PRIDE AND FEAR AS THE CAUSE OF OUR DOWNFALL
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ISA 7:1-9, MT 11:20-24 ]
In the first reading, we read of the precarious situation, Judah was in. She was under attack by the Northern Kingdom of Israel who was in league with the king of Aram to capture Jerusalem. Remaliah, king of Israel, “lay siege to it; but he was unable to capture it.” Of course, this brought fear into the hearts of the king of Judah and his people. They knew that they would not be able to hold out against their enemies for long. There would be bloodshed and destruction of the capital. “Then the heart of the king and the hearts of the people shuddered as the trees of the forest shudder in front of the wind.”
Surely we can empathize with the Ahaz, the king of Judah in his plight. Necessarily, if we were in that situation and especially if knowing our decision would affect the lives of so many people, we would have considered all the possible outcomes and made a logical and calculated decision to protect the country. If we were the king of Judah, what decision would we make? Most likely, the same logical decision as King Ahaz. Life is full of politics. We make use of one group of people to fight another. Therefore, in the mind of King Ahaz it would not be long before Judah would fall under siege from the kings of Israel and Aram. So in order to find military support, he welcomed the Assyrians to his country. She became affiliated with the powerful empire of Assyria, paying gold and silver as tribute to the Assyrians. Indeed, they eventually destroyed the Northern Kingdom. The inhabitants from the Northern Kingdom of Israel were the first batch of Israelites to be exiled in 722 B.C. As Isaiah prophesied, “Six or five years more and shattered Ephraim shall no longer be a people.”
However, by inviting the Assyrians into his kingdom, Ahaz created more trouble for his kingdom. With a foothold in the country, the Assyrians gradually weakened the city, attacking Judah a few times. However, it would be to the Babylonians that Judah would fall 250 years later, in 587 B.C. All these happened in fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah, when he said to King Ahaz, “These two smouldering stumps of firebrands, or because Aram, Ephraim and the son of Remaliah have plotted to ruin you, and have said: Let us invade Judah and terrorise it and seize it for ourselves, and set up a king there, the son of Tabeel. The Lord says this: ‘It shall not come true; it shall not be.’”
Indeed, the lack of wisdom prevents us from looking further into the implications of what we do for the future. This is the sadness and the lack of foresight of the world today. We look for instant benefits and pursue immediate gratification. But we will eventually suffer, as is already happening today – birth control, aging population, euthanasia, same-sex union, adoption of babies by same sex couples, divorce and falling marriages, dysfunctional families, etc. More and more, society will become dysfunctional. This explains all the senseless killings and murders in some countries.
Fear drove King Ahaz to put God outside his decision-making considerations. He did not trust in God enough to believe that He would be able to help him. He relied on his might and political maneuvering. He thought he knew better what to do instead of listening to the Word of God. This was in spite of the fact that God did not expect him to have pure faith in Him, as demonstrated by His wanting to authenticate His promise through the sign that He would give Him, “Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, ‘Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven’. But Ahaz said, ‘I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.’” (Isa 7:10-12) Isn’t this what we do as well? When we do not intend to listen to His word or do His will, we avoid praying or listening to His Word for fear that His word would prick our conscience and we would hesitate in carrying out our will.
If it is not fear that drives us to destruction, then it would be pride. This was certainly the case of the Jews living in Bethsaida, Chorazin and Capernaum. These were cities bordering the Sea of Galilee. These cities, Capernaum, Chorazin and Bethsaida formed what is called the “Evangelical Triangle,” the region where most of Jesus’ miracles were displayed (Mt. 11:20). In these three places, Jesus performed His miracles. They were the first cities that Jesus sought to evangelize and demonstrate the coming of God’s Kingdom through His miracles of healing and exorcism. Yet, the hearts of the people remained hardened. Hence Jesus said, “Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.” (Mt 7:6)
Yet, there is also a warning for those who reject the Lord in their lives because of other preoccupations. Those of us who have received more, more would be demanded of us. “For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” (Mt 25:29) Jesus is firm about the consequences for those who reject Him because they will bring about their own destruction. And as the Lord said, it would be worse than the punishment inflicted on the cursed cities of Tyre and Sidon. “Alas for you, Chorazin! Alas for you, Bethsaida! 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.” Self-sufficiency makes us proud and arrogant because we think we can do everything by ourselves. Only those who have suffered much in life know what humility is.
Indeed, the sin of pride is truly a great obstacle to anyone who wants to come close to God or to find the fullness of truth. For when we are proud or self-sufficient, we tend to rely on ourselves. Even if we pray to God, it is just a routine and at most a safety measure. But deep in our hearts, we are not too sure that God can be of real help to us. We take things into our own hands as Ahaz did. Pride prevents us from listening to others and trusting in our opinions only. The book of Proverb warns us, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” And to Capernaum, the Lord pronounced judgement as well. “And as for you, Capernaum, did you want to be exalted as high as heaven? You shall be thrown down to hell. For if the miracles done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have been standing yet. And still, I tell you that it will not go as hard as the land of Sodom on Judgement day as with you.’”
We need to pray for the gift of humility, because this is the gateway to faith in God. If many do not trust or believe in God, it is because they think they know better than God and that they can resolve all the mysteries of life on their own. Only in humility can we come to know where we stand as human beings in this world, our limitations and our total dependence on the blessings of God. We should be grateful for what we receive. This has always been the case for Mary and all the great saints in history. It was because of their humility that the Lord inspired them to do what they did. God always works great wonders for those who are humble in obeying His word, like the apostles and all holy men.
In the final analysis, we can live in peace, free from fear and anxiety only when we place all our hope in God. This is what the Prophet Isaiah says to us all. “Pay attention, keep calm, have no fear, do not let your heart sink. But if you do not stand by me, you will not stand at all.” Standing by the Lord Jesus is the only way to overcome all things in life. Faith in His saving grace and cooperating with Him fully is the way to surrendering all our fears to Him. As it is said, we must do our best and let God take care of the rest. We must not manipulate people but allow the process to unfold itself whilst we continue to work for Him. Faith and humility therefore are two virtues that go together because they are dependent on each other like brothers.
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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