Thursday, January 11, 2018

What do you want?

Second Ordinary Sunday Year B

Christmas is just over. Christmas presents would have long been opened, the boxes and wrappings discarded. Some people would have been overjoyed whilst others disappointed with the gifts they had received. It seems ironic at times that our benefactors would often ask us the question: What do you want? It would be ironic because many would actually not get what they wanted. Our requests would often be out of the budgetary reach of the giver. That’s obvious – because if the object was really cheap, we would have gotten it ourselves! But the gift is received with a polite smile albeit veiling a secret wish that next year, we would get lucky and finally receive what we really wanted.

What do you want? This is the question which Jesus asked his first set of disciples in today’s gospel reading. Although this is one of the most frequently asked questions, many of us have a hard time answering it. We might know what we want in the grand scheme of things—perhaps some version of health, happiness, and prosperity. But what do we want right now, in this very moment?

Before we ask this pertinent question or make a request of another, we may want to take some time for reflection. For when we consider the question, “What do I want?” our first answer may be to ask for something that may just momentarily satisfy a thirst or desire. Having received what we had asked for, we may then have to live with regret for the rest of our lives for our folly and lack of far-sightedness. What we seem to want now may not really be what we want for the rest of our lives.

Our parents, our peers, and our culture have taught us that it is selfish to ask for what we want. Indeed, cultivating equanimity strengthens us when done as a spiritual pursuit. But if our “equanimity” is tinged with resentment or fear, then we are fooling ourselves. We would benefit ourselves and others by acknowledging the full range of our experience, and asking for what we want.

Whenever we ask this question, we may mean one of several things. First, we may be asking: “What do you want to have?” This is a question concerning possessions and things. Very often, God seems to be a big Santa Claus. We often think that God exist in order to meet our every need. We often pray for this or for that! When we don’t get what we want, we often complain and blame God for our predicaments.  This question turns on the functionality of our relationship with God. God is as good as He delivers. God is a big vending machine who is expected to dispense His goodies when we press the right button.

Second, the question could also mean “What do you want to do?” We often think that Christianity is about doing this or that. That is partially true but not entirely. Christianity refers primarily to who we are – to our identity. It is precisely because of our identity as Christians that we must do good and avoid evil. Therefore, our doing, our action flows from our identity – who we are. And this is who we are: “we are temples of the Holy Spirit.” We belong to God or as St. Paul writes in the second reading: “You are not your own property; you have been bought and paid for.”

Therefore, it is very likely Jesus wasn’t asking His disciples what they would like to have in terms of possession. Neither was He telling them what to do. Rather, Jesus was asking His disciples and each of us today: “What do you want to become?” That is the fundamental moral question. We often think morality is the do’s and don’ts, about following a set of rules or disciplines. But at the heart of morality, the very essence of our Christian identity, in fact, is relationship and relationship is always about becoming. We are called to be better, to be deeper, to be stronger, to be more perfect. And the basis of that call is our relationship to Christ and to God. Ultimately, though we are already sons and daughters of God at our baptism, we are called to grow and become disciples of Christ, and that is an entire life’s project. We are work in progress. We are “becoming.”

Many of us do not really know what we want to become. We often think that it has to do with personal ambition. ‘I want to be rich.’ ‘I want to be successful.’ ‘I want to be a doctor.’ ‘I want to be an engineer.’ Is this what Jesus meant? Certainly not. Jesus was trying to challenge these first disciples to take a deeper look into the foundation of their identity – He was challenging them to ask the few most basic questions in life: Who am I? What is my purpose in life? What does God want me to become? What is my fundamental relationship to Christ and to God?

The problem is that many people do not ask these questions. Many have not thought of it while others choose not to think about it for one reason or another. Perhaps, we fear the changes that must take place in our lives, if we try to find answers to those questions. We would certainly not be aware of these questions when our lives are cluttered by so many other noises and voices and other questions. 'What course should I take for my college education? Which house should I buy? Which man or woman shall I marry? What steps must I take to be more successful?' The temptations of the world, power, riches, popularity, if we allow them to do so, sometimes drown out the voice of God.

We must learn to listen to the voice of God in prayer. We must learn to discern His voice and distinguish this voice from those of others. We must learn to listen as Samuel listened and say, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” When we are strangers to prayer, silence and reflection, we would allow ourselves to be consumed by our worldly ambitions and plans, define ourselves by work but fail miserably in preparing the most important thing which we all need – salvation of our souls.

In order to become the persons God intended us to become, in order to live out our dignity as God’s children, we must be followers of Jesus. We must learn to live and walk with Jesus. Jesus invites us each day to “Come and See” – to journey with Him, to discover His plan for us, and to learn from Him. If we want to see our parish become a more vibrant, faith-filled and welcoming community, we must first learn to become that.

As we have begun a new year, we are presented with a whole range of possibilities, adventures and new opportunities. If asked this same question, many people would certainly ask for wealth, health, peace and success. But as Christians, when asked this question, we are reminded of the same question posed to our parents at our baptism. The answer is certainly none of the above but simply, eternal life. To the question ‘What do you want?’ which is asked by the priest, our answer should always be – “Eternal Life”, that is, to know God, to love Him, to serve Him and be with Him in Paradise forever.

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