HomeCommentaryA shoot from the stump

A shoot from the stump

May this season of Hope make us look forward to a better world—one that is more just, more humane, more compassionate to the poor, and more mindful of the earth

Last Saturday I received a text message from a friend of mine from Switzerland. She said, “Bishop, please pray for the people of Switzerland. We are voting tomorrow in a referendum, just a YES or NO vote to the move to hold Swiss companies with businesses abroad (transnational or multinational) liable for any human rights violations or environmental damages caused by their subsidiaries abroad.”

The move was apparently promoted by more than 130 civil society organizations in Switzerland. It was of course vehemently opposed by both business groups and government. Their strong argument was it could hurt Swiss companies as they struggle with a business slowdown linked to COVID-19.

Yesterday, she texted again and said, “We lost.” I consoled her by saying “At least you have succeeded in getting your message across.” Actually, the vote is not necessarily conclusive; it can still be pursued again in more normal circumstances. The people obviously took the side of cautiousness, only because of the pandemic, while the business environment is abnormal. I can see where they are coming from and the reason for their determination to hold giant Swiss transnational companies accountable, even if it can hurt their strong economy.

The pandemic is really challenging our mindsets. When things get back to normal, it can never be business as usual anymore. This assertive voice is coming from their own citizens in Switzerland, people who love their country, but not at the expense of the rest of the world. I call it a moment of lucidity, a moment of awakening, similar to what we hear about in our readings today.

The prophet Isaiah is pronouncing an oracle of hope in our first reading. He envisions the coming of an enlightened leadership and describes it as “a shoot from the stump of Jesse… a blossoming bud sprouting.” He is of course referring to the revival of the dynasty of King David—who represented a different brand of leadership. Remember how God asked the prophet Samuel to anoint the young shepherd boy David, because the previous leader, King Saul had turned into a vicious and power-hungry tyrant.

Remember when the prophet Samuel examined the sons of Jesse one by one, following his own criteria of strength, and smartness? Remember how the Lord reminded him that He had a different set of criteria? God said, “Do not consider his appearance or his height…. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”

What did God see in David? The heart of a Good Shepherd.

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The return of David’s brand of enlightened leadership is being prophesied by Isaiah today. Imagine a forest that has been burned down? Imagine trees felled and wildlife decimated, and in the middle of this scene of devastation you suddenly see a green shoot! He calls it a blossoming bud sprouting! A bit like the green shoot from an olive branch in the beak of the dove that had been released by Noah from the ark. It was a sign of hope!

The prophet is declaring: “We’re not hopeless.” God is preparing for us a new and enlightened breed of leadership that is guided by a “spirit of wisdom and understanding.” There is no reason to despair despite the devastation. We can still dream of a new and better world; we can work for peace and harmony. We can make way for a more just and equitable society. We can put an end to conflict and division, to war and violence.

In our Gospel reading, Jesus becomes that shoot from the stump of Jesse. He rejoices in the Holy Spirit about the new things God is bringing about. St. Paul has said basically the same things but expressed them differently. Here’s what he says in 1 Cor. 1:27-29: “God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God.”

There are always moments of lucidity, moments when people are able to see more clearly, often with eyes washed by a lot of tears. Moments of realization, especially during times of crisis like the one that we are going through. A crisis, they say, is just a call for a new judgment. It is the perfect opportunity see what God wants us to see.

Enlightened leaders are often those who have been through serious crises in their lives, people who have been tested by fire, people who have become more sensitive to the stirrings of the Spirit. They are people who can no longer be intimidated by bullies and tyrants. They possess a certain childlikeness, a certain naivete.

And so I texted my friend from Switzerland. “This is a work in progress, don’t give it up. What you initiated is a ripple that can make an impact on the whole ocean. May this season of Hope make us look forward to a better world—one that is more just, more humane, more compassionate to the poor, and more mindful of the earth, our common home. Maranatha!”

This is the homily of Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan for Dec.1, 2020, Tuesday of the 1st Week of Advent, Lk 10: 21-24

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