CALLED TO BE FAITHFUL, NOT SUCCESSFUL
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ Ez 2:2-5; Ps 123:1-5; 2 Cor 12:7-10; Mk 6:1-6 ]
Many of us have chosen to follow Jesus and serve Him by giving ourselves to Him in service, especially in the Church or even outside of our parishes and in NGO activities. But serving the Lord is not always easy. Serving people who appreciate us is very easy. But when we have to serve those who are always fighting with us, criticizing and opposing us, it can get very tiresome and discouraging, especially when we are giving voluntary and free services. This is how some of us priests, religious and church ministry members feel. At times, we fail in our projects because of the lack of support, and then we are blamed for them. This accounts for why many who serve in the Church or in charitable organizations become jaded, skeptical, resentful, disillusioned and angry with those in authority and those under them after some time. Eventually, many leave the ministry as they do not want to waste time on ingrates.
This was the case for the Prophet Ezekiel and St Paul in today’s scripture readings. They faced the same struggles and experience of rejection, opposition and apparent failure in their mission. The prophet Ezekiel was called by God to upbraid the people for their sins, their rebellion against Him. He said, “Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, to the rebels who have turned against me. Till now they and their ancestors have been in revolt against me. The sons are defiant and obstinate; I am sending you to them, to say, ‘The Lord says this’.” In spite of the fact that Ezekiel was prophesying to those in exile, they refused to admit their sins and repent. St Paul similarly suffered persecution and opposition in his ministry. In his letter to the Corinthians, he had to assert his authority as an apostle and a true disciple of the Lord in the face of those who raised objections to his position as an apostle of our Lord. He had to face enemies from within and enemies from without. Above all, he was suffering physically. He spoke of “a thorn in the flesh”, which could have been a chronic ailment that was debilitating and constraining him from giving more fully to the ministry and preaching.
Jesus, too, was not spared of rejection in His mission. In fact, His entire mission ended in apparent failure on the cross. Although the outcasts, the sinners, the poor and the sick appreciated Him, the religious authorities and those who had political power and influence found Him a nuisance. Even His own family members and friends rejected Him. “Most of them were astonished when they heard him. They said, ‘Where did the man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been granted him, and these miracles that are worked through him? This is the carpenter, surely, the son of Mary.’ And they would not accept him.”
They were prejudiced against Him. Some were jealous of His talents, charisms and success. He was rejected because He was seen as one of their peers and only a carpenter. They had their preconceived notions of who Jesus should be and not who He really was. They were blinded to the truth by their inner fears, so much so they could not hear Jesus and accept Him as the Son of God. As a consequence, they were the losers instead; not our Lord who came to save them. The poignant words of Jesus summed up His own experience of being rejected when He remarked, “A prophet is only despised in his own country, among his own relations and in his own house’; and he could work no miracle there, though he cured a few sick people by laying his hands on them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.” Indeed, Jesus could not work any miracles because no miracle could change their hearts since they could not accept His word or believe that He was from God. Hence, Jesus looked elsewhere to serve those who had faith in Him and would respond to His Word.
In the light of what we see in the lives of great leaders, we must come to realize as well that they remained great leaders despite rejection, not because they were successful in their ministry but because they were faithful. The measure of success in the eyes of God is not whether a leader can bring people to conversion, measured by productivity numbers and KPIs. The success of a prophet is dependent on his obedience to God’s Word, not on whether others accept the message. Whether they listen or not, is the grace of God and their cooperation with His grace. That is why the Lord said to the prophet Ezekiel, “Whether they listen or not, this set of rebels shall know there is a prophet among them.” Jesus said the same thing. “A prophet is only despised in his own country.” However, that does not make His his work less important. We do not have to be respected or honoured to be useful to God. We only have to do what the Lord asks of us.
So, we must not allow rejection, opposition and failure to keep us from serving God. We must never forget that we are serving God, not man. St Paul wrote, “Whatever your task, put yourselves into it, as done for the Lord and not for your masters. For the wrongdoer will be paid back for whatever wrong has been done, and there is no partiality.” (Col 3:23, 25) This is what St Teresa of Calcutta reminded her missionaries. “What the Lord is asking of us is to be faithful not successful!”
So, like St Paul, we must keep our conscience clear, doing our best. Writing to Bishop Timothy, he said, “As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” (2 Tim 4:6-8) He was not always successful. In fact, he also shared painfully about his opponents. (cf 2 Tim 4:14-16)
Indeed, failures, weaknesses and persecutions keep us humble. This is God’s way of reminding us that it is His kingdom that He is building, not ours. Ours is made by human hands but His is only possible in the power of His Holy Spirit. When we are intelligent, bright, influential, wealthy and have plenty of resources, we will rely only on our own abilities and strength. We become proud and self-reliant instead of depending on God. People who can depend on themselves do not need to pray or depend on God because they can do it on their own. That is why such proud people hardly pray, because they do not believe in the power of grace and prayer.
St Paul sees his weaknesses as strength instead. He said, “In view of the extraordinary nature of these revelations, to stop me from getting too proud I was given a thorn in the flesh, an angel of Satan to beat me and stop me from getting too proud!” It was his limitations, whether physical, material or opposition from his enemies that made him rely on God’s strength and not his own. With regard to the thorn in his flesh, he said, “I have pleaded with the Lord three times for it to leave me, but he has said, ‘My grace is enough for you: my power is at its best in weakness’.” Indeed, His grace was sufficient for St Paul, and for us too.
God does not always remove our weaknesses but He promises us His assistance and divine power. With respect to his opponents, Paul wrote, “But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it.” (2 Tim 4:17) Indeed, God allows us to feel weak so that we can strengthen our Christian character and deepen our spiritual life. Ezekiel was obedient to the word of God and He was filled with His spirit to carry out His work. “As he said these words the spirit came into me and made me stand up, and I heard him speaking to me.” When we are weak, God fills us with his power. Only His strength can empower us to be effective and give our work lasting value, resulting in a real transformation of hearts, not just superficial results and activities that we see so often in some church programs.
At the same time, our weakness will demonstrate the power of God, that it is not on our own strength that we accomplish His work. As St Paul wrote, “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.” (2 Cor 11:30) “So I shall be very happy to make my weaknesses my special boast so that the power of Christ may stay over me, and that is why I am quite content with my weaknesses, and with insults, hardships, persecutions, and the agonies I go through for Christ’s sake. For it is when I am weak that I am strong.” (cf also 2 Cor 12:10)
So let us trust in the primacy of grace. Only those who believe in grace will pray with faith and fervor. Like the psalmist, we say, “To you have I lifted up my eyes, you who dwell in the heavens; my eyes, like the eyes of slaves on the hand of their lords. Have mercy on us, Lord, have mercy. We are filled with contempt. Indeed all too full is our soul with the scorn of the rich, with the proud man’s disdain.”
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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