COMPROMISING THE IDEALS OF THE GOSPEL MESSAGE
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ JAMES 5:9-12; PS 103:1-4, 8-9, 11-12; MARK 10:1-12 ]
We are living in very a complex situation because we are living in a world of plurality and relativism. There are so many ways to look at life that we are not so certain of what is truth. Different people look at morality differently. Many people consider sexual promiscuity as acceptable. Divorce, abortion and use of contraceptives have become accepted norms in society. Even gay marriages, artificial insemination and human cloning are considered by society as being in line with the times. The morality and values offered by the Church are considered outdated and not in touch with technological advancements.
The stark truth is that we cannot live up to the lofty teachings of Jesus. So in every quarter, we try to dilute His teachings and justify the compromises we make. We make compromises not only on moral and ethical issues but on doctrines as well. All this is done in the name of unity and harmony. Hence, we interpret poverty, obedience and celibacy in such a way to suit our interests and comfort. Whether it is the Church, society or institutions, quite often we pare down our ideals to suit people. This tendency to compromise is understandable because we are just like the people during the time of Moses. We are unteachable! Like them, we face the tension of being faithful to the ideals of the Covenant mapped out by Jesus and the secular reality of the situation.
But when we look at Jesus, we do not see someone who feels the need to compromise or lower His principles simply to please some people. It would have been most tempting for Him to agree with His contemporaries that divorce be allowed. The fact remains that Jesus refused to compromise with the acceptable stand in His day. He remained firm in His teaching on the indissolubility of marriage and He reiterated it in no uncertain terms, “The man who divorces his wife and marries another is guilty of adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another she is guilty of adultery too.” Certainly such teaching of Jesus is difficult to accept not only in His day but more so today. St James too urges us to be firm in our principles in these words, “Do not swear by heaven or by the earth, or use any oaths at all! If you mean ‘yes’ you must say ‘yes’; if you mean ‘no’, say no.” How then do we respond to this apparent dilemma?
The first thing we should not do is to condemn such people. St James warns us against being too presumptuous to judge others. He advised, “Do not make complaints against one another; brothers, so as not to be brought to judgment yourselves.” Before we judge and condemn them, we must realize that we do not know the difficulties involved for such people. The fact is that quite often, some of us who make compromises are being pressurized by circumstances, both psychologically and emotionally. Sometimes, for the sake of peace and harmony, we compromise our beliefs and values so as not to offend these people. Consequently, we cave in to the demands of others. St James therefore exhorts us to submit with patience, imitating the endurance of the prophets. We are called to be tolerant with others and ourselves for being weak. Compassion is certainly needed rather than judgment. After all, as St James says, “The Lord is kind and compassionate.” So did the psalmist in today’s responsorial psalm.
Secondly, we must confront ourselves and examine the state we are in and what our calling is. We must recognize that any compromise we make will take us away from the truth and the reality. A distinction between the fundamental law of creation and a dispensation from that law must be made. As was the case of Moses granting divorce; it was due to the fact that the people were unteachable that he allowed divorce. Clearly then, such a decision contradicts the original intention of creation. Whenever we compromise, we fail to be authentic to our true selves.
Hence, if we are to accept the teaching of Jesus and be true to His gospel message, we must return to the original ideals of marriage. To return to the original purpose of creation is to reclaim our dignity as God’s image, which is unity in love. To insist on divorce is a clear rejection that the ultimate life is a life of love, expressed beautifully in the permanent union of man and woman in marriage and then bearing fruit in procreation.
Certainly, it is very difficult to live up to the permanency of marriage, especially when the relationship has been broken and irreparable. For this reason, today’s gospel text, which is one of the themes on Christian life expounded over the last few days, is placed between the second and third passion prophecies. This implies that the call to live the Christian ideals entails dying to self and living the transfigured life of Christ revealed to the disciples just earlier on. It involves surrendering ourselves to the passion of Jesus, emptying ourselves in faith and love, trusting that God will somehow empower us to live authentically in Him.
However, in order that we are motivated to be faithful to our noble calling to a life of truth, love and unity, St James reminds us that although God is merciful, we will be judged. Indeed, he warned us, “the Judge is already to be seen waiting at the gates.” When we compromise our standards, we ultimately bring judgment upon ourselves and even destroy ourselves. Following the cause and effect principle, we will destroy our happiness and ourselves because we have not been faithful to the principles given by Jesus. To compromise is but a way of cheating and deceiving others and ourselves. If we are sincere about ourselves, we cannot but recognize our hypocrisy.
However, having recognized the consequences of our compromise does not mean that we will be able to follow the gospel message of Jesus entirely. Many people are aware of the consequences of sexual promiscuity and divorce, yet they continue all the same. Why? This is because we have not fully understood from the depths of our hearts the real significance of Jesus’ teaching. We are not really convicted and hence not convinced. We need divine grace and wisdom to understand the inner reality of what Jesus has taught us, be it with regard to marriage or the values that He has preached and lived Himself. Only when we are convicted from the depths of our beings, can we find the courage to be more faithful to our calling and our Christian identity.
This inner conviction of course can only be realized in prayer, meditation and contemplation. Without prayer, we will not be able to enter the depths of the mind of God. Indeed, if Jesus were able to go beyond the Mosaic dispensation of granting divorce, it was because Jesus understood the plan of God intimately. The fact that He explained the indissolubility of marriage by referring to the original plan of God means that He had perceived the mind of God. But more than just understanding the plan of God, prayer puts us in communion with Jesus. It is this communion with Jesus that empowers us to live in communion with God and be identified with Him in every way. In this way, instead of compromising our lifestyle, we assume the life of Jesus so completely that ideals and reality coincide.
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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