Sunday, 19 August 2007

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

At the beginning of the movie Transformers, there is a scene of the young hero Sam Witwicky, in a “show and tell” session. Instead of “showing and telling”, he is actually trying to hawk his grandfather’s things… an old pair of glasses, map, newspaper cuttings. The teacher tells him that by doing that, he should be getting less than an A. Now our hero needs an A, even an A minus… to show his Dad because the criteria for a set of wheels are 3 As and US$2000. A B- would “poof” his dream and Sam asked the teacher: “What would Jesus do”?

The question is a loaded question. What would Jesus do? The answer to this question betrays our notion of who Jesus is. People who ask this question have probably not read this part of the Gospel we heard this morning. We live in a world which does not want to feel guilty for embracing a life of uninterrupted pleasures. We want our meat drowned in gravy but minus the fat and our drinks laced with sugar but minus the calories. We want low fat, less sugar, in short, a comforting Jesus minus the demands.

Today, a challenging Jesus confronts us to choose him and when we do, there is a cost to be borne. The only person today I know of who is quietly paying the price of choosing Jesus Christ “unadulterated”—comforting and yet demanding—is Lina Joy.

She stands in stark contrast to how we reckon the price to be paid for having chosen Jesus. When we choose to stand alongside Jesus our Lord, then the road to Calvary becomes ours too. The thing is, we want to stand out—we want to be noticed. Otherwise why become fashionable, why speak of the “in-thing”, the “happening place” etc? Unfortunately our desire to stand out does not extend to our courage to go against a culture of accommodation to the values of the world. The price of the real Jesus is rather too steep to pay. For example: It’s common to bribe the police when caught committing a traffic offence. Many a times, people have to struggle not with the thought that bribery is wrong but rather “Everyone is doing it. What would they think if I didn’t do it? Isn’t it stupid not to follow the conventional wisdom of paying your “kopi” money of $50 instead of $300”? And if the Aidl Fitr is around the corner, he might even be desperate enough to accept your bargain to reduce it further.

When we choose Jesus, Calvary is our home. But, when we shade Jesus grey, like Sam Witwicky tried to, we will find excuses to stand in the shadow. When Jesus is watered down, then our task is to ensure that Jesus does not intrude into our lives. He can be there but he must not disturb our comfort. We want a Jesus to tell us that He loves us but we don’t want a Jesus to remind us that it is our sins that keep us away from his love.

I remember the story told by Tony de Mello about this prophet who foresaw that the rains would poison the water supply of his village and drinking it would make them mad. He went around warning everyone but instead of listening to him, everyone laughed at him and also his effort at storing water for himself. Soon enough, the rains came and the water was poisoned. One after another descended into madness. The prophet was the only one who remained sane. He felt happy for himself because he had enough stock of good water to drink and to last a long time. After a couple of months, he soon became lonely… then, he did the unthinkable. He poured away the water and started drinking the water that everyone drank. He became mad like everyone.

The prophet gave up not because he didn’t believe in doing the right thing or doing the good thing. He gave up because he was too lonely. We often find ourselves in that position too. Some of us find our commitment compromised by the loneliness arising from moral integrity. In one of the scenes of Ratatouille, Remy the Rat gave up because he didn’t want to fight anymore. Why? He stood apart from his father and brother. He walked on his two hind feet simply because he didn’t want to dirty his front paws because he used them to eat. But his father and brothers were content to eat rubbish. After a while, it was too much to fight everyone, so he gave up hope.

To choose Jesus is to choose the road less travelled cliché as it may sound. It is to choose the road where we are often alone. It could mean that we may have to leave our family like Lina Joy did, give up a comfortable lifestyle and be at odds with those whom we used to party. If you used to gossip but now do not, you’re weird. If you used to take bribes but now do not, you’d be stabbed in the back. In all cases, the road less travelled embraces the vocation of suffering.

In the Spiritual Exercises, St Ignatius asks the exercitant to pray for the grace to know Christ more intimately, to love him more ardently and to follow him more closely. It is a grace against a dumb-down Jesus, a grace against a counterfeit Jesus, a grace against an overly indulgent Jesus. It is the only grace that can accompany us on this road less travelled. If we are to choose the less travelled road of moral integrity otherwise known as the less travelled path of suffering then only Jesus can be our rock, our salvation. Nothing less is good enough a shield and an armour in the winds that blow against us. If you choose Jesus, then be prepared for stronger winds that blow, and steel yourself because the temptations will become more acute. But, as the author to the Hebrews says, let us persevere and keep running steadily in the race we have started. Let us not lose sight of Jesus, who leads us in our faith and brings it to perfection.