Sunday, June 25, 2023

Being Outstanding

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Readings: Jeremiah 20:10-13; Psalm 68 (69):8-10, 14, 17, 33-35; Romans 5:12-15; Matthew 10:26-33

Picture: By Yustinus Tjiuwanda on Unsplash

My dear friends, did you see the report in yesterday’s Straits Times, about the hundreds of students flocking to tuition centres to take mock mid-year exams, because these are no longer offered in local primary and secondary schools? What do you think about that? I must confess that I’m not surprised, though I do find it both amusing and revealing that one of the tuition centres mentioned is named Overmugged. I too might be drawn to register with Overmugged, if I had a child preparing to sit for a major exam at the end of the year. The motivation is easy to understand, right? It’s likely a curious mix of a desire to stand out, and a fear of losing out. We want to excel without being different from others. In other words, we want simply to be more of the same.

Coincidentally or not, our scriptures today also encourage us to stand out. But in an opposite way. Not by being more of the same, but by being so different as to become a sign that is opposed (Lk 2:34). Isn’t this the experience of Jeremiah? Isn’t this why he suffers so terribly? Feeling besieged from every side, as though everyone is out to get him? And they are. For he insists on offering his opponents the word of God, even when they firmly resist it. How does he find the courage to keep doing this? The prophet himself provides the answer: the Lord is at my side, a mighty hero…

Jeremiah is able to stand out before others, because he trusts that God is standing by him, to deliver him. And we know that his trust is not misplaced. For, as St Paul reminds us, God’s fidelity is clearly shown in Jesus, through whom God firmly and forever stands by God’s people. Even to the point of shedding his own blood, and forsaking his own life. Undoing the tragic effects of the fall of Adam, by a singular work of divine grace, lovingly offered for all as an abundant free gift.

Which is why, if we Christians do stand out among others, it’s not for its own sake, but only so that we might keep standing by the One who chose to stand by us. As his Blessed Mother did. In the moving words of that hymn we sing in Lent: At the Cross her station keeping, stood that mournful mother weeping, close to Jesus to the last… It’s only by carefully tending the flame of this desire to stand by him, as well as those whose suffering he has chosen to share, that we can properly heed the Lord’s call in the gospel. A call he issues no less than three times: Do not be afraid. For everything that is now covered will be uncovered, and everything now hidden will be made clear… And if, due to our weakness, we still feel fearful, we can make our own these words from another familiar prayer: O good Jesus hear me, within your wounds hide me, do not allow me to be separated from you…

In a world where it often feels as though sin and death continue to reign supreme, the Lord still calls us to stand out, so as to keep standing by him, and within the wounds he bore for love of us. Sisters and brothers, even as students drive themselves to excel in their exams, what are we doing to prepare for that final meeting with our Divine Examiner? Where will we choose to stand today?

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