GOD’S POWER TRANSFORMS US FROM WITHIN
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ 1 Kings 18:41-46; Ps 65:10-13; Matthew 5:20-26 ]
How are you feeling? Some of you might be in the desert, like the Israelites facing a long drought. Some of us are unhappy with our life. We are not happy where we are and what we are, whether with our marriage or our work. We find life meaningless and empty. Some of us live in fear and anxiety about the future and as a result, are greedy like King Ahab. Others are unhappy with people around us, not just with our enemies but even with our friends and loved ones. We are always fighting with people whom we see as obstructing our will to do what we want and how we live. Very often, we tend to blame people. We pick on others. We look for scapegoats for our failures and mistakes in life instead of recognizing that it is our fault as well. This was the case of the people of Israel. They were unfaithful to the covenant. Instead of looking at themselves, they looked for other causes.
When we live superficially and lack authenticity in the way we live our lives, especially in relationships, we will be exposed eventually. That is what Jesus is warning us in today’s gospel, “Come to terms with our opponent in good time while you are still on the way to the court with him, or he may hand you over to the judge and the judge to the officer, and you will be thrown into prison. I tell you solemnly, you will not get out till you have paid the last penny.” This is the price for our folly and lack of integrity. Our friends will see how fake we are. When they come to realize how inward-looking and self-centered we are and that we are doing things only to win their attention, they will dump us. We want genuine people who are not necessarily perfect but are honest with themselves, are striving to improve themselves and willing to admit their mistakes. When people put up a show and live a life of pretense, we don’t want them as friends.
Rather, Jesus asks us to look deep within us. He warns us against behaving like the Pharisees and the scribes who lived superficially by impressing to get attention, glory and honour. They fulfilled the laws only to feel justified before men and God. There was much pride and self-righteousness in the way they conducted themselves. That is why Jesus invites us to live deeply. He says, “If your virtue goes not deeper than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven.”
So we must come to terms with ourselves, our brokenness and our goodness. We must learn to connect with ourselves. Hence, we must ask ourselves the reasons for our misery and emptiness. What is causing us to be so full of anger, vindictiveness, hatred, intolerance and unforgiveness? Even anger for Jesus is but the sign of a deeper issue affecting us and causing us to hurt others and in the process, hurt ourselves. Jesus said, “You have learnt how it was said to our ancestors: You must not kill; and if anyone does kill he must answer for it before the court. But I say this to you: anyone who is angry with his brother will answer for it before the court; if a man calls his brother, ‘Fool’ he will answer for it before the Sanhedrin; and if a man calls him ‘Renegade’ he will answer for it in hell fire.”
Happiness in life requires us to live deeply. To live deeply means to live a life of God. How can one live deeply? Firstly, we must remove our sins, especially of anger and revenge. When we are angry, we cannot look at things objectively. Our sins cause us to be blind. This is why the Lord asks us to forgive our brothers and sisters. When we are not at peace with ourselves and with others, we act out of our wounds and pain. Indeed, most of us react to situations rather than act. The fact that we are reacting means that we are not dealing with the events and challenges objectively. We need to heal the pains that come from old wounds, especially those traumatic events in our lives inflicted on us, especially by our loved ones, parents, siblings and relatives. Anger is the cause of misery.
Secondly, to live deeply requires that we live our faith deeply, not just a superficial faith or ritualistic faith but authentically. This is to say that we must believe deeply in our hearts what we believe in. The trouble is that many of us do not truly believe in what we have been taught. We only pay lip service to the Word of God and the doctrines of the Church. We are not completely sold on the teachings of the Church because we tend to listen more to the world’s views than the Church’s views. Our faith in Christ and in the Bible is superficial. We are more concerned with external practices and obligations, believing that if we observe some of the rules, we can count ourselves as good Catholics. The truth is that we are not saved by good works but by Christ’s forgiving love and mercy on the cross. Unless we come to understand this truth, we will always see religion as a set of practices rather as an invitation to love and live like Christ who shows us the way to fullness of life.
The fruits of our salvation are demonstrated in a virtuous life transformed in Christ. Indeed, Jesus makes it clear that “If your virtue goes not deeper than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven.” It is more than just performing some pious exercises. Rather, it is to allow the saving work of Christ to show its effects in our lives by allowing His Spirit to work in and through us. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.” (Gal 5:22f, 25ff)
Thirdly, to live deeply means going beyond the letter of the law to the Spirit. This is the intention of Jesus with regard to the teaching on anger. On the surface, we think anger is quite acceptable because many of us get angry easily. He saw it as a deeper issue. He is against all forms of anger as it would lead to shouting, verbal abuse, violence and even killing. So, it is more than just breaking the law. If we do not reconcile, we will be led to greater evil. The separation will cause greater misunderstanding and make us lose our peace of mind. It prevents us from worshipping God totally and blocks our hearts from entering the love of God. When we are not in union with God, then other issues will arise. That is why the Lord advises us accordingly, “So then, if you are bringing your offering to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar, go and be reconciled with your brother first, and then come back and present your offering.”
In the same vein, offering worship to God is not just an external performance of sacrifices. Love of God and love of our fellowmen go together. Jesus makes it clear that these two commandments are inseparable, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Mt 22:37-40) John is even more explicit. “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. ‘The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.” (1 Jn 4:20f)
Consequently, today, we are called to follow Elijah in developing a personal relationship with the Lord rooted in faith and trust. It was his faith in the Lord and His power that enabled him to pray with expectation that the Lord would fulfil what he asked of Him. His fervent prayer brought about the rain. And he said, “Go up, say to Ahab, ‘Prepare your chariot and go down, lest the rain stop you.’ And in a little while the heavens grew black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain.” The Lord too wants to send down His blessings on us. But we must surrender to Him in prayer. We must cultivate a personal faith in the Lord Jesus. Only then, can we live our lives authentically, in the power of the Spirit, in truth and in love. Just as the hand of the Lord was on Elijah, so too, His hand would also be on us if we seek Him with all our hearts, turn away from sin, live in truth and love, and in integrity, and not follow the bad example of King Ahab whose insincerity caused him and his family to suffer.
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.