Who knew? The game of tag has apparently been around since the second
century, mentioned by the Greek writer Julius Pollux who was appointed Chair of
Rhetoric at the first University of Athens, Plato’s Academy founded in 387 BC. Pollux
was the author of the ten-volume Onomasticon, a compendium of rhetorical terms one
mastered to excel in intelligent, informed conversations ranging over a wide field of
topics, including children’s games. Tag, it seems, has been a popular game from its
beginning, global variants abounding, and certainly not restricted to children.
Southeast Asians enjoy some competitive and rambunctious versions, a far cry from
“Tag! You’re IT!” from our own childhood exertion in backyards and playgrounds.
Tag in its simplest version is a childhood free-for-all which first demands an IT to
be chosen. IT subsequently chases the others around the game field of choice in order to
tag one of the other screaming players. When contact is made, IT yells, “Tag! You’re
IT!” where upon the newly tagged starts chasing everyone else while the first IT catches
his or her breath. Although educators sense that the game favors bigger, more robust
children and can trigger some self-esteem issues for the scrawny (which it very likely
does), the game nevertheless is perennially popular. The simplest form is one of the
most egalitarian of playground encounters. ANYONE can become IT at the mere tap of
a hand. The logic of the game suggests that it is has been well-played if IT has been
handed from person to person until ALL have had their moment as “IT.”
This coming Sunday’s readings reveal a similar logic the life of faith offers to
Jesus’ followers, although Holy Wisdom inverts what the game of Tag has taught us.
Tag expects IT to get rid of the burden and hand it on to the less fleet of foot by a tap on
the shoulder and a scream in the ear. In effect, “YOU’RE now IT and I’m NOT!!!” The
opening of the first reading, Isaiah 58:1-12, certainly resonates with the game of TAG:
Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Nevertheless, God’s
insistence on changing the ways of the world – and of TAG – quickly becomes evident.
Holy Wisdom is not interested in life played so that we get rid of our responsibilities, of
getting all the perceived monkeys off our backs and on to someone else’s. Neither does
Holy Wisdom think much of the slogan attributed to entrepreneur Malcom Forbes: “The
one who dies with the most toys wins.” The life of faith has little to do with success as
defined by Forbes, an avid promoter of capitalism and free market economics and for
his “…extravagant lifestyle, spending on parties, travel, and his collection of homes,
yachts, aircraft, art, motorcycles, and Fabergé eggs [Wikipedia].”
St. Paul reminded us last week to “consider our own call…” God doesn’t call us to
get some monkey off the Godhead’s back, leaving us with a vexing blessing, “You’re now
IT.” Rather, God has been in the business of radical invitation, radical sharing, radical
equipping of all who are called, and radical, abiding relationships since the beginning.
This should cause the proverbial lightbulb to switch on in our minds because the
Epiphany image of light is what God’s game of Tag is about.
Light remains the most pervasive image of God’s divine presence, activity, and
power since the first five verses of Genesis: When God began to create the heavens and
the earth, the earth was complete chaos, and darkness covered the face of the deep,
while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be
light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good, and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.
And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. Light was God’s first
creative act, shedding light into chaotic darkness and setting the rhythm of time itself.
John’s Gospel steps in to remind us that Christ Jesus, the eternal Word, is the bearer of
that divine, unconquerable light which brings comfort, redemption, and healing into the
lives of God’s creation. Throughout the Old Testament into the Good News remembered
and recorded by the Gospel writers, Apostles, and those who came afterwards, light has
continued to play its central role as the primal sign of God’s presence and power. Moses
confronts a burning bush and later encounters God’s overwhelming presence on the
lightening-lit peak of Sinai and in a pillar of fire. Moses returns to God’s people, his face
glowing for having encountered the Almighty. Isaiah writes of those who endured the
darkness of longing now see a great light. The psalmists, prophets, and Wisdom writers
all provide numerous accounts of God’s light revealing wisdom, righteousness, hope,
salvation, and a clear path to walk as God’s people. The Gospels and especially St. Paul
remind us that the light of Christ is extended to all who have traversed the waters of
baptism. Christ’s embrace of all through the Spirit’s power extends that holy light to
each person of faith. Christ’s embrace is not a “Tag! Now you’re IT,” but a gracious
sharing of the light which dispels the darkness, sin, and the grave.
This Sunday there are numerous mentions of light, a busy, active reality which
bends around the murky corners of our lives so that the life of faith might flourish. Life
in Christ prospers by actively faithful living, by employing the Spirit’s gifts for service,
justice, and invitation to those who have yet to encounter God’s goodness in Christ.
God’s “game” of life accepts as many players as there are people. While God may have
been the primal “IT,” God’s logic is to include those many players as active participants.
In God’s eyes and heart, we ALL are IT. God’s tap enlivens and equips us to be
full and active participants in faith, caring for the ones too weary to undertake the hard
work still facing the faithful. All of us bear God’s light to shine for those having a hard
time seeing the work of God. We can tell good news to and pray for those who think
they’ve been forgotten or are not worthy to be included. Baptismal light reveals God’s
presence in every nook and cranny of creation. “Tag! So, let your little light shine!”