Weekly Reflection (26 Sep 2021)

26th Sunday Year B

Numbers 11:25-29
James 5:1-6
Mark 9:38-43,45,47-48

Parochialism and envy.

There are many people of goodwill in the world. In our churches, there are people in ministries spreading goodwill – in helping the poor, in teaching the Word of God, in simple act of services such as cleaning and gardening. Across the Christian churches and among all major religious groups, many are doing the same – helping, teaching, servicing. And acts of goodwill are not restricted to organised religions either. Beyond our churches, mosques, temples and synagogues, there many non-faith-based charities reaching out to the world in goodwill, e.g. the Red Cross, the Cancer Council, Oxfam, etc. But we don’t hear about these often. We live in a world where traditional and social media like to propagate news of conflicts rather than news of goodwill. We now have a generation of young people whose main source of news is the social media, a platform where anybody and anyone can propagate any information, even if the information is fake or is charged with negativity. It is no wonder that they world is getting more cynical by the day. This is why, more than ever, we need to promote goodwill. We need dialogues and collaboration among people of goodwill, irrespective of their faith background. In the Catholic Church, we champion inter-faith dialogues and collaborations through a movement called ecumenism. But sadly, for many reasons, ecumenism is often not promoted or championed.

Unity is often difficult to achieve. Because of human weaknesses, even as people of goodwill working together, we often fight against rather than work with each other – believers against unbelievers, one religion against another, and within the same religion one group against another. In truth, because of our human weaknesses, many of us are parochial in nature. We form cliques and adopt adversarial attitudes to everyone else outside our cliques. In the previous week’s reflection, we reflected on the Seven Deadly Sins of pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, anger, and sloth. The Church calls these the deadly sins because these are the root sin from which other sins spring from. As St James warned in the Second Reading the previous week, “Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts.” (James 4:1-2) One of these deadly sins is envy. Again, St James told us, “For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind.” (James 3:16)

To counter “disorder and wickedness of every kind”, as people of goodwill, we have a duty to do our utmost best to showcase our goodwill to each other and to the world. We want to spread our love to the world. We want to inspire others to join us as people of love and goodwill. We want to grow our community of goodwill. In religion, we call this evangelisation. Contrary to what many might think, the main objective of evangelisation is not to make our religion bigger, richer and stronger than the other religions. In other words, we must not let parochialism and envy be the driven force of our evangelisation efforts. Rather, the main objective of evangelisation is to spread love and truth. For to live life in love and truth in to enjoy the fullness of life. Irrespectively of our religions, we are all brothers and sisters under the Fatherhood of God. In our love, we desire¬†everyone¬†to enjoy the fullness of life.

In the First Reading this week, God commanded Moses to choose seventy elders to be leaders of the people. The First Reading tells of how Eldad and Medad, even though they were not among the group chosen, were endowed with the gift of the Spirit and started to prophesise. On witnessing this, Joshua, filled with parochialism and envy, urged Moses to stop Eldad and Medad: “My lord Moses, stop them!” (verse 28). In the Gospel this week, we read of a similar situation. St John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” (verse 38) So you see, my brothers and sisters, even holy men like Joshua and St John are not immune from parochialism and envy.

So what must we do? How can we overcome our sin of pride and envy, which are the root sins of our parochialism? We need to form ourselves. We need to reflect on the word of God regularly and invite the Spirit to open our heart to God teachings. Because even while the Bible is not foreign to many of us, when we read the Bible, many of our hearts are not in the right disposition. When my hearts is closed, then God’s word cannot enter my heart. This is so even as I understanding the meaning of the words or even understand the profound theology behind the words. As Jesus warns us, “the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.” (Jn 3:19) In response to Joshua’s complaint, Moses said, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!” (verse 29). Moses made it clear we should not be envious of others doing God’s work, even if the other person is from another ministry, another religion or another social group. In the Gospel, Jesus told St John, “for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us.” (verse 39-40)

In truth, if I am parochial and envious, my concern is not about building the kingdom of God in heaven. My concern is about building my own kingdom on earth. My brothers and sisters, our earthly kingdom is but temporary. Jesus taught us not to store up treasures on earth, “where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal”; but rather store up treasures in heaven, “where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Mt 6:19-20). All earthly treasures, no matter how glittering and majestic, will one day pass away. As St James warned us in the Second Reading, “Your riches have rotted, and your clothes are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted” (verse 2-3) Reflection upon these words for a moment. If I let my parochialism and envy drive my ministry work, I am in fact acting against other workers in the Lord’s vineyard; and in the process, sow division and disunity among God’s people. While I may think that I have stored up treasures in heaven through my ministry work, it is but an illusion. It is as St James accused us in the Second Reading, “You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who does not resist you” (verse 6).

“For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?” (Mark 8:36) Let us cast away our parochialism and envy; and serve with true goodwill.

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