Sunday, 5 September 2021 : Twenty-Third Sunday of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday as we listened to the words of the Lord speaking to us through the readings of the Sacred Scriptures, we are all reminded of the all encompassing love of God, as He reassured all those who have placed their trust in Him that He would not abandon them and that He would love them all equally without bias or prejudice, and all are equally precious before Him, as He extends to us His love, His grace and blessings.

In our first reading today, taken from the Book of the prophet Isaiah, we heard from the prophecy of Isaiah the Lord’s promises to His people that He would one day come and liberate them, opening the eyes of their blind, unbinding and opening the ears of the deaf and the tongues of the mute, making the paralysed and the disabled to walk and move again, and other miraculous deeds and works that the Lord would do amongst His people.

At the time of the prophet Isaiah, the people of Israel had been going through tough times, a time of many challenges and trials, as the once united and great kingdom of Israel under King David and King Solomon were already long passed and gone. The divided northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah had become diminished and were subjected to humiliations from their neighbours and other powers. And just around the time of Isaiah and his ministry as God’s prophet, the northern kingdom of Israel was conquered and destroyed by the Assyrians, who brought off most of the inhabitants of the land to exile in far-off Mesopotamia.

At the same time, the people of the southern kingdom of Judah where Isaiah performed his ministry did not fare much better, as they too came under attack from king Sennacherib of Assyria, who brought up a vast army against Judah and Jerusalem, and almost conquered it if not for the timely intervention from God. The people of God had been brought low and suffered, and all these were because of their own disobedience and refusal to believe in God or follow His path, despite the numerous reminders from the many prophets sent to them.

In our Gospel passage today, from the Gospel of St. Mark, we then heard of the account of the miraculous healing that the Lord had done on a deaf and mute man, as He had pity on the man, and by His power, loosened the man’s tongue and opened his ears, allowing him to hear and speak properly once again. He has liberated the man from his troubles and showed God’s enduring love and compassion for each and every one of us. He fulfilled the promises that He Himself had made through His prophet Isaiah, the promises that we have just discussed earlier on.

And this is also a show that God loves everyone without exception, that even those who are often marginalised and prejudiced against, the weak and those afflicted with physical and spiritual ailments, God has reached out to them and healed them, freeing them from their troubles. This particular case mentioned in our Gospel today is significant because the word that the Lord spoke, ‘Ephphata’ meaning ‘Be opened!’ at the time when He loosened the tongue and opened the ears of the man, is also for a long time used in the rites of baptism of the Church, and is still used today in the baptism using the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite.

Through this symbolic act, the priests placed their hands on the ears and the mouth of the person or infant to be baptised, signifying that they performed the rites of the Sacrament of Baptism in persona Christi, or in the person of Christ, opening the ears and the mouth of the one to be baptised that just as the man was healed as mentioned in our Gospel passage, then the person that was to be baptised would also be healed from his or her spiritual bondage to sin and death.

And the opening of the ears and the mouth are also significant because they represent symbolically our willingness by accepting baptism, to open our ears to listen to the truth and the Word of God, and to speak only the words of God’s truth, and not to proclaim things that are contrary to our faith. The Lord had freed us from our bondage and enslavement to sin and evil, and He has healed us from the most terrible disease of all, that is sin and death.

Yes, brothers and sisters in Christ, although we may be physically well and even in best of health, all of us are in fact suffering from the affliction of sin, which corrupts us from within and making us defiled and unworthy of God. God alone can save and heal us from this affliction, and He has shown His willingness to free us and to be reconciled fully with us. All of us, whether we are great or small, rich or poor, influential, famous or unknown, all of us are equally sinners before God, and God loves all of us equally, which is what the Lord wanted to show us through the Word of God we have heard today.

And, in our second reading today, from the Epistle of St. James the Apostle, we heard the same message as the Apostle reminded the faithful that the Lord does not discriminate between persons, and he went on to give examples of how the faithful could unknowingly act in ways that promote prejudice and discrimination by treating their fellow brothers and sisters in different ways. It is inevitable that we will have differences in how we interact with different groups of people, and we will certainly be more willing to treat well those whom we love and care about, while ignoring or even treating badly those whom we dislike.

However, the Lord called on all of us to overcome this tendency, and reminded us that if He loves each and every one of us equally, then we as His people should also do the same, and love one another in the same manner. We have to do our best and strive to show care and compassion, forgiveness and the willingness to embrace even those who have persecuted and hurt us, as the Lord Jesus Himself taught us to forgive those who have hated us and pray for those who have persecuted us. He asked us to forgive one another’s sins, just as the Lord, His heavenly Father has forgiven us our sins, one of the key elements of the Lord’s Prayer, the Pater Noster we all know so well.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, in our world today where inequality, prejudice, racial and religious tensions, divisions among people and all the other divisions and disagreements that exist between our communities and peoples, we are all called as Christians to be revolutionary and different. In a world where we are all encouraged to love ourselves and hate those whom we dislike, we are called to love without boundaries and without prejudice, to reach out even to those who hate us and dislike us, to forgive them and to pray for them.

And in a world that is obsessed with appearances, with prestige, power and glory, we are all called to get rid from ourselves these temptations of the flesh, to be filled with God’s love instead, and to be able to listen to His truth and to proclaim His words rather than to listen to the temptations of the devil, the allures of worldly desires and rather than to advance our own goals and ambitions in life. Again, as Christians, we are all called to be loving just as the Lord has been so loving towards us.

Is this easily done for us? Certainly not, brothers and sisters in Christ, and it is truly often much easier said than done. We may think that it is easy for us to love one another, but those of us who have been hurt by others may find it very hard to forgive, and to let go of our anger and insecurities, of our desire for retribution and vengeance. And those of us who have not truly known love will find it difficult to love others, as the many trials and challenges many of us face in this world show us that to be Christians, is by no means a simple and easy feat.

That is why today, on this Sunday, brothers and sisters in Christ, the Lord called us all and reminded all of us of what being true Christians is all about. It is to love God with all of our hearts and with all of our strength, and then to love ourselves and one another, just as much as we value and love ourselves. This is the true commandment of God, in the Lord Jesus’ own words, that we have to ‘love one another just as I have loved you’, a reminder that even though the challenges may be great, but we have to persevere nonetheless.

And none of us should endure it alone. Instead, we should help and support one another, by doing our best even in the smallest things and showing love for each other, to those dear to us, and even to strangers and those who hate and dislike us, and whom we dislike as well. Let us all slowly allow the Lord to teach us how to love genuinely and truly, in each and every moments of our lives. From now on, let all of our words, actions and deeds be ones that glorify the Lord, that through us, the Lord, His truth and love may come to be known by more and more people.

May God bless each and every one of us, all equally precious and beloved by God, that we may be always strong in dedicating ourselves to serve Him and to follow Him for all of our days, now and always, forevermore. Amen.

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