Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the words of the Lord through the Scriptures that remind us all of the need for us to change our lives and follow the Lord wholeheartedly in all things. We must obey Him and do whatever it is that He has shown and taught us to do, and abandon our past life of wickedness and evil. This is what all of us as Christians are called to do with our lives, that we may truly glorify God by our lives in this world.
In our first reading today, we heard of the exchanges between the prophet Samuel and the first King of Israel, Saul, whom God had called and chosen from among His people to be the king over all of them. Samuel anointed Saul himself and Saul was faithful in leading the people of God to victory against their enemies, especially the Philistines who oppressed them. But it was not long before Saul began to disobey God and followed his own will rather than God’s.
In that occasion, the Israelites went up in war against the Amalekites, their old enemies, who were defeated in battle by the Lord’s grace and strength. The prophet Samuel had instructed Saul on God’s will, not to allow anyone or anything from the Amalekites to survive, their whole people and their whole possessions and herds. Yet, Saul thought it better on his own decision to spare not just the herds of the Amalekites but even the king of the Amalekites, Agag.
Saul thought that by doing what he had chosen to do, he was doing what God wanted, even arguing back against the prophet Samuel and trying to justify himself and his actions before God. But he did not realise that he has disobeyed God by his choice of actions and therefore led the people of Israel into sin. And his attempt to justify himself and arguing with Samuel showed that he was not remorseful or regretful over his action at first instance.
Saul was thinking in the manner of how he perceived the Lord would think, and many others also shared his perspective. To them, the Law that the Lord has given His people was to be obeyed to the letter, but they often failed to understand the true intent, meaning and purpose of the Law. Saul and others tried to go around the technicalities of the Law and even tried to benefit from it, because in his mind it was likely that he had the desire to gain from the spoils of war, that while some of them were to be offered to God, the rest would be his to possess.
That was how Saul led his people into sin and disobedience against God. He allowed his desires and pride to make him fall for the temptations of the devil. And this is the same predicament that we also see in the Gospel passage today, as we heard the argument between the Pharisees and the Lord on the matter of fasting which the Pharisees practiced fervently while they criticised the Lord and His disciples for not doing what they have done.
But the Lord rebuked them in turn because they failed to understand the true significance and meaning of fasting. The Pharisees, like Saul, fasted with some intention to gain attention for themselves, to satisfy their own personal desires for glory and honour, for fame and renown which led them to sin against God. They would not allow the Lord to go on with His works in peace and kept on opposing Him because their pride and desires led them to act in self-preservation to keep whatever privileges and good things they had gained, even if they actually went against God’s will.
This is what the Lord actually meant when He spoke using the parable of the new and old wineskins and cloth, and also the new and old wine. The incompatibility between the new wine and the old wineskin, vice versa and the new and old cloth highlighted the incompatibility between the ways of man, that is pride, desire, greed and selfishness with the ways of the Lord, which is love, humility, compassion, tenderness and mercy. As Christians we should embrace the way of the Lord and leave behind our past, worldly behaviour as described.
We are therefore also reminded today by the examples of king Saul and the Pharisees that we must be ever vigilant for it will be very easy for the devil to have his way with us if we are not careful and if we allow him to tempt us with the various desires and allures of the world, the lure of the glory of this world, the temptation of pleasures of the flesh among many others. We have to resist these temptations and do our best to overcome the devil and his lies.
Today, we are all fortunate to have two great saints whose feasts we are celebrating, namely that of Pope St. Fabian and St. Sebastian. Pope St. Fabian was one of the early Popes of the Church, who was elected under miraculous circumstances as it was told that a dove miraculously appeared and settled on him, which was interpreted as a sign of divine providence and made everyone assembled to elect him as the successor of St. Peter.
Pope St. Fabian led the Church in the era between persecutions and helped to stabilise the Church and grow, despite the rise of heresies and divisions in some segments of the Church. Pope St. Fabian sent bishops and missionaries to help settle this matter, and he dedicated himself passionately to the mission of the Church entrusted to him by God. And when the Roman Emperor Decius came to power, a new wave of brutal persecutions came to be, and Pope St. Fabian was among the first to be martyred for his faith.
Meanwhile, St. Sebastian was a high ranking Roman soldier, a captain of the Praetorian Guards, the Roman Emperor’s own bodyguards, who was a secret Christian at the time when being a Christian would mean certain suffering, persecution and death. St. Sebastian helped many Christians to escape torture and suffering under the persecutions of the Roman Emperor Diocletian, especially those who were condemned to death. Some of the people were even converted and strengthened by the faith of Sf. Sebastian while in prison
But eventually, St. Sebastian’s secret was discovered, and the Emperor, angry at this supposed betrayal by one of his closest confidants, made him suffer by tying him to a tree and made arrows to be shot at him many times until he was covered by them. Yet, miraculously, the arrows did not kill St. Sebastian. St. Sebastian miraculously recovered and reproached the Emperor for his persecution of Christians publicly. This was when St. Sebastian was beaten to death and finally had his martyrdom for his faith.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, the great faith and examples set by Pope St. Fabian and St. Sebastian should inspire us all to also be faithful as they had been faithful, to follow God and to obey Him in every moments of our life. Let us all devote ourselves and be ever more faithful to God from now on, and let us grow ever stronger in faith and dedication to Him with each and every passing moments in our lives. May God bless us all, now and always. Amen.