Monday, August 31, 2009

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
The Goose is for the Golden Egg

Readings: Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8; Psalm 15:2-3, 3-4, 4-5; James 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27; Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Picture: cc kjarrett

Sisters and brothers, I think most of us have heard the story about the farmer who had the tremendous good fortune of owning a goose that laid a golden egg each day? Eager to get rich quick, and thinking that all the eggs are stored in the belly of the bird, the farmer kills it and, of course, loses everything. No more goose. No more eggs. The moral of the story: greed will get you nowhere, especially when it’s coupled with stupidity.

But here’s another story about two other farmers each of whom has also been given a goose that lays golden eggs. The first farmer is unlucky. His goose is a nuisance and a troublemaker. Not only does it refuse to be toilet trained, it is also highly aggressive. It often intimidates the other animals and sometimes even attacks the farmer and his family. Finally, unable to tolerate all the nonsense any longer, the disillusioned farmer kills his goose, thus terminating his precious supply of golden eggs.

The second farmer is very different. As bizarre as it may sound, this one actually falls in love with his goose and pampers it to no end. Not only does he feed it with rich gourmet food – food that is really quite unsuitable for geese – he also refuses to let it do any work. He even goes to the extent of dressing up the poor animal in all sorts of designer clothes and jewelry. As you might expect, because of this kind of treatment, the goose soon becomes overweight and sickly. Eventually, its health issues became so serious that it can no longer lay eggs, golden or otherwise. But the farmer is so distracted by the tasks of feeding and dressing up the goose that he doesn’t even notice.

Sisters and brothers, I know you’ve not heard this story before (since I made it up). But what do you think might be its moral? What possible connection might it have to our Mass readings today? What is its relevance for us?

Notice, first, that each of the geese is received as a gift. Likewise, in our readings today, mention is also made of gifts given and received. In the first reading, Moses presents the people of Israel with a gift from God, a set of statutes and decrees, a code of dos and don’ts that will help them to prosper in the Promised Land. Also, in the second reading, after telling us that every perfect gift is from above, the author goes on to speak about what pure and undefiled religion looks like. It is here in our readings that we find a God-given goose. This is God’s gift to the people, a code of religious practices and institutions, including the Ten Commandments, for example, as well as the institution of the priesthood and the various guidelines concerning feast days and how they are to be celebrated.

But just as the goose is precious only because it lays golden eggs, so too do these laws and institutions embody a more precious gift, namely the close covenantal commitment between God and the people, God’s promise to be continually present and active among them. As Moses reminds his listeners in the first reading: what great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the Lord, our God, is to us whenever we call upon him? Similarly, the second reading reminds the early Christians to welcome the word – the presence of God – that has been planted in them. And can we not also say the same about ourselves? Although our religious practices and institutions may differ from those of the Israelites in the first reading, as well as from the early Christians of the second, do we not continue to receive God’s word through the various aspects of our Catholic religion? Isn’t this what we are doing here today, for example? Here, in this place, are we not attending to the goose of religious practice as it miraculously lays for us the golden egg of God’s presence and action in our lives?

But if this is so, if we are indeed recipients of a goose that lays golden eggs, then the experience of the two farmers in our story reminds us that there are at least two dangers that we need to guard against. The first is the danger faced by the first farmer. It is that of disillusionment. For even though the goose is a gift from God, and even though it miraculously lays golden eggs, it is still a goose, prone to the silliness of geese. There will be times when it will try our patience to breaking point. For instance, do we not hear stories of how an unreasonable minister (cleric or lay) in one church might be the cause of people defecting to another? Or, more serious, can we even begin to imagine how those who have suffered from clerical child abuse must struggle with their ambivalent feelings towards the church. Then, of course, there are those who decide to do away with the goose altogether and to undertake the arduous task of searching for gold on their own, those who prefer to describe themselves as spiritual but not religious. As understandable as this latter response may be, we might be forgiven for wondering if it may not be a case of someone throwing the baby out with the bath water, or even of cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face.

Then there is the danger faced by the second farmer, the same danger to which the Pharisees and scribes in the gospel succumb, the danger of distraction. Again, as bizarre as it sounds, isn’t it really easy to become so distracted with the goose as to forget about the golden eggs? Isn’t it easy to be so concerned about every minute detail of our own performance as to neglect to open our hearts to the God who stands at the door knocking? This people honors me with their lips, says Jesus, quoting Isaiah, but their hearts are far from me. And I myself have to confess, for example, that I live and worship at a church quite literally surrounded by homeless people. Some of them camp on our very doorstep. But as much as I pay careful attention to our liturgical performance within the church, I also tend to ignore the presence of these people without. And yet, more likely than not, their bodies – unkempt and unwashed though they may be – are where that pure religion that the second reading speaks about is to be found. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for the orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world. Could my attention to worship to the neglect of charity and justice be one way in which I am pampering the goose at the expense of the golden eggs?

Sisters and brothers, truly it is not easy. It is not easy to safeguard this precious gift that God has entrusted to us, to continue to discipline the goose of religion, even as we focus our attention on the golden eggs of God’s presence. It is not easy to guard against the twin dangers of disillusionment and distraction. Yet it is on this that the vitality of our faith and the purity of our religion depend. Isn’t this why our opening prayer today is so important? In it, we asked almighty God to help us to do what needs to be done: fill our hearts with love for you, increase our faith, and by your constant care protect the good you have given us. As it turns out, even the preservation of our God-given treasures requires a further gift from God. For as it is written in 2 Corinthians 4:7: we hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us.

Sisters and brothers, how open are we to experience this power, to receive this gift of God today?


  1. Dear Fr Chris, I follow and read your blog whenever I can, for several reasons. This latest offering is sheer wonder.
    Your story of the magical golden Goose and the other two regarding disillusionment and distraction of the farmers are so very true to life.
    We just had the Breaking of the Word yesterday, this would have been a terrific aid. It's so refreshing and easy to understand.
    Thanks for thinking up of these gems in your moments of theophany.

  2. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for the orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

    To my simple, straightforward mind, these lines from St James found me nodding in full agreement at our Sunday Homily last week.

    The golden goose tale is interesting, but too convoluted for my simple intellect. I do see my children as God's gifts, and can relate to the need for being patient with their silliness and difficult moments in our relationship, as well as the need to help them recognise their true value without over-pampering them or minimising their potential.

    Ultimately, the "gold" is in their ability to love God, neighbour and self, and live out that love "to care for the orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world".

    The magic is in my being able to heed God's presence in my life, so as not to be the silly goose who gets in the way of God's good work.

    :) Shalom to you.

  3. Fr Chris,
    Your homily has been food for thought. Maybe you can help me think these ideas through...

    Much of life as we perceive it is illusion. To be disillusioned with the illusion, does that mean we find the real thing?
    If God's golden Presence does not reside merely in the distracting packaging of religious performance, then why the need for elaborate forms of worship?

    The unseen God speaks to hearts stripped of disillusions and distractions.
    Alas, we are not ready to recognise the Holy of Holies dwelling in the tabernacle of our own heart, for it is beset by many needs and cares and outward distractions.
    So rituals call us from our own distractions to take notice of God who can touch us through our concrete senses, before we allow ourselves to be touched by the God with no hands.

    Until we are ready to see God face to face, as long as we do not miss the packaging for the Real Presence, we're all right.
    After all, the magical goose is not the only source of golden eggs, nor is gold the only source of wealth.
    In fact, this isn't about the goose or the egg at all, but about the relationship the farmer has to the Giver of the gift and the Gift itself.
    As the OT reading speaks so lovingly, "What great nation has its god so near as the Lord our God is to us when we call to him?"

    That God is whispering her presence in nature as he is shouting his joy through song, we can be reached through our distractions and disillusions if we let these go.
    The visible institutional church insofar as it still points the way to God, and doesn't claim to be God, is still valuable on our journey of faith. But it is also good to know that God speaks most clearly to our hearts in silence.

    My deep gratitude to the many religious who care enough to bring God to those who are searching for something beyond the world's illusions of joy. I will keep you all in prayer...

    PS: I found this homily very distracting initially but fortunately did not give in to disillusion. Tx

  4. Fr Chris, I'm feeling disillusioned. I don't think I understand what you're writing anymore.

  5. what is real and what is illusion? If our present life is illusion for we are here, on earth now only to ready ourselves for our future life in heaven. The Real. Then is all that we live in our day to day illusion and our visions and dreams reality. I wonder.

    Far more difficulty to live the "illusion" that is now if we focus on its distractions, disappointments, difficulties and despair than to live the "reality" that is the promise of future hope.

    Confused....... such is the human condition. Perhaps it is best to be in the now and to be truly present in each and every interaction of the day, guided by the reality of the future

  6. Thanks for comment n.5 on the wise insights to resolve the illusion vs reality issue especially how not to focus on our fears and difficulties, regrets and lifeless past encounters.
    Living authentically in the now is truly the only path open to those who seek a genuine life of faith as we hang in there, and seek God's beauty and promise already present and ever renewing in a world torn by disharmony.
    Those who can recognise and experience God's grace right now in the messy day to day living are the ones who also get a glimpse of heaven now and then, in preparation for the more lasting joy to come.

  7. I wonder if there is another way to look at the illusion / reality question...

    If we search deeply enough beneath the illusory daily grind of disappointing disharmony in our fallen world, would we discover the "veiled presence" of God's hand in precious gems of charity and humble service by unsung heroes heralding that "the kingdom is among you"?

    Take the recent disaster relief efforts with people from all walks of life working tirelessly to save lives and rebuild homes....

    God's presence comes disguised in the so-called illusion of daily life as the world is not ready to meet the awesome grandeur of God's glory (the blinding reality of glorious hope and peace we all long for). We are really not that used to "good news", I must admit.

    Yet, when we can love with transformed hearts and minds, and see God's world through eyes of child-like wonder, would we discover all of creation "charged with the grandeur of God"?

    There is only one way to find eyes.. heart...a recover God's original image for true humanity.

    Shalom :)