Monday, 14 March 2016 : 5th Week of Lent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we listened to the long story from the Old Testament, of the encounter between Daniel, the faithful servant of God in the land of exile in Babylon, with another exile, Susanna, a very pious and Godfearing woman, who refused to live in sin and to compromise her own faith to God. And we heard how she was tested when the two elders entrusted with rulership and judgment over the people, wanted to sin with her, and she refused to listen to them or to give in to them.

And even though she had to go through even the risk of death for refusing the attempts of the two elders, but she kept herself strong and deeply anchored in the knowledge that God would come to the rescue of those who placed their trust and faith in Him. And indeed, God did not abandon her to die at the hands of those who would bring her to harm. She was framed and blamed for something that she did not commit, and God would not let His faithful ones to suffer and die in such a manner.

And thus He aroused His Spirit inside Daniel, and made him to speak up and stand up for the sake of the beleaguered Susanna. And in the end, as we heard, the wisdom of God made clear to all through Daniel, managed to overturn all the wicked plots and conspiracies, and all the shrouds of lies that the wicked elders had put in place in order to safeguard themselves at the expense of an innocent, an excuse to get them out of the responsibility for their own sins.

There are indeed a few lessons that we can bring away from all that we have heard today. First of all, it is a reaffirmation by the Lord, a very strong and firm reassurance to us that all those who placed their trust and keep our faith in Him, and who walk faithfully and with commitment upon His ways. We shall not falter and fail, as long as we are faithful to the Lord.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, if we put our trust in our human strength alone, we shall fail. Susanna did not worry about whether she could endure all the persecutions by herself, as she was not alone, and God was with her in all of her tribulations. And in fact, God was fighting for her and through His mighty works, He condemned the wicked who conspired against her and tried to push her to sin against her will.

And this brings us to the next thing that we ought to learn. This is that we should be responsible over whatever it is that had been entrusted to us. If we have been entrusted with power and with care over others, our fellow men, then we really should not abuse such power and use it for our own benefit. This is one place where many of us mankind have failed to do, and many of us fell into sin because of this.

The two elders were unable to restrain themselves and they gave in to their lust, their heart’s desire for earthly and worldly pleasures and gain for themselves, even if others were to suffer because of them. In this season of Lent, we practice to control our urges and desires, holding back our greed and the desires of the flesh, so as not to sin further and to be more righteous in all of our actions.

But more importantly, those two elders used their position as the judges and rulers over the people, the position of leadership and great esteem over the people to gain for themselves such wicked pleasures, trying to even cover up their tracks by condemning others who were innocent, with false accusations that brings about death and suffering.

This is a lesson for all of us, that with power and privilege comes responsibility and great burden for us to bear. We must use power responsibly, and we have to realise that whatever God had entrusted to us and given to us, they are nothing more than to bring all of us closer to Him, and to help one another in our lives in this world, and not to make ourselves better at the expense of others.

We have to realise that in this season of Lent, it is a time of great renewal for us, that if we have once allowed ourselves to be corrupted by power and by whatever have been given to us, now we should open ourselves to the opportunity to love and to care for one another, and to give of ourselves freely to those who need our help, especially the poor, the sick, the unloved and all those rejected by the world.

May God help us in our path that we may persevere through the temptations of life, and may we be able to reach out to Him and be saved in the redemption and forgiveness which He had offered us. God bless us all. Amen.

Monday, 14 March 2016 : 5th Week of Lent (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

John 8 : 12-20

At that time, Jesus spoke to the people again, “I am the Light of the world; the one who follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have light and life.”

The Pharisees replied, “Now You are speaking on Your own behalf, Your testimony is worthless.” Then Jesus said, “Even though I bear witness to Myself, My testimony is true, for I know where I have come from and where I am going. But you do not know where I came from or where I am going.”

“You judge by human standards; as for Me, I do not judge anyone. But if I had to judge, My judgment would be valid for I am not alone : the Father Who sent Me is with Me. In your Law it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is valid; so I am bearing witness to Myself, and the Father Who sent Me bears witness to Me.”

They asked Him, “Where is Your Father?” Jesus answered, “You do not know Me or My Father; if you knew Me, you would know My Father as well.” Jesus said these things when He was teaching in the Temple area, in the place where they received the offerings. No one arrested Him, because His hour had not yet come.

Monday, 14 March 2016 : 5th Week of Lent (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Psalm 22 : 1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6

The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside the still waters, He restores my soul.

He guides me through the right paths for His Name’s sake. Although I walk through the valley of the shadow of death. I fear no evil, for You are beside me : Your rod and Your staff comfort me.

You spread a table before me in the presence of my foes. You anoint my head with oil; my cup is overflowing.

Goodness and kindness will follow me all the days of my life. I shall dwell in the house of the Lord as long as I live.

Monday, 14 March 2016 : 5th Week of Lent (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Daniel 13 : 1-9, 15-17, 19-30, 33-62

There lived in Babylon a man named Joakim, who was married to a very beautiful Godfearing woman, Susanna, Hilkiah’s daughter, whose pious parents had trained her in the law of Moses. A very rich man and greatly respected by all the Jews, Joakim was frequently visited by the Jews in his house adjoining a garden.

That year, two elders of the people were appointed judges, in whom this word of the Lord became true, “Wickedness has come forth from Babylon, through the elders appointed judges, who were supposed to govern the people.” These men frequented Joakim’s house, and all who had legal disputes used to come to them.

After the people had left at noon, Susanna would go into her husband’s garden for a walk. The two old men began to lust for her as they watched her enter the garden every day. Forgetting the demands of justice and virtue, their lust grew all the more as they made no effort to turn their eyes to heaven.

One day, as they were waiting for an opportune time, Susanna entered the garden as usual with only two maids. She decided to bathe, for it was a hot day. Nobody else was there except the two elders watching her from where they had hidden themselves. She said to the maids, “Bring me oil and ointments, and shut the garden doors while I bathe.”

When the maids had left, the two elders hurried to her and said, “Look, the garden doors are shut and no one sees us. We desire to possess you. If you refuse to give in, we will testify that you sent your maids away for there was a young man here with you.”

Susanna moaned, “Whatever I do, I am trapped. If I give in to your desire, it will be death for me; if I refuse, I will not escape your persecution. I would rather be persecuted than sin in the eyes of the Lord.” Susanna shrieked, but the old men shouted, putting the blame on her. One of them ran and opened the garden doors.

Hearing the noise in the garden, the household servants rushed in by the side entrance to see what was happening. They were taken aback when they heard the elders’ accusation, for never had anything like this been said of Susanna. The next day a meeting was held at Joakim’s house.

The two elders arrived, vindictively determined to have Susanna sentenced to death. They ordered before all the people, “Send for Susanna, Hilkiah’s daughter and Joakim’s wife.” They sent for her, and she came with her parents, children and all her relatives. Her family and friends and all who saw her wept.

The two elders stood up and laid their hands upon her head. Completely trusting in the Lord, she raised her tearful eyes to heaven. The elders started making their accusation, “We were taking a walk in the garden when this woman came in with two maids. She ordered them to shut the garden doors and dismissed them.”

“Then a young man came out of hiding and lay with her. We were in a corner in the garden, and we saw this crime from there. We ran to them, and caught them in the act of embracing. We were unable to take hold of the man. He was too strong for us. He made a dash for the door, opened it and ran off. But we were able to seize this woman. We asked her who the young man was, but she refused to tell us. This is our statement, and we testify to its truth.”

The assembly took their word, since they were elders and judges of the people. Susanna was condemned to death. Susanna cried aloud, “Eternal God, nothing is hidden from You; You know all things before they come to be. You know that these men have testified falsely against me. Would You let me die, though I am not guilty of all their malicious charges?”

The Lord heard her, and as she was being led to her execution, God aroused the Holy Spirit residing in a young lad named Daniel. He shouted, “I will have no part in the death of this woman!” Those present turned to him, “What did you say?” They all asked.

Standing in their midst, he said to them, “Have you become fools, you Israelites, to condemn a daughter of Israel without due process and in the absence of clear evidence? Return to court, for those men have testified falsely against her.” Hurriedly they returned, and the elders said to Daniel, “Come and sit with us, for you also possess the gifts bestowed by God upon the elders.”

Daniel said to the people, “Separate these two from one another and I will examine each of them.” When the two elders were separated from each other, Daniel called one of them and said, “How wicked you have grown with age. Your sins of earlier days have piled up against you, and now is the time of reckoning.”

Remember how you have passed unjust sentences, condemning the innocent and freeing the guilty, although the Lord has said, ‘The innocent and the just should not be put to death.’ Now, if you really witnessed the crime, under what tree did you see them do it?”

The elder answered, “Under a mastic tree.” Daniel said, “Your lie will cost you your head. You will be cut in two, as soon as the Lord’s Angel receives your sentence from God.” Putting the first one aside, Daniel called the other elder and said to him, “You offspring of Canaan and not of Judah, you have long allowed yourself to be perverted by lust.”

“This is how you have dealt with the daughters of Israel, who out of fear have yielded to you. But here is a daughter of Judah who would not tolerate your wickedness. Tell me then, under which tree did you catch them committing the crime?”

The answer came, “Under an oak.” “Your lie has also cost you your head,” Daniel said. “God’s Angel waits to cut you both in two.” The whole assembly shouted and blessed God for helping those who hope in Him. They turned against the two elders who, through Daniel’s efforts, had been convicted by their own mouths.

In accordance with Moses’ law, the penalty the two elders had intended to impose upon their neighbour was inflicted upon them. They were sentenced to death. Thus was the life of an innocent woman spared that day.

Alternative reading (shorter version)

Daniel 13 : 1-9, 15-17, 19-30, 41c-62

There lived in Babylon a man named Joakim, who was married to a very beautiful Godfearing woman, Susanna, Hilkiah’s daughter, whose pious parents had trained her in the law of Moses. A very rich man and greatly respected by all the Jews, Joakim was frequently visited by the Jews in his house adjoining a garden.

That year, two elders of the people were appointed judges, in whom this word of the Lord became true, “Wickedness has come forth from Babylon, through the elders appointed judges, who were supposed to govern the people.” These men frequented Joakim’s house, and all who had legal disputes used to come to them.

After the people had left at noon, Susanna would go into her husband’s garden for a walk. The two old men began to lust for her as they watched her enter the garden every day. Forgetting the demands of justice and virtue, their lust grew all the more as they made no effort to turn their eyes to heaven.

One day, as they were waiting for an opportune time, Susanna entered the garden as usual with only two maids. She decided to bathe, for it was a hot day. Nobody else was there except the two elders watching her from where they had hidden themselves. She said to the maids, “Bring me oil and ointments, and shut the garden doors while I bathe.”

When the maids had left, the two elders hurried to her and said, “Look, the garden doors are shut and no one sees us. We desire to possess you. If you refuse to give in, we will testify that you sent your maids away for there was a young man here with you.”

Susanna moaned, “Whatever I do, I am trapped. If I give in to your desire, it will be death for me; if I refuse, I will not escape your persecution. I would rather be persecuted than sin in the eyes of the Lord.” Susanna shrieked, but the old men shouted, putting the blame on her. One of them ran and opened the garden doors.

Hearing the noise in the garden, the household servants rushed in by the side entrance to see what was happening. They were taken aback when they heard the elders’ accusation, for never had anything like this been said of Susanna. The next day a meeting was held at Joakim’s house.

The two elders arrived, vindictively determined to have Susanna sentenced to death. They ordered before all the people, “Send for Susanna, Hilkiah’s daughter and Joakim’s wife.” They sent for her, and she came with her parents, children and all her relatives.

The assembly took their word, since they were elders and judges of the people. Susanna was condemned to death. Susanna cried aloud, “Eternal God, nothing is hidden from You; You know all things before they come to be. You know that these men have testified falsely against me. Would You let me die, though I am not guilty of all their malicious charges?”

The Lord heard her, and as she was being led to her execution, God aroused the Holy Spirit residing in a young lad named Daniel. He shouted, “I will have no part in the death of this woman!” Those present turned to him, “What did you say?” They all asked.

Standing in their midst, he said to them, “Have you become fools, you Israelites, to condemn a daughter of Israel without due process and in the absence of clear evidence? Return to court, for those men have testified falsely against her.” Hurriedly they returned, and the elders said to Daniel, “Come and sit with us, for you also possess the gifts bestowed by God upon the elders.”

Daniel said to the people, “Separate these two from one another and I will examine each of them.” When the two elders were separated from each other, Daniel called one of them and said, “How wicked you have grown with age. Your sins of earlier days have piled up against you, and now is the time of reckoning.”

Remember how you have passed unjust sentences, condemning the innocent and freeing the guilty, although the Lord has said, ‘The innocent and the just should not be put to death.’ Now, if you really witnessed the crime, under what tree did you see them do it?”

The elder answered, “Under a mastic tree.” Daniel said, “Your lie will cost you your head. You will be cut in two, as soon as the Lord’s Angel receives your sentence from God.” Putting the first one aside, Daniel called the other elder and said to him, “You offspring of Canaan and not of Judah, you have long allowed yourself to be perverted by lust.”

“This is how you have dealt with the daughters of Israel, who out of fear have yielded to you. But here is a daughter of Judah who would not tolerate your wickedness. Tell me then, under which tree did you catch them committing the crime?”

The answer came, “Under an oak.” “Your lie has also cost you your head,” Daniel said. “God’s Angel waits to cut you both in two.” The whole assembly shouted and blessed God for helping those who hope in Him. They turned against the two elders who, through Daniel’s efforts, had been convicted by their own mouths.

In accordance with Moses’ law, the penalty the two elders had intended to impose upon their neighbour was inflicted upon them. They were sentenced to death. Thus was the life of an innocent woman spared that day.