Bishop's Message

The Year of the Ox that knows God?

The Year of the Ox has begun. I confess my ignorance and indifference toward any supposed blessings or characteristics associated with the Year of the Ox. I know only that I happen to have been born a Chinese ox! (So Math wizards now know I celebrate a birthday this year that is a multiple of 12. Here’s a clue: I’ll be at least 24!)

I know little about the zodiac ox, but I know a little about the biblical ox. For example, the apostle Paul says a pastor or church worker is an ox (1 Cor 9:9). (In my case, both calendar and church agree!) The Hebrew prophet Isaiah also mentions the ox, curiously in verse 3 of both his opening and closing chapters. Here’s what he says about the ox in his opening oracle.

The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib,
but Israel does not know, my people do not understand. (Isa 1:3)

God is heartbroken because it seems as if his own human children do not seem to know or acknowledge him, whereas the ox and the donkey do! The ox knows who its master is, but God’s children do not know who their Father is!

What made God in Isaiah’s day say that his children did not know him?

It wasn’t because the people had stopped attending worship services (Isa 1:13).
It wasn’t because they weren’t offering animal sacrifices in thanksgiving and praise (Isa 1:11).
It wasn’t because they stopped holding prayer meetings (Isa 1:15).

God was heartbroken because his people were not prioritising good deeds to neighbours in need (Isa 1:17). To use one of Jesus’ quotes: they weren’t “loving their neighbours”. And if we don’t love our neighbours, then we aren’t loving God! (Matt 22:37–39).

Similarly, Isaiah says: If we don’t help our neighbours in need, then we don’t really know God!

An ox knows its Master. Do we?

May this Year of the Ox teach us to know our Master.

Bishop Dr Gordon Wong was elected Bishop of The Methodist Church in Singapore in 2020. He served as President of the Trinity Annual Conference from 2012–2020.