Wednesday, 29 March 2023 : 5th 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, we are called to remember our calling as Christians to be truly faithful to God and not to be only superficially faithful to Him. This means that in our way of life and dedication to Him, in our every actions and deeds, we have to be truly committed and be truly full of faith in all things, and not doing things merely to fulfil our obligations and faith to the Lord without true and genuine love for Him, and without true desire to seek Him and serve Him. If we do not truly love God then we are no better than hypocrites and all those who have no place in God’s grace and salvation, which He offers freely to those who have true and genuine faith in Him. Our Scripture passages today remind us that being faithful to the Lord entails more than just having a superficial faith.

In fact, just as we heard from our first reading today, taken from the Book of Daniel, we are brought right into the great challenges and trials that our predecessors had faced in the past just for being faithful to God and for standing up for their faith. We heard the confrontation between the three friends of Daniel and the great King of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar. As we all may be familiar with, back then, the people of God, the descendants of the Israelites had been scattered and cast out from their homeland by the Assyrians and the Babylonians, who crushed the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah respectively, carrying many of the people into exile in faraway lands. That was how Daniel and his friends, Azariah, Mishael and Hananiah ended up in the land of Babylon. They were bereft of homeland, honour and any semblance of worldly anchor, being homeless and without bearing in that ever changing world they lived in.

Then, in that particular occasion, as they were assembled by the King of Babylon, who had just built a great golden statue in his own image, they faced the great quandary and trial of having to obey the king’s order to everyone, for them to worship that golden statue, in the likeness of the king, who was known for his great megalomania and prideful personality, likening himself to a divinity, making himself essentially like a god. All of the people save for the three friends of Daniel bent their knees and bowed down, worshipping the golden statue under the pain of certain suffering and death if they did not obey the orders of the king. But those friends of Daniel refused to obey the king’s order and remained standing, refusing to betray the Lord their God and worship that false golden idol even if that meant endangering their own lives. They did not want to save their lives by turning their backs on the Lord.

They could have chosen to worship superficially and pretended to obey the king’s order, but in doing so, even if they did not intend to worship the idol, but their action could bring scandal to the Lord and to their faith in Him. Others who saw their actions would then see the fickle nature of their faith to God, and how easy it was for them to give up their faith in Him, at least from what was discernible through their actions. That is why, all of us should note how Azariah, Mishael and Hananiah all chose to suffer and die rather than betraying the Lord through their actions, and they chose to remain truly faithful and not just being superficial in their faith and way of life. This is why they remained unshaken in their commitment to God and did not obey the king’s commands, even under the pain of certain suffering and death. The king was angered even more by their answer to his question and demand on them to obey his will, as he threw them into the great furnace made even hotter than before.

Yet God did not abandon them, and kept them from harm, as He sent His Angel to guard them and to protect them from the flames. Thus, the friends of Daniel were spared from the dangers of death and suffering, and that so amazed the proud and haughty King of Babylon, that he tore down the great golden statue that he himself had built. The Lord showed His love for His faithful ones, and protected them, and showed that He is truly the One and only True God worthy of worship. And the faith and commitment which the friends of Daniel, Azariah, Mishael and Hananiah should be sources of inspiration and strength for each one of us to follow, so that we may also walk in the path that they had trodden, and that we may also have the courage that they had, in remaining truly faithful to God and in being truthful in how they lived their lives, in obedience to God, in all things.

In our Gospel passage today, we heard the Lord being confronted by the Jewish people, many of them adhering to the ways of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, who spent a lot of time and effort enforcing a particularly strict version of the Law of God, and yet, in their excessive pursuit of religious purity and in being extra rigid in their way of observing the Law, they ended up forgetting most of the time why they practiced their faith in the manner that they had lived them. They became proud and haughty like that of the King of Babylon, and took great pride in their way of observing the Law, and condemning all those who disagreed with them, or those who did not practice the Law in the way that they had done it. This was them building up their own ‘idols’ in their hearts and lives, namely the ‘idol of pride’, the ‘idol of fame and worldly glory’, among the other ‘idols’ that they had made.

Essentially, their faith had become mostly superficial in nature, and there was barely any space or focus on the Lord in their hearts and minds. They were all too busy with observing the multitudes of precepts and details of the Law, the many fine details and rites, that they forgot about loving God and putting Him as the focus of their lives in the first place. They became proud and arrogant, and self-righteous in nature, condemning instead of helping all those whom God had actually entrusted to them as leaders and guides. They kept these away from the Lord’s grace and love, and from His salvation, instead of bringing them closer to the Lord as God Himself has intended. That was why the Lord chided and rebuked them for their lack of true and genuine faith in God, and He told them that their way of living their faith was truly wrong.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all therefore reflect on our way of life and ask ourselves if we have been faithful to the Lord as we should have. Let us all discern carefully our path forward in life, making good use of the opportunities and the time provided for us in this season of Lent, that we may lead a life that is more attuned to the Lord, and be ever closer to Him, in each and every moments of our lives. May God continue to guide us and inspire us all to live ever more worthily of Him, by doing whatever we can to glorify Him by our lives and actions. May God bless our every good efforts and endeavours, now and always. Amen.

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