Sunday, 24 July 2016 : 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Sharbel Makhluf, Priest (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the Lord Who is calling us to His mercy and love. He calls us all into the tender care of His mercy, and showed clearly His desire to embrace all of us, welcoming us and wanting to forgive us from our sinfulness and from all of our wicked ways. But all of these will require from us, a strong commitment and hard work.

How is this so? Let us all look at the Scripture readings of today one by one, and then we will understand why I mentioned that God is merciful, and yet He is calling us to make the effort to embrace His mercy and love, or else we shall perish. In the first reading today, we heard the story from the Book of Genesis where Abraham had a conversation regarding the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the fate of the people who lived in them, both the righteous and the wicked alike.

In order to understand this, we have to understand what had transpired at that time, the events and occasions that led up to that conversation between God and Abraham. The people living in the land where Abraham was still believed in the pagan gods and worshipped the idols, and they did not know of the Lord Who is their God and Creator. But the people living in the two cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were committing even more wicked things which were abhorrent in God’s sight.

And they did not repent from their sins, but committed even more horrendous and abominable sins such as prostitution, irregular and unnatural sexual and extramarital relationships, and many other deeds of debauchery and wickedness which were unwelcome and disgusting in the sight and presence of God. And hence God wanted to wipe Sodom and Gomorrah, together with all who live in them, out of the face of the earth.

But Abraham, knowing that his cousin Lot, whom he knew and counted as belonging among the righteous, stayed in the city of Sodom with his family and all of his possessions, he asked God for mercy and for Him to stay from His anger, for the sake of the righteous and just ones who were living amidst all the wickedness and the darkness of the people.

And although God promised Abraham that He would not destroy the cities for the sake of fifty, or forty-four, or forty, or thirty, or twenty or ten righteous ones who lived in them, but in reality, if we asked, why then God still destroyed the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, then the answer lies in the fact that not even ten people could be found to be righteous and just in those cities.

And we know how difficult it is to walk in the path of God, when the aftermath of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah told us about what happened to the wife of Lot. While Lot and his family was being rescued by the Angel sent by God, she stopped and turned his eyes to look back towards the city. We may not be sure why she did so, but it was likely that she herself had been lured info the temptation of the life as it was in those cities, and she was reluctant to leave them behind.

And we should ask ourselves whether we are guilty of the same as well. In many occasions, I am sure, it is difficult for us to turn our back to the pleasures and the good things which this world is offering us. It is not easy for us to resist the temptation and the pull, all the offerings and the sweet lies through which the devil and all of his forces are marshalling against us in trying to lure us away from God’s salvation.

And here, it is where all of us have been revealed what we should do in the case that we face such temptations and troubles. We are indeed weak, and our flesh are weak. Our flesh and the connection these have with the world weaken our resolve and our ability to live faithfully in the presence of God. But what seems to be difficult and impossible for us will truly become possible if only that we know how to put our trust in the Lord our God.

In the second reading, St. Paul in his letter and epistle to the faithful in the Roman city of Colossae, he spoke to them regarding baptism in the Lord, and how through that baptism, all of the faithful had been made to be sharers in the passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ. And by sharing His death, all of us have also died to our past lives, to our past sinfulness and disobedience, and a new life has been granted to us.

Yes, a new life graced and blessed by God. It is a new life where we share in the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Our Lord has conquered sin and death, and through His glorious resurrection from the dead, He had broken the chains that held us down and kept us imprisoned and enslaved to the darkness of this world. But the sad reality is that, even though all these had been done for our sake by the Lord, but many people still refused to believe in Him.

In the Gospel, the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, and Jesus told them how they should pray, in the way that is now well known as the Lord’s Prayer, the Pater Noster or our Father, for indeed, that prayer is the perfect prayer taught to us by Jesus, a prayer of perfect harmony and surrender to God, a prayer of thanksgiving and glorification of God, a prayer of petition and desire for forgiveness and conversion of the heart.

The core of the problem with us all is that many of us do not know how to pray, and instead of genuine prayer, that is communication between us and God, we become demanding and wanting, thinking that God is a solution to all of our problems. Indeed, if we misread the intention of today’s Gospel, we may think that we just need to ask and God will provide us with all that we want. But that is not what God wants us to know.

Rather, God wants us to put our trust in Him, and leave behind our old ways, where we put our trust in our human desires and wants, in our attachments to the world and the material goods of the world that do not fully satisfy our true needs. He wants us to look for Him, to search for Him, to grab at Him and reach out to Him, by opening up our hearts and reaching out to Him, that He may find us and we may find Him.

For many of us, our spiritual and real relationship with the Lord our God has been distant or even nonexistent. We do call ourselves Christians, but do we mean what we said? Do we mean it when we say that we believe in God? If we do believe in Him, then why do our actions and words prove to be otherwise? Are we trying to bring scandal upon our Lord’s holy Name?

It is often that we are afraid to seek the Lord, even when we need His help. It is because we often have that misconception that our Lord is an angry and fearsome God, Who is to be feared and He will not tolerate any misdeeds. As a result, we are scared to approach Him when we have done something wrong, and indeed, through our sins, we have done Him wrong.

But we cannot be like that. We cannot be so fixated on our fears that we draw away from the Lord and be scared to approach Him. We cannot be hesitant either, or we will not be able to place our focus and our trust on the Lord, and then we shall lose our way and be distracted into false ways and risk damnation and downfall into the depths of hell.

We have understand that God loves us all, and by no means that He will reject us without reason. We have no reason to fear Him or to go away from Him just because we are afraid of His anger. God will forgive us but do we ourselves want to be forgiven? Or are we the ones who are actually the greatest barriers of our own salvation? Often times we do not realise that we are the ones who are most responsible in making it difficult for us to embrace God and His salvation.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all commit ourselves anew to the Lord, our loving God and Father. Let us all not be fearful but instead be willing to change our ways for the better, changing from our disobedience to our renewed obedience to the Law of God. Let us all be faithful disciples and followers of our Lord from now on, and no longer live in sin, but from now on living with zeal and faith for our Lord.

May God forgive us our sins, and may we ourselves open our hearts and ask Him to be forgiven for our faults and trespasses. May all of us come to the realisation that without real and genuine effort at conversion and changing our ways, we cannot come closer to God and reach the throne of His infinite mercy and love. Let us not be like Lot’s wife who wavered and turned back at the moment of her salvation, but let us be courageous and step forth into the path that God had prepared for us. God bless us all. Amen.

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