AUGUST 17, 2011 – JUDGES 9:6-15; MATTHEW 20:1-16

PERCEPTION IS A FUNDAMENTAL FEATURE OF HUMAN NATURE. The conscious individual perceives the world with its variety through the various senses.  All of us possess the powers involved in the processes involved in perceiving the world around us. Awareness that we are conscious is itself a perception derived from a number of senses. The proprioceptive sense automatically conveys to us the state and position of our exterior bodily members, while mercifully ignoring the internal organs.

 As is the case with so many of the fundamental features of life, while we all know in a general way what we mean by perception, yet we do not find it easy to define it in a way that is altogether satisfactory. The definition given in the American Heritage Dictionary is hardly enlightening: “perception”, we read there is “the process, act or faculty of perceiving.”  This statement shifts the question rather than clarifying it, so that we must determine what we mean by perceiving.  Soon as we make a serious attempt to examine this matter we start to suspect that there is more to the concept of perception than appears at first. We perceive in various manners with each of the senses, for one thing. We also can perceive with the mind, as when we perceive a colleague is a conscientious and dedicated worker. The more we reflect on the nature and role of perception the more complex a reality it is revealed to be. In recent years, in fact, whole fields of study have focused on the subject of perception in its various aspects and operations, and continue to gain fresh insights and information as to its nature and role. Cognitive psychology, molecular biology, depth psychology, neuroanatomy, and radiology -all examine from different perspectives the subject we call “perception”.

Today’s readings stimulate these reflections on the nature of perception.. Most strikingly, the closing words of the Gospel we have just heard draw our attention to this subject of how we perceive the society and world we live in. Jesus had a keen awareness of the influence on perception of our inner attitudes and dispositions.  Our Lord explicitly addresses himself to this issue in a manner that is calculated to cause us to examine our own way of perceiving life and its values. Do we really perceive things in keeping with his statement that “the last will be first and the first last”? Actually, Matthew had already affirmed the same point in the previous chapter in nearly the same words: “Many who are first will be last, and the last, first.” (19:30). How do we apply this truth to our daily life? This surprising reversal of human ways of thinking about affairs and performance is not the only instance where our Lord reveals standards of judgment that reveal that he judges values in a way quite at variance with society’s customary opinions. In an earlier chapter Matthew reports an incident that strikingly portrays a surprising view of what is his norm for evaluating our behavior. In the temple, he noted a poor widow offering her last two cents to God’s service. He is so moved by her act that he calls his disciples to himself to tell them that her small gift was more acceptable to God that the much larger donations of the comfortable, because of her inner dispositions. She gave all she had; others gave what they could spare.  The worth of her act is not dependent on the externals that so readily impress people, but on the dispositions of the heart. 

Another incident that represents a surprising reversal of values was Jesus’ statement concerning the proper model of human development. Not the successful businessman, not the learned scholar, nor the leader of men, but rather the trusting, loving child. “I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for you have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent, and revealed them to children.”  Above all, the great reversal revealed by Jesus, is his teaching on the cross as the way to the happiness of fullness of life. His words on seeking what is lowly and insignificant in the view of the world prepare us for accepting his doctrine concerning the wisdom hidden in the mystery of suffering and death, accepted with a strong faith as the only way to eternal life. Such is the hidden reality that we affirm and celebrate in the Eucharistic we now offer at this altar.  

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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