08 APRIL, 2017, Saturday, 5th Week of Lent
FINDING REAL HAPPINESS IN UNITY AND MUTUAL LOVE
21then say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will take the people of Israel from the nations among which they have gone, and will gather them from all sides, and bring them to their own land; 22and I will make them one nation in the land, upon the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king over them all; and they shall be no longer two nations, and no longer divided into two kingdoms. 23They shall not defile themselves any more with their idols and their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions; but I will save them from all the backslidings in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God. 24″My servant David shall be king over them; and they shall all have one shepherd. They shall follow my ordinances and be careful to observe my statutes. 25They shall dwell in the land where your fathers dwelt that I gave to my servant Jacob; they and their children and their children’s children shall dwell there for ever; and David my servant shall be their prince for ever. 26I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; and I will bless them and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in the midst of them for evermore. 27My dwelling place shall be with them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 28Then the nations will know that I the LORD sanctify Israel, when my sanctuary is in the midst of them for evermore.”
10″Hear the word of the LORD, O nations, and declare it in the coastlands afar off; say, `He who scattered Israel will gather him, and will keep him as a shepherd keeps his flock.’ 11For the LORD has ransomed Jacob, and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him.12They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion, and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the LORD, over the grain, the wine, and the oil, and over the young of the flock and the herd; their life shall be like a watered garden, and they shall languish no more.13Then shall the maidens rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy, I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.
45Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him; 46but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council, and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. 48If we let him go on thus, every one will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.” 49But one of them, Ca’iaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all; 50you do not understand that it is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish.” 51He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus should die for the nation, 52and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. 53So from that day on they took counsel how to put him to death. 54Jesus therefore no longer went about openly among the Jews, but went from there to the country near the wilderness, to a town called E’phraim; and there he stayed with the disciples. 55Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before the Passover, to purify themselves. 56They were looking for Jesus and saying to one another as they stood in the temple, “What do you think? That he will not come to the feast?”
MAN does not live on bread alone. This is true but we do need the basic things of life; food, accommodation and clothing. This is what the Church’s social arm such as Caritas and the SVDP ministry seek to do. They try to supply the material and basic needs of life to those who are in need. Just like the Jews, we need to see the signs of love. Jesus in the gospel performed signs and miracles to help people appreciate the concrete and personal love of God. The religious leaders remarked, “Here is this man working all these signs … If we let him go on in this way everybody will believe in him.” So clearly, unless we have the basic things of life, it is difficult to believe in a loving God.
Yet, whilst our basic material needs must be fulfilled, happiness and satisfaction in life is more than simply having our basic needs. Indeed, it was the Israelites’ focus on the wrong things that caused them to be divided and suffer moral deteriorate. By worshipping false gods and idols, the nation was destroyed and divided. What we desire is love, peace and unity among ourselves and our fellowmen.
Why is there so much division and lack of love in the world? Firstly, it is due to fear. We read in the gospel that “Many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary and had seen what Jesus did believed in him, but some of them went to tell the Pharisees what he had done.” And instead of seeking to find out the truth about Jesus, they found Jesus a threat to their status quo. They called a meeting saying, “Here is this man working all these signs and what action are we taking? If we let him go on in this way everybody will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy the Holy Place and our nation.” So, the reaction was out of fear, for themselves, for the religious institution and for the nation.
Indeed, fear prevents us from being generous and caring. If we are greedy and stingy, it is because we want to protect ourselves and our interests. We are afraid we do not have sufficient for ourselves. Protectionism in whatever form always springs from fear. If we find ourselves lacking in generosity towards the needy, it is because of fear. So to care for others and to feel for them presupposes that we feel secure ourselves. Fear makes us selfish and self-centered.
Secondly, suffering sometimes could be caused by our own sins and irresponsibility. We read that the Israelites defiled “themselves with their idols and their filthy practices and all their sins.” They betrayed the Lord and broke the covenant. Thus, it behoves us to examine ourselves how much of our sufferings could be due to our irresponsibility. Quite often in life, we suffer because of the mistakes we have made in the past. It is therefore important that, like the Israelites, we learn from our mistakes, and correct them if possible. The sufferings of the Israelites were caused by their failure to observe the laws of God given to them for righteous living. Indeed, disobedience and ignorance cause us to suffer the consequences of our sins.
The only way to peace and unity is when we are ready to sacrifice ourselves for the other. This invitation to love is for all, regardless of whether we are materially rich or poor. This was the case of Jesus. He gave His life for the redemption of humanity and to reconcile people with each other and with God. This was the prophecy made by Caiaphas, the high priest that year. “You don’t seem to have grasped the situation at all; you fail to see that it is better for one man to die for the people, than for the whole nation to be destroyed.”
Indeed, Jesus came to gather us as a people through truth and love by His death on the cross. St John made a footnote when he wrote, “He did not speak in his own person, it was as high priest that he made this prophecy that Jesus was to die for the nation – and not for the nation only, but to gather together in unity the scattered children of God.” The death of Jesus was the fulfilment of the prophecy of Ezekiel when the prophet said, “I am going to take the sons of Israel from the nations where they have gone. I shall gather them together from everywhere and bring them home to their own soil. I shall make them into one nation in my own land and on the mountains of Israel, and one king is to be king of them all; they will no longer form two nations, nor be two separate kingdoms.”
Let us come to God who is our Good Shepherd. He will unite us in love and unity. The responsorial psalm says, “The Lord will guard us as a shepherd guards his flock. O nations, hear the word of the Lord, proclaim it to the far-off coasts. Say: ‘He who scattered Israel will gather him and guard him as a shepherd guards his flock.’” For this reason, beyond supplying material needs, we must give everyone the possibility of encountering God. Only He alone can fulfil the desires of our hearts. Only He alone can enlighten us in the truth.
We must invite the Lord to live and dwell in us. We must give our hearts to the Lord. The prophet said, “They will live in the land that I gave my servant Jacob, the land in which your ancestors lived. They will live in it, they, their children, their children’s children, forever. I shall make a covenant of peace with them, an eternal covenant with them. I shall resettle them and increase them; I shall settle my sanctuary among them forever. I shall make my home above them; I will be their God, they shall be my people. And the nations will learn that I am the Lord the sanctifier of Israel, when my sanctuary is with them forever.”
When the Lord dwells in our midst, then we will always be at peace, regardless whether we are rich or poor. The rich man asked the master, “how one can be holy and yet rich?” The response is that he should not be attached to his money but instead see them as means to build love and make friends. A businessman failed in his business and was made a bankrupt and he asked the master how spirituality can help him. The master told him that it will teach him to have less. Another man who was never satisfied complained to the master that his one room house was overcrowded as he has a wife, his parents and three children. So the master asked him to bring his five chickens and two donkeys into the house. He complained that the situation became worse. Then master then asked him to remove the animals. He felt the room was now more spacious.
As we approach Passion Sunday, we are invited to join Him to suffer and die in Jerusalem. Like Him, we are called to surrender our lives for the salvation of others. We are called to die for the love of others. Those who are rich and wealthy must learn to share what they have with others. Riches themselves are not impediments to holiness if we use them freely for the service of love. When it comes to service, all of us can serve and share our time and resources with others, regardless of the extent of our material wealth. May we be ready to die to ourselves, our selfishness, our lack of responsibility, our worship of false gods so that we will be purified in love and service!