Wrong Focus or Right Focus?

Columns - By The Roadside
CBCP Online News

I HEARD a story of a math teacher who was trying to illustrate addition one morning to a bunch of little Grade One students. She called Juan and said: “All right, Juan, suppose I lay three eggs by the blackboard and another three eggs by the door. How many eggs would there be?” Juan looked at his teacher and, struggling with words, said, “Ma’am, I-I’m not sure you c-can lay eggs.”

Both Juan and his teacher focused on two different things: the teacher on the problem of 3 plus 3 and Juan on his teacher’s laying eggs’ ability. Either can be right or wrong focus, depending on whose perspective is entertained, that of the teacher or Juan’s.

I think that every person is like a camera. We could be focused on different things or on the same thing. For believers or, better still, for Christians, it’s crucial to always ask ourselves what our focus is in life and in living. Wisdom, especially as the Scriptures and experience would bear out, dictates that taking God’s perspective is the key to have the right focus in life.

I once asked a group of Grade Three students who were taking First Communion in our parish to identify whether certain ways of behaving we see in people indicates right or wrong focus in living. “Suppose,” I asked them, “my concern is how I look and how much money I have!” All at once they chorused: “Wrong focus!” “Suppose I’m doing everything to make some quarreling members of the family talk to one another and become friends again…” This time they told me, almost shouting: “Right focus!” “And if my clothes are more important to me than what I think and do?” “Wrong focus!” they told me again. “But if I think that forgiving is more important than revenge?” “Right focus!” they cried out in triumph. Somehow I had a sense that those First Communicants have more wisdom in their young years than many adults I have known this side of life.

In the gospels it’s so easy to spot the people with the perennially wrong focus in faith life—namely, the Pharisees and, to a certain extent, the experts of the Law of Moses, the scribes. Jesus himself identifies and denounces their cult for what’s good to see from the outside. “Oh, you Pharisees!” Jesus confronts them. “Although you cleanse the outside of the cup and the dish, inside you are filled with plunder and evil! You fools! Did not the maker of the outside also make the inside?” (Lk. 11:39-40). This last remark stings and stuns. God indeed is the maker of everything, of the inside and outside parts of everything, of the visible and the invisible realms. And so why would anyone focus only on one aspect of the created reality, namely, only those that are visible to mere human eyes that can only judge appearances? All this constitutes wrong focus because it impoverishes reality itself and our grasp of it.

It’s funny in the Philippines how opposing parties look at the same Philippine realities but focus on different things. The administration constantly harps on the advances in the economy and how strong the peso has become; the opposition sees the strong peso as benefiting only the already wealthy and causing further agony on the poor (as OFWs say so) who also find prices of oil products and prime commodities skyrocketing.

Pro-administration people accuse the opposition of being merely focused on toppling the president and her regime; the opposition accuses the president and her camp of focusing mainly on trying to survive and keeping power at all costs, including via suppression of basic rights, charter change or what have they. Even our Grade Three First Communicants will doubtless be able to see through this charade and call each party to how wrong its focus could be when they fail to go beyond their own agenda to further their political interests. Meanwhile the common good is hardly even talked about or the people’s real needs responded to.

It’s so heartening how the right focus could bring untold benefits. For example, Mark’s gospel tells the story of four friends who bring a paralytic friend to Jesus, even if they have to bore a hole on the roof of the house where Jesus is preaching to a large crowd (Mk. 2:1-12). I think it’s a testament to how genuine love and genuine faith (as opposed to mere pretended acts of love or believing) bring us to the right focus in life. Because the four friends love their paralytic friend they go to such great lengths just so he could find relief. Because of this love they invest their faith in the power of Jesus to be able to do something about their friend’s suffering. Their love and their faith bring them to the right focus in life—Jesus Christ himself. Their worthy sacrifice, no less than the wisdom of their risk-taking, is confirmed. “When Jesus saw their faith (I always insist that it is the faith of the four friends rather than the paralytic that Jesus focuses on here), he said to the paralytic, ‘Child, your sins are forgiven…that you may know that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth’—he said to the paralytic, ‘I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home!’ He rose, picked up his mat at once, and went away in the sight of everyone” (Mk. 2:5, 10-12).

Jesus is the right focus in living because, as the Word of God, he brings to us God’s ways of looking at things and God’s ways of doing things. In Jesus Christ God’s ways could become our ways, his thoughts could become our thoughts when, like the four friends, we allow him to take charge and make his gospel lead us. If we do, as is clear here and in many other stories, our personal as well as our nation’s paralysis will find healing.