“The LORD spoke to Moses, saying: ‘Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, “Thus you shall bless the Israelites: You shall say to them, ‘The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.’” So they shall put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.’”
What we know as the Aaronic Blessing, presented in the first reading, has long been used in Jewish and Christian liturgies. In our polarized context, it’s perhaps an opportunity to examine our speech.
“And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us” (Lk. 11:4). That’s bad enough—but Jesus doesn’t stop there: “bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Lk. 6:28). We have public figures with real power who are abusing too many people. On that we agree, even as we sharply disagree as to who these figures are. When they come to my attention—usually on the evening news—my body reacts, my emotions engage, my mouth responds, whether audibly or inaudibly. Jesus’ notion seems to be that my response track with the Aaronic Blessing. “[Name], may the LORD bless you and keep you…” That is not what usually happens. I have work to do.
Jesus’ brother James gets at it this way: “With it [the tongue] we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so” (Jas. 3:9-10). “Made in the likeness of God”—no matter what they’re doing. Perhaps the idea is that the likeness of God gives me my starting point, encouraging me to pray that that likeness be as clear and life-giving as possible. As I said, I have work to do.