11th Sunday Year B
In my endeavours, do I walk by faith? Or do I walk by sight?
All of us have our fair share of successes and failures in life. This applies to our commercial endeavours; it equally applies to our ministry work. My brothers and sisters, what emotions and thoughts run through you when you encounter successes? Do you feel elated? Do you congratulate yourself for a job well done? Do you stop and admire your achievements? Conversely, what emotions and thoughts run through you when you encounter failures? Do you feel deflated? Do you feel demoralised? Do you blame yourself?
Many of us are like that in our commercial endeavours. We are so even in ministry work. When we encounter success, we like to take credit for it. When we encounter failures, we feel so discouraged that we give up. This sort of feelings can be especially detrimental in ministry work. In success, we bask ourselves in glory. In failure, we lose heart and walk away. Why do we feel like that? In truth, it is because we have locked God out of our work. There are two possible reasons we do this. For some of us, it is because of our pride. Often, I forget who I am doing the work for. Am I doing the work for God, or am I doing it for myself? Whether it is evangelising God’s word, feeding the poor, raising fund for a cause or promoting religious freedom, I want to be front-and-centre of the project. If anyone offer his/her help, they must sing to my tune. The second I lock God out of my work is because of I do not trust God. I do not believe that God will help me and bless my work. So I become over-dependent on myself. And so, if the outcome is a successful one, it is because of my ingenuity and intelligence. On the other hand, if the outcome is a failure, even though I have tried my best, I feel discouraged or even shameful. These are clear signs that I am not doing the work for God but for myself. And if I am doing the work for myself, who really is my god? In truth, I have become my own god.
There is a popular Chinese saying: “The planning lies with human; the outcome lies with God.” There is also an equivalent English idiom: “Man proposes, God disposes.” In other words, to avoid the aforementioned pitfall, I must always approach my work with the First Commandment firmly planted in my heart. In other words, in everything that I do, God must come before everything else.
The first reading this week give us an example how not to act. It flows from the historical events of successive Jewish king’s failure to put God first. To appreciate message of the First Reading, it has to be read in the context of its preceding text. The passage was written in the time of Babylonian invasion of the Jewish Kingdom of Judah, when successive Jewish leaders were taken to Babylon in exile. Ezek 17:3-4 spoke of a great eagle (symbolising Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar) who took the topmost shoot of the top of the cedar (symbolising King Jehoiachin of Judah) and took it to exile in a city of merchants. King Zedekiah, Jehoiachin’s successor, then made the mistake of trusting himself instead of God. Instead of remaining faithful to God and relying on His providence, Zedekiah formed an alliance with the pagan nation of Egypt, “another great eagle” (Ezek 17:7). This ended in disaster. The failures of these Jewish kings were not due to their lack of military endeavours. Rather, they rely on their own human endeavours – thus rendering the blessings of God unnecessary. Without God by his side, Zedekiah suffered a tragic end (2 Kgs 25:7).
Hence, in the Second Reading, St Paul advised us, “walk by faith, not by sight” (verse 7). We are urged to rely on faith even though faith in God is an unseen quality. The healing of the man born blind in Jn 9 offers us another example. In the story, even though “since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind” (Jn 9:32), the doubters would not believe. The Pharisees did not want to believe because they rather rely on their strict Sabbath laws and Mosaic traditions (Jn 9:16,28). The parents of the blind man did not want to believe because they feel the need to protect themselves, rather than relying on God’s protection (Jn 9:20-21). In the final analysis, we realise that while others “walked by sight”, it was the blind man who “walked by faith” (Jn 9:38) The others who chose to walk by sight has no faith in God.
For those of us discouraged by our human failures, God offers us a ray of hope and faith in the First Reading. Amidst the doom and gloom, God made the promise that out of line of kingship of Judah, He will raise a messiah, a true king who will bring salvation to the world. God promised that He Himself will take a shoot from the top of the cedar and plant it on the high mountain, where it will flourish and provide shelter to all who come under it (verse 23). As for all the other shoots planted by others, symbols of all our human endeavours without the blessings of God, nothing good will result from them – the high tree will be made low and the green tree will be made dry (verse 24), just like the fate of King Zedekiah.
My brothers and sisters, let us reflect the mindset we take to our work. In my work, both commercial work and church work, who do I rely on? Do I walk by sight, relying on what I can see and touch; or do I walk by faith? For the one who walk by faith is like the sower in Jesus’ parable this week. He scatters the seeds and sleeps in peace (verse 26-27). He just do his part and leave the rest to God. He believes that if God is willing, the smallest seed can yield the richest harvest. Just like the mustard seed, which is “the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade” (verse 31-32). Not only does the seed germinates and grows, it brings shelter and shade to all around it. So it is with my work if I can let go of my pride and distrust; if I can bring myself to truly relying on God. Then, God will make my work bears fruits in ways I could not even imagine.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isa 55:9)