SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ MIC 6:1-4, 6-8; MT 12:38-42 ]
On one hand, the people of Israel seemed to be faithful to God and the Covenant. They were diligent in offering sacrifices and doing what the law required of them for temple worship. They offered gifts of holocausts to the Lord. Externally, they observed the ceremonies and the rituals that were required of them.
On the other hand, both the leaders and the people were hypocritical. They were offering worship to the pagan gods as well. That was why the Lord asked the mountains to be His witness because they erected high altars on the mountains to worship the deities. They were corrupt and selfish. Those from the richer strata of society were taking advantage of the poor, the widows and the orphans. They were not living a just life based on charity and compassion.
Many of us are like the Israelites. We pray our prayers piously every day, and dutifully attend Sunday mass. We observe the precepts of the Church, in fasting, abstinence and support the Church. Some of us might even be involved in Church ministry and serve as wardens, Extra-ordinary ministers of communion, Altar servers and choir members. But our conduct at home, in the office and sometimes in the church are far from what is expected of a Christian. We are tyrannical at work and at home, ordering people around and do not lift a finger to help in the house chores. Some live double lives, cheating, having affairs, and engaging in dishonest or even immoral activities.
When we appear to be religious on one hand and live an irreligious life on the other, we are just covering up our sins. We are not sincere in living the life of the Covenant or the life of Christ. Performing pious exercises does not exempt us from living a life of integrity, mercy and compassion. This was what the Lord said to the Israelites, “I find no fault with your sacrifices, your offerings are always before me. But how can you recite my commandments and take my covenant on your lips, you who despise my law and throw my words to the winds.”
Indeed, God does not need all the external offerings we give to Him. If we do offer such sacrifices or perform pious devotions, it is not for the sake of God but for our sake. By performing the rituals and pious practices, our intention should be to put into practice what we worship. They are means to help us put ourselves right with God. They give us the grace to do what is right and live in accordance with the laws of God and the precepts of the gospel. They do not substitute but enhance a life of charity. The prophet tells us what the Lord truly wants from us. “What is good has been explained to you, man; this is what the Lord asks of you: only this, to act justly, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with our God.”
We must act justly towards our fellowmen and not infringe or cheat them of their rights and dignity. This is the central message of the Prophet Amos. This is particularly true when we do business or when it comes to exercising responsibility for the common good. As Jesus in the gospel tells us, “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.” (Mt 7:12) We should not do to others what we do not like them to do to us. It means we have to exercise social responsibility in caring for others, respecting their rights and cooperating to work for the common good and happiness of all.
Secondly, we are called to love tenderly, that is to love mercifully those who have failed us. Prophet Hosea continually reminds us of the tender love of God towards His rebellious people. He was always ready to forgive and relent even when the people remained ungrateful and continued to grieve the heart of God. The Lord said, “How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my fierce anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.” (Hos 11:8f) We too are called to exercise mercy and compassion for those who fail us because we have received God’s mercy and unconditional forgiveness.
Thirdly, we are called to walk humbly. Prophet Isaiah always urged his people, particularly the kings, to cling to God in faith and trust in the face of their enemies. Humility is the way to allow God to enter into our lives. Without humility, there can be no faith in God. St Peter exhorts us, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.” (1 Pt 5:5-7)
This was what the Assyrians did when they heard the preaching of Jonah. The prophet was reluctant to obey God’s word to go to Nineveh to preach the gospel of repentance. He did not like the cruel and mighty Assyrians. All he wanted was for them to be destroyed. But all the same, after a futile attempt to run away from God’s call, he unwillingly went to Nineveh and preached the Word of God. To his surprise, the people and the king and his officials repented. They put on sackcloth and fasted and repented of their evil deeds.
The pagans appear to be more disposed to the Word of God than our own people are. Those of us in the ministry for too long can become jaded. We treat sacred things without respect or reverence because we deal with them too often. An extraordinary minister of Holy Communion and even a priest could lose the sense of the sacred when he holds the Eucharist daily and distributes them. Ironically, seekers of truth are more sensitive to the sense of the sacred and pay attention to the Word of God when it is preached.
In the same way too, Jesus lamented at how “the Queen of the South will rise up with this generation and condemn it.” The Queen of Sheba heard the fame of Solomon, particularly his wisdom. Although wise, Solomon did not live out what he taught. Yet Queen Sheba honoured him. How much more should we welcome Jesus who is the wisdom of God in person, the Word incarnate?
But we are not ready to accept the Lord and His teaching. We are not ready to seek repentance and live the life of Christ. Again, we cover up by asking questions like the scribes and Pharisees who were looking for signs. We want proof about the reality of Jesus and His resurrection. The truth is that no proof will suffice if we are not disposed to believe in Him. The Lord replied, “It is an evil and unfaithful generation that asks for a sign! The only sign that it will be given is the sign of the prophet Jonah.” The people just refused to recognize Him because they had already made up their mind. They were only seeking for reasons to prove Him wrong. They were closed to what the Lord wanted to give them.
Indeed, we have all the evidence but we do not wish to admit them. We have the life, passion, death and resurrection of our Lord. We have the testimonies of the apostles, their preaching and the martyrs who died for their faith. We have the witnesses of saints, missionaries, priests, religious and holy lay faithful who have vouched for the truth of Christ’s saving presence in their lives. We have many who recount the power and mercy of God they experienced in their lives through reconciliation, healing, even of physical, psychological and emotional illnesses. Such testimonies over the centuries should suffice for us to believe.
So what must we do to remove the hypocritical love of God in our lives? The psalmist advises us, “A sacrifice of thanksgiving honours me and I will show God’s salvation to the upright.” We must recall the wonderful miracles and signs of God’s love in our lives. This was what the Lord sought in His appeal to Israel to repent when He cried out, “My people, what have I done to you, how have I been a burden to you? Answer me. I brought you out of the land of Egypt, I rescued you from the house of slavery; I sent Moses to lead you, with Aaron and Miriam.” Have they forgotten what the Lord did for them during the Exodus and as they journeyed through the desert and claimed Canaan as the land promised to them? We too must cling to the promises of God. We must remember what He has done for us; recall all those wonderful events when we encountered God’s mercy and love. Only when we remember, can we then respond in true love, in justice, charity and humility.
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.
Note: You may share this reflection with someone. However, please note that reflections are not archived online, nor will they be available via email request.