Saturday, January 18, 2014

Between Facebook and Shakespeare

2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
(World Day of Migrants & Refugees)

Picture: cc Edinburgh Blog

Sisters and brothers, imagine for a moment that you want to connect with more people. How do you go about doing this? Well, there are different approaches you can take. One common approach is that of publicity. And probably the most effective way to publicise yourself these days is, of course, to tap into the social media networks. To get on Facebook and Twitter. Instagram and Whatsapp. You can get connected very quickly this way. Even instantaneously

And yet, for all their power, there are limitations to this approach. Limitations that become clearer, for example, when you come across someone who tells you that, although she has five thousand friends on Facebook, she still often can’t help feeling lonely. Like no one understands and accepts and appreciates her for who she is.

So what else can we do? Is there a way to get around this difficulty? A way to connect with people beyond the limitations of Facebook? Perhaps there is. Consider how, for example, a story like Romeo and Juliet still has the power to move many people today. More than five hundred years after it was first written by Shakespeare. Written in a time before the ballpoint pen was invented. Let alone the internet and the mobile phone.

But it’s important to see that the kind of connection people experience when watching Romeo and Juliet is rather different from the kind that one typically gets on Facebook. There is a difference in emphasis. Whereas social media like Facebook focus on publicity. On information. Classic pieces of literature like Romeo and Juliet have to do more with identification. People are able to connect with the story because they somehow identify with its characters. They feel like the story is about them.

Another way to describe this difference is to say that Facebook lets us reach out to more people the way butter can be made to cover a larger surface on a slice of bread. By being spread out more thinly. By limiting itself to the more superficial things. By allowing people to connect in the fastest, but also the shallowest, of ways.

In contrast, Romeo and Juliet takes the opposite route. Not superficiality. But depth. Although more than five centuries old, the play continues to touch many people, because it pays attention to the deep and complex emotions of the human heart. And it is this deep connection with our common humanity that makes the play a classic. A work that continues to move people. Long after it was first produced.

Superficiality versus depth. Publicity versus identification. Facebook versus Romeo and Juliet. Two contrasting approaches to connecting with people. And it’s not difficult to guess which is the more enduring. In contrast to the ongoing popularity of Romeo and Juliet, it has recently been reported that, in the short span of 3 years, from 2011 till now, Facebook has actually lost 3 million teenage users. Perhaps an indication that if you wish to expand your reach, to connect with more people, and in a more lasting way. Facebook is not enough. You also need Shakespeare.

I mention all this because, in our Mass readings today, we find a similar concern to reach out to more people. In the first reading, the servant of God receives a call to a much bigger, more universal, mission. It is not enough for you… to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back the survivors of Israel, God says, I will make you the light of the nations so that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth. God is expanding the scope of the servant’s mission. From the tiny nation of Israel, the servant is now asked to reach out to the ends of the earth. Sounds like an impossible mission. Can it really be accomplished?

We all know the answer to this question. This apparently impossible mission has actually already been accomplished by and in Christ Jesus. Isn’t this what enables St. Paul to address the Christians of Corinth the way he does in the second reading? Even though many of them are not Jews, Paul calls them the church of God. And he tells them that they are called to take their place among all the saints everywhere. For Jesus is Lord of all the nations no less than theirs.

We see this same expansion of reach already taking place in the gospel. Notice how John the Baptist sees his mission as limited to the people of Israel. It was to reveal (Jesus) to Israel that I came baptising with water, he says. It is only with the coming of Jesus that this mission truly begins to expand, beyond Israel, to the far reaches of the earth. As far even as this tiny red dot known to us as Singapore.

And notice how this expansion of the mission takes place in Jesus. Notice how John only recognises Jesus as the one to expand this mission when he sees the Spirit come down and rest on him. Which is, of course, a reference to the Feast that we celebrated just last Sunday. The feast of the Baptism of the Lord. And we may recall the significance of that Feast. Of how Jesus’ baptism is not for the forgiveness of sins. Since he has no sin. Rather, by allowing himself to be plunged into the murky waters of the Jordan, Jesus immerses himself into everything that is truly human. Even to the extent of suffering the terrible effects of sin. Even to the extent of allowing himself to be nailed to the Cross. It is because Jesus allows himself to enter deeply into our humanity, that he is able to connect with every single one of us no matter where or when we happen to be. Connect with us and draw us into the warmth of his Father’s embrace.

All of which should lead us to reflect on ourselves. We who profess to be followers of Christ. Whom Christ has baptised with the Holy Spirit. And immersed in the blood and water flowing from his pierced side. We too have received a mission to connect with others. A mission to keep expanding the reach of the Good News of God’s love for us in Christ.

And the way to expand this reach is to immerse ourselves in everything that is truly human. To be willing to make efforts to pay closer attention. First to the joys and struggles of our own daily routine. And then to those of the people around us. Our family members. Our colleagues. Our fellow parishioners. People on the road. People at the store. Yes, even people on Facebook. And, especially today, we remember also the many migrants and refugees of our world. Those who leave home to find a better life for themselves and their families. Whether it be for reasons of their own choosing or not. For if Jesus has immersed himself into the river of our humanity. Then it is also by doing the same that we will find and connect with him and with the world.

Sisters and brothers, on this 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, our Lord continues to invite us to expand the reach of the gospel by deepening our connections with all that is truly human. What can we do to respond to this call? To continue choosing the way of identification, the way of Romeo and Juliet, the way of Christ Jesus our Lord, today?

1 comment:

  1. O Lord,
    in this day and age of high technology, it is so easy to get all caught up with superficiality - where we just pay lip service and say or do things that we do not mean... and take people (let alone God) for granted...

    Nowadays, how many people would stand behind their words and mean what they say and say exactly (and only) what they mean?

    Integrity, authenticity and Your values, O Lord, all these seem to be somewhat "non-existent" in our current materialistic and secular world - a world so caught up in itself that it seems so godless....

    Yet, Lord, You are a God of INTEGRITY, AUTHENTICITY and DEPTH.

    As your children (sons and daughters of God the Father), let us dare to be different and let us be the LIGHT in a world of darkness - a world which promotes Self and values which contradicts YOUR VALUES.

    Lord, like St Peter, I would say: "Lord, to whom shall I go?" and as St Augustine says "our hearts are restless until they rest in YOU"

    Lord, whenever i stray from You,
    please lead me HOME to You,
    Teach me to walk only in Your Ways for YOU are LIFE ETERNAL

    Only IN YOU, O Lord, can I find my true PEACE and REST and the REAL Meaning and Purpose of my life. Amen

    Sih Ying
    21 January 2014 7.15pm.


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