Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Wednesday in the 13th Week of Ordinary Time (I)
The God who Blesses Mistakes

Readings: Genesis 21:5, 8-20; Psalm 34:7-8, 10-11, 12-13; Matthew 8:28-34

It was quite a proud moment when our schoolteacher let us make the switch from writing with pencils to pens. But it came at a cost. Now it wasn’t so easy to erase mistakes. You ran the risk of messing up the page or even tearing it. Which is why it was such a boon when they finally invented correction fluid. And now, there’s even correction tape, which allows you not only to wipe out your mistakes but also to write over them immediately. And perhaps the best development of all must be word processing. Now you can draft documents on a computer and wipe out mistakes without a trace, almost.

Such is the human aversion to keeping our follies and foibles in plain sight. We prefer to cover them up. Which isn’t always a good thing, is it? For one thing, that’s how scandals develop. We keep sweeping things – even perishable things – under the carpet, until the smell becomes unbearable. And sometimes, those perishable things can even take the form of other people.

How different is God’s approach. In the first reading, for example, we know that Ishmael is something of a mistake. We know that his conception and birth, when Abraham was eighty-six years old, was the result of the impatience of Abraham and Sarah for an heir. They took matters into their own hands even after God had promised to intervene. And now, after Isaac has finally been born, when Abraham is already a hundred years old, Sarah cannot bear the sight of Ishmael. The boy and his mother are sent away. The attempt is made to have the mistake wiped away. And yet God continues to extend a hand of blessing. God’s favour upon Abraham and his family is such that God even blesses their mistakes. God remains with Ishmael, who grows up to be a bowman. How different are God’s actions from ours. And this difference in action is rooted in a deeper difference in priorities, a difference that is brought out quite sharply in the gospel.

Here we notice the priorities of Jesus. Given a choice between two demoniacs and a herd of swine, Jesus chooses the former. In allowing the latter to perish he makes his priorities quite clear: he chooses people over possessions. In contrast, the townsfolk prefer to mourn the loss of their livestock than to celebrate the liberation of their brethren. And their preference for possessions over people is such that they even drive Jesus away. In this they show themselves to be no different from Sarah, who chooses Isaac over Ishmael because the first boy is hers whereas the second belongs to another.

In our own experience, how does God continually choose to bless us, even our mistakes? And in the decisions we make each day, which do we show ourselves to prefer, possessions or people?

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