16 February 2010 Tuesday of the 6th Week in Ordinary Time
James 1, 12-18; Psalm 94; Mark 8, 14-21
Do you want to change but find it difficult to do so? How many of us make a list of resolutions weekly, annually, or when we feel that our lives are going down the drain?
One way to check progress is through tests. We know this in school. The measure we employ to determine how much a student has absorbed in class is through examinations like quizzes, reflection papers, a thesis or an oral evaluation at the end of course. The grade of the course is an indication of a change, or a mark of development.
Going through exams is hardly enjoyable. It is grueling: the hours spent poring over books and taking down notes; the patience in research; and the stress in memorizing minute details.
On the other hand, it is not just the student who is tried. The teacher has to be very patient with their students. Like Jesus in the Gospel, He is disappointed at His disciples for not understanding His teaching. In addition, the most taxing type of exams are the ones easiest to check but difficult to formulate like a modified true-or-false exam or a find-the-best-answer multiple choice. The teacher, like God, is also tested. We know that God is patient from our experience. Our age is directly proportionate to the times we have been unfaithful to Him, and the time He has remained steadfast to us.
In faith life, James mentions that temptations are tests to make us change for the better. They are not meant to seduce us to sin: “No one experiencing temptation should say, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God is not subject to temptation to evil, and He Himself tempts no one” (James 1, 13).
And where do these temptations come from? James said it originates from our desires. Our desires have the tendency to bring us away from God. For example, our desire to be loved can bring us to possession and to jealousy. However, if we do not have those desires, then our hearts will always focus on God. But we do have desires. And like exams, we also give ourselves space for mistakes. It is how we learn: we forgive ourselves too.
James added that anyone who are able to persevere through these tests, and proven themselves will receive the crown of glory from the Lord. Thus we learn when we are tested. If we commit mistakes, we still learn: at least we know that what we chose was not the correct answer. This is one way in which God instructs us. Some of us learn fast, and some don’t. Not because we’re slow, but because we’re hard-headed.
When we overcome temptations, we become better. When we were novices, we were taught a principle: agere contra (do the opposite). So when tempted not to share a piece of chocolate, do the opposite: share it. When our desires tell us to exact revenge on someone who hurt us, do the opposite: think of their welfare and give feedback. When tempted to lie to protect one’s self and one’s name, agere contra: tell the truth and bear the consequences bravely.
When we develop the habit of agere contra in the midst of temptation or the occasion on which these temptations occur, we find ourselves better: more altruistic, more concerned about others, more merciful and honest. And what do we call these improved qualities? We call them change. And I believe this is the type of change we desire.