Monday, February 19, 2007

Monday in the 7th Week of Ordinary Time (I)
Eluding the Tyranny of the Technical

Readings: Sirach 1:1-10; Psalm 93:1ab, 1cd-2, 5; Mark 9:14-29

We live in a technically advanced society. And it’s really quite amazing to consider the things we can do. Advances in medical technology, for example, are helping us to deal ever more efficiently with sickness and pain. Recently someone I know underwent day surgery and had to return to the doctor some days later to have her stitches removed. She was very anxious about this appointment because she’d had stitches removed many years before and remembered it to be a painful experience. She recalled how it seemed to last forever as the doctor proceeded to cut and pull and cut and pull… But this time round she was pleasantly surprised by the new technique that the doctor used. He simply cut off one end of surgical thread and gently pulled the whole thing out at one go. Quick and painless. A tribute to the wonders of modern technology.

And yet, wonderful as it is, it is possible to become so obsessed with the technical that we lose sight of something even more important. In the spiritual life especially, problems can arise when we become focused on techniques alone. When we encounter a crisis, for example, isn’t it true that, knowingly or unknowingly, it is often technical help that we seek first? We want to be shown what to do, what prayers to say, which saint to invoke, what techniques to use, so that the problem can be solved, so that the pain will go away. Isn’t this what the father of the possessed boy might have been seeking so desperately in the gospel today? But the disciples of Jesus can’t help him. Why? Surely, they had been with Jesus long enough. They had witnessed all the various techniques that Jesus had employed before, the things he said, the actions he performed. Why couldn’t they do anything?

Jesus tells them why. Ultimately, it is not technical knowledge that saves us but the faith that leads to wisdom. The same wisdom that we heard about in the first reading today. The wisdom that is from the Lord and that the Lord conveys to those who love him. The wisdom that Peter, James and John were privileged to witness on the mountain of Transfiguration. The same wisdom that struck the whole crowd with amazement when they saw Jesus. It is by this wisdom that Jesus teaches the father of the possessed boy truly to pray beyond all techniques of prayer. Although his faith is weak, he is led to cry out earnestly in his need: Help the little faith I have! And in the naked sincerity of his pleading, Jesus is able to respond with healing. The spirit of dumbness is cast out – a testimony to the truth that this kind can only be driven out by prayer.

In the various crises that we may encounter from day to day, what do we need to do to ensure that the techniques we use are firmly rooted in the faith that leads to wisdom?

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