9 October, Sunday – I am with you, always

9 October

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2 Kings 5:14-17

Naaman the leper went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, as Elisha had told him to do. And his flesh became clean once more like the flesh of a little child.

Returning to Elisha with his whole escort, he went in and stood before him. ‘Now I know’ he said ‘that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel. Now, please, accept a present from your servant.’ But Elisha replied, ‘As the Lord lives, whom I serve, I will accept nothing.’ Naaman pressed him to accept, but he refused. Then Naaman said, ‘Since your answer is “No,” allow your servant to be given as much earth as two mules may carry, because your servant will no longer offer holocaust or sacrifice to any god except the Lord.’

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2 Timothy 2:8-13

Remember the Good News that I carry, ‘Jesus Christ risen from the dead, sprung from the race of David’; it is on account of this that I have my own hardships to bear, even to being chained like a criminal – but they cannot chain up God’s news. So I bear it all for the sake of those who are chosen, so that in the end they may have the salvation that is in Christ Jesus and the eternal glory that comes with it.

Here is a saying that you can rely on:

If we have died with him, then we shall live with him.
If we hold firm, then we shall reign with him.
If we disown him, then he will disown us.
We may be unfaithful, but he is always faithful,
for he cannot disown his own self.

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Luke 17:11-19

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus travelled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered one of the villages, ten lepers came to meet him. They stood some way off and called to him, ‘Jesus! Master! Take pity on us.’ When he saw them he said, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ Now as they were going away they were cleansed. Finding himself cured, one of them turned back praising God at the top of his voice and threw himself at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. The man was a Samaritan. This made Jesus say, ‘Were not all ten made clean? The other nine, where are they? It seems that no one has come back to give praise to God, except this foreigner.’ And he said to the man, ‘Stand up and go on your way. Your faith has saved you.’

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We may be unfaithful, but he is always faithful

The readings today point to the need for faithfulness and gratitude. Both Naaman the leper and the Samaritan were considered outcasts and marginalised by society. Though both were unbelievers at the beginning of the story, they equally received the healing that they needed so badly. Out of humility and gratefulness, they turned their faces towards God and gave thanks. For Naaman, even though Elisha turned down his offering, he insisted that his heart was no longer set on making offerings to lesser gods but only the Lord; while the Samaritan ran to embrace Jesus’ feet and gave thanks to God. This turnabout of heart seems to be a recurrent exercise in my faith life.

During the past two months, I experienced a great tension in my life. There was a conflict of attending to various life projects, of feeling torn in different directions and geographical locations. I could not settle. This anxiety crawled on my skin and irritated me to the point of constant restlessness. I had spent a short few weeks in Boston setting up a home for my coming marriage. Then I had to fly back to Singapore, and in less than a week, off again to Brisbane for a week of work. Meanwhile, I knew that I was sorely in need of a quiet retreat with the Lord to tend to my drying spiritual garden. With various needs of my life calling out like a siren, I grew dissatisfied no matter where I was. It seemed I was always neglecting something else.

On the plane to Brisbane, I was sad, wishing that I had not planned for the trip. At the same time, a little voice nudged at me to trust that maybe God had a plan in all this. Maybe, just maybe, this trip could be the ‘retreat’ I needed to recover from my anxiety attacks…

It took me a couple of days to settle into the rhythm of (yet another) new timezone, culture, environment. As the waves of restlessness slowly ebbed away from my skin over the first few days, I learnt not to put boxes over various aspects of my life. God does not belong in a box; and neither do I. Even the kind of ‘quiet place’ that God can lead me away to, may take on different forms. It did not need to resemble a retreat house or a secluded space – even the midst of a bustling city centre can be a place of repose. Can I be open to behold this? Ah, the scales over my eyes were still being lovingly pried away…

To my delight, I found that my hotel was smack on the same street as the St Stephen Cathedral (Brisbane’s Archdiocese seat), and I was able to attend daily Mass and receive our Lord in both bread and wine! In between work commitments, I had the chance to meander along the riverfront, form new friendships in my travelmates, and appreciate the private quietude of exploring a new city on foot. Yet in the midst of work and repose, I still could not help experiencing the habitual pangs of worry. Deep down, I yearned to be rid of this recent affliction. God still had a surprise in store.

My healing moment was a beautiful Sunday when I ventured out for a run in the Botanic Gardens. I stumbled on a weekend farmer’s market full of music, craft, and food. I jogged along the waterfront, explored the garden hills, sprinted across a foot bridge with spectacular views, and watched sunkissed lovers and children soaking in the nascent spring warmth. A food truck vendor gave me an extra portobello mushroom with my breakfast order. I cradled in my hands, a fresh cup of coffee.

And there it was – a tiny flutter of a heart in awe. A gasp of gratitude for this undeserved grace and blessing, encased in a moment of private reverie with Jesus. As I sat still, taking in all of this serendipitous beauty, certain of his presence and companionship, I felt these simple words – “I am with you, always.”

I was humbled to recognise the mystery and redemption in this apparent ‘displacement’ God had put me through. On hindsight, in the mere appearance of being reluctantly jostled and displaced, there was a deeper message of God’s unchanging faithfulness to me in all of life’s stations. Even if I should thrash about, He waits patiently for my heart to still, for my ears to hear, and for my eyes to gaze long enough to see Him loving me all the while.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

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Prayer: Help me Lord to believe that there are grace-filled moments in everyday life, to trust in your companionship as I go through each day.

Thanksgiving: That we may ever hold onto steadfast hope in the redemptive power of your love and plan for our good.

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