18 November 2008 Tuesday of the 33rd Week in Ordinary Time
Rev 3, 1-22; Psalm 15; Luke 19, 1-10 Being Lukewarm
In the first reading from Revelation, two cities are mentioned: Sardis and Laodicea. Both of these cities were in the earthquake belt. Sardis had been rebuilt after it was devastated by an earthquake in 17 BC. It was a port for wools that was why there is an allusion that the victors will wear white.
Laodicea was at the east of Ephesus. Its water supply was lukewarm, that was why the reading talked about lukewarmness as an imagery. The water came from hot springs and thus arrived at the city lukewarm. Since Laodicea was prosperous with a bank, a clothing industry like Sardis and a medical school which specializes on eye diseases, the letter to Laodicea warned people that their prosperity endangered their faith.
Since Revelation is a very symbolic book (thus, cannot be interpreted literally), let us use the images for our present day purpose. First, the image of being in an earthquake belt. I live where the Marikina faultline is. And my hometown is literally on the slope of Mayon Volcano (Camalig, Albay is one of the closest towns to the famous volcano). We are not just in an earthquake zone, but we are practically in the Pacific ring of fire. We are hit by an average of 22 typhoons a year. People who are at the mercy of nature, naturally develops resiliency. You cannot just let things be: you have to think ways and means to survive, consider alternative ways to rise up from the disaster. You have to know what values are important to you. I remember my mother telling us when I was in high school, “Whatever happens, whether we eat dried fish or scrimp on certain things, we (my parents) will give you the best education.”
Second, the image of being lukewarm. Lukewarm water is neither hot nor cold. Neither here nor there. In the midst of difficulties and disasters in our lives, we cannot be apathetic. We cannot just let things go as it is. We cannot just be swayed by the wind. We have to be principled and strong. We have to be either hot or cold. Not in between. We have to know what are important — like education — so that we can prioritize our needs. I believe apathy and indifference are reasons why our country is going down the drain.
Third, the danger of prosperity. The Gospel today is about Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector and a very wealthy man. Because of his small stature, he climbed a sycamore tree to see Jesus. And when he came to know Jesus, he cannot just be apathetic and lukewarm. So he had to make a decision — which he carried out. He gave his belongings to the poor and repaid those whom he cheated.
Prosperity has a way of keeping our hearts cold. Like the people of Laodicea and Zaccheaus, we can be so attached to our wealth and our lifestyle that we become oblivious of the suffering. Often our donations to charity are palliative to our guilt. But notice a donation does not entail the donor to suffer or be inconvenienced.
Faith should be like fire. People with real faith stand to their beliefs. And their hearts are always on fire. On the other hand, people whose heart are cold can be easier dealt with: at least we know where they stand.
It is more difficult to convert those who are volatile and unprincipled. Simple: have you ever invited someone to dinner and you asked where he or she wants to eat, and the reply you get is, “Wherever”? It is easier if the person says no to this restaurant: at least one option is out. These people never realize that by being sure where to eat is a great favor — especially if you’re the one treating them to dinner.