Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Wednesday in the 15th Week of Ordinary Time (II)
Specialized Training

Readings: Isaiah 10:5-7, 13b-16; Psalms 94:5-6, 7-8, 9-10, 14-15; Matthew 11:25-27
Picture: CC ActionPixs(Maruko)

The sports section of yesterday’s Straits Times carried a report of how Tao Li, one of our national swimmers, is preparing for the Olympics. I was quite struck by how specialized her training is, especially as it was depicted in two photographs. One showed her working out on a machine that was used by swimmers for power training. Another showed her undergoing light therapy, so as to allow her body to adjust to peaking earlier in the day since that was when the swimming events in Beijing would be held. Very specialized training tailored to meet very specific needs.

Which brings to mind the situation in our first reading today. Here, it’s clear that the Assyrians have trained hard and moulded themselves into a highly efficient war-machine. They have succeeded in conquering the northern kingdom of Israel and are now setting their sights on the southern kingdom of Judah. But, despite their apparent success, God is very unhappy with them. And the reason for God’s unhappiness is that being effective in war is only a part – and not even the most important part – of the role that God has in mind for them. In the frenzy of their fighting with and conquering of other nations, the Assyrians seem to have forgotten that they are meant to be instruments wielded by the hand of God. Like the axe and the saw, the cudgel and the club, they need to submit to the will of God. Instead they have neglected to consider what God wants. They have not shown mercy. Their heart was to destroy and to go on cutting nations to pieces without limit. Effective though they may be at war, they are a failure as instruments of God’s will. Their training has not been specialized enough.

Considering the example of the Assyrians, we cannot help but look into our lives, at the different types of training with which we may occupy ourselves. Whether it be in school or in the home, at work or at play, much of our time is spent honing our skills to become ever more effective and efficient in what we do. But how much time and effort do we spend training to be instruments that can be wielded more smoothly by the hand of God? How much consideration do we give to listening, recognizing and responding to the voice of God in our lives?

And the gospel tells us in what this training consists. Here, Jesus makes plain that the knowledge of God that is needed for us to be good instruments is something that comes as a generous gift. And it is given especially to those who are humble and open enough to welcome it into their hearts. For God seems to delight in hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children. Perhaps this is because, while the former may revel in their own accomplishments and talents, the latter know how simply to relax and to receive what is given. In particular, they seem to be open enough to enter into a loving personal relationship with Jesus, even when he may shatter their preconceived ideas of what a Messiah ought to be. They are willing to undergo specialized training, to become instruments fitted to the hand of God, effective in carrying out not their own wishes but the will of the Lord in their lives.

How might we submit to such specialized training today?

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