Sunday, 10 November 2019 : Thirty-Second Sunday of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday as we get closer to the end of the current liturgical year, we heard about the readings focusing on the theme of the resurrection into new life, as we began today with the first reading from the Second Book of the Maccabees on seven brothers and their mother who were persecuted by the Seleucid Greeks under king Antiochus and then in the Gospel we heard of the encounter and exchange between the Lord Jesus and a group of Sadducees.

Let us all first understand the context of the readings today, in which we heard of the persecution of the faithful Jews by the Seleucid king Antiochus who wanted to impose Greek customs and religious traditions on the whole of his Empire. At that time, the tyranny and heavy-handedness of the king made many of the population to rise up in revolt, led by the priest Mattathias and his family, who would be known as the Maccabeans.

As we can see, the persecution of the Jews who remained faithful to the laws and commandments of God was truly terrible, as exemplified by the persecution of the seven brothers and their mother. They were tortured, made to suffer and then executed one by one, beginning from the eldest son to the youngest son because they all refused to abandon their faith in God and embrace the king’s order to embrace the pagan Greek practices.

All of them defended their faith and stood by their dedication to God without hesitation, right up to the last and the youngest son who was persuaded by the king to abandon his faith for the sake of being considered the friend of the king and receiving many worldly privileges of power, wealth and glory that were abounding through the king and his influence. But none of those were able to move the heart of the youngest son who remained even more adamant on his faith.

We can see very clearly how courageous all of them, the seven sons and their mother in their readiness to face bitter suffering and painful death in the defence of their faith. They would not have had such courage when faced with all the forces of the world levelled against them, had they not have faith in God and in His promises of an everlasting of true joy, happiness and wonders in Him despite all the trials and challenges that they had to face in life.

They turned away from the comforts and the false happiness of the world, and chose to focus on the Lord and follow the path He has shown them. Their perseverance and their enduring faith in the Lord’s providence and the Covenant which He had made with them allowed them to endure all the terrible persecutions and trials. They sought the promise of the world that is to come and not put their focus on the happiness in the world that they were in at present.

And this is where our story from the first reading is connected and is parallel to the story from our Gospel today, as the Sadducees confronted the Lord and asked Him regarding the resurrection from the dead. The Sadducees were a powerful group at the time of the Lord Jesus, as one of the two main influence groups alongside the Pharisees. Unlike the Pharisees who were concerned and focused on the matters of spirituality, religion and the Law to a great excess, the Sadducees were their polar opposites.

The Sadducees were kind of the secular and worldly party of the Jewish people, all those who were influential and powerful in the community and with ties to the government, with probably many of them also belonging to the supporters of king Herod and his descendants, the rulers of Judea and Galilee. The Sadducees were those who looked at the world in a secular and non-religious manner, in opposition to the Pharisees and also to Jesus and His disciples, as the Lord spoke often in favour of leaving behind material goods of the world in the seeking of the divine.

The Sadducees used a story to test the Lord with regards to the matter of the resurrection because they did not believe in either the resurrection or the afterlife. They neither believed in the Angels or in any spiritual matters, as they were focused on purely materialistic and worldly matters in their sight and understanding of the world. They wanted to test and even discredit the Lord using the story of a woman who had seven husbands and asking Him whose wife she was in the afterlife.

Understanding the context of the Jewish law, if a man who was married to a woman died without having a child, one of his brothers had to take the woman to be his own wife, and a son born of the union between the deceased man’s brother and his wife would be legally considered as the son of the deceased for the matter of inheritance and preserving the deceased man’s memory and legacy. It was this part of the Law which the Sadducees made use of in trying to test the Lord.

But the Lord chided and rebuked the Sadducees for failing to understand the Law properly and for their worldly view and perspective of things by which they focused on such trivialities and misunderstood what the most important things in life are. When they asked the Lord whose wife the woman was among all the seven brothers who all married her, they failed to understand that marriage is not about something human only but even more importantly is a union blessed by the divine in imitation of God’s love.

In the case of the Sadducees, they thought of the woman being a wife as a commodity and possession, in the manner that was common in the world at that time. During that time, the status of women in the society was quite low, and they were often considered as the possessions of their family, parents or husbands. In that context, the Sadducees took am understanding of matter with a purely worldly mentality and sentiment, worrying more about who the woman would belong to rather than the matter of the resurrection itself.

And why is that so, brothers and sisters in Christ? That is because the Sadducees were too afraid to leave the life as they knew it. They were too attached to the world that they refused to think of what would come after the end of their earthly existence. That was why they focused on living their lives at the moment to the fullest, seeking worldly pleasures and satisfactions, and in doing so, they ended up falling into the temptations that brought them further and further away from God.

Essentially, what we heard about the seven brothers in our first reading today is contrary to what we have heard from the attitudes of the Sadducees. The seven brothers put their faith in God first and foremost before anything else, willing to suffer and even die for the sake of defending their faith and in remaining committed to Him. They would not betray their faith and their God for the sake of worldly happiness and status. On the other hand, the Sadducees acted and believed in a manner diametrically opposite, as they focused on the world and perhaps had no God in their heart at all.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, all of these then come to us, as we all can follow the path that either of these two groups of people showed us. God has given us the freedom to choose the path of our lives, and so, do we want to follow the path of the Sadducees, focusing on the world, enjoying everything and forgetting about God, just as what the Greek king tried to persuade the seven brothers to do, or do we want to be faithful like the seven brothers in the Book of Maccabees?

And as we can already see from what those seven brothers endured and suffered from, to be true disciples and followers of the Lord, as our Lord Himself said, we must be ready to carry our crosses in life with Him, to suffer with Him and from time to time, to be ridiculed, mocked, humiliated, rejected and even persecuted for what we believe. That is part of the commitment that we ought to have as those who truly believe in God and want to walk in His ways.

Let us all therefore truly be faithful to God at all times and in everything we say and do in our lives. Let us all draw ever closer to Him and let us all dedicate ourselves with ever greater zeal and love for God, through every actions and efforts we take in this life we have in this world. Let us all be courageous in loving God, and resist the many temptations of false pleasures and joys of this world so that our lives may truly be Christian-like and inspirational that through us and our good examples of faith may bring ever more souls to redemption and salvation in God.

May the Lord inflame in us the strong and living flame of passion and love for Him and His ways, that we may truly desire to seek our true treasure and inheritance in God, and not ended up being distracted by the many comforts in life that may seem to be satisfactory and pleasurable, and yet does not last forever. May God guide us all to Him, and embrace us all with the fullness of His love. Amen.

Sunday, 10 November 2019 : Thirty-Second Sunday of Ordinary Time (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Luke 20 : 27-38

At that time, some Sadducees arrived. These people claim that there is no resurrection, and they asked Jesus this question, “Master, in the Law Moses told us, ‘If anyone dies leaving a wife but no children, his brother must take the wife, and any child born to them will be regarded as the child of the deceased.'”

“Now, there were seven brothers; the first married a wife, but he died without children; and the second and the third took the wife; in fact, all seven died leaving no children. Last of all the woman died. On the day of the resurrection, to which of them will the woman be a wife? For all seven had her as a wife.”

And Jesus replied, “Taking a husband or a wife is proper to people of this world, but for those who are considered worthy of the world to come, and of resurrection from the dead, there is no more marriage. Besides, they cannot die, for they are like the Angels. They are sons and daughters of God, because they are born of the resurrection.”

“Yes, the dead will be raised, as Moses revealed at the burning bush, when He called the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. For God is God of the living, and not of the dead, for to Him everyone is alive.”

Alternative reading (shorter version)

Luke 20 : 27, 34-38

At that time, some Sadducees arrived. These people claim that there is no resurrection.

And Jesus replied, “Taking a husband or a wife is proper to people of this world, but for those who are considered worthy of the world to come, and of resurrection from the dead, there is no more marriage. Besides, they cannot die, for they are like the Angels. They are sons and daughters of God, because they are born of the resurrection.”

“Yes, the dead will be raised, as Moses revealed at the burning bush, when He called the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. For God is God of the living, and not of the dead, for to Him everyone is alive.”

Sunday, 10 November 2019 : Thirty-Second Sunday of Ordinary Time (Second Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

2 Thessalonians 2 : 16 – 2 Thessalonians 3 : 5

May Christ Jesus our Lord Who has loved us, may God our Father, Who in His mercy gives us everlasting comfort and true hope, strengthens you. May He encourage your hearts and make you steadfast in every good work and word.

Finally, brothers and sisters, pray for us that the Word of God may spread rapidly and be glorified everywhere as it was with you. May God guard us from wicked and evil people, since not everyone has faith. The Lord is faithful; He will strengthen you and keep you safe from the Evil One.

Besides, we have in the Lord this confidence that you are doing and will continue to do what we order you. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.

Sunday, 10 November 2019 : Thirty-Second Sunday of Ordinary Time (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Psalm 16 : 1, 5-6, 8 and 15

Hear a just cause, o Lord, listen to my complaint. Give heed to my prayer for there is no deceit on my lips.

Hold firm my steps upon Your path, that my feet may not stumble. I call on You, You will answer me, o God; incline Your ear and hear my word.

Under the shadow of Your wings hide me. As for me, righteous in Your sight, I shall see Your face and, awakening, gaze my fill on Your likeness.

Sunday, 10 November 2019 : Thirty-Second Sunday of Ordinary Time (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

2 Maccabees 7 : 1-2, 9-14

It happened also that seven brothers were arrested with their mother. The king had them scourged and flogged to force them to eat the flesh of a pig which was prohibited by the Law. One of them, speaking in behalf of all, said, “What do you want to find out from us? We are prepared to die right now rather than break the law of our ancestors.”

At the moment of his last breath, he said, “Murderer, you now dismiss us from life, but the King of this world will raise us up. He will give us eternal life since we die for His laws.” After this, they punished the third brother. He stuck his tongue out when asked to, bravely stretched forth his hands, and even had the courage to say : “I have received these limbs from God, but for love of His laws I now consider them as nothing. For I hope to recover them from God.”

The king and his court were touched by the courage of this young man, so unconcerned about his own sufferings. When this one was dead, they subjected the fourth to the same torture. At the point of death, he cried out, “I would rather die at the hands of mortals, and wait for the promises of God Who will raise us up; you, however, shall have no part in the resurrection of life.”

Sunday, 3 November 2019 : Thirty-First Sunday of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday we are all being reminded of just how loving, compassionate, merciful and wonderful our God is in all of His ways, in how He has been treating us all these while, in His great and enduring patience with us that even after all that we have done to make Him angry at our stubbornness and wickedness, He still wants to forgive us and to be reconciled with us.

In our first reading today taken from the Book of Wisdom, we heard of God’s omnipotence, as He is All-Powerful and is in control of everything in this world, even to the minutest and smallest details. And this is highlighted because no matter how well we may try to hide our sins and shortcomings, our mistakes and faults before God, we will never be successful. He knows us all in and out, the very deepest parts of our beings and our innermost secrets.

And yet despite knowing our faults and shortcomings, our filthy state of sin and our despicable attitude, God’s love for each and every one of us is still greater even compared to all of those. That is why He was able to forgive us and embrace us despite our many sins and our many faults. He wants us to be forgiven so that we may be reunited to Him and will not be lost to Him forever. If He wants us destroyed, He could have easily done that and yet He did not.

On the contrary He did everything to reach out to us and to embrace us with love. That was the essence of our Gospel passage today in which the Lord Jesus encountered Zaccheus the tax collector. In that occasion, Zaccheus, who was a renowned tax collector in the community wanted very badly to see the Lord, and even though he was short in body and posture, he tried his best to see the Lord by climbing up the sycamore tree.

Zaccheus loved the Lord very much, as we can clearly see from the way he tried his best to seek the Lord. And as I said earlier on, God knows everything about us, and He noticed Zaccheus all the same, putting His attention and focus on him despite the enormous crowds all around Him. He called Zaccheus to His presence and made it clear that He wanted to go to his house and to be a guest over there.

Very quickly, the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law frowned and condemned the actions of Jesus, by saying how could He had entertained to go to the house of a sinner. And this must be understood in the context of how the tax collectors were resented and even despised, being prejudiced against just because of their profession in collecting taxes on behalf of the Romans who were resented, and they were therefore resented and hated as well.

But they failed to see how Zaccheus was a sinner just as they too were sinners. They have unjustly looked down on him based on their own prejudices and biases, and causing them to be blinded against their own shortcomings and faults. Zaccheus had however, something that is greater than all of them, the Pharisees and the rest of the people who had judged him unfairly, had in them.

He had faith in the Lord, faith that allowed him to use all his might to climb up the sycamore tree, believing that He is the One Who can save his soul from damnation. He has faith and hope in God, hope that he will be forgiven from his faults and sins, which he was certainly aware of, because of the constant prejudices and biases that were constantly deployed against him and his fellow tax collectors.

And he loved God, or else he would not even have made the effort to see Him. To prove his love for the Lord, he even made the very public announcement before all those who were gathered that he would right all the wrongs that he had committed as a tax collector, willingly parting even with his money and possessions when he said that he would repay all those whom he had once cheated four times as much.

When God saw all of that in Zaccheus, He saw a lost sheep that has finally come back to its Shepherd, and therefore praised him as a true son of Abraham who deserved salvation as much as everyone else. He was rebuking those Pharisees and all those who looked down on Zaccheus as a sinner while they themselves were even worse sinners because they refused to admit that they had sinned, unlike Zaccheus who admitted everything publicly before the Lord and showed his love for Him.

Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all spend some time to reflect on all that we have heard through the Scripture passages today. Let us all look in ourselves and find that Zaccheus that we should have, and whom we should indeed emulate. Are we in love with God so much that we are willing to seek the Lord just like how Zaccheus had done his best to seek the Lord with all of his might? Are we able to follow the Lord with all of our strength as we should have?

St. Paul in his Epistle to the Church and the faithful in Thessalonica in our second reading today then reassured us all that again, God’s love will make everything possible for us if we allow His love to enter into us and transform us, allowing Him to strengthen us and to give us that encouragement that we will be able to follow Him with faith and commitment regardless of the challenges and difficulties that we may have to face in being His faithful disciples.

We must be strong and we must stay faithful and keep hope in God’s enduring and ever great love for each and every one of us. For the devil is always devious with his many tricks and ways to try to prevent us from reaching out to God, by whatever means necessary. He may try to convince us that we are so sinful and despicable that we do not deserve to be saved. And that was exactly what the Pharisees did, as Satan spoke through them to try and prevent Zaccheus from being saved.

But God brushed off the devil and embraced that sinner who had returned home with such great love for his Master. This is why we too must have faith in God’s love and know that there is no sin too great for God to forgive, as long as we desire with all of our hearts to be forgiven and sincerely repent from all those sins and turn away from them. Zaccheus did that, and made a public profession of faith and love before all the people. If he could do it, then why can’t we do the same?

Then, the devil may also try to disturb us by trying to tempt us with many worldly pleasures and distractions by which he wants us to succumb to those temptations and as a result becoming more and more distant from God. If we allow these temptations to overcome us through our desires, we will end up falling deeper and deeper into sin, and from there eventually into eternal darkness unless we proactively resist the temptations.

Are we able to follow in the footsteps of Zaccheus who willingly wanted to atone for his past sins even if that meant that he would lose part of his money and possessions? Are we able to detach ourselves from the temptations of this world so as to become more committed and dedicated to God, that we may be more willing and capable of seeking God’s presence in our lives? We are all called to follow the example of Zaccheus, in putting God above everything else and love Him with all of our hearts from now on.

May the Lord be with us always, and may He bless us and empower us all from now on that we may be able to live our lives with faith. May He strengthen us all to live virtuously and focusing our attention on Him in every moments of our lives from now on. Let us all embrace the generous love of God, His mercy and compassion through which He wanted to heal us all from our sins and afflictions. May God bless us all, in our every good endeavours, now and forevermore. Amen.

Sunday, 3 November 2019 : Thirty-First Sunday of Ordinary Time (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Luke 19 : 1-10

At that time, when Jesus entered Jericho and passed through the city, a man named Zaccheus lived there. He was a tax collector and a wealthy man. He wanted to see what Jesus was like, but he was a short man and could not see Him because of the crowd.

So he ran ahead and climbed up a sycamore tree. From there he would be able to see Jesus, Who was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, “Zaccheus, Zaccheus, come down quickly, for I must stay at your house today.” So Zaccheus climbed down and received Him joyfully.

All the people who saw it began to grumble, and said, “He has gone as a guest to the house of a sinner.” But Zaccheus spoke to Jesus, “Half of what I own, Lord, I will give to the poor, and if I have cheated anyone, I will pay him back four times as much.”

Looking at him Jesus said, “Salvation has come to this house today, for he is also a true son of Abraham. The Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost.”