Sunday, July 12, 2020

The Power to Be Ugly

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Picture: cc marco

My dear friends, do you know what it’s like to be an ugly duckling? To feel as though there’s something wrong with you, simply because you don’t look like those around you, or because you have different attitudes and values, different  hopes and priorities than they do? It’s not easy. Even if you may have been told that someday, in the distant future, you will grow up into a beautiful swan, it’s still not easy to accept your apparent ugliness now, in the present. Indeed, the temptation can be very great for someone in this position to do whatever it takes simply to fit in. Even to submit to plastic surgery of some kind. To deny, disguise, or deform oneself.

I wonder if this kind of experience is something like what we find in the second reading today… From the beginning till now, St Paul writes, the entire creation… has been groaning in one great act of giving birth; and not only creation, but all of us who possess the first-fruits of the Spirit, we too groan inwardly as we wait for our bodies to be set free. To groan together with the rest of creation, because we have not yet reached our true destiny. Have not yet become the beautiful swan that God intends us to become. Have not yet attained the full measure of justice and peace and joy that characterises the Kingdom of God.

To embrace the role of an ugly duckling. Feeling painfully out of place in a world that values superficial pleasures and passing comforts, often at the expense of human dignity and solidarity, of mercy and compassion. To groan for the coming of God’s Kingdom in all its fullness, and to do so not just with one’s voice, but also in one’s actions. Through the choices we make everyday, as individuals and families, as a society and as a church. Choices about what we watch or read, or buy or eat. Choices about whom we choose to interact with, or allow our hearts to be moved by… Yes, and also the choice of which candidate to support in an election…

It is not easy to groan in this way. The temptation is great to be silent and simply to blend in. And yet, the willingness to be different, perhaps even detested – the ability to groan – is also what distinguishes the two groups of people to whom Jesus speaks in the gospel today. On one side, there are the crowds, who flock enthusiastically to the Lord, but ultimately neither understand nor heed his urgent call to conversion. On the other side, are the disciples who, for all their shortcomings, persevere in following Jesus. And from him they receive the power that is described so beautifully in the first reading. The power of the rain and the snow, which come down from the heavens and do not return without watering the earth, making it yield and giving growth…

The power to groan and to grow towards the glory of God. This is what sets apart the true disciples of Christ. They are the ones who receive the seed of God’s Word in rich soil, and yield a harvest through their suffering, their willingness to embrace the difficult role of a baby swan in a world of ducks.

What shall we do to welcome and to wield this gentle yet insistent power in our world today?

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