well,” too, although they are sick as dogs, also.
It is meaningless. We utter words, sounds, only; fulfill conventions that are largely empty and would really be better left unsaid. We know this. And still do it ...
Clearly, this is not
always the case. But it is, especially in congregational
prayer, in group prayer, very often the case. We have said our Rosary,
droned through all ten decades, picked up and moved on. We are satisfied.
We did the number.
Pythagoras and the Mathematikoi did not know better. We do. Sincerely ask yourself: is the way you typically pray the way that you would speak to Christ in Person, pray to Mary who stood before you? Is this how you speak with your wife? Your children? Your neighbors?
Pray with your heart ... not on your fingers. God knows that you are saying much in saying little and saying little in saying much.
One is praying. One