Three-fourths of the way through Advent, I lived a parable. We were in the middle of finals week, and the only things standing between me and Christmas vacation were 1) a pile of research papers from my composition students, and 2) a corresponding pile of portfolios from my creative writing students — all waiting to be graded. About halfway through each pile, my computer stopped connecting to the internet.
Granted, the prospect of a day without checking my email 47 times is horrifying enough. Add to this the fact that grades have to be plugged in electronically, and you can imagine my consternation.
I lugged my decidedly not-lightweight laptop to a nearby coffee shop and tried using their Wi-Fi. Nope.
I trudged to the Mediterranean restaurant on the corner and typed in the security key. Nuh-uh.
Finally I remembered the IT office on campus and headed there. After parking rather illegally in the lot across the street, I scurried into the math building and down the hall to the tech department. To my surprise, one of my own students greeted me at the door. I handed over my PC and wondered frantically if I’d given her an “A.”
After a short wait, my student returned. “We put in a 64-bit, and that seems to have cleared up the trouble,” she said.
If I knew what a 64-bit was, I probably wouldn’t have needed the IT guys in the first place. But I nodded like I knew what she was talking about. In any case, a quick demonstration showed me that my computer was back to normal, once again giving me unfettered access to food porn Pandora my online grading book.
None of this would be particularly interesting, except for the one unexpected thing that happened next, the thing that made me realize I was living a parable. As I walked out of the math building, I suddenly heard myself break into song. This song. The alto line.
Go ahead. Listen to the whole thing. I’ll wait.
Now here’s why this is a parable.
We human beings are a bit like my computer. We don’t always function the way we’re supposed to. You can call the source of our perversity original sin, or you can call it the waywardness and confusion of an unfinished animal, but human history and the experience of our own individual lives prove time and time again this essential truth: we lack. We sin. We are born with a hunger we can hardly name, and despite our best efforts to conduct our lives well and meaningfully, our currents constantly turn awry.
We might look for solutions in any number of places — if not a Mediterranean restaurant or a coffee shop, then in busy-ness, sensory pleasure or the accumulation of stuff. Maybe even in food porn. None, of these things, though, ultimately satisfies us or answers our terrible need.
At some point, if we’re lucky, we figure out that we cannot heal ourselves. We need Someone Else, Someone who’s better at this sort of thing than we are. I had to take my computer to people who knew more than I did what a 64-bit was. We have to take ourselves to the One who knows, more than we do, what we are. Only then, and through no further effort or merit on our part, can we be restored.
Mostly, though, I came to view this mundane event as a spiritual allegory because I was happier for having lost and found my internet access than I would have been if my computer had never malfunctioned in the first place. In the Gospels, Jesus repeatedly depicts God’s joy at recovering sinners. He speaks of the shepherd who rejoices when he finds his lost sheep, the woman who exults at the recovery of her lost coin, and, of course, the father who throws a big old hootenanny to celebrate the return of his prodigal son (Luke 15). Spontaneously bursting into Handel after my computer was fixed made me appreciate the flip side of that equation — not God’s joy at our salvation, but our own. This was the “felix culpa,” the happy fault that we sing about during the Exsultet at the Easter Vigil: “O happy fault! O necessary sin of Adam, which gained for us so great a Redeemer!” This was the sinful woman who out of her joy and gratitude offered one of the most beautiful tributes to Christ in all the Bible. She washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, dried them with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with expensive ointment. Of her Jesus said, “Her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love.” (Luke 7:47)
So the moral of this story? I don’t usually like stories with morals, but I’ll make an exception because the moral of this story is a good one: Rejoice. You know those terrible daily battles you have with yourself? You know how you get mad at yourself, mad to the point of despair, for making the same damn mistakes over and over? Well, rejoice. Those battles are already won, because Somebody Else won them for you. Those mistakes you dread and despise will make your ultimate liberation from sin all the sweeter. Christ is on the way, and He, out of pure selfless love, will restore our connection to food porn Pandora God. What more cause do we need to be merry?