Sunday, 20 September 2020 : Twenty-Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, this Sunday all of us are called to seek God with all of our strength, and to purify ourselves from sins and wickedness, as mentioned in our Scripture today. The prophet Isaiah in our first reading passage today spoke of this call for all of us mankind to turn to God and to trust in the Lord in all that He had planned for us, responding to His call and follow Him into the path of righteousness.

Contextually, the prophet Isaiah was addressing a people who had had plenty of history of disobedience and unfaithfulness against God, as they frequently abandoned God for false idols and pagan gods and goddesses, living wickedly and indulging in the excesses of the worldly pleasures. Prophets and messengers had been sent to their midst from time to time to call them back and to repent from their sinful ways.

And it is truly reminiscent of what we heard in our Gospel passage today, as the Lord spoke of a parable that related the story of a vineyard owner that was seeking for workers to work in his field. He went out to seek those workers, and as he found some of them, he called them to work in his fields. Those workers and people gathered from many places represent those whom God had called to Him, including all of us.

In that parable, the vineyard owner went out and gathered some people to be his servants and workers in the field. And as time moves on, the owner continued to look for more workers, and went out all the way to seek for the workers, and called those whom he gathered to work in the field. And he continued doing so until the eleventh or the final hour, in which he again went out to gather workers from those who were by the roadside and from other places.

In this, we heard how the vineyard owner went out of his way, gathering as many workers as possible for his vineyard. The vineyard owner represents the God Himself, our Lord and Master, while as mentioned, all those whom the owner called represent all of us. And thus, in all these, we heard how God is reaching out to us, His beloved people, sending messengers, prophets, and all those servants to call us, to remind us that we may be reconciled and reunited with Him.

And the meaning of this parable, its subtle details are truly significant, if we come to realise how God loves us all so much that He constantly tried to call us and to bring us back to His embrace, then we must truly be grateful and appreciate the many opportunities that He has given to us all these while. But unfortunately, many of us are not aware, ignorant and not being thankful for the love that God has shown us.

Instead, we still continue to live in sin, and we ignore God’s reminders and patient efforts to reach out to us. Nonetheless, God did not easily give up on us. Until the very last moment, to the very last hour, as long as we are still breathing and living, it is never too late for us to repent with all of our heart, and we can still be forgiven by God, and be reconciled completely to Him. And in this case, I can bring one example of a real encounter between a woman and St. John Vianney, the famous saint and priest.

At that time, a woman came to St. John Vianney, just as many thousands others did, and this particular woman wanted to tell him and confide in him that she was devastated and worried because her husband had committed suicide by jumping down from a bridge into the water and perished. Suicide is a mortal sin for taking one’s own life in direct disobedience against God Who is the Lord and Master of all life, and taking one’s own life is truly a serious sin because our lives are not ours to take.

St. John Vianney was very popular and the queue for the people to see him was always very long. The wife of the man who committed suicide wanted to give up after queueing for many hours, when suddenly St. John Vianney exclaimed joyfully, addressing that particular woman, that her husband had been saved from the fires of hell normally reserved for those who committed mortal sins like suicide.

When the woman kind of did not believe in him, St. John Vianney once again stressed it out and repeated it clearly to her, that her husband has been saved, and had entered into Purgatory, where he would remain for a while to be purified from his sins, but with the ultimate destination and assurance of Heaven in the end. St. John Vianney likely received a heavenly and mystical vision he was also known for, seeing and knowing what happened even before the woman even approached him.

And truly, that man who committed suicide was really fortunate that he has been spared from the utter and eternal suffering and destruction. And all of these were because the man, just right before he hit the water, had managed to make a genuine act of contrition, regretting sorrowfully and wholeheartedly his many sins before God, and he was forgiven. This is the true and real definition of the pardon at the very last hour, just like those workers whom the vineyard owner gathered at the very last moment.

From this we can see yet again the power of God’s love and mercy, His compassionate care for us, and His desire to be reconciled with us. That is why, we must not wait until it is too late for us. The man who committed suicide in St. John Vianney’s case was fortunate to have a change of heart at the very last moment, but no one, no one at all knows the moment when our lives will be taken from us, the end of our earthly lives.

If until the very last moment we still refuse to repent and remain in our disobedience and sins, then it is by that stubborn refusal and by our own sins that we will be judged against, and thrown into hell and suffer for eternity. This is not so much because God is wrathful or fearsome, but rather, it is the just result and outcome of our own conscious choice to ignore, reject and spurn the very generous love He has lavished on us, and all the opportunities He has given us to repent and be reconciled with Him.

And then, besides this, what we heard in our Gospel passage today is also a reminder, that each and every one of us, all of us are in this journey of faith together, having been called into this new life, our new Christian life and existence through baptism. This was represented by all the workers who have been gathered through many hours of search and calls, and all of them shared in the same reward from the owner, one piece of silver coin.

What does that represent? It represents to us the fact that, in the end of our journey, all of us will receive the same inheritance and reward, that is eternal joy and true happiness, all in the perfect bliss of heavenly glory with God. Regardless of how early the timing is, or the circumstances of our conversion and reconciliation with God, all of us are to receive the same inheritance, nothing more and nothing less. For indeed, there is nothing greater than what we are to receive from God through our dedication and faith.

But we must also be vigilant that we do not end up like those workers who had been employed earlier by the vineyard owner and grumbled seeing that those who had been called and employed much later than they were, received the exact same reward in the end. This is somewhat similar to another well-known parable, the parable of the prodigal son, in which the elder son complained and became angry when the father welcomed back the sinful and wicked younger son with a great party when he returned in remorse and complete repentance.

This attitude was also reflected in many among the Pharisees, the teachers of the Law and many of the members of the Sanhedrin, who looked at themselves as being more worthy of the Lord than others, especially those who were deemed unclean and sinners like tax collectors and prostitutes. And unfortunately, this attitude persists even in our Church, down throughout time, and to this very day.

Many of us compete against each other and also argue among ourselves, on who among us are more pious than the other, or how our pious practices are better than others. Even worse, in our Church ministries and in our communities, we end up giving in to slander and gossiping, jockeying for position and power instead of putting God at the centre of our lives. This is the sad reality for the Church and for our Christian communities.

What is it that we are really fighting, arguing and disputing with each other for, brothers and sisters? Is it for the Lord? Certainly not! And is it for our own good? Definitely not as well! It is to satisfy our own pride and ego, our own greed and ambition that we have done all these, and these are truly scandals to our Christian identity and faith. As Christians we cannot condone this kind of attitude and way of life, and we are called to be different from this.

And this is why, brothers and sisters in Christ, what we have heard today is very significant for us, not only just because we are reminded to turn away from our sinful ways and sincerely repent from those sins, but we are also reminded that instead of focusing on ourselves and being selfish, on the contrary, we need to reach out to our fellow brethren, and especially to all those who have lost their way rather than to despise them or to look down on them.

Remember, brothers and sisters, that each and every one of us are equally sinners before God, unworthy and weak, ought to be condemned, but instead, by God’s love and grace, He has called us to turn towards Him, repent from all of our sinful ways, and embrace once again the fullness of His love. Therefore, let us all as fellow children of God, show love on each other, care for each other and help those who are struggling and together we move forward in this journey towards God.

Let us all be thankful for the life that God has given us, and be grateful for all the love and mercy He has shown us. May He strengthen us all in our faith that we may draw ever closer to Him, and in the end, receive from Him the crown of eternal glory, and the eternal life of pure bliss and joy, in His presence, forever and evermore. Amen.

Sunday, 20 September 2020 : Twenty-Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Matthew 20 : 1-16a

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, “This story throws light on the kingdom of heaven : A landowner went out early in the morning, to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay each worker the usual daily wage, and sent them to his vineyard.”

“He went out again, at about nine in the morning, and, seeing others idle in the town square, he said to them, ‘You also, go to my vineyard, and I will pay you what is just.’ So they went. The owner went out at midday, and, again, at three in the afternoon, and he made the same offer.”

“Again he went out, at the last working hour – the eleventh – and he saw others standing around. So he said to them, ‘Why do you stand idle the whole day?’ They answered, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ The master said, ‘Go, and work in my vineyard.'”

“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wage, beginning with the last and ending with the first.’ Those who had gone to work at the eleventh hour came up, and were each given a silver coin. When it was the turn of the first, they thought they would receive more. But they, too, received one silver coin. On receiving it, they began to grumble against the landowner.”

“They said, ‘These last, hardly worked an hour; yet, you have treated them the same as us, who have endured the heavy work of the day and the heat.’ The owner said to one of them, ‘Friend, I have not been unjust to you. Did we not agree on one silver coin per day? So take what is yours and go. I want to give to the last the same as I give to you. Do I not have the right to do as I please with what is mine? Why are you envious when I am kind?'”

“So will it be : the last will be first.”

Sunday, 20 September 2020 : Twenty-Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Second Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Philippians 1 : 20c-24, 27a

Christ will be exalted through my person, whether I live or die. For to me, living is for Christ, and dying is even better. But if I am to go on living, I shall be able to enjoy fruitful labour. Which shall I choose?

So I feel torn between the two. I desire greatly to leave this life and to be with Christ, which will be better by far, but it is necessary for you that I remain in this life. Try, then, to adjust your lives according to the Gospel of Christ.

Sunday, 20 September 2020 : Twenty-Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Psalm 144 : 2-3, 8-9, 17-18

I will praise You, day after day; and exalt Your Name forever. Great is YHVH, most worthy of praise; and His deeds are beyond measure.

Compassionate and gracious is YHVH, slow to anger and abounding in love. YHVH is good to everyone; His mercy embraces all His creation.

Righteous is YHVH in all His ways, His mercy shows in all His deeds. He is near those who call on Him, who call trustfully upon His Name.

Sunday, 20 September 2020 : Twenty-Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Isaiah 55 : 6-9

Seek YHVH while He may be found; call to Him while He is near. Let the wicked abandon his way, let him forsake his thoughts, let him turn to YHVH for He will have mercy, for our God is generous in forgiving.

For My thoughts are not your thoughts, My ways are not your ways, says YHVH. For as the heavens are above the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts above your thoughts.

Sunday, 13 September 2020 : Twenty-Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, this Sunday’s Scripture readings all spoke very strongly and firmly on one topic, that is forgiveness. As Christians, forgiveness is a very important aspect of our faith, and we are all called to forgive one another generously, to let go of the anger and hatred in our hearts, to be forgiving just as the Lord, our God is rich in mercy and forgives generously.

The Lord Jesus in our Gospel passage today spoke very firmly on this matter when St. Peter asked Him, ‘Lord, how many times must I forgive the faults of my brother or sister?’ And the Lord answered to his suggestion of seven times, with an even greater number, of seventy-seven times, or in another, seventy times seven times. The use of the number seven here is symbolic and does not literally mean that we must forgive exactly seven, seventy-seven, or seventy times seven times.

In fact, the number seven is a frequently used number throughout the Scriptures, as the symbolic number of ‘perfection’, and many things associated with God number in seven, such as the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven Sacraments of the Church, the seven Holy Archangels ministering in the presence of God, the seven Spirits of God in the visions, among others. That is why the use of seventy-seven or seventy times seven, represent the ‘perfection’ of forgiveness.

What does it mean, brothers and sisters in Christ? It means that we must learn how to forgive without end, forgive unconditionally, forgive without being transactional and to forgive with all of our hearts, with all of our whole being. Forgiveness is something that is very difficult and it is something that many people find very difficult to do, but it is what each and every one of us as Christians are called to do.

Why is that so? That is because to forgive means that we learn to let go of our ego and pride, of our hatred and perhaps jealousy, among other things. Many of us cannot forgive because we cannot find it in ourselves to do all these, and more often than not, it is our ego and pride that are the greatest barriers in preventing us from forgiving others. And we must know, brothers and sisters in Christ, by remembering again today’s Scripture readings, particularly the Gospel parable, that unless we forgive others, how can we expect to be forgiven ourselves?

In that parable, the Lord used the example of a great lord and master who had many servants, some of whom were indebted to him. And in that occasion, a servant who owed the master a very large sum could not pay his due, and therefore was to be punished and to suffer until he could return all that he had owed his master. He begged his master to give him more time to pay off his debt, for mercy and compassion.

The master who saw his pleas for mercy was moved and decided to forgive that servant’s entire debt, a sum of ten thousand pieces of gold, a very considerable sum. It was truly very generous act by the master, and the servant was free to go, free from all of his debts. And then, almost immediately we heard how that very same servant threatened another servant who owed him some money, a much, much smaller sum of a hundred pieces of silver.

The symbolic comparison between the cases could not have been clearer, with the other servant’s debt being represented with a far smaller sum and also in silver, a far less worthy and valuable, although still precious, metal and commodity at that time as it is today. The contrast was also made between the master’s great generosity and willingness to forgive, even the huge amount of debt, and the ungrateful servant’s insistence to persecute his fellow servant for a far smaller debt.

Through all of that, the Lord gave us all in fact, a very stern reminder that we must not be like that ungrateful servant, who had been forgiven his massive debt only then to persecute and refusing to forgive his own fellow servants who owed him a far smaller sum. Using this parable, the Lord showed the comparison between the mercy of the master, representing the Lord Himself, and the lack of mercy and compassion showed by the ungrateful servant, representing us mankind.

God forgave us our sins, even though they were numerous, terrible and wicked, and He wanted to forgive us all those faults and shortcomings, extending His most generous mercy and compassion to all of us, at all times. However, He has not showed us this mercy only for us to take revenge and to persecute our brethren because of their debts and faults against us. And we must also not forget that each and every one of us ourselves also had faults and mistakes against each other.

That is why, before we become angry against others, before we judge others and persecute others, thinking that we have the right to do so, or that we are better and superior against them, we must reflect on these readings we have heard today. We must wake up, brothers and sisters! Wake up and realise just how fortunate we are to have such a merciful and loving God. For every single one of our innumerable and terrible sins, we could have been cast to eternal suffering and destruction, if not for God’s enduring love and mercy for us.

And yet, we are not appreciative of this, we do not thank God as we should have done, and we failed to do what He has asked to do, that is to be merciful and loving as He Himself had done. We are being judgmental and biased to our fellow brothers and sisters, exacting revenge and held contempt and hatred for one another, and we refuse to forgive when we can do so, preferring to hold on to that anger and desire in our hearts and in our minds to satisfy our own ego and our own personal agenda.

Let us then do not forget that by whatever standards we have judged others, be angry on others, be unforgiving on others, then we will also be judged by those same standards. And it is not just that others will judge us in the same way, for as I said earlier, all of us have faults and mistakes, shortcomings and failures, and none of us are perfect, and if we are to hold others accountable for theirs, we shall be held accountable for ours too. We must then not forget just how even much more shortcomings that we owe the Lord.

This has been very clearly shown and summarised by the master in the parable told by Jesus, and how he has forgiven the immense debt of the ungrateful servant, only for that servant to hold a double standard and attack his own poor fellow brother, and thus, in the end, he was held accountable for his original debts, not being forgiven anymore for he himself did not show mercy when he should have.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as Christians, we all truly have great challenges ahead of us, considering how we have been called to live, that is to love when we ourselves have not been loved, to forgive others especially those who hurt us and made our lives difficult, even when they themselves have not forgiven us. The challenge for us is to dare to be different from the world, that when the world champions individualism and the ego of the self, we dare to break free from that, and seek instead to love and show genuine care for others, even to those who have hurt us.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the question is, are we willing and able to humble ourselves to forgive generously and sincerely? As I said earlier, ego and pride are the greatest obstacles in the path to sincere forgiveness, and no true forgiveness will come forth unless we remove these burdens and obstacles from our hearts and minds alike. God Himself has forgiven us so generously, showing us His love despite the multitudes of times we have betrayed and abandoned Him. Can we forgive others just as how God has forgiven us?

The prophet Sirach echoed this again in our first reading passage today, that grudge and wrath are the things that are abominations in our lives, and these lead us deeper and deeper into sin, for grudge and wrath ultimately stemmed from our pride and ego, and our refusal to let go of these, that when we feel hurt, we hold grudge and are angry against our fellow men. Unless we get rid from ourselves all these, we cannot truly be God’s holy and devout people.

And lastly, a very good reminder from St. Paul in his Epistle to the Romans, in our second reading today is perhaps a very important reminder and also suggestion on how we can lead a holier existence in God from now on. He elaborated that no one lives in this world for himself or herself, but rather one lives for God. And as long as we remember this fact, and also remember God’s love and mercy for us, then we will be able to resist the temptations to be angry against others, and to be willing to forgive one another.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all reflect carefully on what we have heard in the Scriptures today, and let us all discern what we can do from now on to live faithfully in accordance with the Lord’s path, to be inspiration and good example for one another, in being loving and forgiving just as the Lord, our loving Master and Father had done for us. Let us remember His love and mercy each and every moments of our lives, and trust in Him with great faith, now and always.

O most loving and merciful God, our loving Father and Creator, the Divine Mercy, have mercy on us sinners and forgive us our sins, and help us all to be able to forgive each other our mistakes and sins to each other too. Help us to be charitable and to be compassionate, to be generous with love and mercy whenever we are able to. Have mercy on us and on the whole world, forgive us and bring us into Your everlasting glory. Amen.

Sunday, 13 September 2020 : Twenty-Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Matthew 18 : 21-35

At that time, Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how many times must I forgive the offences of my brother or sister? Seven times?” Jesus answered, “No, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”

“This story throws light on the kingdom of Heaven : A king decided to settle accounts with his servants. Among the first of them was one who owed him ten thousand pieces of gold. As the man could not repay the debt, the king commanded that he be sold as a slave with his wife, his children and all his goods, as repayment.”

“The servant threw himself at the feet of the king and said, ‘Give me time, and I will pay you back everything.’ The king took pity on him, and not only set him free, but even cancelled his debt. When this servant left the king’s presence, he met one of his fellow servants, who owed him a hundred pieces of silver. He grabbed him by the throat and almost choked him, shouting, ‘Pay me what you owe!'”

“His fellow servant threw himself at his feet and begged him, ‘Give me time, and I will pay everything.’ But the other did not agree, and sent him to prison until he has paid all his debt. Now the servants of the king saw what had happened. They were extremely upset, and so they went and reported everything to their lord.”

“Then the lord summoned his servant and said, ‘Wicked servant, I forgave you all that you owed me when you begged me to do so. Were you not bound to have pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?’ The lord was now angry. He handed the wicked servant over to be punished, until he had paid the whole debt.”

Jesus added, “So will My heavenly Father do with you, unless you sincerely forgive your brothers and sisters.”

Sunday, 13 September 2020 : Twenty-Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Second Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Romans 14 : 7-9

In fact, none of us lives for himself, nor dies for himself. If we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord. Either in life or in death, we belong to the Lord; It was for this purpose that Christ both died and came to life again, to be Lord, both of the living and of the dead.

Sunday, 13 September 2020 : Twenty-Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Psalm 102 : 1-2, 3-4, 9-10, 11-12

Praise YHVH, my soul; all my being, praise His holy Name! Praise YHVH, my soul, and do not forget all His kindness.

He forgives all your sins and heals all your sickness; He redeems your life from destruction and crowns you with love and compassion.

He will not always scold nor will He be angry forever. He does not treat us according to our sins, nor does He punish us as we deserve.

As the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His love for those fearing Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove from us our sins.

Sunday, 13 September 2020 : Twenty-Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Sirach 27 : 30 – Sirach 28 : 7

Grudge and wrath, these also are abominations in which sinful people excel. He who demands revenge will suffer the vengeance of the Lord Who keeps a strict account of his sins. Forgive the mistakes of your neighbour and you may ask that your sins be forgiven.

If a man bears resentment against another, how can he ask God for healing? If he has no compassion on others, how can he pray for forgiveness for his sins? As long as he, mere flesh, is resentful, who will obtain his pardon? Remember your end and give up hatred; keep in mind your final corruption in the grave and keep the commandments.

Remember the commandments and do not bear grudges against your neighbour. Remember the Covenant with the Most High and overlook the offence.