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(Part 173)


March 23, 2019

Today’s gospel: Luke 15:1-3,11-32

In today’s parable, we encounter the prodigal son. He went from the heights and plunged to the depths. From riches to penury. From a life of power and pleasure to a life of dire need. From the security of a good home to the insecurity of being all alone in a challenging world. From the dignity of being a son of a rich man to the abasement and humiliation of being a Jew working with pigs. From a life of excessive profligacy to a life of extreme hunger.

But we know the story. He went back to his father and was restored as the father’s son. He was dead but now lived. He was lost but now found. He was in the depths but has soared back to the heights.

In the Bible, we see many such stories of those who have gone from the depths to the heights.

There is Joseph, who was sold by his brothers to slave traders, and was separated from his father who loved him most, who mourned him as dead. He was put in the dungeon upon the false claims of his master’s wife. But he interpreted Pharaoh’s dream, and Pharaoh made him his second-in-command. Of all Egypt! Then his whole clan moved to Egypt, where they prospered.

There is Israel itself, which was enslaved by Pharaoh for 400 years. They labored in cruel servitude. But God liberated them through Moses, and eventually gave them the promised land.

There is Job, who suffered the loss of everything at the hands of Satan. But ultimately God restored his family and prosperity, giving him double what he had before.

Then there is Jesus himself. He was betrayed by Judas, denied by Peter, abandoned by his disciples, tortured by the Romans, rejected by the Jews, jeered at by the people. He even felt forsaken by his Father. He died on the cross as a criminal. But on the third day he rose in glory.

Bad things do happen in life. This is inevitable. At times it is due to our own fault. At other times, we have no fault at all. At times we make wrong decisions. At other times, others make wrong decisions that affect us. Depending on the gravity of the bad happening, we experience a range of negative emotions­from getting peeved, to being angry, to being sad, to despairing. At times, what happens is really bad, plunging us to the depths. Many cannot cope. They carry the burden for years. They grow sick. Some even take their own lives.

Now it ought to be different for a Christian. We do not deliberately do things to make these negatives happen, but they do. So I say, do not be overly concerned about it. Our concern should be that we are able to get through the negatives of life, for us to get to a point where, whatever happens, we are secure and intact in our dignity and faith. And better for having endured.

We are able to do this by holding on to one particular promise of God. “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8:28). If two conditions are satisfied, then whatever happens, all things will work for our good. The two conditions are: (1) that you love God, and (2) that you act and live according to God’s purpose for you. That should not be a big challenge. So all things will work out. We just need to endure and persevere. And maintain our joy.

There are times when we might not necessarily be plunged into the depths, but we might have great disappointments in life. Especially as we serve the Lord.

I think of that great man, Moses. Used by God to liberate His people from slavery in Egypt. He cared for this unruly and rebellious bunch for 40 years in the desert. He endured all kinds of hardships, including his own brother Aaron and sister Miriam speaking against him. What kept him going was the dream of the promised land. Then, on the verge of entry into the promised land, God told him he would not cross over! God even brought him to Mount Nebo and showed him the land, which his undimmed eyes could see very well.

Might any of your disappointments surpass that of Moses?

Why did God treat His faithful servant Moses in this way? Why does God treat us in such ways at times? Why does God allow us to wallow in the depths? If all things work for our good, then God always has a good purpose.

Consider what might be the silver linings in dark clouds. What might God be wanting to teach us when bad things happen?

*Failed at a task? Endure and persevere.
*Lost a valuable thing? Appreciate what you have.
*Financial setback? Live a simpler lifestyle.
*Taken advantage of by another? Deny yourself.
*Shamed in some way? Be humbled.
*Wronged by a friend or confrere? Forgive and be merciful.
*Maligned and persecuted? Go the way of the prophets!
*Assaulted by an enemy? Love your enemy.
*Death of a loved one? Be mindful of your eternal destination.

You see the point. If we strive to live an authentic life in Christ, then all things will work for our good. There will be pain and suffering, but again, all for our good. So we look beyond the negative, to whatever positive God has in store for us. We trust that in every dark cloud there will be a silver lining. The dark of night will always give way to the light of day.

If we do not experience the heights in this life, then we will in the next. We literally can look forward to the heights of heaven. We literally can look forward to a bright future, for “night will be no more, nor will they need light from lamp or sun, for the Lord God shall give them light, and they shall reign forever and ever.” (Rev 22:5).

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