Saturday, 21 October 2017

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A 2017

We are nearing the end of the year and the readings take on an apocalyptic tone. And yet, we are no strangers to this ominous theme because the idiot box is replete with variations of the same motif—watch the myriad series and you know what I mean. Walking Dead, Falling Skies or The Last Ship are but a few examples. The dystopian mise en scène is in exact opposition to both the first reading and the Gospel. Ironically, this apocalyptic world does not completely deny the religious nature of man though the numinous nod is but a Nietzschean indictment of the divine[1]. What may be a backhanded compliment to this numinosity is what Catholics termed as sacramentals. They are easily recognisable—a picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus hung on the wall, stained glasses in a Church, Crucifixes in rooms and Rosaries. The fact is, even though God appears to be present, He is powerless in this dark and dismal dystopia confirming the Marxist accusation that the divine is nothing but an opiate for the unthinking masses.

This Sunday’s “End of the World” reading and the Gospel, far from prophesying a portentous prospect, instead nudges us in the direction of God by challenging us to assess the quality of our relationship with Him.

Firstly, the relationship we have with God is articulated within the framework of Providence. We have a God who will provide. However, this cornucopian imagery proposed by the first reading is nowhere recognisable in what one gets from the movies.

Secondly, God is benevolent to His creation. He is not a “deistic” God who created world and left it, at best, to run on its own or at worst, to rot. However, we have difficulty appreciating God’s benevolence. Or rather, we have a tough time believing this. Why? The answer may be found in an interesting feature about the Gospel, a detail which is not unique to this Sunday. It is the availability of a shorter and a longer version which the celebrant is free to choose. The shorter version seems to cut out an uncomfortable reality but which is important to understanding what sort of relationship we are called to have with God.

When we speak of “relationship” we ought to consider an aspect of it associated with the Millennials. It deals with “disloyalty”. For the millennial workforce, employment must be multi-faceted in the sense that a person who is working only in one job would be considered as committing career or professional hara-kiri. As it were, one is forced to chart a course so that one’s work experience can be widened. Thus, relationship for the Millennials is markedly selfish, not in a wilful sense of the word but rather it necessarily follows a logic of self-preservation. In order to advance in one’s career, one has to be “disloyal”. Coupled with self-preservation is also a strong sense of entitlement.

This sense of privilege has far reaching consequences. For example, have you ever heard of “cheat days”? It happens when someone is on diet. He is entitled to a cheat day where the healthy regimen he adheres to does not apply. Imagine this privilege being translated into morality? In the commitment to be good, consciously one is entitled to be bad. How does that impact our relationship with God? With this type of morality, disloyalty is built into commitment. Catholicism Soft and Lite has never been so popular!

In fact, a shorter version of the Gospel might give us an inkling of the sort of relationship we want from God. In other words, for us who are entitled, what we want is to hear is that God loves us. God cannot be anything but kind and merciful to sinners. This is the only Gospel we want to hear, the only Good News that makes sense. Not that it is not true.

One of the challenges of the Jubilee Year of Mercy was the clamouring to announce God’s graciousness but for an entitled ear, we fail to recognise that the invitation to partake of God’s mercy must also be accompanied by a courageous ascent of conversion. The long version of the Gospel brings forth the message that a balance has to be struck between gratuity and commitment, between grace and freedom and between reconciliation offered by God and the conversion that we submit ourselves to. If at all, God were “indulgent” by constantly giving in to us, then we do not really know the meaning of indulgence. In Luke 7, the woman with the alabaster jar of oil is described as, “she who has shown great love has had her many sins forgiven”.

In summary, the wedding garment calls us to a relationship that is not one-sided in that we are entitled to God’s love without the corresponding duty of ever conforming our lives to God’s will in response to His generosity. The God who provides is not a God of the Entitled. Instead, He is also entitled to our faithfulness because we have entered into a covenant with Him at baptism. Sad but true, the odd man who believes that he can respond to God on his own terms will soon find himself bound and cast out into the abyss where the grinding of teeth never stops.

[1] That God is dead…