Note: This homily was delivered during the High 2 Batch Mass in Xavier School last 08 September 201, on the occasion of the Birth of Mary.
I’d like to begin by asking you three IQ questions. Here they are:
1. Three of the glasses are filled with orange juice; the other three are empty. By moving only one glass, can you arrange them so the full and empty glasses alternate?
2. There are six eggs in the basket. Six people each take one egg, how can it be that one egg is left in the basket?
3. Acting on an anonymous phone call, the police raid a house to arrest a suspected murderer. They don’t know what he looks like, but they know his name is John. Inside they find four people playing cards: a carpenter, a lorry driver, a car mechanic, and a fireman. Without even asking his name, they immediately arrest the fireman. How do they know they’ve got their man?
Here are the answers:
- Pour the juice from the second glass into the fifth.
- The last person took the basket with the egg in it.
- All the other card players were women.
Actually, strictly speaking, these are not IQ tests, so no need to get depressed if you weren’t able to answer any of them. They’re actually tests to measure what we call “Lateral Thinking.” I checked the all-time favorite reference of Xavier students—which is of course Wikipedia—and here’s how Wikipedia defines lateral thinking: “the ability to solve problems in an indirect and creative fashion.” In other words, “the capacity to think out of the box.”
If you want a graphic and well-known illustration of what this means, just think of the recent film “INCEPTION”—where Christopher Nolan explores sharing of dream spaces, constructing make-believe realities, even implanting ideas in the subconscious. It takes a lateral thinker to come up with a film as weird as that.
You may be wondering, if today’s the birthday of Mary, why am I talking about lateral out-of-the box thinking?
Simple. Because God is the Great Lateral Thinker. He’s the original Out-of-the-Box Thinker. If you study the way God has acted in all of salvation history–in all of the Old Testament and especially in the New Testament, you won’t have a choice but to concede that God responds to situations in a pretty unpredictable and creative way. This is very clear in the life of Mary.
First of all, for centuries, the Jews waited and prayed for a Messiah, someone who would descend from the heavens of Yahweh and liberate the Israelites from slavery to Rome. The Jews, like many of us, were mostly non-lateral thinkers, so logically they expected their Messiah to be a mighty warrior who would destroy their enemy.
Nope, not for God. He had a different and—in His opinion, a superior—solution. That’s where Mary entered the picture.
Mary was a young girl–probably no more than 14–when she was told the news that she would be the mother of the Messiah. Since we’ve heard the story over and over again, it’s no big deal for us, but for Mary it certainly was a big deal. After all, she was just a peasant girl; they were not particularly rich. She did not belong to the nobility. It must have been hard for her to imagine why God would pick her. There were 101 reasons why she should not have believed the angel.
If she had put God in a box, then she would have refused to believe. Instead, what did she do? She threw out all the logical expectations out the window and allowed God to surprise her. In her heart of hearts, she suspected that God couldn’t be kept in a box. In her heart of hearts, she knew that He was a creative lateral thinker. His ways are usually not like ours.
What lesson does all this offer to us? The way God acted in the life of Mary, the way He acted in all of salvation history, that’s most probably the way He will act in our lives too. He will surprise us and will usually not act according to our should’s and our expectations. Like Mary, we should be ready for the unexpected, and respond to God’s surprising actions in our lives.
Something like that happened to Julie, the head nurse in Philippine General Hospital last August. She had just watched the coverage of the disastrous hostage crisis at the Quirino Grandstand in shock, and like many of us, felt shame as a Filipino.
She was ready to leave her station for home when her staff received word that two of the hostage victims had been rushed to the Emergency Room of the PGH. As the head nurse who had just completed her duty, she didn’t have to stay, but she quickly ran to the ER to see what she could do. Later she explained, “It was the least I could do for my country.”
The sight at the ER was disheartening. One of the victims was already draped with a bloodstained sheet, having been declared dead on arrival. The other one, a 32-year old woman named Yik Su Ling, was struggling for her life. Ma’am Julie’s heart sank when she saw the woman’s wounds: Bullets from an automatic rifle had shattered her jaw and broken all her fingers. Julie immediately understood what had happened: she had probably been covering her mouth with her hands in fear when the bullets struck her.
Julie took one look at the team of surgeons who were working feverishly over Yik even as they were surrounded by angry relatives and government officials. There and then she decided to stay and take over nurse duty herself. “Para sa Diyos at bayan ito,” she told herself.
It was a long and painful night. Thankfully the woman survived. Later in the recovery room, as Julie was wiping the patient’s forehead and putting her to bed, the woman signaled for paper and pen. Unable to speak because of her shattered jaw, she held the pen with her bandaged and fingerless hand, and even if difficult, she wrote again and again: 謝謝！謝謝！ (Thank you! Thank you!)
When the message was translated to them, the exhausted team of Filipino doctors and nurses, all volunteers, dissolved quietly into tears. It was the first time that day that a word of kindness–and not anger–was spoken to them and their people.
There, in that room, in the most unexpected places, God moved. Through the most unexpected person, God spoke.
We never know when God will move in our life, and we’ll never guess what He will ask from us. Think of Mary. Think of Julie. But we have to be ready; we have to always be on the lookout for these opportunities–sometimes these are dramatic heroic moments like what Julie experienced; others they are quiet and more subtle, but no less great, like Mary’s. And if we’re able to respond well, just like Mary, just like Julie, even like Yik, that moment could be life-changing.