COMFORT MY PEOPLE
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ISA 40:1-11; MT18:12-14 ]
So often, in our misery and pain, we think that God does not care. Some of us, because of our sins, think that God is angry with us and is taking revenge by punishing us. This explains why some people turn away from God because they feel that God does not love them anymore. But such a perception is completely just the opposite of the truth. Today’s scripture readings present to us a God of compassion, a God who reaches out to us, a God who desires to console, strengthen and encourage us.
In the first reading, the prophet, speaking to the Israelites in exile soon after the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. assured them that there would be a new exodus and after the time of their punishment, they would return. “Here is the Lord coming with power, his arm subduing all things to him. The prize of his victory is with him, his trophies all go before him.” God assured the people that the sufferings they were going through would purify and strengthen them. Then they would return triumphant to Jerusalem after conquering their enemies. And then they would see once again the majesty of God’s glory revealed and all flesh would see the salvation of God.
Indeed, God showed how much He loved His people and never stopped loving them. The text of today’s first reading reveals the deep compassion of God. Even in our sin and misery, the Lord wants to console His people. When parents discipline their children, the pain that is afflicted on their children is doubly more painful for the parents. Which parent wants to hurt his or her flesh and blood? That is true for God as well. He addressed us as His people and He is our God. He calls us “Zion”, a feminine term to convey His love and tenderness of His people. When He sees us suffering, He suffers even more because it hurts God to see us hurting ourselves, just as it hurts us when our loved ones suffer.
Most of all, He comes as a shepherd. “He is like a shepherd feeding his flock, gathering lambs in his arms, holding them against his breast and leading to their rest the mother ewes.” The image of a shepherd combines both strength and tenderness because a shepherd must be strong enough to defend the sheep from the attacks of the enemies but at the same time, the shepherd is all tenderness when dealing with his sheep. The Lord as our shepherd, therefore, seeks to protect the vulnerable sheep that are under oppression, persecution, injustice. The shepherd goes out to find the lost sheep, those who are confused and wounded in life; those who have strayed and walked the wrong path. And when he finds them, what great joy he experiences!
Indeed, Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He is the fulfillment of the prophet Isaiah in the first reading. Jesus as the Good Shepherd comes to heal us, to teach us the right way, to forgive us our sins, to reconcile us with God and to deliver us from all oppression, of injustices and of the Evil One. He is particularly interested in the individual. He takes care of each one of us personally and individually, reaching out to us. His attitude is that of the shepherd who “has a hundred sheep and when one of them strays”, he goes “in search of the stray.” He shares the same sentiment as any shepherd when He describes the joy of God in bringing back even of the little ones. He said, “I tell you solemnly, if he finds it, it gives him more joy than do the ninety-nine that did not stray at all. Similarly, it is never the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.”
We who have received the consolation from God are called to do the same. St Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.” (2 Cor 1:3-5)
How, then, do we comfort our people? How do we console them?
Firstly, we need to identify with them in their sufferings. People are judgmental or indifferent to the sufferings of others because they are too absorbed in their own lives and their needs. They are always thinking about their interests and needs. They are too inward-looking. What we need to do is to follow the Good Shepherd in reaching out, feeling and empathizing with the sick, the wounded, the oppressed and those suffering from hunger and injustices. When we feel with them in their struggles and recognize our own brokenness in them, only then does compassion happen. When we are one with our fellowmen in their sufferings, our humanity will cause us to reach out to them and to help them.
Secondly, like the Good Shepherd, we must reach out to them to heal, to console and to encourage them. There are many people who need to hear words of encouragement from us. Many seek to see the face of God through our love, patience and kindness for them. In a world where love is so conditional and at times insincere, we are called to give hope to them by showing them the unconditional and compassionate love of Christ and His mercy. Through the works of compassion, forgiveness and service especially to the suffering, the lonely and the abandoned, those who are worried about their finances and their loved ones, we can be there for them.
How can we help them to find courage and strength in their sufferings? We must enlighten them that they should not see their sufferings as God taking revenge on them or that He is withdrawing His love. On the contrary, the letter to the Hebrews tells us that it is because He loves us that He disciplines us. “‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor lose courage when you are punished by him. For the Lord disciplines him whom he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.’ It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? … For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Heb 12:5-7, 11)
Thirdly, we must take the opportunity to help them see which mountain and hill are preventing them from looking at life in the right perspective. Quite often the mountain and hill symbolizes our pride and ambition in life. Our pride hinders us from recognizing our mistakes and limitations. We think too highly of ourselves and we want to control every situation in life. Our pride makes us stubborn, opinionated, self-willed and presumptuous, so much so that we cannot live or get on well with others. Pride causes us to hurt others and also the cause of our refusal to forgive or ask forgiveness. At times, our ambition and desire for wealth, power and success blind us to the more important matters of life, namely, our family, God and our friends.
Fourthly, the valley refers to our low self-esteem. Some of us cannot forgive ourselves. We do not love ourselves enough. We think so poorly of ourselves and always condemn ourselves. As a consequence, we are also negative towards others, envious of them and possessive of our loved ones. For such people, we need to give them encouragement. Instead of putting down our children because of their failure or, conversely, our colleagues when they are successful, we must affirm and encourage them. Helping people to accept their weaknesses, their mistakes and themselves is the first step towards healing and restoration.
Finally, we must assure them that there is no mountain, hill or valley that the Lord cannot transcend and overcome. The psalmist assures us, “Here is our God coming with power. Tell among the nations his glory and his wonders among all the peoples. Proclaim to the nations: ‘God is king.’ He will judge the peoples in fairness.” Indeed, our God will come with power to restore His kingdom and His rule on earth. He will subdue all His enemies.
Regardless how difficult or hopeless our situation may be in our eyes, yet the Lord assures us as He did to the exiles in Babylon that nothing remains the same. Even the most invincible army like the Babylonians would be overcome. Indeed, only the Word of God, His truth and love prevail in the end. So whilst human beings, creatures and creation are mortal, God is not. So we must just surrender our lives to Him, knowing that He is in charge. All He asks of us is to repent, atone for our sins and turn back to Him for He wants to bring us to the green pasture where there is security, peace, unity and love.
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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