5th Sunday Year B
Docility in Christian living.
My brothers and sisters, are we docile in our Christian living? In the commercial world, the causal relationship among effort-result-reward is very clearly understood. If we put in a great effort, most times, we expect a good result. And we produce a good result, we expect a reward, in terms of a commendation, a raise or a promotion. What does this have to do with Christian living? Christian living involves walking in the footsteps of Jesus. It involves giving, receiving and accepting. For those of us who aspire to true Christian living, sometimes we are so used to the effort-result-reward model of the secular world that we bring that expectation to our Christian lives. It becomes detrimental to our faith life. We lose docility in our Christian living.
Firstly, Christian living involves giving. Some of us are called to give up our time and effort to help homeless and the poor. Some of us are called to serve in church ministries – to help in worship services, in teaching and in evangelisation work. As many of us who have been involved in such work will testify, they do not conform well to the effort-result-reward model of the secular world. Take evangelisation work as an example, I may put lots of effort into evangelisation, only to see those I evangelised gaining a lukewarm faith. Often too, the ministry work I do may take a long time to yield result, sometimes beyond my tenure or even beyond my lifetime. In spite of my effort, I could not see tangible results. I could not see the fruits of our labour and get discouraged. This is when we need docility in service. When we are docile, we can accept that we are but a small part in God’s greater plan. All I need to do is to play that part God has given me and do it well. I may not be granted the vision of God’s greater plan, but that is ok. As Jesus said, “For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labour. Others have laboured, and you have entered into their labour.” (Jn 4:37-38)
The Gospel this week provides us two great examples of generous giving through service. We hear that Simon’s mother-in-law was ill with a fever. Jesus came and cured her. Upon being cured, she got up immediately and “began to serve them” (verse 30-31). Imagine, she just witnessed a miracle performed on her, but she did not make a big deal out of it. She did not draw any attention to herself but simply got up and serve Jesus. This is a great example in docile Christian service. The Gospel passage this week follows immediately after last week’s. In last week’s passage, we hear that Jesus has just exorcized an unclean spirit from a possessed man in the synagogue. This week, we read that “as soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew” (verse 29) and healed Simon’s mother-in-law. It has been a long day and we can imagine Jesus must be very tired by the evening. Yet, “that evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door” (verse 32-33). Jesus got to work immediately and healed them. With the whole city gathered at the door, it must have been a very long night! After working so hard, Jesus could have stayed with Simon Peter for a few days, take a break. But instead, he said to the disciples the following day, “Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” (verse 38). What tireless docile service our Lord has shown us! What about me? In my Christian service, have I shown the same tireless dedication and docility?
Before his dramatic conversion experience on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-22), St Paul was a respected member of the Pharisee. He was also a Roman citizen, which carried great prestige in that time. St Paul’s conversion experience brought an about-change in him. In the Second Reading this week, reflecting on his calling to share the Gospel, St Paul said, “If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel!” (verse 16) Such is the humility and docility in St Paul that he gave up the privileges he used to enjoy as a Pharisee and Roman citizen. As he said, “I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.” (verse 19-23) St Paul realised that the way to win the hearts of the people is not to talk down to them from the stand, but to come down and become one of them. For those of us called to preach and teach, let us ask ourselves, what is my attitude when I exercise my calling? Am I docile like St Paul? Or am I too proud to come down from the stand?
Secondly, Christian living is about receiving. We receive from God in many ways. I may be going through a rough patch in my life and I needed a helping hand from those that God sends in my way. Am I too proud to acknowledge my moment of weakness? Am I too proud to accept help from others? Besides receiving practical help, we also receive spiritually from God. My dear friends, have you wondered why Jesus was able to serve with such selfless dedication that we witnessed in the Gospel? In the Gospel passage, we read that “in the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” (verse 35). That is right, my brothers and sisters, to serve as He did, Jesus needed constant spiritual nourishment. To constantly form ourselves spiritually, we need to constantly contemplate on God’s word. God’s word comes to us in many forms, through scripture reflection piece such as this; through our own contemplation; from bible sharing sessions; or from a sermon delivered from the pulpit. Like the self-righteous Paul on his way to Damascus, God is calling me to conversion. God has a message for me through His word. But am I so proud that I choose not to listen? Do I say to myself, “This message suits this person and that other person. As for me, my behaviour is exemplary. This message is not for me.” Let us heed to the call of the Psalmist, “O that today you would listen to his voice! Do not harden your hearts” (Ps 95:8-9)
Thirdly, Christian living is also about accepting God’s plan in our life. Often, our lives do not work out the way we planned. This is especially hard when through no fault of my own, misfortunate and disasters befall upon me. What do I do? Do I complain to God bitterly? Or do I accept God’s plan in my life in docility? As God said through the words of prophet Isaiah, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isa 55:8-9)
Job was a very faithful man. As a test of his faithfulness, God allowed the devil to test Job by inflicting a series of mishaps and bodily pains upon him. In the First Reading this week, Job was lamenting on the sufferings he endured. The Jews in Biblical times believed that one’s sufferings are a result of one’s sin. Hence, when sufferings befell upon Job, his friends assumed that Job must have sinned. Though Job himself did not understand the purpose of all his misfortunes, he remained faithful to God. Job lamented, “Like a slave who longs for the shadow, and like laborers who look for their wages, so I am allotted months of emptiness, and nights of misery are apportioned to me.” (verse 2-3) Often, in spite of my faith, and in spite of my service to God, things do not work out in my life the way I expect. Especially when misfortunate and disasters befall upon us, it is natural that we feel discouraged as Job was in this week’s Scripture. But importantly, Job never lose faith. He was always docile in accepting God’s plan for him. In the end, as a reward for his faithfulness, God restored Job’s health and endowed him with wealth many times over what he originally had. Jesus had a similar experience in the Garden of Gethsemane on the eve of His Passion. As hard as it was for Jesus, in docility and for the sake of the greater good, He accepted the Father’s will and walked the way of the cross.
My dear friends, Christian living is about being docile to the Lord always, whether we are giving, receiving or just accepting. In Jesus’ life, whether He was administering to the inflicted, receiving spiritual nourishment from the Father or in the end, accepting the cross, Jesus was always docile. Let us heed Jesus’ example and walk in his footsteps in our own faith journey. Amen.