We meet all sorts of difficult people in our lives. We have our loved ones who are living wayward, selfish and immoral lives. Some are addicted to womanizing and gambling, some drugs or drinking, some pornography and some doing illegal business. Our children are irresponsible, unmotivated in their studies, keep on failing and yet doing nothing to redeem themselves. They continue to waste their time on the phone, internet or clowning around with their friends. What do we do with such people? They are incorrigible and we feel like giving up on them. We gave them chances repeatedly, we tried to be patient with them but they keep falling and going back to their old ways of life.
At times we have to deal with our opponents, detractors and our persecutors. They are always fighting with us. Whatever ideas we have, they will find some grounds to hinder our plans. This is indeed the case even in the proclamation of the gospel. Jesus in the gospel warned His disciples. “Beware of men: they will hand you over to Sanhedrins and scourge you in their synagogues. You will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the pagans. Brother will betray brother to death, and the father his child; children will rise against their parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by all men on account of my name.” Indeed, this is the price of standing up for our convictions, whether in religious, moral or political matters. Fighting with them can be rather tiring because they are always finding fault with whatever we propose. Even after explaining to them, they seem to enjoy opposing for the sake of opposing, simply because their ideas were not the ones adopted.
How do we handle such people? Most of us have short fuse. We will retaliate and fight with them. We plan and strategize how best to circumvent them or demolish their opposition. Otherwise, we take flight. We just write them off and give up on them. This is what most people do, especially when dealing with our loved ones. If they are not willing to change, and after repeated failures, we just let them be and don’t bother with them anymore. We let them rot and destroy themselves. We harden our hearts, although we know deep down we are also hurting when we see them hurting themselves. But then we feel so powerless and helpless.
Today, in the scripture readings, we are told that God is very different from us in dealing with rebellious children and nasty enemies. Jesus instructed the Twelve as follows: “Remember, I am sending you out like sheep among wolves; so be cunning as serpents and yet as harmless as doves.” There are two things we need to cultivate, the gentleness of a dove and wisdom of a serpent.
Like a dove, we must be gentle in love. That is how the Lord loves us. To the unrepentant Israelites, the Lord was patient and gentle in calling them to turn back to Him. He appealed to them with words of love and hope. He did not threaten them but warned them of the consequences of their disobedience. He invited them to come back and to rely not on their own strength and the false gods of military might, power and wealth. “The Lord says this: Israel, come back to the Lord your God; your iniquity was the cause of your downfall. Provide yourself with words and come back to the Lord. Say to him, ‘Take all iniquity away so that we may have happiness again and offer you our words of praise. Assyria cannot save us, we will not ride horses any more, or say, ‘Our God!’ to what our own hands have made, for you are the one in whom orphans find compassion.’”
Secondly, the Lord gave assurance of forgiveness and healing. He appealed to them not using fear but love. “I will heal their disloyalty, I will love them with all my heart, for my anger has turned from them.” God assures us that we are forgiven and He continues to love us even when we betray His love. He does not stop loving us. His love is irrevocable. This was the experience of the psalmist too. He said, “Indeed, you love truth in the heart; then in the secret of my heart teach me wisdom. O purify me, then I shall be clean; O wash me, I shall be whiter than snow. A pure heart create for me, O God, put a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, nor deprive me of your holy spirit. Give me again the joy of your help; with a spirit of fervor sustain me, O Lord, open my lips and my mouth shall declare your praise.”
Thirdly, the Lord promises us a better life ahead of us if only we walk the way of truth and love. “I will fall like dew on Israel. He shall bloom like the lily, and thrust out roots like the poplar, his shoots will spread far; he will have the beauty of the olive and the fragrance of Lebanon. They will come back to live in my shade; they will grow corn that flourishes, they will cultivate vines as renowned as the wine of Helbon.” If we desire to live fruitful lives, then we must take our point of departure from our union with God. If we bring God with us in whatever we do, we will be fruitful because we will do all things with sincerity, with love and with truth. Those who deal with us therefore know that we are people with integrity and responsibility. It is better to work with God-fearing people than those without values and a conscience. This is because they can use their talents and their resources to destroy us and rob us of whatever we have since they cannot tell the difference between right and wrong, or the values of loyalty and honesty.
But it is not enough to love tenderly and walk humbly before God. We must also learn to act wisely. “Let the wise man understand these words. Let the intelligent man grasp their meaning. For the ways of the Lord are straight, and virtuous men walk in them, but sinners stumble.” With regard to our enemies and those who are difficult to manage, we must seek the assistance of the Holy Spirit. Jesus assures us of divine assistance in our trials and challenges. “But when they hand you over, do not worry about how to speak or what to say; what you are to say will be given to you when the time comes; because it is not you who will be speaking; the Spirit of your Father will be speaking on you.” Turning to the Lord for guidance and for strength is what we must do, rather than just using our strength alone, like the Israelites. This is what the Prophet said, “What has Ephraim to do with idols any more when it is I who hear his prayer and care for him? I am like a cypress evergreen, all your fruitfulness comes from me.”
Secondly, we must take such challenges positively. We must not allow ourselves to fall into discouragement, resentment and frustration. Being negative will not help us. Rather, we must see the good that we can bring out of evil. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Rom 12:21) Such difficulties are meant to help us to witness to Christ. “You will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the pagans.” When we are challenged, we must use them as occasions for growth, for love, for witnessing. These are the necessary trials of life to help us go beyond ourselves, recognize our limitations, explore our strengths and most of all, the power of God’s love and mercy.
Finally, be wise, the Lord said, “If they persecute you in one town, take refuge in the next; and if they persecute you in that, take refuge in another. I tell you solemnly, you will have gone the round of the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.” In other words, flee if necessary and do not allow your pride to make you suffer a premature martyrdom. We still have much work to do. If we are rejected in one place, we can spread the message elsewhere. When God closes the door, He always open a window. So, instead of letting our ego mislead us into thinking that we are called to martyrdom, we should instead seek opportunities elsewhere to do good and spread the Good News.
In the final analysis, the Lord assures us, “the man who stands firm to the end will be saved.” This does not mean that we need to earn our salvation by proving that we are faithful to Jesus. On the contrary, if we can stand firm to the end, it means that we are saved because of our love for the Lord. The test of faith is in our fidelity. Only because we love the Lord so much that we are ready to stand by Him till the end. So we are saved by His love, and our death and sacrifices are fruits of that love He has for us. Hence, we must ground our loyalty in the Lord and His good news by the love He has for us.