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The life, or the sovereignty, of the land, is perpetuated in pono.

Homily for 12th

Fri AP, 2023-08-18 Mk.2, 18-22

Among our prayers are prayers of mourning for the people in Hawai’i as they grieve and seek to

mend things, in the midst of the devastation from the fires that came through. The city of Lahaina is an historic city, but now the burnt city looks as completely destroyed and as leveled to the ground as we saw in our own area, as we were driving out through the lower part of our own town in evacuation just a few years ago: burnt to the ground, all ashes, and daylight turned into mid-morning dusk, like a scene from a city bombed to the ground during the last world war. We suffered fewer deaths, however, and had more routes by which to escape; their death toll is over 100, and it’s still rising with the finding of more who didn’t make it out.

One problem they have is the affront offered by oblivious tourists; you’d think they might avoid

the area of desolation and let the people grieve and rebuild, but instead they go snorkeling in the

waters whence bodies were found, of people who as a last resort tried to escape the searing heat by taking to the ocean, some only to die from the smoke and toxic air. “Tourists swim in the waters we died in. That is not pono!” complain the people there. What is “pono”? It’s a Hawaiian word, and it means righteous harmony. It appears in the state motto, a quote from King Kamehamea III of Hawai’i on July 31, 1843, when the Hawai’i’s sovereignty was returned by the British. It goes, “Ua Mau ke Ea o ka ʻĀina i ka Pono.” Words in Hawai’ian have layers of meanings, so translations vary; it might be rendered as “The life, or the sovereignty, of the land, is perpetuated in pono.” And “pono” can also mean goodness, fairness, order, or completeness. And the word for land also connotes that which feeds us, so there is a sense of the need for a goodness and fairness in the relationship between the people and the land which feeds them. And the tourists need to be fair and good and in right relationship with the people who were devastated and left to help themselves, as no officials showed up when most needed.

One company had held a charity snorkeling tour, just 11 miles from the city, when there were still

some bodies in the water, who later realized the impropriety of it and had the grace to offer an apology. To have compassion includes being in tune with other people’s sentiments and beliefs. Respect is involved. And yet tourism provides the vast majority of income, which will be very much needed to rebuilt; it’s a difficult situation begging for contradictory solutions. The Hawaiians themselves are working out how to reconcile all their needs, those of the local folk who suffered and those of the economy that supports most of their living.

A good and fair relationship is a need expressed in our Gospel passage this morning, too, in the

matter of fasting, when people noticed that the disciples of John the Baptist and those of the Pharisees as well were fasting, when those of Jesus were not. His reply pointed out how fitting it was, comparing his own presence to that of a Bridegroom, and how new the situation was with his disciples: the old custom of fasting didn’t suit them now in his presence, but would become fair and good when He would be taken away from them. It’s a matter of what is good, and fair, suitable and fitting, in proper order and right or righteous.

The same principle applied among the desert fathers of Egypt, when the elder monk carried a

woman across a stream too deep for her and set her down on the other side, before going on his way along with his younger companion and disciple. They went farther on their way in silence so they could pray, but after an hour or so they younger monk couldn’t stand it any longer and burst into speech, demanding to know how the elder could break the monastic custom by touching a woman! After a moment of reflection, as they continued walking, the elder replied: “An hour ago, I set her down.” And then he added, “How is it that you are still carrying her?” As they walked still farther, the younger understood, and said, “Abba – forgive me.” And they went on in peace. Touching her was pono because of her need, and because of the solid virtue in the older monk; the meaning of “carrying” was two-fold: you can carry in your arms, but you can also carry in your heart and in your mind. May the good Lord bless us to carry in our hearts and mind, such things are are pono, and help us live pono.

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