Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Tuesday in the 6th Week of Ordinary Time (II)
Who’s Got The Remote?

Readings: James 1:12-18; Psalm 94:12-13a, 14-15, 18-19; Mark 8:14-21
Picture: CC LabGP & SigOther

When you walk into an air-conditioned room, what temperature is it inside? When the TV is on, what channel is playing on the screen? The short answer to these questions is, of course, that it depends. And one of the things upon which it depends is who’s got the remote. Often, it’s the one with the remote who gets to decide these things. That’s the guy with the power, the one in control.

We live in an uncertain world, a world where natural disasters seem to sprout like mushrooms in a rainforest, and the price of something as basic as food fluctuates to the great detriment of the poor. And it is those in power who get to determine who receives what forms of aid and at what time. It is those with the money to invest who are able to influence the rise and fall of commodities prices. In such a climate of uncertainty and change, the common response is to somehow cling to certainty of some sort, to seek to establish control, to try to get hold of the remote.

And yet, this is also the kind of response that the Pharisees and Herod of today’s gospel take to the extreme. Scripture scholars tell us that today’s gospel passage is a difficult one. It’s unclear, for example, what is meant by the yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod. Still, we might be justified in thinking of their inordinate desire for control. For it is the Pharisees who insist on a sign from Jesus before they will believe in him. It is they who orchestrate his eventual demise. And it is Herod who seeks to curb the unpredictable yet prophetic tongue of John the Baptist. It is Herod who arrests John, imprisons him, and has him beheaded. Beware the yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod… Beware of the need to wrest control of the remote. One might end up sending God to the gallows in the process.

This warning is one that we need to hear in this fast-paced society of ours, where many of our difficulties seem related in some way to stress, where workaholism seems to be everyone’s favorite sin, where counselors and psychologists are increasingly in demand, and where many have lost the taste for God. These are symptoms of something gone awry. And it isn’t easy to see the root of the problem, let alone to address it. Our need for control – and the anxiety that results when we fail to achieve it – often clouds our judgment. Like the disciples in today’s gospel, we just don’t get what the Lord is talking about. He warns them of a dangerous heart condition that alienates people from God, from their deepest selves, and from one another. But they fret over their failure to bring food. In the presence of the Bread of Life – who fed five thousand with five loaves, leaving twelve baskets of scraps – they worry about their daily bread. Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod…

This is not to say, of course, that one should do nothing. But isn’t there a difference between working for one’s daily bread and trying to wrest control of the remote? Don’t our readings today remind us that, ultimately, the remote is in the hand of God? Make no mistake about this… it is all that is good, everything that is perfect, which is given to us from above… The Lord will not abandon his people nor forsake those who are his own… When cares increase in my heart your consolation calms my soul…

In an uncertain and fast-changing world, perhaps what we need most is first to let God be God, to ask for a deeper awareness of, and the desire to cooperate with, the Divine Providence.

How are we being invited to relinquish control of the remote today?


  1. Fr. Chris,
    Your analogy today is so up to keeping with the harsh realities of the world we now live in. Who gets the remote has wider implications.
    Sometimes, I think the remote gets the better of us. We then become robots; being dictated by what the information technology wants of us – and we place it on the altar of innovation, unconsciously worshipped. We function according to the gadgetry they put out, telling us this is what we need; the media calls this the Cognitive Age. The controller becomes the controlled, the master and slave role reversals, ever subtly defined.
    Unless we are ever vigilant, we fall into this new cult and become enslaved to our mobile phones, music players, … as we follow the latest fad. Those who grow out of this age are able to take a step back and recognize the pitfalls. What about those that are into the technology, the Gen-Y, who are surrounded by remotes, with the attendant need to take control?

  2. Agree. As one familiar with Web technologies, I'm often given so many choices and so much control over the look-and-feel of many sites that I visit and use. I fear I'm now suffering from what someone calls Continuous Partial Attention (CPA), constantly dividing my attention among many sites via simultaneously opened browser tabs at any point in time - in other words, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). It's very difficult for me to relinquish control of the remote.

    Perhaps I need to go unplugged more often? But how to do so when this is part of my daily work?

  3. Prayer... keeping in constant prayer. How can we say we love him if we can't commit or be prompted to prayer.. Should we feel his love, we would ve naturally love Him and communicate with Him.

  4. Hello. Congratulations for your blog. Do you know why the young people pray the holy rosary? You can watch here fifty testimonies of young university students
    (in Spanish, with english subtitles)
    See it: http://es.youtube.com/watch?v=YxjjyXhO9EA

    Santiago (Granada, Spain)

  5. Who has the remote in the Irrawaddy delta, Burma and in Sichuan Province, China? Some might even venture to say that God lost His remote.

    The two human tragedies, happening so close to each other, remind us of how society makes use of the same remote. In Burma, greed and power manipulated the remote for their own selfish ends, frustrating all international relief efforts. In China, everyone got their hands on the remote to deal with the catastrophe, never mind if it wasn't well coordinated.

    Let us remember in our prayers, all those who perished (and their families), the survivors and, more importantly, all at the fore front of relief efforts.


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