Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Tuesday in the 18th Week of Ordinary Time (II)
Shock Treatment

Readings: Jeremiah 30:1-2, 12-15, 18-22; Psalms 102:16-18, 19-21, 29 and 22-23; Matthew 15:1-2, 10-14
Picture: CC eliazar

I’ve been told that the local construction industry is (finally) booming. It does seem as though, everywhere we turn, we find MRT tunnels being dug and new edifices being built. But that is only half the picture. Along with the gradual appearance of new buildings, there is also a rapid disappearance of old structures. For the new can be erected only after the old has first been pulled down. The excitement of construction must often be preceded by the trauma of demolition. This is especially so when the old structure has become unsafe for human habitation.

Something like that is happening in both our readings today. In the first, God tells the people that the structure of their social and religious lives have grown unsafe. Their worship has become empty. Although apparently attentive to external religious observances, they have failed to see to the needs of the poor and the outcaste. Although seemingly concerned about worship, they have actually turned to false gods and neglected the One true God. The building cannot be salvaged any longer. And, switching to a medical metaphor, God tells them that their wound is incurable, their injury past healing.

Even so, God promises a time of healing and restoration. God foretells a period of rebuilding, not just of external structures, but, more importantly, of the people’s relationship with God. You shall be my people and I will be your God. But before this can happen, the old unsafe structure must first be torn down. The excitement of construction must be preceded by the trauma of demolition.

Jesus says as much in the gospel. Using yet another metaphor, he speaks of the religion of the Pharisees and scribes as a plant my heavenly Father has not planted. Their religion focuses only on external observances, while neglecting the interior life. It is concerned with accumulating the riches that come through fidelity to rules and regulations, while failing to consider the struggles of the poor in spirit. Not only does this plant not bear fruit in the peace and justice that are signs of God's kingdom, but it actually chokes the latter’s growth. Switching to a medical metaphor not unlike the one in the first reading, Jesus refers to the scribes and Pharisees as blind. Theirs is an illness that prevents them from seeing the things that are truly important.

In order to cure this blindness, in order to heal this incurable illness, the plant must be pulled up by the roots. And it is this traumatic process of uprooting and demolition that Jesus tries to initiate by saying something that shocks his listeners. It is what comes out of the mouth that makes him unclean. The key question is whether or not the scribes and Pharisees will allow their shock to lead them to conversion. Or will they instead prefer to cling to that which needs to be cleared away in order to make way for the plant that the Father wishes to plant, the building that God wishes to erect – a structure that is firmly grounded on no other foundation than the love of God made manifest in Christ.

In our lives too, don’t we encounter, from time to time, traumatic experiences designed to shake us out of our drowsiness and complacency? How do we respond to such treatment?

How is the Lord shocking us into restoration today?

1 comment:

  1. 'Tear and build' is not necessarily an unwelcomed activity. As the oxymoron goes 'permanent change', we must experience metanoia and for me this entails seeing new things with focused vision.
    My awareness of the changes taking place in the self, family, friends and the larger community, renews my hope that something good is happening. Prosperity brings out the best in those who are touched by the plight of the needy.
    Witness that the Church is increasingly populated by caring people - if we can observe the goodness around devoid of whatever motives that motivate. God is the judge.
    From an incurable optimist.


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