Learning in Bad Times

I usually get up in the morning early listening to the news on National Public Radio. These days the news on NPR isn’t good. Today, the USA space shuttle program came to an end as the last mission landed on earth; the weather is going to soar to over a 100–another day locked in the house.  Congress too is locked in battles over the budget and the economy. There’s a famine in Somalia that will take the lives of thousands of the children.

Someone told me recently, he’s stopped listening to the news in the morning on the radio or reading the papers. It’s too grim.

So we turn to the Good News.

I must say I’m finding the Gospel of Matthew, which we’re reading these weekdays and on Sundays, surprisingly helpful. It was written to help people struggling with bad times.

As I mentioned in my last post (July 20), the bad times were around the year AD 90 when the followers of Jesus in Galilee were reeling from the attacks of a resurgent Judaism. Those attacks are described in Chapters 10-12 of Matthew’s gospel.

Instead of closing their eyes and hanging on tight, Jesus tells his disciples to open their eyes and their ears, because there’s something for them to learn. “Blessed are your eyes, because they see and your ears because they hear. Many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it and hear what you hear and did not hear it.”  (Matthew 13,16-17) He says that as he teaches them in parables.

Bad times can be the best times to learn. Some of the best things we know; some of the best insights we have;  some of the most creative thoughts may come to in bad times. God doesn’t stop speaking or teaching in bad time; God sows seed and opens new avenues. New treasures, new pearls are there to be discovered in the ground we walk over and the jumble of things that seem to overwhelm us.

That’s the message of this Sunday’s gospel, I think, which offers us the parables of the treasure hidden in the field and the pearl of great price and the net that pulls up a bewildering variety of things from the sea.  It’s a message continued in the mystery of the Passion of Jesus.

We don’t have to turn away from bad times. They’re times to keep your eyes and ears open, Jesus says. Like Solomon, in the first reading for Sunday, we should pray, not for blinders, but for “understanding hearts.”

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