STAYING FOCUSED UNDER TRIAL
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ 2 TIMOTHY 4:10-17; LUKE 10:1-4 ]
“The Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them out ahead of him, in pairs, to all the towns and places he himself was to visit.” But the Lord did not simply send them out without informing them of the challenges they would face in their mission. Jesus never hid from His disciples the trials and sufferings of the apostolate. He always spoke plainly to them about what it takes to be a disciple. Earlier on, in the Beatitudes, He said to them, “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.” (Lk 6:22f) Then, after the appointment of the Twelve and Peter’s declaration about Jesus, He said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.” (Lk 9:23f)
In sending out the 72 disciples, Jesus also warned them accordingly of the dangers ahead of them. Right from the outset, He said, “Start off now, but remember, I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.” Indeed, even with the good intentions of sharing the Good News, saving souls, healing hearts and empowering people, there will always be those who will oppose us because of jealousy, perceived threats to their vested interests, ego and pride. Indeed, Paul wrote, “Alexander the coppersmith has done me a lot of harm; the Lord will repay him for what he has done. Be on your guard against him yourself; because he has been bitterly contesting everything that we say.”
Sometimes, we are abandoned in our mission. Paul was disappointed by some of his collaborators when they left him in the lurch halfway in the mission, as Mark did initially. But in a more disappointing case, he said, “Demas has deserted me for love of this life and gone to Thessalonika.” Paul felt the sense of abandonment when he wrote, “Crescens has gone to Galatia and Titus to Dalmatia; only Luke is with me.” St Paul spoke of his many betrayals by those whom he worked with. This is not surprising, even Jesus was betrayed by His apostles, some because of fear and others because of selfish reasons. What is worse is when we need their help most and they are not there to stand up for us. This was what Paul felt when he wrote, “The first time I had to present my defences, there was not a single witness to support me. Every one of them deserted me.'”
Regardless, we should not allow such trials to distract us from our mission. We must remain focused on our mission. This was what the Lord advised the disciples. “Salute no one on the road.” In other words, do not be easily distracted and tempted by the world, be it glory or pleasure or even suffering. For this reason, we should “stay in the same house, taking what food and drink they have to offer, for the labourer deserves his wages; do not move from house to house. Whenever you go into a town where they make you welcome, eat what is set before you.” We should remain contented with what we have.
We must keep in mind our mission of proclaiming the Good News to the poor, materially and spiritually poor. Our task is to bring the gospel of peace. Jesus reminds us, “Whatever house you go into, let your first words be, ‘Peace to this house!’ And if a man of peace lives there, your peace will go and rest on him; if not, it will come back to you.” We must be mediators of peace and be peacemakers. This peace comes about when we help people to be reconciled with God and with each other through forgiveness.
Most of all, we must be those who come to heal the wounded, the sick and the troubled. Jesus asked of us, “Cure those in it who are sick, and say, ‘The kingdom of God is very near to you.'” Unless, we heal the broken hearted, it would be difficult for them to believe that God is near. This was what the Lord took upon Himself when He started His ministry. The manifesto was from Isaiah 61. “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Isa 61:1f; Lk 4:18f)
Indeed, being peacemakers and healers of wounds are ways we “make known the glorious splendor of your reign” as the psalmist prayed. “All your creatures shall thank you, O Lord, and your friends shall repeat their blessing. They shall speak of the glory of your reign and declare your might, O God. They make known to men your mighty deeds and the glorious splendor of your reign. Yours is an everlasting kingdom; your rule lasts from age to age.” The Kingdom of God is the reign of God’s love and mercy seen in the restoration of creation through the establishment of peace, justice and equality.
However, the call to proclaim the gospel is not for the weak and faint-hearted but the strong. A weak faith cannot sustain us in the apostolate. This is the challenge for many Catholics, especially those who are not well-formed in the faith and are not undergoing on-going formation spiritually and doctrinally but involved in Church ministry, particularly those who have just completed their RCIA or those who have just been renewed and returned to the Church. In the face of trials, misunderstanding or opposition, they become disillusioned and disheartened. Instead of being strengthened in the faith through service in the apostolate, they become bitter and resentful. They fail to realize that even whilst serving in the Church, there will be fellow Catholics and not just non-believers who will attack them and thwart their good deeds and intentions. Instead of persevering, they give up not just on the Church but on God as well.
If we are to be like St Paul, we need to learn to depend on the Lord. The psalmist assures us, “The Lord is just in all his ways and loving in all his deeds. He is close to all who call him, who call on him from their hearts.” We cannot depend on our own strength and efforts alone. Rather, we must call out to God as Jesus did, going to the mountain and desert to pray in the early hours of the morning. Without intimacy with the Lord and basking in His love and enlightened by His Word, we cannot find the courage and inspiration to continue the mission. Only then can we remain focused and transcend our enemies. Like St Paul, we too must commend everything to the Lord as Christ Himself did when He prayed for His enemies on the cross. So too St Paul made excuses for his enemies, for those who were weak, instead of holding grudges in his heart. He wrote, “May they not be held accountable for it.”
That is why the Lord told the disciples, “Carry no purse, no haversack, no sandals.” This is to remind them that the mission is not the work of human hands but the work of God. The Lord works through and in us. This motif is repeated in the bible in many different ways. When David fought with Goliath, he said, “that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hand.” (1 Sm 17:46f) Total reliance and dependence on Him alone is the cause of our victory. This was what St Paul felt when he wrote, “But the Lord stood by me and gave me power, so that through me the whole message might be proclaimed for all the pagans to hear.” The Lord will never leave us completely alone. The Lord encourages us that as far as possible, we should proclaim the gospel, never alone but with our brothers and sisters. We must bear in mind that the Lord “sen(t) them out in pairs” to strengthen them in their mission. Mission must be accomplished in communion with the Lord and His Church. In this way, our mission would be fruitful.
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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