WALKING IN THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ Is 50:5-9; Ps 114:1-6,8-9; Jas 2:14-18; Mk 8:27-35 ]
Jesus called the people and His disciples to Him and said, “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me.” We cannot help but see the candidness of Jesus when He called His disciples to follow Him. He did not promise them an easy and comfortable life on earth. He did not promise them power, wealth and glory. Instead He made it clear that His disciples would have to take up their own cross and walk after Him. This seems like a tall order.
Indeed, Bonhoeffer in his book, “The Cost of Discipleship” said, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” This is such a demanding price for discipleship. Why would anyone want to follow Jesus to die? What the world fears most today, according to Pope Emeritus Benedict, is death, but they do not fear eternal death! Jesus in the gospel warns us, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Mt 10:28) Indeed, the modern man is most fearful of death. It is the greatest enemy of man because he feels powerless in the face of death. Man might try to pretend that death wouldn’t come, he will try to prolong it, mask it, but death is inevitable. St Paul said, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (1 Cor 15:26)
How can this be good news? The reason why we follow Jesus is to find happiness in life, to be freed from pain and suffering, which we all dread. Even St Peter resisted this possibility when the Lord prophesied, “that the Son of Man was destined to suffer grievously, to be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and to be put to death.” Peter was scandalized and wanted to protect Jesus, so taking Him aside, he “started to remonstrate with him.” In no uncertain terms and without fear of losing His disciples, Jesus was clear about the way to life, “But, turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said to him, ‘Get behind me, Satan! Because the way you think is not God’s way, but man’s.'”
What, then, is the way of God to life? Jesus said, “For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” The way to live is to die to self, for Him and for the sake of the gospel. There are three motives for dying.
Dying to self is the first condition to finding life. This is because so long as we are focused on ourselves, we will be absorbed by our needs, self-interests, insecurities and the problems that come with them. Many of us are so protective of our lives that we never live for fear of death and suffering. But life is lived when there is adventure, surprises and when we go beyond ourselves. By living our lives courageously and taking risks, we stretch our limits and fulfill our potentials. When we give ourselves to others, our time, services and even resources, what we receive may not so much be tangible goods but the love of people and a sharing in their joy and gratitude. When we see how much joy and happiness we can give to others by our sharing, this in itself is a most fulfilling experience. Indeed, by emptying ourselves of our pride, our insecurities, our resources, we are filled with their love and joy.
By not hoarding what we have and sharing with others, we experience a freedom and joy that no amount of wealth can give us. On the contrary, the more wealth we have, the more insecure and uneasy we are, because we fear that we might lose them one day when we have not even begun to make use of them. Those who share their wealth with others are blessed in return by the Lord. St Paul wrote, “God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.” (cf 2 Cor 9:8-11)
By loving all men and women, we go beyond the confines of the few people that we love. The more we love, the more our heart is capable of receiving love and giving love. Those who love little will receive little love because their heart is too small to receive more love than what God wants to give them. That is why when we love like Jesus who gave up His life for us, we will enjoy the fullness of God’s love as Jesus did. Hence, Christian love is inclusive love. This is what St James exhorted the Christians, “Take the case, my brothers, of someone who has never done a single good act but claims that he has faith. Will that faith save him? Faith is like that: if good works do not go with it, it is quite dead.” Indeed, only when we love like Jesus, can we then partake of the love that He enjoyed with His Father.
To be able to love generously, unconditionally and inclusively like Jesus, we need to lose our life for His sake. Christian love goes beyond humanitarian love; that is, caring for our brothers and sisters because we feel with them in their pain and suffering. This is still on the level of human love. Christian love needs to go beyond just feeling with our fellowmen in their needs. It must find strength from our love for the Lord. We are motivated to love because God loves us first in Jesus and we want to show our love for Him in return. Because of His love for us, we too wish to die for Him and live with Him completely. Before the death of our Lord, the disciples were still worldly in their motives in following Him. But upon seeing the way He died for them and how He forgave them and His enemies, the disciples no longer sought for the glory, wealth and power of the world. Instead they were ready to suffer humiliation, persecution and even death for our Lord.
For the love of someone, we are willing to die. This is true even in human love. For the love of their children, parents are willing to give up their lives, everything they have. Isn’t it true that for the average family, two-thirds of the earnings of parents are spent on the education, needs and welfare of their children? And if their children were to fall sick, they would use all their resources to restore them to health. But St Paul wrote about Jesus’ love for us, which goes beyond just loving those whom we love. He said, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:6-8)
This brings us to the third motivation for dying, namely, “for the sake of the gospel.” The love of Jesus was the motivation for St Paul dedicating himself totally to the proclamation of the gospel. He said, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God.” (Gal 2:20-21) It is this love that filled St Paul with the desire to communicate God’s love to all. He wanted to proclaim to all that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God so that all can find salvation in Him by taking up their cross and follow Jesus, walk with Him and die with Him, so that all can find life, true love, joy and freedom. St Paul lived out His faith in Christ by his love for Him and for all that Jesus loved.
St James exhorted the Christians who claimed to have faith in Christ. “You say you have faith and I have good deeds; I will prove to you that I have faith by showing you my good deeds – now you prove to me that you have faith without any good deeds to show.” If we have faith in Christ, then love must be the manifestation. Otherwise, as St John wrote, “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us – and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?” (cf 1 Jn 3:16-18) This love would even be extended to our enemies, as Jesus did. “For my part, I made no resistance, neither did I turn away. I offered my back to those who struck me, my cheeks to those who tore at my beard. I did not cover my face against insult and spittle.” This is the utter love that encompasses all. This is the heart of God’s love that we are called to participate in so that the fullness of life and love may be ours.
But we cannot do this on our own strength. The capacity to love must first come from His love. Isaiah said, “The Lord comes to my help, so that I am untouched by the insults. So, too, I set my face like flint; I know I shall not be shamed. My vindicator is here at hand.” Similarly, the psalmist echoes this, “I love the Lord for he has heard the cry of my appeal; for he turned his ear to me in the day when I called him.” Only His love can help us to die for Jesus and for the gospel and for others. So wrote, St John, “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.” (1 Jn 4:10-12)
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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