Monday, October 12, 2009

Of prophets and crowds

The human ego struggles constantly between the authentic self and the false self. The false self is the one which reacts to comments (positive or negative) made by others, and often, will find itself either saying things or doing things that pleases others, so that it receives favourable reviews and opinions of others. The authentic self is the one which is not reactive, but is more centered and stable, not because the opinions of others are not important, but because one knows that one’s deepest value and worth is not first found in the opinions of others, but at the core of one’s being. So, one becomes ‘active’ rather than ‘re-active’. And for Christians who have been ‘Christ-ed’, this core is the identity of being the loved Child of God.

In the gospels, we see many instances where Jesus was tempted to define himself by the opinions of others. The three temptations in the desert are reducible to a ‘test’ of how grounded he was in God as his father. And in today’s gospel text, Jesus is, in another way, also tempted, but by popularity and popular opinion. The opening line gives it away ever so subtly. We are told that the crowds got even bigger.

Isn’t that a great temptation to steer away from the harsh gospel message of the necessity of dying to the self? When the crowds get bigger, when you get a following, isn’t it far easier to give them a message that will either massage the egos, or pander to the crowd’s constant craving for success and riches? Surely, that would increase church attendance, and help one to develop a cult-like status.

But because Jesus was true to himself, he knew that it was because the crowd got bigger, that his platform was now ideal to really convey the message of conversion and repentance. So, to the swelling crowd, he daringly spoke about the wickedness of that generation. He didn’t need to be popular. He knew that popularity was a hindrance to God’s kingdom, rather than something that would enhance it.

So too for us – I believe that in our own ways, we are presented with our own versions of ‘crowds’ getting bigger. It takes a person truly in touch with his or her inner core of godly identity to know that it’s not about popularity, not about success, not about winning, that gives one a real stability in life. But I think most of us struggle a lot with that. When Jesus told that swelling crowd that the only sign it would get is the sign of Jonah, he was being prophetic – speaking the truth despite the consequences that would make him unpopular. But that’s our calling as well, isn’t it? We are, as Vatican II points out, baptized Priest, Prophet and King. Have we been prophetic lately?


  1. Dear Fr

    Wah this is cheem leh but oh-so-true. I'm grateful that you always leave your listeners (and now your readers) a challenge to live out our true calling as God's beloved children. Dying to one self isn't always an easy thing to do as I usually find pride getting in the way. However, with Jesus as our perfect example, we can strive to be a priestly and prophetic people.

    Thanks Fr!


  2. Easier said than done. What if you are for repentance and conversion but the friends who are close to you are preventing you from dying to self? They tell you this is hypocrisy because they can't see you living out a Christed life. It is hard not to be discouraged by negative opinions in these circumstances.

    Needing guidance.

  3. I'd like to address the person who wrote the above comment which I chose to publish. I hope I don't end up sounding pompous and arrogant, so please bear with me.

    In your short comment, you have shown both the problem and the solution, and the difficulty inherent if that choice of action is taken. In all the decisions that you make in life, especially the radical ones that seem to 'go against the flow', as some may choose to put it, you will inevitably find people who will either disagree with you or agree with you. Of course, you will have those also who are ambivalent about anything you do.

    If you are so convinced that your choice of living a Christ-ed life is what you MUST do, and not just something that you feel you SHOULD do, then going against that decision would be something that would literally tear you apart. Why? Probably because you have chosen to remain 'safe' and in the company of those who don't 'rock your boat'. Prophets, true prophets, are those who see what needs to be done (I am only speaking about morally right choices here) and facing all possible flak, do it.

    But that strong person is, like you said, someone who is rare, or "easier said that done". We don't find much of these people around. I think it was Ghandi who said that if the world had just another St Francis of Assisi or Mother Teresa, our world will be transformed. Or something to that effect. I don't doubt that there are such heroes who want to be that other St Francis or Blessed Teresa, but somewhere down the line of their prophetic decision making, they may have lost direction, or perhaps just stopped praying for this vision to be fulfilled in their lives. And they may have ended up listening not to their inner voice, but the voice of "friends who are close to you (who are) preventing you from dying to self". The only way one can be strong in such radical decisions is to keep looking at the Cross. We may have begun by looking at the Cross intently, but something or someone else may have 'caught' our gaze, causing us to lose our direction, our intents and our purposes.

    I hope that this reply helps not just you, but anyone else who may have had such feelings after reading that second blog post of mine. Could I also ask a favour from all that they leave me a name so that I can personalise my reply? I'd much rather choose to reply to a named person than someone anonymous. There are so many problems in life caused by fear of identity. Let us not further contribute to this. Thank you and God bless all.

    Fr Luke

  4. Brings to mind a scene from the show "Nemo" where Nemo was captured alongside with the rest of the fish by the fishing boat using the trawler nets. Whilst the bulk of the catch was swimming around within the nets, moaning about their impending fate (being reactive) Nemo dared to convince the catch that the only way to escape was to swim towards the bottom of the sea, pulling the nets downwards (being active).

    It's a challenge alright but I guess the rewards are out of this world..;-)

  5. the gospel mssg of dying to self may seem harsh but it is also called "tough love" The art of living & the art of dying are 2 sides of the same coin - a teaching also promulgated by some of the great Eastern religions. What makes jesus'teaching unique is that he not only preaches it but comes to show us how it is done.Actually, each time we mk a conscious choice for the "good of the other" there is a small dying to self ...and we become more mindful of "otherness",more forgetful of the all -important self- this is the new self - rising from the ashes of the old selfish self. So Jesus teaching isactually very simple but may not be easy as it tks time & a conscious effort or awareness/mindfulness to discipline ourselve to follow this through.If we then claim to be Christ followers but we don't even try to carry out His Way in our lives are we not also being hypocritical?