SCRIPTURE READINGS: [Jm 4:1-10; Ps 55:7-11,23; Mk 9:30-37  ]

There is so much bickering and competition in the office, in the family, in society, in politics and even in church organizations.  St James gives us the cause of such division.  “Where do these wars and battles between yourselves first start?  Isn’t it precisely in the desires fighting inside your own selves?  You want something and you haven’t got it; so you are prepared to kill.  You have an ambition that you cannot satisfy; so you fight to get your way by force.”  Indeed, it is because of selfish ambition that makes us manipulative, unscrupulous, merciless and insensitive to the needs and feelings of others.  In order to climb to the top, we will use all means, regardless whether they are fair or not, to obtain a promotion, a business contract or some favors. Indeed, in the political and commercial world, it is not uncommon for employees, entrepreneurs and businessmen to trample upon each other without mercy.  This is the world of survival of the fittest.

Indeed, all ambitions are selfish and divisive.  You might be startled to hear this because we always think ambition is good.  The truth is that the point of departure of ambition is the self.  It is focused on oneself, about our happiness, our fulfillment and our goals.  As a consequence, we become anxious in delivering our promises and compete in out-doing each other.  Ambition therefore serves oneself primarily, even if that ambition benefits humanity, such as building a church or starting a business, or serving society.  At the end of the day, it is about one’s achievements in life, one’s pride and dignity.

This is what St James warns us about when he wrote, “You are unfaithful as adulterous wives; don’t you realise that making the world your friend is making God your enemy?  Anyone who chooses the world for his friend turns himself into God’s enemy.  Surely you don’t think scripture is wrong when it says: the spirit which he sent to live in us wants us for himself alone?”  The spirit of the world lives for oneself.  We become slaves to the world when we seek power, glory and wealth.  By so doing, instead of building His kingdom, we build ours.  When everyone seeks to enlarge his or her kingdom, there will be envy.

We should purify our ambition by focusing on service of other, rather than self.  When this happens, it becomes a vocation.  When we speak about vocation, we are speaking about service, how best we can contribute to the growth and progress of humanity.  The focus is not about us, our achievements and honour, but about those whom we serve and how we can serve them better and make their lives happier.  Our hearts are for the people and our joy and satisfaction come from making a difference in their lives.

But we must be careful that even in serving others, we can be serving ourselves, especially those in church organizations, ministry and even in voluntary services to the poor.  Ironically, the worldly spirit of egotism and self-centeredness creeps into so-called religious and voluntary service as well.  That is why we find squabbling and bickering over positions and how things are to be done even among church members.  Everyone wants their voice to be heard and their ideas to be put into practice.  People are so opinionated they think only their views are right.   Some fight to have their way simply because it was not their idea but someone else’s that is being considered.  Some are ambitious in winning glory and achievements.   Consequently, sad to say, there is so much subtle politics even in Church, all in the name of serving God and community, but the bottom line, which we find difficult to admit, is about recognition, appreciation and ourselves.  This explains why many have left the Church completely or stepped out of service because of the arguments and infighting among members for honour and recognition.

Indeed, this was the same mistake of the apostles in the gospel.  When we are competitive, we are oblivious to the pain and suffering of others.  That was why the apostles were so insensitive to the imminent passion and death of their master.  Jesus had just told them, “The Son of Man will be delivered into the hands of men; they will put him to death; and three days after he has been put to death he will rise again.”  Instead of feeling with Jesus and giving Him encouragement, they were thinking of themselves and jostling for power and position.  Indeed, Jesus knew what was going on in their minds. He asked them, “’What were you arguing about on the road?’  They said nothing because they had been arguing which of them was the greatest.”

We read that “they did not understand what he said and were afraid to ask him.”  What was preventing them from understanding and feeling with Jesus?  It was their preoccupation with self and with their ambitions.  They could not identify with Jesus and was afraid to seek clarification because it would mean that their ambition to be placed in positions of power and wealth would be compromised.  So it was better for them not to know the truth, which is that suffering and passion lay ahead of their master and later, themselves.  They were not true to themselves.  In fact, they were embarrassed when the master asked them because they kept quiet.

For Jesus, the way to fullness of life is humble service through our fellowmen.  “So he sat down, called the twelve to him and said, ‘If anyone wants to be first, he must make himself last of all and servant of all.’  He then took a little child, set him in front of them, put his arms round him, and said to them, ‘Anyone who welcomes one of these little children in my name, welcomes me; and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’”  When we choose to serve God in the least and the poor, we welcome the Lord into our lives.  “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”  (Mt 25:40)  As a consequence, we find joy and fulfillment that money cannot buy because when we serve humbly we become more humane and in touch with humanity, its sufferings, aspirations and joys.

So let us learn humility and selflessness in service.  St James says, “He had been even more generous to us, as scripture says: God opposes the proud but he gives generously to the humble.”  We do not have to worry too much about our needs.  This is the promise of our Lord,   “But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”  (Mt 6:33)  If what we are doing is pure service of love, then we should not be agitated because it is not about us, but about what we can do for others.  We will do all we can and leave the rest to God.  We will not take things into our own hands since we have nothing to gain from it. All agitation comes from the lack of self-love, insecurity and restlessness.  The offspring is pride and ego.

Rather, after doing what we possibly can, we entrust our plans and success into the hands of God, as Jesus did when He was on the cross.  The psalmist says, “O that I had wings like a dove to fly away and be at rest. So I would escape far away and take refuge in the desert.  I would hasten to find a shelter from the raging wind, from the destructive storm, O Lord, and from their plotting tongues. Entrust your cares to the Lord and he will support you. He will never allow the just man to stumble.”  We should not fear because it is the Lord’s work, not ours.  He will bring success if He wants it.  Our task is to be responsible with the talents He has given to us for the service of His kingdom. 

So today, let us keep our minds focused.  We must not be of two minds, wanting to serve God and wanting to serve ourselves.  St James urges us, “Give in to God, then; resist the devil, and he will run away from you.  The nearer to God, the nearer he will come to you.  Clean your hands, you sinners, and clear your minds, you waverers.  Look at your wretched condition, and weep for it in misery; be miserable instead of laughing, gloomy instead of happy.  Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will lift you up.”

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.
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