I would like to begin with a story of a farm mouse, hen, pig and cow that I heard yesterday, but would adapt according to our needs. One day, the mouse who lived in a farm house found a mouse trap. He was fearful for his life. So, he approached the farm hen for help to remove the trap. The farm hen replied, “I am afraid, I don’t have the time. I just laid some eggs and have to hatch them. Moreover, I have other family needs too.”
Feeling somewhat disappointed the mouse then approached the farm pig. The pig replied, “Sorry, I am just too tired at the end of each day. I need my beauty sleep after a heavy meal. I would be too clumsy anyway and may even endanger your life if I were to help you remove the trap. Come back to me some other time when I am more fresh and alert.”
The mouse being let down by his second friend felt very sad. He had only one last friend left on the farm to turn to; the cow. So, he approached the cow who had by this time been forewarned that he would be approached for help. As soon as he saw the mouse coming, he remarked even before the mouse could ask. He said, “Who, me? Have you approached others for help (pretending that he did not know anything)? Yes, I did, the mouse replied sadly, “None of them could help me.” “Well,” added the cow, “Actually, come to think of it, the trap is a farm house matter that doesn’t concern me; I am in the fields as you know very well; I don’t interfere with internal matters. I hope you understand that much as I would like to help, I can’t really help you. What would our Master, the farmer, and our Mistress the wife think? I am really sorry; no offense intended.”
The mouse could not believe his ears that not a single person was willing to come to his help when he needed them most. He was deeply saddened and began to withdraw to a corner of the barn and cry silently. The hen, pig and cow looked on at a distance, shook their heads in regrets that they could not help their friend even though he was desperate and had life threatening needs.
In the quiet of the night, when what could only be heard was the soft sound of the mouse’s sobbing, there was suddenly a loud snap; the mouse trap had gone off. What could have happened? Who could it be? It can’t be the mouse as he is still crawled up in a corner crying? So, the hen, pig and cow crept up to the farm house to find out what had happened. To their surprise, they found that the mouse trap had sprung on the farmer’s wife She soon became very sick from the poison on the trap. To help his wife regain her strength in her illness, the farmer slaughtered the farm hen to steam some essence of chicken and to cook some soup for her. A few days later, the farmer was still troubled as there was no one to milk the cow. So, he decided to sell the cow. Finally, after some weeks, the farmer’s wife recovered and the farmer was very happy. To celebrate the occasion, the farmer slaughtered the pig and roasted it for the feast.
The mouse is now left on his own without any of his so called friends. He thought to himself, “If only one of them had helped me remove the trap, perhaps, the farmer’s wife would not have been caught in the trap and thus would not have gotten sick and all of them would still be alive and living in peace together.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, does this simple story remind us of the times when we too could behave like the farm hen, the pig or the cow? Each of the animals gave perfect reasons for not helping the mouse even though he was in a life threatening situation. The farm hen had family concerns, the pig had personal needs and the cow did not want to interfere in internal matters. They each saw and knew perfectly well what was happening, but none of them moved an inch to do anything for their so called friend and neighbour. They were all the same; they looked from a distance; they convinced themselves that they could do nothing to help someone in need and went on living and caring only for their own needs. In the end, we all know that everything backfired; the farm cow was banished and sold and the hen and pig were slaughtered.
We are all brothers and sisters in Christ, we are all sons and daughters of God our Father who created us to “love Him with our whole heart, soul and mind, and to love our neighbours as Christ has loved us” – which is total, unconditional and selfless to the point of death, as Jesus has shown us. Thus, if we fail to love one another as God Wills of us, sooner or later, everything will “backfire” and our lives will fall apart.
A life that is over focused on being self-sufficient can become self-centered. This cannot help us to grow as a person; let alone grow as a family in Christ-centered ways. Such ways of living are symbolised by the attitudes and behaviour of the farm hen, pig and cow in our story. In fact, these are what our Church call our “sins of omissions;” our failure to do good, and our failure in our obligation to show compassion and serve the needs of others as Christ has taught and shown us.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, I am not here to make you feel guilty or to say how “bad” and sinful we are. I am here to proclaim the Gospel that we just heard. Today’s Gospel is not so much about our need to feel guilty for sins, but the restoration of our relationship with the Lord. St John the Baptist in today’s Gospel, preached “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” He who is “a voice that cries in the wilderness” two thousand years ago, is also here crying out to us; helping us to “prepare a way for us to return to the Lord.” His message is to help us restore, renew and reaffirm the Truth of who Jesus is for us today. Jesus who came to offer us salvation, wants us to renew our love for Him and our neighbour, and be God’s instruments of His gift of salvation to all peoples, especially to those who are in great need.
As I conclude, I would like us to ask ourselves, “Do we prefer to choose to belong to the section of the crowd of John the Baptist who denounced him as a mad man just because we don’t want to make the needed changes in our lives of loving God and our neighbour as fully as Christ has shown us? We should not underestimateour creativity and intelligence, or rather our capacity to distort our conscience and end up justifying our reluctance to change our ways and lifestyles, like the farm animals.
We can so easily convince ourselves that it is perfectly alright to be “self-sufficient” and “self-centered” because we have family needs – this is the argument of the farm hen. We can also justify that we are too tied from the day’s work – this is the pig’s rationale. And, we can also soothe our conscience by telling ourselves to mind our own business and stay clear of the internal matters and problems of others – this is the philosophy of the farm cow that we know is widespread and global.
Do we want to belong to the section of the crowd who heard John the Baptist’s message of repentance and welcomed it willingly and happily? If we do, then John the Baptist is urging us to “repent for the forgiveness of sins.” And for us, today, this concretely means living a more Christ-like life of showing greater care, love and service of the needs of others more selflessly; without finding excuses.
As the Commandments of God, through our Church teaches us to avoid committing sins and cause harm and pain to others, we too must equally remember that to be Christ-like we must also positively and proactively do good to others and reach out to them; every person is God’s precious child. Thus, every person’s need and suffering is our concern. If we want to love like Christ, our love for others is not an option, but an obligation. Our service of others’ is not a burden in life, but an opportunity to love God.
That’s the message of repentancefrom our sins of omission, but more importantly the grace of restoration of our relationship with our God, our Lord, that John the Baptist is proclaiming to you and me today. Will we see John the Baptist as a Prophet in our midst today, or a mad man of the past? Are we going to heed his message as coming from God to challenge us during this Advent season to prepare our hearts to celebrate a meaningful Christmas or are we going to brush aside today’s Gospel challenge as irrelevant?
Fr Philip Heng, S.J.