Little Giovanni

The following meditation was written by Doug Hood\’s son,
Nathanael Hood, MA, New York University
\”There is neither Jew nor Greek: there is neither slave nor free;
nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.\”
Galatians 3:28 (Common English Bible)
Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone was born into a life of splendor, ease, and refinement.  The son of a rich silk merchant and a French noblewoman, little Giovanni had an easy and lavish a life one could want in twelfth century Italy.  While peasants toiled in the fields for their daily bread, Giovanni feasted with the best of high society; while workers suffered and died in poverty, he threw away money on fine clothes and fast living.  When his town declared war on a nearby neighbor, he joined up as a night, thirsty for glory.  The result was catastrophic – his unit was butchered and he was captured and imprisoned for a year while his captors negotiated his ransom.  But was Giovanni phased?  Hardly.  After he was freed the call for knights went out for the Fourth Crusade, and one again he found himself riding off to battle, this time with a new horse and a suit of armor decorated with gold.
But Giovanni never made it to the Holy Land.  In fact, he scarcely made it further than a day\’s ride from his home.  That first night he had a strange dream in which God commanded him to return home.  From that day forward an odd transformation began in Giovanni\’s life.  He began to pray regularly and intensely.  He came to cherish the presence of the poor, sick, and ugly, rejecting the companionship of the rich, healthy, and beautiful.  Finally, he was caught by his father taking fabric from his hope to sell for money to help repair a nearby church.  Accusing him of theft, he dragged Giovanni in front of the local bishop to publicly shame him and force him to return the money.  It was the decisive moment in Giovanni\’s life – he must choose between the church of his savior or the world of his father\’s finances.
His choice has been remembered throughout the history of Christendom: he stripped naked before his father and renounced the world.  That was the day Giovanni the wealthy troubadour became Francis the impoverished preacher, and within a few decades young Francis from Assisi would become one of the most significant leaders in church history, being canonized as Saint Francis a mere two years after his death.  Few people have shaped the world quite like Saint Francis; he reinvigorated the largest religion in the world has ever known with a renewed call towards charity and social justice for the poor and disenfranchised.  And, crucially, it all began with a deliberate abnegation of his wealth, his power, and his privilege.  To aid the poor, it wasn\’t enough to donate time or money – he needed to become like them and live like them.
This passage from the third chapter of Galatians is one of the most beloved theological statements in the New Testament.  But beyond its promise of equality for all people in God\’s Kingdom is subtler implication that many choose to ignore: in the leveling of all peoples before the Almighty the powerful must abandon their power.  What good are riches of the ancient Greeks when they share a kingdom with impoverished Jews?  What good is the political power of slaveholders when they live side by side in  eternity with the people they held as slaves?  And what good are the privileges of patriarchy in a promised land where women are equal?  If we are to live as living witnesses of the Gospel, we must help realize these truths in the world right now, and for many of us that requires an honest evaluation of the power and wealth we have in life.  And perhaps some of us might do well to do as young Giovanni did all those centuries ago.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s