Monday of the 32nd Week in Ordinary time
Titus 1:1-9; Psalm 23:1-6; Luke 17:1-6
I’m sure we all must have had experiences of clearing drains, especially blocked ones. To really do a good job of clearing these drains, there are certain steps that we need to follow. We first need to remove the main sources of blockage – the tree branches and other large obstacles that trap the smaller bits of dirt. Then, after that’s been cleared, we sweep up the dirt, dried leaves and other debris that causes the water not to flow well. Lastly, we try to flush the drain with some water to make it fully clear. This image of drain clearing seems a very apt description of the process of self-improvement and movement towards God described in the Gospel. Allow me to elaborate on the three steps described there.
- Do no harm. The first step in the Gospel tells us to do no harm. We should not be stumbling blocks to others’ journey of faith or else we will be punished. The Greek word for stumbling block is skandalon (our English word ‘scandal’ has its roots here) which is a flexible stick that’s used to set a trap for animals. In the same way, we should not trip people up. In other words, the Lord is telling us not to do harm to others, especially in their lives of faith. While doing no harm seems pretty easy, it could be too easy. We could end up just standing back and not do anything good either. But it’s a good start – if we can’t do good yet, at least start with not doing anything bad.
- Do some good. The next step, when the Lord reminds us to forgive each other is to move forward and to actually do some good. The example given is to forgive others and not just to do so once but as often a necessary. That’s the main challenge to us – to do good and to do so as often as we humanly can. The latter is difficult because we can sometimes rest easy in the little good that we do and get tempted to ‘rest’ after some good. We’re called to be good and do good all the time. Which leads us to the last and highest level.
- Transformation. The last level has to do with faith – and how faith can transform our intermittent and episodic doing of good into something that’s more consistent and part of our way of life. Faith is a grace, a gift from God that we cannot manufacture ourselves. With the faith in the Lord that our doing good is right, we’re able to transform our lives in conformity with the Lord’s commands so that this faith can permeate our every living moment. It transforms us into a person who doesn’t just do good but becomes the good as we are called to be as Christians.
If this seems difficult, don’t worry. We’re not expected to reach the third level immediately as it’s an incremental process. We need to go through the two prior stages before reaching the closeness with God that the third stage points towards. This takes time and sometimes, it could take our entire lives and beyond. St Paul give us clues on what to do. In the last part of 1st Reading he writes about what kind of a person a leader of a community should be. He tells us what we can aim for when we’re aiming to be transformed Christians who have a strength and depth of faith.
Most of us, however, are at the first two levels. I know I’m no different and I also know it’s easy to stay there. St Ignatius describes three types of people who honestly seek God in his ‘Meditation on the Three Classes of People. The first procrastinate and don’t do much with the talents they have. The second type do some good but hold back some of their talents or gifts for themselves and don’t give of themselves fully. The third type give themselves to the Lord fully and wholeheartedly, discerning and doing only that which is for the greater glory and praise of God. That’s the kind of transformation that we all aim for.
It’s easy to procrastinate and be happy with what we’re doing. I can be quite happy doing some good here and there, not exerting myself completely for God and for others because I just want to take things easy. We have talents but we hold back because we’re afraid that if we give ourselves fully to God and to others, we might get overburdened or lose time for ourselves. But the Lord constantly reminds us that in following Him, the yoke is easy and the burden is light. That happens only when we are fully committed to following the Lord.
So how’s that going to happen? It happens with faith. That’s why mulberry bush image so apt. Mulberry bushes have deep, tight roots, which make them very hard to uproot. That’s a metaphor for what faith can do – with faith and trust in God’s grace, we can allow the Lord to uproot our deeply held attachments and begin to be transformed. To be able to allow the Lord to permeate and motivate all our thoughts, words and deeds. Faith allows us to be truly transformed.
That requires some letting go, letting God take the reins and do whatever we cannot do ourselves, trusting in the grace required to allow us to continue to do good while slowly transforming ourselves to conform with the idea of Christ himself. By having the faith that our limitations and distractions can be lessened in our transformation. That the Lord himself is working with us to clear the drains of our hearts that we can love better. I end with a short prayer that St Ignatius advises us to begin all our prayers with:
I pray for the grace that all my thoughts, words and actions may be directed purely to the praise and service of God our Lord. Amen