HEALING UNGRATEFUL HEARTS BY OVERWHELMING LOVE AND MERCY
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ Hos 11:1, 3-4, 8-9; Is 12:2-6; Eph 3:8-12, 14-19; John 19:31-37 ]
One of the most painful experiences in life is to be betrayed by those whom we love. The more we love, the greater is the pain when our love is taken for granted or even abused. That is why those of us who are disappointed or hurt by our good friends find it very hard to forgive. At least for friends, love is meant to be reciprocal. However, the most painful form of abuse of love is by our loved ones, particularly our children, spouse and family members or those whom we serve. For our loved ones, most of the time, giving is a one-way affair. Parents sacrifice much for their children, who can only receive but cannot return all the sacrifices and things their parents do for them. The love is unconditional insofar as they do not expect much from their children, other than that they are happy and successful in life.
Indeed, this too was the experience of God with the people He loved. He loved especially Israel, whom He had chosen to be His own. They were slaves in Egypt and in truth, they did not deserve any privileges. God chose Israel to be His Chosen People. This is what the prophet Hosea said, “Listen to the word of the Lord: When Israel was a child I loved him, and I called my son out of Egypt. I myself taught Ephraim to walk, I took them in my arms; yet they have not understood that I was the one looking after them.” God loved Israel like His child. He did everything for Israel and showered them with His love, working wonders and miracles in their eyes. This was why the psalmist said, “Give thanks to the Lord, give praise to his name! Make his mighty deeds known to the peoples! Declare the greatness of his name. Sing a psalm to the Lord for he has done glorious deeds; make them known to all the earth! People of Zion, sing and shout for joy, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.”
However, Israel was unfaithful to the love showered upon them. They turned to false gods and broke the laws of the Covenant. They were ungrateful for the blessings God had given to them, conquering their enemies and giving them the Promised Land. Instead, they abandoned true worship of God and adopted pagan practices. The political and religious leaders lived a life of injustice and oppression of the poor and the vulnerable.
When we come across such ingrates, what is our normal reaction? We retaliate. We cut them off from our lives and strip them of all their privileges. We might even take revenge and become vindictive. Why should we continue to love those who do not love us or even appreciate what we do for them? Better that we give our love to those who are more deserving, meaning that they appreciate what we do for them.
This, however, is not the way God responds to the hardness of men’s hearts. God does not withdraw His love even for those who have hurt Him or do not appreciate Him. The Lord said, “Ephraim, how could I part with you? Israel, how could I give you up? My heart recoils from it, my whole being trembles at the thought. I will not give rein to my fierce anger.” Indeed, God is unlike us. We have our limits in loving our brothers and sisters. We only love those who love us. Loving our enemies and ingrates might be possible at times but not forever. A time will come when we also give up on them. We are easily overwhelmed by suffering and rejection. But this is not the way God acts because as He said, “I will not destroy Ephraim again, for I am God, not man: I am the Holy One in your midst and have no wish to destroy.” God seeks only our good and happiness more than His own. He loves us for our sake, not His. His love is pure.
God is omnipotent not because He is all-powerful and can do what He likes. Rather, He is almighty in love because He is not overwhelmed by our rejection or by suffering, unlike us. That is why He has the capacity for long-suffering love. His way of dealing with our infidelity is to show even more love and mercy. God knows that only love and mercy can conquer the most hardened of hearts. So He continues to remain patient with us in our ignorance and weakness. When we suffer the consequences of our sins, it is an act of kindness from God, not an act of revenge or God’s wrath. He allows us to suffer the pains of growing in self-realization just as parents watch their children grow up through making mistakes and learning from them. So too, God is patient with us. This is how the Lord leads us “with reins of kindness, with leading-strings of love.” He also continues to feed us with His wisdom and understanding of His laws. The Lord said, “I was like someone who lifts an infant close against his cheek; stooping down to him I gave him his food.”
Nevertheless, even then, we still do not believe in God’s love and mercy. This is the reason for His sending His only Son to die for us. Only the sacrifice of His Son can convict the world of His love for us. Jesus said to Nicodemus, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16) St Paul wrote, “What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.” (Rom 8:31-33)
Most of all, it is because of Christ’s love us even unto death on the cross, that God hopes to convict us of our sins. “Because all this happened to fulfil the words of scripture: Not one bone of his will be broken; and again, in another place scripture says: They will look on the one whom they have pierced.” (Zech 12:10; cf Isa 52:14f) Such is the love and mercy of God for us. (cf Rom 8:34f)
Indeed, if we want to love like that, what must we do? We will need to draw our strength from His love and mercy. St Paul wrote, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (cf Rom 8:37-39) This is what the psalmist is asking of us. “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. Truly, God is my salvation, I trust, I shall not fear. For the Lord is my strength, my song, he became my saviour. With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.”
We must contemplate on the love of God in Christ Jesus to find the capacity to love like God. St Paul was able to give up His life for His people and suffer for them. He encouraged the Ephesians in his suffering, “I pray therefore that you may not lose heart over my sufferings for you; they are your glory.” (Eph 3:13) He recounted, “I, Paul, who am less than the least of all the saints have been entrusted with this special grace, not only of proclaiming to the pagans the infinite treasure of Christ.” Paul was grateful for the love and mercy of God in His life. He could not but be amazed at God’s election of him when he wrote, “I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the foremost.” (1 Tim 1:11,12, 13, 15)
Secondly, we must deepen our understanding of the depth, height, width and breadth of God’s love. St Paul wrote, “And then, planted in love and built on love, you will with all the saints have strength to grasp the breadth and the length, the height and the depth; until, knowing the love of Christ, which is beyond all knowledge, you are filled with the utter fullness of God.” Unless we come to own for ourselves the experience of God’s love as St Paul did, we will not be able to be filled with the fullness of God’s love in us. The more we fall in love with God, the more we will find the capacity to love deeply.
Thirdly, what better way to contemplate on His love and mercy than in the celebration of the Eucharist. That was why last Sunday we celebrated the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. In the gospel, we read “When they came to Jesus, they found he was already dead, and so instead of breaking his legs one of the soldiers pierced his side with a lance; and immediately there came out blood and water.” So at every Eucharist, we remember the passion, death and resurrection of our Lord. In celebrating the Eucharist and receiving Him in Holy Communion, we contemplate on His love and sacrifice for us, and receive His Spirit as well. This is why St Paul prayed, “Out of his infinite glory, may he give you the power through his Spirit for your hidden self to grow strong, so that Christ may live in your hearts through faith.” Only the Spirit that we receive through the Eucharist can empower us to do what Jesus did.
Indeed, on our own strength, we cannot do great things for God unless God works in and through us. We need to turn to Him in prayer and with confidence. “This is why we are bold enough to approach God in complete confidence, through our faith in him.” God, who is our Father, will certainly hear our prayers, especially when we pray as a family at every Eucharistic celebration. Through the Eucharist too, we become more united with Christ and His body, the Church. It is our fellowship with other Christians and through their support and encouragement that we are encouraged to do more and love more.
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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