Reflection for the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Cycle B)
One of life’s most unfair moments would perhaps be the fact that some people will continue to complain in spite of having rendered for them, selfless service in the name of the kingdom of justice and peace.
Our best efforts at ministry are always negated by the heartless repudiation of its results brought about simply by insatiable cravings. Complaining people may constitute the most likely reason why anyone in his or her right mind, would beg off from initiatives of social action and social responsibility: Are they worth the charity and the sacrifice?
Self-centered people are never satisfied. Avaricious people are never satisfied. Unjust people are never satisfied. They are only satisfied when they can thrive within, and occasionally outwit the evil of others … with their own.
So, in spite of what God provides, and in spite of what a prophet does to show that God provides, such people will always grumble. They grumble not because they are not receiving what they need, but because they are not being given what they want. They nag persistently to the point that they themselves will not be satisfied with God, and will turn their backs to him. They will rebel and insist on a rejection of God’s way of simple sharing, and a return to their old habits. It is indeed amazing to see how our greed can surpass the generosity of the Spirit.
That is why the life of a prophet is both dangerous and depressing. Prophets are tasked to face the perils brought about by the enemies of the people they serve. But these perils are perhaps nothing compared to the sadness they may feel from all the grumbling, nagging and rebelling of the people themselves. Complaining people kill prophets with their ungratefulness.
We are these same people who are making lives difficult for these prophets of today. We complain at those who are warning us in doing evil, because we accuse them of taking the joy out of doing what is evil. We complain at those who are doing good, because we accuse them of not doing enough good in order to obtain what we desire.
But we must take a chance at trusting the prophets in our midst, even if they have to lead us through the desolate desert of unconditional selflessness. We have to test ourselves to check if indeed we can follow the hard path of freedom with them; or to conveniently remain out of their reach, in the clutches of a perpetual oppression. We should not impose upon them our mischievous ways, but we must allow them to correct and discipline us, eliminating “the old self of our former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires;” and becoming “renewed in the spirit of our minds, putting on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth.”
Our transformation compels us now to properly respond to selflessness. The “new self” will complain much less, and will express more gratitude. The “new self” will embark on a deeper comprehension of the mysteries and purposes of a meaningful life, and of how charity and sacrifice is central to that understanding. The “new self” will constantly be guided by the haunting image of the cross, even to the extent that it becomes the indelible mark of a professed renewal. The cross eventually becomes the vision statement of this “new self.” Our transformation compels us now to properly respond to selflessness, with a selflessness of our own.
Transformed thus in the way of the Christ, we will now know why our Lord is exhorting us not to simply ask for the provisions of God that are fleeting, “for food that perishes;” rather for the mission of God in providing for everyone, “for the food that endures for eternal life.” Do we love our Father only for the gifts we receive from him, or for the gifts we are obliged to share? Do we cherish God only because of what he bestows upon us in abundance, but also because he is giving us the bitter medicine to realize that our troubles can only be resolved by emptying ourselves for the sake of those in dire need? Our Lord is “the bread of life,” because it must be our lifelong kerygma to proclaim and follow his example of simple sharing, thus fulfilling social justice: “… whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”
Simple sharing is possible, but it is really up to us.
Brother Jess Matias is a professed brother of the Secular Franciscan Order. He serves as minister of the St. Pio of Pietrelcina Fraternity at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Mandaluyong City, coordinator of the Padre Pio Prayer Groups of the Capuchins in the Philippines and prison counselor and catechist for the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.
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