HERALDS OF THE GOSPEL
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [HOS 8:4-7, 11-13; MT 9:32-37 ]
“Jesus made a tour through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom and curing all kinds of diseases and sickness.” This one sentence, sums up the whole ministry of Jesus, which is the proclamation of the Good News through words and deeds. This vision and mission statement was promulgated by the Lord (cf Lk 4:18f), citing His mission in line with the Suffering Servant of Isaiah. (Isa 61:1-7)
As the herald of the Good News, Jesus was conscious that He was called to be the face of God’s mercy and love. A herald is a messenger and an ambassador of the one who sent him. Indeed, the messenger, in his entire being, in his words and deeds, represents the one who sent him or her. That is what a saint is, someone who reveals the love and mercy of God in himself or herself. To the extent that we mediate God’s love to others, to that extent, we are His heralds of the gospel.
For this reason, we must be careful that we do not reduce the proclamation of the gospel to teaching alone. This was the tragedy of the scribes. They were concerned about the preservation of the Laws at all costs. Fidelity to the Law is all they were concerned about, regardless of the situation and the context of those observing the laws. They had no regard for the person who was suffering and placed in a context where the laws could not be observed. Instead of adapting the laws without compromising the principles of the laws, they were more concerned with the meticulous observation of all laws and customs.
This is also true for some of us. We are too obsessed with the observance of the laws of the Church, the liturgical laws, the customary practices and even the doctrinal laws. We can be implementing the laws without compassion, without love, without any feelings for those who find the laws oppressive and demanding. Indeed, some have all the time to quibble over the observance of certain liturgical rules, as if the mass would not be valid if such details were not followed. There are weightier matters to consider in the Church than such things, such as love, sensitivity, compassion and service. What is important is that these laws must effectively serve our people. Let us never forget that unity does not mean conformity to all the rules and customs peculiar to a culture. We must never forget to distinguish between the substance of the laws and the accidentals. This is where Pope Francis is asking us to seek a pastoral solution, on one hand, not to deny the doctrines of the Church, and on the other, to help people apply these doctrines concretely in their lives and offering them mercy and compassion even when they fail because of human weakness. Laws are neat and perfect in themselves but human beings are complex!
Secondly, the proclamation of the gospel is not just about offering sacrifices. This was the temptation of the priests. In the first reading, the leaders of the Northern Kingdom, Samaria, was condemned because they led the people to idolatry by setting up the golden calves for political reasons, so that their inhabitants would not travel down to Jerusalem to offer the true worship to God. “Out of their own silver and gold they have made idols, which are doomed to destruction. I spurn your calf, Samaria, my anger blazes against it. A workman made the thing, this cannot be God! Ephraim has built altar after altar, they have only served him as occasion for sin. Were I to write out the thousand precepts of my law for him, they would be paid no more attention than those of a stranger.”
Indeed, we are also like them, keeping God in our statues and taking Him out of our lives! Moses forbade the carving of images of God precisely because God is the “I Am.” He is a living God who walks, travels, feels and is always with His people. He is not domesticated in some structures or idols. To give reverence to the idols, whilst good in itself, can also be a temptation to separate God from the world; God from life. So we will keep “God” in our statues and shrines, but when we are in the world, we live as if He were not present.
Like them, we too love to offer sacrifices. The Lord said, “They love sacrificing; right, let them sacrifice! They love meat; right, let them eat it!” We come for daily mass even and we give our meagre donations for the upkeep of the church, but not for its mission to extend the good news to the poor through the evangelization of the gospel in words and deeds. We are contented with some rituals that we perform to seek God’s protection for our daily life, good health, career and business. It is all about ourselves and not about others.
The proclamation of the gospel is precisely the proclamation of true freedom. “He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.” We are called to release our people from blindness to their sins and how they are hurting themselves because they choose the values of the world, which is greed, power, immorality, dishonesty, violence and even killing. Such attachments to the world, addiction to our passions and a selfish way of life makes us even more insecure. It is the freedom to love, to put others before self and freedom from the fear of suffering and even death. This was what Jesus did when He exorcised someone under the possession of a dumb demoniac.
Jesus proclaimed the gospel not just by His teaching but in healing and reaching out to those who were suffering and those who were marginalized. Pope Francis invites the Church to break out of its comfort zone and reach out to those in the peripheries, those who are divorced, burdened by same-sex orientation, prisoners, drug addicts, sick, elderly, abandoned. These were the same people that Jesus reached out to as well. Jesus went “through all the towns and villages curing … all kinds of diseases and sickness.”
And we read about the reaction of the people and the Pharisees. They “were amazed. ‘Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel’ they said. But the Pharisees said, ‘It is through the prince of devils that he casts out devils.’” Why the different reactions to the miracles and the teachings of Jesus? The simple, ordinary and desperate people who sought God’s presence found Him in Jesus and were inspired by Him. The Pharisees and the Scribes on the other hand were self-sufficient. They did not need any help from anyone. They were well-off and they had their positions in society. They found Jesus a threat to their popularity, their credibility, their status quo; and so whilst recognizing the power of Jesus in healing and in the work of exorcism, they attributed His works to His alignment with the devil. This is so true even in the religious world, when we do good, people who are jealous of us will allow themselves to be used by the Devil to attack us and destroy our good works.
Jesus did all these good works not to draw attention to Himself but simply for the good of the people. He came to rescue them, as “he felt sorry for them because they were harassed and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd.” Jesus showed us the compassionate heart of the Good Shepherd who seeks His lost, wounded, hurting, bruised and broken sheep. He did not stay in His office, planning and clearing emails all day! He was out teaching, preaching, ministering to those who sought the face of God in Him, and those who needed to feel the healing touch of God. He was there for the people. He was available.
Today, we are all called to join Jesus in being heralds of the Good News. Jesus said, “The harvest is rich but the labourers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to his harvest.” We are called to pray for more labourers, but not just to send others to the vineyard but that we ourselves might be the ones to say, like Isaiah, “Here I am! Send me!” (Isa 6:8) All of us in our own ways can proclaim the gospel, in words, in deeds, in our whole being, by serving the people of God, especially the poor and the marginalized in works of charity and mercy.
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.
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