Sunday, February 27, 2022

Between Review & Recipe

8th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Readings: Ecclesiasticus 27:5-8; Psalm 91(92):2-3,13-16; 1 Corinthians 15:54-58; Luke 6:39-45

Picture: cc insatiablemunch

My dear friends, do you know the difference between a review and a recipe? It’s simple, right? A review gives us a way to judge the quality of a dish of food, and a recipe tells us how to prepare it. A review focuses on the final product – the food – while a recipe describes the process of production.

In our scriptures today, we obviously find something like a review. Both the first reading and the gospel teach us how to judge something. Not a dish of food, but the hidden contents of the human heart. Just as every tree can be told by its own fruit, so can one’s heart be judged by one’s words. It’s possible, of course, to speak hypocritically. To feel one thing, and say the opposite. But we cannot hide forever. Over time, whatever is in the heart eventually finds a way to slip out…

Words tend to reveal the heart. And not just another person’s heart, but also my own. By paying attention to what may often escape from my own mouth, I can gain access to the things in my heart that may otherwise remain hidden, even from me. Darker things perhaps, like frustration and anger, resentment and envy. But also brighter things, like gratitude and wonder, mercy and compassion… And what is true of individuals is true of ministries and organisations too. The quality of their external words and actions often gives a good indication of their true inner character. Just as a terrorist organisation terrorises, a charitable one cares.

But what happens after we’ve judged a tree by its fruit, or a heart by the words that flow from it? How can a good tree maintain its goodness? Or a bad tree be converted from its badness? To answer these questions, we need something like a recipe. Which is also what our readings provide.

As you may have noticed, in the first reading, it’s not really the tree that is judged, but its location. The orchard where a tree grows is judged on the quality of its fruit. Similarly, the psalm praises the just who, by keeping God’s ways, remain planted in the house of the Lord, and flourish in the courts of our God. The second reading then reminds us that we Christians are called to cling to the incredible hope that God has already given us victory over sin and death through Jesus Christ our Lord. We remain planted in God’s house by never admitting defeat, but by persevering at the Lord’s work always, knowing that, in the Lord, we do not labour in vain.

A concrete example of all this is found in Pope Francis’ recent responses to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. By calling for a continued search for diplomatic solutions… by devoting Ash Wednesday to prayer and fasting for peace… by making an unprecedented personal visit to the Russian embassy… not only does the Pope reveal the contents of his own heart, he also shows us, and in the darkest of times, how to keep abiding in the one true Vine, who is Christ the Lord.

Sisters and brothers, if we were to review our lives, what will we find? What recipe are we cooking up for our world today?

Sunday, February 13, 2022

Not Just for Show Flat

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Readings: Jeremiah 17:5-8; Psalm 1:1-4, 6; 1 Corinthians 15:12,16-20; Luke 6:17, 20-26

Picture: cc

My dear friends, have you visited those condo show-flats nearby, just a few steps from our church? I haven’t. But I wonder what they’re like… As you know, a show-flat aims to do two things. First, it offers a promise for the future. It helps us imagine a place where we might live. And it tries to do this in such an impressive way that we are drawn to sign on the dotted line, to buy that dream home that’s still being built. So a show-flat is also an invitation… to trust, and to commit.

A promise for the future, and an invitation to trust and commit. We find these in our readings too. In the gospel, Jesus promises his disciples that those who are deprived, because they choose to follow Jesus in the present, will be satisfied in the future, when the condominium development that is the kingdom of God is finally completed. Those who suffer now, because they see and relate to reality the way Jesus does. Those who keenly feel the burden of their own helplessness, in the face of evil and sin, yet continue to yearn and work for the common good. Those who weep at the state of our world, and are treated badly, for daring to speak and stand on the side of truth. Jesus promises all these that their sacrifice won’t be in vain. Their reward will be great in heaven.

Like a show-flat, this is not just a promise. It is also an invitation to keep trusting in God, to keep committing one’s life to the Lord. For the second reading reminds us that Christ himself did the same. He bore witness to the truth to the point of death, and was raised to life. So that those who dare to suffer with him, may hope to be raised in him as well.

But our readings are also different from a show-flat, in at least two ways. A show-flat points to something that doesn’t yet exist. It’s a promise only for the future. In contrast, our readings also describe a present reality. Like that tree planted by the water, in the first reading and the psalm, which keeps bearing fruit in a time of drought, those who suffer in Christ, are already blessed now, and remain a blessing to others too, because they draw life in its fullness from an eternal Source.

Next, while a show-flat seeks only to impress, our readings may feel like a cold shower. For they are a warning, a wake-up call, addressed to those of us who, for the sake of worldly pleasures, may be neglecting the concerns of the Lord, choosing to trust in material things, rather than in God. The readings remind us, not just of what we stand to lose in the future, when we do this, but also of our deprivation in the present. For we become like dry scrub in the wasteland, unable to appreciate even the good when it comes.

There is one more thing… We may recall that, in our opening prayer earlier, we asked God to fashion us into a dwelling pleasing to God… Which indicates that what we are being invited to imagine is not just a place for us to live, but also for God. For God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them (1 Jn 4:16). Sister and brothers, what must we do to keep living together, truthfully and courageously, in this holy place today?