SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ 2 Cor 6:1-10; Ps 98:1-4; Mt 5:38-42 ]
St Paul in the first reading reminds us that we are all God’s fellow workers in His vineyard, regardless what vocation we have in life. By virtue of our baptism, which is our common vocation and calling, all of us have received the grace of God. Yet, there is a real danger as St Paul urges us, “not to neglect the grace of God that you have received.” Unfortunately, many of us take the graces and blessings of God for granted. We forget that whatever the Lord has blessed us with; they are for the service of His kingdom and His people. Regardless whether we are teachers, doctors, priests, entrepreneurs or government servants, we are called to use our talents and resources to build up the people of God.
The reality is that many of us are counter-witnesses to our faith. If many have left the Church or do not join the Church, it is because we are not only not witnessing to Christ but worse of all, we are a scandal to non-believers and fellow Catholics. That is why St Paul reminds us that we should “do nothing that people might object to, so as not to bring discredit on our function as God’s servants.” Indeed, many Catholics have left the Church because of the scandalous and contradictory lifestyle and unbecoming conduct of priests and religious. Lay leaders, ministry members and Church members are not exonerated. Many are shocked and disgusted with how some active Church members behave towards their fellow Catholics; they are rude, arrogant, insensitive and always seeking glory and recognition, thinking about themselves more than others.
It is one thing to call ourselves the servants of God and another thing to be one. Many of us do not reflect the compassionate love and mercy of Christ. Many of us call our spouse, our better half, but it is just empty words because if we really see them as our better half, we will always defer to our spouse. So too, many call themselves parents but they are more like disciplinary masters or financial controllers as they are totally disconnected with the lives of their children. Some call themselves doctors but they do not put the saving of life above all other considerations. Teachers are supposed to teach what is right, true and good but they impart the wrong messages to those under their care.
The scripture readings today provide us the high expectations required of God’s servants. There are so many, as enumerated by St Paul. So I would just single out a few for our consideration in today’s reflection. Among these attributes, the first is that we must have a heart of compassion. Jesus taught us, “If anyone orders you to go one mile, go two miles with him. Give to anyone who asks, and if anyone wants to borrow, do not turn away.” St Paul wrote, “We prove we are God’s servants by our purity, knowledge, patience and kindness.” Compassion for our brothers and sisters means that we need to be identified with them in their aspirations, struggles, joys and sorrows. It is from a spirit of compassion that our hearts are open to others.
Secondly, there must be generosity of heart. This is the basic requirement for anyone who wants to serve God, whether as priests, religious or in Church ministry or NGO helping the poor and the marginalized. This generosity to serve, to give and to help is a pre-requisite. If someone is not capable of generosity, he cannot be a servant of God. No matter how talented he might be, or passionate about what he or she is doing, without generosity of heart, he would end up serving himself, not the people. It is about himself, not others.
Thirdly, a servant of God must have a spirit of equanimity and detachment. In other words, he sees everything from the perspective of love. Things and possessions are only means by which we can help others. They are not the ends themselves. Whatever we have, we should not be too attached to them. However, it does not mean that we be irresponsible with the gifts God has given to us. We are merely stewards of God’s grace and blessings. If we can use them for the good and service of others, then we are ready to part with our resources. This is what St Paul meant when he wrote, “prepared for honour or disgrace, for blame or praise; taken for impostors while we are genuine; obscure yet famous; said to be dying and here are we alive; rumoured to be executed before we are sentenced.” A servant of God is truly free only when he has a disinterested spirit with respect to things, resources, glory and honor. A person who is free from attachment to things is always joyful. This is why St Paul could say that we are “thought most miserable and yet we are always rejoicing; taken for paupers though we make others rich, for people having nothing though we have everything.”
Fourthly, a servant of God must exercise “a love free from affection.” In other words, our love is unconditional. Romance and love for friends and our loved ones, whilst good, is mutual. It is not the highest form of love because we receive as much as we give. It is still a pagan love because we love those who love us. But if we are servants of God, we are called to serve all peoples, regardless who they are. Like public and government servants, they are called to serve all regardless of race, language and religion. To love without affection means to love without attachment and expectation of reward. This is the highest form of love because it is “agape”, the love of God, given to all. How many times have we been shown love and helped by strangers whom we would never be able to reciprocate or thank? Such unconditional love makes the gift even more precious because we know that it was given to us without any strings attached. It is pure love.
Fifthly, a servant of God must live “by the word of truth and by the power of God; by being armed with the weapons of righteousness.” He must be a man of integrity, live a just life and be fair to his fellowmen. He stands up for the truth and he is not afraid to do the right thing, not the popular thing. A leader who lacks impartiality, honesty and justice cannot be credible. A true leader embraces all and does not practice favoritism and, least of all, do things to favor his own kind or for his personal interests and gain.
To do all these, we need the one virtue that will make us outstanding servants of God, namely, fortitude. All the virtues mentioned are good but often we do not persevere, especially when we are persecuted, misunderstood, criticized or wrongly accused. We give up serving and doing good simply because some people criticized our work. We hear only negative voices that dampen our spirit and our resolve to get things done. St Paul showed his valor when he said, “We prove we are servants of God by great fortitude in times of suffering: in times of hardship and distress; when we are flogged, or sent to prison, or mobbed; labouring, sleepless, starving.” Leaders must be willing to suffer for what is right and good even when grossly misunderstood. If we are clear about our service and are free from personal gain or interests, we need not react to the negative criticisms and slanders of others. Most likely, the reason is because what we are doing affects their personal interests. That is why we must always serve with “purity, knowledge, patience and kindness.” When we have nothing to profit from our service, there is nothing for us to defend. This explains why Jesus could ask of us, “offer the wicked man no resistance. On the contrary, if anyone hits you on the right cheek, offer him the other as well; if a man takes you to law and would have your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.” One who is pure in service does not react to opposition but simply keeps his focus on his mission and vision. He keeps his head above those who oppose him simply because he has nothing to lose.
Indeed, at the end of the day, as servants of God, we must not think that it is in our power to live this kind of life or to do the things we want to do. Servants must allow their master to bring about what they have been told to do. It will be the power of the master that makes things happen. We are only servants and his instruments. So like St Paul, we do not rely on ourselves to be worthy servants of God, but we rely on His grace which is promised to us. “For he says: At the favourable time, I have listened to you; on the day of salvation I came to your help. Well, now is the favourable time; this is the day of salvation.” Again St Paul reminds us to live “by the word of truth and by the power of God.” The psalmist declares; “Sing a new song to the Lord for he has worked wonders. His right hand and his holy arm have brought salvation. The Lord has made known his salvation; has shown his justice to the nations. He has remembered his truth and love for the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.” It is the work of God, not the work of man! As St Paul says, “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.’ (2 Cor 11:30)
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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