GOD IS OUR SHIELD AGAINST THE DECEPTION OF THE WORLD
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [Gen 15:1-12, 17-18; Ps 105:1-4, 6-9; Mt 7:15-20 ]
Life is like the journey that Abram took from Ur of the Chaldeans to Canaan, the Promised Land. This journey is fraught with temptations, opposition and challenges. Our enemies could be physical enemies or they could be spiritual. They can come from without, but more insidiously from within. Indeed, it is the enemy from within that we must be more alert to than those from without. This is what the Lord warns us about, “Beware of false prophets who come to you disguised as sheep but underneath are ravenous wolves.”
Indeed, there are many false prophets in the world today, and even within our churches, many leaders seek to give us illusory peace and unity. They seek to compromise the truths of the gospel by focusing on the rewards but not the crosses; the privileges but not the discipline; life without death. Some Christian leaders promise their members prosperity in this life at the expense of eternal life in the next. Some speak so easily of God’s forgiveness but not accompanied by repentance. Many receive Holy Communion every Sunday but their lives are not in communion with Christ and the Body of Christ. Some Christian leaders dilute the cost of discipleship and the truth of the gospel in order to appeal to more people. This was what the false prophets did during the period of the Kings. They gave the people false security, hope and confidence.
How do we deal with such false prophets? In the gospel, Jesus gives us the guiding principle. “You will be able to tell them by their fruits. Can people pick grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, a sound tree produces good fruit but a rotten tree bad fruit. A sound tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor a rotten tree bear good fruit. Any tree that does not produce good fruit is cut down and thrown on the fire. I repeat, you will be able to tell them by their fruits.” This rule seems to be very simple and clear, but discernment of the fruits is not always that simple. More often than not, false prophets promise fruits that are pleasant to our eyes, such as prosperity, forgiveness and God’s blessings without our need to walk the commandments of the Lord. At times, they pick and choose those texts of the bible that suit their message and ignore other texts that speak of sacrifice, purification and fidelity to God’s Word.
So we need to look at the fruits of the prophet’s life first. There are many false prophets who preach and teach eloquently. However, they live double lives that are hypocritical. They are selfish, dishonest, vindictive and concerned more about enriching themselves and enjoying the luxuries of life than being at the service of their fellowmen. To know whether someone is a true prophet, we just have to examine his lifestyle, his attitudes toward his fellowmen, his generosity and his approach to people, especially in times of suffering and opposition. A true prophet lives out what he preaches and what he says. Most of all, he manifests the life and virtues of Christ in himself, living a life of simplicity and humility.
Next, we must look at the fruits of his preaching. Do his preaching and teaching truly help people to live with hope in the truth? Is he misleading people into false and illusory peace and happiness? Indeed, the ideologies of the world give people false hope, love and joy. Secularism promises to bring true freedom and peace in the world. Can we honestly look at the world today and say that secularism is the answer to world peace and the fulfillment of humanity? On the contrary, man feels empty and loses purpose in life. There is no meaning to live because there is no hope beyond this sad and fragile world. Secularism has driven people to despair and, if at all, hope only for this world. So for all the hard work we give to society and the world, it will come to naught. That being the case, why should people continue to sacrifice themselves for a society that is unappreciative?
Relativism promises true freedom for every human person. It teaches that truth is ultimately subjective and changes with the situation. There is no ground for truth anymore. We are living always in changing times. Since what is right can be wrong, the next generation and vice versa, it is dangerous to hold on to anything absolutely. They are just good for its time. Such people are always exposed to the changing values of society so that they have nothing to guide them to live and walk in the fullness of truth and love.
The world promises us freedom, but what we find in the world today is a greater form of slavery. Democracy has set us free from the control of other people but we have lost control of ourselves. We are slaves to the sin of the flesh, to lust, to greed, to pleasure and gluttony. We are not able to control and manage our anger since society tells us to express them openly, which we do through the social media, saying what we feel in our hearts without restraint or fear that our words might hurt others. The freedom of the world is an abused form of freedom. It is a new form of slavery.
The world may have become more advanced in technology. Living conditions have improved. More people are living in luxury. Yet, can we truly say that the richest and most affluent countries are happiest? Are we happier than those who are poor, or those who have just enough for themselves? Rich people might have plenty, but they have become slaves to comfort so that they can no longer take suffering in life or appreciate the blessings of creation and nature. They have become inward-looking and less in touch with the sufferings of humanity, thereby living a more impoverished life stripped of their humanness.
Hence, we need to turn to God for He is our shield. “The word of the Lord was spoken to Abram in a vision, ‘Have no fear, Abram, I am your shield; your reward will be very great.'” God is the One who can protect us from the snares of the flesh and Evil One and the false deception of the world. Indeed, only God can shield us from the deception of the world and the Evil One. St Paul exhorted the Christians, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Eph 6:10-12)
What is needed from us is to trust in God and obey Him as Abram did. When the Lord called Abram to migrate to Canaan, a place far away, Abram obeyed in faith. It took him much courage to begin a new life, having already reached the age of 75. Furthermore, he was already well established in life as he had accumulated much wealth. He could just have stayed put rather than begin a new adventure into the unknown. But Abram believed in the fidelity of God to His promises sealed in the covenant He made with Abram. As the psalmist says, “He remembers his covenant forever, his promise for a thousand generations, the covenant he made with Abraham, the oath he swore to Isaac.” Indeed, God was faithful to Abram in His promise of land and descendants. ”Look up to heaven and count the stars if you can. Such will be your descendants’ he told him. Abram put his faith in the Lord, who counted this as making him justified. To your descendants I give this land, from the wadi of Egypt to the Great River, the river Euphrates.”
We, too, in our journey of life must walk closely with the Lord, following His teachings and His commandments even if we do not agree or understand so that we can walk in truth and in love. Let us nurture ourselves with the Word of God as St Paul exhorts us, “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.” The Lord urges us to build our foundation on Him. “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock.” (Mt 7:24f)
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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