Sunday, 10 February 2019 : Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday, the message from the Scripture readings that we have heard is very clear, and that is, for us all as Christians, each and every one of us have been called by God to be His followers and disciples, as those whom He has willingly bestowed His love and grace to, and we have been called with a purpose and mission given to us, to become His witnesses and messengers among the nations.

But as we heard from the Scripture passages today, we saw how many of those whom God had called, felt that they were unworthy to be called by God, feeling that as they have committed sins before God, they would not be considered clean and worthy enough to become the ones through whom God would perform His many wonderful works among the people. In the Old Testament, we heard this in the calling of the prophet Isaiah as a prophet, and then in the Gospel in the calling of the Apostles.

But it was exactly for this reason that the Lord has called and chosen those whom He deemed to be worthy to become His servants and messengers, witnesses and champions among the people. Instead of boasting of their might and greatness, their abilities and their talents, they humbly admitted their imperfections, their corrupted nature due to sin, and their weak selves, as mere men amidst the Holy One of God, Jesus Christ, Lord and Saviour of all.

This is why the Lord chose them, although they were sinners and imperfect, because they were willing to admit humbly of that fact, and not putting their own selfish desires and ego above their commitment and desire to love the Lord, their God. And that was why the Apostles, the prophets of old, and the many other faithful servants and messengers of God were able to give their whole life in commitment to the works of God, despite the challenges that they had to encounter throughout their lives and respective ministries.

Many of them had to labour hard and endured hardships throughout their ministries. The prophet Isaiah had to withstand the stubbornness and rejection of the wicked pagans and idol worshippers among the people of the kingdom of Judah, especially early during his ministry. In one occasion, he had to confront the king of Judah, Ahaz for his lack of faith, and openly proclaimed God’s words before him, promising the coming of the Messiah, as Ahaz showed false humility and doubt in the power of God.

And as what the Apostles themselves, St. Peter and the other of the Twelve, with the many other disciples of the Lord, St. Paul the Apostle, the many other holy men and women, many of them martyrs of the Church, had shown us through the many accounts of their works throughout the New Testament and as told to us through the tradition of the Church and the story of the lives of those saints and martyrs, we have heard how in those numerous occasions, those faithful predecessors of ours have given their all to God.

This is contrasted to the attitude of those who claimed themselves to be great and pious during the history of the people of Israel. During the time of Isaiah and the other prophets, especially that of Jeremiah, who came after the former, who had to contend with many who claimed themselves to be the Lord’s prophets and accused Jeremiah of falsehoods and lying to the king, when in truth Jeremiah prophesied the truth about the coming of the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem by the Babylonians. The false prophets meanwhile wanted to gain more power, influence and glory for themselves, by trying to please the king and his nobles with false promises and lies.

And at the time of the Lord Jesus, we heard of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, two groups of people among whom, many rose up to oppose the works of the Lord and His disciples, because they saw the Lord and His disciples as rivals to their own teaching authority and positions of privilege and honour within the community of the Jewish people. They did not want to lose all that they have gained in privilege and power.

That was why they allowed their ego and pride to overcome them and to get in the way of their faith and obedience to God. In essence, they put their own ego, pride, ambition and desire at the centre of their existence, and set God aside. And when this happened, that is why they did not allow God’s truth to enter into their hearts and minds, and although they have seen and witnessed His miracles and power for themselves, they refused to believe because of their stubborn hearts and closed minds.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, for each and every one of us, we have been called to reflect on what we have heard in today’s Scripture passages, to know what it means for us to be called by God to be His servants. If we can understand our direction in life and our purpose in following and serving God, then surely we will be able to follow the Lord, and serve and love Him better than what we may have been doing all these while.

First of all, there are two important lessons that we must take from today’s words of the Lord. It is the lesson on humility and commitment, that each and everyone of us must heed in becoming God’s followers and servants. By following the examples of the prophets, the Apostles and the holy saints who have gone before us, we can find ways to be better in our faith life and devotion to God.

To follow the Lord, we must learn to trust Him with all of our hearts and with all of our effort. And this often requires us to have that humility of heart and willingness to listen, to have an open mind ready for receiving His words and listening to His will for us. Otherwise, we will be easily swayed by worldly temptations and concerns, just as the false prophets, the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law had shown us, in their refusal to listen to God because of their own sense of pride, ego and the greed in their hearts.

And then, we also need commitment, because a lot of the work and missions that the Lord has given and entrusted to us require us to put our hearts and minds to them, devoting our whole effort and abilities to do what the Lord has commanded us to do. And often, as the Lord Jesus said to the Apostles, as they were fishing in the lake, that they need to ‘put out into the deep’, and this means that more effort is required for us to do what we are supposed to do as God’s servants. A fisherman who could not find any more fishes to catch in the waters near the coast need to go further in order to catch more fishes in the deeper waters. And hence, it is often that we need to challenge ourselves beyond the ordinary to do the good works of God.

We often think that we are unworthy and that we are incapable of such deeds, or that the challenges that we have to face are too great to be overcome. Then we need to remember that God did not call the perfect and those who considered themselves as great and mighty ones to do His will. He called imperfect and sinful people, many of them were poor, uneducated, brash and also ambitious, filled with wickedness and unworthiness.

It was God Who made all those whom He called worthy, as we heard how the Seraph touched the lips of Isaiah with the burning charcoal from the altar of heaven, symbolically showing the divine providence by which Isaiah would speak, with the authority of God. And then the Holy Spirit was sent to the Apostles and the disciples, and the same Holy Spirit came to dwell in the faithful in the Church, the fullness of His many gifts, that revealed the truth of God and guided the disciples of the Lord in their ministry.

This is a reminder to all of us as Christians, that each and every one of us have been called by God to follow Him and to do what He has commanded us to do. He will give us the necessary strength and abilities in order to be able to do what we are supposed to do, and He will be with us, guiding us on our way through the challenges and the difficulties we may encounter along the journey. We have to put our trust in the Lord and give our very best in our service to Him.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all turn towards the Lord with faith, and love Him with greater fidelity and learn to commit ourselves more thoroughly and wholeheartedly from now on, that our every words and actions, everything we say and do, will be for the greater glory and honour of God, and not for ourselves and our selfish desires and ambition. May the Lord be our guide, and may He strengthen us all in our faith, from now on, and always. Amen.

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