SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ Gn 46:1-728-30Ps 36:3-4,18-19,27-28,39-40Mt 10:16-23  ]

Being an authentic Christian living in a very secularized world is one of the most challenging demands of Christian life.  As Jesus warned His disciples in the gospel,  “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”  (Jn 15:18f)   So we must be ready as Christians and brace ourselves for a collision between the values of the world and our Christian values.  This is inevitable.  Indeed, even our loved ones will misunderstand us. Jesus warned us that “Brother will betray brother to death, and the father his child; children will rise against their parents and have them put to death.”  If as a Christian we feel there is no tension between the world and our faith, we are obviously not living out our Christian discipleship.  After all, Jesus said, “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’” (Jn 15:20) If our Lord was persecuted, why should we be exempted?

And the reason Jesus gave is because the values of the gospel are not of this world.  “I have given them thy word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.  I do not pray that you should take them out of the world, but that you should keep them from the evil one.  They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.  Sanctify them in the truth; thy word is truth.”  (Jn 17:14-17)  Our values come from Christ who is the Word of God in person.  He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. (cf Jn 14:6)

So how do we remain firm in our faith and yet live in this paradoxical and confused world with so many divergent voices, ideologies and self-centered interests?  In the gospel, Jesus urged us to be discerning and not be rash.  He said, “Remember, I am sending you out like sheep among wolves; so be cunning as serpents and yet as harmless as doves.”  Like the wise serpent, we must be tactful and learn how to strategize.  We need to be patient and study the situation before we seek to deal with the challenges.  Jesus advised us, “If they persecute you in one town, take refuge in the next; and if they persecute you in that, take refuge in another.”  In other words, don’t be a daredevil.  Foolhardiness and hot-headedness will cause more problems.  We must learn how to wait and see how things develop.

But we must also be gentle as a dove.  We do not deal with our opponents by using harsh words or taking up arms and using violence.  St Paul reminds us, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  (Rom 12:21)  This was what the Lord taught us “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, ‘Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.’”  (Mt 5:38-f)  Maintain good conduct among the Gentiles, so that in case they speak against you as wrongdoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.’  (1 Pt 2:12)   This was said of the Suffering Servant of Isaiah as well.   “He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street, a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.”  (Isa 42:2f)

But this does not mean that we keep quiet on the truth that must be spoken.  This is not what Jesus is saying.  He is not asking us to be silent.  On the contrary, He asked us to speak out when the time comes, regardless of who is our opponent. “Beware of men: they will hand you over to sanhedrins and scourge you in their synagogues.  You will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the pagans.”  This is the time when we are called to witness to Christ.  St Paul advised us, “Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts reverence Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence.”  (1 Pt 3:15)  It is in truth spoken with charity that will triumph in the end.

After having spoken and if the truth is not accepted, St Peter said, “But even if you do suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed.”  (1 Pt 3:14)  So we should not be discouraged as Jesus asked us to flee and come back to fight another day.  There are things that cannot be changed overnight.  There are opinions and trends that cannot be transformed in a short while.  We must be patient and leave the change in God’s time.  We are not the ones who will change and transform hearts but it is the work of the Holy Spirit.  We just need to do our part and be His vehicle of truth and mercy.  That is why He told the disciples, “But when they hand you over, do not worry about how to speak or what to say; what you are to say will be given to you when the time comes; because it is not you who will be speaking; the Spirit of your Father will be speaking on you.”  Let the Holy Spirit speak to their hearts.

However, it would be quite wrong to say that the world has nothing but falsehood.  Everyone seeks true happiness, joy, meaning and love in life.  The values of the gospel are universal values.  But the means to attain them differ between religions and ideologies.  Some contain more truths than others.  Some are misguided or lived under illusion.  So even in our attempts to enlighten all in the truth, we must be respectful of opinions and views that differ from ours.  Our task is to listen, to engage in dialogue and mutual understanding.  It must not be seen as Christianity versus the world.  Rather, Christianity is for the world because we read “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”  (Jn 3:16f)

So we must cooperate with the world and stress on what we have in common and accept our differences in certain moral positions such as abortion, euthanasia, same-sex union, divorces and death penalty.   We should continue to engage in dialogue. It does not mean that we need to be silent on these issues but there is a larger picture of the concrete situations confronting society and the world.  We cannot impose our values on the world.  We can only propose.  This takes time and patience.  The psalmist says, “Then turn away from evil and do good and you shall have a home for ever; for the Lord loves justice and will never forsake his friends.”

Indeed, this was how Jacob in the first reading dealt with the vicissitudes of life.  Faced with famine in his homeland, he was forced to migrate to Egypt where his son Joseph could promise them a better life.   But he knew that God’s promise would be fulfilled.  He did not forget the promise of God.  This was confirmed in the vision he received from the Lord. “Do not be afraid of going down to Egypt, for I will make you a great nation there.  I myself will go down to Egypt with you.  I myself will bring you back again, and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes.”  God’s plan for the full possession of the Promised Land and the establishment of the Kingdom would take another 800 years or more for God’s promises to be realized.  But God’s plan would not be derailed by men.

But Jacob was also shrewd.  He did not want his people to lose their culture and values.  And thus he asked to be settled at Goshen, in the north-eastern part of Egypt.  (cf Gn 46:28-34) In this way, he had the best of both worlds.  He received the generosity of the Pharaoh and yet keep apart from them because of their prejudice against shepherds.  He was wise enough to make a compromise.  He might not have seen the full realization of God’s promise, but he was contented to see the small victories, as in seeing his people well looked after by Joseph.  In this way, his people continued to multiply and grow from strength to strength.

So in faith, we too must live our faith.  Not everything can be realized in our times.  We only need to do our part and leave the rest to God to unfold His plans.  We just enjoy whatever anticipated joys or achievements we have in our times.  The best is yet to come. Like Jacob, we must not insist on our ways.   Like him, we must be willing to trust God and wait for the promise to be fulfilled.  This is what the psalmist says, “If you trust in the Lord and do good, then you will live in the land and be secure.  If you find your delight in the Lord, he will grant your heart’s desire. The salvation of the just comes from the Lord, their stronghold in time of distress.  The Lord helps them and delivers them and saves them: for their refuge is in him.”  This is the assurance of the Lord Himself, “You will be hated by all men on account of my name; but the man who stands firm to the end will be saved.”  He will not abandon us.  Knowing that He is with us in this journey should give us the courage to persevere right to the end.

Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore