Liturgical Colour : Green
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday we listened to the word of God in the Scriptures speaking to us first about the calling which the Lord made to the seventy elders of Israel chosen from among the people during the time of the Exodus, in which He put in them their Holy Spirit, and they began to be inspired by the Spirit. But there were then two others who were also given the Spirit in the camp of the Israelites and were not among the seventy-two.
Joshua, the one who would eventually succeed Moses as the leader of Israel saw what happened to the two other people receiving the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and he wanted to stop them. But Moses forbid him from doing so, and in fact he was pleased at the fact that God sent His Holy Spirit to even more people, and wished that He would send the Holy Spirit to all of His people, and not just the elders chosen from among them.
In the Gospel passage today, we also listened to something that is almost the same in occurrence, when the disciples of the Lord Jesus wanted to stop some others who were not with their group, and yet spoke about the Lord Jesus as the Messiah, and preached in His Name, using His Name to heal people and perform miracles. The disciples did not like this and wanted to stop the work of these people, only to be rebuked by the Lord, just as Moses rebuked Joshua.
Why did the disciples of the Lord did what they have done, and why did Joshua want to stop the two people from receiving God’s Holy Spirit? That was likely because of their inner pride and the desires within their hearts. Even though the disciples had followed the Lord and even though Joshua was likely quite a righteous man, considering that only he and another one of God’s follower survived the forty years of Exodus, but ultimately, all of them were still mortal human beings.
And that means, all of them are still subject to the same frailties and weaknesses that we encounter through our humanity. This is what the Lord said when He told His disciples who were sleeping when they were supposed to accompany Him and keep watch during His agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, ‘While the spirit is strong, but the flesh is weak.’ Temptations and allures of worldly pleasures are always by our side.
This is what St. James also wrote about in the second reading passage we have today, taken from his Epistle. He wrote about all those who have lived in riches and pleasures of life, and cheated others from their money, treated others badly and showing no regards for the needs of the hungry, the poor, the weak and the oppressed. This is truly mankind’s wicked side, which all of us unfortunately have. For even the poor and the hungry can oppress those who are even less fortunate from them, and not just the rich and the well-endowed.
In the Gospel passage today, the Lord also mentioned something that seemed to be quite radical. He mentioned that should a part of our body cause us to sin, for example, our hands, which caused us to steal things and therefore made us to sin, then we must chop whichever part that is off. He even mentioned how we should pluck our eyes off whenever we have our eyes to blame in causing us to sin, when we look upon someone and lusts over that person.
But is that what the Lord truly meant and is that what the Lord wants us to do with our own lives? This is where we cannot take the Scripture passage literally and at the surface level, but we must understand the key message, purpose and intention of the Lord, the context in which He made such a strong-worded remark and comment on the behaviour of the people. The key message is that, each and every one of us mankind must turn away from sin, and we must know the urgency for such an action, for otherwise, what awaits us, is nothing else but eternal suffering in hell.
We know just how much God loves us all, that He gave us none other than the perfect gift of His own Beloved Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, through Whom we have received a new hope of salvation and liberation from our sins, and from all the things and obstacles that have prevented us from truly being able to find our way towards the Lord. And this is where we need to listen to Him with an open mind and with an attentive heart.
What the Lord meant with what He said, is that we need to firmly reject sin, in all of its forms, and even the desire and intention to sin, before we commit it in the first place. In another occasion, the Lord also said to His disciples, that even when someone is angry with his or her brother or sister, before he or she took any action to hurt or to strike at the brother or sister, he or she has already committed sin in the heart.
Likewise, should someone look upon another person with lust and desire, then the person had committed adultery and therefore sin in his or her heart, even before that person actually committing any form of real or bodily adulterous action with the person mentioned. Sin is indeed so dangerous that even its allures and temptations can bring us down to damnation, and unless we actively reject sin, before we even commit something sinful, we are in great danger of falling into deeper and deeper sin.
Yet at the same time, we also have to realise that while we are all sinners, but God has also given us the means and the ability to break free from those sins that have plagued and troubled us all these while. God does not actually ask us to do what He said to the people, cutting off our hands, legs, or plucking out our eyes, tongues and all that. The hands, the eyes, the tongue and all these by themselves are without blame.
For the hands, the eyes, the tongue, the legs, all of our limbs and organs cannot function by itself without the working of the brain, that is our mind, and the mind in truth cannot function without the command and the will that comes from the heart and the soul. But how can we take out our heart and soul and still live? Surely we cannot do so, for our heart and soul are integral parts of our life. Sin corrupts these very depths of our inner being, and that is why, when sin entered us, it corrupted us from the inside out.
The Lord spoke of this, when He criticised the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law for their obsession with the maintenance of a clean and pure exterior, and yet, failed to look and discern at the state of our interior cleanliness and purity. That is why, it is important that we understand what the Lord intended when He spoke of cutting off the hands, the eyes, the legs and all sorts of extreme and graphic language He was using. What He truly wanted to say is that, we must immediately and urgently cut off our ties to sin, starting from the depths of our hearts, minds and souls.
How do we do this, brothers and sisters in Christ? This is where the Lord has given us many opportunities and avenues to help ourselves in our journey towards His salvation and grace. First of all, we should repent from our sinful ways and recognise just how weak we are in our battle against sin, and we should make use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation available for us, by the means of frequent and genuine confessions, made regularly with the desire for us to change our lives.
And then, we should also deepen our spirituality and prayer life, by spending more quality time with Our God. Many of us did not spend good, quality time with God, and when we do so, we are often tempted and distracted by the many things and concerns we have in life. That shows clearly in our attitudes in the Mass, when many of us cannot wait but to end the Mass quickly and go back to our daily businesses and works.
That is why many of us have not spent time to be with God and to open ourselves to Him, heart to heart, that we may come to know what His will is truly for each and every one of us. Instead, we were so busy with ourselves, that we ended up getting more and more distant from Him, and we ended up falling deeper and deeper into the traps and temptations that the devil has placed before us.
Then lastly, our hands, our feet, our eyes, our tongue, and all of our limbs and organs have their particular purpose and uses. They can indeed be used for something vile and wicked, but at the same time, they can also be used for good things and for the good works of God. Now, we need to ask ourselves, if we have made good use of our body, our talents and gifts for the good of our fellow men, showing true Christian love and charity in all of our words, deeds and actions?
If we have not done all these or any of these, then perhaps it is now time for us to take action before it is too late for us. Remember, brothers and sisters in Christ, that all of us are mortal, and our existence and time in this world is truly limited. If we do not make good use of the time and opportunity given to us in this world, and instead continue to live in sin, then I am afraid that when the time comes for us to give an account before God, we will not be ready to defend ourselves.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, therefore, let us from now on turn towards the Lord with a renewed zeal and spirit, committing ourselves ever more to a life filled with prayer and devotion, with genuine love for God and with compassion towards our brothers and sisters, our neighbours and all those who are in need of our help. There are still many things that we can do in life, and let us all strive to make use of the gifts and blessings given to us, for the greater glory of God. Amen.