Sunday, January 31, 2021

From Exclusion to Enhancement

My dear friends, some of us may remember the story of the king who showed his three sons a large empty room, and told them that the one who could best fill it up would inherit the kingdom. The first son tried to fill the room with rocks, and the second with feathers. But the third son simply lit a candle, the light of which filled the room most completely.

Close your eyes for a moment, if you will, and imagine what the scene looks like. See the empty room… filled first with rocks… then with feathers… and finally with light… The contrast is striking, isn’t it? Light operates very differently from rocks and feathers. Instead of forcefully occupying a space, to the exclusion of others, light gently enhances it. And all that’s needed is the willingness to strike a match.

Pondering this amazing quality of light can help us deepen our understanding of what we find in our readings today. At first glance, what is perhaps most striking is authority. The authority of Jesus’ teaching in the gospel. The authority that flows from his true identity as the only Son of God. The authority by which he can even cast out unclean spirits.

But our readings are not just about authority. They are also about its necessary counterpart. For the effects of authority to be felt, it needs first to be recognised. It requires undivided attention. And there are various obstacles to such attention.

In the first reading, the obstacle is distance. The Israelites had complained that God’s appearance, high up on Mount Horeb, was too forceful and intimidating for them. Today, we may consider God not so much intimidating as irrelevant. Too far removed from the practical concerns of our daily life. We find it difficult to relate the time we spend here in church on Sunday to the rest of our busy week. Such that we may treat God the way someone simply tolerates a roomful of rocks.

In the second reading, the obstacle comes in the form of  distraction. Believing that the Second Coming is imminent, Paul advises single Christians not to bother getting married, for fear that engagement in the world’s affairs will distract them from attending to the Lord’s. Isn’t this a concern with which many of us can identify? According to this view, God is again not much different from rocks and feathers. Making more space in my life for God means having less space for everything and everybody else. And vice versa.

Which is why it’s important for us to remember, that Christ’s authority is most clearly seen, his power most effectively felt, when the Lord hangs lifeless on the Cross. Having poured out his love to the last drop of his precious blood. In so doing, Christ shines a light that enhances without excluding. A light that we receive anew, and in which we bask and are sent out on mission, whenever we gather for Mass.

Sisters and brothers, at a time when so many are anxiously fighting to occupy more space for themselves, what must we do to keep striking a match today?

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