Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Tuesday After Epiphany
I Stand Amazed

Readings: 1 John 4:7-10; Psalm 72:1-2, 3-4, 7-8; Matthew 6:34-44

Over Christmas, I often found myself among people speaking in a foreign language. And there were occasions when everyone would suddenly break into laughter. Everyone, that is, except me. Not understanding what had just been said, I was left looking around blankly, waiting for someone to explain the joke to me in a language I could understand. And, of course, one can have the same experience even when one understands the language being spoken but doesn’t know the context that makes what is said funny. Whatever the case may be, we know how to tell whether or not we understand something humorous. If we get it, we will be moved to laughter.

Perhaps something similar happens at Christmas too. How do we know whether we get it? How do we know whether we are beginning to grasp the profound mystery of Christ’s coming among us? Of course, the first reading gives us the final answer in no uncertain terms: everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God… If we truly grasp the mystery of God’s love for us in Christ, we will find ourselves moved to love, and to love in a very specific way. In the words of the opening prayer, we will become more like him who became like us.

But that’s not all. Just as we only truly laugh when we react to something funny, so too do we only truly love when we are moved by a particular reaction to God’s love for us made manifest in Christ. One such reaction is amazement, the same amazement that the people experienced when the shepherds shared with them the good news of Christ’s birth on Christmas night.

Indeed, the story in our gospel today helps us to consider aspects of the Christmas mystery that could amaze us. For one, like Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the five thousand, Christmas is also God’s response to a specific situation of difficulty. In the words of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, God gazed on the whole surface… of the world, full of people... going down into hell and decides that the Second Person should become a human being, in order to save the human race… (SpEx 102). The amazing thing about both these responses is their radical disproportion to the difficulty at hand. In the gospel, the hungry number no less than five thousand, and Jesus chooses to feed them with five loaves and two fish. In the Spiritual Exercises, the whole world is engulfed in the darkness of sin and death, and God chooses to be born as a helpless infant. The typical Singaporean might be forgiven for wondering whether other more effective, efficient, or impressive responses might not have been made.

But God’s response follows a different logic, the logic of love. Isn’t this precisely what makes it so amazing? For this is a logic of compassion: his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd… It is also a logic of collaboration. Jesus saves by challenging the sheep to shepherd one another: give them some food yourselves… And the abundance that results after Jesus has taken and blessed, broken and shared, is perhaps what brings our amazement to its climax: they picked up twelve wicker baskets full of fragments…

How does the Lord wish to amaze us with his love today?

1 comment:

  1. Last year, there was a TV ad of a pub / credit card (I forget which) announcing "Only the women get it". It was a play on the word "get" as in "acquire" when the other meaning is, of course, not missing the point, namely that the pub/credit card offerred special privileges to women. Which squares with Fr Chris' observation about a joke having its impact only when the language, culture and context are familiar. Did you get this: "The profound mystery of God made man"?

    "Just as we only truly laugh when we react to something funny, so too do we only truly love when we are moved by a particular reaction to God’s love for us made manifest in Christ. One such reaction is amazement".

    This Advent I was amazed by the choir I sang with as we rehearsed for the Christmas vigil Mass. It wasn't so much the (astounding) quality of the singing, as the depth, spontaneity and authenticity of the opening prayer before each rehearsal ... a praying from the bowels of the one praying, connecting with the Spirit in everyone, moving them to prayer as well. Each prayer left me visibly moved.

    How amazing indeed this God of ours, to surprise us in the events and happenings of our daily lives when we least expect to encounter Him.