Sunday, October 02, 2022

Between A Rock & A Receptive Space

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Readings: Habakkuk 1: 2-3, 2:2-4; Psalm 94 (95): 1-2, 6-9; 2 Timothy 1: 6-8, 13-14; Luke 17: 5-10

Picture: Wikipedia

My dear friends, if you had to move a mountain, which would you need more, something hard or something soft? Some of us may remember that classic Chinese story about the fool who moved a mountain (愚公移山). One day, an old man, living at the foot of a mountain, decides that it’s too much of an obstacle, and resolves to remove it. So he mobilises his whole family, and sets to work. His neighbours laugh at him for attempting the impossible at an advanced age. But he replies that, even if he dies before completing the project, his family will persevere and get it done. Clearly, what the story values is hardness. Not just the hardness of shovels and pickaxes, but that of firm resolve and persistent effort.

In our scriptures too, we find obstacles that require moving, both external and internal. The first reading speaks of oppression and injustice, tyranny, outrage and violence… Strong words that well describe the external realities we find in our world today. The obstacle in the gospel, on the other hand, is more of an interior one. For what prompts the dialogue in the reading is the Lord’s command in the previous verse, where he says that, if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, “I repent”, you must forgive’ (Lk 17:4 NRSV). We must let go of our grudges, and forgive.

And whether the task is to remove the mountain of injustice out in the world, or to uproot the mulberry tree of resentment deep within my heart, the scriptures invite us to rely on the same effective tool: faith. But what does authentic Christian faith look and feel like? How does it work? I’m not sure, but I suspect that, for a good number of us, faith works like the old man in that Chinese story. It moves mountains only through the hardness of my own firm resolve and persistent effort. But what if my resolve and efforts are just not hard enough?

Interestingly, when our readings speak of hardness, it’s only in reference to the power of God. Come, ring out our joy to the Lord; hail the rock who saves us… In contrast, what God asks of us is more of a softening, a greater receptivity. O that today you would listen to his voice! ‘Harden not your hearts.’ So, in the first reading, faced with a mountain of injustice, the helpless prophet is asked to wait patiently and faithfully, until he receives a new vision. Also, in the gospel, Jesus speaks of the need to adopt the humble disposition of a slave, ever ready to receive the master’s further instructions. And, in the second reading, although Paul speaks of a Spirit of power, and love, and self-control, this comes not as the result of one’s own hard work, but only as a gift from God in Christ Jesus. A gift that brings both the clarity to know what to do, as well as the courage and conviction to do it. Even to bear hardships for the Good News, relying on the power of God. 

Sisters and brothers, although we may be hemmed in by mountains of various kinds, both external and internal, we believe that God continues to save us in Christ. What must we do to allow God to soften our hearts, so that we might be more receptive to the power of his love and mercy today?

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