Monday, 5 March 2018 : 3rd Week of Lent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the Scripture reading with the story of the healing of Naaman the Syrian, who was the trusted army general and servant of the Aramean king during the time of the prophet Elisha at the northern kingdom of Israel. Naaman was searching for a way to be cured from his illness, as he suffered from terrible leprosy on his skin.

Naaman came to Israel seeking for help, as he heard that the prophet Elisha had the miraculous powers in healing many people who came to him, as God worked His wonders through His servant. In the end, as we heard from the Scripture passage, Naaman met up with the prophet Elisha, who simply asked him to go for a dip in the river Jordan seven times, and he would be healed.

Initially, Naaman refused to do so, thinking that such a menial task would not be something that could have cured him. He has expected that the prophet would place his hands on him, touched him or performed some wonders before his eyes, and he would be cured as how the other pagan priests and magicians at that time performed their supposed miracle works and wonders.

But eventually, Naaman listened to the prophet and humbled himself, doing what he was asked to do, and he was cured from all of his physical and bodily complaints. He believed in God from then on, and went home praising God for all that He had done for him. This amazing story of Naaman’s healing and conversion is something that we should take note of, as a parallel to our own conversion and healing.

Let us look at the Gospel passage today, in which we heard how the Lord Jesus was rejected in His own village in Nazareth. He has preached to them and even performed miracles before them, but the people hardened their hearts and refused to believe in Him. Why is that so? That is because Jesus hailed from that very village, where all the people likely had known Him in person since when He was very young, after He returned to Nazareth with His foster father St. Joseph and His mother Mary.

That is why they likely assumed that they knew Who He was, the mere Son of a lowly carpenter of the village. At that time, being a carpenter was truly a lowly and undesirable occupation to have, having to work very hard and yet gaining very little, and only contempt and ridicule from others who used his service. And this prejudice continued on to apply to the Lord Himself, Who was likely also a carpenter like His foster father St. Joseph.

We see here the irony of their actions, those who were at Nazareth who were in fact belonging to God’s own people, the descendants of Israel. While Naaman, the Syrian pagan and non-Israelite came to believe in God despite his earlier reservations and doubts, but he believed nonetheless, as compared to the Israelites who hardened their hearts and refused to believe, just as what happened to the Pharisees, the teachers of the Law, the Sadducees and their followers.

The essence of today’s Scripture readings is that all of us must not harden our hearts and refuse God’s generous offer of mercy. Otherwise we will gain nothing for ourselves, and no healing will come to us. Naaman at first also hardened his heart, but he relented in the end, and humbly submitted to God’s will as spoken through His prophet Elisha, and he received grace and healing from his illnesses.

Similarly, all of us are sick, sick in the heart, mind, body and soul. We may seem to be physically perfect and not sick, but in reality due to our sins, born of our disobedience to the Lord, have made us to be sick. Sin is a very dangerous sickness that will destroy everything. Unlike any other earthly illnesses and diseases that can be cured, the disease of the soul, that is sin, cannot be cured by any worldly means, save that of by the Lord.

It is God alone Who can forgive our sins, and He does so, through none other than His own Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, Who gave us His life through the cross. Through that cross which He bore on the way to Calvary, and as He was raised up high for our salvation, all of us who believe in Him will receive the grace and forgiveness from our sins. This is what we need to realise, and which we need to take action on, especially at this good time of Lent.

Let us all open our hearts, our minds and our whole being to receive the Lord into our being. Let Him transform us, our hearts, minds, bodies and souls, that we may be turned from sickly beings of darkness, into purified beings of light, worthy to be called His children. May the Lord bless us all, and may He forgive us our sins, that we may draw ever closer to Him and receive His eternal grace and blessings. Amen.

Monday, 5 March 2018 : 3rd Week of Lent (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Luke 4 : 24-30

At that time, Jesus said to the people of Nazareth, “No prophet is honoured in his own country. Truly, I say to you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens withheld rain for three years and six months and a great famine came over the whole land. Yet, Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow of Zarephath, in the country of Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha, the prophet; and no one was healed except Naaman, the Syrian.”

On hearing these words, the whole assembly became indignant. They rose up and brought Him out of the town, to the edge of the hill on which Nazareth is built, intending to throw Him down the cliff. But He passed through their midst and went His way.

Monday, 5 March 2018 : 3rd Week of Lent (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Psalm 41 : 2, 3 and Psalm 42 : 3, 4

As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for You, o God.

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I go and see the face of God?

Send forth Your light and Your truth; let them be my guide, let them take me to Your holy mountain, to the place where You reside.

Then will I go to the altar of God, to God, my gladness and delight. I will praise You with the lyre and harp, o God, my God.

Monday, 5 March 2018 : 3rd Week of Lent (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

2 Kings 5 : 1-15a

Naaman was the army commander of the king of Aram. This man was highly regarded and enjoyed the king’s favour, for YHVH had helped him lead the army of the Arameans to victory. But this valiant man was sick with leprosy.

One day some Aramean soldiers raided the land of Israel and took a young girl captive who became a servant to the wife of Naaman. She said to her mistress, “If my master would only present himself to the prophet in Samaria, he would surely cure him of his leprosy.”

Naaman went to tell the king what the young Israelite maidservant had said. The king of Aram said to him, “Go to the prophet, and I shall also send a letter to the king of Israel.” So Naaman went and took with him ten silver talents, six thousand gold pieces and ten festal garments.

On his arrival, he delivered the letter to the king of Israel. It said, “I present my servant Naaman to you that you may heal him of his leprosy. When the king read the letter, he tore his clothes to show his indignation, “I am not God to give life or death. And the king of Aram sends me this man to be healed! You see, he is just looking for an excuse for war.”

Elisha, the man of God, came to know that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, so he sent this message to him : “Why have you torn your clothes? Let the man come to me, that he may know that there is a prophet in Israel.” So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and stopped before the house of Elisha. Elisha then sent a messenger to tell him, “Go to the river Jordan and wash seven times, and your flesh shall be as it was before, and you shall be cleansed.”

Naaman was angry, so he went away. He thought, “On my arrival, he should have personally come out, and then paused and called on the Name of YHVH, his God. And he should have touched with his hand the infected part, and I would have been healed. Are the rivers of Damascus, Abana and Pharpar not better than all the rivers of the land of Israel? Could I not wash there to be healed?”

His servants approached him and said to him, “Father, if the prophet had ordered you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? But how much easier when he said : ‘Take a bath and you will be cleansed.’” So Naaman went down to the Jordan where he washed himself seven times as Elisha had ordered. His skin became soft like that of a child and he was cleansed.

Then Naaman returned to the man of God with all his men.

Sunday, 4 March 2018 : Third Sunday of Lent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday, the third in the season of Lent, we have come to the midway of this season of preparation for the coming of Holy Week and Easter. And from the Holy Scriptures we continue to hear about God’s wonderful works among His people, especially with regards to the Covenants which He had made with us and our ancestors.

In the first Sunday of Lent, we heard of God’s Covenant with Noah, who have been saved from the great flood that cleansed the earth from all the sinful man, descendants of Adam and Eve who have disobeyed God. With Adam and Eve themselves God had made a Covenant, that they and their descendants would be blessed and be given the rule over all the earth. Yet, they have fallen from grace because of sin.

And thus through Noah, the Covenant was renewed, and yet, broken once again, as the people of God continued to sin, and therefore fell into the darkness once again. Then, last Sunday, we heard of the Covenant which God made with Abraham His servant, as shown through the obedience that Abraham had, in offering even his own beloved son, Isaac, to the Lord as a sacrifice when He asked for it in a test of Abraham’s faith. God rewarded Abraham for his faith, and renewed His Covenant with him and his descendants.

Now, this Sunday, we listen to the continuation of that Covenant story, with the people of Israel, the descendants of Abraham, who have been brought out of their enslavement in Egypt. The Lord renewed the Covenant which He had made with their ancestors, and made them His own people. And He showed His love towards them by giving them His Laws and Commandments, the Ten Commandments that we heard in our first reading passage today.

The laws which God gave to His people were meant to guide them to Him, to show them the way to obey the Lord and to be righteous and just in His presence. But unfortunately, the people refused to obey and fell into sin and disobedience just as they have done before in the days of their ancestors. As we all know, Moses received the Ten Commandments above the Mount Sinai, where God spoke with him and revealed to Him all that He wanted His people to know.

But before Moses even came down from the mountain, the people abandoned God and established a horrible, pagan idol to be god over them, the golden calf which they have built using the gold and other goods they have brought over from Egypt. They refused to trust in God’s providence and love, and instead, they took matter into their own hands and decided to walk down the path of sin.

Why did they do so, brothers and sisters in Christ? It is because they trusted in their own human intellect and understanding, in their own desires and strengths that led them to disobedience and to sin. Ever since Adam and Eve chose to trust in Satan and believed in him, desiring the knowledge and understanding like God, they ate from the forbidden tree of knowledge of good and evil, mankind have fallen into sin because of their unquenchable desires.

They trusted in their own wealth and power, and thus worshipped beings of this world, glorifying material goods and wealth. The golden calf itself is rich in symbolism, and the reality of how mankind’s greed can lead to its downfall. A calf is an important commodity in those days, especially because the people of Israel were mostly farmers and shepherds by occupation. A calf can fetch a lot of money when brought up properly and later sold in the markets.

Meanwhile gold has been used for many millennia as the most precious among all noble metals, used since the earliest days of our human civilisation as the means of financial transactions and exchanges, as sources of wealth and possessions. The more gold a person has, the wealthier he or she was and the more prestige and glory he or she possessed in the community. People desired for gold and other precious goods greatly.

Thus the symbolism of the golden calf is indeed very powerful, as the epitome of the people’s greed and worldly desires. They worshipped what they desired, and as we all know, when we desire something, we cannot be satisfied until we have what we wanted. And indeed, when we already have what we wanted, we still desire to have even more and can never be satisfied.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, this is where we need to take a step back in our own respective lives, and reflect on whether we have been living our lives in the right way thus far. Have we been seeking the glory and wealth of this world, like our ancestors often had been, and disobeying God in the process? Have we lived well in accordance to the laws and commandments that God has given us?

Let us look deeper into the Ten Commandments God has given to His people Israel. The first three set of the Ten Commandments remind all of us that we have to love God, with all of our hearts, with all of our efforts, and we have to give Him the best of our attention, and not to have any other gods beside Him. He alone is worthy of worship, glory and honour.

Then, the other seven sets of the Ten Commandments remind us that we need to love our brethren, our fellow neighbours, relatives, family members and indeed, all those whom we encounter in our own daily lives. We are called to love our parents, and respect each other as fellow brothers and sisters, children of God. We should not covet what others have, or steal or kill.

This is against what the world has exposed us to since our youth. In a world filled with greed, desires, and all other worldly pursuits, of power, ambition, glory and many others, it is difficult for us to love others, as we are bound to put our own interests ahead that of others, and when interests clash, more often than not, we are willing to sacrifice others, or even hurt others in our pursuit to satisfy our desired and ambitions.

That is why we easily became jealous at others for what they have which we did not have ourselves. We desire and covet others’ possessions, and for that reason, man has caused hurt on other man, or kill and murder in some cases. And wars and conflicts have risen up because of the insatiable desires of the rulers and kings of this world. And we put those desires above everything else, above all sense of respect and love for others, and even above God.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all during this season of Lent rediscover our faith and grow stronger in it. Through what we have reflected thus far today, let us see how we mankind have fallen again and again into sin, simply because we are so stubborn in our hearts and minds, that we refuse to allow God and His love to be in our hearts, just because of our pride and ego.

We are so full of desires and ego, that we want everything to go according to how we want it to be, and we are not happy when others get ahead of us. As long as we are filled with these desires and the ego in our hearts, we will not be able to proceed further in the way to achieve salvation in God. In order for us to be better Christians, thus, it is important that we walk through this season and time of Lent with greater understanding of what we need to do.

We need to get rid of all of our pride and ego, and die to ourselves. I am not referring to the killing of oneself, but rather, to our desires and wants, to all the mentality of putting ourselves above others. And in this, as Christians, we should be following and imitating the example of Our Lord Himself, who in the Gospel passage we heard today, is the perfect fulfilment of all the prophecies and the promises God had made with us and our ancestors, the New and Everlasting Covenant.

Yes, through Christ, He has renewed the Covenant He made with us mankind, but this time, it is one that will never end, everlasting in nature. He sealed this Covenant with His own Blood, and being both equally Man and God, He became the bridge that bring together once again God and His people, who have long been separated because of disobedience and sin. By His cross, and by His selfless and loving sacrifice on that cross at Calvary, He has become the perfect obedience and the perfect Man, our role model. And by His Blood, a New Covenant had been made, one that will never end.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, Our Lord Jesus emptied Himself from His glory and divinity, as He took up that cross, which is our sins and the sum of all our disobedience and wickedness. He willingly made Himself to be punished for our sins, so that by that action, we may be brought to reconciliation with God. He has obeyed the Father’s will in everything, so that by His obedience, He may erase from us the disobedience we have in our hearts.

And He showed us all, that the essence of the Law and the Ten Commandments, is love. Pure love for God, and pure love for one another. As I have mentioned earlier, this is what the Ten Commandments is truly about. It calls upon us to love God and our brothers and sisters around us, at least as much as we love ourselves. Therefore, during this season of Lent, let us strive to live our lives filled with love, with greater charity and compassion for one another.

Let us all look around us and see if there are those who are in need of our love, care and attention. Let us no longer be blind and deaf to the cries and the pleas of the poor, the weak, those who are oppressed and without help, those who are lonely and without hope. Let us do our best, in whatever way we can, to help them, to show them love, that by doing so, we may indeed be like Christ, and through His example of love and obedience, we may find for ourselves, the way forward to reach out to God and to His salvation. Let us sin no more and be forgiven from our sins. May God be with us all, now and always. Amen.

Sunday, 4 March 2018 : Third Sunday of Lent (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

John 2 : 13-25

At that time, as the Passover of the Jews was at hand, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the Temple court He found merchants selling oxen, sheep and doves, and money-changers seated at their tables.

Making a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the Temple court, together with the oxen and sheep. He knocked over the tables of the money-changers, scattering the coins, and ordered the people selling doves, “Take all this away, and stop making a marketplace of My Father’s house!” His disciples recalled the words of Scripture : Zeal for Your house devours me like fire.

The Jews then questioned Jesus, “Where are the miraculous signs which give You the right to do this?” And Jesus said, “Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then replied, “The building of this Temple has already taken forty-six years, and will You raise it up in three days?”

Actually, Jesus was referring to the Temple of His Body. Only when He had risen from the dead did His disciples remember these words; then they believed both the Scripture and the words Jesus had spoken.

Jesus stayed in Jerusalem during the Passover Festival, and many believed in His Name, when they saw the miraculous signs He performed. But Jesus did not trust Himself to them, because He knew all of them. He had no need of evidence about anyone, for He Himself knew what there was in each one.

Alternative reading (Reading from Year A)

John 4 : 5-42

At that time, Jesus came to a Samaritan town called Sychar, near the land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well is there. Tired from His journey, Jesus sat down by the well; it was about noon. Now a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink.” His disciples had just gone into town to buy some food.

The Samaritan woman said to Him, “How is it that You, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan and a woman, for a drink?” (For Jews, in fact, have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift of God! If you knew Who it is, Who is asking you for a drink, you yourself would have asked Me, and I would have given you living water.”

The woman answered, “Sir, You have no bucket, and this well is deep; where is Your living water? Are You greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us this well, and drank from it himself, together with his sons and his cattle?” Jesus said to her, “Those who drink of this water will be thirsty again; but those, who drink of the water that I shall give, will never be thirsty; for the water, that I shall give, will become in them a spring of water, welling up to eternal life.”

The woman said to Him, “Give me this water, that I may never be thirsty, and never have to come here to draw water.” Jesus said, “Go, call your husband, and come back here.” The woman answered, “I have no husband.” And Jesus replied, “You are right to say, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you said is true.”

The woman then said to Him, “I see You are a Prophet; tell me this : Our ancestors came to this mountain to worship God; but you Jews, do you not claim that Jerusalem is the only place to worship God?” Jesus said to her, “Believe Me, woman, the hour is coming when you shall worship the Father, but that will not be on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.”

“You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, because salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is even now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for that is the kind of worshippers the Father wants. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit, and truth.”

The woman said to Him, “I know that the Messiah (that is the Christ) is coming. When He comes, He will tell us everything.” And Jesus said, “I Who am talking to you, I am He.”

At this point the disciples returned, and were surprised that Jesus was speaking with a woman, however, no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are You talking with her?” So the woman left her water jar and ran to the town. There she said to the people, “Come and see a Man Who told me everything I did! Could He not be the Christ?” So they left the town and went to meet Him.

In the meantime the disciples urged Jesus, “Master, eat.” But He said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” And the disciples wondered, “Has anyone brought Him food?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of the One Who sent Me, and to carry out His work.”

“You say that in four months there will be the harvest; now, I say to you, look up and see the fields white and ready for harvesting. People who reap the harvest are paid for their work, and the fruit is gathered for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. Indeed the saying holds true : One sows and another reaps. I sent you to reap where you did not work or suffer; others have worked, and you are now sharing in their labours.”

In that town many Samaritans believed in Him when they heard the woman who declared, “He told me everything I did.” So, when they came to Him, they asked Him to stay with them, and Jesus stayed there two days. After that, many more believed because of His own words, and they said to the woman, “We no longer believe because of what you told us: we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is the Saviour of the world.”

Alternative reading (shorter version of Reading from Year A)

John 4 : 5-15, 19b-26, 39a, 40-42

At that time, Jesus came to a Samaritan town called Sychar, near the land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well is there. Tired from His journey, Jesus sat down by the well; it was about noon. Now a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink.” His disciples had just gone into town to buy some food.

The Samaritan woman said to Him, “How is it that You, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan and a woman, for a drink?” (For Jews, in fact, have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift of God! If you knew Who it is, Who is asking you for a drink, you yourself would have asked Me, and I would have given you living water.”

The woman answered, “Sir, You have no bucket, and this well is deep; where is Your living water? Are You greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us this well, and drank from it himself, together with his sons and his cattle?” Jesus said to her, “Those who drink of this water will be thirsty again; but those, who drink of the water that I shall give, will never be thirsty; for the water, that I shall give, will become in them a spring of water, welling up to eternal life.”

The woman said to Him, “Give me this water, that I may never be thirsty, and never have to come here to draw water. I see You are a Prophet; tell me this : Our ancestors came to this mountain to worship God; but you Jews, do you not claim that Jerusalem is the only place to worship God?” Jesus said to her, “Believe Me, woman, the hour is coming when you shall worship the Father, but that will not be on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.”

“You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, because salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is even now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for that is the kind of worshippers the Father wants. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit, and truth.”

The woman said to Him, “I know that the Messiah (that is the Christ) is coming. When He comes, He will tell us everything.” And Jesus said, “I Who am talking to you, I am He.”

In that town many Samaritans believed in Him, so, when they came to Him, they asked Him to stay with them, and Jesus stayed there two days. After that, many more believed because of His own words, and they said to the woman, “We no longer believe because of what you told us: we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is the Saviour of the world.”

Sunday, 4 March 2018 : Third Sunday of Lent (Second Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

1 Corinthians 1 : 22-25

The Jews ask for miracles and the Greeks for a higher knowledge, while we proclaim a crucified Messiah. For the Jews, what a great scandal! And for the Greeks, what nonsense! But He is Christ, the Power of God, and the Wisdom of God, for those called by God among both Jews and Greeks.

In reality, the “foolishness” of God is wiser than humans, and the “weakness” of God is stronger than humans.

Alternative reading (Reading from Year A)

Romans 5 : 1-2, 5-8

By faith we have received true righteousness, and we are at peace with God, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Through Him we obtain this favour in which we remain and we even boast to expect the Glory of God.

And hope does not disappoint us because the Holy Spirit has been given to us, pouring into our hearts the love of God. Consider, moreover, the time that Christ died for us : when we were still helpless and unable to do anything.

Few would accept to die for an upright person; although, for a very good person, perhaps someone would dare to die. But see how God manifested His love for us : while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.