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A CHILD AT THE COBRA’S DEN

Homily for Tuesday of the First Week of Advent, 29 Nov. 2022, Lk 10:21-24

Today’s first reading is the biblical source for the image of a “peaceable kingdom” or a kind of paradise-like situation, where all creatures live with each other in peace: the wolf and the lamb, the leopard and the kid goat, the calf and the young lion, the cow and the bear (Isaiah 11:6-7). You don’t normally expect these animals to be put together in the same cage. If you do, you know what to expect: the wolf will attack the lamb; the leopard will eat the kid goat; the young lion will be a predator to the calf. Geneticists like Charles Darwin have given a name to the instinct that supposedly guides the animal kingdom—the law of random variation and natural selection, or put quite simply, the “survival of the fittest”, in Tagalog, “matira ang matibay”.

But the reading from Isaiah goes even further. It mentions a child three times: a child leading a young lion and a calf to the pasture to graze together (Isaiah 11:6d). It sounds ridiculous because we know that the lion is carnivorous, unlike the calf, which is herbivorous. Is Isaiah prophesying that a kind of nature change will hopefully also change the lion’s diet? That it will stop craving blood and meat and develop a certain liking for grass like the calf?

We hear about a child two more times in the oracle (Isaiah 11:8): a baby playing by the cobra’s den and a child putting his hand on the lair of an adder, which is also a venomous snake.

I have seen actual videos of children that come close to these biblical images of a peaceable kingdom. There is one Burmese child with a large Burmese python as a play mate. There is another, a little girl from India who regards a king cobra as her brother. Apparently, they remain unharmed. That is how the oracle of Isaiah actually ends. He says, “None shall hurt or destroy on God’s Holy Mountain,” (Isaiah 11:9) according to him, because all creation will be “filled with the knowledge of God.” (11:9)

What kind of knowledge is Isaiah talking about? So far, the further advancement of human knowledge has not really kept human beings from waging violent wars against each other up to now. But Jesud seems to be talking about a different kind of wisdom in today’s Gospel —that which is “hidden from the clever and learned and revealed to the childlike.” (Lk 10:21)

Is it really possible for a child to hold a python and not be swallowed by it? Or for a baby to play with a cobra and not be bitten by it? No parent in their right minds will certainly allow their little children to be put in harm’s way. The most natural instinct of a father who sees a snake near his child is to get aggressive with the snake. And we know that this is what precisely provokes an aggressive behavior on the part of the python or the cobra—when it senses danger or feels threatened. They say animals can sense our aggressive impulse, which is often actually driven by fear. The moment they feel threatened, they will tend to preempt the danger by striking ahead.

We had a guest who refused to take a walk in our garden in Bataan because he learned from our caretaker that there had been sightings of snakes around. I said to him, “If you are afraid of snakes, please know that snakes are even more afraid of you. They attack people only when they are cornered or feel that we are about to attack them. So if you are taking a walk through the forest with wildlife, just clap your hands or take two little broken bamboo poles and tap them against each other to make noise. That gives them time to go away and avoid crossing paths with you. Remember you are the one intruding in their environment.”

St. Therese has developed a spirituality she calls THE LITTLE WAY, which earned her the title, St. Therese “of the Child Jesus”. She must have taken her inspiration for this spirituality from today’s Gospel. Jesus says in the Gospel, “How blessed are your eyes that see what you see…” (Lk 10:23) The Little Way of Therese teaches us to look at the world from the perspective of the Child Jesus, the God who has taken flesh in a vulnerable little child who will neither threaten nor feel threatened by anyone. Only that perspective can change the way we relate with the rest of creation and make possible the biblical prophecy of a peaceable kingdom.

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Rev. Fr. Anton CT Pascual

Rev. Fr. Anton CT Pascual

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