Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we listened to the words of the Scriptures, we are all reminded as we progress through this blessed season and time of Lent, that we should not allow pride, ego, ambition, arrogance and all the wickedness in our hearts and minds to distract and mislead us all down the wrong paths. If we allow those things to lead us astray, then we will end up getting further and further away from the Lord and His salvation. Worse still, we may end up in the eternal darkness and damnation, where regret and agony will be ours for eternity, regretting our foolish decisions and our inability to resist the various urges and temptations that surround us, pressure and allow us to walk down this wrong path in life. We should turn away from this path when there is still time and opportunity for us to do so.
In our first reading today, we heard from the prophet Hosea in which God reminded His people of the love that He has for them all, and also the sins and wickedness that they had committed against Him. Yet, despite all those sinful ways and wickedness, the Lord still looked upon all of them with pity and mercy, calling on them to repent and turn away from their sins and embrace His love and grace once again. He has called on all of them to find their way to His salvation, offering them freely His forgiveness and mercy, leading them down the path to righteousness, as He has done through His many prophets and messengers. The prophet Hosea for example has been sent to the people in the northern kingdom of Israel, composed of much of the ten of the twelve tribes of the Israelites that rebelled against the House of David, where many of the people had been wicked and sinful for throughout most of the preceding centuries, refusing to believe in God and persecuting His prophets.
Back then, during the life and ministry of the prophet Hosea, the people of Israel and Judah have been facing a lot of hardships and struggles, being attacked and crushed from all sides by their enemies, and at the time of Hosea, the kingdom of Israel were especially threatened by the growing power of the mighty and conquering Assyrian Empire, which was to destroy and conquer the Israelites towards the end of Hosea’s ministry, destroying their capital Samaria, their cities and towns, and bringing most of them off into exile and scattered them in distant lands far away from their homeland. Then, just another century or so later, the same would happen to the people of Judah as well, because the Babylonians also destroyed Jerusalem and Judah, and brought the rest of the people of God into exile. All those things happened because of the disobedience and the many sins that the people of God had committed against Him, and their refusal to follow Him or listen to His will.
Yet, the Lord did not abandon or forget about His people, despite them having betrayed and refused to listen to Him so many times. God has always remembered them and showed His kindness and love on them regardless. He has generously reached out to all of them and He is willing to forgive them all their sins if only that they repented and changed their sinful and wicked way of life. He had sent them so many prophets and messengers in order to remind and help them in their journey back towards Him, and He always showed His desire to be reconciled with us and to have us back once again in His loving embrace. God desired not their empty love and lack of true faith, but desiring that they all have a genuine conversion of heart, and a wholehearted commitment and dedication to His path, remembering His Law and commandments, His teachings and truth.
In our Gospel passage today, we then heard of the well-known parable that the Lord spoke to the people regarding a Pharisee and a tax collector each praying in the Temple of God. We heard how the Pharisee flaunted his piety and actions, praising himself in an act of self-congratulation and pride, showing his egoistic nature and ambitious desires, and not only that, but he even looked down on the tax collector and criticised him for his supposed failures and wickedness, and making a show of his mocking of the tax collector’s unworthiness and sins before God. Meanwhile, as we heard, the tax collector did not even dare to look up, and was too ashamed and embarassed at his failures and sinful way of life, which he regretted and hoped to atone for before the Lord, begging for His mercy and forgiveness. He came before the Lord seeking for mercy and forgiveness, and that is what he was given, while the Pharisee’s boastful self-praise and action actually led him further into sin.
It was through this story then that the Lord wanted us all to know that each and every one of us are equally beloved by Him, and we should not think that we are deserving more of His love and mercy than others, or to think that others are undeserving and unworthy while we are worthy. The Lord has made it clear that all of us can share in the Lord’s most bountiful love and mercy, as long as we commit ourselves to the path of redemption, and commit ourselves to resist the temptations of sin and evil, distancing ourselves from those wickedness that had caused us to be sundered and separated away from God. The Lord has called on us to return to Him, and He wanted us all to walk this path of faith and forgiveness, showing us His desire to embrace us with His most generous kindness and love, to make us all His blessed people and children once again.
That is why we should resist the temptations of pride, greed and all the things that the Israelites and the Pharisee in our Scripture readings today have shown us. Instead, let us all look upon the good examples set by our holy predecessors, who have lived their lives faithfully and with love and devotion to God, especially that of St. Cyril of Jerusalem, whose feast we are celebrating today. St. Cyril of Jerusalem was the Bishop of Jerusalem who was remembered for his dedication to God and his flock, as well as for his courageous efforts and works in defending the true and orthodox faith against those who espoused the false and heretical teachings, especially that of the Arian heresy. Back then, many among the heretics enjoyed the protection of the Imperial court and the support of the powerful members of the community, and swayed by greed and worldly glory, those heretics continued to work in dividing the Church and bringing about the downfall of many into the wrong paths.
St. Cyril of Jerusalem dedicated himself to resist the efforts of those wicked heretics and committed his life and ministry to care for the spiritual well-being of his flock and that of the wider Universal Church, spending a lot of time writing various treatises on the faith, as well as other theological matters, and resisting the various efforts of the false teachers and guides in misleading the people of God down the wrong path. He faced a lot of hardships and trials throughout his ministry, being deposed and exiled on several occasions due to the intrigues and the resistance from the Arian bishops and heretics, but all these did not dampen the spirit and the dedication of St. Cyril of Jerusalem, who continued to commit himself wholeheartedly for the work intended for the salvation of souls and for the glory of God.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all therefore be inspired by the good examples set by St. Cyril of Jerusalem, and do whatever we can so that we may commit ourselves more wholeheartedly to the path that God has set before us. Let us all seek Him with humble and contrite hearts, loving God with all of our hearts and focusing our attention on Him. Let us all turn away from sin and from all evil, and let us resist the temptations surrounding us so that we may be truly worthy of God in all the things we act, say and do. May God be with us always, and may He guide us in our journey towards Him, and help us to remain strong and persevere against the allure of worldly temptations and evils. Amen.