Wednesday, 1 March 2023 : 1st Week of Lent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we listened to the words of the Scriptures, all of us are reminded to turn towards God with contrite hearts and minds, to seek His mercy and forgiveness as we remind ourselves of God’s love for each and every one of us. If we only rend our hearts and turn away from our many sins and wickedness, and seek God’s ever generous and wondrous forgiveness, we can gain a lot of graces and goodness from Him, just as He has given to our ancestors and predecessors in the past. The Lord loves each and every one of us, but He despises our sins and wickedness, and it is important for us therefore to turn away from those things which have become great obstacles in our path and journey towards the Lord and His salvation and grace. This Lent is indeed the time for us to realise that each one of us are sinners in need for God’s healing and mercy.

In our first reading today, we heard from the Book of the prophet Jonah in which God sent Jonah to the great city of Nineveh and its people to proclaim to them their doom and upcoming destruction. Contextually, the city of Nineveh was the great capital of the mighty Assyrian Empire, one of the first in that region to carve a great and vast realm, conquering many smaller states and nations. However the Assyrians were also infamous for their brutality in their wars and conquests, causing many deaths and destruction all across their domains. They were also the ones that destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel, the part of the remnants of the once glorious David and Solomon’s old kingdom, and brought many of its people into exile in distant lands, causing much mayhem and destruction in doing so.

In their great conquests and victories, the Assyrians likely had grown proud and haughty, and their sins became even more pronounced. This was when the Lord sent Jonah to them to remind them that in the end, it does not matter what great worldly glory or successes that they had in this world, as the Lord has the final say over all matters. In the times past, history and many evidences can show us that even the greatest of kingdoms and realms can be destroyed, crushed and humbled, decimated and brought down by many reasons including natural disasters, plagues, and other things that no man could have foreseen or predicted. All of those things are truly reminders of the limits of our human power and abilities, and how in the end, all of our pride, ego and haughtiness will lead us nowhere but to our ultimate destruction and downfall.

The people of Nineveh listened to the prophet Jonah’s words and believed in him. As we heard, from the king all the way to the humblest and least of the servants, all repented from their sinful ways and showed publicly their sign of repentance and regret from their many sins, with ashes and sackcloth. The Lord saw their show of repentance, their sincerity in turning their backs against their sinful ways, and showed them His mercy. The Lord showed us through this that ultimately, even the greatest of sinners can be saved, and no one is beyond His love and mercy, unless that person himself or herself refuse to be saved. God’s love, mercy and kindness are always generously shown upon us, at all times. It is often we mankind who refused God’s generosity and love, and as a result, we end up falling further and further away from God and His grace.

In our Gospel passage today, we heard of the Lord Jesus referring to the story of the prophet Jonah before the people, some of whom were constantly doubting Him, like some of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law who questioned His authority and works. The Lord compared the people of Nineveh and their way of responding to the words of the prophet Jonah with how the people of the Lord Jesus’ time responded to His actions and works among them. The Lord highlighted how the Sign of Jonah would be shown to all of them, alluding to the parallel between the moment when Jonah spent three days inside the belly of a whale, with the three days of the Lord’s time in the underworld, between His suffering and death on the Cross, and His glorious Resurrection on the third day. This sign would indeed be shown to them, and many more signs in the face of the stubborn people who continued to resist the Lord.

The Lord essentially highlighted how even the pagans and foreigners were seeking the Lord, His mercy and compassion, guidance and help, as what the people of Nineveh had done, and in what the Queen of the South had done. The Queen of the South was a reference to the Queen of Sheba who came after a long journey from her homeland to seek the wisdom of King Solomon. And therefore, the Lord was referring to the many people, from all the nations who would come to seek God’s mercy and love, His wisdom and truth, through that mention of the ‘Queen of the South’. Contrary to what the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law believed in, the Lord highlighted that every people has equal chance and opportunity in coming towards His salvation, and salvation is not reserved only for the elites like the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law themselves.

What matters is what can be found within our hearts, and for us, that should be God and our love for Him. Unless we have this genuine and strong love for God in our hearts, it is easy for us to fall into the traps of sin and evil, and it is easy for us to slip into the path towards downfall and destruction. The Lord has always generously extended to us His love and mercy, and what we all need to do is to open our hearts and minds to welcome Him within them, and to humble ourselves that we may come to see just how much we need God in our lives in order to heal us and to bring us from the precipice of darkness all around us. This Lent is the perfect time for us to remove from ourselves, from our hearts and minds any taints of pride, ego and other things that may prevent us from truly finding our path towards the Lord and be saved through Him and His grace.

Let us henceforth do our best to turn back towards the Lord with faith, spending our time and effort to be with Him and to know Him more, deepening our spirituality and faith through prayer, fasting and almsgiving that we carry out during this time and season of Lent. Let us resist the many temptations of sin and let us be good role models and inspiring examples for our fellow brothers and sisters, now and always, forevermore. Amen.

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