Sunday, October 26, 2008

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Readings: Exodus 22:20-26; Psalm 18:2-3, 3-4, 47, 51; 1 Thessalonians 1:5c-10; Matthew 22:34-40
Picture: CC tuchodi

My sisters and brothers, there are two words on my mind today. And, if you permit me, I’d like to share them with you. The first word I learned in school many years ago, and had all but forgotten. But recent circumstances have led me to recall it. You see, shortly after having relocated to Santa Barbara, I bought a couple of small potted plants to decorate my room. I’m not sure what you call it here, but one of them is what we call in our part of the world a money plant. The other is a pot of thyme. What attracted me to each of these plants was their tendency to overflow their containers. I was hoping that, as they grew, they would drape over the surface on which I’d placed them, thus giving an attractive waterfall-like appearance.

But only a few days after I’d bought and installed them by the window in my room, something began to happen. Instead of cascading in the desired fashion, both plants began to veer sharply – and rather unattractively, I thought – in the opposite direction, toward the window. As though their very lives depended upon it, both plants were turning desperately toward the light. That was when I remembered the first word that I want to talk about today. Here was an example of what I’d learned in biology class so many years ago. This is phototropism. The shoots of plants tend to grow toward the light. And their lives do depend upon this turning. For they need the light to survive.

And, as our Mass readings remind us today, like those plants, a similar turning needs to characterize the lives of Christians too. Speaking approvingly of his Thessalonian friends, Paul tells of how they turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God and to await his Son from heaven… And, indeed, to be a Christian is constantly to negotiate such a turning away from false gods who entrap us, toward the One True God who gives us the fullness of life. Like a healthy plant, a practicing Christian needs constantly to turn toward the Light, for upon this depends our very lives in the Spirit.

As Jesus tells us in the gospel, upon the two great commandments of love of God and love of neighbor the whole law and the prophets depend. What’s more, the life-and-death implications of turning to God in this way are strikingly highlighted for us in the first reading. Here, we are reminded of how love manifests itself by showing compassion towards the most unfortunate in society – the aliens, the widows and orphans, as well as our poor neighbors. If ever you wrong them, God says, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry. My wrath will flare up, and I will kill you with the sword… Harsh and scary words perhaps, but important to remember nonetheless, if for no other reason than to help us to keep turning toward the Light. But it’s not always easy to do this. Often it’s far more comfortable, far more attractive, simply to keep going in the direction in which we are already heading.

Which brings me to the second word I want to talk about today. It’s a word that I only just learned some days ago, from one of the people with whom I live. Although it’s a word I learned here in the US, it applies very well to something that happened in my home country some months ago.

Especially in recent years, Singapore has become very cosmopolitan. More and more, foreigners are arriving on our shores, mostly for work. Some of these people are pretty well off materially. They are professors and company directors, bankers and lawyers. But the majority of them are at the other end of the economic spectrum. Most perform menial tasks that few Singaporeans want to do. They become construction workers, domestic help, cleaners and the like. It was to benefit a segment of these alien laborers that the local government announced a plan to build a workers’ hostel. Which sounded like a good idea, except that the hostel was to be located in a well-established residential area.

As you may well expect, people were up in arms. They protested the project vehemently. For them, not only would such a hostel affect the property prices in the locality, but it would also put the safety of the residents and their children on the line. Important as it was to find housing for foreign workers, a more appropriate location should be found. And here’s where the word I learned becomes applicable. What the residents were saying was, in effect, nimby – N-I-M-B-Y – not in my backyard.

Of course, we shouldn’t be too quick to criticize. It’s important to acknowledge the legitimacy of the protests. It is probably true that the project might well adversely affect property prices and the security of residents. Not only is building a hostel for foreign workers in a residential area far from the sexy thing to do, it could be downright dangerous.

Which underscores the radicality of the love commandments that Jesus is talking about in the gospel today. To be a Christian, to love God and neighbor, often means having to do things that seem unattractive and uncomfortable. It means, for example, showing mercy to aliens, not least because, as the first reading tells us, we were once aliens ourselves – even if not us personally, then at least our forefathers and mothers, and even if not in a legal sense, then surely in a spiritual sense. For it is only by the life, death and resurrection of Christ, that we were all given a place, not just in the backyard, but even in the very household, and at the very dining table of God. Isn’t this what we are celebrating at this Mass?

To continue being a Christian, then, means being continually willing to negotiate a sharp turn away from the prevailing idols of comfort and expedience, in the direction of the Light of God’s love and compassion. On this turning depends the very authenticity and integrity of our lives as followers of Christ.

Sisters and brothers, even as this great nation continues to negotiate the financial crisis in which it, and the rest of the world, is mired, even as it prepares to elect its next president, perhaps it’s useful for us Christians to continue to examine ourselves. When we look at how we live our lives – when others look at us – what is it that we see? Is ours merely an attractive, comfortable, but ultimately self-centered existence? Or is there rather an ongoing effort to turn towards the Light?

Sisters and brothers, how are we – you and I – being invited to reject the attitude of nimby, so as to live the reality of phototropism today?


  1. The word NIMBY suggests a double standard - one moral standard for other people or things that happen elsewhere, and another standard for myself or things that might happen too close for comfort.

    How are we being invited to reject the attitude of nimby, so as to live the reality of phototropism today? Am I guilty of nimby? Looks like it's time to do some soul searching.

  2. Fr Chris,

    The money plant and the Thyme plant make perfect metaphors for this week's readings on God's invitation to LIFE.

    We know we all need some money to sustain life, but less people may know that the Thyme plant is a herb with healing properties often used for respiratory conditions. It's lovely aroma makes it a wonderful culinary herb, and a freshly steeped cup of fresh Thyme tea with a dash of honey does wonders for one's spirits!

    Pondering the innate ability of animals and plants to seek life: isn't it sad that the human person created in the image and likeness of the Trinity with heart, mind, soul and strength to choose to love as God loves, sometimes lack the intelligence the lowly plant has to grow towards the Light?

    How is it that we can be seduced to believe that various man-made distractions can fill the hole in one's heart that is meant for God alone ?

    The mnemonic BUSY (Be Under Satan's Yoke)is never more true than NOW in our age of instant messaging and unlimited Internet access.

    How much easier to recede into the comfort zone of the virtual world than to consciously find time to seek God's challenging ways to love God and neighbour, interacting face-to-face in a genuine human relationship of caring and sharing..especially with persons we are less attracted to...

    Perhaps the Thyme plant has much to teach us about rootedness, silence, and being totally in the presence of the Light and the company of the human person who appreciates it's beauty, and in doing so be a source of Life and Healing.

    As for the cascading effect, may I suggest planting English Ivy-- which has the additional feature of leaves shaped to remind us of the life-giving Love of the Trinity. (NB: not to be confused with the poison-ivy which can cause DEATH from severe allergy; we don't want to choose death...or do we?)

    God Bless and don't forget to enjoy a cup of fresh Thyme tea!!

  3. "When I take a long time, I am slow.
    When my boss takes a long time, he is thorough.

    "When I don’t do it, I am lazy.
    When my boss doesn’t do it, he’s too busy.

    "When I do it without being told, I’m trying to be smart.
    When my boss does the same, that is initiative.

    "When I please my boss, that’s ass-kissing.
    When my boss pleases his boss, that’s co-operating.

    "When I don’t answer emails it’s because I’m disorganised.
    When my boss doesn’t answer emails it’s because he’s ruthlessly prioritising.

    "When I lose my temper it’s because I have poor emotional control.
    When my boss loses his temper it’s a planned use of emotion to convey a point forcefully."

    One could go on... Just replace "I" with "someone else" and "my boss" with "I". ;-)

  4. One murtabak per week please!

  5. I miss reading your reflections, Fr Chris. Please do not stop posting.

  6. Fr Chris, I miss seeing new posts on the blog. I'm sure that I'm not the only one. Please start writing again ...