Sunday, 18 August 2019 : Twentieth 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 Scriptures through which God wants us to remember that being followers of His, as Christians, as those who have faith in Him will inevitably lead us to face difficulties, challenges and sufferings in life, in whatever form that we may encounter these. We must be prepared to face the trials and opposition throughout our lives as faithful Christians and we cannot expect to have an easy and comfortable life.

There are those among us who think that becoming Christians mean for us to have good, blessed life, as after all, does God not love all of us and does He not provide for all of our needs? And because God loves each and every one of us, then how can we not be happy and good in everything, blessed and be abundant with all kinds of riches and good things in this world? This is what some are thinking wrongly, as what some label as the ‘Prosperity Gospel’ among other labels.

First and foremost, we have to understand that yes, God does love each and every one of us very much, and He has blessed us all wonderfully, first and foremost with the precious gift of life. If God has not loved us, then we would have not existed in the very first instance, and He would not have patiently cared for us, because all of us are sinners, disobedient and rebellious in our ways. And yet, because of His love, God constantly forgives us and wants us to be reconciled to Him.

But just as God has given us so much love, so many blessings and wonders in this world, we mankind inherently allow ourselves again and again to fall into the temptations to sin, to disobey God and to follow instead the path of evil and wickedness. We have listened to the words of Satan and his false lies instead of the truth and the love of God. And that is why there are so much suffering and challenges in this world, especially those facing us Christians.

We all know how Satan hates seeing us being saved from destruction, for ever since the beginning of time, he had plotted for our downfall, right up from the time when he struck against our first forefathers, tempting them to sin and therefore fall from the grace of God. It was him who tempted Cain to kill his own brother Abel when the former became jealous of the latter, and it was him who tempted the people to be proud and build the tower of Babel.

It was him who moved the hearts of the people to sin, to cause the brothers of Joseph to send him into slavery because of the same jealousy they had, it was him who tempted the Israelites throughout the ages and through many years, as they fell again and again into sin, succumbing to the temptations of worldly desire, pride and greed, opposing the good works of those prophets whom God had sent among His people to keep them in the right path.

And that is what we have heard in our first reading today, from the Book of the prophet Jeremiah, in which the plots against the prophet Jeremiah were mentioned, and how those enemies of Jeremiah almost in fact managed to kill him by their plotting. The prophet Jeremiah was among the last prophets to work in the kingdom of Judah, the last of the successor kingdoms of Israel, just before the kingdom and the city of Jerusalem fell to the hands of the Babylonians and were destroyed.

The prophet Jeremiah had many enemies, even though he had faithfully served the Lord and spoke His truth among the people. Many of the people, including those powerful nobles were angry with him because they saw him as a troublemaker and as a doomsayer. But Jeremiah was merely conveying the Lord’s warnings and truthful words, rebuking the wicked behaviours of the people of Judah at that time, who had fallen deeper and deeper into the path of sin.

Thus, we heard how the prophet was thrown into a dark cistern totally unfit for human dwelling, where his enemies hoped to condemn this faithful prophet to death. Many earlier prophets had suffered that fate, being tortured, persecuted and killed for their faith and dedication to God. There were also many false prophets who spoke the words of falsehoods, the agents of Satan who opposed the good works of God and misled the people.

But amidst all of that, we also heard in the same first reading passage today of the actions of some of those who were still upright and faithful, who counted Jeremiah as a friend. They tried to protect him and to save his life, by pleading with the king to intervene and prevent the enemies of Jeremiah from having their way with the prophet and killing him. And they managed to get the prophet out of his predicament and protected him from further danger.

All of these things serve to highlight exactly what the Lord Jesus told His disciples in our Gospel passage today, and also to dispel some of our own misconceptions and the false ‘Prosperity Gospel’ I have mentioned earlier. The Lord Jesus clearly stated in His discourse in the Gospel passage that His coming into this world would bring about divisions and struggles, conflicts and troubles for all those who believe in Him.

For the context of what the Lord had said, we have to understand that most of the Jews if not all of them believed at that time that the Messiah’s coming would lead them into an eternal new era of joy and happiness, of the restoration of the glorious kingdom of Israel as how it was at the time of king David and king Solomon, when the people would once again be powerful and be free from all of their troubles.

The Lord pointed out clearly that this was not to be the case. And very importantly, we must understand that this is not because of the Lord’s own doing or intention. It is very easy for us to misunderstand what the Lord said in today’s Gospel, becoming confused and even disillusioned at what He had said about bringing conflict and division, struggles and persecutions into our midst. Rather, it was by the works of the same Satan that caused all these things to happen.

The Lord has come into this world, revealing His salvation to all the nations, through none other than Jesus Christ, Son of God and Saviour of all. And Satan worked hard to undermine His works, by trying to tempt Him, by trying to dissuade Him through His Apostles and disciples, speaking through them at times to weaken His resolve, and tempting Him in the Gardens of Gethsemane during the time of His agony.

But when all these failed, Satan struck through those who condemned Jesus to death, death on the Cross, thinking that by killing the Messiah of God just as he had managed to make the people to persecute and kill the prophets in the earlier days, he could finally bring mankind to ruination and destruction as he has always intended. Yet, it was through that same Cross that Satan was handed the ultimate and greatest defeat, for Christ triumphed with His Cross, delivering the salvation of God by His act of ultimate sacrifice.

Satan has indeed been defeated, but he is still always ever desperate, for he knows that even though salvation has been delivered to us, but as long as temptation is around us, he can still strike at us through those same temptations by which he has seduced our race for time immemorial. Many had fallen into his allure and temptations, and through all of the means in his disposal, he strikes especially at those whom the Lord had gathered from the nations, that is all of us Christians.

And that is why Christians throughout the history of the Church has been persecuted in various circumstances and conditions, facing difficulties and oppressions, rejections and ridicule, having to endure humiliation and difficult trials and even unto martyrdom. Many Christians have paid dearly for their faith with their lives, as the lives of the many martyrs of the Church can tell us. Many of these are those who were mentioned in our second reading by the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews.

In that passage, we heard the encouragement spoken by the author of the Epistle, of the innumerable witnesses of the faith which have been present and who have shown their undying faith, even in the face of the toughest persecutions and difficulties. Many of them have been rejected and persecuted even by those who were closest to them, and yet, they persevered and showed love instead of hatred towards their enemies.

And first and foremost among all of them was the Lord Himself, Who showed us what the true meaning of suffering is. The Lord suffered all the painful punishments intended for us because of our sins, but He bore them all willingly because He loves each and every one of us, and that love allowed Him to endure through the many bitterness and sufferings, and how He can also forgive even those who have condemned Him to such suffering and death.

Are we then able to have the same faith and commitment to God, even knowing that we will encounter difficulties and challenges in our path, even from those who are close and dear to us, brothers and sisters in Christ? Being Christians truly mean for us to embrace Christ fully in our lives as Our Lord and Saviour, and we can only do so by truly and wholeheartedly believing in Him through words, deeds and actions. And often, to stand by our faith in Christ means going against the norms and ways of this world.

The Lord wants us all to realise this, and how He has also done so much for us, out of His so great love for us, that He was willing to shoulder the burden of His Cross, suffer and die for us sinners. If He has suffered in such a way, then it is just right that we will likely to suffer as well, for Satan strikes at all those who are faithful and good, and all these persecutions and trials come about because of him and his wicked allies. But we must not lose hope and we must be courageous and strong in faith, for God is truly always by our side.

And let us all also follow the examples of those who have helped Jeremiah to escape his terrible predicament, realising that as fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord, all of us as Christians should take good care of one another and be concerned with each other, showing care and concern for those among us who are less fortunate and are in difficulty. Let us all journey together as one family of believers, as the members of God’s one Church, that we may truly find our way to God, our loving Father and Creator.

May the Lord continue to guide us and may He strengthen in us the faith which we should have for Him. May He continue to empower us to persevere through the difficulties and obstacles we may face on our way. Let us all look forward instead to the eternal glory and true happiness that God promised all of those who remain true and faithful to Him to the very end. Amen.

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