Thursday, October 12, 2006

27th Thursday in Ordinary Time (II)
Getting Ahead

Readings: Galatians 3:1-5; Luke 1:69-70, 71-72, 73-75; Luke 11:5-13

There’s probably at least one thing that’s part of almost every Singaporean’s psyche: the sense that nothing’s for free in this world, that no one owes us a living. Our particular historical and geographical background has made it necessary for us to cultivate this kind of work-hard-in-order-to-survive attitude. And, in itself, it’s not such a bad thing, unless of course people try to take illegal shortcuts to get ahead. We take justifiable pride in knowing that we have defied the odds and done well for ourselves over the years.

However, tensions arise when we spontaneously carry this disposition over into our spiritual life. Consciously or otherwise, do we not sometimes tend to think and act as though we could – and, indeed, have to – earn our own salvation? And are there not some of us who look out for and are attracted to various devotions, prayers and religious movements as shortcuts for us to get ahead in the spiritual life?

This tendency is not much different from the one that Paul is so worked up about in the first reading today. He does not mince his words. Are you people in Galatia mad? Paul’s complaint is against those who think that Christians must follow all the requirements of the Jewish Law, including circumcision, in order to be saved. By doing so, Paul insists, these people are forgetting that salvation is a gracious and unmerited gift from God. To have access to it, we need only to believe and to open our hearts to receive. There is really nothing we can do to earn it. Of course, receiving the gift then entails that we act in ways appropriate to people who are saved. But these actions come after the fact. We do not win our own salvation.

If it were otherwise, Jesus’ teaching on the need for persistence in prayer would mean little. Why would we need to keep shamelessly begging God for what we need if we could simply work hard and earn it ourselves?

No, if there’s a secret shortcut to getting ahead in the spiritual life, it is the need to realize two truths: our profound poverty and God’s boundless generosity. To be blessed with this realization is also to live the reality of the first Beatitude: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven (Mt 5:3).

What difference might such a realization make in our lives today?

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