INCREASING OUR COMMON SPACE


SCRIPTURE READINGS: [Gn 13:2.5-18; Ps 15:2-5; Mt 7:26. 12-14]

In the first reading, we encounter the threat of division and misunderstanding due to limited land and opportunities as the community grew.  Indeed, we read that “Abram was a very rich man, with livestock, silver and gold.  Lot, who was travelling with Abram, had flocks and cattle of his own, and tents too.  The land was not sufficient to accommodate them both, for they had too many possessions to be able to live together.”  So the solution was for them to separate and venture into new ground so that their peoples could live and expand.

This has always been the case in the past when nations expanded their territories through conquest and occupation.  In the ancient world, empires rose and fell through military might.  Today, it is not just in terms of territory but also in terms of trade and technological power.  In the face of globalization, there is a need to go beyond one’s national frontiers to do business, if the business were to expand. Powerful nations use economic influence and trade to strengthen their political and not just economic power over weaker and poorer nations.  By so doing, the smaller nations become subservient and dependent on the economic and military support of the more powerful and richer countries.

This, too, was the case of religions as well.  In the ancient world, religions were expanded through might, force and influence. Many religious wars were fought between religions.  Missionaries went abroad to share their faith, believing that it was good for the people, although sometimes faith was forced upon the people or coerced through the offering of economic and political power.   This, too, can also happen in our churches as well.  Some parishes feel threatened when their parishioners join Archdiocesan bodies or organizations or serve in another parish, especially when they are being actively pursued. Then again, there are some Christian churches that aggressively try to convert the faithful from another Christian denomination.  As a result, there is unhealthy competition even among church organizations and Christian denominations.

Such is the attitude of expansion through occupation and influence.  In those days, when the world was still largely uninhabited, people were illiterate and superstitious, there was a basis for expansion.  The land was vast and opportunities were plenty as people were still scarce on this earth.  Faith was transmitted and shared through proclamation and works of charity. Sadly, at times, it was done aggressively and coercively because every religion claimed to have the fullness of truth due to the lack of contact with other religions and cultures.  Ignorance of the values of such traditions was the cause of aggressive proselytization.   Each country or religion thought that his culture or religion was superior to others. Again, in ancient days, it was acceptable because society was homogenous in culture, race and faith.    However, this is no longer the case.

Because of migration and globalization, the world has become a global village where every city is becoming more and more cosmopolitan.  Today most cities have people from different nationalities, races, cultures and religions co-existing in the same place.  The old principle of expansion, whether by force, power and power, is no longer tolerated.  It creates hostility, resentment and division.  When we seek to force our culture and faith on others, there is bound to be division.  In the face of secularism, relativism and individualism, it is becoming more and more difficult to hold common views.  Hence, in today’s world, Abram’s solution to peace in the face of an expanding community by increasing space through conquest and occupation does not hold water as there is no longer any space for expansion, be it territorial, religious or cultural, to conquer.

Instead, we are called to follow the approach of Jesus, which is to increase our common space rather than our own private space.  Instead of imposing our views on others, we must seek to understand each other and see what values we hold in common.  The more we recognize what we already have in common, the greater is our unity.  Because we are a single human community, we have more in common than what divides us.  Every one of us desires peace, love, unity and a comfortable life where there is no poverty.  No sane person desires hatred and division.  If we realize that we are united as human beings in many ways, then it is not just easier to accept differences but to also appreciate our diversity.  So, how, then, do we increase common space among all peoples?

Jesus gave us the golden rule, “So always treat others as you would like them to treat you; that is the meaning of the Law and the Prophets.”  This golden rule is not exactly new but has been articulated in different ways over the centuries by wise men such as Confucius.  This rule sums up the centrality of Christian faith, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’  The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'”  What we desire for ourselves, we must also desire for our neighbour because they are like us in every way.  What we do not like people to do to us, we should not do to others.  It calls for mutual respect, acceptance, forgiveness and tolerance. Indeed, if everyone follows this principle, then we will render justice to our fellowmen and compassion as well to those who are suffering or are not as privileged as us.

Loving our brothers and sisters is ultimately the true manifestation that we are worshipping the true God.   St John makes it clear, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.”  (1 Jn 4:7f)  The psalmist asked, “Lord, who shall dwell on your holy mountain? He who walks without fault; he who acts with justice and speaks the truth from his heart; he who does not slander with his tongue. He who does no wrong to his brother, who casts no slur on his neighbour, who holds the godless in disdain, but honours those who fear the Lord. He who keeps his pledge, come what may; who takes no interest on a loan and accepts no bribes against the innocent.  Such a man will stand firm forever.”  Rightly so our response is, “The just will live in the presence of the Lord.”

Secondly, with respect to people who disagree with us, Jesus offers us another guideline.  “Do not give dogs what is holy; and do not throw your pearls in front of pigs, or they may trample them and then turn on you and tear you to pieces.”  This is not to say that those who are not with us are dogs and pigs.  What the Lord wants us to realize is that there will be some people who are not ready to seek the truth or are too prejudiced by their upbringing, social, religious and cultural conditioning to accept what we say.  So there is no reason for us to force our beliefs and values on them.  We should just learn to accept them even if we disagree with their values.  In any case, we should not allow disagreement on some values to divide us because again we must seek to collaborate and unite on the basis of those things that we hold in common.

This is where we must learn the generosity of Abram.  He told his nephew, “Let there be no dispute between me and you, nor between my herdsmen and yours, for we are brothers.  Is not the whole land open before you?  Part company with me: if you take the left, I will go right; if you take the right, I will go left.”  Abram did not put his interests and priorities over Lot.  Instead, in his magnanimity, he allowed Lot to choose whatever he liked.  And God was fair and just.  Lot thought he chose the best land for himself, not realizing that Sodom was an evil city, for “the people of Sodom were vicious men, great sinners against the Lord.”  As for Abram, he went to Canaan.  And God blessed him saying, “All the land within sight I will give to you and your descendants for ever.  I will make your descendants like the dust on the ground: when men succeed in counting the specks of dust on the ground, then they will be able to count your descendants!”  Lot was shortsighted.  With those who disagree with us, we, too, must let them have their ways.  At the end of the day, they will have to live with their moral decisions and suffer or reap the consequences of their actions.

Finally, on our part, it does not mean that we have to give up our cherished values. Rather, we seek to be faithful to what we believe and hold true even in the face of opposition.  Jesus exhorted us, “Enter by the narrow gate, since the road that leads to perdition is wide and spacious, and many take it; but it is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”  We must remain true to our faith even whilst we seek to strengthen what we have in common, engage in ongoing dialogue and foster friendship, and tolerate what we do not agree with.  As the Church exhorts us, “Likewise, other religions found everywhere try to counter the restlessness of the human heart, each in its own manner, by proposing ‘ways,’ comprising teachings, rules of life, and sacred rites. The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men. Indeed, she proclaims, and ever must proclaim Christ ‘the way, the truth, and the life’ (John 14:6), in whom men may find the fullness of religious life, in whom God has reconciled all things to Himself.”  (Nostra Aetate, 2)


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.
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