Wednesday, 8 March 2017 : 1st Week of Lent, Memorial of St. John of God, Religious (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened from the Scriptures the reading from the Book of the prophet Jonah as our first reading. In that passage we heard how Jonah was sent to the city of Nineveh, then the capital of the great Assyrian Empire, the conqueror of the northern kingdom of Israel and also of many other nations, to proclaim God’s sentence of destruction upon that city and all those who lived in it, because God was angry at their sins and wickedness.

Jonah proclaimed the decree of the Lord in the streets of Nineveh, and many people heard it, and they believed in him. Even the Assyrian king also believed in him, and immediately ordered all of his servants and subordinates to proclaim a great fast and penitential actions throughout the entire city. The whole population, from the king to his nobles and to the lowest of all the people mourned and humbled themselves before God.

They wore sackcloth and stopped all of their merrymaking, the sign of their regret and penance for their sins and wickedness. They hoped that God would change His mind and not destroy them as He had intended. And indeed, God saw what they had done, and God saw the sincerity of their actions, and He held back the punishment that He had intended upon them and did not punish them. The whole city of Nineveh and its entire population was spared from annihilation.

In this all of us have received the assurance from God Himself, that He will not punish those who have desired to seek forgiveness from Him for their sins and mistakes, and He will reconcile all those who have repented from their sins, and welcome them back into His grace and love. God loves each and every one of us, brothers and sisters in Christ, for He is our loving Father and Creator. Will He not forgive us our sins if we sincerely seek Him to forgive us those sins?

This is then contrasted in the Gospel passage today with the occasion when Jesus rebuked the people of Israel to whom He had been sent to, because they had hardened their hearts against the Lord and had not believed in Him when He had performed before them many miraculous signs and wonders, as shown in how they tested Him and doubted Him, asking Him for heavenly signs.

We must be wondering if they were blind or ignorant, considering that if we read through the Gospels, they have witnessed so many good deeds and miracles that Jesus had performed among them, with the sick, healing the blind and the deaf, opening their eyes and ears, making mute people talk, casting out demons and evil spirits from the possessed, even making dead people to return to life. All these things are deeds that no man can do, and which only God is able to do, and yet, despite the undeniable facts, they refused to believe.

The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, first of all, refused to believe in Jesus despite being arguably the ones who witnessed the most of the miracles which Jesus had performed in this world. They in fact even persecuted Him and accused Him of wrongdoing just because He went to people like the tax collectors and prostitutes, who they deemed as sinful people, as those who were unclean and wicked, unworthy of God’s salvation.

But they failed to see that these people desired to be saved, and they humbled themselves before God, admitting to all their sinfulness and openly rebuking themselves from their sins, just as Zaccheus the tax collector had done before Jesus and the people who were with them. And they repented in the same manner as the people of Nineveh had done, and as a result, they received the forgiveness from God, and they were indeed ahead of the Pharisees and the rest of the people on their way towards the salvation in God.

Those who would not repent, who refused the offer of God’s mercy, doubted His truth and questioned His authority will not be forgiven from their sins. For the fundamental truth and reality remains that while God is rich in His mercy and generous in His love, but there will be no mercy, forgiveness and love if we His people reject His offer of mercy and love.

A genuine repentance is required, that we should all turn away from our sins. This is the message which the Church keeps on reminding us throughout this penitential season of Lent, a time of forgiveness, a time for repentance, and a time to turn ourselves away from our sins and to return wholeheartedly to the Lord our God. It is a time for us to reject our sinful past and embrace a new future in the Lord.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today we should also follow in the examples of the holy saint, St. John of God, a holy religious whose life was an inspiration for many, so that we may know how we can be better Christians, and through this time of Lent, we may be converted to the way of the Lord and abandon our ways of sin. St. John of God was once an orphan, who turned into a soldier in the military and would later on turn to become a selfless carer of many people who were sick both physically and spiritually.

St. John of God was born into a poor family and lost his family at a young age. Orphaned at that young age, he joined the military and became a soldier fighting in wars common at that time. But he was disillusioned with the life that he had, both as a soldier and later on as he was discharged from the military after he had been wrongly accused of a crime that he did not commit.

Eventually he was converted to the faith after having listened to the sermon of St. John of Avila, calling all the people of God to give up on their sinful ways of life, chastising themselves and repenting genuinely before God seeking for forgiveness, and that was what he actually did at that time. In time to come, he was wholly transformed by the experience, and he became committed to serve the poor and the needy, living a thoroughly loving and charitable Christian life.

He would spend the rest of his life ministering to the sick, the poor and those who were destitute and without hope, and inspiring many others to follow in his own examples, and eventually leading to the formation of the Order of Hospitallers or Brother Hospitallers, committed to serving the people of God in their needs, both physically and spiritually. Many good deeds have been borne out of the works of these pious and devout people, who followed in the footsteps of their founder, St. John of God.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, in the similar way, our lives can also be transformed in the similar manner as how St. John of God had been transformed in his life. All of us are indeed sinners, as all saints were once also. However, saints are made when those sinners acknowledged just how sinful they were, and made the conscious decision and effort to reject those sins and to turn away from those sins, completely back towards the Lord.

Therefore, let us all spend this season of Lent in penance and repentance, turning away from our sins, and doing what is good for others and for God. Let us show mercy and love in all of our actions, and do our best to change our sinfulness into righteousness. Let us open our hearts to welcome God and His mercy, and not be stubborn as the Pharisees and the people at Jesus’ time had been, but repent, as the people of Nineveh had, and then, God will judge us to be righteous and give us the reward of eternal life. May God be with us all. Amen.

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