IRRESISTIBLE POWER OF GRACE
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ ACTS 4:13-21; PS 117:1,14-21; MARK 16:9-15 ]
It is man’s nature to want to be in control of their lives. This was the sin of Adam and Eve. The devil promised them that if they ate the forbidden fruit, “your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gn 3:5) That is why we do not like situations that are unpredictable. We want our lives to run like clockwork, precise and in a mechanical manner. We hate surprises because it means upsetting our program and our schedule. Things must go according to our way and according to our plan. This, too, was the attitude of the Jewish leaders. They sought to be in control of the situation and to ensure that everyone toed the line. The scriptures clearly spelt out the laws, and the traditions had kept the Jews together for centuries. So, too, the Romans were always fearful of rebellion, social and political upheavals.
But this God is a God of surprises. He does not follow the laws all the time! Not even the laws of nature! Indeed, we are always being challenged to think out of the box. This God works out of the box and brings us new situations that we have no control over. When the Jewish leaders saw “the man who had been cured standing by their side, they could find no answer.” Indeed, no human, scientific or natural explanation could be found. They themselves admitted this fact. “It is obvious to everybody in Jerusalem that a miracle has been worked through them in public, and we cannot deny it.”
This was also the experience of the apostles in encountering the power of grace. They initially could not believe in the resurrection of Jesus. They were “in mourning and in tears!” When Mary Magdalene and the two disciples from Emmaus recounted their encounter with the Risen Lord, they did not believe them. Only when the Lord appeared to them, did they come to believe. “He reproached them for their incredulity and obstinacy, because they had refused to believe those who had seen him after he had risen.” We can appreciate their reluctance because it was too good to be true, and it was a trans-historical event. Their fears, sadness and despair prevented them from looking beyond the fact of the crucifixion. Once again, one has to drop all logic and human reasoning to accept this event of encountering the Risen Lord. Furthermore, this encounter was beyond description as they were encountering someone that came from the future to the present.
In the face of the power of grace, we can take two approaches. One is to reject and the other is to accept. The Jewish leaders took the path of denial and rejection. “So they ordered them to stand outside while the Sanhedrin had a private discussion. ‘What are we going to do with these men?’ they asked.” And the decision reached was “to stop the whole thing spreading any further among the people, let us caution them never to speak to anyone in this name again.” Instead of dealing and reflecting on the marvelous event, they sought to quash it for fear of losing their status quo, their position in society and their institutions. And they knew that they were wrong. Instead, “the court repeated the warnings and then released them; they could not think of any way to punish them, since all the people were giving glory to God for what had happened.” They refused to recognize the facts that were so obvious before their eyes.
How true for many of us as well. When we see miracles happening, we still do not want to admit that it is the power of grace and the power of God. There are many agnostics who would not surrender themselves to the power of grace. They see the facts and conclude that science cannot explain, but they would not ascribe the event to the power of God’s grace at work in their lives. We are simply too proud to submit to a higher authority because we think we are in control and we have the answers to everything. Human pride and fear are the causes of unbelief.
The other response is to bow down before the power of God, as St Peter asks of us. “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that in due time he may exalt you.” (1 Pt 5:6) That was what the apostles did even when they were under threat not to repeat what they said and especially “on no account to make statements or to teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John retorted, ‘You must judge whether in God’s eyes it is right to listen to you and not to God. We cannot promise to stop proclaiming what we have seen and heard.’” For the apostles, it was clear that the healing of the crippled man was the power of God, regardless whether they believed it or not. It was in the name of the Lord Jesus that the man was healed. Indeed, if we have seen and heard the power of God at work in our lives, there is no way for us to remain quiet. This in itself is the proof of the work of God! The grace of God is irresistible and overwhelming for anyone who encounters Him.
So, what brought about the powerful grace of God? What gave the apostles who were uneducated, ordinary men such boldness, courage and confidence to preach the Good News about Jesus? The cause of their radical change, they came to realize, was that they were simply “associates of Jesus.” Indeed, those who associated with Jesus were radically transformed after the resurrection and the bestowal of the Holy Spirit. Their fears were removed completely and they could stand tall before the Jewish leaders testifying to the power of the Risen Lord. Once, they were fearful of the authorities and afraid of suffering and prosecution. But now they were ready to suffer anything for the Lord Jesus. We can explain such radical change only because they walked with Jesus, they saw Him, they loved Him and they were inspired by Him and, last but not least, they encountered Him alive after being put to death. The resurrection as the radical expression of grace was enough to transform their lives radically.
This means that if we are to see the Risen Lord in our lives, the first thing we need to do is to associate with Jesus! Unless we are in contact with Jesus, reading the scriptures, studying about the faith, reading spiritual books and making contact with the disciples of Christ, we cannot know Jesus sufficiently to have faith in Him. Hearing and seeing open our hearts and minds to the grace of God. This is the purpose of preaching;to help potential believers to respond to the grace of God. That is why sharing of faith among Catholics, finding a faith community for spiritual and moral support is so critical for anyone who wants to be an associate of Christ. Where is Christ today if not in His Church, in the liturgy, in the priests and in their fellow Catholics?
This, however, is just the first stage. The second stage to respond to grace is through intimacy and love. It is significant to take note that it was not to Peter that the Risen Lord first appeared but to “Mary of Magdala from whom he had cast out seven devils.” St Peter was using too much of his head, logic and reasoning. But the Lord appeared to those who loved Him. Mary Magdalene had been forgiven much and liberated from her severe bondages to her sins and her past. For that, she loved Jesus deeply and passionately. She was the first to arrive at the Tomb on Sunday. She could not wait to see Jesus, even if He were just a corpse. Love enables us to see the Lord that reason cannot. Jesus said, “He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” (Jn 14:21)
So today, we are invited to come to God not through reason but in faith and in love. Only faith and love can allow the grace of God to open our hearts and our minds. It is not wrong to have a rationalizing and empirical spirit, but it should come only after the experience of the power of grace. We are called to take the leap of faith, relying not on our own strength but the power of God. If we behave like the Sanhedrin, we will end up fighting against God. The question of Peter is also ours when he retorted, “Whether it is right in the sight of God for us to obey you rather than God, you be the judges. It is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard.” We ignore the power of grace to our disadvantage. Those who seek to smother grace will be the ones who will lose out to the greater things of life that the Lord wants to offer them.
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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