LOOKING WHILST NOT SEEING
Catholic Homily/Sunday Reflection
7th Sunday in Ordinary Time(B)
February 22, 2009
There is newness and freshness in the words of Isaiah the prophet today: “See I am doing something new!” Newness is something we all crave for. Freshness in the way we perceive old realities is something we value highly. We admire writers who do not dish out old and trite ways of expressions. And we esteem leaders who do not necessarily “go by the book” but who inject fresh vigor and renewed enthusiasm in their leadership and management style.
The same is pretty much true in other aspects of our lives. In Manila, for example, I am aghast at seeing how quickly people tire of whatever is perceived to be old stuff. Bars and restaurants need to reinvent themselves all the time if they want to remain in business. How many upstart joints have been put up all over which drew rave reviews less than six months or a year or so ago, but which are now struggling to survive, ever competing with ever new players in the same niche, trying to satisfy the now discriminating – if fickle – tastes of the young and those trying-hard-to-be-young! Newness is what we are after, not stale and static fixtures in our fast-paced lives in a fast globalizing world.
The French have an interesting maxim: “Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.” The more things change, the more they remain the same. Alas, most often, what we value as change is nothing but superficial, cosmetic face-lifts. In this present-day world of cable TV, bars that remain static do not stay up in the charts for long. The yuppies who think they have oodles of money to burn, hop from one joint to another, searching for the latest new thing that passes itself off as unique and patently distinct from what all the rest offer. Restaurants that have been fossilized in their 70s or 80s image, who do not cater to the upbeat “eatertainment-crazed’ crowd, who do not exude a dynamic motif that spells and sounds fresh, cannot hope to remain up there for long.
But the question to ask is: Are things really new? Do they really offer anything earthshakingly extraordinary? Or have people just become so used to cosmetic changes and face-lifts, to ever-evolving and rapid, quick succession of images and sounds that denote movement, that they cannot anymore suffer the discipline of sedate and quiet reflection, when we can really grapple with the basis and foundation of all that changes in our midst? The more things change, the more they remain the same!
What remains the same? This is what I suggest the liturgy today, among many others, asks us to reflect on. I would like to suggest a few in my list, if you care to read on…
Our sinful selves…this is one fact that remains true and constant. “Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not.” This has been true ever since Adam and Eve first fell into disobedience. This has remained a constant ever since Cain committed that crime against Abel…What do you think is behind all the graft and corruption in this country? Is it to be wondered at that we are among the 12 countries worldwide who rank highest in institutionally-built in corruption? What do you think is behind all this mad rush for public offices and positions?…or the endless cheatings and vote-buying during elections? What makes it so hard to lick the traffic and the trash problem? You guessed it right!…Selfishness and lack of synergy from among our politicians to name two causes…It all boils down to sin.
I must admit there is a lot of good being done by well-meaning people who really want solely the common good. They are a rare breed – rara aves – who do not make for a critical mass of people in society who can make things change deep down. And so I go to the second in my list…People do not recognize the good these people do. In our world-famous crab mentality, people who do well and who bear lots of good fruit are either shot down – or ignored altogether. Their achievements are downplayed, criticized, or shot to smithereens! Isaiah says: “Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” There is a whole lot of good happening in our society and in the world, and, thanks to the miracles of mass media, public opinion can be swayed very easily through an immoral game called mass manipulation. Important elements of the truth are withheld, modified, sugar-coated, many times by people in power who have their own personal agendas, and what ensues is a phenomenon called co-optation. People are co-opted into doing something they do not even perceive as bad or immoral, or at least deficient in the good. People are given the freedom to look, but not the freedom to really see.
But there is a more important constant in my list that we should not gloss over. This is something that Biblical tradition has passed on so clearly but which can get lost in the midst of so much surface change in the world today. This is the constant of God’s forgiveness, the constant of God’s call and God’s fidelity. St. Paul alludes to this truth: “As God is faithful, our word to you is not ‘yes’ and ‘no.’” Such is his fidelity to us His people that He even gave us a pledge…some kind of a down payment: “But the one who gives us security with you in Christ and who anointed us is God; he has also put his seal upon us and given the Spirit in our hearts as a first installment.”
In the Gospel, Jesus gives the ultimate sign of these constant truths about us. He forgave the sins of the paralytic. He went straight to the point. He did not feel the need to go into superficial gimmickry, into spectacular but cheap tactics, such as people nowadays easily fall for. He went direct to the foundational constant truth about us all – that we are sinners all in need of salvation, more than anything else. This is the constant truth that we have to see.
Unfortunately, the scribes looked, but did not see. They chided him for it and raised an issue of theology, accusing him of blasphemy. What was so clear to people who SAW, was abstruse to people who were bent on looking for ways to pin him down. Sounds familiar? Oh yes, it does.
Indeed, it all sounds familiar, for it happens everyday. The “SCRIBES AND PHARISEES FOREVER MOVEMENT” has not really died down. This movement lives on in the hearts of people who can even quote Church documents and the Bible to prove themselves. They can even drag the whole world to war in the name of justice, or in the name of God, because they do not see, or they refuse to see and acknowledge that there are more mundane and selfish motives lurking behind what they openly tell people are their genuine intentions. Religious psychologists have a term for this phenomenon: religious self-assertion, which is one of the so-called “counterfeits” in the practice of religion.
As we reflect on the readings of today, let us be reminded about our own propensity to act out of mixed motives. That in itself is not bad. The tragedy is when we put forward only the “good”motives and when all the other basically selfish, if not downright evil, motives are made to hide behind those good ones. This is looking whilst not seeing. This is exactly like the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing.
The Gospel ends with a clincher for us: “They were all (presumably except the scribes!) astounded and glorified God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this.’”