Catholic Culture News
Catholic Culture News

The Nathan and Nathanael Options

By Fr. Jerry Pokorsky ( bio - articles - email ) | Jan 15, 2024

Leaders throughout history often have an Achille’s heel of thin-skinned guile. The followers of Jesus are not immune. Jesus calls His Twelve Apostles to assist him with the proclamation of the Gospel and in preparation for their ordination to the priesthood. They stay with Jesus, take instructions from the Master, and validate St. Paul’s observation: “God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.” (1 Cor. 1:27)

Jesus identifies Nathanael as an “Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” (Jn. 1:47) Nathanael’s forthright honesty is a model for priests and laity alike. Judas, unlike Nathanael, was a man of guile and greed, a thief and a traitor. Judas was the only Judean among the Twelve from the upper crust of the Israelites. Months of dipping into the collection basket precede the grand finale of his betrayal. We don’t know his motives, but we can guess he wasn’t impressed by his unsophisticated coworkers.

Judas conspired with the chief priests and negotiated a deal. For a paltry thirty pieces of silver, he would deliver Jesus into their hands. Judas seals his betrayal with his duplicitous kiss in the Garden. Jesus reminds him of the abuse of friendship: “Judas, would you betray the Son of man with a kiss?” (Lk. 22:48) But rejecting friendship didn’t make the life of Judas any easier. Even the chief priests held the hapless traitor in contempt.

At Mass, in preparation for our encounter with Jesus, we offer our lives to Him during the Offertory, including our sins. God delights in the Presentation of the Gifts that represent our self-surrender—warts and all. Like the Magi, Judas brings his ill-gotten gifts to the precipice of the sacrificial liturgy. Realizing the horror of his betrayal, he could have used his thirty pieces to make restitution as he tosses the silver into the temple. The Gospel account doesn’t measure up to the dignity of ritual. But maybe severing the tug of greed required a violent hurl.

Complementing the Magi, Judas could have become a patron saint of the Offertory. The wise men didn’t have the opportunity to accompany Jesus to the Cross. Judas did. Judas would have fulfilled his restitution had he joined Mary, the holy women, and his confrere John at the foot of the Cross. The Cross of Jesus would have purified his sins, and the Resurrection would have restored his soul to glory. But Judas refuses to accept forgiveness and comes to a horrible end.

The successors of the Apostles in the hierarchy of the Church share—or miss—the same opportunity. But they must break the tug of clerical guile with the help of God’s grace to remain faithful to Jesus. Priests in the trenches witness the scandal caused by real—or imagined, “changes” made to Church teaching vocalized by senior Church prelates. Here are a few sanitized examples:

  • An elderly woman is confused and heartbroken upon learning of the ambiguous word salad of Amoris Laetitia (motivating several cardinals to lodge official requests for clarification). With tears disclosing her sincerity, she fears the Church will endure a variation of the infamous post-conciliar Humanae Vitae crisis.
  • Another pious elderly woman with a profound reverence for priests worries that her reluctant depiction of some Vatican officials as unfaithful and dishonest are sins that may bring her damnation.
  • A daughter accuses her Catholic mother of being “more Catholic than the Pope” in her opposition to her same-sex union. Of course, the young lady no longer goes to Mass. Why should she?

These painful examples of scandal give priests without guile little choice except the “Nathanael Option” of honest fidelity to the truth. “You shall hear the small and the great alike; you shall not be afraid of the face of man, for the judgment is God’s.” (Dt. 1:17)

The Nathanael Option may provoke offending prelates to lash out in vindictive fury. Herod the Great murdered the Innocents to protect his corrupt reign upon learning of the birth of the Newborn King. His son beheaded John the Baptist to appease the wrath of his wife. But King David breaks the pattern of obdurate kingship and provides an example of humility, repentance, and restoration.

David’s example of taking advantage of royal perquisites is painfully familiar. After his adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband to conceal the crime, David relaxes with his lover to live a life of leisure and anesthetizes his conscience. Nathan, the court prophet, presents this parable (cf. 2 Sam. 12:1-15):

Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared it for the man who had come to him.

David (like Judas and Herod) responds with fury. “Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man; and he said to Nathan, ‘As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.’“ Nathan rejects David’s dishonest histrionics and exclaims his famous and courageous indictment, “Thou art the man!” (The Nathan Option precedes the Nathanael Option!)

David wasn’t like Herod. He didn’t behead Nathan for his honesty. David wasn’t like Judas. He didn’t despair when indicted for his duplicity. David repented his sins and humbly wrote the Miserere (Psalm 51), repeatedly read in the Divine Office by every priest and prelate:

Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy steadfast love;
according to thy abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in thy sight.

Priests, prophets, and kings often harbor the arrogance of guile and obduracy. The Church could use more apostles of Truth like Nathan and Nathanael.

Fr. Jerry Pokorsky is a priest of the Diocese of Arlington who has also served as a financial administrator in the Diocese of Lincoln. Trained in business and accounting, he also holds a Master of Divinity and a Master’s in moral theology. Father Pokorsky co-founded both CREDO and Adoremus, two organizations deeply engaged in authentic liturgical renewal. He writes regularly for a number of Catholic websites and magazines. See full bio.

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