Sunday, 12 July 2020 : Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, this Sunday each and every one of us heard from the Sacred Scriptures very interesting set of readings which reminded us of what we can and what we should be doing as Christians in our daily lives, in our actions and in how we interact with each other. These readings remind us of our true Christian calling and mission, in our mission to be the bearers of God’s Good News in this world, and spread His truth and light amidst this darkened world.

In our first reading today we heard of the words of God spoken through the prophet Isaiah in which the Lord referred to His Word coming into the world, and how His Word would do His will and would not return to Him before doing and fulfilling everything for which the Word had been sent for. This was yet another prophecy revealing the truth about God’s Messiah or Saviour, many of which prophecies were spoken by Isaiah and recorded throughout the Book of his sayings.

The Word of God became incarnate in the Flesh, conceived in the womb of Mary of Nazareth and born as a Man, in Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Man, the Divine Word Incarnate, Our Lord and Saviour. He is the Person in Whom the two natures, Divine and Man, though distinct, were united perfectly in love. Jesus was therefore, the fulfilment of the prophecy of Isaiah, the Word that was to come into the world, the Son Who would obey and fulfil His Father’s will.

And what is the Father’s will that He has entrusted to His Son? It is what St. Paul has spoken of in our second reading today in his Epistle to the Church and the faithful in Rome, regarding the hope of new life in God, the birth of the children of God and the freedom from the subjugation and enslavement by sin and darkness, all of which have kept us chained since the beginning of creation. Through Christ, as St. Paul said, we have been given a foretaste of the true glory and new life that was to come, with Christ and in Christ.

In our Gospel today, we then heard of the famous and well-known parable of the sower, which all of us must have been very familiar with. In that parable, the Lord used the example of a sower spreading seeds that ended up landing on different surfaces and on different types of soils and conditions. The Lord used this parable as many among the people were farmers or were involved in various agricultural works and practices, especially many of those who followed Him, and by doing so, in fact, He was spreading the ‘seeds of God’s word and truth’ among them by making the truth more easily understood by them, by speaking in terms that they could understand better.

Yes, brothers and sisters in Christ, when the Lord spoke of the sower in the parable, He was actually referring to Himself, the true Sower, Who spread the words of God’s truth among us. The world and all of us are the whole places where the seeds were being spread upon, and just as the seeds landed on different soils and different conditions, thus, the word of God, His truth and its revelation were treated differently by those who received them.

There were those who hardened their hearts and refused to receive the truth at all. And these were those who were represented by the seeds that fell on the wayside, and the birds of the sky came up and eat up the seeds, and none of the seeds even got the chance to grow. These were like many among the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, who despite having seen the many miracles performed by the Lord, heard His wisdom and great authority in teaching, His words and revelations, still refused to listen to them and accept them.

There were also others who refused to listen to the Lord and accept His truth and words, and as a result, the devil and his forces, represented by those birds in the sky in the parable, easily took up all the seeds that landed on them, and brought these away, and no faith grew and sprouted in them. That was why, despite having listened to the Lord, even followed and pestering the Lord and His disciples on many occasions, many of them did not have faith.

And then, there were those who received the word of God but were lukewarm towards them, and did nothing to them, and these were like those seeds that fell on rocky grounds. These were at least able to land in a more appropriate place, and symbolises those who did not directly reject the word of God, the truth as revealed by the Lord. Nonetheless, they still refused to act on them, or to open their hearts fully to accept and embrace the truth.

This is why, the rocky grounds and soil represented those whose hearts were still hard like stone, and did not allow God’s truth and love to penetrate inside them. The seeds were unable to grow strong roots, and as the sun arises, the newly grown plants were scorched and destroyed. This is what happened to those who only had superficial faith, those who treated the faith as if a mere formality or worse still, as a chore and an obligation imposed to them. They did not have faith and neither did they make the effort to cultivate the faith. In the end, nothing good came out of it.

Then, there are also those who have accepted the word of God, acted on them, and yet, in the end, these also failed to bear fruits, as those seeds that fell among the thistle branches and brambles showed us. This is also actually related to what the Lord had also taught using a separate parable, of seeds of weeds spread by the ‘enemy’ among the seeds of wheat, resulting in the wheat being grown entangled by the weeds. In the case of the thistles and brambles, they choked the life out of the fledgling plants, and the latter perished.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, that was a reference to all of us living in this world, who are always vulnerable to various temptations present in life all around us. We may be willing to listen to God and accept His words, but at the same time we are also easily swayed by our many desires, the desires of power, of worldly glory and fame, the desires for material wealth and possessions, for earthly pleasures and the satisfaction of the flesh. All these distract us and keep us away from God and His salvation.

Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, as the Lord then continued saying, that there were those seeds that fell on the rich and fertile soil, which bore fruits thirtyfold, sixtyfold and one hundredfold, many more times that what had been planted. This is a reference to how a single seed could grow into a healthy and fruitful plant when allowed to germinate and grow under the optimum condition, and from that single seed that came from a single fruit either from one seed or many seeds in that fruit, each one of them have the potential to bear tens, hundreds and even thousands of fruits given the right conditions.

What is the significance of this, brothers and sisters in Christ? Each and every one of us have received these seeds, the seeds of faith from God, the seeds of hope, the seeds of love, of wisdom and good judgment, of righteousness, justice and holiness, and of many other virtues. And having heard of how those seeds that fell by the wayside, on the rocky ground and among the thistles and branches have ended up, failing to grow, being snatched away or being destroyed without any results, all of us must realise that as Christians, each and every one of us have to contemplate the gift of the word of God, the seeds of faith that God has given us.

Have we been too stubborn in our ways, our pride, ego and our ambitions that we ended up rejecting God’s grace, His love and kindness towards us? Have we been hardening our hearts and closing our minds to the Lord’s constant and subtle reminders and outreach of love towards us? Have we been so preoccupied with the matters of worldly concerns, our desires and wishes, our greedy pursuits of power, material possessions, pleasures of the body among many others that we have forgotten about God and walked away from His path?

These are important and genuine questions that we must ask ourselves from time to time to remind us and to keep us focused on the right path. Temptations are always there, just as conditions in growing seeds into good and healthy plants are never constant. There are always threats to the survival of the plant, but good farmers will never give up on his crops, and no matter how difficult it is, they will always try to give the best condition available to them. And this is why, we too must give the best condition to nurture ourselves in faith and in this life.

How do we then do this, brothers and sisters in Christ? To have that ‘rich and fertile soil’ for the ‘seeds’ of our faith, we have to make the effort to create the right environment in which our faith, our dedication and love for God will be able to grow optimally. And the best way for this, is through prayer. A Christian who live without prayer is not a true Christian, and without prayer and indeed, not just prayer but genuine prayerful life, we will be easily swayed, tempted and turned away from God and His path.

Through prayer, we will be strengthened by our deeper connection with God, and we will be able to know His will better. The Lord Jesus Himself often prayed to His Father, and in His agony in the Garden of Gethsemane just before His suffering and death, He too prayed to His loving Father. And from prayer, our faith deepened, our understanding of His truth deepened, and we also should spend more time studying the Sacred Scriptures and the teachings of the Church, and even more importantly, of course, to live our lives according to that faith which we have in God.

That is why, brothers and sisters in Christ, we are all challenged today, to be those seeds that grow into healthy and fruitful plants, those that bear fruits thirtyfold, sixtyfold, and a hundredfold if not more. What does this mean? It means that each and every one of us have that tremendous potential in us to effect a great change in our community, and many among the people can be touched by our lives, our actions and our efforts.

We may then think, how can that be possible? That can’t be right, is it not? We are after all just simple humans, unworthy and many of us surely are not great evangelisers and know a lot about our faith, right? Or so we think. The reality is that, we do not always need to know a lot about faith or be bible scholars or theologians to be fruitful in faith. Rather, it is by how we live our lives, with genuine faith, sincerity of our love for God and for our fellow brothers and sisters that we will bear plenty of fruits.

Do not underestimate every single little actions we do, brothers and sisters in Christ. In those seemingly little actions, are power and potential for us to heal or to harm, to love or to bring hatred, to lead people towards God or to make them go further away from Him. If we touch the lives of others by our faith, our genuine dedication, righteousness, virtues in life, then these people we touch will likely to touch the lives of others too, in what is often known as the ‘ripple effect’.

Even little ripples, when harmonised with one another, will create a great wave that is powerful, hundred and thousand and more times more powerful than any singular ripple. In the same way, our efforts, little it may seem, but when done in faith and with genuine love and commitment, by the grace of God, will lead us into a very bountiful harvest, as our actions and attitudes, our faith and belief can lead many, in numbers beyond our imagination, to come to the Lord.

Let us not underestimate our actions, and instead, from now on, let us all be wholehearted in our commitment to God, and devote our every actions, our every deeds, and our every words to the glorification of God, loving our fellow brothers and sisters, and reaching out to those in need, and there are particularly many out there these days who need help, after everything we have gone through in the past few months. If not for material support, then at least for our company, love and guidance, and many desperately need these now.

May the Lord, the Sower of our faith, continue to guide us all and strengthen us, that we may indeed be blessed and bountiful in everything we do, that hopefully, by whatever we say and do, we may bring many others to righteousness and towards God’s salvation, and be good witnesses of His truth, be bearers of His hope and light into our darkened world, to bring His Good News to many who have not yet heard or believed in Him, that many more souls may be saved, together with us. Amen.

Sunday, 12 July 2020 : Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Matthew 13 : 1-23

At that time, Jesus left the house and sat down by the lakeside. Many people gathered around Him. So He got into a boat, and sat down, while the crowds stood on the shore; and He spoke to them in parables about many things.

Jesus said, “The sower went out to sow; and, as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path; and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where there was little soil, and the seeds sprouted quickly because the soil was not deep. But as soon as the sun rose, the plants were scorched; and they withered, because they had no roots.”

“Again, other seeds fell among thistles; and the thistles grew and choked the plants. Still, other seeds fell on good soil and produced a crop : some a hundredfold, others sixty, and others thirty. If you have ears, then hear!”

Then His disciples came to Him and said, “Why do You speak to them in parables?” Jesus answered, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but not to these people. For the one who has will be given more; and he will have in abundance. But the one who does not have will be deprived of even what he has. That is why I speak to them in parables; because they look and do not see; they hear; but they do not listen or understand.”

“In them, the words of the prophet Isaiah are fulfilled : However much you hear, you do not understand; however much you see, you do not perceive. For the heart of this people has grown dull. Their ears hardly hear and their eyes dare not see. If they were to see with their eyes, hear with their ears and understand with their heart, they would turn back, and I would heal them.”

“But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. For I tell you, many prophets and righteous people have longed to see the things you see, but they did not see them; and to hear the things you hear, but they did not hear them.”

“Now listen to the parable of the sower. When a person hears the message of the kingdom, but does not take it seriously, the devil comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed that fell along the footpath. The seed that fell on rocky ground stands for the one who hears the Word, and accepts it at once with joy. But such a person has no roots, and endures only for a while. No sooner is he harassed or persecuted because of the Word, than he gives up.”

“The seed that fell among the thistles is the one who hears the Word; but then, the worries of this life and the love of money choke the Word; and it does not bear fruit. As for the seed that fell on good soil, it is the one who hears the Word and understands it; this seed bears fruit and produces a hundred, or sixty, or thirty times more.”

Alternative reading (shorter version)

Matthew 13 : 1-9

At that time, Jesus left the house and sat down by the lakeside. Many people gathered around Him. So He got into a boat, and sat down, while the crowds stood on the shore; and He spoke to them in parables about many things.

Jesus said, “The sower went out to sow; and, as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path; and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where there was little soil, and the seeds sprouted quickly because the soil was not deep. But as soon as the sun rose, the plants were scorched; and they withered, because they had no roots.”

“Again, other seeds fell among thistles; and the thistles grew and choked the plants. Still, other seeds fell on good soil and produced a crop : some a hundredfold, others sixty, and others thirty. If you have ears, then hear!”

Sunday, 12 July 2020 : Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Second Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Romans 8 : 18-23

I consider, that the suffering of our present life cannot be compared with the glory that will be revealed, and given to us. All creation is eagerly expecting the birth, in glory, of the children of God. For, if now, the created world was unable to attain its purpose, this did not come from itself, but from the one who subjected it.

But it is not without hope; for even the created world, will be freed from this fate of death, and share the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know, that the whole creation groans and suffers the pangs of birth. Not creation alone, but even ourselves; although the Spirit was given to us, as a foretaste of what we are to receive, we groan in our innermost being, eagerly awaiting the day, when God will give us full rights, and rescue our bodies as well.

Sunday, 12 July 2020 : Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Psalm 64 : 10abcd, 10e-11, 12-13, 14

You water the land and care for it, enriching it with natural resources. God’s stream is filled with water.

So You prepare the earth to give us its fruits. You drench the furrows in the land and level the ridges; You soften the soil with showers and bless its crops.

You crown the year with Your goodness; abundance flows everywhere. The deserts have become pasture land, the hills are clothed with gladness.

The meadows, covered with flocks, the valleys, decked with grain – they shout and sing for joy.