FOLLOWING THE WAY OF THE LORD LEADS TO LIFE
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ISA 48:17-19; MT 11:16-19 ]
Are you happy? Are you contented with your state of life? Are you finding life such a burden and a chore? Are you at peace with your loved ones, friends and colleagues? Perhaps we are feeling so crippled by our problems, fears and anxieties or constrained by the circumstances we find ourselves in. More often than not, we complain and lament about the state we are in. It is true that sometimes, we have to just live by the constraints imposed on us, particularly the state of life we have chosen, especially marriage and religious life. Or sometimes because of the office we hold in society, we are not able to do what we would like to do. Indeed, some of us feel that we are like a bird in a golden cage, trapped by the demands and expectations placed on us.
However, there are times when we can do something about our situation. We need not consign ourselves to eternal doom. More often than not, we have the solution but we are not ready to embark on it. We know the right thing to do but we either lack the motivation or the courage to act accordingly. This was precisely the case in today’s gospel. Jesus told the crowds point blank, “What description can I find for this generation? It is like children shouting to each other as they sit in the market place: ‘We played the pipes for you, and you wouldn’t dance; we sang dirges, and you wouldn’t be mourners.'” They were simply uncooperative and looking for all kinds of excuses to reject the Word of God. As Jesus bemoaned, “For John came, neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He is possessed.’ The Son of Man came, eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.'”
So, too, like the Jews, we find all kinds of excuses not to do the right thing. We find reasons why we should not act. We are too tepid in our love for God and are contented with a nominal faith. Our acknowledgment of sins in our life is too general or vague to have real effect on our lives. We know that we are generally sinners but many of us are not explicitly conscious of our sins even. As a result, our determination to change or to live the gospel life is weak and lukewarm. We are contented with a faith and a life that is neither hot nor cold. We are quite happy with a generic faith in God.
This is similar to the Israelites in the first reading. Again and again, like Jesus in today’s gospel, God has been pleading with His people to repent and to change. From the time of the Exodus till the era of the prophets, God had been constantly wooing the people to turn to Him. But they kept falling back to sin and turned away from the Lord despite all the miracles the Lord performed before them. They never learnt their lesson. They neither listened to Moses nor the rest of the Prophets. They broke and despised the covenantal laws that the Lord had given to them through Moses. His laws were His wisdom. Moses said, “See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the Lord my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him? And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today? (Dt 4:5-7) In today’s first reading, the Lord says, “I, the Lord, your God, teach you what is good for you, I lead you in the way that you must go.”
Laws are never meant to stifle us. They are the wisdom of God to guide us in our daily life and in making decisions. To despise the Laws of God is to disregard His advice as to how we should live our lives. We cannot live a life of true freedom unless we learn to trust in His Wisdom expressed in the laws. This is what the scripture lessons of today are challenging us. Are we ready to give up our mindset and our views of life and happiness for that of our Lord’s? Or do we still insist on our standards of what happiness entails in life? It is our stubborn will and selfishness that lead us to much pain and disastrous consequences. Like the Pharisees and the scribes, we find all kinds of reasons to reject the teaching of Christ. Indeed, Catholics are always seeking to find ways to avoid obeying the laws of the gospel and of the Church, especially in areas of morality. We criticize the Church’s authority and wisdom to teach us the truth about morality, as if we all know better than the Church’s magisterium, the theologians and those experts consulted in the area of ethics and morals. Like the religious leaders of the day who sought to find reasons to reject Jesus and John the Baptist. Either way, they would not accept either the call to asceticism by John the Baptist or the way of celebration by Jesus. Hence, it is not that there is no solution for us to find our way out but we are not ready to follow it.
However, if we do follow the way of the Lord, then we are promised happiness, integrity and fecundity. Through Isaiah, the Lord promised us, “If only you had been alert to my commandments, your happiness would have been like a river.” Indeed, it is our failure to observe the commandments of God and His Wisdom that has landed us in trouble because of our ignorance and self-will. But if we simply follow His commandments, we would have been spared the consequences of our follies, and happiness would have flowed like a river, unceasingly in our lives.
Secondly, walking the way of the Lord is to live integrated lives. If there is no peace in us, it is because we live a double life. Our hearts are divided within us. Our mind tells us something but our heart desires something else. We are torn within us. Either way, we are not happy, nor at peace. We need to align our mind and heart so that we can find peace and a clear conscience. Otherwise, our heart will fight with our conscience and we will always be unsettled. That is why finding peace requires integrity. The prophet assures us that if we follow the way of the Lord, our integrity will be “like the waves of the sea.” If we want to find peace, then we must walk in the way of the just. “Those who follow you, Lord, will have the light of life. Blessed the man who follows not the counsel of the wicked nor walks in the way of sinners, nor sits in the company of the insolent.”
Thirdly, those who follow the wisdom of the Lord will always be fruitful in whatever they do. The prophet said, “Your children would have been numbered like the sand, your descendants as many as its grains.” In a similar vein, the psalmist declares, “He is like a tree planted near running water, that yields its fruit in due season and whose leaves never fade. Whatever he does, prospers.” Truly, if we have a clear mind and a good heart, then we have nothing to fear or be worried about unnecessarily. When we are sincere and truthful, we will be able to deal accordingly with the situation called for. Quite often, many of us are failures because we allow our problems and anger within us to hinder us from giving ourselves fully to the task at hand. Instead of working towards our goals, we are strategizing how to defeat our enemies. Instead of improving ourselves, we are more worried about how to destroy them.
So if we want to live happy, integrated and fruitful lives, the psalmist urges us to meditate on the Word of God constantly. He said, those who delight “in the law of the Lord and meditates on his law day and night” will peace and happiness. God said, “Never would your name have been cut off or blotted out before me.” Conversely, there is a warning to those who refuse to follow the Lord. “Those who follow you, Lord, will have the light of life. Not so the wicked, not so; they are like chaff which the wind drives away. For the Lord watches over the way of the just, but the way of the wicked vanishes.”
At the end of the day, it is not just mere words, but as Jesus challenges us, “Yet wisdom has been proved right by her actions.” The taste of the pudding is in the eating. If we want to know whether God’s promises are true or not, then we only need to meditate and live the Word of God. Time will prove that God’s wisdom is greater than man’s. God will in His time show us how wrong we are. As Jesus said in John’s gospel, “When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.” (Jn 16:8-11)
So let us take the courage and respond to the gospel. Let us pray for courage to give up our old way of life for the way of the Gospel this Advent. Nothing ventured nothing gained. So we must choose to walk the way of the Lord, the path of life. Instead of trusting in our own judgment, let us for once surrender our judgment to God. He will prove us wrong and we will be glad that we listened to Him rather than to ourselves. Let us not find excuses anymore. Let us not find fault with the Word of God, rather, let us examine ourselves and see the truth about ourselves. Instead of blaming others for our misery, let us own up to our failures and sins; and with humility, ask for forgiveness and pardon. We are as much at fault as others. To think that others are causing us to be miserable is but a failure to realize that we are causing others to suffer as much or even more. So when the gospel is preached to us, unlike the Jews, we must in all humility accept the Word of God for what it really is, as a judgment on us calling for our repentance.
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.
Note: You may share this reflection with someone. However, please note that reflections are not archived online, nor will they be available via email request.