Saturday, 3 August 2019 : 17th Week of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Saturday Mass of Our Lady)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day from the Sacred Scriptures we heard about the matter of obedience and listening to God, in how we should be following His ways and doing His precepts faithfully. In the first reading today we listened to the instruction of the celebration of the Jubilee year for the Israelites, done every fifty years, as the Lord Himself instructed His people through Moses. Meanwhile, in our Gospel passage today, we heard of the account of the arrest and eventually beheading of the faithful servant of God, St. John the Baptist by king Herod.

In the first reading, the Lord mentioned clearly the details about the celebration of the Jubilee year that took place every fiftieth year, after seven cycles of seven years. This allusion to the number ‘seven’ and in fact ‘seven times seven’ denotes a focus on holiness and sanctity, as the number seven in the Scripture is used to denote something that is sacred and perfect, and therefore the purpose of the Jubilee Year, if we read through the passage again in detail, is to bring mankind closer to God’s holiness.

In that passage we heard how the Lord commanded the people to keep the Jubilee Year holy and sacred, and to be a year of forgiveness and reorientation of the people’s hearts and minds to the Lord. The celebration of the Jubilee also included the restoration of fairness and justice to the people as mentioned in the reading, as those who had more land and properties would not benefit out of the lack and inadequacies in others.

Through all of these, the Scripture passage from the Book of Ecclesiastes is the reminder for each and every one of us that we should not entertain and succumb to the temptations of our desires and greed, which are part of our human existence by nature. We are all creatures of emotion, of desires, of wants and wishes, and in this world, we know that in fact, suffering and pain came about because we allow our desires and greed to control us and our actions.

For example, when a person who has greater wealth, properties and possessions succumb to his or her desire for more of those worldly things and temptations, this more often than not causes others to suffer in order to satisfy the desires of the person. The more we crave and desire for worldly glory, satisfaction and pleasures, the more we will desire for them in time to come as those worldly things cannot truly satisfy us.

We have one such example in the Gospel passage today, in which we heard of the account of the arrest and martyrdom of St. John the Baptist, who was killed by king Herod through the machinations of Herodias, his wife, who despised the saint. The context of this is that king Herod took the wife of Philip, his own brother, as his wife, which was unlawful in the sight of God as an act of blatant adultery.

And St. John the Baptist courageously spoke up against king Herod and Herodias for their sinful and open show of rebellion against God’s will and Law. Herodias hated St. John the Baptist for that and managed to get the king to arrest the saint. And on a good occasion, Herodias plotted with her own daughter to tempt the king and trick him to get rid of St. John the Baptist, as the king was reluctant to do so, out of the fear of God.

It was the king’s inability to resist the temptation of pleasure and greed, lust and sexual desires when he saw his daughter’s seductive dance, which brought about his downfall. He fell into the trap set by Herodias and made a promise and vow which he could not retract, and was therefore forced to commit a murder, of the great saint and Herald of the coming of the Messiah of God.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, having heard from all of these accounts from the Scriptures, all of us ought to realise that no amount of worldly desires, possessions, be it glory, power, pleasures of the flesh and all the things present in the world, can satisfy us. In fact, our pursuit of all those things can lead us to ruin and drag us deeper and deeper into sin. King Herod himself had shown us what could happen if one succumbed to the temptation.

We are all reminded therefore to refocus our attention to God, turning to God with effort and commitment. The Lord has given us many means through which we can refocus our attention to God, and as mentioned earlier, in our first reading today, the celebration of the Jubilee Year was a way for God’s people to take a break in their hectic and often distracted life and redirect their attention back towards God. Similarly therefore, through the Church and its celebrations, we are called to refocus our attention on God.

Therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all seek to love God all the more in our lives and turn away from the many temptations of sin, from disobedience and sin against God, from all sorts of worldly pride and desires, greed and lust. Let us all turn towards God and be ever closer and be more faithful to Him from now on. May God be with us all and bless all of our good endeavours, now and always. Amen.

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