LETTING GO OF AMBITION AND PRIDE
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ DT 34:1-12; PS 66:1-3,5,16-17; MT 18:15-20 ]
Pride is the cause of our sins. Most of our problems stem from a low self-esteem and a lack of self-confidence. This explains why many of us are ambitious, winning laurel after laurel to prove to ourselves and to others that we are good enough, intelligent and capable. We want to feel good about ourselves. That is why we compete with others to climb to the top. But the truth is that we will never be good enough for everyone and we can never be the best as there will always be others who are better than us in other things.
Pride also leads to anger, resentment and grudges. This is especially so when others have more than us or are better than us and are more popular and loved. We want to compare and when others are better than us, we fall into the sin of envy. Pride also insists on justice and the need to secure our rights. We become reactive and vindictive when our rights are compromised. We feel the need to defend our rights and take what belongs to us. We are always worried about how people think of us rather than how we think of ourselves.
But today we are called to see the bigger picture of life. Whilst ambition and justice are important, they are not everything. It is right to have an ambition in life so that we can live a purposeful and meaningful life. It is not wrong to demand for your rights. Yet, if we spend all our time winning crown after crown, and fighting with our opponents, we will feel drained and so sapped of energy that we have little left to enjoy life with our friends and loved ones. We will be pursuing goals that can never be realized because there will be always another goal to achieve.
Indeed, the Lord told Moses to let go of his ambition. Whilst Moses had done much to set His people free from the slavery of the Egyptians, formed a motley crowd of people into a nation and preparing them to enter the Promised Land after 40 years in the desert, He would not be allowed to enter into it. The Lord said to him, “This is the land I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, saying: I will give it to your descendants. I have let you see it with your own eyes, but you shall not cross into it.’”
Moses accepted the will of God and His plan for himself and the people. Moses did not appeal to the Lord to give him the opportunity to see through until the mission was accomplished. He was ready to surrender everything into the hands of God. He did not insist that since he rescued the people from Egypt and brought them out and up, he deserved the right to lead them into the Promised Land. This is so unlike most of us when we bargain with the Lord that we be given the grace to see through what we started. Parents when sick often pray that they will live till they are able to see their children graduate, get married and have a child. They feel the need for closure before they leave the world.
But God was saying to Moses to leave everything into His hands. He knew best and He knew what to do. God had His plans in place. God had already prepared his successor in the person of Joshua. He “was filled with the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands on him. It was he that the sons of Israel obeyed, carrying out the order that the Lord had given to Moses.” In other words, no one is indispensable. God will see through His projects and plans. We need not worry about what will happen when we are no longer around. Hence, the Lord gave Moses a preview of what He intended to give to the people of Israel. “Leaving the plains of Moab, Moses went up Mount Nebo and the Lord showed him the whole land.” With or without Moses, the plan of God would be realized.
We must learn from Moses to graciously let go and let God take over. It is true that no one could replace Moses for he was an exceptional leader. “Since then, never has there been such a prophet in Israel as Moses, the man the Lord knew face to face. What signs and wonders the Lord caused him to perform in the land of Egypt against Pharaoh and all his servants and his whole land! How mighty the hand and great the fear that Moses wielded in the sight of all Israel!” Yet, we can trust that it is not in our hands or power but in the hands and power of God. As leaders, we are simply laying the foundation for the next leader to bring the organization to a higher level. So in truth, we build upon each other’s successes and failures. But at the end of the day, it is God’s work, not ours. Like the psalmist, we pray, “Cry out with joy to God all the earth, O sing to the glory of his name. O render him glorious praise. Say to God: ‘How tremendous your deeds!’ Come and see the works of God, tremendous his deeds among men. Come and hear, all who fear God. I will tell what he did for my soul: to him I cried aloud, with high praise ready on my tongue.” All glory be to God alone.
Indeed, in life, we must remember that God has a plan for each one of us. We are not here permanently but are pilgrims along the way. As William Shakespeare in his play, “As you like it”, said, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages.” So let us not cling to our positions, to our offices and roles that we play in this life. We should simply do our best, play our part and when it is time to exit, exit graciously and not grudgingly. Life on this earth is temporary, so is everything else – money, health, beauty, accomplishments, power, position and fame. All these things do not last. Our real heaven and the true Promised Land is in heaven where we get our final reward. This was what Moses was to arrive at, not the earthly Promised Land. But he had a foretaste of what the heavenly Promised Land was like – much greater than what he could see.
However, the Kingdom of God is not built in a day. Already during the time of Matthew’s Christian community, there were quarrels, misunderstandings and scandals. This was the context of the evangelist in citing the advice of Jesus in handling difficult matters in the community, especially errant members. Whether these are the real words of Christ or the thoughts of Jesus reinterpreted by the early Christian community, the truth remains that there is no perfect community. If Catholics are scandalized by the sins and weaknesses of fellow Christians and Church leaders, it is because they are not realistic about themselves. As Jesus said to the adulterous woman, “Has no one condemned you? Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” (Jn 8:10f)
But it is important to take note of the process. Underpinning the whole process of fraternal correction is dialogue in truth and in charity. It is not about revenge and seeking to destroy the sinner or seeking punishment on someone who has wronged us. Unfortunately, when we seek justice, we are in truth seeking revenge; not the restoration of the social order. We just want the person who hurt us to be punished, not so much corrected or to repent. Hence, the procedures taught by the Lord involves a series of steps. Firstly, to have it out quietly with the person concerned. If he refuses to listen, find some others to mediate. Only when that fails, is it then to be reported to the authorities. But how many of us observe the instructions of our Lord in dealing with errant Catholics? We report them immediately to the authorities so that they could be humiliated and be given the punishment that we hope to see. Underlying such desire is the inability to let go and let God take over. We cannot let go of our anger and vindictiveness. But Jesus is asking us, as He asked Moses, to let go of our attachment to our pride. Jesus said, “But if he refuses to listen to these, report it to the community, treat him like a pagan or a tax collector.” In other words, let him be and allow the grace of God to bring him back at the proper time. We cannot force people to be converted. They need self-awareness and grace is required. We need to wait for God’s time. Reconciliation and repentance cannot be rushed.
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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