Patience is a virtue, they say. But apparently NOT when one is waiting for a bathroom sink to drain.
At least, that’s the word I got from my Beloved when things recently reached a critical mass around our house. She identified not one, not two but THREE sluggish lavs that needed some attention.
This being Lent and all, I decided it might make a fine mortification to attempt the maintenance project – even though (or perhaps because) my dismal success rate with plumbing-related repairs is well documented.
Me being a modern Catholic, I figured I could accept the penance…while also looking for an easy way out. “What’s the bare minimum effort required here?” or so the Lenten-practice thinking often goes.
In this case, my tortured logic translated into a trip to the home improvement store, to buy some drain-cleaning liquid – despite knowing full well that such solutions are rarely any solution at all. They might budge the clog a bit…but within a week or so, the drain reverts to its annoyingly listless state.
I was halfway down the aisle – jug in hand – when what seemed an unmerited grace caught my eye: a simple gizmo designed to physically (rather than chemically) remove drain obstructions. “This might just work,” I thought to myself, “no pipe removal required!”
The devil’s always in the details, it seems: While my handy-dandy amateur plumber’s snake went into the drainpipe just fine, it proved nearly impossible to remove – and once extricated, brought back almost no debris.
Net, net: the clog remained intact…until I got down on my knees, and rolled over onto my back…and unfastened the p-trap…and manually scoured the pipes. Then I did it again, on drains #2 and #3. And the true grace, it turned out, had more to do with putting in the effort to do the job the right way – no short-cuts allowed.
I wonder if this is something like what Jesus has in mind when he storms through the Temple precinct in this week’s gospel. The animals he drives out, I notice, are mostly sacrificial in nature: literally, scapegoats. We’d like nothing better than to buy a bull and have all our sinfulness removed.
This point about human nature comes as no surprise to Jesus. In fact, the evangelist writes:
Jesus would not trust himself to them because he knew them all, and did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well.
But conquering such brokenness in our human condition isn’t exactly like clearing a clog. It requires effort and attention, true. In the end, however, our faith appears to be more important than our energy.
St. Paul wrestles with this mystery in the passage we hear from his letter to the Corinthians this week. He calls us to faith in Jesus – and to faith in the sign that Jesus himself offers (“Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.”)
It’s hard to wrap our minds and hearts around such an odd notion, Paul says. “…We proclaim Christ crucified…”
But we need look no further than our own recurrent failures to understand the need for grace in our lives. And once our eyes are opened to this truth, St. Paul says, the path to perfection can at last begin in earnest through…
Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.