LAMENTATIONS OF GOD
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [Lamentations 2:2, 10-14, 18-19; Mt 8:5-17]
In the first reading from the Book of Lamentations, we read of the sorrows and griefs of Jeremiah upon witnessing before his very eyes the prophecies he had foretold earlier regarding the destruction of Jerusalem, which the leaders of Judah did not heed. Indeed, the sight of the eventual downfall of Jerusalem was heart-breaking to any observer and much more so to the inhabitants. The Chaldeans tore down the walls of Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple and reduced the King’s Palace to ruins. The monarchy and the Kingdom of Israel came to a tragic and sad end. All the talented and skilled people were deported to Babylon, including the King and members of the royalty. Many were cruelly tortured, killed, and those alive were sent to Babylon as captives. All these atrocities and sufferings were recounted especially in Chapter 1 of the Book of Lamentations.
Indeed, if we were Jeremiah, our hearts too would have been broken to see our loved ones, our fellow citizens and our nation destroyed by our enemies, with everything torn down. Even on the domestic front, we witness this so often. We see the downfall of our children or our loved ones because they refused to live responsible lives. They mix with bad company, dragging them down further. They get involved in all kinds of immoral and criminal activities. They take drugs, or worse still, are drug traffickers. They steal, rob and kill. They live immoral lives, sleeping around, drinking excessively and smoke. We know what their end would be like. However, like Jeremiah, we too are powerless to stop them because they will not listen to our advice. They want to do things their own way. They are rebellious and unrepentant.
Yet, the consequences were inevitable. Jeremiah was not complaining against God for the destruction of Judah. In fact, he was aware that this was the divine judgement against Judah, just as it was for Israel, the Northern Kingdom. Their sufferings were the consequences of the sins they committed against God and against their fellowmen. It was the price of Judah’s centuries of rebellion against a patient and forgiving God by their rulers and its people. Instead of listening to Jeremiah, the true prophet of God, they listened to the false prophets. “The visions your prophets had on your behalf were delusive, tinsel things, they never pointed out your sin, to ward off your exile. The visions they proffered you were false, fallacious, misleading.” Therefore, this was the day of their judgement.
Indeed, it is the same even for the world today, and for us as individuals. We will have to pay the price for our sins because the world is going through moral decay. Nations and individuals have become selfish, materialistic and inward-looking. Because of secularism, we cannot tell right from wrong. Everything is permitted under the sun so long as you get a majority voice. We have many false prophets as in the days of Jeremiah promising that the world will get better and life will be happier. There will be prosperity and peace because we have total freedom to do what we like. Yet, we know that the situation in the world is very volatile with wars fought on every front, whether it is technological, military or economic. Families are fragmented and divided. Marriages no longer last. Pornography is rampant and sex crimes are increasing. Suicide is on the rise, especially among teenagers who cannot fit into society, who find their life meaningless. So it is not surprising that not only is humanity is under threat, even ecology too, as a result of climate warming due to the abuse of the environment. Pandemics and diseases that cause millions to suffer and die will surface now and then as we have seen in H1N1 and Covid-19 because of nature’s wrath.
The truth is that sin, evil and physical illnesses are connected. Sickness is the consequence of sharing in the fallen human nature of Adam. It is sin that causes us to be sick, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually and then physically. Spiritual sickness is always manifested in our body. When a person is living an immoral and irresponsible life, eating and drinking, indulging himself in promiscuous activities, cheating, lying, stealing, slandering and fighting with people, or when he is greedy, envious, proud and ambitious, always wanting to be better than others, he cannot find peace. He loses focus and the resultant effect is high blood pressure, hypertension, panic attacks, fears, suspicions and restlessness.
In the gospel, the evangelist spoke of Jesus as the Suffering servant that carries our infirmities, healing us by delivering us from our sins. “That evening they bought him many who were possessed by devils. He cast out the spirits with a word and cured all who were sick. This was to fulfil the prophecy of Isaiah: He took our sicknesses away and carried our diseases for us.” Like the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, Jesus not just bore our infirmities but “he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isa 53:4-6) This explains why the primary task of Jesus was to deliver us from the influence and oppression of the Evil One, forgive our sins and reconcile us with His Father so that we can be reconciled with our fellowmen; and walk the way of truth and love. Until man is reconciled with God, no matter how many times one is healed physically, if his life is not in order, he will fall sick again because the body is the window of one’s spiritual and emotional well-being. This was the warning Jesus gave to the paralyzed man. (Jn 5:14)
However, even in our suffering as in the case of the Israelites, there is hope. Even in the depths of their brokenness, Jeremiah in the Book of Lamentations spoke of God’s mercy and eventual restoration of Israel. God shares our pains and our sufferings even when we choose to go the wrong way and hurt ourselves. At times, the Lord knows in His mercy that somehow we will never learn the meaning of living in truth and love until we suffer the consequences of our sins. So whilst Jeremiah mourned with the rest of the Israelites the loss of the nation, they were confident that God would restore them back in due time once they have repented of their sins and were sorry for their mistakes. This is expressed in the responsorial psalm and in Lamentations chapter 3. “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’ The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.” (Lam 3:22-26) Indeed, “the Lord will not reject forever. Although he causes grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone.” (Lam 3:31-33)
We, too, must seek repentance of our sins if we want to find healing of our body and soul. The gospel warns us not to behave like the Jews who thought that their security was found in their race simply because they were the chosen people of God. The truth as the Lord said, “I tell you solemnly, nowhere in Israel have I found faith like this. And I tell you that many will come from east and west to take their places with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob at the feast on the kingdom of heaven; but the subjects of the kingdom will be turned out into the dark, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth.” Indeed, membership in the Church alone does not guarantee us salvation. Only when we have the living faith of the Centurion, who not only believed in Jesus but also had faith working through love, can be we saved. (Gal 5:6) This centurion, although a Gentile, was a believer of the Lord. Although he felt unworthy, he trusted in Jesus’ mercy and power to heal. So he asked our Lord to heal from afar because as he said, “I am not worthy to have you under my roof; just give the word and my servant will be cured.” And we know that this centurion was a man of faith and love, seen in his sensitivity to the Jews by not asking Jesus to come to his house, his sincere care for his servant and his love for the Jews by contributing money to help build their synagogues. (cf Lk 7:5) It is this kind of faith and love that assures us of salvation of mind, body and spirit.
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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