14 October 2010 Thursday of the 28th Week in Ordinary Time
Ephesians 1, 1-10; Psalm 98; Luke 11, 47-54
The entrance antiphon from Psalm 130 has a far deeper connection with the Lucan Gospel of woes. It says: “If you, O Lord, laid bare our guilt, who could endure it? But you are forgetting, God of Israel.” Let me therefore use these two statements for today’s homily.
Statement 1: “If you, O Lord, laid bare our guilt, who could endure it?”
In the Gospel, Jesus exposes the guilt of the scribes and Pharisees. The result of which, as the Gospel ends, is animosity. The scribes and Pharisees begins to be hostile to Him, plotting to catch Him too in His own words.
First, Jesus unveils pretensions. During the time of Jesus, to erect monuments of great prophets was fashionable. So the scribes and Pharisees put up these marks as if they were avid fans. But in truth, their ancestors were the murderers and persecutors of these religious heroes. A prophet’s job was to become God’s spokesperson. When they pointed out what’s wrong about a system, a leadership or a way of life, they performed the role because they were missioned by the Lord. Many great people in the Old Testament like Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Elijah were hesitant to take on the role, but because they were of the Lord, they obeyed.
In our lives, we usually shun the people who are gadflies in our lives. We do not like them because they disturb our present comfortable zones. They point out what’s wrong with us. They shake us with our truths so that we will stop being complacent. Socrates said that the intellectuals are supposed to work like gadflies in society. Gadflies swirl around a beast; pestering it continuously despite being shooed away by the animal’s tail. One of the Jesuits who trained me was Fr. Alfeo Nudas SJ. He was a prolific writer and professor in literature at the University of the Philippines in Diliman. He said this about writers: To provoke people to think is a great service. We have to make people think! They have stopped using their brains! Scientific studies supports this: only a small percentage of our grey matter is being used.
In biblical times, the scribes and Pharisees were the scholars. They were learned. And yet, they stopped thinking. When they taught their disciples, they quoted previous scholars of the law. They didn’t have their own stand which required thorough study and discernment.
They loved creating little laws, but forgot the essentials and the foundation on which laws are built: example, justice and charity. Take for example the tenet that one cannot work during the Sabbath. So, if a family’s sole source of livelihood, strays, they cannot do anything about it. And so when the disciples have taken food during the Sabbath, He irked the scribes and Pharisees. If the scribes and Pharisees used their brains, they would see how reasonable Jesus was.
Today, having an education does not guarantee critical and informed thinking. They lost the ability to think not just outside of the box, but also within the box. They will hate people who would disturb their comfort zones.
Case in point: how many have turned a blind eye to this commandment of Jesus because it is disturbing: love your enemies? Jesus is radical. He is never complacent. He says to us: woe to you who are lazy to think!
Notice that the point is about thinking. Whatever the result is not our concern in this homily; it is another issue. Some people, in a controversial issue, would rather judge you as having this stand or that stand. Black or white. If you challenge them to discuss, dialogue and discern, they will label you right away as either this or that. By doing so, they prevent people from precisely doing what Jesus wants us to do: think!
Statement 2: “But you are forgetting, God of Israel.”
But God is indeed forgiving. He ‘forgets’ our sins.
So let’s apply statement 1: we have to use our brains. If God is forgetting (meaning: erasing from memory), why does Jesus remind the scribes and Pharisees to remember their guilt? By pointing out their folly, Jesus does not “forget” but brings their sins and stupidity into the fore.
Forgiveness, therefore, means that we will be free from our hurts; that our decisions will not be determined by the pain. The word “forgetting” does not mean how we presently understand the word ‘forget’; in the first place, it is an English translation from Latin. The original will tell us that it does not mean erasing the event from memory.
Case in point: Our short-term memory of oppression has detrimental effects. In our personal lives, the people who abuse us, continue to do so. In our country, the people who have milked our economy stay. By saying, forgive and forget, they say: let this corrupt system continue. We’re used to it.