SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ Gn 32:23-33; Ps 16:1-3,6-8; Mt 9:32-38 ]
Many of us out of generosity respond to the call for mercy. We surrender our time and resources, but fail to be aware that when we serve the Lord even voluntarily, we must not expect that we will always be appreciated. We think that everyone would be grateful to us for our generosity because we are not paid for our job. This is often the attitude of those who offer their services to the Church. In the face of opposition and challenges or disagreement, they react with disappointment and resentment.
In the gospel, Jesus faced the same challenges. He was constantly being opposed by the Jewish leaders, the scribes and the Pharisees. He was often accused of blasphemy, eating and drinking with sinners and now working with Satan. Instead of being filled with wonder and amazement at the mercy of God, they maligned Jesus and cast doubts on the work of mercy He performed. Their response was totally the opposite of the people’s. “And when the devil was cast out, the dumb man spoke and the people were amazed. ‘Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel’ they said. But the Pharisees said, ‘It is through the prince of devils that he casts out devils.’”
Why were the religious leaders not happy with Jesus, unlike the people who were filled with wonder? They were self-sufficient and self-righteous. They were not the needy of society and hence did not need Jesus. Furthermore, Jesus was challenging their status quo, exposing their hypocrisy and the traditions of the day. In a word, they felt threatened by the activities and teachings of Jesus and so they retaliated by seeking to discredit His work. Hence, we should not be surprised that when we seek to do good and to improve the situation, we will face opposition because we will surely tread on the comfort and convenience of others. Whenever, people’s security is threatened, they will defend their own interests. This is only natural. Most people put their interests, convenience and security before others.
On the other hand, the common people were in need. As the gospel tells us, they “were harassed and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd.” They were seeking freedom, direction and meaning in life. Many were sick with illnesses and some under demonic oppression. Most of all, many felt God was far away or that they were unworthy to come to God. But Jesus in His love and mercy revealed to them the face and compassion of God by His works of mercy and healing, especially reconciling sinners with God, assuring them that their sins were forgiven and that God had accepted them. In Jesus they saw the face of God and found God. For this reason, they were filled with wonder and delight, unlike the religious leaders. Jesus was their liberator.
How do we respond to our detractors and enemies? Jesus did not spend time arguing with them. He continued with His ministry regardless. We read that “Jesus made a tour through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom and curing all kinds of diseases and sickness.” He did not give in to discouragement. He simply ignored those who were not with Him. Instead of focusing on His enemies, He focused on His mission and the poor and sick who needed Him. Instead of wasting His energy on those whose minds were closed, He chose to focus on those who needed His services. We must not allow such people and their negativism to discourage us or make us lose our focus.
Instead, we must return to the original intention of wanting to serve God and His people, especially the poor, sick and the lost. Indeed, it was Jesus’ love for them that motivated Him. It was His compassion for them that made Him persevere. We read that “when he saw the crowds he felt sorry for them.” Compassion for the lonely, the sick, the depressed, the wayward and those under the bondage of the Evil One was what motivated Jesus in His ministry. Consequently, if we give up when doing good just because there are some who oppose us, we need to search our real motives for service. We may have hidden motives like the Pharisees, which makes us no better than them. If our concern is not about our ego and self-interests, we would not allow such people to derail us from our goal of helping the poor.
Today, we can also learn from Jacob. He was very focused in what he had been called to do. He was very determined in spite of the difficulties he had to face. In the first reading, he was fearful and nervous of Esau who was coming to meet him. He had cheated him of his birthright and his blessings from Isaac twenty years ago. So he was now worried for his safety and that of his family’s. This explains why he sent them away to the other side of the river. “He took them and sent them across the stream and sent all his possessions over too.” He was humble too in seeking reconciliation and forgiveness. He sent messengers along the way three times to meet Esau, bearing gifts from him before he finally met him. He knew how to win his heart over by love and sincere expression of sorrow. Jacob indeed was a very shrewd businessman. Hence, he was very successful. Like him, in the face of opposition, we must be like Jacob in finding ways to circumvent difficult people in our lives, seek to win them over with humility, patience and compassion.
Secondly, we can learn from Jacob in his determination to earn God’s blessings for his future. Initially, he thought his enemy was Esau whom he tried to appease. But in truth his real enemy was God. In a strange dream and incident, he found himself wrestling with God. It appeared that the man did not want Jacob to cross the river. In the process of the struggle, he injured the socket of the hip of Jacob so that his hip got dislocated. Because of his persistence and insistence, he was given a new mission signified by a new name, Israel, the one who was strong against God. Because of his perseverance, God too had confidence that he would be able to prevail against man as well. God finally gave him His blessings.
So in our struggles to do good and in the face of opposition, we must continue to trust in the Lord and rely on His strength. We too must seek His face. We must persevere in prayer when we want to seek God’s blessings. Like the psalmist we pray, “Lord, in my justice I shall see your face. Guard me as the apple of your eye. Hide me in the shadow of your wings. In my justice I shall see your face and be filled, when I awake, with the sight of your glory.” We must pray for a purification of motives, “From you may my judgement come forth. Your eyes discern the truth. You search my heart, you visit me by night. You test me and you find in me no wrong.” We must avoid falling into the sin of presumption because of our hidden sins. We must not be weary of prayers. This is the advice of the Lord, “The harvest is rich but the labourers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to his harvest.” We need to pray both for more labourers in His vineyard and also that we will be good labourers as well.
We bear in mind the words of encouragement from St Paul when he wrote, “Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.” (Gal 6:7-10) So let us all do what we can and surrender our good works to the grace of God. Mother Teresa reminds us that we are called to be faithful to our vocation and calling, not successful. God is the one who will see to that; it is not our problem.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
Note: You may share this reflection with someone.