HOPE AGAINST HOPE
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ JER 23:5-8; MATTHEW 1:18-24 ]
How can we believe that God is a just God when our lives do not seem to be happening the way we want? Our lives are fraught with so many challenges. We may be suffering from an incurable sickness, our children are not doing well in their studies, our marriage is not working out. Some of us are in financial difficulties. There is division and injustice in our workplace. How can we believe in the justice of God and that His promises would be fulfilled? How could we say with conviction that “in his days justice shall flourish, and peace until the moon fails.”? This is especially so when we see the rich prospering and the poor suffering. Or when the rich keeps striking lottery but the poor never gets lucky. Where is the justice of God in this world, we ask?
Today, we are called to take courage from the faith of the prophets, especially from Mary and Joseph. For the prophets who kept encouraging their people, it was almost a hopeless task and an impossible dream. How could they in all honesty assure the people that God’s justice would prevail, that He would restore the Davidic dynasty? This was so when we consider the situation they were in. After David and Solomon, the kings were rather inept. Many were bad and evil kings. King Ahaz was an apostate. Many lacked faith in God and abused their office. Against all odds, how could the prophets believe that God would be faithful to His promise to King David of an everlasting Kingdom. With the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile, all hopes were lost. At any rate it did not seem right even to hope for the restoration to take place because the kings had always proven to be wicked, self-serving, unjust and hopeless, one after another.
Yet, again and again, the prophets even before their time and the impossible situation they were in, would declare like the psalmist that God is just. “In his days justice shall flourish, and peace until the moon fails. For he shall save the poor when they cry and the needy who are helpless. He will have pity on the weak and save the lives of the poor.” So the prayer of the Israelites remained fervent and strong even in failure. “O God, give your judgement to the king, to a king’s son your justice, that he may judge your people in justice and your poor in right judgement.”
We have a similar situation in the gospel as well. Joseph was devastated when he discovered Mary to be pregnant. That was an undeniable fact. Secondly, that she was unfaithful to him was also an obvious fact, unless one believed in supernatural intervention. Thirdly, Joseph was a kind, forgiving and a just man. This situation could not continue and he had to find an amicable solution to save the situation for all. We can be sure that it was the most agonising and excruciating time of his life as he mulled over what to do. He came out with a natural solution which was to send Mary away quietly and divorce her.
For Mary, it was even more difficult for a young woman. No one was going to believe that she was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. She could not defend or justify herself. She must have felt helpless. She was faced with the prospect of being stoned to death. What would her future be like? So in faith, she allowed the natural course of development to take place. She was not rebellious or angry or felt the injustices of God who assured her that the Holy Spirit would overshadow her and remain with her to protect her and ensure that the impossible would happen. She went along with whatever the Lord willed for her, believing it to be His plan and His wisdom.
Yet, when we think that there is no hope, God showed forth His power to intervene. He is a God of surprises. With the Israelites in exile, He promised that a remnant would be left and from the stump would come a stock and He would be a virtuous king and restore justice and the kingdom of David. “See, the days are coming – it is the Lord who speaks – when I will raise a virtuous Branch for David who will reign as true king and be wise, practising honesty and integrity in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel dwell in confidence. And this is the name he will be called: The-Lord-our-integrity.”
And that they would return to Jerusalem and rebuild the city after their captivity. “So, then, the days are coming – it is the Lord who speaks – when people will no longer say, “As the Lord lives who brought the sons of Israel out of the land of Egypt!” but, “As the Lord lives who led back and brought home the descendants of the House of Israel out of the land of the North and from all the countries to which he had dispersed them, to live on their own soil.” But this seems too good to be true or even be realised. Was it just a dream and another empty promise as the past kings were miserably unfit to rule?
So too we read of the miraculous turn of Joseph. We see the hand of God’s intervention prompting Joseph to change his mind when he was enlightened that it was truly the work of God. More importantly, he even decided to remain faithful to Mary by taking her as his wife and remaining as a foster father to Jesus. Together with her, they remained celibate for the Lord; again almost an impossible task, especially when they lived together and, like any human being, had the need for human love.
What can we learn from them? We are called to trust in the wisdom of God and His plan. He knows what is best. We cooperate with Him as best we can in a natural way and leave the rest to God. He will fulfill His promises beyond our imagination. Just as the coming of Christ fulfilled the remote prophecies of the Messiah, so too He will fulfill His promises to us. We too can say, “In his days justice shall flourish, and peace until the moon fails. Blessed be the Lord, God of Israel, who alone works wonders, ever blessed his glorious name. Let his glory fill the earth. Amen! Amen!”
Indeed, we remember the words of Isaiah when the Lord spoke through him, “Remember this and be dismayed, stir your memories again, you sinners, remember things long past. I am God unrivalled, God who has no like. From the beginning I foretold the future, and predicted beforehand what is to be. I say: My purpose shall last; I will do whatever I choose. I call a bird of prey from the east, my man of destiny from a far country. No sooner is it said than done, no sooner planned than performed. Listen to me, faint hearts, who feel far from victory. I bring my victory near, already it is close, my salvation will not be late. I will give salvation to Zion, my glory shall be for Israel.” (Isa 46) All these are fulfilled at Christmas with the arrival of Christ the infant king of the Jews. God is a just and faithful God. We must trust that God is in charge of our lives. He knows what is best for us.
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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