Sunday, 14 May 2023 : Sixth Sunday of Easter (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, this Sunday all of us are called and reminded to live our lives worthily of the Lord as Christians, whom God had called and chosen from this world. Through our shared Christian baptism, all of us have become parts and members of the Church of God, the one Body of Christ where all those who profess to be faithful in Christ are part of this Communion of unity, united as one people, living a new and blessed life with the grace of God as a community. All of us have been reminded of the life of the early Christian communities so that we may be inspired to pursue the same life filled with holiness and devotion to God, and that we may no longer be obsessed with all sorts of worldly temptations and evils, desires and attachments.

In our first reading today, we heard from the Acts of the Apostles, the account of how the Apostles worked to proclaim the Good News and the words of the Lord, His salvation and grace to all the people in various places. St. Philip the Apostle went to the region of Samaria, proclaiming the word of God likely to the Samaritans who lived in that area, who had earlier on responded favourably to the Lord and his teachings and truth. There were many great signs and wonders that happened, as the Apostle carried out his ministry, performing miracles and wonders, and many among the people listened attentively to the words of truth as proclaimed by St. Philip. And then we heard how St. Peter and St. John came to the Samaritans, who had been baptised, and sent the Holy Spirit to come down upon them as well.

Historically, there had been a rather tense and hostile relationship between the Jews and the Samaritans due to conflicting claims on the heritage of the people of Israel, and for their differing viewpoints with regards to faith practices and customs, with each side often blaming the other side for having become wayward in their way of living their faith, and each one of them claimed that their way was the right one while the other one was wrong and heretical. The Jewish people, particularly the Pharisees back then took great pride on their status as God’s people, inheriting the claim of the Israelites as God’s first called and chosen people. However, the problem was that this ended up with them being condescending, elitist and uncharitable in their attitudes and interactions with others, as exemplified by how the Pharisees considered that all those who did not follow their ways and beliefs would be doomed and damned.

This is in tandem with what we have heard from the readings we have listened to in the past few weekdays, which focused on the divisions and disagreements within the early Church where those who belonged to the group of the hardline Pharisees and the teachers of the Law were against those who sought to help and make it easier for the non-Jewish people or the Gentiles to become a member of the Church. The former demanded that all of the faithful people of God must embrace and obey the full entire range of extensive rules, laws, precepts, practices and customs of the Jewish Law, which the Jewish people themselves had found it hard to be followed and obeyed, which would have pushed many of the non-Jewish people away from the Church and the Christian faith, should they have succeeded in having their way done.

Instead, the Lord guided His Church through the hands of the Apostles and by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, in moderating the extreme demands of those who had their preconceived ideals and thoughts that were incompatible with what the Lord had taught us all. He has shown them what His disciples and followers should all do, and how His Church should be like. The Church is One and Universal, as contained within its character as the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. Therefore, as one community of the faithful people of God, all called to a holy life and existence, just as our Lord and God is Holy, there cannot be prejudices, bias and all other things that bring about division and disunity within the community of the faithful, and that is why the Church is Catholic, which means Universal in nature. There is no favouritism or preference for a certain custom or practice within the Church, as everyone is truly equal before the Lord.

Then, we must also remember that the Church is also Apostolic in nature, which is reflected in the works and mission of the Apostles and the other missionaries of the faith. The word ‘Apostle’ itself came from the Ancient Greek word ‘Apostolos’ which means the ‘one who is sent off’, highlighting that the Church is also missionary in nature, all of us are sent out to proclaim the truth and Good News to more and more people out there who have not yet known about the Lord yet. The actions of the Apostles St. Philip, St. Peter and St. John who went to the Samaritans to work amongst them, proclaiming the Good News and giving them the gift of the Holy Spirit were just some of the examples of how our Church is truly Apostolic or missionary in nature. The Church always extends it hands to reach out to more and more of the people, not enclosing ourselves within a bubble of self-righteousness and intolerance of differences.

Now, today, we also happen to celebrate the Feast of St. Matthias the Apostle, one of the Twelve Apostles, whose life and actions, inspirations and examples should be able to inspire us to follow in his examples and works, and that of the other Apostles and innumerable saints out there as well. St. Matthias was chosen to replace Judas Iscariot, the traitor who had betrayed the Lord Jesus, as one of the Twelve Apostles. And as a member of the Twelve, St. Matthias was extensively involved in the missionary efforts of the Church like that of the other Apostles, in them going forth from place to place, proclaiming the Good News and truth of God to more and more people, and converting many more to the Lord and His cause. According to the Apostolic traditions, St. Matthias went to the regions of Cappadocia in Asia Minor, parts of the Caspian Sea coast region, and even as far as Ethiopia, gaining much success while also facing hardships and persecutions. Eventually, he was martyred for his faith, and died faithfully defending his commitment to God.

The Apostles had carried out what the Lord had told them all to do, as we heard it ourselves from our Gospel passage today. The Lord told them all that all those who loved Him would do the commandments and obey the Law of God, and that is what He has called them all to do, the commandments that the Lord Himself has summarised into two main key points, that is the Law that leads us all to a new, loving existence, with God at the centre of our lives and with us dedicating ourselves wholeheartedly and thoroughly to Him, and then at the same time, also being filled with the same love and compassion for one another, for our fellow brothers and sisters. That is our Christian calling and mission, and all of us are expected to live our lives worthily and faithfully as Christians at all times, to be good examples, inspirations and role model for others.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, hopefully all these serve to remind us all of our important calling and mission as Christians, for each and every one of us to do our part in living our lives faithfully and worthily as Christians at all times. Unless we carry out what the Lord had told us to do, and practice our faith with genuine and sincere desire to love Him and to walk in His path, doing what is right and just according to His Law and commandments, how can we convince others to believe in God as well? If our own actions contradict our faith and beliefs, then are we not just like hypocrites and unbelievers? If our actions, works and deeds, our words and interactions contradict what we believe in, then we may even end up driving others further from the faith, and causing divisions within the Church like how some of our predecessors had done.

Therefore, let us all discern carefully our path as we reflect upon the words of the Scriptures this Sunday, so that we may be inspired to live our lives more worthily and be able to commit ourselves more to the path that the Lord has shown us. Let us all continue to do our best, to live our lives to the best we can, so that our every actions, our every words and deeds, our interactions may be the best means through which we may introduce the Lord, His truth and Good News to all the people all around us. May the Holy Apostles, especially St. Matthias, pray and intercede for us all, and may the Lord continue to guide us all and His Church, and bless our good works and labours for His greater glory, now and always. Amen.

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