THE PATIENCE OF A TENDER LOVING GOD
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ Exodus 12:37-42; Matthew 12:14-21 ]
Patience is what we lack in the modern world. We are living in a fast-moving world. In a digital world, everything moves instantly. We can have information on anything in the world in seconds through the internet and on our mobile phones. Communication is also instant through mobile phone, SMS, FaceTime, etc. We also have instant food as well, precooked food that just requires heating up. Today, with the Mass Rapid Transport system, travelling is made faster and easier.
But the toil and the downside of a fast-moving world is impatience. We want things to be done quickly and fast. We cannot wait. We have become intolerant of those who are slow, dull or inefficient. We demand perfection and precision in everything, as in the case of technology. We have also become impatient and annoyed when people make mistakes. We want to make decisions fast and action to be taken immediately.
Fortunately, this is not the way God works. The truth is that God is a patient, long suffering and loving God. The psalmist says, “For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past, or like a watch in the night.” Man cannot wait, but He can wait, and is still waiting for man to repent and turn to the New Life He is offering us. St Peter wrote, “beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.” (2 Pt 3:8f) This is the message of today’s scripture readings.
In the book of Exodus, we read that “The time the sons of Israel had spent in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years, and on the very day the four hundred and thirty years ended, all the array of the Lord left the land of Egypt.” That was certainly a very long time. Singapore is only 54 years old as an independent nation! And we are just celebrating the founding of Singapore 200 years ago. But if we think that is long, we just have to see the time-line in which God fulfills His salvific plan for humanity. From the call of Abraham to the Patriarchs arriving in Egypt was more than 200 years. Then they spent 430 years in Egypt, followed by 40 years of wandering in the desert. By the time the promise to Abraham was fulfilled, when David became king in 1050, it was more than 1000 years. Then it took almost another 1000 years before Christ the Saviour of the world was born! Indeed, the plan of God unfolded gradually in time. God is patient and will wait for humanity to respond to His call.
Secondly, Israel took time to become a nation. God had to wait for the people to grow in number and strength before they could become a nation. We read earlier on that “all the persons belonging to Jacob who came into Egypt, who were his own offspring, not including the wives of his sons, were sixty-six persons in all. The children of Joseph, who were born to him in Egypt, were two; all the persons of the house of Jacob who came into Egypt were seventy.” (Gn 46:26f) By the time they left Egypt 430 years later, the number had grown to six hundred thousand men not counting their families. So we can imagine how big they had grown, to more than two million people including their families. Of course, if we consider the length of 430 years, it might look small. Singapore over the last 50 years has grown three- fold in spite of population controls and strict immigration laws.
Thirdly, we cannot imagine how the sons of Israel could wander in the desert for forty years without much provisions for the journey. “They baked cakes with the dough which they had brought from Egypt, unleavened because the dough was not leavened; they had been driven out of Egypt, with no time for dallying, and had not provided themselves with food for the journey.” It was truly an act of faith in God. How could they survive the harsh weather, the heat and the cold in the desert? Over and above these hardships, they had to deal with tribal attacks and wild animals as well. But God showed Himself to be truly their savior and deliverer. He gave them water from the rocks, manna from heaven and sent quails to them for meat. Such was the mercy and care of God.
Fourthly, we also note that besides the sons of Israel who were the chosen people of God, those not belonging to them were not left out. “People of various sorts joined them in great numbers; there were flocks, too, and herd in immense droves.” God loves each and every one of us regardless who we are. And so even those who belonged to other tribes were welcomed to join them as well. Israel was chosen for a mission, not for themselves. “And now the Lord says, who formed me in the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him, and that Israel might be gathered to him, for I am honored in the sight of the Lord, and my God has become my strength – he says, ‘It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel. I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.'” (Isa 49:5f) Moses instructed the Israelites thus, “When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” (Lev 19:33f)
This tender mercy of God is seen in Jesus in the gospel today. “The Pharisees went out and began to plot against Jesus, discussing how to destroy him.” This was because Jesus was breaking the Sabbath Law as interpreted by them. They were incensed that he even healed the sick on the Sabbath. They were judgmental and impatient with Jesus. They sought to take action to destroy Jesus, which itself was against the Law. But they could no longer tolerate Jesus who they felt was destabilizing their customs and laws and potentially divisive of the community.
But instead of reacting to the hostility of the religious leaders, we read that “Jesus knew this and withdrew from the district.” Jesus did not allow His ego or pride or even insecurity to retaliate and to prove Himself. Jesus was never rash in His actions or decisions. He reacted calmly to challenges, opposition and false accusations against Him. He never faltered or succumbed to pressure to respond without calculation. Indeed, the way Jesus handled Himself at the trial before the Chief Priests, Pilate and Herod showed His fortitude, equanimity and mindfulness. Jesus knew that it was not yet the time to go head-on to fight against His opponents. He still needed to preach the Good News and form His disciples.
So He withdrew quietly and worked without publicity. “Many followed him and he cured them all, but warned them not to make him known.” He felt the need to spread the Good News of God’s love and mercy in words and deeds. So instead of creating a scene at the synagogues, He transferred His pulpit to the seashore, the countryside and the hills. There He taught the people about God’s love and mercy; and He performed His healing work as well. In this way, He continued to manifest the tender mercy of a loving God.
As the evangelist says, “This was to fulfil the prophecy of Isaiah: Here is my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved, the favourite of my soul. I will endow him with my spirit, and he will proclaim the true faith to the nations. He will not brawl or shout, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets. He will not break the crushed reed, nor put out the smouldering wick till he has led the truth to victory: in his name the nations will put their hope.” Indeed, the way of Christ was one of patience, tolerance and self-control. To the weak and broken, He was compassionate, forgiving and encouraging. He did not destroy or say things to bring a person down completely, unlike what many people do in the social media, using it as a weapon to expose and destroy the character of those who have made mistakes in life.
So like Jesus, let us be the hope and consolation of the nations. Let us learn patience with those who are slow, forgiving with those who have failed, tolerant of those who are incorrigible. Through our patience, God will give them the grace to change. We must never give up hope in life. Sometimes, God seems to be slow in answering to our prayers; or people are slow to change, or we ourselves find it difficult to overcome our weaknesses. We must learn the patience of God towards us. Ironically, God is more patient and forgiving towards us than we are with ourselves and with our fellowmen.
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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