WILLFUL AND MISGUIDED ZEAL
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ Jon 4:1-11; Ps 86:3-6, 9-10; Lk 11:1-4]
Many serve the Lord in ministry and in social work but they are resentful because things do not turn out the way they want. They fight over plans and strategies. Things must be done their way. If not they become vindictive and sulky. They withdraw and wallow in self-pity. They are often divisive and antagonistic. Some are so contentious that they would issue threats and ultimatum. They shout, scream and write nasty letters and circulate to everyone so that their views might be heard. Such people find no joy in ministry and in serving the Lord. They take the joy out of everyone else’s service as well. How could serving the Lord make us bitter and resentful?
This precisely was the case of Jonah. He was willful, proud, self-centered and misguided. He wanted to do his own will. When asked by the Lord to preach to the inhabitants of Nineveh, he refused. He tried to run away from the calling of God. But he did not manage because he almost drowned, if not for God sending the whale to save him. In fact, the whole story of Jonah saw him as one who just wanted his way. When the will of God contradicted his will, he tried to escape or became ill-tempered.
Secondly, he was exclusive and nationalistic, believing that salvation was for the Jews only. He thought that God only loved Israel and saved Israel. All other nations were outside the ambit of God’s love and all were destined to perdition. He failed to realize that Israel was chosen by God to be the light to the pagans and the Gentiles. Salvation was meant for all the peoples and not exclusively for the Jews. Hence, when asked to preach to the Ninevites, he refused because he knew that God would save them. He said, “Ah! Lord, is not this just as I said would happen when I was still at home? That was why I went and fled to Tarshish: I knew that you were a God of tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in graciousness, relenting from evil. So now Lord, please take away my life, for I might as well be dead as go on living.”
Thirdly, he had an unforgiving heart. He held such hatred for the Assyrians. It was true that they were a great but evil empire. They were Israel’s most dreaded enemy. It was unthinkable for Jonah to rescue such people from damnation. In his mind, and perhaps many of us, such people deserve the fullest impact of God’s wrath. They should be destroyed and be removed from the face of the earth. So Jonah wished nothing but evil upon the Assyrians. His real intention was not to have the people repent but to see that they were punished.
But at the bottom of this angry and revengeful man was his pride. We read that when the people repented because of his preaching, instead of rejoicing at their repentance, he “was very indignant; he fell into a rage.” It was an embarrassment for him because his warnings of destruction from God did not take place. He lost face because his prophecy did not come true. What he wanted was for the wrath of God to happen so that they would know that he was a great prophet of God. Now, he had nothing to show off. His ego was wounded. He felt that God betrayed him and did not stand by him.
We too act in the same way. We are like Jonah even when serving the Lord. We want things our way. Everyone must agree with our opinions and plans. We submit to no one, but all must submit to us. We do not have the humility to surrender our judgement to those in authority and those responsible for the job to be done. We act as if we have the last word on everything and all must agree with us. Otherwise, we will attack and smear the people that we oppose.
Secondly, like Jonah, we are protectionistic even when doing God’s work. It is about our choir, our organization, our parish and not about the Church or the gospel. We do not share resources and we try to exclude all those who are doing the same work for God from learning from us and benefitting from our experiences. We forget what the Lord has said to us, “You received without pay, give without pay.” (Mt 10:8) We fail to realize that all we have come from the Lord and so nothing belongs to us. Instead of freely sharing our resources and welcoming fellow Catholics to join us, we want to be an elite group so that we are better than the rest. We are more intent in raising the profile of our organization rather than encouraging everyone to join hands and share resources and experiences with each other so that all can help to bring more people to Christ. It is immaterial whether it is this or that person or organization that will get the credit of bringing someone to Jesus. What is important is that the person has come to know the goodness of the Lord.
Thirdly, sometimes even in ministry work, we act from the wounds of insecurity, pride and anger. We want to take revenge against those who disagree with us. We do not like them simply because they are not on our side. We are egoistic and proud. We are temperamental like spoilt children and behave like Jonah. We throw tantrums, argue, shout and fight to have our views accepted. We want everyone to support us and say “how great we are!” We seek glory and power for ourselves and the organization even though we might give lip service that we are doing all things for the glory of God. A clear sign that we are indeed doing all things to glorify God is when we are able to rejoice with those who rejoice. St Paul wrote, “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Never flag in zeal, be aglow with the Spirit, serve the Lord.” (Rom 12:9-11) He added, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; never be conceited.” (Rom 12:15f)
Today the Lord asks us to see things in perspective and through His eyes of love and compassion. God helped Jonah to see the bigger picture of His love and salvation for all. He “arranged that a caster-oil plant should grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head and soothe his ill-humour; Jonah was delighted with the caster-oil plant. But at dawn the next day, God arranged that a worm should attack the caster-oil plant – and it withered.” When Jonah complained, God reprimanded him, “You are only upset about a caster-oil plant which cost you no labour, which you did not make grow, which sprouted in a night and has perished in a night. And am I not to feel sorry for Nineveh, the great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, to say nothing of all the animals?” Indeed, for some of us, our projects, our plans and our narrow-minded interests are more important than the common good of all. We want to win the battles not for the greater good of the community but for our own glory and our vested interest.
In teaching us the Lord’s Prayer Jesus helps us to see all things in perspective. He invites us to address God as Father. He is the Father of all and we are all His children. Jesus taught us, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Mt 5:44f) And if we were to keep His name holy, we must act accordingly, like His sons and daughters, loving all men and women without exception. “For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt 5:46-48)
Secondly, we pray that His kingdom of love, peace and unity be a reality in this life and in the life to come. This comes about when we all do His holy will, which is an invitation to live a just life, a life of honesty, integrity, but also a life of compassion for the poor and the suffering. We are to trust in His divine providence as we pray each day for our daily bread.
Most of all, the Lord invites us to forgive ourselves and those who have hurt us. We pray, “forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive each one who is in debt to us.” Forgiveness is the heart of the gospel. We are all sinners, as the psalmist says, “You are my God, have mercy on me, Lord, for I cry to you all the day long.” But God is a God of mercy and compassion. “O Lord, you are good and forgiving, full of love to all who call.” In this way, by offering the forgiveness we have received from God to others who have offended us, we will help them to encounter God’s unconditional mercy and compassion. “All the nations shall come to adore you and glorify your name, O Lord: for you are great and do marvellous deeds, you who alone are God.” Unlike Jonah, our joy is to bring all to the Lord and encounter His mercy and liberating grace.
So today, let us learn to be gracious like God. We must imitate His compassion, not just for the Ninevites but also for difficult, self-willed and misguided prophets like Jonah. God slowly helped Jonah to understand and search his real motives in being a prophet. God could have punished Jonah severely for being so self-righteous, inward looking, petulant and bad tempered. Instead, He was tolerant, patient and gentle with him, saving him from being drowned, using a caster-oil plant to bring him to his senses.
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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