SEEING ALL THINGS IN PERSPECTIVE WITH CHRIST
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ EZEKIEL 24:15-24; MATTHEW 19:16-22 ]
Like the rich man who came to Jesus seeking eternal life, many of us too are unsatisfied with our lives. Our lives might even be good in the eyes of the world, a good career, status, and a beautiful family. But something seems to be missing. So too we ask, “Master, what good deed must I do to possess eternal life.”
What was the response of Jesus? “There is one alone who is good. However, if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments. You must not kill. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not bring false witness. Honour your father and mother, and: you must love your neighbour as yourself.” These commandments that Jesus referred to all concern our relationship with our neigbours. The young man said, “I have kept all these. What more do I need to do?” It is significant that he had done what the commandments required and still he was not complete. Thus, he felt that perhaps he was not doing enough and needed to do more.
What was he lacking? He lacked the right motivation for doing what he did. This is true for us all. Many of us might observe the commandments to love our neighbours. We obey slavishly what the law requires of us. We become self-righteous. We feel good and great about ourselves that we have fulfilled the laws. However, that only draws us further from our fellowmen who are struggling to obey the laws. We lack compassion, understanding and forgiveness for their failures. In fact, some of us might even despise them for not living up to the standards of the gospel.
Then there are those who observe the commandment to love their neighbours more out of guilt than charity. They are doing well in life. They have plenty and are successful. They know that they are among the 1% who owns half of the world’s wealth, or the top 10% that holds 85% of the world’s wealth, or at least the top 30% that holds 97% of the total wealth of the world. So they feel guilty that they are enjoying so much of the world’s resources and out of guilt give a small token of what they have to the poor and society. Such giving is not motivated by charity but guilt when they see others who are so much poorer than them.
Others care for their neighbours because they feel good about being involved in all these activities. They are activists. They like to feel needed and be recognized or loved. So they are busy with all kinds of activities. The activities sustain them. Beneath the flurry of activities, there is a fear to confront one’s inner self and motives. Deep within, they are afraid to be lonely, to be without friends or they seek recognition. So they serve the poor, or rather, they make use of the poor or their services for their sense of self-worth.
And there are others who truly love their neighbours because of humanitarian reasons. They feel sorry for those who are poor, or a sense of responsibility towards their countrymen and society. They offer their services and their resources to help them. They spend their time serving the community and those who are in need. Still, after all that they have done, there seems to be something lacking in their lives. There is a gnawing feeling that there is something more.
What is lacking? It is God. This is why the Lord told the rich man, “If you wish to be perfect, go and sell what you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” To be perfect is to find completion in God alone. If you desire to make your life complete, then what is necessary is not so much that we give our money to the poor, rather it is in order that we can follow Jesus. Eternal life is to share in the life of Jesus. God comes to share with us His life in Christ. He wants us to enjoy the same intimacy that Jesus has with His Father. It is only when God is with us and in us, that we can find fulfillment in life. Without God, no matter what we do, life will not be complete. Salvation precisely is not by good works but faith in Christ as the revealer of the Father.
Putting God as the ultimate in our lives is the key to perfection of life. Our hearts are restless until we rest in God. However, we read that “when the young man heard these words he went away sad, for he was a man of great wealth.” He was not willing to put God as the center of his life. His wealth was his god. Although he did a lot of good works and was faithful to the commandments, he was still serving mammon and not God. His priority in life was not God but himself, his security and his wealth. This was the case of the Israelites in today’s first reading. They worshipped money, power and idols rather than God. Indeed, as the psalmist says, “You forget the Rock who begot you, unmindful now of the God who fathered you.”
To put God as the focus of our lives does not mean always that we are to give away everything to the poor. God might not want us to give away everything to the poor and follow Him as priests, religious and missionaries do. Different people are chosen for different vocations, marriage, family and service to the country. However, the motive in all that we do must be correct. It must be done with the love of God in mind. In the final analysis, we must love God and put Him first above all things. This is what the Lord taught, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'” (Mt 23:37-39) The problem with the rich man and many of us is that we love our wealth and for some, our neighbours first.
So when we love God above all things, then we will know how and what we should do with ourselves, our resources and our time. Everything we have is meant for His service and for the love of neighbour. What we do should spring from our love for God and then expressed concretely in our daily life where we are called to help and serve. That is why when we put God as the centre of our lives, then we will be able to see in perspective the things of this world. We will realise that these are passing things and that they are not the ends themselves but the means through which we share in the life and love of God through service of our fellowmen. Loving God entails loving our neighbours because the life of God is love and emptying. But we do not love our neighbours or make use of them for our insecurity and fulfilment. Rather, it is because we are fulfilled and loved in Christ that we want to pour out our love for others.
This absolute commitment to the Lord is seen in today’s exemplary life of Ezekiel. God wanted to use him as a sign for the people of Israel who were unfaithful to Him. So He told Ezekiel that He was going to take away his wife from him. When that day comes, he was “not to lament, not to weep, not to let your tears run down. Groan in silence, do not go into mourning for the dead.” It must have been extremely difficult enough for him to lose his dear wife. However, not to be allowed to mourn for her was a double blow. Yet the prophet accepted the will of God in his life. He did not fight against God’s will because he knew that the death of his wife and being forbidden to mourn for her was to enable him to serve the greater good of his people. He was a prophetic sign to them to repent of their sins and to prepare them for the day when they had to be exiled to Babylon. We too must learn from the prophet to trust in God and to put our lives in complete surrender to His will and service. We must love Him above all things. By so doing, we will find the grace to be detached from the world and be available for the service of God. In this way, we share in the eternal life of God, a life of love and joy.
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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