It is difficult to accept changes in life. Many of us would rather mantain the status quo. Change, whether in our personal life, work or lifestyle, can be rather daunting. Especially difficult, is when we have to adapt to changes in the organization we are working for due to restructuring, expansion or downsizing. Change can cause us much stress and many of us cannot cope with it. Instead of being open to the new possibilities and future benefits, we put up all kinds of resistance until we find ourselves unable to fight the changes any longer. For many of us, change is forced upon us rather than a choice taken happily and freely. In the scripture readings, we have two groups of people facing radical changes in their lives.
In the first instance, we have Jacob who had to make a radical change in moving back from Haran, where his uncle lived, and return to the Promised Land. His return to his homeland was certainly not easy, for by then he had already married two wives and had eleven children. He was also a rich man then, and had many possessions. But what made him fearful and insecure was what his brother Esau might to do to him or his family. He knew that through devious means, he had cheated his brother of his birthright. He was nervous as to what his brother would do if he were to return home, since he had threatened to kill him earlier. With all these fears and anxieties, it would have been better to stay put in Haran. But he did not. God’s promise to Jacob must be fulfilled.
So on the night before he was due to meet his brother, we read of how Jacob struggled with God, seeking for direction and affirmation as to whether he was doing the right thing in returning home. During the night, he encountered an angel and wrestled with him till daybreak, resulting in a dislocated hip. He refused to let the angel go until he was blessed by him. He also wanted to know the name of God, which in the Old Testament signified power over the person. Of course God would not reveal His name and allow him to have power over Him.
Instead, God gave him a new name, Israel, and His blessings as well. The new name, “Israel” means one who contends with God. To be given a new name is to be given a new mission as well. In other words, through this incident, Jacob, now called Israel, is given a new vocation. Through him God would fulfill the promises He made to his ancestors Abraham and Isaac. Through this encounter with God, he was now assured that God was with him. As a result of this conversion experience, Jacob was deeply changed as well in his character and life. No longer was he devious, cunning and lacking integrity. From then on, he became a faithful servant of God, living a life of honesty and integrity.
Jacob’s struggle to be faithful to God’s will and trusting His divine providence is but one of the struggles of the nation of Israel in their fidelity to God. Again and again the people of Israel were challenged to abandon their false gods and the adoption of Canaanite culture and the worship of their vegetation deities. It is also reminiscent of all of us who struggle with God when change is required of us. One should also note that those who were healed by the Lord were required to make changes in their lives. Perhaps that also explains why some people do not want to get well because they are so used to having people take care of them, pampering and fussing over their needs. The hard truth is that once we are well, we are expected to work hard and do help ourselves. So there are some people who physically and subconsciously might not want to get well for fear that they would lose the attention of people. Indeed, when the man with the dumb demoniac was set free, he was asked to go back and fulfill his responsibilities in life.
How then should we, in our dilemma, wrestle with the Lord? Like Jacob, we must spend time in prayer, confronting our fears, anxieties and hurts. Without introspection, we cannot purify our motives or conquer our hidden fears. We cannot grow in our spiritual life unless we allow the light and truth of God to bring to light the dark shadows in our lives. Prayer is the way to speak with God in our struggles and, most of all, seek His divine assistance, like the psalmist in the responsorial psalm. He and his people also had to struggle in their faith in divine justice. He said, “In justice, I shall behold your face, O Lord. Hear, O Lord, a just suit; attend to my outcry; hearken to my prayer from lips without deceit. I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God; incline your ear to me; hear my word. Show your wondrous mercies, O savior of those who flee from their foes. Hide me in the shadow of your wings. I in justice shall behold your face; on waking, I shall be content in your presence.”
Secondly, we must surrender our will and desires to the Lord. Jesus in His healing miracles showed how He surrendered Himself to the Lord. He, too, had to make changes in His ministry. The gospel tells us that Jesus recognized that the mission of proclaiming the Good News to the poor could not be done by Him alone, in spite of His many tours, “through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom and curing all kinds of diseases and sickness.” The more He reached out, the more He came to realize the magnitude of the people’s physical and spiritual hunger. “And when he saw the crowds he felt sorry for them because they were harassed and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd.”
In such a situation, He saw the need to change His strategy. He decided to appoint disciples to be shepherds after His own heart. He told them, “The harvest is rich but the labourers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to his harvest.” Following this episode, St Matthew in the next chapter recounts the calling and the appointment of the Twelve who, too, were given the same “authority over unclean spirits … and to heal every disease and infirmity.” (Mt 10:1) Jesus was a man of courage and vision. He was ready to change. And this appointment, we read in the gospels, came about through deep and prolonged prayer at the mountain. “In these days, he went out to the mountain to pray; and all night he continued in prayer to God. And when it was day, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles.” (Lk 6:12-13)
As Christians bearing the name after Christ, we, too, have been given a new vocation. We must be conscious like Jacob that we are called to be God’s chosen people and His instruments of unity in the world. We must also take courage in being faithful to our calling and our status as the sons and daughters of God. We too are called to be shepherds after the heart of Christ, whether at home, in Church or in society. Such a task requires that we be ready to make changes in our lives, our way of ministering to our people, evangelizing and proclaiming the Good News and in our way of serving the people of God. Those who are labourers in the world must also consider how best they can serve society so that they can bring about greater harmony, justice and peace for all.
To ensure that we are doing God’s will and doing the right thing, we must bring all our projects and plans to God in prayer for Him to approve and endorse. Without seeking the Lord’s blessing as Jacob did, we will not be able to accomplish the plan He has in store for us. And if we find ourselves not at ease with what we are doing, it means that we need to discern further till we find peace in our decision. And we can be certain that if we wrestle with God till we get the answer like Jacob did, we will be able to give ourselves wholeheartedly to what we are doing, even in times of difficulties because we know that God is with us.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh
Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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