Sunday, 17 October 2021 : Twenty-Ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, this Sunday as we listened to the words of the Sacred Scriptures we are all called to remember the salvation that God has revealed to us and which He has also fulfilled through His Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus has brought the salvation to our midst by coming into this world and as we all know, He took upon Himself all of our sins and iniquities, bearing our heavy burdens on His Cross, and therefore, suffered and died for our sake on the across for the salvation of the whole world.

In our first reading today from the Book of the prophet Isaiah, we heard the words of the Lord spoken through Isaiah, detailing on a prophecy of the coming Messiah or Saviour from God. This prophecy of the Messiah, detailing about a Servant of God Who would be made to suffer for the sake of all the people must have sounded strange to the people, considering that at that time and afterwards, the people hoped and thought that the Messiah would be a great and mighty conquering King from the line and house of David who would unite the descendants of the Israelites.

Common understanding at that time was that the Messiah that God would send to His people would restore the greatness of the old united Kingdom of David and Solomon, when Israel was preeminent, mighty and powerful among the nations. At the time of the ministry and work of Isaiah, it was during the downfall of the northern kingdom of Israel while the southern kingdom of Judah also faced great troubles with the Assyrians almost conquering and besieging the city of Jerusalem itself, under King Sennacherib, and only God’s intervention stopped it from happening.

Thus, it was not surprising that as the people of God encountered calamities and humiliations one after another, and forced into exile in many parts of the world, so they hoped that the Lord would deliver them and return their inheritance and glory to them, through the Messiah that He has promised to them through His prophets. Isaiah in particular spoke a lot regarding the prophesied Messiah, and some of what he had revealed in his prophecy spoke of a suffering Messiah, Who would be crushed, broken and suffering for the sake of all of God’s people.

And Jesus was the One Who fulfilled all these prophecies, as He came into this world bringing God’s healing and salvation, healing the sick and casting out demons, making the blind to see once again, the deaf and mute to be able to hear and speak once again, and even raised the dead back to life. The Lord Jesus Himself proclaimed that His coming fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah, and He would then predict His own end, how He would be rejected and condemned to die, made to bear the Cross and die on it in Calvary.

In our second reading today, the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews in explaining the role of Jesus, the Messiah or Saviour of the world to the Jewish converts to the Christian faith and also to other Jews, focused on the role that the Lord took on as the High Priest offering the sacrifice to God, on behalf of all the people of God. This is something that the Jewish people could well relate to, as they regularly took part in the sacrifices offered at the Temple for their sins to be forgiven by God, offered by the priests on behalf of the people.

However, what was unique in this one particular sacrifice, was that the High Priest Who offered it, was Himself the Offering and Sacrifice, as He offered His own Precious Body and Blood, the Lamb of God, sacrificed and slain on the Altar of the Cross, on the Altar of Calvary, that day two millennia ago, which we celebrate yearly on Good Friday. It was the moment of the revelation of God’s supreme act of love and ultimate selfless act in reaching out to us sinners, in order to offer us His most generous mercy and compassionate love.

But in doing so, Christ had to suffer a lot, enduring the burden of rejection, humiliation and the most painful sufferings that were caused by our many, innumerable sins. Yet, He bore them all patiently and faithfully, fully obedient to the will of His heavenly Father, enduring and drinking from the cup of suffering that He mentioned both in today’s Gospel passage and during the time of His great agony in the Gardens of Gethsemane just before He was about to begin the moments of His Passion and suffering.

He did all of these out of His enduring and infinite love for each and every one of us, out of the desire to be reconciled with us and not to allow us to be lost from Him, He Who is also our Good Shepherd, Who knew each and every one of us, and had done whatever He could, just as He shared the story of the Good Shepherd to His disciples, to reach out to us, His lost sheep, and to find us and gather us back into His presence, to be part of His flock in the Church of God. He showed us His love through real action and not just through words.

Then, in our Gospel passage today, we heard how two of the Lord’s disciples came to Him and asked Him for special favours to be given to them. These two were the sons of Zebedee, the brothers St. James the Apostle also known as St. James the Greater, as well as St. John the Apostle and Evangelist. Both of them were among the closest disciples of the Lord, and together with St. Peter the Apostle, who was the leader of the disciples, were often brought by the Lord to various events only exclusive to them, such as the Transfiguration, the moment when He raised the daughter of Jairus back to life, as well as the aforementioned Agony in the Gardens of Gethsemane itself.

As such, as it was probably common and expected at that time, as it is still today, they were tempted to seek for special favours and position as the closest confidants of the Lord, to gain power, prestige and influence, among other things. This is showing us in fact, as I mentioned earlier, the prevalent attitude and understanding of the people at that time, who viewed the Messiah as the One Who would conquer the enemies of the people of God, reunite the Israelites and all the descendants of Jacob, and restore the Kingdom of Israel as it was during David and Solomon’s time.

Therefore, when St. James and St. John together came to the Lord, it was made with this context in mind, in seeking the special favours for them, that when Christ restored Israel and rule as the new King of Israel, they would become His most trusted advisors and important persona in the new realm. However, this was a misunderstanding and failure to appreciate the true nature of Christ’s mission in this world. That was why the Lord told them and the other disciples gathered that in truth, to be His followers, they had to share in His sufferings, and that they indeed would suffer, as they all later on would suffer a martyr’s death, with the sole exception of St. John the Apostle himself, who nonetheless suffered for many years in prison and exile.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, where do all these then lead us? In truth, all of these things which we have just discussed and reflected on, are reminders for all of us to remember the love which God has constantly showed to us, and every time we look upon the Cross, with His Body laid suffering and dying on it, the Crucifix, we are reminded of this act of supreme love and ultimate selflessness, in Him giving us His life, so that by all of us sharing in His death on the Cross, we may receive new life and the Resurrection through Him.

And as Christians, we must always be ready to face suffering and persecution, rejection and challenges in life just as Our Lord Himself has suffered. This is because the world, its norms and ways that had rejected the Lord and His salvation, will also reject all of us who believe in the Lord and His truth, and suffering may come our way if we remain faithful to Him. Yet, we must never be disheartened or discouraged by these. Instead, we have to be ever more steady in following the Lord, wholeheartedly and with real and genuine love for Him.

What we heard today from the Scriptures, especially from the Gospel in particular is a reminder for us that being Christians is not about ourselves or our own search for personal glory or ambition, or personal satisfaction and happiness. Rather, it is to seek the Lord and to follow Him, picking up our crosses with Him, just as He has called us, and dedicate our entire lives in loving service to Him. This is the attitude that all of us must cultivate as Christians, to be genuine in faith and action, and to give our best to the Lord.

Let us all therefore strive to follow the Lord ever more faithfully, and to be more worthy in how we live our lives from now on. Let us all embrace God’s love and most generous mercy and compassion, resisting the temptations to sin and allowing God to lead us down the right path, so that by our own exemplary lives, we may inspire many others to follow us, just as we ourselves have been inspired by the many Apostles, saints and martyrs, our holy predecessors who have led most worthy lives before us. May God bless us always, in our every efforts and good works, now and forevermore. Amen.

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