Sunday, 31 October 2021 : Thirty-First Sunday of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, this Sunday we are reminded through the readings of the Sacred Scriptures of the Law of God, the commandments and tenets that we have received from God Himself, Who passed down the Ten Commandments through Moses, His servant and then revealed in its fullness through Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Saviour of the world, Who brought the fullness of truth into our midst, completing and making perfect the Law and commandments of God. Today, we are called to reflect on our attitude towards the Law of God, and whether we have lived our lives faithfully in following God’s Law and commandments.

In our first reading today, taken from the Book of Deuteronomy, we heard the exhortation which Moses made to the people of Israel, as he presented before them God’s Law and commandments, how they, as the people with whom God had made His Covenant, were supposed to follow and obey, as part of this Covenant. Just as God is faithful to the Covenant and the promises that He had made to His people, thus the people also had to be faithful and committed to the same Covenant, and put their hearts and minds wholly focused and centred on God, and God alone, as Moses told them.

Contextually, what we heard in today’s readings must be understood in terms of how the Law of God and the Commandments, the Ten Commandments and the other rules and regulations were practiced and applied by the people of Israel and their descendants. The Law of God had been passed down from one generation to another, and went through various modifications and reinterpretations to adjust to the changing conditions of the time and also because there were many different people in charge of preserving the Law, and the fact that the Law and the commandments were not really written down until later in history.

Unfortunately, over time this led to the change in the meaning and the intention of the Law and the commandments. The Law became more and more divergent from its original intention, purpose and meaning, as after the destruction of Israel and Judah, and the return of the remnants of the Israelites from their exile in Babylon, the laws and regulations had been made much more strict and rigorous. Then, the people experienced the struggle against Hellenism during the years of their subjugation under the Seleucids, as we heard in the Book of Maccabeus, where the people under the Maccabees family rose up in revolt, and overthrew those who sought to destroy the Jewish traditions and culture.

After the Jews regained their independence, it is natural that they would become much more zealous and stricter in enforcing their traditions and way of life against those who sought to live in ways of the Gentiles or in any other ways incompatible with the Jewish traditions and customs. However, this led to the rise of the group known later as the Pharisees by the time of Jesus, over a century later, representing those who zealously guarded the laws and customs of the Jewish people, bloated and exaggerated they were by centuries of changes and in reaction to the sins and waywardness of the people.

However, what made it an issue for the Lord, which He often addressed before the people, was that the Law had not been used properly, and ended up becoming tool for those same Pharisees, members of the teachers of the Law and elders who subscribed to a very strict interpretation of the Law, burdening the people of God with very difficult expectations of the Law, and even more troublesome was their attitude with regards to the Law and their faith in God. Instead of having the Law to help them and others to place their focus on the Lord, they instead used the Law, either consciously or unconsciously, to advance their own status and influence in the community.

That was why the Lord often rebuked and criticised many of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law for the manner that they had observed the Law, in their mistaken focus and intention, and in the way that they carried themselves, in how they pridefully paraded their piety and supposedly better observance of the Law as compared to the others, whom they then looked down on, and even despised, in the case of prostitutes, tax collectors and others whom they deemed to be sinners, unworthy of God and unredeemable, while ignoring their own sins and faults.

The Lord wanted everyone, including those Pharisees and the teachers of the Law that this is not what the Law is all about, and as we heard in our Gospel passage today, one of those teachers of the Law realised through his interaction with the Lord Jesus, what the Law is truly all about. The Law of God is ultimately all about love, the love that God first and foremost has for each and every one of us, and therefore, naturally, which we should also have for Him, and then, just as we love the Lord, then we should also love one another in the same way.

God revealed to us His Law not to oppress us, or to make it to become a tool of discrimination against one another, or as something to be prideful of in our way of observing it. Otherwise, like many of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, their focus were no longer on the Lord but on themselves, on the glory, fame and influence that they accrued from their way of living the Law, rather than using the Law for the benefit of all and for the conversion of all to the path of God. And by condemning others and looking down on those deemed unworthy, as well as by imposing the very strict observance of the Law, they had in fact prevented many from coming to the Lord and turned people away from Him.

In this manner therefore, they had failed in their duty as the custodians of the Law, in that they had not been dutiful in their efforts to lead others to righteousness in God. Instead, they sought self-righteousness and self-justification, and even condemning others who disagreed with them, or those whom they disliked and opposed, like that of the Lord Himself and His disciples, whom they feared as rivals and threats to their influence and position within the Jewish community and the people of God.

How are all these then relevant to us, brothers and sisters in Christ? All these serve as an important reminder to all of us in God’s Church, that we cannot follow the same misguided path as those who had misinterpreted, misunderstood and misused the Law for their own selfish benefits, or in justifying themselves over others. Instead, we have to follow the Lord’s own examples, as we all know, that the Lord Jesus Christ, as the Son of Man, joined to us in His humanity, just as He is fully Divine as the Son of God, loved His heavenly Father totally and completely, obeying His will perfectly.

And it is also by that act of supreme love, both of His Father and also for each and every one of us, His brothers and sisters, that He, as our True and Eternal High Priest, offered Himself as a loving and worthy Sacrifice, the Lamb of God, made to suffer and was slain for us on the Altar of the Cross, as mentioned in our second reading from the Epistle to the Hebrews. The author of that Epistle, aimed at the Jewish converts to Christianity and other Jewish people in general, wanted to remind all of them that the Law of God in its true essence, is what the Lord Himself had done, in His supreme act of love in His Passion, suffering and death for us.

Hence, all of us are all called to reflect on our own attitudes in life and our actions. Have we, as God’s faithful and Church, acted in ways that are uncharitable and lacking in love, being exclusivist and elitist in our attitude, thinking that we are better than others, and condemning others who do not share our opinion or whom we dislike or deem to be less holy and worthy than us? Have we made use of our own Church teachings and traditions as an excuse to attack others and to mislead others in justifying ourselves and trying to promote our own ideals and interpretations rather than understanding what our faith is truly about?

This is exactly what some segments in our Church today are doing, on both extremes of ideas and ideologies. On one side, you have those who were very adamant in living their faith in a most Pharisaical manner, rigidly attaching themselves to the traditions and teachings of the Church but not allowing the Holy Spirit to guide them in discerning the truth about God’s will and intentions, in their self-justification and self-righteous attitude, thinking that their version of the faith is better than others, and that those who do not subscribe to their way of living the Christian faith, are unworthy or even damnable.

On the other hand, on the other side of the spectrum, we also have those that sought to radically alter every teachings, traditions and all the ways of how our Christian faith are practised, to suit our own interpretation and agenda, and most importantly to suit our own selfish needs as well. These are those that the Popes past and present had warned against, especially that of Pope St. John Paul II as the relativistic attitudes of some Christians who sought to align Church teachings with worldly ways and to accept things that are not in accordance to the truth of God.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, these are the forces arrayed against the Church, and which sadly happened even from within the Church and in our own faithful communities, just as it happened two millennia ago in the Jewish community, and which also had happened throughout all of our Christian history, in the history of the Church and its past developments. However, this cannot be a reason for us to give up, as the devil is all the happier to try to divide us and to mislead us further by his temptations and lies, and instead of being angry against each other or being divided, let us return our focus to the Lord.

This Sunday, as we recall the Law of God, the Ten Commandments and are reminded of what God’s Law and His teachings are all about, let us all be willing to listen to God, and allow the Holy Spirit to guide us, to guide the Church and its leaders, that we may journey together with Him in faith, and not allow our own selfish desires and individual preferences, ideologies and prejudices to mislead us down the wrong path. And most importantly, let us stay united against the efforts of those who tried to divide the Church and our communities, so that, united as we are, we shall not fall and remain firm and resolute in our struggles against sin and evil.

Let us all discern carefully our path in life, as one people of God united in His one Church, the united Body of Christ. Let us all learn to love God with all of our hearts and with all of our strength and capacity, by deepening our relationship with Him and by spending more important and precious time with Him, and then, also learning to love one another, as our own fellow brothers and sisters, just as much as we ought to love the Lord and ourselves. Let us all learn to forgive one another’s wrongdoings and learn to live together with harmony and faith, and as one united people, let us all seek the Lord together and be saved in Him.

May God bless us all and may He remain with His Church, that no matter what challenges and trials we may encounter, the gates of hell will not prevail against God’s Church, against our faith, truly genuine and full of love, a love that we all profess and show in our every daily moments and interactions, as we grow together as a community of God’s faithful, ever directed and journeying towards God, always. Amen.