Friday, 15 May 2020 : 5th Week of Easter (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we heard more about the commandments of love from God. We continue to be reminded of the care and compassion which God has showered us all the while. He has done so much for us, giving us everything that we need, and He has shown us all these wonderful love so that we too may know what it truly means to love. And this is why He commanded us all to also love in the same way that He has loved us, to follow His examples in love, and practice these in our own lives that we may inspire one another.

In our first reading today, we heard from the Acts of the Apostles, the accounts of the first Council of Jerusalem, probably the very first gathering and discussion between the elders and the leaders of the Church in its history, which discussed especially the matters of the treatment of the Gentiles who converted to the Christian faith and how they all ought to be living their faith from then on. At that time, the early Church was in fact bitterly divided between several factions.

There were quite a few of those who wanted all the Christian faithful to adopt wholesale the entirety of the very strict observance and interpretation of the Jewish laws, customs and practices, a list of injunctions, rules and regulations that numbered six hundred and thirteen in some accounts. This was especially pushed for by the hardliner Pharisees and the Jewish converts among the early Christian communities. They wanted to preserve their way of faith as how it was before they converted.

On the other hand, there were those who argued and supported for the relaxation of the rules for the Christian faithful, which ought to apply not just for the Gentiles or the non-Jewish people, but also including the Jewish converts themselves, that they ought to abandon the excesses and the irrational faith and piety of their predecessors, and return to the true faith and dedication to God. These were espoused by St. Paul, St. Barnabas and some among the Apostles and the disciples of the Lord who had worked extensively among the Gentiles.

In the end, the dispute was brought before the Apostles and all the assembly of the faithful in Jerusalem, and by the guidance and wisdom of the Holy Spirit, as well as through the leadership of St. Peter the Apostle as the Lord’s Vicar and leader of the entire Church, the whole Council and Assembly of the faithful agreed to adapt a compromise position that favoured the Gentiles among the Christian converts and population. The decision of the Council put to rest the controversy and conflict among the faithful and agreed that all Christians were to observe the most fundamental aspects of the Law of God, but not the numerous excesses and additions that were irrelevant and oppressive.

All of these echo what the Lord Jesus Himself had told His disciples and also mirrored how He had struggled against the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law in their numerous encounters and disagreements. The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law pursued a very strict and intolerant version of the Law that made it difficult even for the Jews and the Pharisees themselves to carry out and to fulfil the entirety of the commandments and rules of the Law. And if they had managed to impose these to the Gentiles, it would have brought even greater consequences.

Why is that so? That is because some of the practices of the Jews were seen as uncivilised, barbaric and undesirable by the Gentiles, who saw their practices such as circumcision and the dietary restriction laws as being undesirable and uncivilised if not abhorred and disliked. To enforce the full extent of the Jewish customs and practices would be unacceptable for most of the Gentiles and would have made the already difficult and precarious position and situation of the early Christian Gentiles to be far worse.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we are all reminded therefore that the Lord wants us to love Him just as He has loved us all, and He has given us all His laws and commandments so that we may know of how we ought to proceed forward in life, as a guide to shine light on our path that we may find our way in the darkness of this world. Instead, we misunderstood His intentions and desire, and we end up causing difficulties and troubles for all those who wanted genuinely to love Him and follow Him, like how the excesses of the old Jewish laws and customs almost made it difficult for any non-Jewish people to follow Christ and devote themselves to Him.

How about us, brothers and sisters in Christ? Have we ourselves loved God sincerely and with devotion so far? Or have we instead allowed our ego and our attachments to worldly desires, or our stubbornness to be stumbling blocks in our path towards God? This is why today we are called yet again to remember our calling to be filled with love and to love our fellow brothers and sisters, to be loving and to be genuine with our actions and love towards one another, that we do not just think about ourselves and our own selfish desires and wants, but we must also consider of the needs of our fellow brethren, especially those who are in need.

God has loved us so much, and He has been willing to reach out to us, to touch our lives and to help bring us out of our predicament, sending no less than His own Son to be our Saviour and to deliver us from the scourge of sin and death. His love is precious for us, and by His love, His most willing and painful sacrifice on the Cross, He showed us what it means by true, selfless and divine love, and He wants each and every one of us to learn more of that same love, that we may love God Himself and also one another, to exist once again in the fullness of His grace as He has intended for us.

Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, how about all of us? Are we willing to go the extra mile to show the love of God to our fellow men and to share His love and joy that more and more people may come to realise of His love and compassion, and therefore come to believe also in God? We have our calling and responsibility as Christians to respond to this call with love and to show love and compassion in our every words, actions and deeds. Let us all do this, brothers and sisters in Christ, especially in our world these days, with so much darkness and despair all around us.

Let us bear the light and love of Christ, His salvation and the hope in His grace to all people, and let us reach out to our fellow brethren with genuine love, that we may truly be recognised as God’s beloved children and people. May God bless each and every one of us, and may He strengthen us in our resolve to live our lives with faith, now and forevermore. Amen.

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