Sunday, January 27, 2013

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)
Reviving the Drowning

Picture: cc Ofutt Air Force Base

Sisters and brothers, imagine for a moment someone suddenly experiencing difficulties while taking a dip in a swimming pool. Maybe s/he develops a muscle cramp. Or maybe s/he just doesn’t swim very well. Whatever the reason, the person starts to struggle in the water. Finds it difficult to stay afloat. And, after some time, the struggling gets weaker and weaker. The person begins to drown.

Thankfully, an alert lifeguard sees what’s happening, dives into the pool, and pulls the person out. But s/he has already stopped breathing. The body has already started to shut down. The lifeguard immediately begins administering CPR. Blowing life-giving air into the person’s mouth. Compressing the person’s chest. And, as this is being done, a small group of people start to gather. Maybe they’re curious. Or perhaps they’re genuinely concerned for the survival of their fellow-swimmer. They want to see if the lifeguard will succeed. Or if it is already too late. Will the unconscious swimmer be revived? Will the motionless body be resuscitated? Will the drowning person once more draw breath?

Crucial questions surrounding a rescue mission. Isn’t this also what we find in our Mass readings today? In each of our readings, there are drowning people requiring resuscitation. People on whom a lifeguard is performing CPR. With varying degrees of success. The first reading, as you know, is set in a time just after the return of the Israelites from exile in Babylon. God has rescued them from foreign oppression. And brought them back to their own land. But they are not completely out of danger yet. Having been away for so long, the people have forgotten the laws that God had given to their ancestors. Laws that helped earlier generations to live according to God’s ways. The people have been drowning in attitudes and habits that they picked up when living among pagan peoples, who worship foreign gods. Customs that are not always in line with the ways of God. The ways that lead to the fullness of life.

It is this same drowning people that the prophet Ezra gathers in the first reading. And it is on them that he performs CPR. He breathes the breath of life into them by reading and explaining to them the Law of God. For, as we declared just now, in the response to today’s psalm, your words, Lord, are spirit, and they are life. The Word of God is, for us, the Breath of Life. And, thankfully, Ezra’s rescue mission has a happy ending. The people welcome the breath of God’s Word into their hearts. And they begin to come alive. They are moved by what they hear. They even shed tears. And Ezra continues to revive them by reminding them to focus not so much on their own sins, as much as on God’s mercy. They are to stop drowning in their own sorrow. But instead to remember all the wonderful things God has been doing for them. To rejoice in the goodness of the Lord. For the joy of the Lord is your stronghold.

We see something similar happening in the gospel as well. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus begins his public ministry by entering the synagogue in his hometown and preaching the Good News to the people there. Using a passage from the prophet Isaiah, Jesus describes what he is doing in terms of a rescue mission. The spirit of the Lord has been given to me, he says. He has sent me to bring the good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and to the blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free.

To a people imprisoned by many religious obligations that do not seem to bring them any closer to God, Jesus offers liberation. To a people unable to see and to recognise God’s presence in their daily lives, Jesus offers new sight. Into the cold hearts of drowning people, Jesus breathes a new breath of life. Which is nothing other than the breath of the Spirit of God. A breath that brings freedom and the fullness of life. Unfortunately, however, Jesus is not as well received as Ezra was. As we will see in next Sunday’s gospel reading, the people refuse to be revived. They take offence at what Jesus tells them. So angry are they with their Lifeguard from Heaven that they even try to kill him.

In the second reading too, we find a people drowning in some way. As you know the Christian community in Corinth was blessed with many different spiritual gifts. Gifts of praying in tongues, for example, of speaking words of prophecy, of healing and teaching, and so on. But the people place such great emphasis on their individual giftedness that they lose sight of God, the Giver of every good gift. They use their different talents in ways that divide the community. In ways that bring death and destruction. Instead of life and freedom. In the second reading, Paul is writing to a people drowning in their own arrogance and overblown sense of self-importance.

It is into this people that Paul breathes God’s Word of Life. Paul reminds them that they should be exercising their gifts not to inflate their own egos, but rather to build up the Body of Christ, of which they are all members. You together are Christ’s Body, he tells them, but each of you is a different part of it. What the reading leaves unclear is how receptive are the Corinthians to Paul’s efforts at spiritual CPR. Will they choose to accept the Spirit of life and of freedom? And to expel the spirit of division and death? Will they let themselves be revived by God’s Word?

Sisters and brothers, I don’t know the answers to these questions. But perhaps it’s less important for us to inquire about the Corinthians than it is to ask about ourselves. For whether we care to admit it or not, like the people in each of our readings, we too live in constant danger of spiritual drowning. Perhaps there are some of us here this morning who feel as though they are struggling to stay afloat. If you are among those who feel this way, then our readings offer you good news. In this Mass, as you listen to God’s Word, and eat at God’s table, God is breathing into you a breath of new life. Reminding you of God’s undying love and concern for us. Encouraging you to persevere in living according to God’s ways.

And perhaps there may also be those among us who are in danger of drowning without even realising it. Drowning, for example, in the often superficial and empty busyness of our daily routines. Such that we are unable to recognise and respond to the God who comes to meet us in the people and the situations we encounter everyday. The God who continues to call us to a deeper relationship. Drowning in our obsession with building our careers and inflating our egos. Such that we fail to notice the many people around us who may need our help. Drowning in the many gifts we have received from God without being sufficiently grateful for them. Without trying to share them with others in some way.

Whatever may be our situation today, God our Divine Lifeguard wishes to breathe into us the Breath of the Spirit. The Breath of love and compassion. The Breath of freedom and of fullness of life. The question for us, sisters and brothers, is how ready are we to be revived from drowning today?


  1. Some years ago, as i was attending my first swimming lesson at YMCA Stevens Road, i had a near-death experience...i almost drowned...

    Hence, i can relate very much with this homily ..

    Somehow, on that evening, the trainer had decided to place me and a few beginners at the DEEP END of the swimming pool - on the very first day of our training! it was certainly not a wise thing to do so, as as some of us were non-swimmers...

    I remembered that i was one of the few "obedient" students and i went right down into the depths of that swimming pool - and before i knew it - i realised that i was literally sinking!! i was breathless and totally helpless...

    thank God, i did not suffer any muscular spasms or leg cramps in that state of panic.. and i can still remember - during that critical moment, my entire life came to a sudden standstill and that was my near-death experience... an experience my system remembers for the rest of my life...

    yet, God in His Great Love and Mercy - HE literally rescued me! God is indeed very REAL for me!

    in retrospect, i thank God for the grace - to simply hold up my right hand to seek help...from my fellow learners who were gathering "above" me - and to my utter relief, one of my fellow learners saw my SOS and she reached out to me!!

    yes, in our spiritual life - in our "gutter of sin" - as some would call it - we may become numb or blinded by the apparent, superficial worldly glamour, sensations and distractions (which do not last forever) and perhaps we may even be sucked into the secular whirlpool which may be drawing us AWAY from God and from our FAITH.

    Yet, are we aware of the reality of this aspect of our life and of our current spiritual status - if i may call it so? and if so, how quickly are we ready to act before it is too late?

    God is our Divine Lifeguard and HE is always present and ready to reach out to save us, even before we drown; yet, are we ready and are we willing to be saved?

    Pax et Bonum

  2. This verse from Romans came to me when I am struggling in the pool of dilemma. “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.”

    I wish He has held my hand more firmly and not dropped me into the pool. As I desire to follow his teachings; but I was put to the tests. Evil has let my heart overruled my mind, thus unable to carry out the good. It may take a long time for me to keep myself afloat to reach His hand again, no matter how difficult it is going to be for me, I do look forward to that day when He will pull me out to the dry land, where I can take delight in Him, Our Lord.


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