07 APRIL, 2017, Friday, 5th Week of Lent
DEALING WITH REJECTION AND OPPOSITION
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ JER 20:10-13; JN 10:31-42]
St. John Baptist de la Salle, Priest (Memorial)
10For I hear many whispering. Terror is on every side! “Denounce him! Let us denounce him!” say all my familiar friends, watching for my fall. “Perhaps he will be deceived, then we can overcome him, and take our revenge on him.”11But the LORD is with me as a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble, they will not overcome me. They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed. Their eternal dishonour will never be forgotten. 12O LORD of hosts, who triest the righteous, who seest the heart and the mind, let me see thy vengeance upon them, for to thee have I committed my cause.13Sing to the LORD; praise the LORD! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hand of evildoers.
1I love thee, O LORD, my strength. 2The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. 3I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies. 4The cords of death encompassed me, the torrents of perdition assailed me; 5the cords of Sheol entangled me, the snares of death confronted me. 6In my distress I called upon the LORD; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears.
31The Jews took up stones again to stone him.32Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of these do you stone me?” 33The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we stone you but for blasphemy; because you, being a man, make yourself God.” 34Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your law, `I said, you are gods’? 35If he called them gods to whom the word of God came (and scripture cannot be broken), 36do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, `You are blaspheming,’ because I said, `I am the Son of God’? 37If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; 38but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” 39Again they tried to arrest him, but he escaped from their hands. 40He went away again across the Jordan to the place where John at first baptized, and there he remained.41And many came to him; and they said, “John did no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true.” 42And many believed in him there.
Like Jeremiah, we often feel grossly misunderstood, especially when we seek the good of others. We feel unappreciated and at times persecuted for doing what is right. Quite often, we feel that we have been taken for granted. Like Jeremiah, we have people, even our friends disparaging us. “’Terror from every side!’ Denounce him! Let us denounce him!’ All those who used to be my friends watched for my downfall!” Jesus in the gospel too felt the same way. For the good works He did, they tried to stone Him. We feel so wronged for suffering such injustices. So what do we do?
Firstly, we cannot take things into our own hands. In other words, we do not retaliate. That was not the way of Jeremiah or our Lord. Instead of taking revenge, Jeremiah chose to surrender his cause to the Lord. “Let me see the vengeance you will take on them, for I have committed my cause to you.” Indeed, if we were to react to our enemies’ onslaught, we might lose objectivity because we are hurt. All of us have our own interests to protect, consciously or unconsciously. We might not admit it, but more often than not, our ego is bruised. That is why it is best to leave judgement to the Lord. When God judges, He judges with total objectivity. Jeremiah says, “But you, Lord of hosts, you who probe with justice, who scrutinize the loins and heart.” God knows our hearts and our intentions, so His judgement is just and at the same time tampered with compassion. Jesus too defended His actions by appealing to the Father to speak for Him.
Secondly, we must have confidence in God that He will deliver us. Jeremiah said, “But the Lord is at my side, a mighty hero; my opponents will stumble, mastered, confounded by their failure; everlasting, unforgettable disgrace will be theirs.” In the responsorial psalm, the psalmist prayed, “In my anguish I called to the Lord, and he heard my voice. I love you, Lord, my strength, my rock, my fortress, my saviour. My God is the rock where I take refuge; my shield, my mighty help, my stronghold. The Lord is worthy of all praise, when I call I am saved from my foes.” Truly, God is our refuge and strength. We can be sure that God will come to our rescue when we cry to Him. At times, we might feel that He is not with us but we are called to surrender our lives to Him as Jesus did on the cross. It was this total confidence in the justice of His Father that even at His last breath, He could forgive His enemies and commend everything into the hands of His Father.
Thirdly, when we have opposing forces, like Jeremiah, it calls for humility to search ourselves. When Jeremiah was under intense opposition by the false prophets and leaders, he initially began to doubt whether he really heard the voice of God, and wondered if he could be a false prophet. “O Lord, you have enticed me, and I was enticed; you have overpowered me, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all day long; everyone mocks me. For whenever I speak, I must cry out, I must shout, ‘Violence and destruction!’ For the word of the Lord has become for me a reproach and derision all day long.” (Jer 20:7f) As a consequence, he began to contemplate stopping his prophesying. But much as he wanted to stop being a nuisance to his countrymen, he could not, because “If I say, ‘I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,’ then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.” (Jer 20:9) We too must, before we respond to those who disagree with us, search ourselves and purify our motives and thoughts. Opposition does not always work against our interests, but they help to strengthen our position because we are forced to re-examine our beliefs and convictions. So we should thank our enemies for helping us to sharpen our views and the things we want to do. Whether we like it or not, our enemies are our best critics even if they are harsh and merciless towards us.
Fourthly, the most effective way to deal with our enemies and their criticisms is not through argument but by our good works. This was what Jesus did when confronted by His enemies. Jesus said to them, “I have done many good works for you to see, works from my Father; for which of these are you stoning me?” Can we say with Jesus in all honesty that what we say and do are truly good works and not for our personal interests? Can we vindicate ourselves by referring to the good works we do and the life we live? If we have only words to show but not fruits, then we cannot withstand the criticisms of our enemies. Jesus could say that His good works indeed come from the Father because He acted on behalf of the Father. He said, “If I am not doing my Father’s work, there is no need to believe me, at least believe in the work I do; then you will know for sure that the Father is in me and I am the Father.” Furthermore, His works were confirmed by John the Baptist. Indeed, we read that “Many people who came to him there said, ‘John gave no signs, but all he said about this man was true’; and many of them believed in him.” So Jesus had three witnesses, His good works, the Father and John the Baptist.
Fifthly, to defeat our opponents, we must always refer to the Word of God to substantiate our claims. “Is it not written in your Law: ‘I said, you are gods?’ So the Law used the word gods of those to whom the word of God was addressed, and scripture cannot be rejected.” Jesus exposed their fallacy when the Jews replied, “We are not stoning you for doing a good work but for blasphemy: you are only a man and you claim to be God.” In truth, the scriptures did say “You are “gods; you are all sons of the Most High.” (Ps 82:6) “God presides in the great assembly; he renders judgment among the “gods” (Ps 82:1) In other words, in the bible, those who acted in the place of God included the rulers and the judges. They were not gods in the absolute sense but in a derived meaning because they acted as representatives of God. (cf Ex 21:6;22:8f; Dt 1:17) So Jesus said, “Yet you say to someone the Father has consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because he says, ‘I am the Son of God.’” Of course Jesus knew that He was more than anyone else, one with God in mind, heart and in being. He knew He was sent by the Father because He knew His Father intimately.
However, we must not be foolhardy when we deal with our enemies. Jesus was very much aware that it was not yet the right time to go headlong with His enemies. He still had work to do and the time was not yet opportune. We too must know when to fight and when to withdraw. We must not act rashly out of pride and anger. We will only destroy ourselves and what we seek to do. As it is said, we do not throw the baby out with the bathwater. So let us, in the face of opposition, tread carefully, and think through before we act. This was the case of Jesus. We read that when “they wanted to arrest him then, but he eluded them.” Jesus withdrew not because of fear but rather He needed to rethink how best to accomplish the mission the Father gave to Him. He was not reckless or reactive.
What is also enlightening is the comment of the evangelist that “He went back again to the far side of the Jordan to stay in the district where John had once been baptising.” To reassess His mission and to renew His passion for His Father, He went back to that place and time when He had His first experience of the Father’s love. It was at His baptism in Jordan that He heard the voice of the Father affirming His true identity and His mission of proclaiming the Good News to the poor. The Father reaffirmed Him of His love and endorsed His mission again at the Transfiguration at Mount Tabor. So too, when we have lost courage, confidence and steam in what we believe to be our calling, then we too must come to the Lord in prayer and find consolation and renewed strength. We need to rediscover that moment when we felt the Lord calling us to do His work and to accomplish His plan. We need to be recharged all the time and find new fervour and zeal in our mission. Let us therefore follow Jesus during this time of Lent by drawing new energy from the Lord’s passion, death and resurrection.