Tuesday, 18 August 2020 : 20th Week of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we are reminded of the Lord’s steadfastness in protecting all those who are faithful to Him, and how those who are wicked and unfaithful, those who oppress the faithful will not have their way forever, as sooner or later, the day of reckoning will come for them, justice will be served to them, and the righteous ones will triumph in the end together with God. This is what we can be sure of, as God Himself has guaranteed it, and history has also proven this right.

First of all, we heard of the story from the Book of the prophet Ezekiel in our first reading today, in which we heard of the prophecy and also the warning regarding the prince of the city of Tyre. Contextually and historically, the city of Tyre was the heartland of the Phoenicians and the centre of their vast maritime empire that spread far and wide. Tyre itself was very rich and the centre of a great trading network which earned its rulers vast fortune and great power.

That great wealth and power, coupled with the fact that the city of Tyre stood on an island separated by a stretch of sea from the land, with its strong maritime forces made Tyre and its rulers to be almost invincible and had nothing to fear from its enemies. And this is where then our first reading passage came in, as God revealed for all of its power and might, Tyre would also still falter and fail, as what was to be proven a few centuries afterwards when Tyre was conquered and destroyed by the forces of King Alexander the Great of Macedon.

Many of us know about Alexander the Great, his life and conquests, and his amazing military victories, in which he led his armies in defeating and conquering the entirety of the vast Persian Empire, and in the midst of that, he laid siege to the city of Tyre, destroyed its navy and other forces, starved the city and eventually, built a land bridge that ever since then connected Tyre to the mainland, and the city was eventually conquered, its people subjugated and enslaved, its buildings and riches destroyed and plundered. All happened just as the Lord had revealed about it earlier.

All of these are reminders for each and every one of us that we must not allow ourselves to be swayed by earthly goods and pleasures, by worldly desires and material concerns, by all sorts of things and temptations that will often prevent us from living righteously before God, and end up suffering like what Tyre and its proud people suffered. Tyre and its might depended on itself and its worldly glory, and they dwelled in their hubris and ego, and in the end, they were humbled and crushed.

This is related to what we then heard in our Gospel passage today, as we heard the Lord spoke of how difficult it is for those who are rich to enter into the kingdom of heaven, and how it is easier for a camel to enter through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into heaven. This is not referring to an actual eye of a needle, but a metaphor that related to the fact that there is an actual gate called the Needle’s Eye gate in Jerusalem that is so small that a camel had to had its burdens and loads removed, and then stoop down its head and neck to be able to pass through the gate.

The reference to the camel passing through the gate called the ‘Needle’s Eye Gate’ is a symbolic message to the people that as the camel had to be rid of its burdens and stoop down to pass through the gate, thus, we mankind had to divest ourselves off our many ‘baggages’ in life and humble ourselves before we can enter into the kingdom of God. And when the Lord said that it is difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom of Heaven, it is not a condemnation of the rich, but rather, as I often mentioned, the attachments that we have to worldly things, and the rich are usually all the more susceptible to these.

Yes, the Lord did not say that the rich are bad, terrible or wicked, but rather, because they have more of these ‘baggages’, the ‘baggages’ of material possessions, of fame and influence, of worldly concerns, of worldly glory, of pride and ego, of our many desires in life, all these ‘baggages’, which are obstacles in our path towards God, are even more difficult to overcome for those who are rich and powerful. Yet, there are those who have managed to overcome, as we certainly know throughout history, those who are rich and powerful who were kind and generous, and there were saints that came from their midst.

That is why, brothers and sisters in Christ, each and every one of us are reminded by today’s words of God to be ever vigilant and to guard ourselves against the temptations of pride and greed, that we will not be easily swayed by those that sought to bring us down by tempting us with all sorts of worldly pleasures I mentioned earlier on. Do not let the devil from manipulating us and attacking us by using all these against us. Instead, let us remove ourselves from any unhealthy attachments and obsessions in life, that we may be able to overcome the obstacles in our path towards God.

May the Lord continue to guide us all in this journey of life, and may He strengthen us all and give us the necessary strength and courage in life that we may persevere in faith despite the challenges we encounter and that we may be worthy of God and the eternal life He has prepared for each and every one of us who are faithful to Him. May God bless us all, now and forevermore. Amen.

Tuesday, 18 August 2020 : 20th Week of Ordinary Time (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Matthew 19 : 23-30

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly I say to you : it will be hard for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Yes, believe Me : it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of the needle than for the one who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.”

On hearing this, the disciples were astonished and said, “Who, then, can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and answered, “For human beings it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.” Then Peter spoke up and said, “You see, we have given up everything to follow You. What, then, will there be for us?”

Jesus answered, “You, who have followed Me, listen to My words : on the Day of Renewal, when the Son of Man sits on His throne in glory, you, also, will sit, on twelve thrones, to judge the twelve tribes of Israel. As for those who have left houses, brothers, sisters, father, mother, children or property for My Name’s sake, they will receive a hundredfold, and be given eternal life. Many who are now first, will be last, and many who are now last, will be first.”

Tuesday, 18 August 2020 : 20th Week of Ordinary Time (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Deuteronomy 32 : 26-27ab, 27cd-28, 30, 35cd-36ab

I said I would scatter them afar and blot out their memory among humankind, but I feared the enemy’s boasting, lest the adversary misunderstand.

And say : ‘We have triumphed, the Lord has not brought this about.’ They are a senseless and undiscerning nation. Had they wisdom, they would have known.

For how could one or two men put to flight a thousand or ten thousand, unless their Rock had abandoned them, unless their Lord had given them up?

Their day of calamity is at hand, and swiftly their doom will come. The Lord will give justice to His people and have mercy on His servants.

Tuesday, 18 August 2020 : 20th Week of Ordinary Time (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Ezekiel 28 : 1-10

The word of YHVH came to me in these terms, “Son of man, say to the prince of Tyre : You are very proud and self-satisfied : ‘I am a god, I sit like a god in the heart of the sea.’ Yet you are man and not a god; would you hold yourself as wise as God? You consider yourself wiser than Daniel; no secret is hidden from you. Your wisdom and know-how have earned you a fortune, gold and silver flowed to your treasury.”

“Clever in trade, you became wealthy and, as your fortune increased, your heart became prouder. But now, YHVH has spoken to you, to the one who is like God : I am bringing foreigners against you, the most feared of all the nations. Their sword will challenge your wisdom and debase your refined culture. They will bring you down to the pit and you will die in the depths of the sea.”

“Will you be able to say ‘I am a god’ when your murderers are killing you? You are a man and not a god. You will die the death of the uncircumcised and perish at the hands of aliens, for I have spoken – word of YHVH.”

Monday, 17 August 2020 : 20th Week of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we are all reminded that all these while, by our many sins, our disobedience and refusal to believe in God and in His laws and commandments, we have incurred God’s wrath and anger, just as how He had been angry at His people Israel, as described in our first reading today, as well as our Psalm, and how He chastised and disciplined them that they all might learn their lesson.

We heard from the first reading today, the words of the Lord addressed to His people in exile through the prophet Ezekiel, as the prophet showed them what would happen to the remnants of Israel in Judah and Jerusalem, how the whole kingdom, its king and people, the city and the proud Temple of God built by king Solomon, would all be crushed and conquered by the Babylonians. What was once the pride of all Israel, were to be torn down and destroyed, all because of their infidelity and disobedience.

This however does not mean that God did not care about His people, as if He truly did not care about us, or even hate us, then it would have been a simple matter for Him to let us all be destroyed, as such is the just punishment and consequences for our sins. On the contrary, it was exactly because He cares for us and loves us all dearly that He chastised and punished His people in the past, just as a loving father who truly loved his children would discipline his children while still loving them with all of his heart.

Let us all look at it from this perspective, brothers and sisters. God does not want us to fall deeper and deeper into sin, and that is why, where possible, He calls us, He guides us, and at times, if necessary, chastises and disciplines us, so that we will realise the errors of our ways. After all, in the end, which is better for us, to be suffering for a short while and realising the errors in our ways and turning back to the right path, or to enjoy the life as we know of and embrace all sorts of sins and wickedness, only to suffer for eternity?

That is why, brothers and sisters in Christ, He gave us all His Law and commandments. But the Law by itself is not enough, as we also must have the heart and the right attitude in our lives. And this is what we focus on in our Gospel passage today. When a man came up to the Lord Jesus and asked Him what he ought to do in order to attain eternal life, the Lord told him to obey the commandments of God and which the man, likely being a faithful adherent to the Law, obeyed in full, all the commandments that God had given in the Ten Commandments.

But then, when the Lord told him to leave behind his possessions and give them all to the poor, and follow Him wholeheartedly, the man suddenly became very sad and dejected, and went away in sorrow. All these are examples and what the Lord highlighted in the case when we may obey the Law of God, do what He has taught us to do, and yet, we have no genuine love and devotion to Him. It is possible to obey the Law of God and yet, having no genuine faith.

That is because, one can fulfil an act even without meaning what he or she had done. The man who came to the Lord obviously obeyed and followed the Law well, but when the Lord asked him to leave behind his worldly possessions and he immediately slumped and became dejected, these showed that the man loved those things more than God, that he could not even consider leaving one for the other. And this is also why many of us were unable to follow the Lord faithfully, erred and fell into sin as the Israelites had done in the old days.

The Lord does not mean literally that we must sell everything and abandon everything that we have and give them all to the poor. There are indeed those who chose to follow that path, as they gave everything and entered into religious life or other forms of vocations that dedicated themselves completely to God. Rather, what He wanted to convey to us is that we must not allow ourselves be easily swayed by the temptations of earthly goods and worldly possessions, of pleasures and comfort we have in life.

It is not the possessions and material goods themselves that are bad, brothers and sisters in Christ. For we can indeed use them for both good and evil purposes alike, and the choice lies on our hands on how we decide to make use of them. It is the attachments and indeed, the unhealthy obsessions we have over all of those things that are bad for us. The Lord does not want us to be owned and controlled by our desires for worldly materials and pleasures.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we reflect on all these which we have heard from the Scripture passages today, let us all discern how we are to proceed moving on in our lives. Are we able to follow the Lord wholeheartedly as we should have, giving ourselves in deep devotion and commitment to Him, no longer shackled by the temptations of worldly pleasures and desires, but instead, dedicating ourselves that in each and every moments of our lives, in our respective capacities, we will always glorify God by our actions and deeds?

Let us all draw ever closer to God and remain faithful as always to His laws and commandments. Let us all seek Him with ever greater devotion, and give ourselves to His cause from now on. May the Lord, our loving Father forgive us our sins and gather us all, His scattered children, back into His embrace, and welcome us all into the glorious new and eternal life that we will receive in the kingdom of Heaven. May God bless us, now and forevermore. Amen.

Monday, 17 August 2020 : 20th Week of Ordinary Time (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Matthew 19 : 16-22

At that time, it was then, that a young man approached Him and asked, “Master, what good work must I do to receive eternal life?” Jesus answered, “Why do you ask Me about what is good? One, only, is good. If you want to enter eternal life, keep the commandments.”

The young man said, “Which commandments?” Jesus replied, “Do not kill; do not commit adultery; do not steal; do not bear false witness; honour your father and mother. And love your neighbour as yourself.” The young man said to Him, “I have kept all these commandments. What do I still lack?”

Jesus answered, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell all that you possess, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come back and follow Me.” On hearing this, the young man went away sad, for he was a man of great wealth.

Monday, 17 August 2020 : 20th Week of Ordinary Time (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Deuteronomy 32 : 18-19, 20, 21

They have disowned the Rock Who fathered them; they have forgotten the God Who gave them birth. The Lord saw this, and in His anger rejected His sons and daughters.

He said, “I will hide My face from them and see what will become of them. They are so perverse, so unfaithful!”

“They made Me jealous with their false gods and angered Me with their idols. I will, therefore, make them envious of a foolish people, I will provoke them to anger with an empty-headed nation.”

Monday, 17 August 2020 : 20th Week of Ordinary Time (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Ezekiel 24 : 15-24

The word of YHVH came to me in these terms, “Son of man, I am about to suddenly take from you the delight of your eyes, but you are not to lament or weep or to let your tears flow. Groan in silence and do not mourn for the dead; wear your turban, put on your sandals, do not cover your beard or eat the customary food of mourners.”

I spoke to the people in the morning and my wife died that evening. The next morning I did as I had been commanded. Then the people said to me : “Explain to us the meaning of your actions.” I said to them, “The word of YHVH came to me in these terms : ‘Say to Israel : I am about to profane My Sanctuary, your pride, the delight of your eyes for which you long.’”

“‘The sons and daughters you left behind will also fall by the sword, but you will do as I have done : you will not cover your beard or eat the customary food of mourners; you will keep your turbans on your heads and sandals on your feet. You will not lament or weep. Instead, because of your sin, you will waste away and groan among yourselves. Ezekiel will be a sign for you. Do as he did : and when this happens, you will know that I am YHVH.’”

Sunday, 16 August 2020 : Twentieth 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 are called to listen to the Lord and to open our hearts and minds to welcome Him, for He has indeed called all of us to follow Him, from all the nations, without bias and without prejudice based on race, culture, or by any other parameters and traits we often categorise people in. God wants us to know that we are all equally beloved by God, without exception.

In order to appreciate better the significance of our Scripture readings and the context of our reflection today, we need to understand that for many of the Israelites and their descendants, up to the time of the Lord Jesus and beyond, they saw themselves as God’s chosen ones, as the only ones who deserve salvation and the glory of God, while other peoples, the pagan nations and peoples, all of them would be destroyed and crushed, unless they accepted the Law of Moses in its entirety, essentially becoming one with the Israelites in culture and way of life.

In our first reading today, we heard the words of the Lord spoken through His prophet Isaiah, in which it was explicitly mentioned that the Lord has called foreigners, those so-called pagan people to follow Him and to walk in His path, to preserve His Law and commandments, and how His House will become the house of prayer for all the nations. He spoke of the time where people from all the places and from all countries will come together to glorify God, no longer divided by the mark of their race, origin or by any other parameters.

In our Gospel today, we heard something related when we listened to the story of the Lord Jesus and His interactions with a Syro-Phoenician woman, a non-Jew and Gentile, who came to Him begging Him to heal her daughter who was tormented and suffered from a demonic attack. But the Lord strangely seemed aloof and ignored her pleas saying that He was only sent to the lost sheep of Israel, and even sounded very patronising to her and said bluntly, “It is not right to take the bread from the children and give it to the puppies or dogs.”

This has the strong connotation and example of how the Jewish people looked at their neighbours and treated them, so much so that the non-Jewish people were even treated as less than human and insultingly referred to as dogs. But the Lord did not intend to hurt or humiliate the woman when He said such things, rather He actually wanted to make an example of just how terrible were the prejudice and biases that existed in the community at that time.

And the Lord also wanted to show all the people and His disciples that the woman, despite the supposed ‘humiliation and degrading treatment’ still had faith even more powerful than the faith of those who called themselves the children of Israel. She trusted the Lord and had faith in Him and even humbled herself before Him and everyone saying, that even puppies and dogs eat of the crumbs of the bread that fall from the master’s table. This is a faith that surpassed the lack of faith showed by many among the Jews who had witnessed the Lord and His works, and refused to believe or even opposed Him.

Then, in the second reading today we heard from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Church and the faithful in the city of Rome, of the Apostle speaking of his calling as the Apostle to the pagan nations and peoples. St. Paul is known as the Apostle to the Gentiles precisely because of this, as he put his emphasis in evangelising to the pagans, in reaching out not only to the Jews, but also the Greeks, the Romans and all the people to whom he had ministered during his many years of travel all around the Mediterranean region.

St. Paul spoke of how he called many among the pagans to embrace the ways of the Lord, and the frustrations he had in the refusal of many among God’s own people, the Jews and the others living in Judea, Galilee and the Jewish diaspora to believe in God and in His truth. Some among the Jews became the earliest Christians and they, indeed, the Apostles and many of the important disciples of the Lord, were the first foundations of the Church.

But there were great opposition from the chief priests, from many among the members of the Sanhedrin, that is the majority of the Pharisees and the Sadducees, who were opposed to the Lord Jesus, His teachings and works, who adamantly refused to listen to the words of the truth, and preferred to oppress those who spoke of the truth, that is the followers of the Lord. And it was these things that truly frustrated St. Paul, as it was also evident that many among the Jews took great pride in their status as a chosen race as mentioned earlier.

This prevailing attitude made it difficult for the early Christians as if we read the Acts of the Apostles, as the Jewish converts to the Christian faith initially demanded that all the observances of the laws of Moses and the rigour of the Pharisees’ way of observing the Law be kept as a fundamental aspect of the Church teachings and laws. The problem being that to demand of such imposition to the Gentiles or the non-Jewish people were impractical and impossible.

For example, the practice of circumcision and dietary restrictions would be very difficult to implement among the non-Jewish peoples, as the former in particular was seen as a barbaric practice by the Greeks and the Romans, and which in fact had caused tension between the two peoples in the past before. And the strict dietary restrictions of the old Jewish laws were often not compatible to the practices and customs of the Gentiles.

To demand that the Gentiles adopt the practices of the Jewish people wholesale was in fact tantamount to the lingering feeling of superiority that the Israelites and their descendants had in relations to the other, often considered pagan peoples. They argued that unless they adopted the ways of the Jews, then the Gentiles were not worthy of the salvation and grace of God. And this is what St. Paul wanted to dispel, and the whole Church agreed under the leadership of the Apostles, not to impose the excessive old Mosaic laws, but only the most fundamental aspects of the Law, as revealed to the Church by Christ.

And St. Paul also did not condemn his people, the Jews, unlike what many Christians later on would wrongly practice. Many misunderstood the context of the Church teachings and the words of the Apostles into actions against the Jewish people which resulted in centuries of suffering and oppression for many among them. Instead, as he said in our second reading today, that his people, by their ‘jealousy over the the success of the ministry of St. Paul and the Apostles in bringing to righteousness the pagan peoples’ might themselves be saved as well.

Yes, and this means that while the people of Israel were the first ones called and chosen by God, they are by no means the exclusive benefactors of God’s grace and blessings. God created the entire human race because He loved all of them, and through and from the people of Israel, He therefore raised His Saviour, His own Son, Jesus Christ, to be the bearer of the Good News of salvation, calling everyone, all the children of man, to the reconciliation with God.

One fundamental value that we must always keep in mind is the fact that each and every one of us are equal before God and are equally beloved by God. It is therefore not right for any one of us to be prejudiced, to be biased and act in ways that cause hurt and suffering for others just because we consider ourselves as superior or better compared to the other person, race or nation. And it is especially all the more important that as Christians, as God’s own beloved children, we put this as one of the cornerstones of our lives and actions.

This means that as the followers of Christ, we must treat one another equally, with love and with genuine concern for each other. We must not fall into the temptations of pride, ego and greed, all of which encouraged us to look inward, being selfish and self-promoting, seeking our personal joy and satisfaction over that of others. And it is sad indeed to see the history of our world, how people have acted unjustly on one another, persecuted and oppressed others, manipulated and extorted others.

Many people had suffered and died in the various racial and ethnic genocides that happened, wars and conflicts fought over our preference to focus on our differences and disagreements. People hurt one another because they deemed themselves to better and looking down at the others. In such a condition, obviously how can anyone expect to live peacefully and harmoniously with each other? As our long history has proven it, there had been so much sorrow and pain suffered all these while.

And in our world today, it is sad to see a rising tide of intolerance and selfishness once again, worst still at a time when we all need to be more united than ever. When the terrible pandemic swept all over the world, killing many and ruining many people’s livelihood, we saw how people are attributing blame on each other, and targetted people who had historically been discriminated against, and blamed or even attacked those who are different from them, deemed inferior and less worthy.

We heard how communities were threatened with rifts and disagreements, riots and troubles that occurred, when historic hurts and pains of unequal treatments, of prejudices and biases came to the surface again especially when everyone is under great pressure during these days. At the time when we need to be more united than ever, the devil is reaping dividends by sowing seeds of dissension and conflict among us. And unfortunately, many of us Christians are part of these as well.

Therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, today, as we reflect upon the passages of the Scripture and internalise their message, we need to re-evaluate our lives and way of living, especially if we have discriminated against others before, looking down on others and thinking highly of ourselves and our faith. Let us first of all remember that the Lord loves every one of us equally and without bias or distinction. If God has done so, then why can’t we do the same then?

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all as Christians be exemplary in our actions, in genuinely loving and caring our fellow brothers and sisters without bias and prejudice. Let us all seek the Lord with all of our hearts and minds together, that we truly may serve Him with faith, and together as one people, one Church of God envisioned by St. Paul, let us all go joyfully to God and His heavenly kingdom. May God, our loving Father continue to love us and bless us, now and always. Amen.

Sunday, 16 August 2020 : Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Matthew 15 : 21-28

At that time, leaving that area, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from the area, came and cried out, “Lord, Son of David, have pity on me! My daughter is tormented by a demon.”

But Jesus did not answer her, not even a word. So His disciples approached Him and said, “Send her away! See how she is shouting after us.” Then Jesus said to her, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the nation of Israel.”

But the woman was already kneeling before Jesus, and said, “Sir, help me!” Jesus answered, “It is not right to take the bread from the children and throw it to puppies.”

The woman replied, “That is true, Sir, but even puppies eat the crumbs which fall from their master’s table.” Then Jesus said, “Woman, how great is your faith! Let it be as you wish.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.