Sunday, January 28, 2024

Devotion Amid Distractions

4th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Readings: Deuteronomy 18: 15-20; Psalm 94 (95): 1-2, 6-9; 1 Corinthians 7: 32-35; Mark 1: 21-28

Picture: By Tong Su on Unsplash

My dear friends, do you like to watch dragon dances? We’ll probably see more of them soon, when we usher in the Year of the Dragon. A dragon dance, as you know, requires focus. Each dancer has to carefully follow the movements of the one in front, without being distracted. Can you imagine what will happen if just one dancer suddenly decides to stop to check his phone? This challenge to stay focused and avoid distraction is also what we find in our scriptures today.

Why does St Paul advise the single Christians of Corinth not to marry? He assumes that Jesus will be returning very soon. So why marry, and have to deal with worldly affairs? Better to just give one’s undivided attention to the Lord. To be totally devoted to Christ without distraction. This is Paul’s concern. Of course, two thousand years later, not only are we still waiting for the Lord’s return, we’ve also come to see that marriage is not a distraction. We celebrate it as a sacrament. A privileged channel of grace, through which we can love and be loved by the Lord, in and through others. Still, Paul’s concern remains valid, even if his advice may not. For whether we are single or married, clergy or lay, don’t we all have to face the challenge of staying devoted to the Lord, without being distracted by worries over worldly affairs? Such as the craving for wealth or success, fame or popularity?

In the first reading, God has a reason for promising to raise up for the people a prophet like Moses. It’s because the people can’t bear to deal directly with God. They complain that the sound of God’s voice, and the sight of God’s glory are too much for them. Causing them to fear for their lives. Distracting them from paying attention to God. Again the concern is to help the people avoid distraction, so as to truly listen to the Lord. As Christians, we believe this promise is fulfilled in Jesus. But even Jesus has to deal with distractions.

In the gospel, why does he command the unclean spirit to be quiet? Why doesn’t he want people to know that he is the Holy One of God? Isn’t it because they’re expecting a military leader to help them drive out the Romans? But Jesus brings salvation of a different kind. Something that will become clear only after his Dying and Rising. Just as the people in the first reading are put off because God is too much, those in the gospel risk being scandalised because Jesus seems too little.

Which goes to show that we can be distracted not just by the worries of the world, but also by our own mistaken notions about God. In either case, the challenge remains the same: to stay focused, and to avoid distraction. How? Perhaps by heeding the call of the psalmist, and keeping a close watch over our hearts. Learning, through constant practice, to follow only those desires that lead us to the praise and glory of God. Just as we are practising here and now, at this Mass.

Sisters and brothers, if the life of faith is truly like a dragon dance, requiring us to remain focused on the Lord, then what more can we do to help one another avoid being distracted?

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