Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Tuesday in the 5th Week of Ordinary Time (I)
Memorial of St. Paul Miki & Companions, Martyrs
Creating Order for Life

Readings: Genesis 1:20—2:4a; Psalm 8:4-5, 6-7, 8-9; Mark 7:1-13

As familiar as we might be with the creation story from the book of Genesis, it still has much to teach us. We notice, for example, that the mighty creating hand of God does two things. First, as we saw so clearly yesterday, God brings order out of chaos. From the formless void of the earth, God separates the heavens from the earth, the light from the darkness, and dry land from the watery depths. But it’s no less important to notice how God brings order out of chaos only so that life can flourish. So in today's first reading God creates all the different animals of the earth, culminating in the creation of humanity in God’s image and likeness. There we have them: order and life – the two inseparable aspects of God’s creative work, a work that continues even today. For we are the bearers of the divine command to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and conquer it… Ours is the awesome responsibility and privilege to continue bringing order to our world so that life, especially human life, might flourish in its fullness.

But it’s not such an easy task, is it? It’s not easy, for example, to keep in mind that order is for life. We see this illustrated in the gospel story today. In their zeal for keeping the traditions of the elders to the letter, the Pharisees and scribes sought to bring order to their daily existence. And yet, they seemed to have also lost sight of the fact that true order is meaningful only to the extent that it is put in the service of life. Although it may be orderly to dedicate a portion of one’s property to God, what use is that if one is only doing it to avoid caring for one’s parents? Indeed, an overemphasis on order can lead us to multiply regulations for their own sake, at the expense of true human flourishing -- to focus only on human traditions at the expense of the commandments of God.

Although the Pharisees are no longer with us, we remain subject to similar temptations, don’t we? We know, for example, how even church groups can become so caught up with the keeping of rules and regulations as to lose touch with the very reason for their existence; just as the breadwinners of a family can become so focused on providing for its material wellbeing as to neglect the relationships that are crucial to its survival. Indeed, not only is order meaningful only in the service of life, isn’t it also true that sometimes a little disorder is precisely what is needed for life to flourish? One is reminded of the following story told by the late Anthony de Mello, SJ:

A man offered to pay a sum of money to his twelve-year-old daughter if she mowed the lawn. The girl went at the task with great zest and by evening the whole lawn had been beautifully mowed – well, everything except a large uncut patch of grass in one corner. When the man said he couldn’t pay the sum agreed upon because the whole lawn hadn’t been mowed, the girl said she was ready to forego the money, but would not cut the grass in the patch. Curious to find out why, he checked the uncut patch. There, right in the centre of the patch, sat a large toad. The girl had been too tender-hearted to run over it with a lawn-mower.
Where there is love, there is disorder. Perfect order would make the world a graveyard.

How are we invited to collaborate in God’s creative work today?

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