Sunday, 25 August 2019 : Twenty-First Sunday of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday, we listened to the Lord speaking to all of us through the words of the Sacred Scripture focusing on this one important question that we may have often asked ourselves, “Who is it that can be saved?” Or sometimes we may also ask ourselves the same question in a different way but with similar meaning, such as “Are we worthy or good enough to be saved?”

In what we have heard in today’s Scripture passages we are all reminded that unless we are truly faithful and try our best to do what the Lord wants from us, we will not have any part in the promised inheritance of God which He has promised to all those who are faithful to Him. To do that, we will have to show that we are truly faithful and good in our faith by our conscious and constant actions grounded on this faith that we have.

In our first reading passage today from the Book of the prophet Isaiah, we heard a great prophecy by Isaiah made with regards to the gathering of many nations and peoples from all origins to come to worship the Lord, the prophet spoke of how those people will come to glorify God and to praise Him, and surprisingly, how God will choose even the priests and the Levites from among them, people who were used to be considered as pagans and unworthy of God.

And this is closely related to what the Lord Jesus revealed in our Gospel passage today from the Gospel of St. Luke in which He spoke to the people with regards to the matter of salvation, and how people who assumed that they were saved by God and worthy will be disappointed to know that they are not counted among those whom God will invite to enter his eternal kingdom of glory. Conversely, there will be those people whom the earlier group considered to be unworthy and yet manage enter the kingdom of God.

In fact, the Lord Jesus was criticising the actions and attitudes of the people of Israel, who since the ancient times had been proud of their unique heritage and status as the chosen race and people of God since the time of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They looked down on the pagan peoples and the races of people outside the direct inheritance of Israel, considering those people to be inferior, unworthy, unclean and as sinners.

Yet, they failed to look at themselves and realise just how they themselves have been unworthy, unclean, sinful and rebellious in their attitudes towards God, in their refusal to obey Him and their stubbornness in rejecting the truths and the messages of the prophets sent into their midst to remind them to be faithful to God. They assumed their salvation to their status as the descendants of God’s faithful servants and treated it as their birthright.

But that is not how God’s salvation works, brothers and sisters in Christ. Through today’s Scripture passages, God wants each and every one of us to know that first and foremost, all of us, each and every one of us are equally beloved by God and we are all equal without distinction and without prejudice, for God is good to all of those whom He loves, even to all of us sinners. He does not distinguish between us but continues to love us all regardless and always tries to reconcile us to Himself.

It was just that He called some first from among the multitudes of His people, to be His first chosen ones and first-called, but He never meant to exclude everyone else, and with the end goal in mind of the salvation of the whole race of man. God desires that all of us who have been sundered and separated from Him will eventually be reunited with Him through repentance and by the power of the love which He has shown us, through which He hopes to bring a change in our hearts, minds, attitudes and way of life.

Yet, many of us are often unaware of this loving aspect of our God, His desire to love us and to show His merciful forgiveness to us, despite of all the things we have done, all the wicked and unbecoming behaviours and attitudes of sinful people. In the second reading today, taken from the Epistle to the Hebrews, we heard how God is represented like that of a father who loves his children, who cares for them and their needs.

And in the same passage, the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews also described how the father who cares for his children will chastise the children whenever it is necessary to do so. This is done not because the father does not love the children, but rather precisely because he loves the children that he wants them all to be good and to walk in the right paths, and not to fall and remain in the wrong paths because of wrong thoughts and influences.

That was why God chastised His people, the Israelites many times throughout history, if we explore through the many chapters of the books of the Old Testament. Ever since God had made and renewed the Covenant He established with them and their ancestors, He has always tried to guide them and to discipline them along their journey, by punishing and chastising them as necessary and by weeding out all those who had no love for Him at all, those who were totally unrepentant.

The people living at the time of the Lord Jesus were no different, and it was to them that the Lord addressed what He has revealed to the people in today’s Gospel passage. Many of them professed to believe in God and to be pious, and yet, they did not truly have faith in Him, and their beliefs and piety were often just empty gestures and meaningless because ultimately, in their hearts, God did not have the most important place at all.

They became proud because they thought of themselves as the privileged and chosen people, and those who were most afflicted were those with power and authority, intelligence and knowledge, such as the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, many of whom took great pride in their piety and observance of the laws of Moses, and looked down even on the other people of Israel, especially those whom they considered to be sinners and unworthy.

But they forgot that it was not them who determined whether they are worthy or not. It is truly only God Who is capable and worthy of judging the worthiness of a person. And we have to remember this fact, that it is not we who make ourselves worthy before God, but rather, He calls us to be worthy for Him. He has called us again and again, reminding us and wanting us to seek Him and to be righteous and just once again, free from sin and from all corruptions of our past wickedness.

Contrasting the attitudes of the Pharisees, the teachers of the Law and many among the people of Israel at the time of the Exodus, who doubted the Lord and refused to believe in Him, in His prophets and in His truth, these people who often took great pride in their status, in their privileges and supposed superiority, paled in faith and in righteousness as compared to those people mentioned throughout the Scriptures as the righteous people from the pagan nations.

Take for example, Rahab, the Canaanite woman who helped the scouts of Israel to escape the city in their time of great predicament, and then Ruth, a Moabite whose faith and dedication to God was exemplary and eventually became one of the ancestors of the great king David of Israel. And we also heard of Naaman the Syrian, who although initially was skeptical of the Lord’s power, but devoted himself wholeheartedly after he was healed from his leprosy, and many others who have shown great faith in God.

And in the New Testament, we heard of the faith of the Syro-Phoenician woman who dedicated herself and trusted the Lord so much that despite the apparent rejection and humiliating insults the Lord spoke to her, she remained truly faithful and adamant that the Lord was capable of healing her daughter. This faith mirrored that of the widow of Zarephath at the time of the prophet Elijah, as she took care of the prophet during difficult years.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day all of us are reminded through what we have heard from the Scriptures and what we have discussed throughout today’s discourse, that God’s love is truly great and boundless, sincere and true, never-ending and not being biased. He loves each and every one of us equally without being prejudiced or biased by any of our worldly parameters, the parameters that we often use to divide ourselves into different groups and cliques.

God did not divide us or loved us based on prejudices by skin colour, or language, or height, or our appearances. All these things do not affect His love for us in any way, and as I mentioned many times today, God loves each and every one of us equally without distinction, and each and every one of us have been given opportunities after opportunities, chances after chances to turn away from our sins and to return to our Lord’s loving embrace.

And the number one obstacle that often prevented us from doing so is our pride. As mentioned earlier, those who claimed to know the Lord and claimed salvation to be their own, and even looking down on those whom they deemed to be inferior or less worthy than them, are all due to the pride that are in our hearts. And the more we entertain this pride present within us, the more this pride will grow and suffocate the faith present in us.

Now, we are called by God, as we have been called many times thus far. If we have responded to Him and walked in the path that He has shown us, then it is good and we should continue our journey. But if we have not yet responded to His call and instead we have been so busy and preoccupied, so full of our pride, arrogance, greed and all sorts of things that have prevented us from truly being faithful and from truly loving God, then we should do something at once with our lives.

Instead of being proud and arrogant, let us all be humble, knowing that after all, we are all sinners, and no matter whose sins are more or less serious than the other, all of us have been made corrupt and unworthy by those sins. And those whose sins are greater and repent wholeheartedly will be saved, while those with lesser sins and yet proudly refuse to repent will not be saved. While sin made us corrupted and separated from God, what matters is our desire to repent from those sins and our willingness and sincerity to love God, our loving Father and Creator.

Are we willing to allow God’s love, compassion and mercy to enter into us and make a difference in our lives? Or are we often too full of ourselves, with too much pride and worldly desires that we have not allowed God to enter into our lives and transform them into new lives of grace? We are all called to be true Christians, and the path for us have been shown to us, and the best way to start is for us to be humble, and to be open to the Lord entering into our hearts, into our minds and into the deepest parts of our beings, that from now on, we exist no longer for ourselves, but for the love and for the greater glory of God.

May the Lord continue to guide us in this journey of faith, and may His love continue to sow in us all the same genuine and strong love that He Himself has shown us first, and which we are now called to do the same as well. Let us all be witnesses of God’s love, and show this same love in our interactions with one another, that truly we will be ever righteous and just, and in the end, God will welcome us all into His eternal kingdom and glory. Amen.

Sunday, 25 August 2019 : Twenty-First Sunday of Ordinary Time (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Luke 13 : 22-30

At that time, Jesus went through towns and villages teaching, and making His way to Jerusalem. Someone asked Him, “Lord, is it true that few people will be saved?”

And Jesus answered, “Do your best to enter by the narrow door, for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house has gone inside and locked the door, you will stand outside. Then you will knock at the door, calling, ‘Lord, open to us!’ But He will say to you, ‘I do not know where you come from.'”

“Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets!’ But He will reply, ‘I do not know where you come from. Away from Me, all you workers of evil.’ You will weep and grind your teeth, when you see Abraham and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves left outside.”

“Others will sit at table in the kingdom of God, people coming from east and west, from north and south. Some who are among the last, will be first; and some who are among the first, will be last!”

Sunday, 25 August 2019 : Twenty-First Sunday of Ordinary Time (Second Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Hebrews 12 : 5-7, 11-13

Do not forget the comforting words that Wisdom addresses to you as children : My son, pay attention when the Lord corrects you and do not be discouraged when He punishes you. For the Lord corrects those He loves and chastises everyone He accepts as a son.

What you endure, is in order to correct you. God treats you like sons, and what son is not corrected by his father? All correction is painful at the moment, rather than pleasant; later, it brings the fruit of peace, that is, holiness, to those who have been trained by it.

Lift up, then, your drooping hands, and strengthen your trembling knees; make level the ways for your feet, so that the lame may not be disabled, but healed.

Sunday, 25 August 2019 : Twenty-First Sunday of Ordinary Time (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Psalm 116 : 1, 2

Alleluia! Praise YHVH, all you nations; all you peoples, praise Him.

How great is His love for us! His faithfulness lasts forever.

Sunday, 25 August 2019 : Twenty-First Sunday of Ordinary Time (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Isaiah 66 : 18-21

Now I am going to gather the nations of every tongue, and they will witness My glory, for I will perform a wonderful thing among them. Then I will send some of their survivors to the nations – Tarshish, Put, Lud, Moscheck, Rosh, Tubal, and Javan – to the distant islands where no one has ever heard of Me or seen My glory. They will proclaim My glory among the nations.

They will bring your kindred from all the nations as an offering to YHVH on horses, in chariots, in litters, on mules, on camels to My holy mountain in Jerusalem, says YHVH, just as the Israelites bring oblations in clean vessels to the House of YHVH. Then I will choose priests and Levites even from them, says YHVH.