By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Irony of Inertia

Yesterday's Gospel reading for Mass is, not surprisingly, quite provocative and subversive of our common complacency and inertia:

Lk 12:54-59 [emphasis added]:

Jesus said to the crowds,
“When you see a cloud rising in the west
you say immediately that it is going to rain–and so it does;
and when you notice that the wind is blowing from the south
you say that it is going to be hot–and so it is.
You hypocrites!
You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky;
why do you not know how to interpret the present time?

“Why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?
If you are to go with your opponent before a magistrate,
make an effort to settle the matter on the way;
otherwise your opponent will turn you over to the judge,
and the judge hand you over to the constable,
and the constable throw you into prison.
I say to you, you will not be released
until you have paid the last penny.”

Several points come to mind.

1. Again, we see the great irony--also pointed out by the great prophets of the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament--between our assiduous attention to so many relatively unimportant matters and our indifference to what is most fundamental and important. This ironic thread runs through the Hebrew Bible and right through the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament. We see the irony today as much as it was seen back then: we fuss over our diet and over our physical health and appearance only to end up degrading the very same bodies in licentiousness; we worry ferociously about money and tax deductions, but we fail to grasp the great destiny for which our souls were created; we obsess about how we may impress others with our "success" and markers of social status, but we fail to be human. The ironies go on and on. And so, the great Teacher is asking: you take great care in observing the weather and predicting it, but you do not see the course of your own lives? Yes, I have seen highly (formally) educated people who, in reality, were pure imbeciles when it came to what counts in life: honor, justice, character, selflessness.

2. He asks, "Why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?" Take a moment to savor that indictment. Christianity is not asking you to stop thinking for yourself, but rather to start thinking seriously, maybe for the first time, about what is right, what is really important in life. It is a call to the examined life, as also proposed by Socrates. It is a call for initiative of the mind and of reason to get to the bottom of what we are about in life.

3. "Make an effort to settle on the way": Yes, wake up and do something because something must be done. The Gospel calls for action, not for smug self-satisfaction or inertia or for blind habit and custom. "Make an effort": try to change the course of your life after judging for yourself what is right. Dare to judge what is right. Dare to look closely at what everyone else may overlook or simply acquiesce in with fatalistic resignation. Dare to be subversive.