In today’s Gospel, Jesus encounters a very human situation that we too have encountered or heard happening to people we know. The people of Jesus’ hometown in Nazareth knew Him as Joseph’s son, the carpenter. When they first heard Jesus explain the Sacred Scriptures, they were initially moved with great admiration and amazement of His Wisdom. However, they soon became so angry with Jesus that they sprang to their feet, hustled Him out of the town and tried to kill Him. What did Jesus say that so infuriated them?
Jesus merely pointed out to them that during the prophet Elijah and Elisha’s time, when God fed the poor widows and cured the lepers, God showed His Compassion to the non-Jewish people of Sidon and Syria.
To the Jews they considered themselves as God’s Chosen People and thus, only they themselves could receive blessings from God. So, when Jesus proclaimed that God actually showed the Gentiles special preferential care and compassionate love, they became so furious that they wanted to kill Him. One Scripture scholar even says that to the Jews, they believe that God created the Gentiles so that they can be used as fuel for the fires of hell. Thus, we can see that there is clearly something seriously wrong in the Jewish perception that God’s blessings upon them have to be solely for them and no one else.
There is a story of a monk who one day in his prayers experienced great consolations and visions of God loving Him. However, in the middle of all these deep spiritual joy, the monastery bell rang to say that it was time to feed the poor people who usually gather in front of the monastery every day.
The monk was in a terrible dilemma. He struggled with the question, “Should I stay on in prayer and enjoy his vision and great blessings that I am receiving from God or should I answer the call of duty to feed the poor? He knew that if he delayed going out, the poor would all disperse and understand that there was no food in the monastery for them that day.
The monk had to make a quick decision before the bells stopped ringing. He immediately decided to feed the poor and give up his vision. After about an hour or so later, having fed the poor, he returned to his cell. When he opened the door, he was surprised to find that the vision was still there. The monk fell on his knees with deep gratitude to God. Then in the vision, God said to him, “My son, had you not gone off to feed the poor, I would not have stayed.”
My brothers and sisters in Christ, when God gives us blessings, they are not meant solely for our own sanctification. God blesses us, so that we too can become God’s instruments of blessings to others. When the monk was deeply blessed with a vision of God, the blessings were concretely expressed in deeds of compassion to the poor who were at his monastery door. If he, like the Jews thought that the blessings were simply for his own sanctification and salvation, then the vision would have ceased.
Some good basic questions we could ask ourselves today are first, “Have we counted our blessings in life? Second, “Have we told God how grateful we are for His Goodness and Compassion to us? Third, “Have we used God’s blessings for the good and benefit of other people, including the building of our Parish family?”
As we reflect on the Jews in today’s Gospel, we can learn that human anger often comes from jealousy, insecurity and thus the fear of others. To the Jews, if others can receive God’s blessings then they are no longer such a “special race” and no longer the special Chosen People of God!
Have you come across people who are angry at you and gossip about you simply because you have a bigger house, better job and happier family than theirs? Such people will never have peace in their hearts as they are not able to rejoice in the success and blessings of others.
In fact, they will never find peace in their hearts in-so-far as someone they know are more blessed than them. They have a sadness of heart that is only able to feel the deep peace and security, if they can face the truth that God’s blessings are for all peoples, and that they have no right to monopolise God’s blessings. Such people will only also find the true peace of Christ if they, like the monk in our example, are able to use God’s blessings for the good of others.
Fr Joseph Galdon, a Jesuit once wrote that “we fight because we want something; and when we don’t get what we want, we get mad and fight. It is like two children both wanting and fighting over the same toy. We also fight when somebody has something we don’t have and we are filled with envy and jealousy; basically, we are greedy and possessive. We also fight with one another because we are always asking for things that are selfish and for our own pleasure. And when we don’t get what we want selfishly, we get mad and lash out at whoever who is nearby – a husband or wife or a friend.
To work towards a solution, we should first want less of the many things we want in life, especially wanting what people we know have and we don’t. We need to simplify and purify our needs and wants.
In our Second Reading, St Paul’s letter to the community at Corinth spells this out more clearly when he says, “Love is always patient and kind; it is never jealous; live is never boastful or conceited; it is never rude or selfish; it does not take offence, and is not resentful. Love takes no pleasure in other people’s sins but delights in the truth; it is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope, and to endure whatever comes.”
Perhaps, most important of all we need to develop a meaningful prayer life that connects us more intimately with God; we need a prayer life that is able to overcome our jealousy, insecurities and anger in life. We need a prayer life, like the monk in our illustration earlier, that is concretely connected to the reality of the needs and sufferings of others in our daily living.
To conclude, I would like to end with the following prayer.
Oh help me, Lord, to grow each day
In such an even, balanced way
That a rich glory may shine through
Each word and deed I do for You.
Give me a love that reaches others –
Never minding race and colours.
Grant me patience to be kind
To each living thing I find.
Help me, Lord, to understand
And reach out a ready hand.
As I strive to be well-groomed,
May my soul be also pruned.
Cut the branches that won’t bear.
May my countenance more fair.
Speak through me to those in need;
Use me, Lord, their souls to feed.
Dear Lord, when I press my will,
With new wine, my spirit fill.
Help me not to go astray
But ever to Thy bosom stay.
Use my lips and use my mind –
All of me that You can find.
Use me to show forth Your glory,
Ever speaking forth the story.
Just use me, Father, in my prayer
As I daily breathe earth’s air.
And Lord, as I now say Amen –
May we soon commune again.
(Ref: Happiness Manufacturers, Hedwig Lewis, S.J., pp 54.
The Mustard Seed; Reflections for Daily Living, Joseph Galdon,S.J.; pp. 167-168)
Fr Philip Heng,S.J.
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