Let me put a further question: is it possible that God has rejected his people? Of course not. I, an Israelite, descended from Abraham through the tribe of Benjamin, could never agree that God had rejected his people, the people he chose specially long ago. Do you remember what scripture says of Elijah – how he complained to God about Israel’s behaviour? Let me put another question then: have the Jews fallen for ever, or have they just stumbled? Obviously they have not fallen for ever: their fall, though, has saved the pagans in a way the Jews may now well emulate. Think of the extent to which the world, the pagan world, has benefited from their fall and defection – then think how much more it will benefit from the conversion of them all. There is a hidden reason for all this, brothers, of which I do not want you to be ignorant, in case you think you know more than you do. One section of Israel has become blind, but this will last only until the whole pagan world has entered, and then after this the rest of Israel will be saved as well. As scripture says: The liberator will come from Zion, he will banish godlessness from Jacob. And this is the covenant I will make with them when I take their sins away.
The Jews are enemies of God only with regard to the Good News, and enemies only for your sake; but as the chosen people, they are still loved by God, loved for the sake of their ancestors. God never takes back his gifts or revokes his choice.
On a sabbath day Jesus had gone for a meal to the house of one of the leading Pharisees; and they watched him closely. He then told the guests a parable, because he had noticed how they picked the places of honour. He said this, ‘When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take your seat in the place of honour. A more distinguished person than you may have been invited, and the person who invited you both may come and say, “Give up your place to this man.” And then, to your embarrassment, you would have to go and take the lowest place. No; when you are a guest, make your way to the lowest place and sit there, so that, when your host comes, he may say, “My friend, move up higher.” In that way, everyone with you at the table will see you honoured. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the man who humbles himself will be exalted.’
Think of the extent to which the world has benefited from their fall and defection
I have a friend who was formerly in civil service before joining the private sector. Due to his long service with the government, any future hospitalisation is completely covered for by the government. But this is a perk that is gradually disappearing. Once a civil servant could expect his medical and even his retirement plans taken care of by his employer, now the government is trying to get its employees to become more responsible for their personal finances.
As such, the government has authorised private insurers to provide hospitalisation insurance to Singaporeans payable through their CPF Medisave accounts. Pensions have also been withdrawn (except for the highest paid civil servants) so civil servants now have to plan for their own retirement. If you’re a civil servant, you’d complain about it. But if you’re not, you’d be grateful that the government is pushing for this because it means your own selection of insurance and retirement plans have increased. The government has made available to you what was previously only for the civil servants.
This is a real-life analogy for what happened to the Jews. The Jews, like the civil servants, had everything there for them. God gave them everything and practically spoon-fed them their salvation. But like a baby who doesn’t understand, the Jews rejected that salvation. In response, God made this salvation available for everyone else. If you’re a Jew, you’d complain. But if you’re not, you’d be grateful that God was pushing for people to take charge of their own salvation because it means that you were given the opportunity to receive it through Jesus Christ.
In the gospel reading, Jesus was teaching the Pharisees social etiquette. Pharisees, being Jewish leaders, expected to have the highest places of honour given them. By going to take the places of honour at a feast, sometimes they risked being demoted to a lower position if there was someone else more important present. Jesus taught them not only how to get the places that they deserve, but also to receive public recognition for it. Jesus’ way was not only better it also made them take more social responsibility.
Sometimes, as Catholics, we think that salvation will be handed to us so long as we did all the things that we’re supposed to do – go for Mass every Sunday and on the holy days of obligation, help out in some church ministry, pray the Rosary, go for confession, and so on.
Every now and then comes an occasion when we are challenged to take responsibility for our own faith. It may mean abandoning what we’ve been doing for so long only to find a better way of living a Catholic life. It may mean realising that our salvation is not taken for granted, and we may be tempted to go back to the old way of doing things, except that now we know that the old way also doesn’t guarantee salvation.
Today, let us remember that God is encouraging us to take responsibility for our own salvation through Jesus Christ. Let us reflect on how we are daily ensuring our own salvation.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Daniel Tay)
Prayer: We pray for those who are young in the faith and not yet aware that salvation doesn’t come simply by following a few set rules and practices.
Thanksgiving: We give thanks to the Lord who has encouraged us to reach for the salvation He offers.
Sun, 30 Oct – Malachi 1:14-2:2.8-10; 1 Thessalonians 2:7-9.13; Matthew 23:1-12; Thirty-First Sunday of Ordinary Time