DOING THE WORK FOR GOD OR THE WORK OF GOD?
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ Jon 3:1-10; Ps 130:1-4,7-8; Lk 10:38-42]
It is true that we are all busy. Some are busy over their own business and personal affairs. But those of us who are involved in Church ministry and activities are also very busy. Doing God’s work can be much more demanding than secular work because we have to exercise compassion, patience and understanding in our dealings with people. Most of our programs need much time for planning. Choirs need hours of practices to perfect their singing. Altar servers have to practise many times to get their steps right. Organizing fun fairs, parish feast day celebrations and fund raising dinners or any parish project requires lots of time, resources and effort. Giving talks, writing homilies and attending meetings can be very time consuming. Like Martha, most of us feel so drained serving in these committees that some of us feel like giving up.
But what keeps us going is the thought that we are doing work for God, and hence are serving Him. Most of all, we are giving our time, resources and energy for free. We are not paid for the work we do. Consequently, we all feel great about ourselves; that we are rendering our services to God and to the Church. We feel we have been generous and contributive. People should appreciate what we are doing and most of all, God should be proud of us! Again, that was how Martha felt. She was looking for Jesus’ approval and appreciation for all the troubles she took to make Jesus’ stay comfortable.
If we are restless when doing work for God, it is because we are not doing the work of God. There is a great difference between doing work for God and doing the work of God. In the former, it is about me doing things for God, according to what I like and what I enjoy doing most. Isn’t this why people join church ministries? They don’t ask what is needed for the Church or what God wants them to do. They tell the church and God what they like to offer and to do. It is not about doing God’s will but their own. It is not about fulfilling what God needs of them but what they need of God! So they pick and choose something that they like to do. It is about their fulfillment and their happiness. It is not about the recipients’ happiness. How often have people imposed their taste of clothes, food and entertainment on their loved ones and friends. Just because they like it, they expect others to share their interests. When we are doing the work for God, we are doing what we will.
This was certainly the case of Martha in the gospel and Jonah in the first reading. She wanted to dictate to the Lord how He should be made welcome. In Martha’s assessment, she felt that she needed to serve the Lord well, perhaps, by preparing a good meal for Him and a comfortable room. She believed that was what would make the Lord happy and feel welcome. This was her understanding of hospitality. Again, that was also the same sentiment of Jonah. In his mind, the people of Nineveh did not deserve any mercy from God. They should incur the full weight of God’s wrath and be punished for their wickedness, cruelty and immorality. He did not even feel that it was worthwhile for him to preach to them at all. Hence, he decided to go west to Tarshish instead of going east to Nineveh. Later when forced to obey God’s call to preach at Nineveh, he was still hoping that they would not listen to his message so that they would not be brought to repentance. In this way, the threats of God to destroy them would eventually take place.
Doing the work for God therefore requires lots of energy, planning and hard work. It is about me doing the work for God. He is the recipient, the beggar, the one indebted to us. We are using all our strength and maximizing our resources to complete the work for God. This explains why we, like Martha, become stressful, irritable and edgy. We spend many hours labouring to finish the project. And because we put in so much effort and ingenuity into these projects, we want our projects to turn out well.
Behind the desire for success in our projects is, again not so much about doing the work for God but about glory and praise. We are concerned about what people will think of our work and our projects. We want people to think well of us and praise us. It is about projecting a good public image. Our ego and pride are behind all that we do when we examine truthfully the motives behind what we do for God. Like Martha, we seek attention from others, especially important people. We are in need of affirmation and encouragement. So when we do not get what we want, we become angry and sad and disappointed. We have become self –serving in our service! So, too, Jonah. We read that after his preaching, all the inhabitants and the King and his court put on sackcloth, fasted and repented. The city was of course spared by the Lord. “God saw their efforts to renounce their evil behaviour. And God relented: he did not inflict on them the disaster which he had threatened.” And of course, Jonah was angry with God! He did not fulfill His intended revenge on the people. (cf Jonah 4)
This is the spiritual worldliness that the Holy Father in Evangelii Gaudium warns us. [Spiritual worldliness, which hides behind the appearance of piety and even love for the Church, consists in seeking not the Lord’s glory but human glory and personal well-being. It is what the Lord reprimanded the Pharisees for: “How can you believe, who receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” (Jn 5:44). It is a subtle way of seeking one’s “own interests, not those of Jesus Christ” (Phil 2:21). It takes on many forms, depending on the kinds of persons and groups into which it seeps. Since it is based on carefully cultivated appearances, it is not always linked to outward sin; from without, everything appears as it should be. But if it were to seep into the Church, “it would be infinitely more disastrous than any other worldliness which is simply moral”.] (EG 93)
In doing the work of God we are differently motivated. It is not about me who is giving but about the one who is at the receiving end. When we do the work of God, there is no personal agenda. Doing God’s work is to be completely docile to His will like Mary the mother of Jesus. Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Lk 1:38) It is about doing His will. It is not about my needs or my interests or my fulfillment. It is about our desire to please the Lord according to the way He desires us to please Him. Hence, Mary instructed the disciples of Jesus, “Do whatever he tells you.” (Jn 2:5) So too in the case of our Lord, His Father’s will is that He died on the cross. So Jesus submitted to His holy will and allowed His mission to end in failure so that the Holy Spirit could complete it after His resurrection. So on the cross He handed His mission to the Holy Spirit. He prayed, “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!” (Lk 23:46)
When we are doing the work of God, we should not feel anxious or worried. It is not about our ego and success. When our ego does not come into play, we can remain calm, collected and measured. There is no selfish ambition involved. Success or failure is in the hands of God. If God wants us to fail, let us fail for His sake because through our failure, He seeks to bring about a greater good out of evil. If God wants us to succeed, we are happy not for ourselves but for His greater glory and for the good of His people. So a man who does the work of God is indifferent to either. He knows that everything is in God’s hands and we will see that “in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8:28)
We can do the work of God only if we trust in Him completely and love Him more than we love ourselves. This presupposes we have basked ourselves in His love as Mary did in the gospel. Only when we listen to Him attentively, can we then know what is in His heart and what He desires of us. Jonah did not listen to God and failed to realize the God he worshipped is the Father of all and we are all His children. He is a God of forgiveness and He is not vindictive and revengeful like us. He desires to forgive and He finds no joy in seeing us suffer. If He desires our repentance, it is because He does not want to see us hurting ourselves and our loved ones by our foolish acts. We, too, when we come to know the love and mercy of God intimately, then we no longer seek other loves but Him alone for He fulfills all our needs, our security and our desires.
Let us spend time with Mary contemplating on His love instead of just doing things for Him which might not be what He wants of us. His desire is that we first make time for Him by listening and conversing with Him before we do any work. All works done for Him must be the outcome of our desire to show our love for Him in the way He needs our service. What better way than to spend quiet time before our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament daily, praying the psalms and meditating on the scriptures. With St Paul we pray, “May Christ dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fulness of God. Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.” (Eph 3:17-21)
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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