He who throws dirt always loses ground – Friday 25th Week in ordinary time – Haggai 2:1-9
The date of todays reading is known precisely to us thanks to the details of the text. It was the 17th of October in the year 520 BC and was the day of the festival of tabernacles. Haggai has sailed into the people from their selfishness. It was the Lord who released them from captivity under the Persians but now having come back home they cared only about their own creature comforts while the Lord’s house was in ruin. Now that their conscience was stirred by God through the prophet Haggai, the work on Solomon’s once glorious temple had begun under the leadership of Zerubbabel, the governor and Joshua, the high priest. ‘Church and state’ had decided to work together!
Today’s text is the third of the five dates mentioned in the book. We know that people had gathered around the temple which was in the process of being built. The occasion was the feast of the tabernacles which was one of the major festivals of the Jews. It is on this occasion that Haggai delivers an oracle necessitated by what could only be termed as publicly driven criticism. It seems that some octogenarians, who had in their youth seen Solomon’s temple, now began to compare the two temples and had begun to express their opinion rather publicly, causing the construction team of the governor and high priest to feel disheartened.
Criticism is helpful if it comes from those who have their hands, as in this case, in the mortar. Abraham Lincoln once said, “ He has a right to criticise who has a heart to help.” While we should never dismiss a critic to glibly we should neither take them too seriously; remember that a statue was never erected in honour of a critic. In this case, the ‘old men’ of Israel had unsolicited advice to give which was turning out to be a dampener when what was needed was every ounce of encouragement. Criticism when given, should weigh into context the situation and circumstances.
In the face of such negativity, Haggai brings the words of encouragement to the construction team. Cleary God wanted them ‘to take courage’ for while it was easy to comment on what was a memory of some past glory, the work of God as carried out by a few devoted people was not to be trifled away by a few critics. God was clearly on the side of the builders and not the critics. Haggai reminds the construction crew of the promise that God made to them way back when the were in Egypt and in doing so makes exodus the touchpoint for his promises. He who has always kept his promise wont let a few critics get in the way. This temple was the Lord’s doing and no human critic no matter how well qualified they were could challenge the work or the will of God. What was considered in the past as magnificent would be in reality a pale shadow of what God planned for this new temple.
There is a message in this text for all of us who labour in the vineyard of God either in religious life or simply in service of Jesus. We are often handed projects that few would dare to touch with a barge pole but many would feel compelled to stand in line and criticise. Do not give up. Remember the words of scripture taken from today’s text, “ take courage”. (verse 4).
There are no coincidences in God’s mighty plan. I am writing this text on the eve of the tenth anniversary of the Archdiocesan Heritage Museum in Mumbai. When I first desired to build a museum to preserve and promote the patrimony of the Catholic Church, no less than our dear Cardinal Oswald Gracias discouraged me. To his credit and I must admit this, he has often held my hand and apologised for the initial discouragement. He is today our patron and will be releasing tomorrow a coffee table book on 113 pieces of our museum. This book will be available for sale and is a treasure to have. Having said that, I have often been discouraged by critics both mildly and publicly for works that I have done; St Jude Church being a case in point. But when the Lord wills, he will show you the way and use you. If you find yourself working for Jesus but being criticised and pulled down by some (and know this there are always ‘some’) take heart from the words of scripture “take courage.”
Finally to the critics I have this to say, do not sit around “living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work.” (2Thessalonians 3) If you cant be of use, get out of the way. He who throws dirt always loses ground.
Fr Warner D’Souza
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