The Fool’s Blindness — Tuesday, 5th Week in Ordinary Time—Year II

Some priests like to begin their homilies with jokes. Today I’m going begin by telling you a few jokes—some very, very old jokes. In fact, they come from the oldest joke book in the world, a collection of 265 jokes from the 4th century A.D. entitled The Philogelos, or (in English) The Laugh-Addict.

One day an intellectual bumped into a friend and said to him, “I heard you were dead.” “Well,” said the friend, “As you can see, I am very much alive.” “Yes,” [replied the other,] “but the person who told me you were dead is much more reliable than you.”

[On another occasion,] A doctor stole the lamp of a man whom he was treating for inflammation of the eyes. A few days later, the doctor asked the patient how his eyes were. “It’s a funny thing, [Doctor,] ever since you treated them I haven’t been able to see my lamp.”

[And finally,] An intellectual was [once] on a sea voyage when a big storm blew up, causing his slaves to weep in terror. ‘Don’t cry,’ he consoled them, ‘I have freed you all in my will.’”

Now these three jokes have something in common, besides being very old. They all share the have comedic device: a foolish person who focuses on the wrong thing, like the patient who mistrusts his eyes more than his doctor. This is called majoring in the minors, or as Jesus would say, “straining the gnat and swallowing the camel.” In the Gospel today, Jesus really takes it to the scribes and Pharisees for doing this sort of thing: “You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition. … This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me…”

So do we focus on small details of our faith and neglect what’s really important? For instance, next Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, and during Lent we usually give up something we enjoy as a form of penance until the joyful celebration of Easter. Now keeping a Lenten penance is a good tradition, because penance helps us to shed old sins and to grow in our ability to do good and to be happy. But… if we give up pop, cookies, candy, or ice cream, while we neglect to go to Sunday Mass, we are keeping a human tradition while we neglect God’s command: keep holy the Lord’s day. Instead of doing neither this Lent, please do both.  Take a penance and go to Mass every weekend for the love of God.

Maybe your family doesn’t go to Mass on weekends, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t. If you love God enough to ask your parents’ permission to go by yourself or with a friend this Sunday, I doubt you will need to go alone a second time. For you will provide your parents with a needed reminder about God’s important in our lives, and I bet you that at least one of them, if not the whole family, will come with you every week after.

So let us keep first things first, and not be stupid, like the man who was swimming when it started to rain; and dove to the bottom, to keep from getting wet. This Lent, let us keep the Lord’s Day, every Lord’s Day, holy. The reason the Lord calls you out is to call you to Himself.

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