This homily was delivered at the Spring Festival Mass in Xavier School last 08 February 2013.
In the Gospel, our Lord tells us not to worry, not to be afraid. So this morning, let me ask you: What are you most afraid of? 你 最 怕 什么？Here are pictures of some of the deadliest animals. I’m sure you recognize them.
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One of them, of course, represents this new year that we are celebrating—the snake. As you know, 2013 is the Year of the snake — 蛇 年！As a result, many people might be a little worried about a year that’s symbolized by a dangerous creature. After all, who’s not afraid of snakes or snakebites?
But did you know that in different researches done on the most dangerous animals, snakes never top the list? Here are the top five deadliest animals according to one study.
No. 5 is the African Lion. African lions kill around 70 humans per year in Tanzania. In total, lions are responsible for over 250 deaths each year.
No. 4 is the great white shark. Each year 30-100 people die of shark attacks.
No. 3 is an animal I haven’t seen: the Australian box jellyfish. Did you know that this species of jellyfish kills more people every year than sharks and crocodiles combined? Each tentacle has enough toxin to kill 60 people.
Finally, we find the snake in no. 2, the Asian cobra. Snakebites cause 50,000 deaths a year. The biggest chunk of these is due to the Asian cobra even if it does not have the deadliest venom.
I bet you can never guess what’s the all-time deadliest animal. Topping the list is the mosquito. Mosquitoes transmit diseases to almost 700 million people annually resulting in 2 to 3 million deaths every year. It turns out that the deadliest is also the smallest and the most common.
So why do snakes get such a bad rap? Why do they look so bad?
Of course we have to start at the very beginning. In the very first book of the Bible, it was a serpent that tempted Eve to disobey God and to pluck the forbidden fruit. But it doesn’t end there.
In Greek mythology, Medusa is a monster who has the face of a woman and who has living poisonous snakes in place of her. One look at her and you turn immediately into stone. In the book The Lightning Thief, Medusa disguises herself as Aunty Em, who uses her power to turn people into stone and sells them off as statues.
And of course, one of the most dangerous monsters that Harry Potter finds himself against is the basilisk, the king of the serpents. It’s a giant serpent that cannot be domesticated because of its immense power, and it is known to be a wizard-killer.
And so thanks to the Bible, Greek mythology, and books and movies, the poor snake has emerged as one of the most frightening creatures in the world. One thing that this Chinese New Year challenges us to do is not to be afraid of something just because of the way it looks. Even the deadliest and scariest creatures have something good to offer.
According to the Chinese belief, the snake is a bearer of wisdom. People born in the Year of the Snake are supposed to be smart – like the scientist Charles Darwin, the poet Edgar Allan Poe, and the US President Abraham Lincoln.
There is also a little known story in the Bible where the snake isn’t portrayed as a completely bad guy. Moses and the Israelites were traveling in the desert on their way to the Promised Land, and a lot of people were dying because of snakebites. So, what does God instruct Moses to do? God ordered Moses to build a bronze snake and to set it on a pole. And anyone who looked upon it would be healed of the poison from snakebites. In other words, if we face the very thing we fear, we can be healed.
We need not be afraid of anything if we believe that God will help us. God is so powerful that He can turn even the deadliest and scariest thing into something good. What is a source of sickness and death, with God’s help, can be a source of healing too.
And so, both our Gospel reading and this occasion of the Chinese New Year of the Snake pose the same challenge to us: Do not be afraid! Do not worry too much. We are all invited to face whatever it is we fear. If we believe that God loves us, He will help us and take care of us.
Which brings me to one last point: The Chinese culture and tradition offer many good things, but as in all good things, if brought to the excess, it will not be good. An example would be geomancy and feng shui. The original fengshui offers very sensible lessons about how the environment affects our lives. But some people end up relying too much on fengshui for every single decision:
When do we move house?
When do we get married?
When do we bury the dead?
Where do we build the house?
Which direction should it be facing?
Where do we put the door?
How do we arrange the furniture?
All this is fine except that ask yourself why they rely so much on the feng shui masters about every single decision. Under all that is fear. They are afraid that if they choose the wrong date or the wrong time of day, or if they build their house in the wrong place, facing the wrong direction, with the doors and furniture located in the wrong places, bad things will surely happen.
But is that really how God takes care of us?
Today, as we prepare for the New Year of the Snake, our Lord tells us: Do not be afraid. Do not worry. If God takes care of the birds in the air and the flowers of the field, all the more He will take care of us—no matter how we decide to arrange our furniture.