Not walking straight

Note:  This homily was delivered to the High 1 students during their batch Mass last 18 January 2011.

Scientists have been conducting a series of mysterious experiments since the 1920s.  And the research question has remained unsolved for the past 80 years. The question?  “Can we walk a straight path if we can’t see what’s ahead of us?”  Here are the results to three such experiments.

In 1928, three men left a barn on a very foggy day and set out to walk a straight path for a mile.  This is how they ended up walking…

Expt 1 from XS on Vimeo.

Strangely, they ended up where they started, and all three men bumped into the same barn they thought they had left behind.

That same year, a man was blindfolded and asked to take a swim straight to the other side.  Here’s how his swimming looked like…

Expt 2 from XS on Vimeo.

Another experiment:  A man was again blindfolded and asked to drive straight across an empty field in Kansas.  This is what he ended up doing.

Expt 3 from XS on Vimeo.

It seems that no matter what we do, we can’t walk straight if we don’t have a visible fixed point ahead of us.  We need something like the sun, or the moon, or a mountaintop in sight if we want to be able to walk straight.  Otherwise, we literally end up walking in circles.

I mention this because What happens to us when we’re walking blindfolded applies to the way we live.  In our gospel today, our Lord is teaching us something very much related.  He criticizes the Pharisees about the law of the Sabbath.  What is this law of the Sabbath?  You see, this law was intended to honor God.  According to the book of Genesis, God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh.  The Sabbath law prescribes that no Jew should do any kind of work on the Sabbath Day.  But the Pharisees have gotten a little bit too carried away.  They’ve become very strict about this law, so that you’re even prohibited to pluck anything from the field to feed yourself, or to help people who need help on the Sabbath Day–even if it’s a matter of life and death.  They would rather not violate the Sabbath than save a neighbor.  That’s why our Lord tells them that “man was not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath was made for man.”  In other words, the law of the Sabbath has been designed for the good of people, not to cause them suffering.

So in a sense, what happened to the Pharisees is that they ended up walking blindfolded.  They thought they were walking a very straight path towards God by following laws very strictly, but they ended up walking around in circles instead, having lost sight of what was most important for God: that we love our neighbors and help them.  Since they didn’t have this fixed point to guide them, they literally missed the point.

We also sometimes end up missing the point if we’re not careful. For example, what do many students do when they prepare for an exam? They clench their brains and memorize every single thing that they suspect will come out in the test. Then during the test, they vomit everything out, and forget every single thing ten minutes after the test.  They’ve missed the point altogether. They’ve forgotten that it’s all about learning, not short-term memory.

We can say the same about those who cheat. The point is to learn, not just to pass or to get good grades–and certainly not at all cost.

Also many students especially in high school have this penchant for joining as many clubs and committees because they want to be part of everything. Of course they end up so busy they don’t actually benefit from anything, but just get involved in a superficial way, not to mention harassed.  The point is to learn and to enjoy, not just to be in the thick of action and to be popular.

Just as we need a visible fixed point if we want to walk straight, we need an unchanging and unmoving guide before our eyes if we want to live straight. The problem is that most of us anchor our decisions and actions on things that don’t last, whose value fades. Things like grades and popularity.

We need to anchor our lives more on long lasting values, virtues that don’t fade.  As a priest, I’ve been to lots of wakes, and I’ve learned that when we die, no one’s going to care as much if we got good grades or if we were the coolest person on campus. What people talk about, what people remember, what people care about long after we’re gone is whether we were kind, whether we were honest, whether we were generous and loving.

Think about your life and ask yourself:  Is there a fixed point that doesn’t move and change, one that can guide us so that we don’t lose our way. Otherwise we might just end up walking around in circles.

Video from Robert Krulwich
Presentation by Karol Yee

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