DISCERNING LOVE

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SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ 1 Kg 21:1-16; Mt 5:38-42 ]

In the first reading, we read of the greed of the King of Samaria, Ahab. He saw Naboth’s vineyard next to his house and said to him, “Give me your vineyard to be my vegetable garden, since it adjoins my house; I will give you a better vineyard for it or, if you prefer, I will give its worth in money.” Naboth refused because it was wrong for him to give away the inheritance of his ancestors. For Naboth, the property was not his but held in trust for future generations. He was answerable not only to himself but to his ancestors and his children’s children.

Not only was Ahab greedy but he behaved like a spoilt child, throwing tantrums when he did not get what he wanted. “Ahab went home gloomy and out of temper at the words of Naboth of Jezreel, ‘I will not give you the inheritance of my fathers.’ He lay down on his bed and turned his face away and refused to eat.” This is exactly how immature people behave. They pout, lament, are dispirited, refuse to eat and make their loved ones sad and worried.

So how do we deal with such big babies”in our lives? Do we pander to their childishness, give in to their demands and seek to appease them? The truth is that this is what most of us would do for our loved ones. When our children are anxious and depressed because they cannot finish their schoolwork, we finish it for them. When our children feel sad because they are not allowed to go out with their friends, we cave in to their pleas even though they are slacking in their studies. When our loved ones are overweight, we continue to feed them with unhealthy food. When our loved ones are involved in irregular relationships, we tolerate them. This seems to find support from Jesus in the gospel today when He taught, “offer the wicked man no resistance. On the contrary, if anyone hits you on the right cheek, offer him the other as well; if a man takes you to law and would have your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone orders you to go one mile, go two miles with him. Give to anyone who asks, and if anyone wants to borrow, do not turn away.”

This was precisely what Jezebel did as well. Although she was equally wicked, selfish, greedy, power-hunger and more vicious than Ahab, who was a puppet king, she certainly loved Ahab much. She appeared to be the one controlling the throne. She was protective of her husband and sought to make him look good, capable and powerful. So when he was depressed over Naboth’s refusal to sell him his vineyard, Jezebel schemed and manipulated to have Naboth done away with, so as to secure his property for Ahab. Presumably, she did it in the interest of her husband. “When Jezebel heard that Naboth had been stoned to death, she said to Ahab, ‘Get up! Take possession of the vineyard which Naboth of Jezreel would not give you for money, for Naboth is no longer alive, he is dead.’ When Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, he got up to go down to the vineyard of Naboth of Jezreel and take possession of it.”

The question we therefore need to reflect on is, whether helping our loved ones to commit sin, even if it makes them apparently happy, the right thing to do? In other words, in the name of love, do we commit another sin? If we are carrying a baby that we did not plan or even want, do we go for abortion so that the baby would not suffer in the long run because of rejection? Can we right a wrong with another wrong? By so doing, aren’t we perpetuating the crime and causing more injury to our neighbour?

Often, in the name of love, we do something that actually hurts our loved ones in the end. We do not have the courage to endure short-term suffering for long-term happiness. This is what the letter of Hebrews is asking of us when the author says, “Let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb 12:1f)

But why are we accomplices to their crimes or sins when we know that supporting them is not the right thing to do? We do all these not because we love them but because we love ourselves more. We cannot bear to see them suffer or in a bad mood. We cannot bear the pain of seeing them grow through sufferings. Therefore, it is more for the love of self rather than for them. Within this context, we can better feel with Jezebel. This explains why we seek to take away their growing pains so that we do not have to suffer. For in truth, if we really love them, then we must do what is for their ultimate good and not just immediate good.

Is this is the way Jesus is telling us to deal with those who sin? We must be careful that we do not read the gospel out of context. The underlying principle of our Lord is that our response must be to heal and not to cause more harm. This was why He was against the ancient principle of self-defence, a principle which we still hold today, namely, “Eye for eye and tooth for tooth.” Instead, Jesus says, “offer the wicked man no resistance.” The point is that when we take revenge by taking the life of another, we will only add more injury, injustice and hatred among all peoples. Hence, the principle of our Lord is clear; we do not resolve a crime by committing another crime. It is as if a woman who is pregnant with an unwanted child chooses to abort the baby, or a girl who is made pregnant by her boyfriend rushes into a marriage that they are not prepared. So clearly, whatever we do to help someone should not involve another wrong.

We can only use right and just actions to redeem someone who is in the wrong. Hence, there are situations when we are unjustly treated by others, as in the case of Naboth, whose property was stolen by Ahab. In such cases, then the principle of non-violence and non-resistance applies. In this instance, we are not directly committing a crime or a sin. Those who are unjust to us are the ones who are guilty of sin. By not retaliating, we hope that our genuine love and compassion for our enemies might win them over. Giving them what they want, more than what they deserve, will hopefully help them to experience the unconditional love of God. Solomon says, “love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. If one offered for love all the wealth of one’s house, it would be utterly scorned.” (Songs 8:6f)

This is how the Lord acted towards His enemies in His life and ministry. This was what St Peter exhorted the early Christians who were persecuted for their faith. “For it is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps. ‘He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth. When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Pt 2:19-24) Indeed, the Lord has shown us that love is more powerful than hatred, life more powerful than death. St Paul says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Rom 12:21)


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.

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