Monday, June 23, 2008
Monday in the 12th Week of Ordinary Time (II)
Facing the Opponent Within
Readings: 2 Kings 17:5-8, 13-15a, 18; Psalms 60:3, 4-5, 12-13; Matthew 7:1-5
Picture: CC malakins
Most of us are familiar with the name Maria Sharapova. But probably not so many will know who Robert Lansdorp is. I myself only found the second name by googling. Lansdorp is the coach of the famous women’s tennis champion. But why, we may wonder, does an ace like Sharapova need a coach at all? At this point in her career, wouldn’t she already know all there is to know about the game? We can all probably answer the question quite easily. Being a good player doesn’t necessary mean that one knows everything about the game. There’s always more to learn. Also, a coach can help to assess and exploit the strength and weaknesses of one’s opponent, something that is not easy to do when the player is in the thick of the action. And, perhaps even more importantly, the person on other side of the net is not the only opponent that the player has to face. A more formidable foe than the one across the court is the one who resides within the player’s own mind and heart. Isn’t this, in large part, what the coach is for – to help the player to face and to overcome this inner opponent?
The situation in the first reading is similar but far more serious. Here we find not the intensity of a tennis match but the violent clamor of war. At this point in their history, the people of Israel are divided not only into twelve tribes but also two nations, Israel and Judah. And the first reading tells of the defeat of Israel at the hands of the Assyrians. The capital city is sacked and the people taken into exile. Of two nations only one is left standing. Of twelve tribes only one survives. But who, we may ask, is the one responsible for this terrible defeat? Who is the enemy in this war? Is it the Assyrians? Or is it God who has forsaken the people? The reading lays the blame primarily on another foe: This happened because the Israelites had sinned against the Lord their God… They worshipped other gods…
The reading also gives the reason for the shameful defeat at the hands of this interior opponent. Too preoccupied with the external situations and challenges facing them, they lost sight of the foe within. They forgot the very thing that Jesus speaks about in the gospel today, that one needs to take the plank out of one’s own eye first in order to see more clearly and deal more effectively with the splinters without. And although the Lord had warned the people repeatedly through all the prophets and all the seers… they would not listen, they were more stubborn than their ancestors had been… Refusing to heed the advice of their Coach and his assistants, they were made to taste the bitter agonies of defeat.
Probably few of us who read this blog have to face the exertions of professional tennis, let alone the brutalities of war. But don’t we all encounter various difficult challenges and formidable opponents on the tennis courts and battlefields of daily human living? And in our efforts to train ourselves to meet and defeat our foes, don’t we need to give attention to the most formidable foe of all, the one who resides between our ears and within our breasts? And, in this effort, don’t we all need to rely on the help and guidance of those who love and care for us, those who serve to communicate to us the warnings of our heavenly Father?
Today, how willing are we heed the Coach’s advice?
How ready are we to face the foe within?
Posted by Fr Chris at 9:47 am