Prayer and Meditation for Monday, June 19, 2017 — “Behold, now is a very acceptable time!” — “Go the extra mile.”

Monday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 365

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Jesus Teaches the People by the Sea by James Tissot

Reading 1 2 COR 6:1-10

Brothers and sisters:
As your fellow workers, we appeal to you
not to receive the grace of God in vain.
For he says:

In an acceptable time I heard you,
and on the day of salvation I helped you.

Behold, now is a very acceptable time;
behold, now is the day of salvation.
We cause no one to stumble in anything,
in order that no fault may be found with our ministry;
on the contrary, in everything we commend ourselves
as ministers of God, through much endurance,
in afflictions, hardships, constraints,
beatings, imprisonments, riots,
labors, vigils, fasts;
by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness,
in the Holy Spirit, in unfeigned love, in truthful speech,
in the power of God;
with weapons of righteousness at the right and at the left;
through glory and dishonor, insult and praise.
We are treated as deceivers and yet are truthful;
as unrecognized and yet acknowledged;
as dying and behold we live;
as chastised and yet not put to death;
as sorrowful yet always rejoicing;
as poor yet enriching many;
as having nothing and yet possessing all things.

Responsorial Psalm PS 98:1, 2B, 3AB, 3CD-4

R. (2a) The Lord has made known his salvation.
Sing to the LORD a new song,
for he has done wondrous deeds;
His right hand has won victory for him,
his holy arm.
R. The Lord has made known his salvation.
In the sight of the nations he has revealed his justice.
He has remembered his kindness and his faithfulness
toward the house of Israel.
R. The Lord has made known his salvation.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation by our God.
Sing joyfully to the LORD, all you lands;
break into song; sing praise.
R. The Lord has made known his salvation.

Alleluia PS 119:105

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
A lamp to my feet is your word,
a light to my path.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MT 5:38-42

Jesus said to his disciples:
“You have heard that it was said,
An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.
But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil.
When someone strikes you on your right cheek,
turn the other one to him as well.
If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic,
hand him your cloak as well.
Should anyone press you into service for one mile,
go with him for two miles.
Give to the one who asks of you,
and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.”

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore

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19 JUNE, 2017, Monday, 11th Week, Ordinary Time

TALL ORDER

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ 2 Cor 6:1-10; Ps 98:1-4; Mt 5:38-42 ]

St Paul in the first reading reminds us that we are all God’s fellow workers in His vineyard, regardless what vocation we have in life.  By virtue of our baptism, which is our common vocation and calling, all of us have received the grace of God.  Yet, there is a real danger as St Paul urges us, “not to neglect the grace of God that you have received.”  Unfortunately, many of us take the graces and blessings of God for granted.  We forget that whatever the Lord has blessed us with; they are for the service of His kingdom and His people.  Regardless whether we are teachers, doctors, priests, entrepreneurs or government servants, we are called to use our talents and resources to build up the people of God.

The reality is that many of us are counter-witnesses to our faith.  If many have left the Church or do not join the Church, it is because we are not only not witnessing to Christ but worse of all, we are a scandal to non-believers and fellow Catholics.  That is why St Paul reminds us that we should “do nothing that people might object to, so as not to bring discredit on our function as God’s servants.” Indeed, many Catholics have left the Church because of the scandalous and contradictory lifestyle and unbecoming conduct of priests and religious. Lay leaders, ministry members and Church members are not exonerated.  Many are shocked and disgusted with how some active Church members behave towards their fellow Catholics; they are rude, arrogant, insensitive and always seeking glory and recognition, thinking about themselves more than others.

It is one thing to call ourselves the servants of God and another thing to be one. Many of us do not reflect the compassionate love and mercy of Christ.   Many of us call our spouse, our better half, but it is just empty words because if we really see them as our better half, we will always defer to our spouse. So too, many call themselves parents but they are more like disciplinary masters or financial controllers as they are totally disconnected with the lives of their children.  Some call themselves doctors but they do not put the saving of life above all other considerations.  Teachers are supposed to teach what is right, true and good but they impart the wrong messages to those under their care.

The scripture readings today provide us the high expectations required of God’s servants.  There are so many, as enumerated by St Paul.  So I would just single out a few for our consideration in today’s reflection.  Among these attributes, the first is that we must have a heart of compassion.  Jesus taught us, “If anyone orders you to go one mile, go two miles with him.  Give to anyone who asks, and if anyone wants to borrow, do not turn away.”  St Paul wrote, “We prove we are God’s servants by our purity, knowledge, patience and kindness.”  Compassion for our brothers and sisters means that we need to be identified with them in their aspirations, struggles, joys and sorrows. It is from a spirit of compassion that our hearts are open to others.

Secondly, there must be generosity of heart.  This is the basic requirement for anyone who wants to serve God, whether as priests, religious or in Church ministry or NGO helping the poor and the marginalized. This generosity to serve, to give and to help is a pre-requisite.  If someone is not capable of generosity, he cannot be a servant of God.  No matter how talented he might be, or passionate about what he or she is doing, without generosity of heart, he would end up serving himself, not the people.  It is about himself, not others.

Thirdly, a servant of God must have a spirit of equanimity and detachment.  In other words, he sees everything from the perspective of love.  Things and possessions are only means by which we can help others.  They are not the ends themselves.  Whatever we have, we should not be not attached to them.  However, it does not mean that we be irresponsible with the gifts God has given to us.  We are merely stewards of God’s grace and blessings.  If we can use them for the good and service of others, then we are ready to part with our resources.  This is what St Paul meant when he wrote, “prepared for honour or disgrace, for blame or praise; taken for impostors while we are genuine; obscure yet famous; said to be dying and here are we alive; rumoured to be executed before we are sentenced.”  A servant of God is truly free only when he has a disinterested spirit with respect to things, resources, glory and honor. A person who is free from attachment to things is always joyful.  This is why St Paul could say that we are “thought most miserable and yet we are always rejoicing; taken for paupers though we make others rich, for people having nothing though we have everything.”

Fourthly, a servant of God must exercise “a love free from affection.”  In other words, our love is unconditional.   Romance and love for friends and our loved ones, whilst good, is mutual.  It is not the highest form of love because we receive as much as we give.  It is still a pagan love because we love those who love us.  But if we are servants of God, we are called to serve all peoples, regardless who they are. Like public and government servants, they are called to serve all regardless of race, language and religion.  To love without affection means to love without attachment and expectation of reward.  This is the highest form of love because it is “agape”, the love of God, given to all.  How many times have we been shown love and helped by strangers whom we would never be able to reciprocate or thank?  Such unconditional love makes the gift even more precious because we know that it was given to us without any strings attached.  It is pure love.

Fifthly, a servant of God must live “by the word of truth and by the power of God; by being armed with the weapons of righteousness.” He must be a man of integrity, live a just life and be fair to his fellowmen.  He stands up for the truth and he is not afraid to do the right thing, not the popular thing.  A leader who lacks impartiality, honesty and justice cannot be credible.  A true leader embraces all and does not practice favoritism and, least of all, do things to favor his own kind or for his personal interests and gain.

To do all these, we need the one virtue that will make us outstanding servants of God, namely, fortitude.  All the virtues mentioned are good but often we do not persevere, especially when we are persecuted, misunderstood, criticized or wrongly accused.  We give up serving and doing good simply because some people criticized our work.  We hear only negative voices that dampen our spirit and our resolve to get things done.  St Paul showed his valor when he said, “We prove we are servants of God by great fortitude in times of suffering:  in times of hardship and distress; when we are flogged, or sent to prison, or mobbed; labouring, sleepless, starving.”   Leaders must be willing to suffer for what is right and good even when grossly misunderstood.  If we are clear about our service and are free from personal gain or interests, we need not react to the negative criticisms and slanders of others.  Most likely, the reason is because what we are doing affects their personal interests.  That is why we must always serve with “purity, knowledge, patience and kindness.”  When we have nothing to profit from our service, there is nothing for us to defend.  This explains why Jesus could ask of us, “offer the wicked man no resistance.  On the contrary, if anyone hits you on the right cheek, offer him the other as well; if a man takes you to law and would have your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.”  One who is pure in service does not react to opposition but simply keeps his focus on his mission and vision.  He keeps his head above those who oppose him simply because he has nothing to lose.

Indeed, at the end of the day, as servants of God, we must not think that it is in our power to live this kind of life or to do the things we want to do.  Servants must allow their master to bring about what they have been told to do.  It will be the power of the master that makes things happen.  We are only servants and his instruments.  So like St Paul, we do not rely on ourselves to be worthy servants of God, but we rely on His grace which is promised to us.  “For he says:  At the favourable time, I have listened to you; on the day of salvation I came to your help.  Well, now is the favourable time; this is the day of salvation.”  Again St Paul reminds us to live “by the word of truth and by the power of God.”  The psalmist declares; “Sing a new song to the Lord for he has worked wonders. His right hand and his holy arm have brought salvation. The Lord has made known his salvation; has shown his justice to the nations. He has remembered his truth and love for the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.”  It is the work of God, not the work of man!  As St Paul says, “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.’  (2 Cor 11:30)

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh
 

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Commentary on Matthew 5:38-42 from Living Space

We continue Jesus’ interpretations of some commands of the Mosaic Law as he pushes that law to a higher level of understanding.

“An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” is not, as it may seem to be saying, an encouragement to take revenge. It is part of what is known as the lex talionis by which punishment for an assault was to be restricted to not more than the suffering experienced. So Exodus 21:23-24 says: “You shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stroke for stroke.”

Jesus calls for a very different kind of response. He tells us to offer the “wicked man” no resistance.

He makes the famous recommendation to turn the other cheek. If a man would take your tunic, give him your cloak as well. If someone asks you to go one mile, go two miles with him. Give to the one who begs and do not turn away a borrower.

It is not surprising that even in Christian circles not a great deal of time is given to this text. Is it to be taken literally? Are we really to allow people to walk over us and offer no resistance at all?

I think the answer is both Yes and No.

For many in our “macho”-idealised world, turning the other cheek seems the ultimate in wimpishness and cowardice. It is certainly not the way of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Sylvester Stallone and countless other “heroes” on our cinema and TV screens. Can you imagine them turning the other cheek?

But Jesus did. During his trial before the Sanhedrin “they spat in his face and hit him with their fists; others said as they struck him, ‘Play the prophet, Christ! Who hit you then?’” (Matt 26:67-68). What was Jesus’ response? Silence. This was turning the other cheek. Was this weakness or was it strength? Which is easier to do under great provocation: to practise self-restraint and keep one’s dignity or to lash out in retaliation? By lashing out one comes down to the same level as one’s attackers. (This is quite different from self-defence.)

In another account of Jesus’ trial (John 18:22-23), after having given an answer to a question, “one of the guard standing by gave Jesus a slap in the face, saying, ‘Is that the way to answer the high priest?’ Jesus replied, ‘If there is something wrong in what I said, point it out; but if there is no offence in it, why do you strike me?’” Here Jesus does respond to the attack but on a totally different level. The physical and unreasonable attack on an unarmed person is actively responded to on the basis of reason and non-violence. Jesus is not a victim here; he is in control. And this is true of the whole experience of the passion. His executioners behave in the most barbaric way but he never loses his calm and dignity right up to the very end.

And that is why we worship him as our Lord and Master. He asks us to follow in his footsteps.

Revenge, in all its various forms, is the easier way, the more instinctive way but it is not the better way. The way of active (not passive) non-violence is, in the long run, far more productive, far more in keeping with human ideals and human dignity. We have more than enough evidence in our world of the bankruptcy of a never-ending cycle of violence and counter-violence. We see it in the Middle East, in Northern Ireland. Violence does not pay; revenge is not sweet.

The example of Jesus has been followed by a number of outstanding people in our own time. Gandhi in India, Martin Luther King, and Rosa Parkes who inspired him, in the US, Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Nazi Germany, Dorothy Day in the US, Jean Goss and Hildegard Meyer of the active non-violence movement in Europe… All of these people were actively involved in the correction of seriously unjust situations.

There is a striking scene in the film “To Kill a Mocking Bird” where the lawyer (played by Gregory Peck) has been defending a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman. As a white man himself the lawyer earns the hatred and contempt of his fellow-whites for defending a “nigger” they have already condemned as guilty. In this scene one of the townspeople approaches the lawyer and spits into his face. The lawyer stands there, says nothing, and slowly wipes away the spit. For the film viewer the contempt immediately shifts to the man who spat. The positive non-action of the lawyer reveals the smallness of his assailant.

Turning the other cheek is not at all a sign of weakness. It requires great inner strength, self-respect and even respect for the dignity of one’s attacker. Jesus is calling us a long way forward and upward from “an eye for an eye”.

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From last year:
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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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13 JUNE 2016, Monday, 11th Week in Ordinary Time
MISPLACED LOVE AND LOYALTY

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ 1 Kg 21:1-16; Mt 5:38-42 ]

In the first reading, we read about Queen Jezebel.  She is known as the wickedest lady in the Old Testament, together with her husband King Ahab.  Leaving aside the moral judgement on her actions, we must commend her for her total loyalty, commitment and love for her husband.  She would do anything to please her husband and to make him happy.  In today’s incident when Naboth refused to give Ahab his vineyard at any price, the king, like a pampered and spoilt child, wallowed in self-pity, anger and then fell into depression.  His wife seeing his condition and feeling sorry for him, said, “Get up and eat; cheer up, and you will feel better; I will get you the vineyard of Naboth of Jezreel myself.”  She must have been very devoted to the King and loved him much, so much so that she could not afford to see him suffering or sad.

This is true for many of us, whether as spouses or parents and even friends.  When we love someone, we want to make our beloved happy.  When we see them sad, suffering or hurting, we too are hurt and feel worried for them.  Indeed, when our loved one is sick or suffering from a prolonged illness or incurable sickness; or when our children are doing badly in their studies or suffer a failed relationship; or when our spouse is out of work or facing challenges at the work place, we feel much for them and wish we could alleviate their suffering and pain. For those whom we love, there is no sacrifice too big that we cannot make. Their joy and happiness is ours. Conversely, their sadness and discouragement is ours as well.  This is because we are so identified with them and for them.

Yet, like Queen Jezebel, quite often our love is misplaced and so is our loyalty.  Whilst we should do everything in our power to help our loved ones, we must not destroy them in the process.  We are to help them to become better, not worse!  Our task is not just to help them get what they want but to help them to grow in grace, maturity, wisdom, knowledge and love.  Although the Queen demonstrated herself to be faithful to her husband and would do anything for him, even planning to take the vineyard by force through murder, this was not the right thing to do.  By so doing, she caused her husband to sin with her and inflict injustice on Naboth and ultimately bring harm to the family and the nation.  In truth, she was not helping her husband, but by pandering to his whims and fancies, she brought about his and her destruction.

Therefore, when we are helping our loved ones, we must do the good and the right thing, and not just because they need it or want it.  Doing the homework for our children is not helping them to learn and acquire knowledge.  Doing the work of our colleagues when it is their responsibility is not helping them to be efficient and competent. Giving in to the demands and wants of our children and spouse can cause them to be lazy, materialistic and self-centered.  So whilst it is important that we should love them and help them, we must do it in a way that is for their good, not just now, but the future.   Our task is to help them grow in love, generosity, kindness and responsibility.  We do not help them to do evil things like Queen Jezebel, or help them to do immoral things like stealing, cheating, getting drunk, getting involved in orgies and debauchery.  Rather, we must help them to be virtuous, by reflecting with them their wants and needs; accompanying them patiently in their growth and allowing them to mature in grace and wisdom.  This is the kind of help and love we should demonstrate, rather than spoiling them and eventually making them lazy, selfish and irresponsible.  If we love them this way, we do not love them in truth but ourselves more, because we cannot bear to see them being purified in love.

However, the gospel seems to contradict what we have just been saying.  The Lord tells us to give in to our enemies and not to take revenge.  He even suggested that we do more rather than seek mere natural justice.  He said, “You have learnt how it was said: Eye for eye and tooth for tooth.  But I say this to you: offer the wicked man no resistance.”  This principle in itself is not wrong but inadequate.  When this law was taught it was intended to be a guide to help those who administer justice.  The principle of an eye for an eye simply means that the punishment must fit the crime.  We should not punish a person more than the offence he has committed.  Thus, this principle offers a good guide in tampering justice with leniency.   In this way, we do not become over lenient or too harsh in imposing punishment on those who break the law.

But this principle cannot be applied literally, for it is only a guide.  In truth, an eye for an eye does not work because it is not truly fair.  Both eyes and teeth are different in each person.  Maybe one is losing his eyesight and the other still has a good eye. We remember the ludicrous example given by William Shakespeare in the play, “Merchant of Venice” where the man tried to exact a pound of flesh from one who could not pay his debt.  But the real problem was that if he were to cut a little bit more, then he would have caused a grave act of injustice as well.  The point is simply that in life, things are never that clear cut.

What is paramount for Jesus is that justice should be done by making the situation better, not worse like Queen Jezebel.  So Jesus is urging non-resistance towards our enemies because it will only make matters worse.  By taking revenge against each other, we will hurt not just our enemies but ourselves and the whole community.  There are some of us who want to take revenge.  They have no intention to heal the situation or to remedy a fault but their real intention is to make sure their enemies or those who have offended them to suffer.  This is not justice but revenge.

To improve the situation, what we need is to make our enemies our friends.  This is what Jesus meant when He said, “On the contrary, if anyone hits you on the right cheek, offer him the other as well; if a man takes you to law and would have your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.  And if anyone orders you to go one mile, go two miles with him.  Give to anyone who asks, and if anyone wants to borrow, do not turn away.”  By loving our enemies and accommodating them, we will cool down their anger and they will be more themselves.  So long as we are dealing with an angry man, there is no way to reason with him because he is vindictive and can only think of his pain and become oblivious to the suffering of others. This too is the same advice of St Paul when in the same vein he advised, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ So, if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Rom 12:19-21)  Otherwise, we will become evil, angry, revengeful and resentful like our enemies as well!   We will be no better than them.  Revenge can only escalate to more retaliations and even killings.

Thus, we see that in two different situations, the rules are applied differently.  With regards to our loved ones and friends, we must not destroy them by pandering to their selfish demands and expectations.   In this case, we need to be loving, charitable and yet firm in love. On the other hand, with our enemies, we must give in to them for the sake of peace and, more importantly, to win them over to our side.  Once we become their friends, then we can help them to grow in grace, forgiveness, generosity and charity.  Indeed, all are called to love and show mercy but we must never do anything for short term gains, but do it for the overall good of the person and the community.  Hence, love must be true and truth is expressed in love.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh
 
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One Response to “Prayer and Meditation for Monday, June 19, 2017 — “Behold, now is a very acceptable time!” — “Go the extra mile.””

  1. daveyone1 Says:

    Reblogged this on World Peace Forum.

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