SEEING THE GOODNESS OF GOD IN THE HOPELESS
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ ISAIAH 58:9-14; PS 86:1-6; LUKE 5:27-32 ]
We live in a world that is lacking in graciousness and charity. This is a cruel world. It does not tolerate imperfections, failures and shortcomings. People expect leaders to be perfect from the day they were born. They must not have any skeletons in their cupboards. They must have lived a perfect life to be a leader. Moreover, during their course of leadership, they cannot afford to make any mistakes. Otherwise, they will be condemned and judged as untrustworthy and incompetent. Some would even expect them to commit suicide to show their remorse and grief for their failures.
Ironically, the truth is that no one is perfect. We all have made our fair share of mistakes in life. Some mistakes were serious, like taking drugs, stealing and even molesting our siblings. However, like the Pharisees, we are so quick to pick at the faults of others, judge and condemn them, failing to realize that we too have sinned in our own lives. Jesus taught, “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?” (Mt 7:1-3) Indeed, by judging others, we have judged ourselves self-righteous and presumptuous.
Not only does the world judge and condemn sinners, it gives up on sinners and failures in life. We write them off completely from the book of life. Sinners and those who are dropouts in life often condemn themselves to the situation they are in because society does not have faith and confidence in them. They are made to believe that they are incorrigible, hopeless and useless. Indeed, drug addicts and ex-offenders are often rejected by society after their release from prison. They are unemployed because no employer would trust them enough to give them a job and to start a new life. As a result, many of them in their desperation for money return to their old way of life and end up in prison once again.
Is this not the way we also treat our children, our unfaithful spouse and our friends? When our children show themselves to be slow, dull-minded and poor in their studies, we write them off as useless and a failure in school. Spouses who had been unfaithful are often never given a second chance when they seek to repair the marriage and the relationship. In the eyes of the spouse who felt betrayed, they are not to be trusted ever again. That is why the relationship remains indifferent, cold and distant even after the couple has been reconciled. Friendships are cut off over one mistake, notwithstanding the fact that the relationship has been built over many years, and that those involved have stood by us through thick and thin for years. We are intolerant of the failures, weaknesses and sins of others, even though we cannot claim to be perfect ourselves.
Most of all, we try not to associate ourselves with them because we do not want to be seen in bad company. From young, we were told, “Birds of a feather flock together.” So we avoid mixing with people who have a bad reputation, are uncouth, uneducated and deemed failures in life because they are a bad influence. This was how the Pharisees and Scribes treated sinners. They kept themselves away from sinners so that they would not be contaminated by them. Thus, when Jesus was with the tax-collectors for dinner, they were scandalized and murmured. They complained to His disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Many of us too are afraid to be seen with people who are frowned upon by society, whether AIDs or mental patients, people who hold low-class menial jobs and those who are engaged in dubious activities. We do not wish to be identified with them and so we keep our distance. In our hearts, we despise them and look down on them, thinking that we are above them.
However, Jesus looks at us very differently. He sees so much goodness in each one of us in spite of our sinfulness. He can see more goodness in us than we can see in ourselves. Whilst others only see our weaknesses and give up hope on us, Jesus sees the potentials that have yet to be unearthed. For Jesus, we are rough diamonds waiting to be polished. He does not look at us from the outside, just by what we do, or our position and office. He sees us from the inside. He is able to intuit our mind and heart. Even in the person who is always grumpy, nasty, boastful, arrogant and rebellious, He is able to see the beauty of his heart.
That was how our Lord saw Matthew. He was a rich man who amassed riches from his work as a tax collector. He would have cheated and charged exorbitant taxes in order to gain more commission from his service. He was of course despised by his own people who saw him not just a traitor serving the Romans but because he took advantage of the people. With the rest of the tax collectors, he was castigated as a sinner and ostracized from society. We can be sure that Jesus understood how he was feeling. He felt alone. He had no real friends. Although rich, his conscience was not at peace. He was far away from God.
Jesus saw in him, one who was ready for harvesting. “Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. ‘Follow me,’ Jesus said to him, and Levi got up, left everything and followed him.” Jesus did not simply call him to follow Him but He showed His confidence in Him by making him an apostle. Which religious leader in His right mind would choose someone known to be a sinner in society, a notorious swindler, to be His disciple and apostle? Like St Paul who said, “But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles.” (Gal 1;15) Jesus saw the potential in Levi to be an apostle and a saint when others could not see.
Of course, it took some time for Matthew to rise to be an apostle and later a great saint. However, without Jesus giving him a chance, he would not have made it. We too must give opportunities to others and not write them off as incorrigible, hopeless and useless. Many a great leader was born because someone never gave up on him or her. Through patient encouragement, support, love and compassion, there is always hope. We see such miracles happening everywhere, especially those who were abandoned in the homes by their parents and guardians, or those who came for conversion retreats. When such people are given a second chance, what is a setback is turned into a comeback. Indeed, the Lord’s words are so touching for those of us who are sick or miserable in life, having lost hope in the world and ourselves. “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
Instead of isolating sinners from Him, the Lord came to meet the people, ate among them and fellowshipped with them. Not afraid of losing His reputation as a rabbi, He accepted the invitation to eat and drink among the friends of Matthew, the tax collector. Eating and drinking with them, the Lord made the tax collectors feel at ease with Him. He did not come to meet them in a condescending manner. Rather, Jesus treated them as friends and as members of His family. He wanted to know them personally so that He could enlighten them, make them feel loved and know how they can find true and real happiness even in their profession. Jesus was clear of His mission, which was to restore all of us, regardless who we are, into the fullness of the dignity of God’s children.
We too must learn from Jesus by reaching out to sinners and bring them back to God. St James says, “My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” (Jms 5:19f) By helping our brothers and sisters to return to God, we too will also grow in faith ourselves. We must give hope and encouragement through our love and acceptance of the weak and wicked.
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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