DISCERNMENT OF THE HEART

SCRIPTURE READINGS: 1 SM 16:1-13; Ps 88:20-22, 27-28; MK 2:23-28

One of the most difficult decisions in life is to find the right person.  We all have to make decisions on who to pick for our life partner, our confidante and trusted friends, collaborators and leaders.  Leaders, particularly, need to exercise great prudence and discernment in choosing people to work with them.   Making the wrong choices can cause irreparable damage to both our personal and public life.   But it is not always easy to know who to choose or employ.  How do we choose our life partner, our friends, our collaborators and leaders?

Unfortunately, for most of us, our criteria are based on what we can see with our eyes.  This is called judgment based on external forum.  We judge from external factors, namely, the impression the person makes on us, his personality, his eloquence, his dressing, his knowledge and skills.  This is also what the world does.  Today, we have courses to help people to speak eloquently and convincingly; to help people to dress up elegantly and to present oneself.  The world is easily impressed by looks, personality, knowledge and skills.  For the world, titles are important.  The world judges by what you wear, the kind of car you drive, the people you associate with, where you go and which restaurants you eat at.  So many people try to sell themselves via facebook and you-tube.   We are always taught to make an impression on our listeners.

But this judgment based on externals is what the scripture readings of today warn us about.  The Lord told Samuel.  “When they arrived, he caught sight of Eliab and thought, ‘Surely the Lord’s anointed one stands there before him,’ but the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Take no notice of his appearance or his height for I have rejected him; God does not see as man sees; man looks at appearances but the Lord looks at the heart.’”  In the same way, the Lord defended His disciples who were plucking the ears of the corn when they were walking through the cornfields.  “Did you never read what David did in his time of need when he and his followers were hungry – how he went into the house of God when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the loaves of offering which only the priests are allowed to eat, and how he also gave some to the men with him?”

What is more important is not simply the external qualities the person exhibits, but the real character of the person.  At the end of the day, our decision must be based on the integrity and virtues of the person, such as generosity, compassion, diligence, obedience, humility.  This was the case in the selection of the king in the first reading.  The election of Saul turned out to be a poor choice because of his deep insecurity and the need for attention and popularity.  His envy and jealousy destroyed him and made him lose perspective and judgement of peoples and situation.  Threatened by the popularity of David, instead of ruling the kingdom, he became more anxious to protect his crown than to give his time in serving the people.

Secondly, in choosing, we need to discern the heart, which includes the person’s motives for doing what he is doing.  Motivation, besides character, is critical in selecting the right person. Unless the person is rightly motivated, he will only work for his interests and not ours.  Such a person is self-serving, caring only for his interests.  He or she has no heart for us or for others.  It is all about himself, his needs, his desires, his ambition, his power and his position.  All others are just pawns for him to make use of to fulfill his ambitions.  Surely, that is not the kind of person, we want to choose for our life partner, regardless how handsome he is, or beautiful she is!  Surely, that would not be the leader we want to have, regardless how smart and intelligent he or she may be!  Surely, that is not the kind of person we want to have as a friend, for he or she will only want to make use of us!

This is what Jesus is trying to teach us in today’s gospel when He remarked, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath; so the Son of Man is master even of the Sabbath.”   Jesus was speaking about the purpose of the Sabbath.  God does not need the Sabbath.  He does not even need to rest, or for us to render Him worship.  God does not need affirmation and love or attention, unlike King Saul, who was rejected by God and his people.  What is important is not the observance of the Sabbath Law to its minute details, or speculating on what determines “work” on the Sabbath.  God does not mean us to be over scrupulous on what we can do or not do in order to keep the Sabbath holy.

The purpose of the Sabbath is made for man, so that he will know when to rest and be with his family and most of all, to be connected with God who is the source of life and all blessings.  Otherwise, he can be so taken up by his work that either he lacks rest or he forgets that life is more than achievements. Rather, life is basically about building and treasuring our relationships, especially with our loved ones and our fellowmen.  Of course, the Sabbath primarily is to remind us that the most foundational and fundamental relationship is our own relationship with God.   So, to keep the Sabbath holy by focusing on God and our fellowmen and doing good, is what is intended by the Law.  We are not to squabble over the rules and parameters established by men with respect to the observance of the Sabbath Law, or for that matter, all laws.  Nevertheless, they remain true guidelines to assess ourselves.

The choice of David might go against the external criteria of the world.  He was the youngest among the children of Jesse.  No one even thought of him.   But God always had His eyes on him.  This is what the Lord said in the psalm.  “Of old you spoke in a vision. To your friends the prophets you said: ‘I have set the crown on a warrior,   I have exalted one chosen from the people.  I have found David my servant and with my holy oil anointed him. My hand shall always be with him and my arm shall make him strong.” And I will make him my first-born,   the highest of the kings of the earth.’”  So when Samuel saw him, “a boy of fresh complexion, with fine eyes and pleasant bearing.  The Lord said, ‘Come, anoint him, for this is the one.’  At this Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him where he stood with his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord seized on David and stayed with him from that day on.”

God knew the heart of David.  He was a shepherd and God knew that David had a heart of love and compassion. But He also knew he was weak. Nevertheless, he was also resourceful, as we see later how he fought with the Philistines.  He was also a very loyal subject of King Saul, as we read later how, in spite of what Saul did to him and even pursued him to kill him, yet, when given the opportunity, he never retaliated.  He was also a loyal friend to Jonathan, the son of Saul.   Most of all, he was humble and obedient to the Lord.  He was conscious that he was the servant of God.  “He will say to me: “You are my father, my God, the rock who saves me.”  He was humble and contrite when his faults were pointed out to him by the prophet Nathan.   Such was the character of the future king of Israel.  Indeed, he became a true shepherd after the heart of God, the great shepherd of Israel.

We, too, must not be short-sighted.  Parents, particularly, should not focus too much on the academic and worldly achievements of your children.  When we choose our partners, friends or leaders to work with us, what is even more important than all these human skills and achievements is their moral and spiritual character!  Those without integrity, generosity, compassion and honesty; even if they are smart and intelligent, will not be of service to you, to the Church or to society.  They will end up serving themselves and their ego at our expense. Like Saul, they will not be happy because they are insecure and fearful.  Only those who love God and serve their fellowmen humbly will find life and joy.


Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
 
http://www.catholic.org.sg/scripture-reflection/b/
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