THE DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD OF THE WORD OF GOD
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ REV 10:8-11; LUKE 19:45-48 ]
In the letter to the Hebrews, the author wrote, “Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.” (Heb 4:12f) This is the message of today’s scripture readings concerning the Word of God.
In the first reading, St John, like the prophet Ezekiel, was asked to eat the scroll from the Lord so that he could prophesy to His people. “I went to the angel and asked him to give me the small scroll, and he said, ‘Take it and eat it; it will turn your stomach sour, but in your mouth it will taste sweet as honey.’ So I took it out of the angel’s hand, and swallowed it; it was as sweet as honey in my mouth but when I had eaten it my stomach turned sour.” This was the same experience as that of the prophet Ezekiel. “Mortal, eat this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it. Then I ate it; and in my mouth it was as sweet as honey.” (Ezk 3:3) And like Ezekiel, John was also instructed to prophesy what he had eaten. “You are to prophesy again, this time about many different nations and countries and languages and emperors.” (cf Ezk 3:4-6)
Indeed, for those who receive the Word of God with docility, openness and gratitude, the Word of God brings life and freedom. With the psalmist, we say, “Your promise is sweet to my taste, O Lord. I rejoiced to do your will as though all riches were mine. Your will is my delight; your statutes are my counsellors. The law from your mouth means more to me than silver and gold. Your promise is sweeter to my taste than honey in the mouth. Your will is my heritage forever, the joy of my heart. I open my mouth and I sigh as I yearn for your commands.” Those who seek the truth will be happy to receive God’s Word. As St Peter said to the Lord, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” (Jn 6:68f)
Those who are seeking truth and love will be happy with the Church’s moral teachings. They appreciate that the Church is the moral spokesperson of society and the world on truth and morality. Many welcome the Church’s teaching on justice and compassion for the poor, honesty and integrity in business, equality of all human beings, the right to migrate, human rights, responsible freedom, marriage and the family, and most of all, the dignity of life, from conception to death. They see the Church as a champion of authentic love, which is rooted in truth.
The duty of the Church is to expose the hypocrisy of the world. The world is quick to condemn those who sin and break the laws. The world is asking for harsher punishment of offenders and criminals for all kinds of crimes, whether drug addiction, killing or sexual abuse, etc. Yet, society is not keen to remove the causes of evil in society. We impose harsh penalties on those who commit sexual crimes, but we are not attacking the root of sexual abuse, which is the result of a promiscuous society, where people, especially young ones, are exposed to pornography and seductive pictures and movies and so-called modern art and sensual entertainments. We are against stealing but we encourage gambling. We are against the death penalty for drug trafficking but we permit people to take drugs freely. We are against killing, but we continue to allow people to own guns. And we claim that people are adult and can make their own mature decisions when in truth, many are not able to deal with their addictions because these acts are more psychological than logical.
Yet even when we seek to expose the hypocrisy of the world, there will be many who are equally opposed to what the Church teaches. This should not surprise us. When those who are involved feel that their power, their capacity to make money from such businesses and position in society are being compromised, they would reciprocate with ferociously. Indeed, the Lord warned Ezekiel when He told him to prophesy. “The house of Israel will not listen to you, for they are not willing to listen to me; because all the house of Israel have a hard forehead and a stubborn heart. See, I have made your face hard against their faces, and your forehead hard against their foreheads.” (Ezk 3:7f)
Jesus too faced much opposition in His ministry. The leaders of His days were getting more and more hostile towards Him. After He cleansed the Temple, we read that “the chief priests and the scribes, with the support of leading citizens, tried to do away with him.” They collaborated, the priests, scribes and Pharisees and even the secular and political authorities, because Jesus was attacking their institutions. The practices in those days had brought them power over the poor, status in society, money, allowing them to profit from those who came to the Temple through charging exorbitant exchange rates for secular coins to the Temple coins, and selling animals for sacrifice at a price that was outrageously marked up by the traders. Against such unjust and selfish practices, the Lord sought to purify the Temple. “Jesus went into the temple and began driving out those who were selling.” To justify His actions, the Lord cited scripture from the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah when they said, “my house will be a house of prayer. But you have turned it into a robbers’ den.” (cf Isa 56:7; Jer 7:11)
Indeed, when the vested interests of those who are in power are attacked, we can expect them to become not only defensive but also hostile. This explains why the Church has many enemies and detractors as well. To undermine the truths of what the Church is teaching, they attack the weaknesses and sins of the Church, particularly that of the leaders. In proclaiming the gospel truth, the Church also exposes herself as a sinner. Because of the sins of some of her leaders, the Church has lost credibility in teaching authoritatively. Yet, we must be careful that we do not throw the baby out with the bathwater. We must not confuse the sins of the individual and the truth of the gospel message. Just because the leaders fail in their duties, it does not mean that the message is not true. For the Lord also taught, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach.” (Mt 23:2f) In the final analysis, St Paul wrote, “we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. So then, each of us will be accountable to God.” (Rom 14:10,12)
For this reason, it is critical that the Church begins by purifying herself just as the Israelites were asked to do. We must undergo conversion if we are to be truly proclaimers of the Word of God. The Church must undertake a personal and pastoral conversion if we are to proclaim the Word of God effectively. Most of all, we must undergo moral purification. We must overcome spiritual sloth, spiritual worldliness and selfishness if we are to be the Salt of the earth and Light of the World. We need once again to eat the scroll, the Word of God, for unless we taste the sweetness of His Word, we will lack the right motivation to serve Him. Indeed, many of us serve the Lord for less than noble reasons. Like the leaders during the time of Jesus, we are serving ourselves, our glory and personal well-being, personal gains in terms of social and political gains, and not for the people’s sake. We have put our interests before the flock that God has asked us to serve.
Indeed, we must make the Church a house of prayer once again. Like the people who “as a whole hung on his words”, we too must build our faith on the Word of God. St Paul wrote, “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim 3:16f) Let us “Put on the armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. “(Eph 6:13-18)
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.