Saturday, December 16, 2006

Saturday in the 2nd Week of Advent
Look into His Eyes

Readings: Sirach 48:1-4, 9-11; Psalm 80:2ac and 3b, 15-16, 18-19; Matthew 17:9a, 10-13

Elijah has come already and they did not recognize him but treated him as they pleased…

It’s quite striking to consider what the gospels tell us about the people who failed to recognize John the Baptist as the great prophet whom they were expecting. Among them numbered the scribes, the lawyers, the Pharisees – people who knew the Law and the Prophets like the back of their hands. Yet, in spite of their great knowledge of the scriptures, they failed to see Elijah and the Christ when they came.

We might consider one reason why. Notice what our first reading says about Elijah. Notice how extraordinary is the description. Elijah brings down fire, shuts up the heavens and he’s even taken up in a whirlwind of fire on a chariot of fiery horses. Compared with this description the Baptist seems more eccentric than extraordinary. Is it any wonder that the scripture experts fail to recognize him? And yet there is a resemblance between the two, a resemblance that can only be spotted by those who are willing to see beyond the incidentals – the fiery chariots and whirlwinds of fire – to the essentials – the work of reconciliation, of turning the hearts of fathers toward their children.

It’s quite striking how the idea of Elijah becomes an obstacle to recognizing and welcoming the real Elijah when he does come. Yet, we struggle with this tendency too. For example, the religious who clings to a preconceived idea of what religious life is like can find it difficult to actually live religious life in the concrete. Just as the person who clings too strongly to, who is in love with, the idea of falling in love and of being married, might find it difficult to live the messiness and chaos that often characterizes married life. We can probably think of other examples. What to do? One is reminded of a story told by Anthony de Mello, SJ in his book Song of the Bird:

The commander of the occupation troops said to the mayor of the mountain village: ‘We know you are hiding a traitor. Unless you give him up to us, we shall harass you and your people by every means in our power.’The village was, indeed, hiding a man who seemed good and innocent and was loved by all. But what could the mayor do now that the welfare of the village was at stake? Days of discussion in the Village Council led to no conclusion. So the mayor finally took the matter up with the priest. Priest and mayor spend a whole night searching the scriptures and finally came up with a text that said, ‘It is better that one man die to save the nation.’ So the mayor handed over the innocent man, whose screams echoed throughout the village as he was tortured and put to death. Twenty years later a prophet came to that village, went straight up to the mayor and said, ‘How could you have done this? That man was sent by God to be the saviour of this country. And you handed him over to be tortured and killed!’ ‘But where did I go wrong?’ pleaded the mayor. ‘The priest and I looked at the scriptures and did what they commanded.’ ‘That’s where you went wrong,’ said the prophet. ‘You looked at the scriptures. You should also have looked into his eyes.’

How is the Lord inviting us to look into his eyes as he comes to us in the concrete details – the people and the events – of our life today?

1 comment:

  1. Every Christmas season, the individual is assailed by crass consumerism and commercialism. What we see titillates our senses and urges us to open our wallets to whip out our credit cards. Relief comes only when a purchase is made.

    Outside of the Christmas season, we are all influenced by what we see. What is known as "What you see is what you get" or WYSIWYG. We all know that things are not always what they appear to be. And this is where we have to learn to look through His eyes. Yes, we're often exhorted to look for Christ in the poor, the weak, the marginalized. I have only recently learnt to look at those who hurt me through His eyes. This takes divine help because the hurt often overwhelms the one who is being hurt. In our human response to recover from the hurt, or to want to get even, we often miss out on the opportunity to evangelize. What do I mean? In such a situation, as disciples, we are expected to reach out as Christ would. Such a reaction needs nothing short of supernatural grace.

    The story of Elijah reminds me always to look beyond the fiery chariots and whirlwinds of fire to the essentials, but wishing it alone will not work. Only constant prayer and immersion in the Ultimate Good will make it happen.