Sunday, 21 October 2018 : Twenty-Ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday we listened to the words of the Scripture with regards to our calling as Christians, through our belief in our Lord Jesus Christ. We are called to follow the examples shown by the Lord, and to listen to Him, in what He has revealed and taught to us. And the essence of Christian discipleship is that of humility and the total giving of oneself to the will of God, and not to give in to our selfish, human desires.

Today, in the first reading we heard from the passage taken from the Book of the prophet Isaiah, which spoke of the prophecy of the suffering Messiah, foretelling what would happen to the faithful and true servant of God, the Messiah, Whom the Lord has promised to send to His people as the source of their deliverance. But through that suffering and selfless offering of Himself, God has willed to save all of His people, that by His sacrifice, He justified many through His death.

This prophecy was fulfilled in the Lord Jesus Christ, Who came into the world, sent by the Father, to be the Saviour of the world. He is the Messiah long awaited by the people of Israel, and the One Whom all mankind had been waiting for, since the time of their downfall into the tyranny of sin. However, He was deeply misunderstood by His own people, many of them who refused to believe that He is the Messiah of God.

To the Jews, who were looking forward to salvation through the Messiah, many of them were expecting a mighty and powerful King to come and lead them against their oppressors and the Romans, who were the masters of most of the known world at the time. The Jewish people did not expect at all that their Messiah would be One Who was totally without worldly ambitions, or the One Who would bear suffering and humiliation to such an extent that He became even the lowliest and the most humiliated of all beings.

This is a reality which many of the Jews during the time of Jesus’ ministry failed to understand, as they had different expectation of what the Messiah would be like and what He would do for their sake. They were expecting an immediate liberation from all worldly woes, the restoration of the glorious and earthly kingdom of Israel as how it was during the time of King David and Solomon. But that was not how God had desired it, for His kingdom was truly one that surpasses this world.

The second reading today, taken from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Hebrews, is the revelation of the truth of God to the Jewish people, especially to those Jews who have willingly accepted the Lord Jesus as their Messiah. St. Paul reiterated in his Epistle that the Lord Jesus is the One and True Eternal High Priest of all mankind, by the virtue of His sacrificial and perfect selfless love offering on the Altar of the Cross.

St. Paul reiterated the truth about what the Messiah of God came into this world to do, dispelling the misconceptions that He would be a powerful and conquering King, and instead, He came as a King in all humility, to serve His people, and to show the Lord’s mercy to His people. And He did all of these through His perfect obedience to the will of His Father in heaven, offering Himself as the perfect and only offering that is worthy of the salvation of all mankind, and Him as the High Priest, offering His own Body and Blood as the means of the absolution of our sins.

In doing this, He fulfilled the prophecy which Isaiah spoke about, and which was our first reading today. The prophet Isaiah spoke of an obedient and suffering servant, and by Christ’s perfect obedience and love for His Father, He willingly gathered to Himself all of our sins and the bonds and chains of our disobedience, and suffering the effects of our punishment. He patiently bore His cross on the way to Calvary, and offered Himself thoroughly as the means by which we may be freed from our sins.

Today, we also listened to the reading from the Holy Gospel written by St. Mark, in which we heard of the moment when the two disciples, St. James and St. John, brothers and sons of Zebedee, came up to the Lord Jesus and made a special request before Him. In another Gospel account, their mother also went with them before the Lord, and made the same request, that each one of them would be able to sit on the left and on the right hand of the Lord when He enters to His kingdom.

The significance of this is that, it precisely highlighted the attitude of the Jewish people in how they viewed the Messiah. The disciples wanted to gain favour with the Lord, and to gain even advantage over one another, a position more favourable, more prestigious and better in the sight of others. That is unfortunately, the reality of how things worked initially among the Apostles and the disciples of the Lord. That was why the Lord in other occasions as written in the Gospels, had to rebuke them for their grumbling and disagreements over who was the most esteemed and best among them.

Many of the people who followed the Lord Jesus also followed Him because of what they have seen, in His miraculous deeds and healings, in His wonderful teachings and popularity, and they hoped to gain from all of these, to gain benefit for themselves and perhaps to satisfy their own desires for worldly power, for honour, for worldly glory and honour, and for position in God’s promised kingdom to come.

But they failed to understand that the Lord’s ways are not like man’s ways. They thought that by following the Lord, they would gain favour and advantage for themselves, but unfortunately, the truth and reality is that, as the Lord Himself revealed to His people, that following Him would mean that they must suffer just as He has suffered, and they will experience rejection, pain and discomfort, just as He Himself had endured all of those.

The Lord foretold to them in the same Gospel passage that He would suffer, by referring to the cup that He was to drink. This is the same cup that the Lord Jesus mentioned to His Father, at the time of His agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, asking Him if it is possible, to let this cup of suffering pass Him by. In that we can see just how painful, heavy and terrible the burdens which Our Lord had willingly taken up on Himself, that He agonised it so in His humanity.

But the Lord obeyed His Father’s will, and surrendered Himself so completely to His Father that He willingly bore down the weight and burden of the cross, despite its pains and sufferings. He completed the task which the Father entrusted Him, and because of that, all of us have a new hope, through the loving and selfless sacrifice that Our Lord made on the cross, as the High Priest Who offered Himself for our salvation.

And He mentioned how the world will also hate His disciples just as they had hated Him. This is because of their inability to comprehend this mission which the Lord revealed unto His people. In addition, the ways of the world are also corresponding to the ways of sin and disobedience against God, and therefore, the Lord and His truth bring about opposition, challenges and difficulties to those who believe in them, because the devil is indeed actively at work trying to subvert God’s effort to save us mankind.

The reality of such suffering and trials have been evident throughout the history of the Church, during the many persecutions and troubles that Christians have suffered from all these centuries. But we should also then look at the examples of those many good and devout Christians, our predecessors in faith, who have withstood all these challenges and defended their faith even amidst the most vicious and harshest persecutions.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, now, for all of us, what we need to take note of from today’s Scripture passages is that first of all, we must not let our desire and greed, our selfishness and the weaknesses of our body to be stumbling blocks in the way of our faith. In our various groups and ministries serving the Church and the faithful, we often have bickering and disagreements, and sometimes even infighting and anger, which resulted from our own clashing desires and our inability to resist the many temptations of life.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today, we are challenged by the Lord Who calls each and every one of us to be His followers. And in order for us to be able to follow Him, then we must have love for God, and must centre ourselves upon Him and the truth which He has revealed and taught us. Only then that we will be able to become Christ’s true disciples. We must overcome our desires in life, and all sorts of obstacles that prevented us from carrying out what we are supposed to do as Christians.

That is why, brothers and sisters in Christ, it is important for us to follow Christ’s examples, His obedience to the will of His Father, and His love for each and every one of us, which allowed Him to bear His Cross of suffering for our sake. Had Christ not suffered or died for us, then there would have been no salvation, and all of us would still have existed under the tyranny and bondage of our sins.

Let us all be converted, and turn ourselves wholeheartedly to the Lord, by showing more love in our every moment’s actions and deeds, wherever we are, that we can be as selfless and as loving as Christ had been, in forgiving one another our sins and faults to each other, just as Christ has forgiven us from our sins, despite having to bear those sins and all of their punishments and consequences. Let us remember the great love which He has shown us from the cross, and show that same love in our every action from now on.

As Christians, let us be humble and not proud, be loving and not be filled with hatred, be gentle and not be easily provoked with anger, be filled with hope and not be despairing, be ready to serve others and to love them rather than to expect to be loved and served by others. Let us all be filled with Christ’s love in all things, so that in everything we say, act and do, we will always be loving just as our Lord is loving, and forgive just as we have been forgiven. This is our calling as Christians.

May the Lord be our guide, and may He continue to love us as He has always done, that each and every one of us may imitate the same love that He has shown us. Let us all live our lives from now on with a renewed faith and zeal, and do our best in order to love and serve the Lord, and love our fellow brothers and sisters, despite the persecutions, challenges and obstacles we may encounter on our journey. May God be with us always, now and forevermore. Amen.

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