October 01, 2017
This past week we heard a scientific word: “optics” (the study of light and vision) used in a political context. President Trump said he didn’t like the “optics” of cabinet members using costly charter jets to travel. Again, an administration official calls the federal response to the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico a “good news story” when we are seeing and hearing people on the island pleading for help.
We can use the word “optics” in a personal and spiritual context. When we examine ourselves, we may find an inconsistency between what we say and what we do; between what we promise and what we practice. As children we tell our parents one thing and do another. It is true for adults too. St. Paul writes to the Church at Rome: “I don't really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don't do it. Instead, I do what I hate.” (Romans 7:15)
Jesus points out this internal conflict in his debate with the Elders and Chief Priests in Jerusalem. He tells the parable of a father with two sons. The father asks the first son to work in the vineyard. He says: “I will not” but later changes his mind and works. Then the father asks the second son to work in the vineyard. He says: “Yes sir” but does not go. Jesus ignores the shame and disrespect the first son brings upon his father in refusing to go but focuses on which son actually does the father’s will. The first! Jesus goes on to say public sinners who accepted the call of John the Baptist to repent and to change will enter the Kingdom of God before the righteous who refuse to change.
“Optics” of our behavior will disclose the gap between what we profess and how we practice our faith. St. Paul writes to the Philippians (2nd reading) that if they get anything about following Christ it should be Christ’s mercy and compassion. We can take an honest look at ourselves with the “eyes” of God who is slow to anger and rich in kindness. We sing with the Psalmist: “Good and upright is the Lord; thus he shows sinners the way. He guides the humble to justice, and teaches the humble his way.”
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