Liturgical Colour : White
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we listened to the words of the Lord through the Sacred Scriptures in which we heard the story of both the prophet Jonah, his calling and mission to the city of Nineveh, as well as the story of the Good Samaritan from the well-known parable of the Good Samaritan. Through these readings all of us are called to realise what we have all been called to do as Christians, that is to bring forth God’s truth and love to this world, much as He had spoken through the prophet Jonah and what He had revealed to us directly through the story of the Good Samaritan.
In our first reading today, we heard the rather long account of how God called the prophet Jonah from the land of Israel, calling him to follow His task and mission of going to the great city of Nineveh, to proclaim God’s words to the people of that city, who were infamous for their wickedness and great power, as the capital of the mighty and powerful Assyrian Empire. The story of Jonah and his mission was dated by historians as having occurred in the eighth century before the birth of Christ, during the decades before the final fall of the northern kingdom of Israel to the hands of the same Assyrians.
At that time, the Assyrians were rapidly growing in power as the great Hegemon of the entire Middle East. They conquered many countries and did many horrible things through their conquests, destroying many places and displacing numerous peoples, all for their own benefits. They were haughty and sinful, and through the prophet Jonah, God wanted to remind them of their mortality and their insignificance before the power of God. In the end, what God really wanted was for them to repent from their sins, to humble themselves and turn away from their sins.
But Jonah refused to obey the Lord and instead attempted to flee far away from the Lord, first to Tarshish, and then perhaps hoping to take a ship travelling to a far away place where God could not reach him. It was then that God showed His might and reminded Jonah that he could not flee from Him no matter how hard he tried to, as a great storm came and almost sank the ship that he was in, and he finally gave in to the Lord, asking himself to be thrown into the sea, and thereafter, as the Lord sent a great fish or whale to rescue him from the sea, Jonah came on dry land and then went to the city of Nineveh as God intended.
Through the prophet Jonah, God revealed His will to the people of Nineveh, as He first told them that the great city would be utterly destroyed and ruined by God for their many sins and wicked attitudes. And surprisingly, the Assyrian King, the ruler of Nineveh and the entire city listened to the Lord and His words, and humbled themselves before Him such that they all wore sackcloths in deep mourning, hoping that the Lord would not carry out His sentence against them and spare them. The Lord saw their repentance, and then did not carry out what He had designed to do on them.
As we then heard the well-known parable of the Good Samaritans from our Gospel passage today, all of us are reminded of a similar story of how a man who had been beset by robbers had been left to die in the wilderness by the roadside, only for a priest and a Levite to walk past by him, ignoring him and doing nothing to save him at all. This is a significant representation, as not only that it was reminiscent of what Jonah did, in refusing to do something to save people in need, for his case, the people of Nineveh, while he could do so, but it also showed us that all of us are called to learn what true love actually means.
The priest and the Levite were those who were deeply and greatly revered in the community of God’s people then, and yet, they did nothing at all to help, and not even sparing a glance or effort to aid the dying man. Instead, it fell to a Samaritan, a man belonging to a race that had often been hated and rejected by the descendants of the Israelites, who reached out in compassion and love to save the man, who was most likely from among the Israelites, most bitter enemies and rivals of the Samaritans.
And not only that, but as we all heard, the Good Samaritan not only took very good care of the man and brought him to a proper lodging, but he even took the extra mile of providing for his needs and showing genuine care and concern, hoping for his full recovery and sponsorship of his treatment. Through this story of the Good Samaritan in our Gospel passage today, the Lord wanted all of His disciples and therefore, all of us to know what it truly means to be His followers and disciples, to love generously and with great compassion for those who are in need.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, all of us as Christians are called to action, to follow the Lord and trust in Him as He called on us to do His will, to devote ourselves wholeheartedly to His cause, humbling ourselves before Him and trusting in Him. We should learn from the case of the prophet Jonah and the story of the Good Samaritan, how all of us have been called by God and been given the opportunities to do what is good in this world. Yet, many times we have rejected His call and find many excuses not to follow Him, just as Jonah, the priest and the Levite had done.
Today, all of us should look upon the great examples set by a most famous saint of the Church, whose life and holiness, whose labours and efforts are still remembered even to this very day. St. Francis of Assisi, the renowned founder of the Order of Friars Minor, better known as the Franciscans and its later many offshoots, was a great saint who dedicated much of his life in service to God and to his fellow men. St. Francis of Assisi is a great role model for all of us to follow, in how we should be willing to reach out to our brethren in need, and to do God’s will.
St. Francis of Assisi was born Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone, the son of a very rich and prosperous silk merchant in Assisi in what is today northern Italy, one Pietro di Bernardone, who would later on called his son Francesco upon his love for France, which eventually became his more famous name of St. Francis of Assisi. St. Francis in his youth was exposed to the life of the rich, the indulging of worldly pleasures and excesses, and was brought up by his father with the hope that he would be the one to continue his family’s business and legacy.
However, the young St. Francis gradually came to detest the life of excesses and wastefulness he experienced, and began to seek for true satisfaction and happiness. After a stint in the military and being struck by a disease, he would come to seek spiritual closeness to God, going for pilgrimage to Rome and even joined the poor in begging for alms. Then, he received a spiritual vision and experience from God as he passed by the ruined church of San Damiano, in which as he passed by the dilapidated church, he heard the Lord’s voice calling him, to rebuild His Church.
The young St. Francis took it that the Lord was calling him to restore the dilapidated church, and he went to take some of his father’s fine silk, selling them and using them to help the rebuilding the church. However, the priest in charge refused to accept his ill-gotten money from stealing, and the angry St. Francis threw the coins he earned on the floor. Actually, what the Lord wanted him to do, as He called St. Francis was for him to follow the Lord and to do what he could to restore the Church of God, the Universal Church and the people of God.
When St. Francis tried to hide from the wrath of his father, he hid from him for a month in a cave before eventually seeking the help of the local bishop. And when his merchant father came to seek him and demanded that he return the properties that he had stolen from him, St. Francis decided to remove from himself all pieces of clothings and there laid naked before all. The bishop covered the naked St. Francis with his cope, and from then on, St. Francis abandoned his birthright and his past life, in exchange for a new life committed to God. Ever since then, St. Francis dedicated himself wholly to God.
St. Francis of Assisi then laboured to gather others who shared his vision to rebuild and reform the Church, eventually establishing what is to be known as the Order of Friars Minor, of a religious order committed not only to prayer but also ministry to the people of God, as friars who lived in the midst of the world and in a community at the same time, where they shared their property with one another in a community of brotherhood, in poverty and in joy of serving God. Many people would come to join the Franciscans, and the Pope himself also approved of this foundation.
St. Francis himself would come to receive the holy wounds of the Lord, also known as the ‘stigmata’, which appeared on his hands and side, as well as his feet, which according to tradition happened as a Seraphim came to him and showed him the spiritual vision of God. He endured the physical pain of the stigmata each day henceforth, while living a life truly dedicated and committed to God, serving the Lord humbly and with love to the very last moments of his life, when he eventually went to the glory of Heaven, carried by the Angels of God in his sleep of death.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we listened to the words of God and remembered the examples and the life showed by St. Francis of Assisi, let us all discern carefully in what way that we can follow the Lord and His calling more faithfully, listening to His words and urgings in our lives, and entrust ourselves to Him, inspired by what St. Francis of Assisi had done in his own life. May the Lord help us and strengthen us all, and may He continue to guide us in our journey of faith through life. May God bless us all in our every efforts and endeavours, in the footsteps of our holy predecessors, St. Francis of Assisi and many others. Amen.