GIVING HOPE TO HUMANITY IN LOVE
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ JER 1:4-5.17-19; 1 COR 12:31-13:13; LUKE 4:21-30 ]
We are living in a time like the Israelites, where everything seemed hopeless. During the time of Jeremiah, the country’s political and religious leaders were corrupt and did not care for the people. The rich were getting richer through dishonest means. The poor were abandoned and oppressed. Moral decadence set in. Because the people were blind to their sins and evil, the country became weak and susceptible to foreign powers like Assyria, and then it finally succumbed to Babylon.
Isn’t this the case for us in our time? While the world seems to be making great progress in science and technology, making communication easy and fast, improving the economy, world trade and standards of living, yet, moral decadence has set in as well. Political and religious leaders, not just corporate leaders, are losing credibility because of scandals and abuses. The world is confused over what is right or wrong. Many people are championing human rights, but what are human rights? What is the basis for human rights? On one hand, many are advocating the removal of the death penalty, but in the same vein, they are advocating abortion, the destruction of human embryos and euthanasia. On one hand, we speak of the freedom of the individual, but often at the expense of the larger community. We promote love but we want to destroy the institution of marriage and the family. We condemn sex crimes but we promote pornography, sensuality and promiscuity! Such hypocrisy, as in the days of Jeremiah!
That is why prophets are needed to give hope to a hopeless world. God sent prophets like Jeremiah to help the people to come to realization of the impending destruction ahead of them. The Lord said to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you came to birth I consecrated you; I have appointed you as prophet to the nations.” In the gospel, Jesus too was called to be the prophet that restores the people back to God. Earlier on, Jesus read the text from the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, which was the mission statement of our Lord, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Lk 4:18f)
But why is it that many of us, although baptized as Christians and sharing in the kingly, prophetic and priestly roles of Christ, fail to exercise our baptismal responsibilities? This is because we may be baptized but many of us lack a radical experience of His love and mercy for us. Or if we did, we have forgotten them already because of neglect and complacency in our relationship with the Lord. What is happening among many Catholics is that they are involved in Church activities or even humanitarian works more out of obligation, goodwill and human empathy. They are not motivated by their love for Jesus, or Christ’s love for them. That is why many feel that God and the Church are indebted to them for their great generosity in availing of their time and resources. Such collaborators in the vineyard of the Lord will not bear much fruit.
Encountering His love is the basis for any real calling to participate in the mission of our Lord. This was the case for Jeremiah. He had a deep relationship and encounter with the Lord. “O Lord, you have enticed me, and I was enticed; you have overpowered me, and you have prevailed. 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 20:7, 9) So too were the rest of the prophets, Moses, Elijah, Ezekiel, Isaiah and Jesus whose intimacy with His Father was the cause of His mission.
Indeed, the Psalmist in today’s responsorial psalm confessed the love and mercy of God in his life. “My lips will tell of your help. My lips will tell of your justice and day by day of your help. O God, you have taught me from my youth and I proclaim your wonders still. My lips will tell of your help.” This explains why the Lord said to Jeremiah, “Stand up and tell them all I command you. Do not be dismayed at their presence, or in their presence I will make you dismayed.” When one has received the Word of God, our conscience will not permit us to keep silent. By not speaking, we condemn ourselves. By speaking, others might condemn us but we keep our peace. St Paul himself wrote, “For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.” (2 Cor 5:14f)
Our reason for our undertaking the ministry of Jesus must be motivated purely by our love of Christ and love of our fellowmen. The mission we undertake is not so much to proselytize non-Christians but to lead them to encounter God’s truth and love. It is not about making converts and increasing the number of baptisms. Rather, it is to give hope to humanity, which we believe is only found in Jesus who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. He came to give us life. He came to show us the mercy and love of God through His teachings, compassionate works of mercy, healing miracles and most of all, assurance of God’s forgiveness and acceptance of sinners by His passion, death and resurrection.
But like the people in the hometown of Jesus, many do not have faith in Him. “They were astonished by the gracious words that came from his lips. They said, ‘This is Joseph’s son, surely?’ But he replied, ‘No doubt you will quote me the saying, ‘Physician, heal yourself’ and tell me, ‘We have heard all that happened in Capernaum, do the same here in your own countryside.'” However, God can touch people only when they respond in faith to His love because love cannot be imposed. This was the case of the Gentiles. They were opened to God’s grace and they were healed. Jesus gave the example of how Elijah was sent to help the widow at Zarephath who was dying of hunger and also how the Lord cured, the Syrian, Naaman instead of the many lepers in Israel.
So how can we bring them to have faith in Jesus? There is no other way other than by love. St Paul wrote, “Be ambitious for the higher gifts. And I am going to show you a way that is better than any of them. If I have all the eloquence of men or of angels, but speak without love, I am simply a gong booming or a cymbal clashing. If I have the gift of prophecy, understanding all the mysteries there are, and knowing everything, and if I have faith in all its fullness, to move mountains, but without love, then I am nothing at all. If I give away all that I possess, piece by piece, and if I even let them take my body to burn it, but am without love, it will do me no good whatever.” Indeed, it is not what we do, unless we do them with love. Miracles and eloquence, knowledge and prophecies will not change lives radically unless they are done and said in love. We must declare the love and mercy of God in words and in deeds. “My mouth shall declare your justice, day by day your salvation. O God, you have taught me from my youth, and till the present I proclaim your wondrous deeds.”
Love is the science of faith. It is the science of the saints. St Theresa of the Child Jesus lived a simple and hidden life, but it was her love of God that gave her the strength to persevere in her vocation, and most of all, when she herself was afflicted with physical and spiritual suffering until her death at the young age of 24 years old. Her great faith to live out her love for God through the little things she did and say brought her to the realization that the heart of the Church’s vocation is love. St Francis of Assisi too heard the voice of our Lord at San Damiano when the Lord spoke to Him in a Byzantine wooden crucifix. The large, open and dark eyes looked at St Francis and His lips were moving. St Francis heard the words of Jesus, “Francis, you see that my house is falling down; go and repair it for me.” And Francis answered simply, “Willingly, Lord.” Indeed, it was the love and mercy of Jesus that moved St Francis.
This is what St Paul concludes as well “In short, there are three things that last: faith, hope and love; and the greatest of these is love.” We can convince and open people’s heart to the love of God only through our works of love and mercy. Even with our enemies and detractors, we are called to be patient and forgiving. “Love takes no pleasure in other people’s sins but delights in the truth; it is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope, and to endure whatever comes.” When we love, we will find the strength to rebuild the House of God as St Francis did.
Indeed, only because of love, can we find the strength to be patient and loving. “Love is always patient and kind; it is never jealous; love is never boastful or conceited; it is never rude or selfish; it does not take offence, and is not resentful.” Only because of love, can we continue to believe that God will come to our aid in times of trials and opposition. “I, for my part, today will make you into a fortified city, a pillar of iron, and a wall of bronze to confront all this land: the kings of Judah, its princes, its priests and the country people. They will fight against you but shall not overcome you, for I am with you to deliver you – it is the Lord who speaks.”
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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