Brothers and sisters in Christ, today Jesus our Lord highlighted to us on how the Lord is love, and Jesus Himself is love, as He is Son of God and therefore, is God. He at the same time is also the Son of David, as his legal descendant through Joseph, His foster-father, and therefore is the heir and indeed the one true and only King of the kingdom given to His ancestor David, as God had promised to David himself His servant, that his heir and descendant would sit forever on his throne.
And the commandments and the Laws which God had given to His people, which they knew as the Ten Commandments, together with all the accompanying laws and customs are all actually about love, and love that we need to express both to God, as well as to our fellow men, to our parents, our brothers and sisters around us. For the commandments were given to us, not to burden us unnecessarily with laws and customs, but to help us on our way to reach the Lord.
The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law favoured and imposed a very puritanical, fanatical and punitive approach of applying the Law to the people entrusted to them. In total, there were in fact up to six hundred and thirteen laws, customs and its various applications. Those numerous laws and customs strained the people and made life difficult for them, and the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law were quick to condemn all those who committed the slightest act of disobedience.
And they were very quick to praise themselves and seek human approval, when they did what they had done in life. They thought highly of themselves and sought to advance their own cause, and their own standing among men, thinking that in their piety, they have earned the right to boast and to be proud on their ways, and that they had fulfilled the way and the will of the Lord.
No, Jesus made it very clear to them, that they would not be justified by what they had done. On the other hand, they would indeed be condemned, for their failure to guide the people of God entrusted to them on the right path. They have not led the people to grow stronger and deeper in love, but instead they oppressed the people for their own benefits, and they were concerned only about themselves.
If they themselves were not faithful to the commandments of the Lord, then it is definitely also impossible for the people of God to follow their examples to be faithful as well. Their faith was empty and meaningless, and their ego was their undoing. They were unable to control themselves and allowed themselves to be controlled by their emotions and desires. As such, they refused to listen to Jesus and refused to believe in Him and in His works.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all learn from what we had heard today, that we may all grow better and stronger in our own faith. That we will not follow the examples of the Pharisees and the elders of Israel, but instead listen to God, through Christ who had made all things clear to us. We have to obey the commandments of God, but not just to obey them for the sake of obeying. On the other hand, we should understand the real meaning and purpose of the Law, that is for us to know and to learn about love.
Our faith without love is empty and meaningless, and indeed, if we do not play our part in living our faith with real devotion, to love God with all of our strength, and with all of our heart, and if we do not love our brethren and our neighbours in the same manner, then we cannot find justification in the Lord, and we will have no part in His grace and blessing.
Today we celebrate together as the Church, the feast of St. Placidus and his thirty companions, who were martyred together for their faith in God, at the time of the Roman Emperor Diocletian, the architect and mastermind behind the last and greatest of the persecutions of the faithful by the Roman Empire. St. Placidus and his companions, the fellow martyrs of the faith, refused to compromise their faith and devotion to God, just for the sake of preserving their lives.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, in this we can see the real contrast between the actions of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, who compromised the purity and the truth about their faith, and what they ought to do to teach the faithful, for the sake of temporary and worldly pleasures and to satisfy their own wants and ego. Meanwhile, the holy martyrs, led by St. Placidus became an example to all others who looked upon their actions. Their staunch and strong faith in the Lord did not give way to the world and to their own desires. Instead, through their obedience and their shedding of their blood for the Lord, they helped many others to stay faithful to the Lord.
Therefore, let us today renew our commitment to the Lord, inspired by the example of St. Placidus and his companions in holy martyrdom, so that in all the things we do, in all the things we say, we may be truly loving in all things, that our ways may be made of love, and we will be worthy of being called the children of God, who is Love Himself. God bless us all. Amen.