UNDERSTANDING CHRIST FROM THE INSIDE
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ Heb 10:11-18; Ps 110:1-4; Mark 4:1-20 ]
Why was it that the sacrifice of the Old Testament could not take away the peoples’ sins? This is what the letter of Hebrews says, “Every priest stands at his duties every day, offering over and over again the same sacrifices which are quite incapable of taking away sins.” This is because the sacrifices remained extraneous to the priest who was offering the sacrifice. The sacrifices offered were those of the blood of animals. At most, they represented a token sacrifice of the people because it was costly to offer the sacrifice of an animal. Yet, in the final analysis, it is less of a sacrifice to offer something outside of ourselves than to offer something of ourselves, our time, resources, pain and hands. Indeed, it is easier to donate money to the poor than to be with the poor, helping them in their needs. It is also easier to chair a meeting in a charitable organization than to be hands-on in serving the poor directly. That is why St Francis told his disciples to preach the good news and only if necessary, use words.
This is true with respect to entering into the heart of God. Many of us cannot encounter God deeply because we are outside of Him. Unless our hearts beat with the heart of God, we will not be able to have the same passion and love of our Lord Jesus Christ. It was Jesus’ personal experience of the Father’s love that gave Him His mission to proclaim the Good News to the poor. Twice in His ministry, at His baptism and near to the end of His life at the Transfiguration, He heard the Father saying to Him, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (cf Mt 3:17; 17:5) Unless we share the heart of God, we cannot feel Him in our lives. “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” (Mt 12:30) St Paul said, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.’ (Phil 2:5)
So how can we enter the heart and mind of God? What other way than to begin by contemplating on the Word of God! Through a greater understanding and appreciation of the Word of God, we come to understand the mind of Jesus. We cannot grow in knowledge of Christ without the Word of God. Catholics must develop a love for the Word of God. More so we are living at a time when every Catholic knows how to read and write. There is no excuse for Catholics not to read and pray the Word of God every day. The fact that they are not prayerfully reading the Word of God means to say that they are paying lip service to their faith in the Bible as the Word of God. If the bible is truly the Word of God, then we would read it daily.
But it is not enough just to read the Word of God. We need to feel the heart of Jesus. This is where devotions in the Church have its place. But devotions to Christ, Mary and the saints and pilgrimages alone cannot suffice in helping us understand the mind of God. This is not to say that devotions are unimportant because they help us to feel with the heart of Jesus. Devotions to the Divine Mercy, the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary help us to beat with the hearts of Jesus and Mary. But mere devotions alone lack depth as the gospel tells us. This was what the Lord said, “Listen! Imagine a sower going out to sow. Now it happened that, as he sowed, some of the seed fell on the edge of the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some seed fell on rocky ground where it found little soil and at once sprang up, because there was no depth of earth; and when the sun came up it was scorched and, not having any roots, it withered away.” In the final analysis, true devotions must be rooted in the liturgy and in the scriptures and flow out of the liturgy as an expression of our love for the Lord, His mother and all the saints. Devotions seem to be more attractive to Catholics than reading the Word of God, as compared to Protestants. In truth, whether it is love for the Word of God or love for devotions, unless the heart is moved and convicted, no Catholic or Christian would be imbued with passion for the Lord and for the gospel. But when they fall in love with Jesus and come to know the heart of Jesus, they would give their entire life to the Lord.
Hence, through the reading of the Word of God and through the celebration of the liturgy and the pious devotions of the Church, we come to appreciate the inner life of our Lord, sharing in His mind and heart. What is of utmost importance is whether the reading of the Word of God or our pious devotions help us to enter the mind and heart of our Lord, not just the mind or the heart, but both. There is a real danger that some Catholics read the Word of God a lot and go for bible studies but they do not make time to interiorize the Word of God in prayer. So they grow in intellectual knowledge of the Word but they lack the experience of affectivity with the Lord. Unless we read the Word of God as if they are from the Lord, we will not be changed or transformed. This is what St Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, “We also constantly give thanks to God for this, that when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God’s word, which is also at work in you believers.” (1 Th 2:13)
This was why the Lord taught us in parables. Jesus told His disciples, “To you is granted the secret of the kingdom of God, but to those who are outside everything comes in parables, so that they may look and look, but never perceive; listen and listen, but never understand; to avoid changing their ways and being healed.” Parables are the means for us to enter into the depths of the experience of our Lord. For the disciples, Jesus did not teach them with parables because they were always with Him, watching Him, living with Him and being with Him. So they had the first hand encounter with the Lord. The disciples were always sharing in the intimacy of His life. Being with Jesus was the real transforming experience, not just hearing Him alone.
For the public, they only heard Him and at times saw Him performing miracles and healings. For this reason, the Lord used parables to engage them, not just to what He was saying but to help them connect His words with their own life experiences. The parables that Jesus used were taken from daily life encounters and therefore resonated with the listeners. No other explanation was needed. The purpose of the parables is not to help the people to understand, but it is to lead a person to identify with the inner experience of our Lord in His relationship with His Father. Parables help us to enter into the inside of the mind and heart of Jesus, His intimacy with God and Abba experience. Parables seek to engage the listeners through identification with similar experiences, through analogies of daily life and objects. By identifying our experience with the Lord, we get a grasp of what the Lord is seeking to mediate to us.
The truth is that God and love cannot be taught, logically explained or proven, but it must be an encounter and an experience. Truth is love. Truth is a person, not a word. This is what Pope Benedict wrote, “Saint John also offers a kind of summary of the Christian life: ‘We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us’. We have come to believe in God’s love: in these words the Christian can express the fundamental decision of his life. Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” (Deus Caritas Est, 1) Intellectual knowledge of God alone cannot change us radically. It is not the understanding of the mind but the heart that matters. The heart knows more than what the mind knows. The mind prepares the heart to receive Him personally.
When we enter into the heart of Christ, then we will come to appreciate the sacrifice He has made for us. “He, on the other hand, has offered one single sacrifice for sins, and then taken his seat for ever, at the right hand of God, where he is now waiting till his enemies are made his footstool.” Jesus’ sacrifice is efficacious because He offered nothing less than Himself. He is not just the Way, the Truth and the Life but He shows us the Way through His life and demonstrates His love for us through His passion and death on the cross, and finally revealing the Truth for us by His teaching and most of all His conquest of sin, hatred and death won by His resurrection. But this is not the only reason for the efficacy of His sacrifice.
His death and resurrection was necessary so that He could also pass on His Spirit that empowered Him throughout His ministry to us as well. Only with the Spirit of Jesus can we enter into His mind and heart. This is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy, “The Holy Spirit attests this to us, for after saying: No, this is the covenant I will make with them, when those days have come. The Lord says: In their minds I will plant my Laws writing them on their hearts, and I shall never more call their sins to mind, or their offences. When these have been forgiven, there can be no more sin offerings.” Unless the laws of God, that is, the Word of God is written in our hearts, we will not have that conviction to live the life of Christ. But if we do, then like St Paul we would too say, “For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.” (2 Cor 5:14)
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.