The Problem with Hippos
Solemnity of Christ the King
November 26, 2017
There was an interesting story in the paper about a man who had raised a hippo, almost from birth. Even as the wild animal grew, he fed it and cared for it and considered it to be a kind of friend and pet. He was also warned that this animal remained wild. As it grew, it began raiding neighbors’ crops and causing mischief. Eventually, as hippos are prone to do, he turned on his “friend” and mauled him to death without any provocation.
This story is almost like a parable. We cannot really make friends with sin and expect to come out of the encounter alive. We may have a relationship with our “friend” for a long time; but, true to its nature, sin will eventually turn on us and destroy us if we do not deal with it adequately.
Jesus teaches us that at the last judgment many will be caught by surprise, even those of us who hear and try to follow this gospel (Mt 25:31-46). One of the things we don’t realize is that sin comes in two forms. Sins of commission are those we do, like lying or stealing. Sins of omission are those that we ought to have done and failed to do. And this is precisely what is so startling about the last judgment: Jesus will base the last judgment on what we did with our lives and whether we asked for forgiveness sincerely.
Jesus makes it so easy for us! He tells us in advance that we are in the middle of a timed test (our lifetime) and what the correct answers are. The key is that we don’t know how long our individual test will be (our last day on earth), nor do we know which disguises Jesus will wear today when we meet him, but we do have hints.
What hints? Jesus tells us that if you gave Jesus a coat, he was the recipient; if you are patient with a relative or friend over Thanksgiving, that was him too; if you ever held a door open for someone or let them go in front of you at the store checkout line, that was Jesus. The test of our faith and our love is precisely this: how did we treat the ordinary people in need around us? No one is expendable in God’s eyes. Every person we encounter, no matter how flawed, is Jesus in disguise. These are the components of our test and this is where the sins of omission come from!
Like the unfortunate man with the hippo, we can kid ourselves for a long time that we don’t have a potential problem in our lives. Fortunately, the Lord gives us lots of warnings about how to deal with the dangerous hippos we may be “friends” with and is always ready to forgive us when we fail.