Friday, July 18, 2008

Friday in the 15th Week of Ordinary Time (II)
The Loving Lawnmower

Readings: Isaiah 38:1-6, 21-22, 7-8; Isaiah 38:10, 11, 12abcd, 16; Matthew 12:1-8
Picture: CC David Dean

It’s likely that not many of us like fickle people. We get irritated by those who can’t seem to make up their minds, who never seem to know exactly what they want, who keep flip-flopping from one option to another. They strike us as not being serious enough, of being too wishy-washy. In contrast, even though we may not necessarily like them a lot, we tend to respect the steady and serious ones, those who seem so sure of themselves, those who seem able to make a decision and stick with it through thick and thin.

Which is why our readings today are so surprising. For, especially in the first reading, we find God doing something that God seems to do quite regularly, at least in the Old Testament. God seems to change his mind. At first, the fates of king Hezekiah and the nation of Judah are apparently sealed. The former is stricken with a fatal illness, while the latter is under imminent threat of being overrun by the Assyrians. The stage is set for the exit of both ruler and ruled. But Hezekiah offers a tearful and heartfelt prayer to God. And God relents. God heals the king and saves the nation. Is God being fickle? Is our God not able to make up his mind? How are we to respect such a wishy-washy God as this, much less follow and obey him?

The gospel helps us to reflect fruitfully upon these questions, even if it doesn’t quite give us a complete answer. It does this by presenting two points for our consideration. The first has to do with the Pharisees. In them we see that being sure of oneself is not always such a good thing. For if they were anything, the Pharisees were certainly sure of themselves. Their confidence was rooted in their encyclopedic knowledge of the labyrinthine provisions of the Law. And yet, their stubborn adherence to legal guidelines leads them to the extreme of rigidity. Ignoring the obvious hunger of Jesus’ disciples, they accuse them of illegal harvesting on the Sabbath. For the Pharisees, the plucking of a few grains of corn is equated with harvesting! It’s not always a good thing to be too sure of oneself.

In contrast, Jesus presents us with a picture of concerned compassion. Through his words and his actions, the Lord teaches that the Law is fulfilled only in love and compassion. And it is here that we find the constancy underlying God’s apparent fickleness in the first reading. If God sometimes seems to change his mind, it is only in order to respond more effectively to the hungers of the human heart. In doing this, God demonstrates a flexibility that transcends the blunt instrument that is the Law. Of course, this will often make for less predictable, less orderly situations. But perhaps that is as it should be.

I’m reminded of the story of a man who promised his 12-year-old daughter $20 if she would mow the lawn. She agreed to do it while he was at work. But when he got home in the evening, he noticed that although most of the lawn had indeed been mown, there remained a patch of uncut grass right in the middle of it. Calling his daughter, he told her that he was unable to pay her until she had finished the job. But the girl steadfastly refused and seemed quite happy to forfeit the money. After she left him, the man’s curiosity got the better of him. He went out into the garden to take a look. There, nestled in the uncut grass, he found a large frog. His daughter hadn’t had the heart to disturb it, or possibly to injure it. To save the frog, she was willing even to forgo her reward, and to leave the lawn unfinished.

When there is love, there sometimes needs to be disorder.

And what of us? Are we fickle? Are we rigid? Or do we strive to offer to others the same love and mercy that God is constantly offering to us?

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