THE TRAGEDY OF INDIFFERENCE AND INGRATITUDE
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ Ex 2:1-15; Ps 69:3, 14, 30-31, 33-34; Mt 11:20-24]
God is our deliverer and He is our savior. Indeed, it is God’s desire to save us. He has always wanted to save His people. It is significant that God saved us so that we can save others. God saved Moses so that he could save His people. The name given to Moses means “I draw you out of the waters.” In the responsorial psalm, the psalmist also prayed, “I have sunk into the mud of the deep and there is no foothold. I have entered the waters of the deep and the waves overwhelm me. This is my prayer to you, my prayer for your favour. In your great love, answer me, O God, with your help that never fails.” We, too, were in our sins and sank deep in the mess of life. But Christ saved us through the waters of baptism when we died to our sins. Through the passion and death of Christ, we are raised with Him in the resurrected life.
But we are not saved for our sake. We are always saved for others. When God delivered us, He had in mind for us to deliver others as well. That was the case of Moses when he was saved from the waters so that he could lead the people across the waters from slavery in Egypt to the freedom of the Promised Land. This was true of Peter and Paul as well. They were saved by the Lord, forgiven and set free. In turn they became great evangelizers. This is something we must never forget. God does not bless us just for our sake but for the sake of others. Moses, likewise, responded by protecting his countryman from being bullied by an Egyptian. He saw one of them being ill-treated and his natural instinct was to fight for his rights. Having been rescued himself, he did the same for others.
Only those who have suffered much can empathize much. We tend to champion the underdogs only because we were once underdogs ourselves. Those who have gone through difficult times can better identify with those who are suffering. That was why Jesus became man. He assumed our humanity, born into the poverty of His people and shared in the humanity of His people. For this reason, Jesus was a compassionate high priest. He understands our pains and our struggles. He feels with us in our sickness, alienation and rejection. We, too, especially when we become better off and or have recovered from our struggles or illnesses, should learn to be more compassionate with those who are suffering. The call to mission always springs from a desire to save and heal those who have suffered much like us.
But seeking to save others does not mean that we should right a wrong with another wrong. Quite often in the world, we see much violence in the name of justice. So called ‘religious people’ kill in the name of God. Those who champion justice would kill others to fight for their rights. We must be careful that we do not fall into extremes in the desire to help those who are in the same situation that we were in. That would be only a reaction, not an action on our part in the face of suffering. In the case of Moses, instead of helping the situation, he made it worse by killing the Egyptian. In his disgust, he allowed his anger against injustice done to his countryman to be expressed in violence. He took things into his own hands. He did not follow the right way in his desire for justice. To take a life is not in accordance with the plan of God. This is not the way to right a wrong. We cannot overcome evil with evil. “Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.” (Rom 12:17) St Paul made it clear. “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Rom 12:19-21)
As a result Moses had to flee “from Pharaoh and made for the land of Midian.” Perhaps, God needed to teach Moses the right way to deliver others from their misery. He had to understand the ways of God. He had to be healed of his old wounds first before he could heal others. Otherwise, when we act out of our raw wounds, we tend to be excessive and reactive towards the oppressors or in undertaking certain actions. St Paul preached at Damascus soon after his conversion and almost got himself murdered as well. (cf Acts 9:23-25) He, too, went away to Arabia to reflect on his conversion experience and grow in his relationship with the Lord. “Nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus.” (Gal 1:17) It is always dangerous when one acts from one’s wounds, as many do in their attempts to fight for the marginalized. It is said that oppressors were once a victim. So much so that in helping those who are suffering, we act from the raw wounds that are still hurting us.
On the other hand, there are those who, although have been helped and delivered, remain inward-looking. They take their privileges for granted, like the townsfolks from Chorazin and Bethsaida. “Jesus began to reproach the towns in which most of his miracles had been worked, because they refused to repent. For if the miracles done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. And still, I tell you that it will not go as hard on Judgement day with Tyre and Sidon as with you.” In spite of the miracles that Jesus performed for them, they were not responsive to the Good News. Their lives were not changed or transformed. Perhaps Jesus’ remark in the Sermon on the Mount, “Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swines, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you” (Mt 7:6), came from such encounters.
There are many who have taken for granted the blessings they received in life. Instead of being grateful and thankful to God and to those who have blessed them, they remain indifferent. This is the tragedy of life. There are some people who are so grateful for the little things we have done for them. They remember our kindness for life and in turn want to bless others with whatever blessings they have received. Indeed, we hear stories of those who have been helped by the Church when they were poor. Now that they have become rich, they recount their stories with gratitude to the Church for standing by them in those difficult times. They remain eternally grateful to God and the Church and seek to help those who are less fortunate.
Then there are others whom we have helped much, financially and in so many other ways. They take us for granted, remain unappreciative and demanding. What is most hurting is that those people whom we have sacrificed our lives for, given all we could and supported them in every way, would later turn against us. For such people, we do not condemn them. They deserve our pity rather than judgment. This was the way Jesus felt for those people in Chorazin and Bethsaida. He spoke out of sorrow for them rather than anger at their ignorance and indifference. At the end of the day, they were the ones who deprived themselves of the fullness of the grace of God’s blessings.
Today, we are called to be like the psalmist who is ever so grateful to God for delivering him from the troubles of life. “I have sunk into the mud of the deep and there is no foothold. I have entered the waters of the deep and the waves overwhelm me. In your great love, answer me, O God, with your help that never fails. As for me in my poverty and pain let your help, O God, lift me up. I will praise God’s name with a song; I will glorify him with thanksgiving. The poor when they see it will be glad and God-seeking hearts will revive; for the Lord listens to the needy and does not spurn his servants in their chains.” The Lord listens to the prayers of the needy and those in the depths of their pain. Filled with gratitude and joy, they glorify God in their lives. Let us not receive the grace of God in vain, like the people in the towns that Jesus preached.
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.
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