Friday, August 01, 2008

Friday in the 17th Week of Ordinary Time (II)
Memorial of St. Alphonsus Liguori
Looking With New Eyes

Readings: Jeremiah 26:1-9; Psalms 69:5, 8-10, 14; Matthew 13:54-58
Picture: CC anthrovik

Today I’m reminded of the Chinese idiom ling yan xiang kan (另眼相看). Literally, it means to see with a different set of eyes. I’ve been told that it has a negative connotation. It’s used, for example, when someone we hold in high esteem is caught in some scandalous activity. We then find ourselves revising our opinion of that person. We look at him/ her with different eyes. But don’t we also often need to do the same in a positive sense as well?

Say we meet an old friend that we haven’t met for a long time. Maybe the last time we saw this person, s/he was short and pimply, with a mouthful of braces, and painfully timid and shy. Then, one day, years later, we meet again. And we are surprised by what we see. We’re greeted by an attractive, self-confident person, moving gracefully in a tall and well-proportioned body. The braces are gone, leaving behind a set of straight and gleaming white teeth. And gone too are the pimples. How do we react? Quite obviously, in order to continue the friendship, we will have to relate to this person in a way different from how we used to. We will need to see with new eyes. Otherwise, if we were instead to cling to our former impressions of this person, we will end up rejecting the new reality before us. And the friendship will die.

Sadly, something like the latter possibility is what we find happening in our readings today. Jesus returns to his hometown with the bearing of a prophet, as powerful as he is popular. Elsewhere he has gained a following through his ministry of preaching and healing. People have been flocking to hear and to touch him. But his old friends and neighbors, and perhaps even the members of his extended family, are not quite ready for this new Jesus. They still cling stubbornly to the Jesus they’ve known from his boyhood. They refuse to look at him with new eyes. They refuse to see beyond the carpenter’s son, the one of whom they think they know everything. And as a result of their rejection of the new reality of who Jesus is, something dies. They forfeit the opportunity of renewing their relationship with the Lord. He works no miracles in their town.

What happens to Jesus in the gospel happens also to God in the first reading. Here we find a dispute in the Temple at Jerusalem, between the prophet Jeremiah and the people. The latter take great pride not only in the Temple, but also in their fidelity to the rituals that take place within it. They think that if only they faithfully carry out these rites of worship, everything will go well for them. But a new and difficult reality is coming to meet them. The powerful Babylonian army is drawing near, threatening their very existence. And Jeremiah, speaking on behalf of God, tells them that they have to repent. Otherwise even the Temple itself will be destroyed. Do they listen? No. They prefer to cling to their old certainties. They refuse to see with new eyes. They reject God’s warning, and even go to the extent of wanting to kill God's messenger. As a result something dies. Not only will the Temple be destroyed, but their religion will be shown up for what it is, an empty husk of routine rituals, devoid of the mysterious and the miraculous.

And what about us? Doesn’t God continue to meet us in new ways each day? Sometimes, for example, God may come to us as someone who helps us in our difficulties. At other times, God may just as easily appear as someone who needs our help. Are we alert and flexible enough to welcome God?

How ready are we to see with new eyes?


  1. Haha! Fr Chris, perhaps you could try looking at your own blog post with new eyes, say, in Chinese?

    Check this out.

  2. From what I know, 另眼相看 (lìng yǎn xiāng kàn) and a closely related idiom, 刮目相看 (guā mù xiāng kàn), could be used either positively or negatively.

    Maybe the Chinese, having a far richer and longer history, are much more used to seeing with new eyes (open-minded!) than what many prejudiced Westerners think? :D

    I'm not finger-pointing. Just rather annoyed with the self-righteousness of many so-called human rights activists. How can any reasonable human being hold over a billion people responsible for the faults of a few black sheep (害群之马), if any?

  3. In my early formative years as a Catholic, a wise teacher reminded us not to deal with an 'image' formed of anyone we first meet. The initial impression we form may not be the person's true self - arrogant, talkative, rude, etc ...
    The next time we meet the same person, this image pops up and we are instinctively turned off and immediately exercise an unfair prejudice on the person which clouds our encounter. To discover who the person really is, we must be open minded to take in what is new and changing.
    If we are to judge by appearances, what would our Christian brethren make of Fr. Bede Griffith whom the Indians called - a prophet born in the West but a saint in the East. He embodies all that is good found in Oriental beliefs.
    There is much to assimilate.

  4. Since Fr Chris brought up the subject of eyes, I couldn't help but think of the various medical conditions that afflict the human eye.

    Glaucomic eyes. A secondary medical affliction brought about by a more serious medical condition, e.g. diabetes. In our spiritual lives, an analogy with "venial" and "serious" sin.

    Jaundiced eyes. I know what jaundice is but I've neither seen nor read about jaundiced eyes. I guess it must be quite discomforting looking into a pair of jaundiced eyes. I once had jaundiced eyes: forming first impressions and pre-judging those I meet.

    Myopic eyes. I have hyper-myopic eyes. Without my glasses, I am like Mr Magoo. Therefore I am more careful with my pair of glasses than I am with my wallet. My hyper myopia extends beyond vision; it used to cause me to look only at the short-term and only at my own immediate interests. Thank God a lot of that is gone - without lasik treatment even!

    Squint eyes. Some squint out of habit, others to focus. If it is to focus, then the person is truly bent on finding out more about what s/he sees. Such squinting helps us grow, even as it requires effort.

    Cross-eye. A friend of mine has a pair of eyes that are ... er ... unco-ordinated. One is set looking permanently away from her nose while the other (thank God) is normal. If she finds out that I'm referring to her, I'm sure I'll get a black eye. To some extent, at various times in our lives, we see the world and others with cross eyes.

    End of completely un-called for musing on eyes.

    Today being the feast of St Alphonsus Liguori, let us in our prayers remember all Redemptorists, here and elsewhere, that their ministry be continually enlivened through the prayers of St Alphonsus.

  5. Okay - I take it that the "ayes" have it, whether Glaucomic, Jauniced, Myopic, Squint or Crossed.
    The "Nays" may need some form of adjustment in spite of the fact that their vision is not distorted by these conditions. We often look but sometimes do not see. I wonder which is the more normal.
    With my mild cataract, it's like trying to remove the veil (maya) to better vision. Yet I've grown accustomed to having less than perfect sight.
    Is clearer necessarily better, if our perception is distorted?
    My anonymous friend (self style Magoo) is myopic but is a man of vision.