10th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
Picture: cc Julia Manzerova
My dear friends, do any of you still remember this classic situation from those old Hong Kong drama serials of the past? The one where a happy bachelor finally gets married, only to find himself cruelly torn between his domineering mother on the one hand, and his equally stubborn wife on the other. Both of whom just can’t seem to get along. The poor guy doesn’t know what to do? Of course, this kind of thing never happens in real life, right? But still, do you know what it feels like to be pulled in different directions like that? To hear different voices, telling you to do opposite things?
For example, my friends may be inviting me out for a movie. But my parents are nagging me to stay home and study. Or lower COE prices signal me to buy a flashier car. But the sight of a feeble senior citizen, selling tissues at the hawker centre, may prompt me to think about setting aside more money for the poor instead. These are voices that come from the outside. There may also be voices from inside. Encouraging me to be patient and forgiving with an enemy, for example. Or pushing me to be angry and resentful. Even to seek revenge.
So what to do, sisters and brothers, when I find myself in a situation like that? Probably one of the first things I may need to do is, of course, to accept that I have to make a choice. Since the voices I hear are pulling me in opposite directions, I can’t follow them all. To try to do so is to be torn apart. The question, of course, is how to choose? What do I need to make the right choice? This is the question that our Mass readings invite us to ponder today. This is the kind of situation in which Jesus finds himself in the gospel.
His work of proclaiming the Good News of God’s love and mercy brings Jesus to his hometown. Where he hears various voices telling him different things. His relatives say he is crazy. The religious authorities accuse him of being possessed by the prince of devils. For their own respective reasons, these voices want Jesus to stop his ministry. But, even though the voices are loud and insistent, the Lord resists them. And we know why. It’s because he is making a choice. He is choosing to listen to another voice. The voice of his heavenly Father, from whom he receives his mission. And it is also this divine voice that Jesus encourages his disciples, encourages you and me, to choose to follow. For this is how we become members of the Lord’s true family. Anyone who does the will of God, that person is my brother and sister and mother.
But isn’t it true, sisters and brothers, that it is not always easy to make this choice? How do I know, for example, which voice is God’s? Obviously, one thing I need is clarity. The same clarity that Jesus has. The ability to recognise the loving melody of the Father’s voice, amid the hostile or seductive clamour made by the voices of strangers. How does the Lord gain this clarity? Very likely in the same way that we often learn to recognise someone’s voice on the phone, even without looking at the caller ID. Simply by spending enough time talking to that person. Clarity often comes with close contact. With constant intimate communication with God. Something that we call prayer.
But clarity alone is not enough. For even if I am clear about what my parents or my children, my spouse or my God, want me to do, I may still choose to do the opposite instead. Isn’t this precisely the situation in the first reading? Where we’re told that the Lord God called to the man and the woman. But instead of responding at once, they get scared and hide themselves. I was afraid… so I hid. And the reason why they hide themselves is not because they have not recognised God’s voice. But because they are listening to other voices. Voices that tell them they are naked, unworthy of God’s regard. Voices that have earlier drawn them to disobey God. To suspect God’s instructions. To spurn God’s friendship.
For the man and the woman in the first reading, clarity alone is not enough for them to respond to God’s voice. They need something else. Something to help them overcome their fear. They need courage. The same courage with which Jesus resists his opponents. The same courage that we find also in St Paul in the second reading. The passage begins from verse 13 of chapter 4. Earlier, from verses 7 to 12, Paul writes about the many difficulties and problems that he has to encounter in his ministry. And yet, in today’s reading, he goes on to say that there is no weakening on his part. Despite all his trials, the apostle still chooses to persevere. The way Jesus perseveres in the gospel. Even unto death. From where does Paul get this courage? In the reading, he tells us that it is from faith. From his close relationship with Christ, his crucified and risen Lord. We… believe, Paul writes, and therefore we… speak.
Clarity and courage, giving us the ability to make a crucial choice. This is what we find in our readings today. The clarity and courage to choose, in our daily lives, always to follow no other voice than God’s alone. A voice continually calling us to walk the way of self-sacrificing service, instead of self-serving greed. The way of Christ’s humble Cross, instead of the devil’s prideful vanity. The way of downward mobility instead of upward ambition.
My dear sisters and brothers, if today you happen to find yourself hearing various voices pulling you in different directions, which one will you choose to follow?