Sunday, June 29, 2014

Salvation As Good Plumbing




Solemnity of Ss. Peter & Paul

Picture: cc Robert the Noid

Sisters and brothers, have you ever had problems with plumbing? Recently, my washbasin started acting up. The water was taking a long time to drain away. Which made it very inconvenient to use the basin. At first I thought the problem was temporary. Maybe it had to do with the weather. Or with air pressure. Or water volume. Or some technical thing like that. So I left it. Hoping the situation would improve by itself. Wishful thinking. Instead of getting better, it got worse. The flow of water got slower and slower. Until, one day, it stopped altogether. My basin was well and truly clogged. It couldn’t be used anymore.

No longer able to deny or ignore the problem, I decided to dismantle the pipes to take a look. And a good thing I did. What I found embarrassed me. Contrary to my earlier diagnosis, my plumbing problem was not due to the weather, or to air pressure, or any other complicated technical thing. The cause was quite simple. The outlet through which water was meant to drain was completely choked up with dirt. Clearing it was a messy (and smelly) affair. And I must admit that I took no pleasure in doing it. But it was simple enough. And, at the end, I’m glad I did it. Glad I took the time, and made the effort, to unclog my pipes. Now, not only does the water drain off smoothly, but my basin also looks cleaner than it did before.

I share this experience, only because it seems to mirror quite well what our Mass readings are teaching us today. Something that we find in the lives of both Peter and Paul. The experience of salvation. In the words of the psalmist, the angel of the Lord is encamped around those who revere him, to rescue them. But what does this rescue look and feel like? What does it mean to be saved?

At first glance, our readings seem to give us a rather straightforward answer. Notice what happens to Peter in the first reading. He is persecuted by King Herod. Thrown into prison. Guarded by four soldiers. Fastened with double chains. But the angel of the Lord rescues him. Unfastens his chains. Puts his guards to sleep. Throws open the prison gates. Leads him out to freedom. Saves him from certain death. Is this what it means to be saved? Simply to be preserved from all danger? To be protected from every persecution?

Again, at first glance, it seems that Paul has a similar experience. In the second reading, he tells of how he has survived persecution. How he has successfully defended himself at a trial. The Lord stood by me, he says. I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from all evil attempts on me, and bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. It would seem that, for Paul, as for Peter, salvation is about being protected from persecution. Being guarded from earthly enemies. Rescued from iron chains. Set free from prisons of stone.

Now, sisters and brothers, I’m not sure about you. But for me, this is a very attractive view of how God saves. Not that I often suffer persecution. But there are moments in my life, when I sometimes feel a little trapped. By one problem or another. At home or at work. In my personal life or in ministry. And how consoling it is to think that God will always rescue me. Will always find me a way out. No time to prepare a homily for Sunday? Don’t worry. God will provide. Really? All the time? Then why bother even to prepare in the first place?

And yet, as appealing as it sounds, there is at least one problem with this view of salvation. For we all know what eventually happened to the great apostles Peter and Paul. Although Peter survived the persecution of Herod in Judea. And although Paul successfully defended himself in the second reading. Legend has it that they were both martyred in Rome. By the emperor Nero. How could God allow that to happen? Why didn’t God rescue them? Does this mean that Peter and Paul were not saved? Or is there perhaps a different meaning to salvation?

Actually, our readings do offer us an alternative understanding. A deeper meaning. For one thing, the scripture scholars tell us that, in the first reading, Peter’s imprisonment and rescue is described in a way that is calculated to remind us of one thing. The Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ. So that the story of Peter’s rescue is really the author’s way of saying that God set Peter free to follow in his Master’s footsteps. Even to lay down his life, in love for God and for others. As Jesus did before him.

And this is also exactly what Paul says about himself in the second reading. My life, he says, is already being poured away as a libation, and the time has come for me to be gone… In the second reading Paul is boasting not just of being rescued from persecution. But of how God has cleared away all the things that hindered him from pouring out his life as a sacrifice to God. Not unlike how someone might clear out water-pipes choked up by dirt. The dirt of selfishness and sin. Of worldly ambition and fear. Of inadequate understandings of what it means to be saved.

Isn’t this what Jesus is doing for Peter and the other disciples in the gospel? At a place called Caesarea Philippi, Jesus begins to unclog the pipes of his disciples’ faith. Clearing away their unrealistic expectations of him. And, much like how a choked washbasin is cleared, the process involves roughly two steps. The first is a dismantling. An uncovering. Jesus invites his disciples to examine their own expectations of him by asking them two questions. First, Who do people say the Son of Man is? And then, more personally, But you, who do you say I am?

And, even though Peter seems to give the correct answer, the process is not complete. A second step is needed. Our reading today ends at verse 19. But we may remember what happens in the verses that follow. Jesus starts telling his disciples about how he will soon allow his life to be drained away on the Cross. He speaks to them about his Passion, and Death, and Resurrection. And Peter protests. Causing the Lord to rebuke him. Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle in my path, because the way you think is not God’s way, but man’s. What is Jesus is doing, if not clearing away the dirt that is choking Peter’s pipes. The false expectations that prevent Peter, not just from letting Jesus go to his Passion, but also from following in the Lord’s footsteps.

Sisters and brothers, isn’t this the salvation that we are celebrating today? God’s rescue of both Peter and Paul. Not just saving them from persecution. Not just freeing them from prison. But clearing away everything that prevents them from submitting to God. So that they can imitate Jesus in generously pouring out their lives, in love for God and for God’s people. And isn’t this the same kind of rescue that God is offering to us? Isn’t this the same kind of salvation that we all need so very much in this self-absorbed, me-first, society in which we live?

Sisters and brothers, how is God unclogging the pipes of your heart today?

2 comments:

  1. O Lord,

    Thank You for coming to set me free from a "bondage" which I had held on to, for the past 14 months.. silly and blind me...why did I shortchange myself when You had already LIBERATED me?

    Thank You, Lord, for your patience of the everlasting hills with me and for waiting for me to "wake up" from this "deep sleep"...

    Lord, on this Feast Day of St Peter and St Paul, may I learn from St Peter to remain always steadfast in the faith and like St Paul to live and move and have my being in You.

    Not I, Lord, but You who live in me.

    Amen.

    Seeing Is Believing
    29 June 2014 2pm
    Feast of St Peter and St Paul

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  2. Our Heavenly Father is using His patience, mercy and to slowly draw us close to him, even for those strayed sheep, He has never, never, never give up hope in them. For He believe, one day... they will turn around and come back to Him.

    Mother Teresa, in her book "Come be my Light" quoted.. Put your hand into His hand, and He will guide you.

    All things in the materialistic world may change, but His steadfast love for us remains forever the same.. zita

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