Sunday, 4 November 2018 : Thirty-First Sunday of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday, the readings from the Scriptures are about God’s Law, and the need for us all to listen to the Law of God, to accept them and to put them into practice in our own lives, but with good understanding and appreciation of what the Law is all about, and this is important because otherwise, we will end up falling into the same trap into which the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law had fallen into.

What does this mean, brothers and sisters in Christ? It means that we should not follow the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law who professed to believe in the Law and in fact, as the ones who regulated and enforced the Law, and yet, they did not know what is the true meaning and significance of the Law. Many of them observed the Law for the wrong reason and with the wrong intention.

The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law stressed a very strict application of the laws of Moses, which can be found in the book of Exodus and Leviticus in the Old Testament, as well as the traditions and practices which had been handed down the generations of the people of Israel. There were in total six hundred and thirteen set of laws, rules and regulations that the people of God had to obey and fulfil, down to the smallest details of how one should live their lives.

These laws had to be understood in the context of history and how the law came to be. The Law was given to the people of God, Israel, as part of the Covenant that God established with them, just right after He liberated them from their slavery at the land of Egypt. God gave them the Law through Moses, which showed them various aspects of how they ought to live and survive through the difficult and challenging times, at the time when Israel was still trying to find its identity and place among the nations.

For once, the Israelites were then a stubborn and obstinate bunch of people, who frequently and repeatedly rebelled against the Lord, as was evident from the accounts of the Exodus from Egypt. They had to endure a forty years detour and wait before they were allowed to enter the Promised Land of Canaan, after even though God had reassured them and showed them His providence and love throughout their journey, they chose willingly to abandon God and give in to their fears instead.

They failed to trust God, many times, as shown how just right after they were liberated from Egypt, they gave in to temptation, making a golden calf to be god for them, when Moses went up the mountain of Sinai to receive God’s commandments and Law. They grumbled and had many qualms, when the Lord had fed them daily with manna, the bread of Angels from heaven, and with large birds providing them with meat, and sweet, good tasting water from the rock.

Thus, in order to discipline a people that was so stubborn and obstinate, God gave them the Law in order to remind them to turn away from all their sins and wickedness, and for them to rediscover their love for God, by following the precepts and the rules of the Law. However, although the intention of the Law was good and the early application of the Law was meaningful, but in time, the elders, the priests and eventually the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law at the time of Jesus misunderstood and misinterpreted the Law, in its practice, meaning and intention.

They took the Law as a list of punitive regulations to be enforced among the people of Israel, and used them as benchmark of who was to be considered as faithful and who was to be considered as unfaithful. In time to come, this ended up creating divisions in the society, with the Pharisees, the teachers of the Law and the priests claiming themselves to be pious and good because of their observance of the Law, and looking down on the others, whom to them, were not as pious as they were.

Instead of bringing mankind closer to God as He intended, the Law was misused by those mentioned earlier, in keeping people away from God, by their judgmental attitude towards those whom they considered to be inferior to them in the matter of faith. They looked down on tax collectors, prostitutes and all others who suffered physical disabilities, such as blindness, paralysis and epilepsy.

To the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, those sicknesses and professions are signs of them being cursed and unworthy of God’s love and grace. To them, they were the only ones who were worthy of God, and all others had to obey the way of the Law they prescribed to, or else, they too would be cast out from God’s grace. They espoused a very exclusivist attitude and perspective of the Law, one that is not focused on God, but on themselves, their ego, pride and desire.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, this is why, we need to appreciate and understand the true meaning and intention of God’s Law, which He has revealed unto us, through none other than His Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, Who revealed the truth of God to all of us, His people. This is summarised succinctly in the Gospel passage we heard today, revealing to us the whole truth about what God intends to do with us through His Law.

And the heart and intention of the Law is love, and because of that, through the Law, God wants His people to rediscover the love which they ought to have for Him, and which they also ought to have for one another. The Lord came into this world, in order to dispel all the erroneous and false ways of the past elders and teachers of the Law, who had misinterpreted the Law of God and enforced an unjust and undue pressure on the people because of their misuse of the Law.

The Lord challenged all those who heard Him, to break free from that misunderstanding and the wrong ways in which they have done, in fulfilling the obligations of the Law. Instead of being self-centred and self-serving as the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law had been, we are called to refocus our attention to the Lord. The laws, rules and regulations that has been given to us, now renewed through the Church, must not be seen as burden or formalities that we need to fulfil in order to gain ourselves righteousness.

Otherwise, that is why, even within our Church today, there are many who did what the Church had commanded us to do, and yet, in their hearts and minds, God did not truly have a place in them. Indeed, it is possible for someone to act justly and piously in accordance with the Law and the Church rules and regulations, and yet, for the same person to have little or no love for God. That was how most of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law acted, practicing the Law without understanding the spirit of the Law.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, that is why today, we are all called to turn ourselves wholeheartedly to the Lord once again, by rediscovering for ourselves what it truly means for us to be Christians. We must have love in us, and this is important as love is at the centre of our Christian faith and livelihood. Without love, for God and for others, then we will have no real and genuine faith in us.

The Lord Himself said that no matter how wonderful the things and the talents that we have, no matter what abilities we have, or even if we are able to speak in the tongue of Angels, but we have no love in us, then everything is meaningless. Without love, there can be no faith, for without love, how can we then believe in God Who is all about love? We call ourselves as Christians because we believe in Christ, Who is the personification of God’s ultimate love for us.

Let us all love one another just as the Lord Himself has loved us. Look at the example of Our Lord Jesus, Who gave Himself and His life for us, dying on the cross for our sake, willingly bearing the sins of ours because of His love for us, that He does not want us to be eternally separated from Him because of those sins. The Lord Jesus obeyed His Father’s will, and loved His Father, and because of that, He also loved us. In the perfect love which God has shown us, the perfect love between the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, all of us are called to emulate this love in our own living.

Let us grow deeper in the understanding of our faith, the practices and customs of our faith, and all that the Church had given us through its teachings, the commandments of God and the laws of the Church. Let us appreciate better how we can grow ever more in our love for God through these, by meaningful and genuine participation in the life of the Church, from active participation in regular Holy Mass, and many other forms of our Christian worship.

May the Lord continue to guide each and every one of us, that through His Law of love, we may be able to find our way to Him, and be able to turn ourselves to Him, that we may love Him ever more wholeheartedly from now on. May God bless us all, now and forevermore. Amen.

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