ASHAMED OF THE GOSPEL
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ 2 Timothy 2:8-15; PS 25:4-5, 8-10, 14; Mark 12:28-34 ]
Are you ashamed of the gospel? This is the question the scripture readings are challenging us today. If we are honest and search ourselves deeply, many of us are actually ashamed of the gospel. Otherwise, we will proudly profess ourselves as Catholics to the whole world, and display our Catholic symbols in our homes, schools, and carry or wear them on ourselves. However, we are careful that our faith in Christ is hidden from public eyes lest the world thinks we are superstitious because we believe in the Eucharist, Sacrament of Reconciliation, and prayers instead of just relying on our knowledge and power. Worse still, that we subscribe to the outdated and irrelevant biblical understanding of marriage and sexuality!
If we are ashamed of the gospel, it is not difficult to understand why. It simply means that we have not grasped the centrality of the Christian Faith and the heart of the gospel. Many Catholics think that the Catholic Faith is reducible to obedience to the commandments of God and love of our neighbours. This understanding is not wrong but it is incomplete. This was the same understanding of the scribe who came up to Jesus and asked Him, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” Jesus replied, “This is the first: Listen, Israel, the Lord our God is the one Lord, and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: You must love your neighbour as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”
Indeed, this is the Old Testament’s Faith, called the Shema, in a nutshell. What Jesus taught was not anything new. The novelty of Jesus’ teaching was to combine the two commandments into one commandment. The command to love God with all our being is from the book of Deuteronomy and the call to love our neighbours is from the book of Leviticus. (cf Dt 6:5; Lev 19:18) By bringing them together, Jesus indicates the primacy of the love of God above all others, an unreserved and absolute love for Him; and only then the love of our neighbours. Yet these two are tied together because as St John wrote, “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.” (1 Jn 4:20f)
Knowing that this two-fold commandment is the greatest does not mean that we can fulfill this commandment. This was why the Lord, “seeing how wisely (the scribe) had spoken, said, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.'” Why “not far”? If this is the centrality of the commandments of God, we are only near to the kingdom of God but have yet to enter into it. Was not this the promise of Moses when he told his people, “So acknowledge today and take to heart that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other. Keep his statutes and his commandments, which I am commanding you today for your own well-being and that of your descendants after you, so that you may long remain in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for all time.” (Dt 4:39f)?
So what is preventing the scribe and our good Catholics from entering the kingdom of God? It is because, whilst knowing that loving God above all things is the basis for keeping all the specific commandments outlined in the Decalogue, we do not have the capacity to love Him with our whole mind, heart and soul; and much less to love our neighbours or even to love ourselves. Whilst we may know that God is the ultimate, and commands our total allegiance and obedience, we do not trust Him enough that He will take care of our lives and provide for all our needs. We doubt His love and care for us. So whilst loving Him; we feel the need to protect ourselves by relying on our strength and providing our own security.
This is why the heart of Christian Faith completes the Old Testament’s insufficient understanding of the love of God. The heart of the gospel is reducible to what Paul said in his letter to Timothy. “Remember the Good news that I carry, ‘Jesus Christ risen from the dead, sprung from the race of David’; it is on account of this that I have my own hardships to bear.” Indeed, the heart of the gospel is about Jesus, the son of David, and “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.” (Acts 10:38) Then “They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses.” (Acts 10:39-41) By so doing, God established Him Lord and Saviour of all.
Because Jesus is Lord, it means that we can accept everything that Jesus has said and taught as Peter said, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” (Jn 6:68f) For us, then, Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one can come to the Father except through Jesus. (cf Jn 14:6) Jesus revealed His Father to us by His life, death and resurrection. He revealed to us His unconditional love, mercy and forgiveness by dying for us on the cross. He also revealed to us who we are; that we are called to share in the life of God. In Christ, we have been given the Spirit of sonship and so we are children of God. (cf Rom 8:14-17)
In light of what has been said, St John, therefore, put everything in perspective. It is not our love for God or our love for our neighbours that is primary. Rather, it is our capacity to love our neighbours in the same way He loves us. This is our entry into God’s heart or kingdom. But this capacity is rooted in God’s prior love for us in Christ. He wrote, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.” (1 Jn 4:7-12) Indeed, we can love God only because He first loved us. And because He loves us, we can love our neighbours authentically and selflessly, loving them as much as we love ourselves and the way God loves us. This was what the Lord said to His disciples, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (Jn 13:34f)
This is the kerygma, the heart of the gospel, Paul preached. This Good News cannot be chained up as Paul said. He was “chained like a criminal – but they cannot chain up God’s news.” If we have encountered this Good News for ourselves, then we will not chain up the Good News and keep it hidden from others. If we do, it simply means it is not such great news and does not give hope and life to others. As a result, we get involved in all kinds of speculation and ideas about God and His commandments. Paul warned us, “that there is to be no wrangling about words: all that this ever achieves is the destruction of those who are listening.” Such theological speculations make us doubt the reality of Jesus as our Lord.
However, if we are so filled and touched by His love, we will be like St Paul who did not want to do anything else except to announce this Good News. What he had received, he wanted to impart to us all because he loved us as much as God loves us. Hence, he wrote, “I bear it all for the sake of those who are chosen, so that in the end they may have the salvation that is in Christ Jesus and the eternal glory that comes with it.” Indeed, we would give our lives for the announcement of the Good News to all, because we love God and love our brothers and sisters in Him. St Paul urges us, “Do all you can to present yourself in front of God as a man who has come through his trials, and a man who has no cause to be ashamed of his life’s work and has kept a straight course with the message of the truth.” So let us not be ashamed of the gospel and keep our focus on the power of the crucified and Risen Lord.
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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