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Cleverness in innocence


TODAY’S FEAST of the Niños Inocentes (Holy Innocents) December 28, is the equivalent of April Fools’ Day in Spain. It sort of suggests that the kind of people whom the wicked ones love to fool or victimize are the “innocent ones,” or those who they think are naive. 

Take note that December 28 is not just about the foolish fooling the innocent ones. It is rather about them murdering the innocent ones because they feel they have been outwitted. In Filipino, we say, NAGWAWALA DAHIL NAISAHAN (going berserk after being outwitted). 

Remember what King Herod did when he realized that the Magi had fooled him? He really thought they believed him when he said, “If you find this newborn king that you’re talking about, come back and inform me of his whereabouts SO THAT I TOO CAN WORSHIP HIM.” Did they come back? No. Matthew says they returned home FOLLOWING ANOTHER ROUTE. Well, they were not called WISE MEN for nothing. They were good-hearted but not naive.

You see, part of wisdom is the capacity to discern the motives of fools. It is being able to say, “I WON’T BE TAKEN FOR A RIDE.” Or, “I WASN’T BORN YESTERDAY.” Or, “YOU CAN’T PULL MY LEG.” In colloquial language, it’s about being able to read people’s motives or anticipate their moves. 

That’s the image that I get of the Magi in today’s Gospel. They are not the type who would just allow themselves to fall right into the mouth of a lion. They are not like a naive Little Red Riding Hood being fooled by a wicked wolf who dresses up to look like Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother. 

In the Gospel of John, Jesus is never portrayed as a clueless victim who falls easily into the trap of scheming people. He also knew how to avoid falling into the trap of his adversaries. If it was to happen at all it could only be because “his hour had come.” Remember how he said to his disciples, “Be innocent as doves, but clever as serpents”?

In short, he’s reminding us that being innocent is not about being gullible or naive. It is rather about being not simply knowledgeable but also DISCERNING. It is about being aware of the potential moves of your adversaries, as in a chess game.

The author of the book of Deuteronomy has a good tip on how to achieve this kind of wisdom. In chapter 8, verse 3, he says, “One does not live on bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” And so, the daily bread that the Lord says we should ask for in the prayer he taught us should be THE WORD OF GOD, the Word that raises our level of spiritual intelligence in the moral battles that we need to fight in this world.

(Homily for the Feast of the Holy Innocents, 28 Dec 2022, Mt 2:14-18)



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