TAKING RISKS REQUIRES DIVINE ASSURANCE
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [Gn 46:1-7. 28-30; Ps 37:3-4, 18-19, 27-28, 39-40; Mt 10:16-23]
It is always difficult to start a new life, embark on a new career or migrate to another country. The unpredictability of the future cripples us from venturing out. We all prefer to be in our comfort zone even if it is not the most comfortable of all places. Well, at least the known is less feared than the unknown. So how do we decide to move or not?
Jacob was faced with the same dilemma as his grandfather, Abraham. He was asked to leave Canaan and go to Egypt to be with his son, Joseph, as the country was in famine. He must have wondered whether he was betraying the dream of his fathers, that God would give them the Promised Land and be the Father of nations. What would the future of his children and children’s children in a foreign land be like? He needed directions from the Lord.
So, too, were the disciples in today’s gospel. The Lord warned them about their future. They would be persecuted, both from within and without. The Lord said, “Beware of men: they will hand you over to sanhedrins and scourge you in their synagogues. You will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the pagans.” From within, there will be opposition and betrayal. “Brother will betray brother to death, and the father his child; children will rise against their parents and have them put to death.” Indeed, Jesus was candid with them. The price of following Him would mean that they “will be hated by all men on account of (his) name.”
In such a situation, we need divine assurance that our dreams would be fulfilled. We need the Lord to let us know that He is with us in our journey of life, and in seeking to realize the dreams that He has placed in our hearts. God was kind to Jacob who was hesitant and reluctant to leave his homeland. When he “left Canaan with his possessions, and reached Beersheba”, the Lord confirmed the decision that Jacob took. “God spoke to Israel in a vision at night. ‘I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid of going down to Egypt, for I will make you a great nation there. I myself will go down to Egypt with you. I myself will bring you back again, and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes.'” Knowing that the God of his fathers was with him, gave him consolation and security. Otherwise, he might have lived or died with a bad conscience for betraying the dream of his fathers. The divine assurance that God would make them a great nation in Egypt and bring them back to Canaan was what he needed to hear.
In the same way too, Jesus assured His disciples that in spite of the persecutions, God would be with them. He said, “But when they hand you over, do not worry about how to speak or what to say; what you are to say will be given to you when the time comes; because it is not you who will be speaking; the Spirit of your Father will be speaking on you.” “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.” (Jn 14:16f) Indeed, the Holy Spirit was the One that assisted them when they stood before the Sanhedrin and rulers, as happened to Peter and John, and Paul after the resurrection. (cf Acts 4:1-22)
However, divine assurance does not mean that God’s plan would be fulfilled without much struggle and suffering. God’s divine plan for us requires that we trust in Him and are willing to surrender our lives to Him, walking not by sight but by faith, one day at a time, seeking to do His holy will, often making mistakes but learning from them as we journey in life. In other words, we must not expect that it will be a smooth journey towards the fulfillment of our dreams. In the case of the Israelites, they had to stay more than 400 years in Egypt. The book of Exodus records, “The time that the Israelites had lived in Egypt was four hundred thirty years. At the end of four hundred thirty years, on that very day, all the companies of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt.” (Ex 12:40f) The Lord had first to build up the people by increasing and multiplying them. After their deliverance from Egypt, the Lord had to train the army so that they could be strong to resist their enemies. The Lord also had to test them in their faith, teach them to observe the commandments so that when they entered the Promised Land, they would know how to govern the nation and ensure that there would be peace, unity and prosperity.
So, too, for the disciples. They had to persevere in faith, knowing that the Lord would assist them in their mission. They needed to use their ingenuity and intelligence in dealing with their enemies. Jesus said, “Remember, I am sending you out like sheep among wolves; so be cunning as serpents and yet as harmless as doves.” Then again, He advised them, “If they persecute you in one town, take refuge in the next; and if they persecute you in that, take refuge in another.” Indeed, “the man who stands firm to the end will be saved.” They needed to cooperate with the grace of God using their human talents, even as they relied on God’s grace and the Holy Spirit. Grace perfects nature.
So it is the same for us in our aspiration to realize the dreams that God has placed in our hearts. We must cooperate with His grace according to what the Lord has given to us. We need to trust in His divine providence and wisdom. What we must do is to do our best, work hard, seek the help of our fellowmen, and most of all, seek the guidance of God and His divine blessings. But we cannot sit back and do nothing and hope that God will do everything for us. We too must go through the trials of life for through them, we learn wisdom, understanding, compassion and gratitude. Jesus made it clear, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.” (Lk 9:23f)
Indeed, we must pray in faith like Jacob at Beersheba when he offered sacrifices to the God of his father, Isaac. We must trust like the psalmist. “The salvation of the just comes from the Lord. If you trust in the Lord and do good, then you will live in the land and be secure. If you find your delight in the Lord, he will grant your heart’s desire. He protects the lives of the upright, their heritage will last forever. They shall not be put to shame in evil days, in time of famine their food shall not fail. Then turn away from evil and do good and you shall have a home for ever; for the Lord loves justice and will never forsake his friends. The salvation of the just comes from the Lord, their stronghold in time of distress. The Lord helps them and delivers them and saves them: for their refuge is in him.” In confident and expectant prayer, the Lord will realize His dreams for us.
We must be patient in allowing the plans of God to unfold in His time. “My purpose shall stand, and I will fulfill my intention, calling a bird of prey from the east, the man for my purpose from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have planned, and I will do it.” (Isa 46:10f) This was what the Lord said to the disciples as well. “I tell you solemnly, you will have gone the round of the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.” He often gives us signs that all things would be well, as the Lord did for Jacob. “When they arrived in the land of Goshen, Joseph had his chariot made ready and went up to meet his father Israel in Goshen. As soon as he appeared he threw his arms round his neck and for a long time wept on his shoulder. Israel said to Joseph, ‘Now I can die, now that I have seen you again, and seen you still alive.'” Indeed, knowing that his son was alive and more than well – the second in command in Egypt – gave him the assurance that God will protect his people, and that they would indeed become a great nation in time to come. Hence, he could leave and rest in peace.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
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