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.