Sunday, June 16, 2024

Contact Points for Spiritual Strength

11th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Ezekiel 17:22-24; Psalm 91 (92):2-3, 13-16; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10; Mark 4:26-34

Picture: By Call Me Fred on Unsplash

My dear friends, how do we charge our electrical devices? Typically, we use a plug to connect the device to a socket. The three pins in the plug fit neatly into the corresponding spaces in the socket and, through these three contact points, electricity flows. We usually take it for granted that the plug will fit into the socket. Unless we’re in a foreign country, with sockets different from our own. Then we need an adaptor… But what about our spiritual batteries? Do we have a similar process for charging them too? This is the question our Mass texts help us to ponder today. In the prayer we offered earlier, we called God the strength of those who hope in God, and we confessed that, without God, our mortal frailty can do nothing. Without God, we are like devices without electricity. Good to look at, but unable to function properly. What to do? The scriptures offer us something like the connection between the spaces in a socket and the pins in a plug. Three contact points, through which power flows from God to us.

The first space in the socket is the crucial reminder of the importance of God’s initiative. Through the repeated use of the word I, the first reading emphasises that it is God who will preserve and renew the exiled people. I will take a shoot… I will plant it… I… have spoken, and I will do it. Similarly, in the gospel, Jesus likens the kingdom of God to the growth of a seed, which happens mysteriously, of its own accord. Above all, it is God alone, who makes things grow. The farmer’s part is simply to cooperate, to respond appropriately and generously to God’s initiative. Sometimes to sow or to reap. At other times to rest and to wait.

And if God’s initiative is the first space in the socket, then the pin that fits into it is named by a word that appears twice in the second reading. We are always full of confidence. Or, in another translation (RSV), we are always of good courage. Confidence or courage, not in our own efforts, but in God’s prior initiative, and tireless work. This is the first contact point through which we draw energy from God. But this connection is not easy to maintain. It’s not easy to remain confident, especially when growth appears slow, or even non-existent. Which is why we need a second contact point.

We find this in the next parable that Jesus tells in the gospel. Like a mustard seed, which is tiny at the time of planting, the kingdom of God has very humble beginnings. Which may discourage those of us who are conditioned to look only for instant flashy results, and easily measured key performance indicators. Forgetting that, not only did the Saviour of the world himself start out as a tiny helpless baby, lying in a smelly basin used for feeding animals, he was also cruelly put to death on a cross. Which is why, the pin that fits into this second space is the ability to walk or proceed by faith and not by sight. To see and evaluate everything with the merciful heart of Christ, instead of the prideful ambitions of this world.

The third space in the socket is a feature shared by the cedar tree in the first reading, and the mustard plant in the gospel. Once fully grown, they both provide abundant room for every kind of bird to find safe shelter, to rest in the shade of their branches. In contrast to the injustice and oppression found in this passing world, God’s kingdom offers a profound restfulness to all. Especially those who are weary and… carrying heavy burdens (Mt 11:28). Those in any kind of distress. And the pin that fits into this inclusive space is our striving to do not our own will but God’s. Our willingness to imitate St Paul, who is always intent on pleasing God.

So God’s initiative, and our confidence; the humble beginnings of God’s kingdom, and our ability to see and evaluate everything with the eyes of faith; the profound restfulness of God’s kingdom, and our striving to please God in all things. In the scriptures, these are the three points of contact through which spiritual strength flows from God to us. And isn’t this a particularly important message for all of us, who live in this pressure-cooker called Singapore? According to a news article published in April, although we enjoy some of the highest living standards in Asia, (ours) is also one of the most stressed-out societies. And as reported just three days ago, a recent survey has found a growing risk of burnout among workers and a need for greater mental health support. If this is true not just of Singaporeans at large, but also of us Christians, then perhaps it cannot be taken for granted that the plugs we use actually fit the socket that God provides. Perhaps we need something like a spiritual adaptor, such as the ones we use when visiting a foreign country. So that we Christians might not only learn to charge our own batteries, but also reach out to help others do the same.

Sisters and brothers, what can we do to better allow God to strengthen us on life’s journey today?

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