30 September, Monday – For or Against?

Sep 30 – Memorial for St. Jerome, Priest and Doctor

Jerome (347-419) led a misspent youth. He later converted in theory, being baptised in 365, and then had a true conversion when he studied theology. Monk. He revised the Latin text of the Bible. The result of his 30 years of work was the Vulgate translation, which is still in use. He is a Doctor of the Church and Father of the Church. Since his own time, he has been associated in the popular mind with scrolls, writing, cataloguing, translating, etc. This led to those who work in such fields taking him as their patron – a man who knew their lives and problems.

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Zechariah 8:1-8

The word of the Lord of Hosts was addressed to me as follows:

‘The Lord of Hosts says this. I am burning with jealousy for Zion, with great anger for her sake.

‘The Lord of Hosts says this. I am coming back to Zion and shall dwell in the middle of Jerusalem.

Jerusalem will be called Faithful City and the mountain of the Lord of Hosts, the Holy Mountain.

‘The Lord of Hosts says this. Old men and old women will again sit down in the squares of Jerusalem; every one of them staff in hand because of their great age.

And the squares of the city will be full of boys and girls playing in the squares.

‘The Lord of Hosts says this. If this seems a miracle to the remnant of this people (in those days), will it seem one to me?

It is the Lord of Hosts who speaks.

‘The Lord of Hosts says this.

Now I am going to save my people from the countries of the East and from the countries of the West. I will bring them back to live inside Jerusalem.

They shall be my people and I will be their God in faithfulness and integrity.’

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Luke 9:46-50

An argument started between the disciples about which of them was the greatest. Jesus knew what thoughts were going through their minds, and he took a little child and set him by his side and then said to them, ‘Anyone who welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For the least among you all, that is the one who is great.’

John spoke up. ‘Master,’ he said ‘we saw a man casting out devils in your name, and because he is not with us we tried to stop him.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘You must not stop him: anyone who is not against you is for you.’

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Anyone who is not against you is for you

I have just gone through probably the most significant event in my university’s short history – the groundbreaking for our future campus in the north-east of Singapore. While the event went off well by all accounts, there were more than a few significant glitches during the planning which left much to be desired. And while I tried hard to hint and goad my core team of 3 towards finding viable options/solutions each time they faced a hurdle, I found myself shaking my head many times, having to come up with the solution each time.

During the rehearsal on the day before the event, I finally blew up and let out my frustrations at the emcee (a former student whom we had employed). Naturally, I felt that I had let myself down and apologised the next day to everyone present, emphasising how I was used to working with professionals who always brought perfection to the table. I had inevitably forgotten that half the team consisted of students who had actually volunteered their time to make the event a success.

As a result, I have begun to question if, in my desire to achieve perfection in my work, I have placed unnaturally high expectations on those around me. After all, none of them have come from the cutthroat commercial world I used to inhabit. This was echoed by a senior staff who left us after the event (he had tendered his resignation two months prior) who cautioned that many in my division may not be able to take my intensity at work, especially so when things go wrong. But I took comfort from the fact that he said everyone was behind me in terms of what I was trying to achieve.

So while no one is ‘against’ me in terms of my vision, I have been wondering if my staff may not be ‘for’ how I strive for perfection every time. Indeed, I have heard that there is a sub-culture of ‘just doing the bare minimum’ which is getting more pervasive —  something totally against my own belief system when it comes to work. I recall my late father saying, “If you want to embark on something, do it to the very best of your ability. Otherwise don’t bother wasting other people’s time.” I have always taken this to heart and applied it to my work situations. I reckon that whatever the outcome, as long as others around you see you doing your utmost to deliver on something, they will always be ‘for’ you because you have done your best.

Jesus, on the other hand, had it tough. Because those who were ‘for’ Him turned ‘against’ Him at the end in varying ways – they denied Him, some abandoned Him, many others condemned Him to death. Yet, in His most anguished state, He asked His heavenly Father to forgive them. This was His ultimate expression of love for us and till today, I struggle to reconcile how I can tolerate (let alone forgive or accept) those around me who are ‘against’ me in subscribing to a different work ethic from me. At times, I tell myself, “This is not my company, so just go with the flow.” But, brothers and sisters, I think you would agree that compromising on our own standards is akin to not living out one’s calling. And once you start on that slippery slope, it is extremely difficult to come back up.

It is only through God’s merciful love that anyone who has fallen from grace can make it back to His table. I pray, brothers and sisters, that He can help me find the grace to accept others as they are, and to recognise that the phrase ‘doing my best’ means different things to different people.

(Today’s Oxygen by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Jesus, we pray for all those who are in difficulty and yet strive each day to fulfil their responsibilities as parents, grandparents, bosses, managers, executives, caregivers, counsellors, lay people and professionals. Give them a spirit of excellence that allows them to give of their very best each and every day.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for your ever-loving, merciful blessings and graces upon those who struggle to provide for their families.

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