Friday, 14 February 2020 : 5th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Cyril, Monk and St. Methodius, Bishop, Patron Saints of Europe (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 80 : 10-11ab, 12-13, 14-15

There shall be no strange god among you, you shall not worship any alien god, for I, YHVH, am your God.

But My people did not listen; Israel did not obey. So I gave them over to their stubbornness and they followed their own counsels.

If only My people would listen, if only Israel would walk in My ways, I would quickly subdue their adversaries and turn My hand against their enemies.

Friday, 14 February 2020 : 5th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Cyril, Monk and St. Methodius, Bishop, Patron Saints of Europe (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

1 Kings 11 : 29-32 and 1 Kings 12 : 19

Once, when Jeroboam went out of Jerusalem, the prophet Ahijah of Shiloh found him on the road. The two of them were alone in the open country when Ahijah, who had a new garment on, clutched and tore it into twelve pieces.

He then said to Jeroboam, “Take ten pieces for yourself for this is the word of YHVH, the God of Israel : ‘I am about to tear the kingdom from Solomon’s hands to give you ten tribes. Only one tribe shall be left to him for the sake of My servant David and Jerusalem, the city which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel.’”

So Israel has been in rebellion against the house of David to the present time.

Thursday, 13 February 2020 : 5th Week of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we heard the message of the word of God speaking to us through the Scriptures about the fall of Solomon into sin, when he at his old age began to be swayed by his many wives and concubines who continued to practice their pagan worship of idols and gods, and eventually led to the king himself and many of the people succumbing to the pagan idolatry themselves, offering sacrifices to those false idols and gods.

God was angered at the faithlessness of Solomon and his sins, which led the people of Israel deeper into sin against Him. And as a result, eventually the kingdom of Israel was divided into two halves, one of which was the kingdom of Judah led by the descendants of Solomon from the house of David, while the northern kingdom of Israel composed of the ten tribes in opposition to the house of David had their own kings. Many of the subsequent kings did not have faith in God and acted wickedly, allowing pagan worship and idolatry to run rampant.

From what we have just heard and discussed, we can see how there was a prejudice against the pagan neighbouring people of the Israelites. Beginning with the account of how king Solomon was seduced and persuaded by his many foreign wives and concubines, these neighbours of the Israelites were often considered as pagans, wicked and unworthy of God. This went along with the notion that the Israelites were the chosen race and a people whom God Himself had chosen to be His own.

As a result, the people of Israel often looked down on the Gentiles or the people who were non-Jewish in origin or in faith, and they considered them as being unworthy, dirty and sundered from God’s love and grace. Yet, what we have also then heard from our Gospel passage today serve as an important reminder that God’s love for His people transcends the boundaries of race, and unlike what the people then believed, God did not just choose to keep one people for His own, but in fact, made all of the children of man, His own beloved children.

In that Gospel passage we heard of the encounter between Jesus and a Syro-Phoenician woman who came seeking His help to heal her very sick daughter, having heard that the Lord had healed many of the sick who were brought to Him. Syro-Phoenicia was a region located just north of the region of Galilee where Jesus often ministered among the people with His disciples, a region that has always been outside the original land of the Israelites, and therefore the woman was likely a non-Jew or Gentile. In another account, the woman was also known as a Canaanite woman, and Canaanites referred to the people of Canaan who lived in the land before the coming of the Israelites.

What the Lord Jesus said to the Syro-Phoenician woman might seem to be quite rude if we do not understand the intent behind the Lord’s utterance of His words to the woman. The Lord responded to her request for help for her daughter with the harsh words, ‘that one ought not to give the food to the dogs’ which implied a very demeaning and condescending attitude. But the woman responded in kind, that ‘even dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of the house master’, which showed not just her incredible faith but also humility.

The Lord did not in fact intend to be rude to her or to embarrass her. In truth, what He uttered was meant to highlight the ugly reality behind the way the Israelites had been behaving up to that time, especially the attitudes of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law who were highly influential and respected within the community. Many of them looked highly on themselves and treated their faith with pride and even jealousy, seeking praise and recognition for their piety and devotion to God.

And yet, in their hearts and minds, God was not present or that He was relegated to much less important position. That was why, although they were supposed to be the ones leading the people of Israel towards God, when He Himself appeared in their midst, they were the ones who opposed and rejected Him, harassing Him and criticising Him and His disciples at every possible opportunities. This was contrary to the action of the Syro-Phoenician woman, who humbled herself and had complete faith in God.

The Syro-Phoenician woman, a foreigner and a woman, a pagan and a nobody that everyone looked down on, was in fact the one who had faith in God greater than everyone else. That was why, by the words He uttered, the Lord Jesus wanted to make an example of the Syro-Phoenician faith to the people, how they ought to get rid of any prejudices they once had, and believe that ultimately, everyone is beloved by God, and that even those who were deemed as sinners could be saved, while those who proudly thought of themselves as righteous, fell along with their sin of pride, as what had happened to king Solomon and many among the Pharisees.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today all of us are therefore called to reflect on our lives and how we are to act in these lives and opportunities we have been given in this world. As Christians we are called to put God as the centre and the focus of our entire lives, and everything we say and do, should be in accordance to God’s will, and for the sake of His greater glory. Let us all get rid of pride and ego from our hearts and minds, purge away greed and desires from our beings that we may truly follow the example of the Syro-Phoenician woman in having such a strong faith in the Lord.

Let us do our best in whatever opportunities that God has granted us, that we may truly live our lives with genuine faith from now on, growing deeper in our relationship with God and in our faith and trust in Him, going forward in our lives. May the Lord continue to guide us and be with us, through each and every moments, through challenges and trials we may face in each of our journeys of life. Amen.

Thursday, 13 February 2020 : 5th Week of Ordinary Time (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Mark 7 : 24-30

At that time, when Jesus went to the border of the Tyrian country. There, He entered a house, and did not want anyone to know He was there; but He could not remain hidden. A woman, whose small daughter had an evil spirit, heard of Him, and came and fell at His feet.

Now this woman was a pagan, a Syro-Phoenician by birth, and she begged Him to drive the demon out of her daughter. Jesus told her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the puppies.”

But she replied, “Sir, even the puppies under the table eat the crumbs from the children’s bread.” Then Jesus said to her, “You may go your way; because of such a response, the demon has gone out of your daughter.”

And when the woman went home, she found her child lying in bed, and the demon gone.

Thursday, 13 February 2020 : 5th Week of Ordinary Time (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Psalm 105 : 3-4, 35-36, 37 and 40

Blessed are they who always do just and right. Remember me, o YHVH, when You show favour to Your people; rescue me when You deliver them.

They mingled with these nations and learnt to do as they did. In serving the idols of the pagans, they were trapped.

Into sacrificing children to demons. The anger of YHVH grew intense and He abhorred His inheritance.

Thursday, 13 February 2020 : 5th Week of Ordinary Time (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

1 Kings 11 : 4-13

In Solomon’s old age, his wives led him astray to serve other gods and, unlike his father David, his heart was no longer wholly given to YHVH his God. For he served Astarte the goddess of the Sidonians, and Milcom, the idol of the Ammonites.

He did what displeased YHVH and, unlike his father David, was unfaithful to Him. Solomon even built a high place for Chemosh, the idol of Moab, on the mountain east of Jerusalem and also for Molech, the idol of the Ammonites. He did the same for all his foreign wives who burnt incense and sacrificed to their gods.

YHVH became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from YHVH, the God of Israel. YHVH appeared to him twice and commanded him not to follow other gods. But he did not obey YHVH’s command. Therefore, YHVH said to Solomon, “Since this has been your choice and you have kept neither My Covenant nor the statutes I commanded you, I will take the kingdom from you and give it to your servant.”

“Nevertheless, I will not do this during your lifetime for the sake of your father David; I will take it from your son. But I will not take it all; I will reserve one tribe for your son for the sake of David My servant, and for the sake of Jerusalem, the city which I have chosen.”

Wednesday, 12 February 2020 : 5th Week of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the words of God in the Scripture that speak to us of the importance of our external and even more so, internal orientation towards God in our respective lives. If our internal orientation towards God is not proper and we are instead distracted and scattered by the many temptations in this world, we will likely fall into sin and away from God’s grace.

In our first reading today, we begin with the story of the greatness of Solomon, Israel’s greatest king and son of David, who together with his father ushered the golden age of the old kingdom of Israel. Solomon’s glory, wealth and power were legendary and everyone honoured and praised him for his great wisdom and might, that as we heard in today’s passage, even the Queen of the distant country of Sheba troubled herself to go all the way to Jerusalem just to meet with Solomon.

God had granted Solomon his great wisdom, his wealth, power and glory because earlier on at the start of his reign, when Solomon was still young and new to the throne, inexperienced and weak, he prayed to God asking for wisdom to help him in ruling over the kingdom of his great father David. God blessed Solomon because of his great humility and also his uprightness, his desire not for worldly power but instead for wisdom and guidance.

However, in time, as Solomon grew increasingly older, as the Scriptures would show us, he became more and more influenced by his many wives and concubines, who still kept their pagan ways and practices. Solomon was probably consumed by his pride and greed, and he allowed all those things to cloud his judgment and led him and the Israelites into sin during the last years of his reign as king over Israel. And comparison was made between David and Solomon, how the latter did not remain faithful to God while David did, despite also having sinned against God a few times.

That is because David truly loved God with all of his heart, and his heart was aligned with God, and he maintained that love and devotion throughout his life to the very end. Although he, as a man, was also tempted to sin and fell on a few occasions, David has always put the Lord as his priority and sincerely repented from his sins and shortcomings. As a result, he remained firmly in God’s grace, and his reign remained good and strong by God’s providence.

Let us all compare this to what we have heard in our Gospel passage today, in which Our Lord Jesus had just had an exchange with the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law who criticised Him and His disciples for not following and adhering to the commandments of the Law of Moses, on the matter of ritual cleansing and purification. At that time, according to the Law, everyone were to clean themselves before they ate food, and the Pharisees observed that the Lord’s disciples did not do so.

The Lord rebuked the Pharisees by being critical over their obsession on the wrong aspect of the Law, their focus on the trivial details and the way of the observance of the Law which they prescribed to, in being overly critical of those who did not adhere to their way of observing the Law. And Jesus also rebuked many of those Pharisees for their lack of genuine faith and for being hypocrites because they showed off their piety and actions to be praised by others rather than because they truly loved God with all their hearts.

This is related to what we have heard in the case of king Solomon, because it is likely that all of his glory and greatness eventually affected and influenced him, and as a result, he neglected his interior disposition and orientation towards God, allowing the devil to enter into his heart and mind, sowing the seeds of rebellion and sin, just as what had been done to the Pharisees. The latter’s insecurities and fear of losing their influence over the people made them vulnerable to the temptation of pride and desire which made them stubborn in opposing the Lord and His many good works.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the lesson that each and every one of us as Christians must take is that we are all called to be vigilant in our lives that we must make sure that our faith in God is truly genuine and sincere, that God must be at the centre of our lives, as the reason and purpose of our every words and actions. We must not do things just because we want to be seen as better than others or to be praised, for our faith is not for ourselves to boast about, but rather for us to grow in our relationship with God.

If we allow pride and desire to interfere with our faith, as king Solomon and many of the Pharisees had done, it showed that we do not love God as much as we should have, and despite our apparent and external show of faith, in truth, we love ourselves more than we love God. And in time, this attitude will lead us to walk further and further away from God and from His righteousness. Let us all ponder about this and discern carefully how we will carry on living our lives with faith from now on. May God be with us all, and may He bless us always, now and forevermore. Amen.