Sunday, March 26, 2017

Mistaking the Mother for the Maid


4th Sunday in Lent (A) (2nd Scrutiny)


My dear friends, have you ever failed to recognise someone? Or have you ever mistaken someone for somebody else? Do you know what it feels like? How it happens? Often it has to do with having certain mistaken assumptions or expectations. Take for example, that video that recently went viral. You may have seen it. Professor Robert Kelly, an expert on East Asian politics, is being interviewed live on BBC World. He’s answering questions from what appears to be a room in his own home.

In the middle of the interview, his 4-year-old daughter happily wanders in, and tries to get her daddy’s attention. She is followed closely by her baby brother. Stumbling in on a walker. Then, moments later, an obviously panic-stricken Asian woman dashes into the room and proceeds to hurriedly herd the children out. While trying valiantly to crouch down as close to the ground as possible. In a vain attempt at avoiding being caught on camera.

The video raised quite a few laughs online. Many found it highly amusing. Which it is. But what’s also interesting is that a good number of those who posted comments on the video somehow assumed that the Asian woman in it is the children’s nanny. She’s not. Her name is Kim Jung-a. And she’s their mother.

Now, just to be clear, I bring this up not to point fingers at those who mistook the mother for the maid. To be honest, I could very easily have made the same mistake. It just seems to me that these reactions illustrate how easy it is to mistake someone for somebody else. How difficult it can be to recognise someone for who s/he really is. Often, this results from certain mistaken assumptions that I hold. Such as thinking that an Asian woman staying with a caucasian family must be the maid. We might say that assumptions like these keep me in the dark. Blind me to a person’s true identity.

This is not unlike the darkness and blindness that we find in our Mass readings on this 4th Sunday of Lent. When you, our elect, are celebrating your 2nd Scrutiny. We find a clear reference to this in the second reading. Which describes Christians as children of the light. And encourages them–encourages us–to try to discover what the Lord wants of us, having nothing to do with the futile works of darkness but exposing them by contrast

To keep moving from darkness to light. This is also what we find the prophet Samuel doing in the first reading. God sends him to anoint a new king from the sons of Jesse. But Jesse has eight sons. And Samuel has no idea which of them God wants. So he falls back on his own assumptions. Thinking, at first, that perhaps the oldest boy might be the one. Since he’s tall and handsome. But God has other plans. Samuel is told that God does not see as man sees: man looks at appearances but the Lord looks at the heart. Gradually, God leads Samuel from the darkness of his own mistaken assumptions to the joyful light of true recognition. Following God’s guidance, Samuel finally acknowledges and anoints David as king. And the people receive a great blessing.

This movement from darkness to light is also what the gospel invites us to ponder. The reading begins with the healing of a man who was born blind. Someone who has never seen the light of day. After washing his eyes, he is given new sight. But this physical healing, which takes place instantly, points us to a deeper spiritual healing. One that happens only gradually.

We see this especially in how the man born blind is gradually led to recognise Jesus as Lord. At first, when questioned by his neighbours, he refers to Jesus simply as the man. A little later, in response to the Pharisees, he calls Jesus a prophet. Then, when pressured by the religious authorities, he argues that Jesus must be from God. And, eventually, when he meets Jesus a second time, the man finally calls him Lord. He declares his belief in Jesus. And he worships him.

Like Samuel in the first reading, the man in the gospel is led to recognise and to acclaim the chosen one of God. Gradually, he is guided out of darkness and into light. Joyfully, he receives the gift of true spiritual sight. And the good news, my dear friends, is that this gift is something that we Christians believe we too have received. When we were washed in the waters of our baptism. The gift of recognising Jesus for who he really is. The Chosen One of God. Sent to lead us into the fullness of life. This is the same gift that we are preparing ourselves to receive anew. When we renew our baptismal promises at Easter. And this is also the gift that you, our beloved elect, are preparing yourselves to receive, when you too are washed, in the waters of baptism, at the Easter Vigil.

This preparation to receive the gift of recognising the Lord is something that we all need very much. Baptised and unbaptised alike. For, whether we care to admit it or not, there are certain forces that hinder us from making the crucial shift from darkness to light. From blindness to sight. Things that keep us from letting go of our mistaken assumptions. Isn’t this what we find in the gospel reading? Consider, for example, the parents of the man born blind. They know for a fact that he has somehow been cured of his blindness. And yet, they are reluctant to acknowledge in public the One responsible for his healing. We are told that that his parents spoke like this out of fear of being expelled from the synagogue.

And what about the authorities themselves? They too refuse to recognise Jesus. Even though the evidence is laid out before them. In the words of the man born blind: if this man were not from God, he couldn’t do a thing. And yet, the religious authorities still reject Jesus. Considering him a sinner for healing on a sabbath day. They stubbornly insist on remaining in the darkness of their own mistaken assumptions. Which is as ridiculous as if I were to continue to insist that Kim Jung-a, that Asian woman in the viral video, is a maid. Even after being told that she is actually the children’s mother.

Fear and stubborn pride. These are the obstacles that keep the people in the gospel from acknowledging Jesus. Fear and pride. These are among the things that I need to resist even today. For I too have mistaken assumptions that I need to let go of. Things that keep me from recognising Christ in my daily life. Such as the thought that God can be present only when things go smoothly. Only in times of success. Only when money flows freely. Only when praise is showered upon me. These assumptions seem so very reasonable. But are also so very mistaken. They keep me from recognising the Christ who willingly walks the Way of the Cross. Lovingly climbs the slopes of Calvary. Before triumphantly rising from the shadows of the Tomb.

To be brought out of the darkness of mistaken assumptions and into the light of true recognition. This is the joyful gift that is being offered to us. My dear sisters and brothers, baptised and elect alike. What must we do to truly receive this gift? To stop mistaking the mother for the maid today?

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