Sunday, 20 October 2019 : Twenty-Ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday all of us listened to the words of the Scripture in which we are reminded of God’s love and providence for each and every one of us as He has shown throughout all the time and history. And we are called to reflect on that love which God has lavished on us each and every moments of our lives. That is why He wants us to know that we are beloved and blessed because of this.

God brought His people to victory even against difficult odds as we heard in our first reading passage today how He led them to victory in the battle against the Amalekites, the sworn and bitter enemy of the Israelites, who were a powerful nation and a warlike people that could have subjugated the Israelites if not for God’s help and providence. This is symbolised by the acts of Moses who followed God’s instructions and raised his staff on a hill above the battle.

Since a long time ago, the staff is a symbolic tool used by the shepherds who took care of his many sheep and goats and other animals. As those animals often fed and grazed on hillsides and mountainous terrains as was common throughout the land, the shepherds used the staff both as a tool to guide them in their movement around as well as a visible sign for the flock of where the shepherd was and for the flock to follow. The staff guided the flock and made sure that the animals complied.

And in this case, by lifting up the staff high, visible for all the people to see, God wants all of His people to know that He was there with them, as their Shepherd and Guide, as their Master and King. Those Amalekites wanted to destroy the Israelites, subjugate and enslave them, much like the ravenous wolves seeking to hunt and consume the sheep and animals. But the shepherd is there to protect, and in this case, God Himself stood by His people.

When sheep or any other animals are in danger or are in need of something, they will make noises to alert the shepherd of the incoming danger. Then any good and committed shepherds will come and rescue their flock, and if necessary, they will even risk themselves to be hurt to protect their flock because they love their sheep and all those animals. Shepherds often spend so much time with their flock that they developed strong loving relationship with them.

Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, we are all God’s beloved people, the sheep of His vast and innumerable flock. He through Christ His Son revealed that He Himself is our Shepherd, the Good Shepherd, Who lays down His life for His sheep. This phrase is a very significant one, especially in the context of what we have heard in our Scripture passages today. And how is this so? That is because the battle between the Israelites and the Amalekites is a mere microcosm of what the battle raging daily about us is.

For just as we are the sheep of the Lord’s flock, there are many of those seeking our destruction and suffering just as the Amalekites preyed on the Israelites. And these enemies of ours are the wicked and evil forces led by the devil, consisting of his fellow fallen angels and the demons ruling in this world. They are constantly active, waiting for the opportunity to strike at us and drag us with them into damnation in hell.

But we must not be afraid brothers and sisters in Christ, for God our Shepherd Himself is by our side, standing by us and being with us. If those shepherds can protect their sheep and their flock against those wolves and all seeking the destruction of their flock, all the more that God, the one and true Good Shepherd will be with us and protecting us, providing for us the help from our enemies because of His infinitely great love for each and every single one of us.

Now, let us all look at our Gospel passage today, in which the Lord Jesus used a parable to explain about God’s love for us, that is so great beyond anyone’s love and any other love we may have known. He compared the love of God to that of the evil judge who was pestered by a woman who wanted the judge to adjudicate for her case and to give her what her rightful claim has dictated.

The Lord used that parable as a comparison to prove the point that if that evil judge could give in to the demands of the old woman when she incessantly sought for his help, then all the more that God Who is filled with love for us will provide for us when we ask Him for help. And linking to what we have just discussed earlier on, we cannot fight alone in this constant battle raging about us, the spiritual conflict between us and the devil.

God is ever loving and generous with us, and we just have to ask and He will listen to us. But are we having enough faith and love for Him that we want to call on Him? In our Gospel passage today, we heard in the last part of that passage how God said that if we ask Him, He will listen to us and heed us. Of course whether He will act in accordance with what we have asked of Him is a different matter, as He will act according to His will and not ours, but nonetheless, God as our loving Father and Creator always listens to us, just like the shepherds are always keeping a close watch on their sheep and flock.

But this then comes to the last sentence of the Lord’s words today, that when the Son of Man comes into this world, will He find faith on earth? And this is important because unless we have faith, we will not be able to ask God or seek God, either because we are too proud to admit that we have shortcomings, that we are weak and are in need of help and therefore we try to solve everything on our own and with our own strength and judgments, or that we are too preoccupied and distracted that we cannot even recognise God’s presence in our midst.

Many times we have misunderstood God, thinking that we are perfectly alright by ourselves, or that we can do everything with our own power and ability, or that we only seek Him when we are in need of help and then forget about Him when we no longer need Him, treating Him like a means to achieve what we wanted rather than to put our complete trust in Him and to love Him just as He has first loved us.

And when we try to do everything on our own, that is when things go badly for us because we tend to make flawed judgments and choices in life, and are easily tempted by the devil and all those seeking our destruction as we are cutting ourselves off our Lord and Shepherd just as if a sheep decides to run away on its own and isolating itself from the flock and the shepherd. And that is the perfect opportunity for the wolves and all the predators to strike at the lone sheep.

Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all pray that God will give us the grace to have a stronger faith in Him, that our hardened hearts and stubborn minds can be softened and opened to allow Him to enter into our lives and transform us. Let us all pray for the grace of better faith and to be able to love God more in our daily lives, that we may draw ever closer to Him with each and every passing moments of our lives.

And as St. Paul wrote to St. Timothy in our second reading passage today, one of the best ways for us to move forward in faith is by focusing on the Word of God in the Scriptures, in which are contained the truth of God as He has revealed it to us. It is by deepening our knowledge and understanding of the Sacred Scriptures that we can know more about God. If we do not know a person well how can we then build a strong and meaningful relationship with that person?

In the same way therefore, unless we know God well and from then, building up a good and healthy and living relationship with Him, how can we then be close to God? How can we know what His will is for us if we do not know him well? As I mentioned earlier, we have to open ourselves up to the Lord, love Him and putting our trust in Him as our Lord and Shepherd then we can truly depend on Him and be close to Him.

The Lord knows us all very well, and He knows each and every one of us because He Himself created us all out of His great love. But do we love Him just as He has loved us? Have we spent the time and effort for Him just as He has done so for us? And how do we show that we love Him? It is by living our lives with faith and genuine commitment, by proclaiming the Word of God as His witnesses, not just by words but through real action in our lives.

That is what St. Paul had written to St. Timothy, urging us all the faithful people of God to preach the Word of God through our lives, at each and every moments of our daily living, through our every actions and deeds, our interactions and good works. This is how we stand by our ground in this ever challenging conflict with the devil and all those seeking our destruction. We have to put our focus on God, our Shepherd and Guide, and through Him, we must be beacons of light in this darkened world, as God’s warriors of faith.

This is how we will triumph in the end, like the Israelites crushing the Amalekites. We will triumph against the evil one and his forces, and God will guide us through to the eternal life and glory in Him that lies in the end of our journey. Our journey may be challenging and difficult, but as long as we stay by the Lord and remain faithful to Him, we will triumph in the end. But if we choose to cut ourselves off from God, then we will likely fall and end up in eternal damnation, something that we surely do not want.

And we must not forget that our triumph came through Christ and His act of ultimate love for us on the Cross. Just as Moses lifted high up his staff high up and bring victory against the Amalekites, Christ Himself was lifted up high on the Cross before us all, that all of us who saw Him will gain the same reassurance of ultimate victory against the devil and all of his forces. And we must remember how He went through all the pain and sufferings for our sake, and because He loves us all so much. The Cross is our hope and strength amidst even the greatest darkness, and we must always focus our attention on Him.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all reflect and discern well what we can do with our lives to serve God ever better, devoting our time and attention to Him, deepening our relationship with Him by spending our time reading the Scriptures and in prayer, and living our lives as according to what He has taught us. Let us all be true disciples of Christ from now on, and be His willing and exemplary witnesses and evangelisers in our respective communities. May God bless us all and be with us always, now and forevermore. Amen.

Sunday, 20 October 2019 : Twenty-Ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Luke 18 : 1-8

At that time, Jesus told His disciples a parable, to show them that they should pray continually, and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain town there was a judge, who neither feared God nor people. In the same town there was a widow, who kept coming to him, saying, ‘Defend my rights against my opponent!'”

“For a time he refused, but finally he thought, ‘Even though I neither fear God nor care about people, this widow bothers me so much, I will see that she gets justice; then she will stop coming and wearing me out.'”

And Jesus said, “Listen to what the evil judge says. Will God not do justice for His chosen ones, who cry to Him day and night, even if He delays in answering them? I tell you, He will speedily do them justice. But, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?”

Sunday, 20 October 2019 : Twenty-Ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Second Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

2 Timothy 3 : 14 – 2 Timothy 4 : 2

As for you, continue with what you have learnt, and what has been entrusted to you, knowing from whom you received it. Besides, you have known the Scriptures from childhood; they will give you the wisdom that leads to salvation, through faith in Christ Jesus.

All Scripture is inspired by God, and is useful for teaching, refuting error, for correcting and training in Christian life. Through Scripture, the man of God is made expert and thoroughly equipped for every good work.

In the presence of God and Christ Jesus, Who is to judge the living and the dead, and by the hope I have of His coming, and His kingdom, I urge you to preach the Word, in season and out of season, reproving, rebuking, or advising, always with patience, and providing instruction.

Sunday, 20 October 2019 : Twenty-Ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Psalm 120 : 1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8

I lift up my eyes to the mountains – from where shall come my help? My help comes from YHVH, Maker of heaven and earth.

Will He let your foot slip, the One watching over you? Will He slumber? No, the Guardian of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps.

YHVH is your Guardian; YHVH is at your side; and you, in His shade; sunstroke will not be for you by day, nor the spell of the moon, by night.

YHVH guards you from every evil; He will protect your life. YHVH watches over your coming and going, both now and forever.

Sunday, 20 October 2019 : Twenty-Ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Exodus 17 : 8-13

When the Israelites were at Rephidim, the Amalekites came and attacked them. So Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites in the morning. As for me, I will stand with God’s staff in my hand at the top of the hill.”

Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had directed, while Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. It happened that when Moses raised his hands, the Israelites would win but when he lowered them, the Amalekites would have the advantage.

As Moses’ arms grew weary they placed a stone for him to sit on while Aaron and Hur on either side held up his arms which remained steadily raised until sunset. For his part Joshua mowed down Amalek and his people with the sword.

Sunday, 13 October 2019 : Twenty-Eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday as we reflect back on what we have just heard being proclaimed in the Scriptures, we can see that there is a unifying theme for this Sunday’s set of readings and it is the importance of being grateful and to give thanks to God for all the wonderful blessings that He has given us all. Many times we have failed to appreciate and to thank the One Who has made everything possible for us according to His will.

We may think that giving thanks or showing appreciation to someone is something that is easily done and without the need of much effort. But through what the Scriptures are reminding us today, we are called to look deep into our own lives and realise just how difficult it is really, at times, to acknowledge, appreciate and to thank someone for the good deeds that has been done or given to us.

Let us first look at our first reading today taken from the Book of Kings, in which we heard the story of the healing of Naaman the Syrian by the prophet Elisha. Naaman was the greatest general of the King of Aram, a sworn enemy of the people of the northern kingdom of Israel because Aram had waged numerous wars for decades and centuries in contest of the lands of the northern kingdom. But this Naaman then suffered from leprosy.

We may not think that leprosy is something that is serious, but at that time, leprosy was not just a disease that can harm the body physically, but also afflict the person in mental, spiritual and in many other ways. For once, leprosy is a very highly visible affliction as it causes a visible discolouration of the skin and it affects particularly the limbs and the extremities, making it even more easily apparent.

And as leprosy can be transmitted from one person to another, although not highly contagious unlike some other diseases, the people of Naaman and Elisha’s time despised and feared leprosy a lot as a disease and even more so as a curse. For a person suffering from leprosy was often considered to be cursed by God for being sinful and for other wickedness that he or she had committed in life.

To see just how severe the affliction of leprosy was to the community, we just have to look at the numerous laws, rules and regulations listed down particularly in the Book of Leviticus where plenty of rules applied to those suffering from leprosy, those who came into contact with the lepers and even the matter of how to destroy objects and things that have come into contact with a leper. Essentially, we can see just how serious leprosy was to the community and this served its purpose right there and then when the Israelite community travelled and lived in very close quarters as they journeyed through the desert during the Exodus.

The lepers were forced to live outside the community as outcasts, and they were not allowed to return to the community until they were thoroughly clean and free from all signs of still having leprosy in their body. That was how it was even up to the time of the Lord Jesus, when He encountered the ten lepers in the wilderness as recounted in our Gospel passage today. Those ten lepers were outcasts and could not return to the community until their leprosy were healed and they proved this to the priests.

Therefore, it was in this context that Naaman the Syrian came all the way to Israel to seek healing as the name of the prophet Elisha as even though the rules regarding leprosy might have been different in his homeland, nonetheless it must have been a humiliating and difficult experience to suffer from such a disease. Thus Naaman came to Israel seeking Elisha hoping that he could be cured from his afflictions. But Naaman initially was not happy that Elisha asked him to go and bathe seven times in the River Jordan, for he thought that the prophet would have done something more amazing than such a mundane activity, and that he could have done the same in one of the rivers of his own home country.

But in the end, Naaman relented when his servant pointed out to him that he should probably better listen to the words of the prophet and do as he was asked to do in order to be healed. True enough, Naaman was healed completely right after he did all that the prophet Elisha had asked him to do. And as we heard in our Gospel passage today, Naaman wanted to thank Elisha for what he had done and insisted to give many gifts to the prophet, but Elisha rejected this offer.

In this, we can see how pride and ego often stand in the way for us to be able to appreciate what God has done for us, especially in reaching out to us and in trying to heal us from our afflictions and relieve us from our many troubles. Naaman was proud and arrogant, thinking badly at first how he could have been healed in a much better and more dramatic manner, only to realise that this attitude made him stubborn and therefore fail to recognise God’s generous offer of love and mercy.

Then, in our Gospel passage today, we heard of the ten lepers who were healed by the Lord even though initially they were unaware that they were already healed by the time the Lord was with them. But among the ten, only one of them returned to the Lord and thanked Him, while the other nine lepers, probably overjoyed and too distracted by their sudden reversal of fortune, forgot completely about the Lord and did not return to thank Him.

This here is a reminder for us that, not only that we could be stubborn and refuse to accept or acknowledge something good given to us by another, but we also often forget to give appreciation, acknowledgement or thanksgiving when they are due because we are too distracted and too preoccupied with whatever it is that we are doing that we end up treating God in such an ungrateful manner. And yet, if you noticed, the Lord did not retract His healing grace from the other nine even though they did not thank Him.

Now, there are two very important things here we have to take note of, brothers and sisters in Christ. First and most important of these is that, all of us, in case we do not realise it, are also suffering from ‘leprosy’ too. And why is this so? That is because all of us, no matter how healthy we are in our physical bodies, all of us are sick inside because of sin. All of us are sinners without any exception, each and every one of us have sinned, and sin is the ‘leprosy of the soul’.

And even far more dangerous than the physical and bodily leprosy mentioned, the spiritual ‘leprosy’ that is sin cannot be healed save by the grace of God’s forgiveness alone. But as shown by the example of Naaman’s initial stubbornness and the ignorance of the nine lepers healed by Jesus, we mankind are often too stubborn and proud in refusing to admit that we have been wrong and that we have sinned.

And that is why we end up not realising just how serious our sins and our conditions are, often until it is too late for us. And God has always been generous in extending His mercy and in being compassionate towards us regardless of our rebelliousness and constant attempts in disobeying Him. Then, secondly, the second important thing I mentioned is that God’s mercy is for everyone. He extends His merciful love to all and He is not biased for or against anyone.

This may not be easily observed in today’s Scripture readings, but the fact that two person mentioned prominently in them, namely Naaman the Syrian and the Samaritan leper who returned to give thanks to the Lord Jesus, were both foreigners and were often considered as pagans and looked down upon by the Jews made it truly significant. The fact that they gave thanks to God the blessings and wonders they have received put to shame the rest of those who considered themselves as God’s chosen people and superior to the pagans.

This is a reminder for us not to ever look down on anyone or think that others do not deserve God’s love and attention as much as we do, for God truly loves every single one of His children, all of us without exception. The Lord wants all of us to be healed from this terrible affliction of sin, the ‘leprosy of our souls’. Let us all have that necessary humility in us to acknowledge first of all how we are really in need of God’s healing grace, to be forgiven from our sins. And then let us all also humbly acknowledge how great God’s love for us had been that He still cared for us all these while despite all of our waywardness and stubbornness.

May the Lord continue to guide us all through these journeys we have in our respective lives. May He continue to bless us in our every good works and endeavours as He has always done, and may He strengthen in us the courage and resolve to dedicate our lives to His cause and for His greater glory from now on. Let us also be ever thankful for His ever great love for each and every one of us, and for His ever great patience for us all, His beloved but wayward ones. May God bless us all, now and forevermore. Amen.

Sunday, 13 October 2019 : Twenty-Eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Luke 17 : 11-19

At that time, on the way to Jerusalem, Jesus passed through Samaria and Galilee, and as He entered a village, ten lepers came to meet Him. Keeping their distance, they called to Him, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”

Jesus said to them, “Go, and show yourselves to the priests.” Then, as they went on their way, they found they were cured. One of them, as soon as he saw that he was cleansed, turned back, praising God in a loud voice; and throwing himself on his face before Jesus, he gave Him thanks. This man was a Samaritan.

Then Jesus asked him, “Were not all ten healed? Where are the other nine? Did none of them decide to return and give praise to God, but this foreigner?” And Jesus said to him, “Stand up and go your way; your faith has saved you.”