Monday, 25 February 2019

7th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C 2019

The Gospel this weekend continues with last week’s instruction. What Jesus teaches is not unfamiliar to us. Both Matthew and Luke focus on the Beatitudes but with different target audiences and emphases. Matthew’s teaching is directed at the disciples and the crowds whereas Luke’s target is specifically the disciples alone. Matthew ends His teaching on the love of one’s enemies with an invitation to imitate God’s perfection whereas Luke concludes with an affirmation of God’s mercy.

All in, whether we imitate God’s perfection or His mercy, we are told that to be His disciples, we must love our enemies, turn the other cheek, give to those who ask, do unto others, lend without expecting repayment, judge not lest we be judged.

Just listening to the Gospel, we get a sense that Christian discipleship is truly a tall order. It is really a “big” word.

By big, I do not mean hard. Sure, the discipleship of Jesus is a tough calling; a tall order to fulfil. We are easily slighted in this age of entitlement and victimhood. Whenever I am stopped for a random security check at London Heathrow, the first thought that goes through my mind would be, “Why? Is it because I am Asian”? Closer to home, when stopped by the police, what goes through the mind is, “Because I am Chinese”? We readily flash the minority card, be it race, religion, sexual orientation and now gender identity. Therefore, it is not surprising that we will find ways to mitigate or soften Jesus’ teaching about love or walking the extra mile. And, even if we were to embrace the notion of love for one’s enemies, I am certain we will find some forms of “justice” to say that love does not extend to the categories of people like terrorists or a rapists. In would appear that Jesus’ definition of love is quite unlivable. What is worse is that loving those who love us is not love at all.

So, how are we to live up to the love that He has taught us? How do we embrace the difficulty of His teaching and where do you think the call to love most felt?

Judging from our electronic experiences, our universe appears to be divided into different echo chambers. The Church is not untouched by the world as she too is fractured by camps. We all inhabit eco-systems which we routinely encounter beliefs or opinions that coincide with ours, so that whatever we hold to be “true” is reinforced while alternative ideas are disregarded. Furthermore, there is a virtualisation of religion, in the sense that what we want to believe is easily accessible through the electronic medium and it does not help that we suffer from herd mentality. Check out your online new provider like the BBC app. There you can personalise your news in such a way that only the content which confirms your bias is delivered to you. In everyday life, do you have friends who forwards you pictures, messages, videos and emails? Do you realise what you see is filtered through the preferences of your friends? If you have a friend who is slightly paranoid, you are bound to be fed a daily dose of paranoia. And if you are paranoid, it amplifies it.

In this polarised and fragmented world, religion can be reduced to a form of social therapy. Jesus functions better as counsellor rather than a Saviour. Religion works more as a therapy rather than a belief system that aligns us to God. In this fearful and lonely world we encounter a strong antagonism towards what is different or the other. Nevermind walking the extra mile or lending to others without expecting any returns. If Najib calls himself the King of Trolls, he is definitely not the only one because cyberspace is veiled by an anonymity that engenders a meanness that is nothing short of vicious. What matters for many are the “likes” as if number were a measure of right. And guess what? People just need to be “right/like” for they fear the loneliness of being “wrong”. Yet, the need to be right does not always lead us to the path of good or truth. One could be “right” or factual and yet be espousing some form evil or falsehood.

The discipleship proposed by Jesus hinges on a person rather than on an idea. One the one hand, the whole shebang about “loving one’s neighbour, turning one’s cheek and etc” which is good in itself can also be a form of ideology. Would it not be nice if everyone got on together and there was more kindness in the world? We have tried to engineer this world before—bridging the gap between what the world is and how the world should be. A good example is how liberation theology proposed a socio-political vision of humanity whereby the “kingdom” of God had a better chance of success if it were conceived more as a “kindom” of God—not a hierarchical top down “kingdom” structure but a democratic system of kinship equality. The fact is, Communism had tried to impose an order of social fairness for everyone but without the person of Jesus Christ, any system that imposes itself on humanity will fail because it is merely an ideology, an idea without heart and without mercy. On the other hand, St Paul describes this link between what the world is and how the world should be as being modelled upon the heavenly man. Thus, discipleship is a “big” word in the sense that its horizon extends beyond the natural domain as it reaches into the supernatural realm.

Clearly, what Jesus asks of us is beyond our natural grasp as it requires a strength that comes from above. This strength is not derived from an ideology no matter how alluring it is. Instead strength comes from an encounter. In Deus caritas est, Benedict XVI furthers St Paul’s understanding: 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.

This new horizon and decisive direction projects  a “big” picture which we often fail to see if we focus on mere ideology. It is big because it invites us to believe in a God who definitely sees more than we dare to acknowledge. It is a trust which places one’s life into the hands others and finally to God. This is exemplified in the lives of countless men and women who do not fight back not because they are cowards but because they trust in God. We would think it stupid but for them, justice is not confined to this earthly existence life and punishment does not end with incarceration. Now you see why Catholics offer Masses for souls in purgatory. However, St John Paul II, in our recent past, showed us the power of forgiveness and love for one’s enemy when he went to the gaol to forgive and be reconciled with the man who had tried to assassinate him.

Hence, to do what Jesus asked of us, we need to fall in love with Him. We can take our cue from our Protestant brethrens when they term it as a “personal” relationship. When I love Him, then I will love even the person whom I do not like or even know. Seeing with the eyes of Christ, I can give others much more than what I can normally give. How can we fall in love with Him? Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity spend an hour with Him present in the Blessed Sacrament especially before they step out to do works of charity. This Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is the one who gave up His life as He embraced His Father’s will. That which gave meaning to His life gives us ours too especially when life turns messy. It is only in Him that we gain the courage to see selfishness as folly and accept self-sacrifice as triumph. For Him, because we love Him dearly, we dare to love our enemies and when everything we have is taken away—pride, wealth and health—and we still say we are victorious, it is then that our discipleship will shine brightly and pulsate with the light and love of Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour.