OUR PRIORITIES IN LIFE
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ PHILIPPIANS 2:5-11; LUKE 14:15-24 ]
“Happy the man who will be at the feast in the kingdom of God!” Indeed, like the one who uttered this remark to Jesus, we too hope that we can partake in the feast of the Kingdom of God. But what is this kingdom if not a communion of life and a communion of love? Hence, the imagery for the kingdom life is always presented in terms of a banquet. Indeed, Christian life is supposedly a foretaste of this kingdom. Such a kingdom life would entail a balanced life where there is time to eat, play, rest, read, pray and fellowship. This is what heaven on earth is like, and truly a foretaste of the life that is to come. This is what the psalmist says, “My vows I will pay before those who fear the Lord. The poor shall eat and shall have their fill. They shall praise the Lord, those who seek him. May their hearts live for ever and ever! All the earth shall remember and return to the Lord, all families of the nations worship before him for the kingdom is the Lord’s; he is ruler of the nations. They shall worship him, all the mighty of the earth.”
But we all know very well that life is not a bed of roses. Relationships are fragile. Work is demanding. Ministry is filled with frustrations even when one is seeking to do good or to help. We have lots of demands on us. We try to fulfill our obligations and our duties to our bosses and our family and at the same time do our part to contribute generously to the community, especially the poor. We are always so busy that we do not have time for rest, much less for prayers. When we live such a hectic and stressful life, the warning of the master might apply to us when he said, “not one of those who were invited shall have a taste of my banquet.” Life is reduced to work and achievements. We are chasing one laurel after another whilst our relationship with God and our loved ones are weakening each day. Without God, everything is out of focus.
For this reason, we are called to make time for communion with God. It is not enough just to work and be preoccupied with our personal interests or even give ourselves entirely to our career at the expense of forming meaningful relationships. This was what happened to those who were invited for the feast. They had no time for God or for fellowship. “But all alike started to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have bought a piece of land and must go and see it. Please accept my apologies.’ Another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen and am on my way to try them out. Please accept my apologies.’ Yet another said, ‘I have just got married and so am unable to come.'” We are just like those people who were invited for the banquet. We have legitimate excuses for not making time for Jesus. We have our personal needs to attend to, such as our rest and recreation, homework and household chores. We have commitments to our family, our spouse, children and in-laws. Besides, we have our work and other mundane matters and administrative duties to handle. As a result, many of us are so busy that we are so burnt out, leaving us no time for others and for God. We have no time for fellowship with our loved ones and friends, to share their joys and sorrows. But most of all, we do not have time for God in prayer.
The question that the gospel is confronting is one of priorities. What is our priority in life? The excuses given by those who were invited to the banquet were valid excuses. It was necessary for the man who bought the land to go and inspect to ensure that everything was in order. It was right for the man who bought five oxen to make sure that they were healthy and fit to work in the fields. It was right that the man who was just married spent time with his wife. But the point was that the invitation was sent out long ago and they had already accepted the invitation. Instead of giving priority to the commitment made, they were more preoccupied with their own interests.
So what is really important? It is to be focused on building the kingdom of God, which is a life of service and communion with everyone, beginning with God. Unless we put God as the center of our life, we will displace Him with all the other things we do and own. Work will begin to consume us until we lose our health and loved ones. Money will preoccupy us day and night and in all that we do. Power and status will enslave us so that we lose our freedom to do the right thing. Our loved ones will become the gods that we worship and seek to possess. We will live in fear of losing them one day and become obsessed with controlling their lives. Without God, everything we do will become the idols that we worship. We will destroy the very things that we seek in our career; which is to serve humanity, money to take care of our loved ones, power and influence for greater service. It would be unfortunate to be listed as those who have been invited to the banquet but never “taste of my banquet.”
The gospel wants us to remember that everything is the grace of God. It is not just our doing alone. We cannot control life but we are called to surrender our life to Him. Indeed, in the second part of the gospel, we have the master inviting everyone who was not worthy to come to the banquet. “Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in here the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’ ‘Sir,’ said the servant, ‘your orders have been carried out and that there is still room.’ Then the master said to his servant, ‘Go to the open roads and the hedgerows and force people to come in to make sure my house is full.” God invites all to His banquet, the sinners, the marginalized, including the gentiles. All that was needed for them to enjoy the banquet was to respond. We, too, if we want to enjoy the banquet of life, love and communion, then we must make time for the Lord first and foremost in our life. He must be our priority above all others. When we make a place for Him, then we will have a place for everyone and everything that we do.
This calls for self-emptying and trust; to put away our reliance on self and our strength and to trust in God requires humility. This was the way of our Lord. This is where St Paul directs us to find focus and unity in life. He said, “In your minds you must be the same as Christ Jesus: His state was divine, yet he did not cling to his equality with God but emptied himself to assume the condition of a slave, and became as men are; and being as all men are, he was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross.” Jesus emptied Himself twice, first of His divinity to assume the condition of a slave and then accepting death on the cross. In emptying Himself, Jesus was truly like God, and even in that self-emptying, Jesus showed Himself to be truly divine because God is precisely One who pours Himself out for us, inviting us to share in His image and likeness, and giving us a share of His life and love in His kingdom. Here, divine weakness, although a divine scandal, is the glory of God. Indeed, “Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” (1 Cor1:22-24)
Will we trust in the power of God to act in our lives instead of wanting to be in control? We must recognize our human limitations, if not we will only put unnecessary stress on ourselves and others under us. Humility requires us to be careful not to allow our ministry or our work to become our ambition. When we are ambitious, we turn the work of God into the work of man. Like Jesus, we are called to accept failures in our lives, especially when we have done our best. Jesus gave Himself totally to the project of his Father and had to learn to accept failure as part of the divine plan. Can we be open to the fact that just as God uses the suffering and death of Jesus to raise Him high “and gave him the name which is above all other names so that all beings in the heavens, on earth and in the underworld, should bend the knee at the name of Jesus and that every tongue should acclaim Jesus Christ as Lord”, He will also do for us, if we allow His grace to work in us? In this way, we would feel free in doing the work of God with joy and enjoy every moment of what we do because we are focused on the Lord and not working for our ambition or glory but for the service of all.
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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