Thursday, September 27, 2007


Thursday in the 25th Week of Ordinary Time (I)
Memorial of St. Vincent De Paul, Priest
Coaxing the Cow


Readings: Haggai 1:1-8; Psalm 149:1b-2, 3-4, 5-6a and 9b; Luke 9:7-9

As often happens, although hundreds of years separate the events and personalities described in each of them, there is an interesting parallel between our two readings today. In the first, God sends the prophet Haggai to the representatives of the people of Israel: the governor of Judah, Zerubbabel, and the high priest, Joshua. Haggai speaks a word of admonition. God’s will is that the newly returned exiles should rebuild the Temple. But the people have been resistant. They have been more concerned about their own day-to-day existence. They have stubbornly neglected the affairs of God. In the gospel, the role of admonitor had fallen upon John the Baptist. His too was a call to action, a call to repentance, a call to prepare the way for the coming of the one true Temple of God, the Word-made-flesh. And John too met stubborn resistance, especially in the person of king Herod, who went to extent of putting him to death.

In both these stories, we see the truth of that well-known Chinese proverb. You can bring a cow to water, but you cannot force it to drink. There is in many, if not all, of us, a stubborn streak that causes us to resist the workings of grace. Even though there may be a part of us that knows there is something we need to do, another part of us prefers either to ignore it altogether, or to keep procrastinating. We somehow manage to find excuses to put off till tomorrow what we should be doing today. Those familiar with twelve-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous know this dynamic well. According to conventional wisdom, the alcoholic is not likely to take steps to get help until s/he hits rock bottom, until it becomes undeniable that there really is a problem that needs to be faced.

This might well explain Haggai’s approach to the stubborn people of Israel. Twice, in the first reading, we find him telling the people to consider your ways! They have eaten and not been satisfied. What Haggai is trying to do is to help the people to come to the same realization that the prodigal son did in Jesus’ parable. Sitting among the pigs and sharing the same menu with them, he realized his own wretched condition. He had truly hit rock bottom. Only then did he decide to change. Haggai’s strategy in the face of stubbornness and procrastination is to keep the people’s attention focused on their own wretched condition, in the hope that one day they might hit rock bottom and decide to change. Indeed, he cannot force the cow to drink. He can only bring it to the water and invite it to consider its own reflection in it, in the hope that it might realize the depths of its own thirst.

Hundreds of years separate us from Zerubbabel and Herod. But aren’t our situations also similar? Who are our Zerubbabels and Herods? How thirsty are we today?

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