Sunday, 17 August 2014 : 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we hear a very clear and concerted message from the Lord, on the faith of those who heard the word of God, acted on them and internalised these into their hearts, and became truly faithful to the Lord. And that was what the Lord tried to show the people in the reading taken from the Old Testament, how even foreigners would come and serve the Lord faithfully and became light among the nations, and in how Jesus dealt with the Canaanite woman who showed her genuine faith in God.

If one is to read just literally what Jesus did and said in the Gospel today, then he or she may think that what was Jesus thinking of saying such things? Surely He must know that He was acting arrogantly and totally insulted the poor Canaanite woman whose daughter was in difficulty? Was it what Jesus truly meant? What did He mean to do with those words? Was He not out of His character?

Yes, all these questions, doubts and uncertainties may come into our minds if we do not understand what Jesus wanted to do, and what He wanted to show the world, through both words and actions, in fulfillment of what the Lord had revealed through His prophets long ago. Jesus wanted to show all that the Lord cares not just for a certain group of people or chosen ones to the detriment of others, but instead, He cares for and loves all equally.

For ultimately, all of us had been crafted in the very image of God, and to us He had granted us the breath of life and authority even over the entire creation, and the entirety of this world and all the other creatures God had created. And therefore, all of us are essentially equal before God, and what truly differentiates us is the actions and deeds that we do in this life, on whether they follow or whether they are against God’s ways.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we have to understand the mentality of the Jews of Jesus’ time, and even that of other times. This will definitely help us to understand why Jesus did what He had done, and why He said things as He had said it to the Canaanite woman. We all know that Abraham had been blessed by God in the days long past, long before the coming of Jesus, and because of his great faith, God chose to bless him and his descendants.

And from among his descendants, God had chosen Isaac, the son whom God promised to Abraham and his wife, Sarah. To Ishmael, the other son of Abraham, whom he had with Hagar, his slave, the blessing of God was upon him and his descendants too, but not that of the same kind or degree as the inheritance given to Isaac, the heir of Abraham and his descendants.

And then, from among the two sons of Isaac, God had chosen Jacob, the younger son, to be Israel, the one whom He had chosen among the sons of Abraham as the progenitor of a people He chose among all the nations. To Esau, the elder son of Isaac, a lesser inheritance was given. This first caused great struggle and enmity between the brothers, but eventually they reconciled themselves.

The people of Israel was born from the twelve sons of Jacob, who eventually became the twelve tribes of Israel, and all of whom migrated to Egypt during the time of Joseph, and who were enslaved by the Pharaoh and the Egyptians until the salvation of the Lord came to them through His servant Moses. God performed His power before His people and their oppressors, liberating them and bringing them to the land He had promised their ancestors, Abraham and his sons.

As ages passed and years went by, the people of God alternated between faithfulness and rebelliousness to God, and as years passed on, they became more and more restless and unfaithful to the Lord who had blessed them so much, to be the examples for the other nations. Yes, this is what God intended for His people, that the ones He had chosen among many may be examples of faith and goodness, like their father Abraham of old, that others may also follow in their footsteps.

Instead, they looked upon their chosen status as a privilege and a sign of elite status, which they interpreted as themselves being the chosen people of God, as those who are superior, greater and better than all others, than all mankind who also dwell on this earth. This is the very root of the problem which the Lord, through His prophets, and through what Jesus did and said to the Canaanite woman, intended to do.

The Jews of Jesus’ time were the descendants of the returned exiles from Babylon, the survivors of the exile from the destruction of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. They took pride of themselves as the guardians of the faith in the Lord, and many of them zealously looked down upon the others, especially those whom they considered as different from themselves, and who dwelled in the land with them. This was exactly why they looked down so much on the Samaritans and the Gentiles, namely the Canaanites and the Greeks.

The Canaanites were the descendants of those people who lived in the land of Israel since before the people of Israel received that promised land from the Lord. They were conquered and enslaved and treated badly by the people of Israel, but they managed to persevere throughout many ages and many years, and in today’s Gospel, one of them, a woman with a sickly daughter, sought help not from anyone else, but from the Lord Himself.

What Jesus said to the woman was in essence, intentionally trying to show the typical prejudice, stereotype and judgmental attitudes that many of the Jews of Jesus’ time had on these others, whom they deemed to be inferior than themselves and worthy of hellfire, just as much as they thought that their ‘devoutness’ is worthy of heaven. The disciples exhibited this attitude, and the Pharisees and the elders exhibited it to an even greater degree, even to the point of judging the Jews themselves of not being worthy if certain so and so fail to fulfill their ‘criteria’ of faith.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, what is the message and the aim that God desires from us in this Sunday’s readings? That we realise that our faith is faith, and our love is love, and our hope is hope, no matter who we are, what blood we have, or whose descendant we are. We are all the same human beings, sinners descended from Adam and Eve, whose disobedience brought us out of the glory of heaven, like those Israelites of the past who disobeyed God and be destroyed.

We have to throw away all forms of prejudices and judgments on others, regardless of who we are and what we have done in this life. We should never, ever look down on others who also sincerely look towards the Lord and especially those who are trying hard to reach out to God. Instead of looking down on them or scoffing at them, thinking that we are better than them, we should rather offer them a helping hand and a friendly hug, to welcome them into the kingdom of God together with us.

Jesus taught us that if we are faithful and devoted to God with true sincerity, we will all be called the chosen ones of the Lord, and become His beloved children. That was why He praised the Canaanite woman’s great faith, as example for all others who followed and listened to Him. It is because that woman had such a faith not even possessed by many among the supposedly chosen people of God, many of whom ended up betraying the Lord and persecuted Him and His disciples.

Therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, shall we use this opportunity today to renew our faith in the Lord? And renew our love for Him and also for our brothers and sisters around us? Much has been given to us, and much is expected from us. We should help one another to reach out to the Lord and not to be judgmental on others, be it by appearance, action or anything.

Let us rather redirect all our efforts and attentions towards loving God and loving each other with true love and sincerity, that all who sees us, sees and experiences the love of God and may also therefore come towards the salvation in God. God bless us all and be with us in all of our endeavours. Amen.

Sunday, 10 August 2014 : 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Brothers and sisters in Christ, is our faith in God truly genuine and strong? And is our faith in the Lord solid and growing? Or is it that we doubt God and His love just because in our lives He may seem to not be around whenever we say that we need Him? Do we doubt God because we are not able to feel His presence around us when we are in dire trouble?

These questions are meant for us to ask ourselves and for us to do a self-introspection, on our faith, and what our faith truly meant for us. The story of Jesus walking on the water in the midst of a heavy storm that threatened to sink the ship where the disciples were on is a classic story of how mankind are often faced with persecution and difficulties in life, and yet God will definitely not abandon us. He has given us none other than Jesus to rescue us and to strengthen our faith.

Indeed, in the first reading today we also heard how God appeared to Elijah the prophet, when he was fleeing from the persecution of the king of Israel, Ahab in the middle of the desert. He found God, or YHVH, not in the midst of great and mighty phenomena of earthquakes, fires or windstorm, but in the gentleness and sweetness of a breeze of gentle wind.

God did not abandon mankind when we are in great troubles or difficulties, and instead, He showed His loving and caring persona, as He had shown to Elijah. As much as He is mighty and great, He is also thoroughly concerned with us, as what He had shown to Elijah and in that, showed the love He had for mankind who still lived in the darkness. That is the message that God wanted to make clear with the people, that He cared for them.

And in the Gospel, we heard how the ship where the disciples were in was rocked by heavy winds and strong winds, to the point that it almost sank and be destroyed. This is in fact a perfect representation of our own lives that are filled with challenges and difficulties from all corners and sources. Life is never easy, and especially if we choose to walk the path of the Lord, things will be stormy and difficult for us.

That is why, first we must have a strong anchor of faith, and this anchor must be established on none other than the strong foundation of faith we have in our Lord and God. Otherwise, we and our lives, which are represented by the ship, will be blown here and there, and torn asunder by the waves, showing how our lives will be ruined and our purpose in life corrupted by the lack of a strong and living faith.

In all this, God is around, and He is there for us. But often that we do not believe that He is there for us. That is perfectly represented as well, when Jesus appeared on the waters and the disciples were gripped with fear, thinking that He was a ghost, utterly filled with disbelief and doubt that Jesus could be there, and right there for them and to help them.

It is much too often that we are filled to the brim with despair, fear and concerns for ourselves, that first we failed to notice the love that God has for us, thinking that we had been abandoned, and we also often fail to notice the difficulties and challenges that our brothers and sisters around us are facing, for we are too preoccupied with our own selves. Then that is also why we often cry out to God why our lives are unfair, while we actually failed to realise the truth.

We need to be able to discern and learn to get rid of the distractions and lies that prevented us from seeing the Lord at work in our lives, and that was what was shown in the first reading today. Elijah was able to see that God is not in things in mighty and great beyond our reach, just as He was not in the windstorm, fire or earthquakes, but instead in the gentle breeze showing His care and love for us.

If we are able to pierce through the layers of bias, prejudice, fear, desire, and other things that prevented us from truly understanding God’s love, we will then be able to feel the real and holy Presence of our Lord with us. We will then realise that our Lord and God is there for us, and He is always with us especially when we are in difficulties and challenging times. He never left our side. It is we who had voluntarily left Him behind for other things, and for Satan.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we have to admit that our faith is often weak and shaky, and the foundation of our faith is not strong, and when challenges and difficulties come our way, we often act like Peter, who doubted the Lord and His providence and ended up sinking when he walked on the water. Our faith can often be challenged and be negatively affected by the fears and concerns that we have in our hearts.

That is why we have to learn to trust in our Lord, and know that He is there for us when we need Him. He gives us many chances and opportunities, as well as help along the way in various means. What is important that, if we are in trouble, He is there for us, giving us help, and often we do not realise this fact. When Peter wavered in his faith and was sinking, what did Jesus do? Precisely, He stretched out His hands immediately to help Peter out and pull him out to safety.

Therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, let us use the opportunities given to us in order to reflect and come to a greater realisation that we have been blessed with a loving and caring God who is utterly concerned about our fate and about every single thing that we do in this life of ours. Let us all be no longer ignorant of God’s love, and instead let us make the conscious effort to strengthen our faith.

This boat that is our life will always be rocked by strong waves and winds, that represent the temptations of sin and evil, and all the forces that the devil has assembled in order to bring us and drag us into hell and suffering with him. Shall we follow him into destruction? No, we should not. We should not let this good-for-nothing fallen angel and wrecker of lives and souls from messing with our destiny. We have to reject him, rebuke him and cast him out of our lives in perfect totality.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all be courageous in our lives that our faith may be ever more solid and strong, and be able to resist the temptations of the evil one at any turns in our lives. May Almighty God continue to love us, bless us, and grant us with His grace and abundant blessings. Amen.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014 : Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord (Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we celebrate a significant and very important feast day in our Church, that is the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord. Today we celebrate the occasion when Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour was glorified on Mount Tabor, when He revealed His glory and the true nature of divinity to His disciples, the one and only time He did so before His death and resurrection.

To the disciples who witnessed it, Peter, James and John, this was truly a moment of brief showcase and foretaste of the glory of God that is to come through Jesus Christ. Yet at that time, they have yet to be able to understand what it means by the Transfiguration, and the significance of the events and the actions which Jesus took with the two great prophets of God.

The two prophets and leaders of God’s people, Moses and Elijah are the preeminent ones among many others, in that they were the chief amongst all others whom God had sent into the world in their respective missions. To Moses, whom God had appointed as the leader and guide for His people Israel, He had imparted the very Laws that He had established with mankind, the Ten Commandments and the accompanying laws and statutes as encoded in the Law of Moses.

Thus, Moses represented the Law, which God had given to mankind to guide them and govern them in their attitudes and behaviour, that they may conform more closely to the way of the Lord. Meanwhile, the prophet Elijah, whom God appointed to prophesy to the people of the northern kingdom of Israel was the greatest among the prophets, and representing the prophesies of God, which promised the people the coming of the salvation in the Messiah.

And why did both of them appear to Jesus at the Mount Tabor on the Transfiguration? That is because Jesus is the perfect fulfillment and completion of the Law and the prophecies of the prophets. He was the fulfillment of all that God had revealed to men as well as all the things unrevealed and hidden from men, perfecting and unveiling the true full meaning of the Law, and the fulfillment of the long awaited prophecies by the prophets of old.

Therefore, the two great servants of God made their appearance in what is likely to be a very significant and symbolic meaning in the history of God’s plan for the salvation of mankind, but it is most likely that they also came to give strength and support for Jesus as He embarked on the final part of His mission on this world, that is towards His suffering and death on the cross in Jerusalem, the Holy city of God.

They were there to affirm Jesus in His mission, to encourage Him and give Him support, as surely all of heaven, all the angels and the holy men and women who had departed the world at the time were all in full awareness of the supreme importance of this singular mission that Jesus Christ was about to undertake for the sake of salvation of all mankind.

Yet, indeed, the Feast of the Transfiguration also reminds all of us of an important fact, that life is not all happy and good, and neither will it be all smooth and easy. And we are bound to have to face up to the challenges in life and the difficulties that are to be part of our lives. We are like the disciples on that mountain. When Peter said to Jesus, for them to build three tents for Himself and the two great servants of God, it showed reluctance to leave all things that are good.

But God made it plain to the disciples, and showing in His majesty, He made them listen to the will of His Son, who told them to come down with Him from the mountain where He showed His glory and majesty. From then on, He walked down that mountain towards the valley of His death, the suffering and rejection in Jerusalem. But the Lord did not fear, and therefore neither should we.

This Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord therefore does not just show us the true nature of our Lord, Saviour and God, Jesus Christ, whom the prophet Daniel in the first reading had described in his vision of the things that was to come and be fulfilled in Jesus. But, as mentioned, this Feast of the Transfiguration also reminds all of us that we too should also walk the same path as Christ, and not to be afraid of facing the difficulties and challenges awaiting us if we walk the path towards God.

May our Lord continue to shine on our path, that we may continue to follow Him, taking up our own crosses, and to suffer the persecution and rejection of this world as He had once done, so that eventually in the end we will receive the crown of everlasting honour and glory, the deserved reward we should receive as part of our heavenly inheritance.

May Almighty God, Transfigured and Revealed in His glory and majesty be aith us, protect us and remain with us forever. Amen.