Christ The King, Year A
Combating consumerism and relativism.
Many of us are proud. This is especially so if we are successful in life, e.g. we have a good job, stay in a big house, drive an expensive car and live a comfortable life. So this is the case for many of us. When things are going well, I attribute all my achievements to myself – my intelligence, my ingenuity, my hard work. I tend to marginalise God, believing that He has no role in my successes. I may come to church every week, say my prayers and participate in the rituals. But my heart is far from God. In fact, lip services aside, I in fact worship myself more than I worship God.
This sin of replacing God with self is not new. In fact, right from the beginning, after God created our first parents, after He gifted them with the Garden of Eden, God gave them this warning: “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” (Gen 2:16-17) But the Devil was very cunning. He tempted Adam and Eve with a lie: “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen 3:4-5) Wanting to be the equivalence of God, Adam and Eve succumbed to the Devil’s temptation. Pride led Adam and Eve to sin against God. Pride continues to lead many of us to sin today. Pride is a destructive sin with many offsprings – it robs us of our contentment; we keep a facade and live in a lie; we get angry when others hurt our pride; we find it hard to admit our mistakes; we strain relationships; we hurt ourselves and those closest to us. Ultimately, we bring pains, sufferings, spiritual death and even physical death into our lives and to those around us. Hence the Second Reading this week says, through the sin of Adam, “all die in Adam” (verse 22).
The Devil continues to deceive humankind to this day, using consumerism and relativism as his tool. Through consumerism, we are told to place all our priorities on our personal comfort, for “we only live once” and so we ought to enjoy the most out of this life. We learn to turn a blind eye to the vulnerable in our society – the poor, the sick and those in need for companionship. Through relativism, we learn to create our own law to supersede God’s law. There is no right or wrong, whatever is right for me is therefore right. We think we created our own standards of morality but in fact we are sliding down the slippery slope of immorality. We kill unborn babies; we kill the sick and dying; and we engage in acts of sexual immorality – all because of the big “I”. Because I feel there is nothing wrong with these practices; or because it is convenient for me. And the Devil’s deception does not stop there. Many of us do not just practise these acts of consumerism and relativism, many of us are deceived into becoming advocates of these values. We share our values through Facebook posts, Youtube videos, political rallies, and speaking to friends. We champion the cause of consumerism and relativism by twisting the notion of fulfilment, human rights, love and equality. We persuade others to do the same even as we bring hurts upon ourselves, upon our loved ones; and are too proud to admit so.
Sadly, such phenomenon is not confined to the secular world. Even in Christianity, among the believers, consumerism and relativism is common. Many religious leaders are too afraid to speak up, lest they become unpopular. Some religious leaders went so far as becoming advocates of consumerism and relativism themselves, living a lifestyle and advocating causes inconsistent with God’s teachings. However, take heart, my brothers and sisters! For the truth belongs to God and He will have the ultimate victory. In the meantime, let us take comfort in the words of the prophet Ezekiel. The First Reading this week was written in the context of the Jewish Exile to Babylon. It was a sad time in Jewish history. Led astray by poor religious leaders, the people suffered moral decay and were eventually conquered by the Babylonians. In response to this moral plight, the Lord promised that He Himself will become the people’s shepherd, rescuing the lost sheep, heal the wounded and make them strong (verse 15-16). As the Second Reading promised, “for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ” (verse 22). As much as we may be distressed by our brothers, sisters and even religious leaders that have been led astray, we must recognise that they are not our enemies. Only the Devil is our true enemy. Rather than abandon our brothers and sisters to their erroneous ways, we must lead them back to God. But first, they must overcome the sin of pride, so that they may open to the Lord’s prompting. As the First Reading proclaimed, “I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak” (verse 16). Jesus promised us, “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance” (lk 15:7).
To help us in our mission, the Gospel this week provides us the tools to combat consumerism. In the passage, Jesus emphasised the importance of helping the poor and deprived – “for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” (35-36) And “just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (verse 40). Jesus teaches us that it is insufficient to merely observe religious rituals and profess our faith (as do the Pharisees, the religious leaders of His time). Christian living is outward looking, not inward looking – which is the opposite of consumerism. Our faith needs to come alive, by us living it day-to-day, attending to the needs of those who are poor, alienated, naked, sick and imprisoned. This is an apt reminder to us modern Christians, that we must not allow our faith to degenerate into mere lip services and ritualistic practices. It is upon verse 35-36 of this week’s Gospel that the Catholic Church based its teaching of Corporal Work of Mercy:
- Feed the hungry
- Give drink to the thirsty
- Clothe the naked
- Shelter the homeless
- Visit the sick
- Visit the imprisoned
- Bury the dead
Beyond these seven Corporal Work of Mercy, to help combat relativism, the Church advocates another seven Spiritual Works of Mercy to help lead our strayed brothers and sisters back to God:
- Instruct the ignorant
- Counsel the doubtful
- Admonish sinners
- Bear wrong patiently
- Forgive offenses
- Comfort the afflicted
- Pray for the living and the dead
These Spiritual Works of Mercy is not a one-way street. For just as we lead our strayed brothers and sisters back to God, we too need to be led back to God. For we too are the ignorant, the doubtful, the sinners, the offensive and the afflicted. Our brothers and sisters, our present plight is not new. As the book of Genesis and the First Readings show, the Devil has been up to his old trick since time immemorial. As we work to build the kingdom of God, let us take comfort in God’s promise in the Second Reading: “For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (verse 25-26) May His will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.