“Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy” (Ps 126:2).
“Joy.” The psalmist repeats this word three times in this great poem of restoration. God’s people shout for joy, sing songs of joy, return from the fields in joy. God restores the fortunes of Zion—and their sadness is transformed into joy. Joy is their response, their witness to God’s working in the world.
In the calendar of the Church we remember today the third-century martyr Laurence of Rome. As archdeacon, he was given care of the church’s treasury for distribution to the needy. The story goes that after he was arrested during a periodic persecution of Christians, Laurence negotiated for a few days’ respite to gather the church’s wealth. During that time, though, he instead rapidly distributed it to the poor. When asked to hand over the church’s treasure, Laurence pointed not to gold or gems but to the poor.
Laurence, whom some traditions venerate as the patron saint of comedians, pulled a fast one on his tormentors, subverting their expectations, as all good comedians do. Our readings do something similar. Nebuchadnezzar thinks he’s in control of the situation, but maybe not: “Was it not three men that we threw bound into the fire? . . . But I see four men unbound” (Dan 3:24, 25). And Jesus shows his disciples that the kingdom of God will confound all we think we know: “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (Jn 12:25). You thought you had everything under control, Laurence seems to say; you thought you knew what you were asking for.
And like all good comedians, in subverting expectations Laurence reveals a fundamental truth. The Church, after all, is people, not property, a truth we forget to our peril. And in losing his life for witnessing to this truth, Laurence bore fruit, providing us a model of what it means for us to be witnesses.
Most of us will not face a martyr’s death. But we too can be martyrs—literally, “witnesses.” As the psalmist tells us, our joy is one way we can witness to that work. Joy in seeing God overturn and confound our expectations. Joy in being restored as God’s people. Joy in recognizing others—and ourselves—as the treasures of the Church.
Blessed Laurence, shout for joy with us.
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