Monday, July 21, 2008

Monday in the 16th Week of Ordinary Time (II)
Question and Answer

Readings: Micah 6:1-4, 6-8; Psalms 50:5-6, 8-9, 16bc-17, 21 and 23; Mark 12:38-42
Picture: CC bertrudestein

Let’s imagine for a moment that you’re in a classroom teaching a group of students, and someone asks a question. How do you feel? How might you respond? I suppose the response will depend very much, among other things, on the question itself. For, as most of us know well, there are questions and there are questions. There are, for example, truly genuine questions – those that are sincerely asked with a view to finding out more. The responsible teacher will probably respond to such by trying one’s best to give an answer, even if it may take time and effort. Then, of course, there are questions that are more of a distraction than a help. These may be asked simply as a means of showing off, or to put the teacher on the spot, or, worse, even as a means of resisting the truth. If such is the case, the experienced teacher will probably try to respond in a way that helps the questioner face the truth, or, at least, to prevent the class from being distracted.

In each of our Mass readings today, God is teaching a lesson in repentance. And questions are being asked. The people in the first reading want to know: With what gifts shall I come into the Lord’s presence…? The scribes and Pharisees in the gospel ask Jesus if he could show them a sign to convince them that he is indeed to be believed. How genuine are these questions? In the gospel, Jesus sees through the hypocrisy of his interrogators. He knows that they are not really interested in a sign. For hasn’t he already performed enough miracles to demonstrate the power of his teaching? Seasoned teacher that he is, Jesus refuses to be distracted by the unreasonable request. In the first reading too, God responds to the people’s question by emphasizing that what is good has (already) been explained to you… They already know what is required of them: act justly, love tenderly, and walk humbly with your God. Like the Pharisees in the gospel, it is not so much more head-knowledge that is required as much as a softening of the heart.

As such, the focus in both readings is less on presenting new teaching than it is on inviting the listeners to first remember what God has done for God’s people in the past. I brought you out of the land of Egypt, I rescued you from the house of slavery… The next step is to highlight the fact that what God has done in the past, God is continuing to do in the present: when Jonah preached (the people of Nineveh) repented; and there is something greater than Jonah here… The ball is then placed firmly in the people’s court. How willing are they to allow themselves to remember, to be moved, and to repent?

And what of us? Doesn’t God continue to do for us today, what God did for the people in the time of Micah and of Jesus? Isn’t God continuing to invite us to remember God’s marvelous deeds for us in the past, to recognize the Divine presence in our lives in the present, so as to allow God more firmly to occupy the center of our hearts both now and ever after? Isn’t this process of remembering and repentance what we’re about in this celebration of the Eucharist?

But what is our response to God’s teaching?

What kinds of questions are we asking today?

1 comment:

  1. Your commentary today brings me back to the times when your response to our queries was the epitome of humility. Instead of providing answers you would address us (the class) and made this observation - the collective wisdom in this room is greater than mine.
    Somehow I know that you sense that some of the questions raised are in the category of Question for Question sake. Others are for clarification and genuine seeking.
    There is another category which is the 'silly' question raised so that others may benefit from your sharing. Sometimes the motive is the Ah Q variety - since no one wants to be seen to be ignorant.
    In the picture you have selected, I chuckle to myself knowing that it is not the custom to be butt naked and be ridiculed which affected not this innocent child.


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