Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A
January 30, 2011
The first reading from the Prophet Zephaniah seems like an acceptance of what is, a copping out to what is inevitable, a surrendering to what is ineluctable. Zephaniah speaks of a remnant, a few brave and steadfast souls, who will be a “people humble and lowly,” and who will “take refuge in the Lord.”
I cannot but reflect on these words as I listened for a short while to whatever new Senate investigation (among many fruitless ones) was going on yesterday in the Philippines. As I heard the unexplainable amnesia of certain bigwigs of the Philippine armed forces, “the few, the brave, the chosen,” a growing sense of frustration and anger was welling up from within me. Isaiah’s words rang true. There is but a tiny remnant left in the sea of teeming humanity, created in God’s image and likeness, that seems to fit the mold of a “people humble and lowly.” There is but a few now that can be singled out from the ranks of the bold and the brazen, who will take to heart the prophet’s vision of this same few “taking refuge in the Lord.”
Numerically speaking at least, you who are in Church today, belong to the few “remnants.” If we go by absolute numbers alone, no more than 20% of us Catholics regularly go to Sunday Mass all over the country. And as if to add more bite to this miserable count, a number of them don’t really go to Church. They go to Malls and the new cathedrals of commerce, where they can be cool and comfy and cozy, and post-Mass, go direct to pursue their Sunday leisure of window shopping, eating, and getting oneself pampered by what their limited budgets could allow them (that is, if no new bombings take place before one even reaches his or her destination).
But let us move elsewhere and focus our gaze on other countries where the “remnants” are in far worse shape than we are. In Iraq, in certain places in India, in Israel, in Lebanon, and in other places dominated by other religions, the few remaining brave souls who stick it out with the Lord where they were born, where they grew up and where they learned what is left of their Christian faith, the few remnants are being persecuted, harassed, and bullied out of their ancestral dwellings. Religious tolerance, the passionate plea of religious leaders who see first-hand the deplorable situation where their flocks live, is nothing but a word and a beautiful concept, very far from reality in these places.
Although by no means deserving of it, I see and feel myself one with you, one with the “remnants” that Zephaniah speaks about. I ally myself with you, who now feel probably so alone, so bereft of a sense of security and assurance that the next bus I take, the next train ride, or the next airplane flight you will take, will not go the way of cold police statistics!
I ally myself with you who feel the need to be reminded, that whether few or many, those “remnants” are declared “blessed” for reasons that are patently out of this world!
After a reality check done by Zephaniah, we declared in no uncertain terms: BLESSED ARE THE POOR IN SPIRIT, FOR THEIRS IS THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN!
Social scientists now speak of a progressive digital rewiring of the minds of children being born in the digital age. Such rewiring goes a long, long way in terms of far-ranging repercussions. Value systems are changed. Mores and customs are redefined. Relationships between persons are re-engineered, and the perception of what is right or wrong is turned upside down. The world of social networking, for one, has redefined the concept of “friend.” Exhibitionism or the desire to flaunt one’s real or imagined physical assets has reached a level never before reached, thanks to these social networking sites, where privacy has been relegated to a few choices in a pull-down menu from one’s personal account. One can be a closed-book to the rest of the world, but perfectly an open-book with no holds barred whatsoever to one’s circle of friends. A report I read the other day suggests that in a region of the Philippines where once there were plenty of vocations to the priesthood and religious life, has all but dried up in these recent years. The culprit? The onset of cable TV!
In this world of instant and online connectivity, where children are bombarded with sound bytes and images galore of the “good life” as lived in affluent and developed countries; in our country where there are Little Italys and Little Japans, and little pockets of untold affluence and comfort, the phenomenon of thieving generals and forgetful accomplices who shared in the loot of the land, for decades, do not anymore scandalize the digitally rewired kids who can’t tell right from wrong, but who know what is an opportunity if they see one, and who would definitely not pass off such opportunity to make a fast buck himself, make a killing, even at the expense of disposable “friends” in Facebook and the like.
Let us be more direct … The world now does not believe that being “poor and humble” is something that merits being called “blessed.”
But today, allow me to do some “prophetic criticizing.” Like Zephaniah did. Like Paul did. Zephaniah in the end does not really capitulate to what is reality unfolding. Zephaniah was doing some version of “prophetic criticizing” and “prophetic energizing.” Prophetic criticizing … only a few, he says, will remain, “the remnant.” Prophetic energizing … “seek the Lord all you humble of the earth … seek justice, seek humility …”
Paul’s prophetic criticizing … let us face ourselves for who and what we are: “not many were wise; not many were powerful; not many were of noble birth.” Prophetic energizing … “God chose the weak; God chose the foolish; God chose the lowly and despised of the world.”
This is us. This is me. This is all of us, from among the few, the forgotten, and perhaps, the forlorn. I make no secrets about it. I am sad. I am disappointed. I am even angry at everything’s that’s going on. I am angry that foreign terrorists come here to kill and maim innocent people – the few and forgotten ones who only want to live a peaceful and decent life. I am angry that thieving politicians and greedy generals are making a killing receiving” welcome and parting gifts” that no ordinary man, woman from the hoi polloi could even dream of having in their entire lifetimes! I am despondent that, as usual, those who pay the highest price are the poor, the lowly, the simple, the humble, and the ignorant – the rest of us who are not well connected enough, or well placed enough in the rungs of the social ladder as to be totally clueless about how the irresponsible “public servants” are dividing the spoils that really belong to the people!
We need to spiritually rewire our digitally rewired brains and minds who find nothing wrong anymore in corruption and who have made a peace pact with a structurally unjust situation in our country. The Gospel speaks of this as METANOIA, a change of mind and a change of heart. And we need to start where it is at – where the battle is at – in the level of the human heart of each and everyone of us.
Yes … US! You and I. The Lord declares us, poor, powerless, forgotten, and forlorn people as blessed. But God calls us blessed not just because we are poor or powerless. In his own version of prophetic energizing, Christ the Lord declares us blessed, because, being poor, we know better than to rely solely on our power, but on the power of Him who can raise up and pull down. We are blessed because we know better than to make of ourselves, our gadgets, and our materialistic dreams and desires the ultimate. We are blessed because, being finite, limited, and weak, we find in God our strength, our hope, our salvation!
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven!