Liturgical Colour : Red
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we heard the Lord Who rebuked the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law because of their behaviour, in how they were so engrossed with the purity of the exterior and maintaining their appearances that they ended up forgetting the purpose of their faith. They focused on the exterior applications of the faith, and all the details that they forgot what it is that they need to do in their lives as followers of God.
In order to give us all some perspective and background on what happened, we must understand how the social class and group of the Pharisees came about. At that time, as the kings of of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah were long gone, and ever since the Jewish people returned from their exile in Babylon, the most influential members of the community were the priests and all those who were devoted in maintaining the laws and customs of the Jews.
They preserved the laws and customs as passed down to them through the many generations of the Israelites ever since the days of Moses, when God first gave the Law to His people. But, as time passed, the laws and customs have lost its true meaning and purpose, as they became things of formality and intertwined with the many worldly concerns and regulations.
And the Pharisees were those who believed that the people of God must live strictly according to those laws, as in the earlier times, many of the people had abandoned the Law and lived immorally, as we can read in the Book of the Maccabees, detailing what happened approximately one hundred and fifty years before the birth of Our Lord Jesus, when many Jews followed the Greek customs and those who obeyed the Lord were persecuted.
While the intention was initially good, but in its implementation, the Pharisees lost the focus of their actions, and they ended up, by the time of Jesus, doing their activities, their prayers and public exposition of their faith, not for the greater glory of God, and neither for the good of the people, but rather, for their own self-aggrandisement and glory, and to be praised by the people for their piety.
Therefore, that was why the Lord was angry at them and rebuked them, because while outwardly they might appear to be good and faithful, yet, in their interior, in their hearts and minds, God did not have a place, for they were filled with pride, with desire and greed for fame, for worldly glory, and all the other things that God told us, we should not have with us.
Let us all reflect on our own lives and actions, and think if we have been truly faithful thus far. Have our faith been greater than that of the Pharisees? Not in terms of the outward expressions, but rather in the greater picture, in the entirety of our faith. If we do not have God at the centre of our lives, and do everything for the sake of God and not for our own self-benefit, or for our own glory, then no matter how much it is that we do, it is useless and meaningless.
Ultimately, all of our words, deeds and actions should be made for the greater glory of God, for the purpose of serving Him and His people. And in this manner, we should learn from the faith and commitment of St. Ignatius of Antioch, the holy saint and martyr whose feast we celebrate today. St. Ignatius of Antioch was the second bishop of Antioch, succeeding St. Peter the Apostle who founded the diocese at Antioch, and was one of the important early Church fathers.
St. Ignatius of Antioch was crucial in his role of developing the early Church structures both in Antioch, within his diocese, as well as beyond. He led the people of God through difficult times, when being Christians equate suffering and challenges from the Roman state. He was arrested by the Roman authorities and was sent to Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire, where he was placed into the Colosseum, facing great beasts.
Yet, through all these suffering and the martyrdom at the hands of the lions and beasts, St. Ignatius of Antioch remained strong in his faith, and rather than surrendering himself and abandoning his faith to God, he remained true to the faith he held, and inspired many others to do the same, despite the persecutions and tortures he faced. God is always first and foremost in his heart and mind.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all devote ourselves anew to the Lord, following in the footsteps of St. Ignatius of Antioch and the other holy saints. May the Lord help us and guide us in our path, by sending His Spirit to empower us and to give us the courage, to remind us that He is truly the Centre of our lives, and that we should do our best to commit ourselves, through our actions, every single days of our lives, to the Lord, our loving God. Amen.