Sunday, 18 August 2019 : Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday we listened to the words of the Scriptures through which God wants us to remember that being followers of His, as Christians, as those who have faith in Him will inevitably lead us to face difficulties, challenges and sufferings in life, in whatever form that we may encounter these. We must be prepared to face the trials and opposition throughout our lives as faithful Christians and we cannot expect to have an easy and comfortable life.

There are those among us who think that becoming Christians mean for us to have good, blessed life, as after all, does God not love all of us and does He not provide for all of our needs? And because God loves each and every one of us, then how can we not be happy and good in everything, blessed and be abundant with all kinds of riches and good things in this world? This is what some are thinking wrongly, as what some label as the ‘Prosperity Gospel’ among other labels.

First and foremost, we have to understand that yes, God does love each and every one of us very much, and He has blessed us all wonderfully, first and foremost with the precious gift of life. If God has not loved us, then we would have not existed in the very first instance, and He would not have patiently cared for us, because all of us are sinners, disobedient and rebellious in our ways. And yet, because of His love, God constantly forgives us and wants us to be reconciled to Him.

But just as God has given us so much love, so many blessings and wonders in this world, we mankind inherently allow ourselves again and again to fall into the temptations to sin, to disobey God and to follow instead the path of evil and wickedness. We have listened to the words of Satan and his false lies instead of the truth and the love of God. And that is why there are so much suffering and challenges in this world, especially those facing us Christians.

We all know how Satan hates seeing us being saved from destruction, for ever since the beginning of time, he had plotted for our downfall, right up from the time when he struck against our first forefathers, tempting them to sin and therefore fall from the grace of God. It was him who tempted Cain to kill his own brother Abel when the former became jealous of the latter, and it was him who tempted the people to be proud and build the tower of Babel.

It was him who moved the hearts of the people to sin, to cause the brothers of Joseph to send him into slavery because of the same jealousy they had, it was him who tempted the Israelites throughout the ages and through many years, as they fell again and again into sin, succumbing to the temptations of worldly desire, pride and greed, opposing the good works of those prophets whom God had sent among His people to keep them in the right path.

And that is what we have heard in our first reading today, from the Book of the prophet Jeremiah, in which the plots against the prophet Jeremiah were mentioned, and how those enemies of Jeremiah almost in fact managed to kill him by their plotting. The prophet Jeremiah was among the last prophets to work in the kingdom of Judah, the last of the successor kingdoms of Israel, just before the kingdom and the city of Jerusalem fell to the hands of the Babylonians and were destroyed.

The prophet Jeremiah had many enemies, even though he had faithfully served the Lord and spoke His truth among the people. Many of the people, including those powerful nobles were angry with him because they saw him as a troublemaker and as a doomsayer. But Jeremiah was merely conveying the Lord’s warnings and truthful words, rebuking the wicked behaviours of the people of Judah at that time, who had fallen deeper and deeper into the path of sin.

Thus, we heard how the prophet was thrown into a dark cistern totally unfit for human dwelling, where his enemies hoped to condemn this faithful prophet to death. Many earlier prophets had suffered that fate, being tortured, persecuted and killed for their faith and dedication to God. There were also many false prophets who spoke the words of falsehoods, the agents of Satan who opposed the good works of God and misled the people.

But amidst all of that, we also heard in the same first reading passage today of the actions of some of those who were still upright and faithful, who counted Jeremiah as a friend. They tried to protect him and to save his life, by pleading with the king to intervene and prevent the enemies of Jeremiah from having their way with the prophet and killing him. And they managed to get the prophet out of his predicament and protected him from further danger.

All of these things serve to highlight exactly what the Lord Jesus told His disciples in our Gospel passage today, and also to dispel some of our own misconceptions and the false ‘Prosperity Gospel’ I have mentioned earlier. The Lord Jesus clearly stated in His discourse in the Gospel passage that His coming into this world would bring about divisions and struggles, conflicts and troubles for all those who believe in Him.

For the context of what the Lord had said, we have to understand that most of the Jews if not all of them believed at that time that the Messiah’s coming would lead them into an eternal new era of joy and happiness, of the restoration of the glorious kingdom of Israel as how it was at the time of king David and king Solomon, when the people would once again be powerful and be free from all of their troubles.

The Lord pointed out clearly that this was not to be the case. And very importantly, we must understand that this is not because of the Lord’s own doing or intention. It is very easy for us to misunderstand what the Lord said in today’s Gospel, becoming confused and even disillusioned at what He had said about bringing conflict and division, struggles and persecutions into our midst. Rather, it was by the works of the same Satan that caused all these things to happen.

The Lord has come into this world, revealing His salvation to all the nations, through none other than Jesus Christ, Son of God and Saviour of all. And Satan worked hard to undermine His works, by trying to tempt Him, by trying to dissuade Him through His Apostles and disciples, speaking through them at times to weaken His resolve, and tempting Him in the Gardens of Gethsemane during the time of His agony.

But when all these failed, Satan struck through those who condemned Jesus to death, death on the Cross, thinking that by killing the Messiah of God just as he had managed to make the people to persecute and kill the prophets in the earlier days, he could finally bring mankind to ruination and destruction as he has always intended. Yet, it was through that same Cross that Satan was handed the ultimate and greatest defeat, for Christ triumphed with His Cross, delivering the salvation of God by His act of ultimate sacrifice.

Satan has indeed been defeated, but he is still always ever desperate, for he knows that even though salvation has been delivered to us, but as long as temptation is around us, he can still strike at us through those same temptations by which he has seduced our race for time immemorial. Many had fallen into his allure and temptations, and through all of the means in his disposal, he strikes especially at those whom the Lord had gathered from the nations, that is all of us Christians.

And that is why Christians throughout the history of the Church has been persecuted in various circumstances and conditions, facing difficulties and oppressions, rejections and ridicule, having to endure humiliation and difficult trials and even unto martyrdom. Many Christians have paid dearly for their faith with their lives, as the lives of the many martyrs of the Church can tell us. Many of these are those who were mentioned in our second reading by the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews.

In that passage, we heard the encouragement spoken by the author of the Epistle, of the innumerable witnesses of the faith which have been present and who have shown their undying faith, even in the face of the toughest persecutions and difficulties. Many of them have been rejected and persecuted even by those who were closest to them, and yet, they persevered and showed love instead of hatred towards their enemies.

And first and foremost among all of them was the Lord Himself, Who showed us what the true meaning of suffering is. The Lord suffered all the painful punishments intended for us because of our sins, but He bore them all willingly because He loves each and every one of us, and that love allowed Him to endure through the many bitterness and sufferings, and how He can also forgive even those who have condemned Him to such suffering and death.

Are we then able to have the same faith and commitment to God, even knowing that we will encounter difficulties and challenges in our path, even from those who are close and dear to us, brothers and sisters in Christ? Being Christians truly mean for us to embrace Christ fully in our lives as Our Lord and Saviour, and we can only do so by truly and wholeheartedly believing in Him through words, deeds and actions. And often, to stand by our faith in Christ means going against the norms and ways of this world.

The Lord wants us all to realise this, and how He has also done so much for us, out of His so great love for us, that He was willing to shoulder the burden of His Cross, suffer and die for us sinners. If He has suffered in such a way, then it is just right that we will likely to suffer as well, for Satan strikes at all those who are faithful and good, and all these persecutions and trials come about because of him and his wicked allies. But we must not lose hope and we must be courageous and strong in faith, for God is truly always by our side.

And let us all also follow the examples of those who have helped Jeremiah to escape his terrible predicament, realising that as fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord, all of us as Christians should take good care of one another and be concerned with each other, showing care and concern for those among us who are less fortunate and are in difficulty. Let us all journey together as one family of believers, as the members of God’s one Church, that we may truly find our way to God, our loving Father and Creator.

May the Lord continue to guide us and may He strengthen in us the faith which we should have for Him. May He continue to empower us to persevere through the difficulties and obstacles we may face on our way. Let us all look forward instead to the eternal glory and true happiness that God promised all of those who remain true and faithful to Him to the very end. Amen.

Sunday, 18 August 2019 : Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Luke 12 : 49-53

At that time, Jesus said to the people, “I have come to bring fire upon the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and what anguish I feel until it is finished! Do you think that I have come to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on, in one house five will be divided : three against two, and two against three.”

“They will be divided, father against son and son against father; mother against daughter and daughter against mother; mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law, and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”

Sunday, 18 August 2019 : Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Second Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Hebrews 12 : 1-4

What a cloud of innumerable witnesses surround us! So let us be rid of every encumbrance, and especially of sin, to persevere in running the race marked out before us.

Let us look to Jesus the Founder of our faith, Who will bring it to completion. For the sake of the joy reserved for Him, He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and then sat at the right of the throne of God. Think of Jesus Who suffered so many contradictions from evil people, and you will not be discouraged or grow weary.

Have you already shed your blood in the struggle against sin?

Sunday, 18 August 2019 : Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Psalm 39 : 2, 3, 4, 18

With resolve I waited for YHVH; He listened and heard me beg.

Out of the horrid pit He drew me; out of deadly quicksand, He settled my feet upon a rock and made my steps steady.

He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and be awed and put their trust in YHVH.

Though I am afflicted and poor, yet the Lord thinks of me. You are my Help and my Saviour – o God, do not delay!

Sunday, 18 August 2019 : Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Jeremiah 38 : 4-6, 8-10

Then the officials told the king, “This man should be put to death, because he is weakening the will of the fighting men and the people left in the city. In fact he is not out to save the people but to do harm.”

King Zedekiah said, “His life is in your hands for the king has no power against you.” So they took Jeremiah and pushed him into the cistern of Malchiah, the king’s son, in the guard’s court. They lowered him by means of ropes. There was no water in the cistern but only mud; and Jeremiah sank into the mud.

Ebedmelech, an Ethiopian official of the king’s house, heard that they had lowered Jeremiah in the cistern. While the king was sitting at the Benjamin Gate, Ebedmelech went and spoke to him, “My lord king! These men have acted wickedly in all they did to Jeremiah the prophet. They threw him into the cistern where he will die.”

So the king ordered Ebedmelech the Ethiopian : “Take three men with you from here, and draw Jeremiah the prophet out from the cistern before he dies.”

Sunday, 11 August 2019 : Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday our attention is brought to the need for us all to be faithful, to be prepared and to be committed to God, at all times throughout our lives so that we may truly be ready and be worthy of Him. Through the passages we have heard, we received the assurance from God that all those who have been faithful to Him shall not be disappointed, because He has loved them all very well and blessed them.

In our first reading today, taken from the Book of Wisdom, we heard of an assurance for the people of God, relating to them the memory of their ancestors, the Israelites during their time of slavery in Egypt. By linking the experience to the well-known story of how God saved His entire people and liberated them from slavery, God wanted His people to know and to remember that even in their darkest moments, God always remembers those whom He loves.

The reference to the Passover in that passage is a reference to how the Passover is passed on year after year, from generation to generation, as a reminder of the moment of salvation for God’s people, when God intervened personally to save His people, holding them by hand out of the land of Egypt, foiling the plots their slavemasters and enemies had on them, and saved them by the gift of His love.

And then in the second reading today, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, the author who wrote to the audience who were likely the Jewish converts to Christianity, spoke of even more examples of how God rewarded His faithful servants and how He remained true to the promises which He has made to His beloved ones. The examples of Abraham and Sarah were given in that passage, detailing how Abraham followed God faithfully and constantly, despite of the journey and challenges he had to face.

God made a great Covenant with Abraham because of his faith, promising that his descendants will be great and numerous, countless like the stars in the sky and the grains of sand on the seashore. And God remained true to that Covenant, being with Abraham and his descendants, with the people who have come from among his descendants, right to this very day, caring for all of us and protecting us, providing for us and loving us dearly.

Sarah was also mentioned, as having a son that she and Abraham had waited for a long, long time. She remained faithful to God in the end, although during the many years of waiting, according to the Book of Genesis, she faltered a few times, in her attempt to get a son through her slave Hagar, in how she doubted initially when the Lord came to Abraham and her telling them that she would have a son within the year, even in her very old age.

We see in that occasion, of how God is so generous and ever-loving, ever-patient, in caring for His beloved people, even giving chances to those who have faltered, as Sarah had done, and as later on, the Israelites themselves had done. In the rest of the Books of Exodus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, we can see how the Israelites often rebelled and disobeyed against God, and how God punished them many times. But in the end, He continued to care for them and loved them.

Now, having heard so much about how God loved His people, and if we read on through the rest of the Scriptures, we can see even more examples of such love and faithfulness from God to His people, to the Covenant He has made with them. And God gave us the perfect proof of His love by giving us the ultimate gift in Christ, His own Beloved and Begotten Son, to be Our Saviour and Our Liberator.

And through Christ, God has once again brought His people to freedom, and this time, not just the people of Israel, but the whole race of man, for through Christ, Who is the Divine Word Incarnate, God made Himself incarnate in the flesh of Man, fully Man and fully Divine, all of us have come to share in the humanity of Christ and therefore become God’s adopted children, and as the children of Abraham by faith, for Christ is also born of the race of Abraham.

God fulfilled the promises He made to His servants, establishing the descendants of Abraham, that is all of us who have been faithful to Him, and granting us the promise of eternal glory and inheritance He has kept and prepared for us. He has blessed His people and made us great once again, rescuing us from the fated destruction and promised us that at the end of time He will come to gather all of us to Himself.

And that is what we are reminded of through the Gospel passage today, when the Lord Jesus Himself used a parable to remind all of His disciples and followers to be ever faithful and to be ever vigilant in faith so that they would not be taken by surprise if the Lord comes once again, in fulfilment of the promise which He has made, and which He had adequately forewarned to all of us, that is the timing of the Last Judgment and the end times.

As we have heard and discussed earlier, God is ever patient, ever forgiving and ever loving, giving us many opportunities, again and again, one after another, just because He truly loves us all that much. But we must not take His love ever for granted, as the time will come for us to have to reckon for our decisions and commitments in life, whether we follow God or refuse to walk in His path.

The Lord has always been faithful to His words, He is ever true and ever just, and therefore, if He has promised of His second coming in glory, to judge all of us according to our deeds and to our faith, then it will eventually happen, at a time not of our choosing but at a time we will not expect at all. God alone knows when the exact time of this moment of reckoning will happen, and what each and every one of us should do is that we must be prepared for Him.

In the parable that the Lord used to teach His disciples, He spoke of two types of servants and stewards, one are those who are faithful to the commands of the master, obeying his will and doing whatever they can to fulfil the works of the master, being diligent and hardworking, ever prepared and ever ready, while the other stewards are those who delayed and were being complacent and lazy in their work, thinking that their master would not come back so soon.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, each and every one of us are those stewards whom the master has entrusted with his household, that is this world, entrusted by God, Our Lord and Master, to be our responsibility. The Lord has also given us all the free will to choose between obedience and disobedience, between faith and impiety, between the path He has shown and the path of temptations and sin showed to us by Satan.

Are we then able to commit ourselves to a wise choice, thinking carefully and discerning well on what we are to embrace in our lives from now on? Should we choose the Lord Who has been faithful to us all these while, ever loving and ever forgiving, ever compassionate and generous in everything? Or should we choose the way of this world, all the false offerings and temptations of the devil?

Beware, brethren, for the lure of the devil is very powerful indeed, and unless we have genuine and true faith and love for God, we will be easily trapped by the devil’s lures, and end up falling into disobedience and sin, and therefore into damnation and eternal suffering. Are we able to commit ourselves to the path that Christ our Lord has shown us? This requires us to be persistent and resilient, to persevere through the temptations and challenges we may face through this journey in our lives.

Today, all of us are called to be dutiful and good stewards, to be always exemplary in our lives and be ever prepared and ready for the Lord. And this means that we should be faithful just as Abraham, Sarah and all other faithful servants of God have been faithful. And we should not be afraid of failures or being distracted in our journey of faith, as no one in this world is perfect, and because of that, it is perfectly normal for us to falter or to encounter obstacles from time to time.

However, the most important thing here is for us to pick ourselves up and remain strong despite the challenges we encounter, despite the failures we have encountered and all the downfalls we have experienced. Remember that God always loves us, and He has always given us chances after chances, and He is always willing to help us up through those challenges. If He has not given up on us, then all the more we should not give up on ourselves. We must persist and remain strong in our journey, so as to draw ever closer to God and to be worthy of Him when He comes again.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all pray asking God for the courage and the strength to go through these respective journeys of our lives, that we may bear the crosses and trials of our lives with faith, with courage and with determination and passion, burning love for God. May God continue to guide us throughout this journey and may He empower us all to live ever more faithfully in His presence from now on. God bless us all. Amen.

Sunday, 11 August 2019 : Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Luke 12 : 32-48

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it has pleased your Father to give you the kingdom. Sell what you have and give alms. Get yourselves purses that do not wear out, and an inexhaustible treasure in the heavens, where no thief comes and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

“Be ready, dressed for service, and keep your lamps lit, like people waiting for their master to return from the wedding. As soon as he comes and knocks, they will open the door to him. Happy are those servants whom the master finds wide-awake when he comes. Truly, I tell you, he will put on an apron, and have them sit at table, and he will wait on them. Happy are those servants, if he finds them awake when he comes at midnight or daybreak!”

“Pay attention to this : If the master of the house had known at what time the thief would come, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man will come at an hour you do not expect.”

Peter said, “Lord, did You tell this parable only for us, or for everyone?” And the Lord replied, “Imagine, then, the wise and faithful steward, whom the master sets over his other servants, to give them wheat at the proper time. Fortunate is this servant if his master, on coming home, finds him doing his work. Truly, I say to you, the master will put him in charge of all his property.”

“But it may be that the steward thinks, ‘My lord delays in coming,’ and he begins to abuse the male servants and the servant girls, eating and drinking and getting drunk. Then the master will come on a day he does not expect, and at an hour he does not know. He will cut him off, and send him to the same fate as the unfaithful.”

“The servant who knew his master’s will, but did not prepare and do what his master wanted, will be soundly beaten; but the one who does unconsciously what deserves punishment, shall receive fewer blows. Much will be required of the one who has been given much, and more will be asked of the one who has been entrusted with more.”

Alternative reading (shorter version)

Luke 12 : 35-40

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, “Be ready, dressed for service, and keep your lamps lit, like people waiting for their master to return from the wedding. As soon as he comes and knocks, they will open the door to him. Happy are those servants whom the master finds wide-awake when he comes. Truly, I tell you, he will put on an apron, and have them sit at table, and he will wait on them. Happy are those servants, if he finds them awake when he comes at midnight or daybreak!”

“Pay attention to this : If the master of the house had known at what time the thief would come, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man will come at an hour you do not expect.”