Sunday, 26 August 2018 : Twenty-First Sunday of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday, all of us are brought to attention to mankind’s frequent disobedience against God’s will and our stubbornness in refusing to listen to Him and to believe in Him wholeheartedly. From the Scripture passages we read, we listened again and again to our ancestors’ tendency to turn away from God and to abandon Him for other, more appealing things for them.

In the first reading today, taken from the Book of Joshua, the leader of Israel after Moses, it was told that many years after the Lord had led His people to settle in the Promised Land of Canaan, and after He had driven away the pagans who used to live in those lands. But, what likely happened was that, the people of Israel started to wander off from the path which God had set before them.

It was likely that they began to embrace the pagan idols and the pagan worship as practiced by their neighbours. It was also possible that some of the Israelites intermarried with the local Canaanites, who then persuaded them to worship the gods of their ancestors. At the time that this article was referring to, Joshua was already very old, and at the end of his earthly life.

He called the whole people of Israel to gather and place before them the choice, that is either to be with God and to be obedient to all of their commandments, or to walk away from Him to be with the pagan idols and rejecting all the promises and graces God has given them. And Joshua made it very clear also that being faithful to God requires a commitment, and he committed himself and his whole family to God. And the Israelites seemingly did the same as well.

Unfortunately, if we read on the next part of the Bible in the Book of Judges, it was apparent that the Israelites did not keep their words and neither did they keep their end of the agreement and commitment, as they fell into pagan worship and rejection of God’s laws and commandments. Generations after generations, God raised up Judges to help and guide His people to return to Him, but again and again they fell into temptation.

This happened throughout the time of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah as well. God sent His prophets to remind the people of their obligation to serve Him and to obey His laws and commandments, but many of them hardened their hearts and minds, refusing to believe in God and even persecuted the prophets and messengers sent into their midst.

Then in the second reading today, we heard St. Paul speaking to the Church and the faithful in the city of Ephesus through his Epistle to them. He spoke regarding the matter of husband and wife who have been united through the sacred bond of matrimony, and how it is important that both parties devote themselves towards each other. He mentioned that wives ought to be obedient and loving towards their husband, while the husbands ought to show care and love for their wives.

And in that same Epistle, St. Paul was making a lot of connections between the relationship of husbands and wives, and the relationship that Christ has with His Church. This is a reminder that in our marriage and in our families, there is a need for commitment and dedication by either side of the party. Marriage and family are not just something that we can take lightly.

Unfortunately, as shown throughout the Old and New Testament, as well as throughout the history of mankind and even among us Christians, there were indeed many obstacles to the building of good familial relationships and matrimonial unions. There were many obstacles and challenges facing those who build up families, that caused break-ups and destruction of those families, with many children entangled in the midst of those unfortunate tragedies.

And many of us are tempted by our eyes and by our flesh’s desires for sexual impropriety and immoral acts, especially in our ever increasingly hostile environment, where love and relationships become more and more commercialised, trivialised and all sorts of immoral and inappropriate relationships are promoted by the world around us. Many among us fell into these traps laid down in our path by the devil.

And lastly, the Gospel passage today showed us just how the Lord’s truth fell on deaf ears and stubborn hearts. When He told them that He is the Bread of Life Who came down from heaven, and that all those who eat of His Body and drink His Blood will have eternal life, many among the people who followed Jesus left Him, because they could not find in themselves the courage, the faith and the open-mindedness to accept the truth of God.

They could not accept the truth because they were still thinking mostly in worldly terms, and think that they knew it better than the truth presented by the Lord. They left Him behind because they could not dedicate themselves with the faith and commitment required of them. Even the Apostles and some of the disciples were also taken aback by what the Lord presented before them, but they remained faithful to Him and continued to follow Him, putting their trust in Him.

Brothers and sisters, all of these ought to remind us that as Christians, each and every one of us will inevitably face challenges, difficulties, oppositions and even persecutions from those who we encounter in life. And it is in fact often that those who are closest to us, will also cause us trouble and to be divided in ourselves. I am sure many of us have experienced before, the feeling of being torn between our obedience to God and our desire to be accepted by others, by our community and by the world.

This is where we need to stand up for our faith, although indeed as Christians evidently we also need to approach the issue with charity and grace. We cannot be easily swayed by the demands and the desires of the world, that we end up having no anchor of faith in God, or ending up being swallowed by those desires and by our ego and greed. This is what Satan intended to do with us, brothers and sisters! He wants to drag us down with him into eternal damnation.

The best way to confront this issue, is of course not through open confrontation or conflict. Rather, we should focus ourselves on God and reorientate ourselves to live our lives in accordance with His laws and commandments. We should strive to be righteous and just in each and every one of our actions, and to be exemplary in faith. Through all of these, we will draw closer to God and be beacons of faith for others to follow.

Let us therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, be examples and guides for one another, that each and every one of us may be able to find our way to God and to His saving grace. Let us all seek Him with all of our hearts and with all of our strength, and resist all the temptations that threaten to prevent us from finding our way to God. Let us therefore pray, that God will continue to strengthen us in faith, and to persevere in the midst of those challenges.

Should we falter and fall, let us take it as an opportunity for us to rebound back, and to repent wholeheartedly from our shortcomings and mistakes, turning back to God with a contrite and loving heart, rather than doubling down our sins. May the Lord be our strength and be our inspiration, that in each and every challenges we face in life, in each and every opposition we may encounter, we will always find joy knowing that despite what we may suffer from, we always walk in God’s presence and faithfully in His ways. Amen.

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