Saturday, January 31, 2015

Dealing With Distractions

4th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Sisters and brothers, have you ever tried talking to someone who is distracted? Someone whose attention is drawn to something else? Someone playing a game on her phone, for example. Or watching TV. Or reading a book. What is it like? It can be quite frustrating, right? Frustrating because you can tell that the person is not really listening to you. And what if you have something important to say? What to do? How to get the person to give you her undivided attention?

One way is to say or to do something that the person finds even more attractive than the distraction. So, if you know that the person likes to eat durians, for example. You can buy her some. And, hopefully, the person’s love for durians will be strong enough to make her stop whatever it is she is doing. In other words, one way to capture a distracted person’s attention is to overpower the distraction. To drive it out with something stronger.

But that is not the only way. There is another. We see it happen often enough. When a girl likes a boy, for example. What can she do to get his attention? Without appearing too desperate. Well, I don’t know for sure. But I’ve been told that one thing she can do is to get involved in whatever the boy likes. So if he is interested in soccer, she can learn more about the game. Find out all about the team he likes. His favourite player. The position he plays in. And so on. So that the girl now has something in common with the boy. Can capture the boy’s attention. Not by overpowering his distraction. But by entering into it. By transforming the distraction into an opportunity for connection.

Driving out a distraction. And entering into it. These are two ways we can make a distracted person give us her undivided attention. We find something similar in our Mass readings today. In the gospel, Jesus teaches in a synagogue, where he encounters a man who is very badly distracted. And not just with any ordinary distraction. This man is unable to listen to Jesus, unable to receive the good news that Jesus proclaims, because the man is possessed by something else. An unclean spirit. Which has captured his attention so completely, that his heart is hardened to everything else. Everything good. Everything Godly. What does Jesus do? How does he deal with this terrible distraction? He uses the first method. Speaking with the authority, the attractive force of almighty God, Jesus overpowers the unclean spirit. He drives it out. Freeing the man to finally receive the word of God, and so to enter into the fullness of life.

Sisters and brothers, it is helpful for us to remember this story. For even if we may not be possessed by an unclean spirit in exactly the same way as the man in the synagogue, don’t we sometimes allow ourselves to become very badly distracted? And I don’t mean when we daydream or doze off at Mass. Or during the homily. There are even worse distractions than these. Such as when we are unable to let go of our petty jealousies. Or when we hold onto a grudge against someone for something that the person did or said twenty years ago. Or when we are trapped in troublesome obsessions and addictions. Not just sex and pornography. But also money and success. Or the desperate need to look and to feel good all the time. These things can possess us. Harden our hearts. Prevent us from receiving the good news of God’s love for us in Christ Jesus.

And just as the man in the gospel was able to enter the synagogue even while possessed by an unclean spirit. So too is it possible for us to come regularly to church, and still remain badly distracted by serious sin. What to do? We must allow the Lord to do for us what he did for that man in the gospel. We must allow the Lord to overpower our sin. To drive it out. By confessing our sin. And by praying daily. We must allow the Lord to turn our attention back to him alone. To let him become the main attraction in our life. Leading us into Eternal Life.

But it’s not just sinful and unclean things that distract us. Even good and wholesome things can too. Like the things that St. Paul is writing about in the second reading. Paul wants the Corinthians to give their undivided attention to the Lord. But he worries that they are distracted by the worries and burdens of daily life. By the normal stresses and strains of having to care for a spouse, and of bringing up children. So how does Paul deal with these distractions? Like Jesus in the gospel, he adopts the first method. He tries to overcome them. To drive them out. He suggests that the Corinthians who are unmarried should remain single. So that they can avoid being distracted by the affairs of the world. So that they can focus only on the affairs of the Lord.

Now this is a very drastic solution. If we were to accept it, then all the single people among us will never have the chance to marry and have children! Not an inviting thought. But it’s important to remember that Paul makes this suggestion only because he believes that the end of the world is coming very soon. So there is no point in starting a family, when the time is so short. But if we don’t follow Paul’s suggestion, how are we to deal with the distractions of daily life?

Thankfully, there is another way. A second method. In the first reading, the people of Israel have been finding it difficult to listen to God. God is too holy for them. And their hearts are too distracted by worldly affairs for them to give God their undivided attention. They are torn between God and the world. So they beg Moses not to let them hear again the voice of the Lord, or they shall die. In response, God promises to help them. But not by driving out or overpowering their distractions. Instead of forcing the people to turn away from the world, God promises to send a prophet into the world. To transform worldly affairs from disturbing distractions into opportunities for connection.

This promise, which God makes in the first reading, God fulfils in the gospel. In the person and ministry of Jesus. He is the new Moses. The Prophet who is more than a prophet. In Jesus, God’s Word becomes Flesh. In him, God enters into worldly affairs. Like a girl learning to play soccer to get close to a boy, God gets involved in the messy and worrying business of ordinary human life. To get close to us. In Jesus, God transforms the distracting world into a holy place. A place for meeting God. In Christ, God can now be found, not just in church, but also in our homes, and in our workplaces. In the shopping malls, and on our streets. In good times, and in bad. In people who are happy, and also especially in those who suffer. But we need to develop the eyes to see him. The ears to listen to him. The hearts to give him our undivided attention. And to help others to do the same. Isn’t this why we are here this evening?

Sisters and brothers, this is our call. Not to run away from the world. But to enter into it. And to seek and to find God there. In the ordinary situations and people of everyday life. This is our call. This is our dignity. O that today you would listen to his voice! Harden not your hearts.

Sisters and brothers, how is the Lord helping you to deal with your distractions today?

1 comment:

  1. O Lord,

    when distractions come, please grant me the DISCIPLINE to keep FOCUSSED on You.

    Draw me back to You each time other distractions draw me away from you - be it people, places or issues.

    Keep me ever close to You Lord and never let me be parted from You.

    M--A--R--A--N--A--T--H--A COME LORD JESUS.

    Sih Ying
    5 February 2015