Sunday, February 11, 2024

From Hurdle to Home (Or The Pilgrim-Monkey’s Progress)

Dedication of The Cathedral of The Good Shepherd

Readings: 1 Kings 8: 22-23, 27-30; Psalm 83 (84): 3-5, 10-11; 1 Corinthians 3: 9-11, 16-17; Matthew 16: 13-19

Picture: cc Brian Walworth on Flickr

My dear friends, what does a pilgrimage look like? Some of us may remember the story of the monkey king and the buddha’s palm. After the powerful but arrogant monkey causes havoc in heaven, the buddha challenges him to jump out of the buddha’s palm. After leaping with all his might, the monkey sees five pillars rising to the heavens, which he thinks mark the end of the universe. To leave some evidence of his visit, he writes on one of the pillars, and urinates at its base. Only to find, upon his return, his own writing and urine on one of the buddha’s fingers. He had never left the buddha’s palm! Believing that he’s been tricked, the monkey protests. But the buddha transforms his palm into a mountain, under which the monkey is trapped for 500 years. Till he learns humility, and proves himself fit to accompany a monk on a journey to the west. So, long before the monkey travels to the west, he is already making a pilgrimage. Learning to see the buddha not as a hurdle to cross over, or a power to conquer and control, but as a home in which to live.

Our own scriptures offer us a similar lesson today. In the first reading, after finally completing the construction of the Temple in Jerusalem, King Solomon assembles the people, and offers a prayer to God. In his prayer, the king makes it clear that, in building the Temple, his intention is not to control or contain God. For even the heavens and their own heavens cannot contain God. Instead, if God’s presence can be felt in the Temple, it is only because of God’s steadfast love and kindness toward the people. This humble attitude is expressed even more clearly in the responsorial psalm, a song sung by pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem. Here, the Temple is seen not just as a dwelling-place for God, but also as a home for the sparrow and the pilgrims themselves. Every time the people go up to the Temple, they are learning to see God less as a hurdle to cross, and more as a home in which to find safety and rest.

And what the first reading and psalm do for the Temple, the second reading and gospel do for the Church. Especially with the coming of Jesus, God doesn’t just dwell in physical buildings, but in the community of disciples who make up the Church. This community is God’s temple, where the Spirit dwells, and to which Jesus has entrusted the keys of the kingdom of heaven, with authority to bind and loose (18:18). To belong to this community is to find one’s home in God.

All of which helps us to better appreciate what we are doing every time we come to this or any other place of worship. Rather than trying to appease, or control, or contain God, we are really learning to find rest and peace in God’s presence. Not just here, but also out there in the world. Gradually changing our view of God, from that of a hurdle that we must cross over and even leave behind, to that of a home in which we live. Like the monkey king, we are on a sacred journey, from pride to humility, from arrogance to true receptivity.

Sisters and brothers, how might we help one another to keep persevering on this blessed pilgrimage today?

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