Sunday, 30 August 2020 : Twenty-Second Sunday of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday all of us are reminded that being Christians, and indeed, faithful Christians is not going to be easy for us. On the contrary, to be a faithful Christian, we must always be prepared to endure rejection and even persecution for our faith. We must not expect that becoming Christian is the path for good life and happiness to be enjoyed right here in this world, without the need to suffer.

In our first reading today, we heard the anguish and sorrow, the emotions and indeed the stresses faced by the prophet Jeremiah, the prophet sent to the kingdom of Judah during the last days of the kingdom, just before it was to be destroyed and conquered by the forces of the Babylonians. Jeremiah was sent to a people who had largely abandoned God and ignored His Law and commandments, disobeyed His precepts and ways, ignoring and persecuting His prophets and messengers.

And among them all, the works of the prophet Jeremiah was particularly difficult as he had to contend alone against not just the people and their king who hardened their hearts and minds against God, but also against the many false prophets and leaders who used the opportunity to twist the minds of the people and the king further, by saying that the Babylonians would be destroyed and defeated, while some of them said that by depending on the power of the Egyptians and their Pharaoh, Judah would be saved.

Against all these, the prophet Jeremiah stood alone and defenceless, speaking the words of God to the people, until he was labelled and deemed as a doomsayer or even a traitor to the nation and the people for speaking of the coming destruction of Judah and Jerusalem, for speaking out how the kingdom and its cities would the destroyed and the people brought into exile just as how the Lord said it would, due to the sins and disobedience of the people who refused to believe in God.

Jeremiah alone spoke of all these and he faced most bitter persecution, challenges and trials for doing so. He was reviled, hated and made to suffer, even had his life threatened on many occasions by his many enemies who wanted him to be dead. He was in the most difficult spot all the time and as we heard in our first reading passage today, it was no wonder that Jeremiah at times was tempted to forget God and abandon his mission and calling as prophet and messenger to the people of Judah.

This is then related to what we heard in our Gospel today, we heard from St. Peter the Apostle, who had just proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah and the Son of God, and thus entrusted with the leadership of the Church and the keys of the kingdom of Heaven as we heard in our last Sunday’s Gospel. In today’s occurrence however, when the Lord Jesus then foretold of His upcoming suffering, persecution and eventually death on the Cross, St. Peter rebuked the Lord and disagreed with Him.

St. Peter said how this could not happen to Him, and He could not and should not meet such an ignominious fate, to die in such a way at the hands of their enemies. For the context, at that time, many if not most of the Jews believed that the Messiah promised by the Lord through His prophets would be a great King like king David, the Messiah’s predecessor, and they thought that the Messiah would lead them to freedom and defeat those who have subjugated and conquered them, such as the Romans.

By that time, the Jewish people had lived for six centuries after the time of the prophet Jeremiah as conquered nation and people, passing on from the hands of one ruler and overlord to another, from the Babylonians to the Persians, then to the Greek Empire of Alexander the Great and his successors, the Ptolemaic kings of Egypt and the Seleucid kings of Asia and Mesopotamia, and then short while of independence under the Maccabees or the Hasmonean kingdom, before once again subjugated by the foreign rulers such as the Herodian dynasty and their overlords, the Romans.

It was therefore not surprising that many among the Jews, including the Apostles and many of the followers of Christ who viewed Him as the coming King Who would lead them to victory in the battle against the Romans and made them all independent once again, and become a great kingdom again just as in the days of David and Solomon, when the kingdom of Israel was mighty, great and respected all over the land.

This was where then the Lord Jesus immediately rebuked St. Peter back and pointed out the true culprit behind all of these, that is none other than Satan, our great enemy, the tempter and the one who is always very hard at work in trying to crush us, defeat us, mislead us and bring us to our damnation. He has tempted the prophet Jeremiah as I mentioned earlier, persuading him to abandon his efforts and ministry, and forget about God. Fortunately, Jeremiah had a strong faith in God, and his love for Him helped him to endure through the devil’s temptations and pressures.

St. Peter had faith in the Lord, and that faith allowed him to publicly proclaim the Lord and His truth before others. It took genuine faith and real courage to speak up in such a way, especially when it could be considered a great sin and blasphemy by the Jewish authorities and shunned by others in the community at the time. St. Peter was therefore, just like the prophet Jeremiah, speaking the truth of God, even though that truth might not be popular or acceptable in the community.

But that was just the beginning for him and the other Apostles, as they would encounter more and more occasions when they would need to stand up to their faith and to remain faithful even though they had to face trials and tribulations. Although they were faithful, but they too were humans, just as the prophet Jeremiah and the other prophets were. They might also experience sorrow, fear, uncertainty and worry over themselves, just as they encounter all those terrible oppositions and persecutions.

What is important here is, brothers and sisters in Christ, is that we must not give in to the temptations of the devil. We must be strong and we must dedicate ourselves to the Lord, just as the Lord Himself showed us. For you see, the Lord Himself had been tempted by the devil when He was fasting and spending forty days in the desert. And although Satan tried his very best to tempt the Son of God, he failed to do so, because the Lord Jesus was firm in His commitment and conviction, and He showed us that through faith, the devil can be defeated.

And on the very last moment, He was tempted a final time in His agony in the Gardens of Gethsemane, when just before He was about to be arrested, betrayed, condemned to death, suffer and die a most painful and humiliating death, Jesus in His humanity, felt anguish and the fear that is also common to all of us. In His agony, it was so much that as He prayed to His Father, His sweat dropped onto the ground as if they were blood.

A hint of this is when the Lord said, ‘Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me.’, as a brief reference to just how terrible an anguish it must have been, for Him to bear the combined weight and burden of all of mankind’s sins. But the Lord remained firm even so, in His obedience to His Father’s will, with the words, ‘But let it be according to Your will, not Mine. Let Your will be done!’ And this is what each and every one of us as Christians are called to follow, the very examples of our Lord Himself, which His Apostles also followed.

In our second reading today, St. Paul in his Epistle to the Romans nicely summarised all of these into these, ‘Do not let yourself be shaped by the world around you, but be transformed, by the renewal of your spirit.’ Through these words, St. Paul reminds and calls all of us Christians to dare to be different from the norms of the world and to stand up for our faith, to proclaim the truth of God even when the truth is not something that is favourable, preferred or desired by the society at large.

But we cannot do this alone, brothers and sisters in Christ. In order for us to be able to stand faithfully for our faith, we need God’s support and strength, and we must always be attuned to Him and commit ourselves to Him. As humans, it is likely that we will encounter fear, uncertainties, worries and concerns, when things start to go bad, when we face trials and challenges, and the devil knows this very, very well. He will use whatever is within his disposal in order to tempt us, persuade us, and even coerce us to abandon our struggle and our journey of faith.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, that is why as Christians we must be prayerful people, so that the Lord, our loving Father will always help us find the way, for it is through prayer, genuine, deep prayer in our hearts that we can understand God’s will and His plans for us. It is often that we are blinded by our own fears, deafened by our own uncertainties and doubts, that we cannot see, hear and perceive God showing us and telling us that He is with us, and therefore, we have no need to fear at all.

And we must also be a charitable people, people living our lives with faith and filled with genuine love for one another. When we love God, as well as loving each other, even when we are difficult times, then the devil has no room in our hearts. Satan loves only himself, and he hates genuine love, selfless love, sacrificial love, the kind of love that Christ has shown us on the Cross. If we fill ourselves with love, brothers and sisters in Christ, then naturally, we will draw closer to God and we will not allow the devil to have any of his means with us.

When we hate, we allow Satan to enter into our hearts, after which he will sow even more seeds of fear, distrust, anger, jealousy, greed, pride and many others. The Lord told us, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” And throughout the history of the Church, even persecutors and enemies of the Church have repented and became Christians, when they saw how the Christian martyrs acted with love, forgave them and had such great faith in God. Not few of these persecutors-turned-converts became martyrs themselves.

Now, brothers and sister in Christ, today therefore we are all challenged by God, to embrace the fact that becoming His followers do not necessarily mean glory and joy in this life we have in this world. On the contrary, challenges and trials will likely come our way as we have likely suffered and endured these earlier as well. But are we willing to take up our crosses in life with Christ, and carry them with faith, hope and love? These are the important questions that we need to ask ourselves as we go forward in life.

Let us all be ever more prayerful, dedicating special time constantly to speak with God, to be more attuned to His will and to follow His path. Let us all be more loving and compassionate towards one another, that by our love, others may truly know that we belong to God, and so will Satan, our great enemy. Let us place our faith in God and fear no more. May the Lord bless us all and each of our endeavours, good works and actions, now and always. Amen.