Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Religious)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we listened to the words of the Scriptures, each one of us are reminded that as Christians we must not have the elitist attitude thinking that we alone are righteous and that others are less deserving of God’s salvation than us. We must not think that we are more worthy than others just because we follow His Law and commandments, and then ridicule and ostracise, being prejudiced or biased against others, or worse still, blaming others just because we think that they have not been faithful to God the way that we have been faithful. Instead, first and foremost we must remember that it is our Christian calling and obligation in fact to not only love the Lord with all of our hearts and might, but also to love our fellow brothers and sisters, without prejudice, in the same way.
In our first reading today, taken from the Epistle of St. Paul the Apostle to the Church and the faithful in Philippi, we heard the Apostle speaking to the people regarding the matter of circumcision and the faithful. In order to understand the significance of this discourse, we have to understand that back then there were significant friction between the members of the Christian communities including that in Philippi, between the new converts from among the Jewish diaspora as well as the new converts from among the Gentiles or the non-Jewish people like the Romans, the Greek and many others. The Christian faith and truths attracted both the Jewish people and the Gentiles alike, and the differences in their thoughts and practices bring about this discord between the faithful.
That is because according to the practices of the old Law as revealed through Moses and as shown in the Old Testament, the Jewish people had to undergo circumcision or the removal of the skin from the genital of their males, in order for them to be part of the Jewish community. This Law had been preserved from the days of Moses onwards to this day. However, the crux of the matter as highlighted by St. Paul, was the overemphasis on these external and outward practices and which also became sort of badge of pride and honour by the adherents of its practices which resulted in the people of God being elitist and exclusivist in their way of life and in how they interacted with others who do not belong to their group, or those whom they deemed as inferior and less worthy than they were.
The Pharisees, to which St. Paul himself belonged to, and which the Apostle highlighted in that very occasion, was in particular the most to blame for this attitude. For back then, many among the Pharisees were very proud of their observance of the Law of God, their piety and dedication. They looked down on others and made great show of their faith practices and piety. They imposed the very strict interpretation and excesses of the additions to the Law of God over the centuries to the whole people. Their prejudice against people who were sick and diseased, possessed, and others like the tax collectors and the prostitutes, were carried on to some among the early Christian converts originating from among the Jewish people, some of them like St. Paul himself, were Pharisees.
Therefore, there were disagreements and even attempts by those who supported the Pharisees and wanted the whole Church to adopt the very strict interpretation of the Law and all of its immense number of rules and regulations, imposing them even to the Gentiles who converted to the Christian faith. That would have made it very difficult then for the Gentiles to adopt the Christian faith, as back then, some of the Jewish practices and customs were viewed with disdain and even with outright disgust by the Romans, the Greeks and the other Gentiles. In particular, this involved the practice of male circumcision, which the Gentiles found abhorrent. That is why, people like St. Paul, a former Pharisee, wanted this practice to be made completely optional for the whole Church.
In our Gospel passage today, we heard of the words of the Lord Jesus as He confronted the Pharisees and the elders who were very critical at the Lord’s warm treatment of those whom the they considered as sinners and unclean like the tax collectors, as He went even to their place to have a meal with them. Such an action would have been unthinkable for the Pharisees and the elders who wanted to have nothing to do at all with those pagans and all those whom they deemed to be inferior, less worthy and wicked. This was exactly why St. Paul warned the faithful against these attitudes that are actually incompatible with all of us being Christians. A Christian should not be prejudiced, exclusivist and self-righteous in their attitudes.
On the contrary, we have to remember what the Lord told all those assembled, using the parable of the lost sheep and the lost silver coin. When He mentioned how the shepherd would go out forth to look for the one lost sheep despite the ninety-nine other sheep that were safe and sound, and how the woman would put all her effort to find her missing silver coin piece despite the other pieces that she had with her, it showed us all the kind of love and the effort with which God had done for our sake, out of His ever enduring and ever great love for us all. Through His generous love, He has reached out to us again and again, all of us sinners who are undeserving of His love, and yet, despite our rebelliousness and stubbornness, God continued to reach out to us nonetheless, with love. And that is what we as Christians are expected to do as well with our lives.
Today, we shoud also look upon the good examples set by our holy predecessor, on his feast day, namely that of St. Martin de Porres, the renowned patron saint of the poor and the needy, and of those who are underprivileged and ostracised. St. Martin de Porres was himself born in the New World, the Americas, as a mixed-race illegitimate son of a Spanish nobleman and a freed nativewoman. St. Martin de Porres grew up in poverty and endured a lot of prejudices and sufferings because of his background, and although as he grew up he wanted to join the Dominicans as a member of the religious order, the prejudices and the challenges facing St. Martin de Porres as a mixed-race man prevented him from joining the Dominicans as a full member.
Nonetheless, St. Martin de Porres continued to persevere in his faith and faithful actions, devoting a lot of time and effort to care for his fellow brethren, especially to those who were sick and dying, those who were underprivileged and suffering. He performed many works, even menial works and labours for the sake of his community of Dominican brothers, as well as others. Soon after, many miracles and wonderful works occurred all around St. Martin de Porres, and many came to him for healing and advice. He continued to live humbly and faithfully in God’s path, and devoted his works to the good and the well-being of his brethren, obeying his superiors and listening to God’s will. He lived virtuously and humbly, to the very end of his life, a great example and role model for all of us.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, having heard of St. Martin de Porres, his life and good examples, let us all therefore reflect upon all these and see in what way we as Christians can do and act in our own lives to be more like St. Martin de Porres and the innumerable other saints whose holy lives, whose love for the needy, the poor and the underprivileged can become our source of inspiration and examples, in how we ought to lead our own lives. Shall we not follow the path of the Pharisees and the elders, and the path of those who thought themselves as being worthy and righteous, but instead, walk ever humbly and faithfully in the path that God had set before us?
May the Lord continue to guide us in our journey of faith through life, and may He strengthen and empower each and every one of us to be able to live courageously with faith and devote ourselves and our attention to Him. May God bless us all and all of our good efforts and endeavours, all for His greater glory. Amen.