Sunday, 14 April 2019 : Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, after going through five weeks and more of the season of Lent, a time of preparation and rediscovery of our faith, we finally come to the beginning of the Holy Week, when we celebrate the most important moments and mysteries of our faith, commemorating that very moment when salvation came into our midst, through none other than Our Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God and Saviour of all.

Christ was the Saviour promised by God to all His people, the culmination of the grand plan He has revealed to man, ever since the beginning of time, when man first fell into sin and because of that, sundered from the fullness of God’s love and grace. And God fulfilled His promises perfectly and completely in Christ, the One He sent into this world, bringing the salvation and true hope into our midst, that we may all be saved.

And this Holy Week, we enter into the most crucial moment in all the history of the whole world and our whole existence, the moment when God completed His plan of salvation, by none other than the Passion, suffering and death of His own Son, Jesus Christ, on the cross. And on this Palm Sunday, the day that marks the beginning of Holy Week, we enter and immerse ourselves into the very important events that mark that moment of our salvation through Christ.

On this day, we heard from the readings of the Scripture, two very opposing and contradictory accounts, of what happened on the actual day when the Lord Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem in glory, which we commemorate with the blessing of palms and procession on this day, with the account of the suffering and death, the crucifixion of the same Lord Jesus on the cross, which happened just merely a few days apart.

In the Gospel passage which related to us what happened when the Lord Jesus came to Jerusalem for the time of the Passover, we heard how the people gathered to welcome the Lord Jesus as if He was a glorious and conquering King, entering the city of His reign, with palms raised and garments spread along the way on which He would enter on a donkey, as prophesied by the prophets. This event reminded us all that indeed, Jesus Christ is our Lord and King, the One Who has been promised to us, as our one and true Master.

But His kingship is not like any other kingship. He Himself mentioned on a few occasions throughout the accounts of the Gospels on the events of the Holy Week. He mentioned before His disciples, when they wanted to defend Him as He was being betrayed by Judas Iscariot and was about to be arrested, that had His heavenly Father wished it, He could have sent legions of Angels to protect Him. And before Pilate, Jesus Himself said that His kingdom was not of this world.

And this is why, many of the people abandoned Him, betrayed Him and rejected Him. And do we all realise that it was the very same people who welcomed, praised, glorified and sung ‘Hosanna! Hosanna to the Son of David!’ that just a few days later cried out before Pilate, ‘Crucify Him! Crucify Him!’ and ‘We have no king but Caesar?’. This is because many among them did not have true faith in God, but were following their own selfish, wicked and sinful desires.

Some certainly followed the Lord to be famous, while others misunderstood and thought of Christ and His kingdom as one like of this world, and therefore, hoped to gain popularity, power, prestige, and all sorts of other worldly recognitions and pleasures, as what two of His own disciples showed us, when St. James and St. John, the sons of Zebedee came up to Him with their mother asking for special favours over that of the other disciples.

And the others had various other reasons, many of whom were motivated by the desire of self-advancement, self-praise, self-gratification and other forms of worldly desires, that indeed quickly turned from one of apparent faith and dedication, into one of betrayal, as Judas did, and into apathy and lack of conviction to defend their faith, as what many of the people did, easily following the popular sentiment, of what was first the popularity of Christ in acclaiming Him as King and then condemning Him when the tide of events turned against Him.

Even Christ’s own disciples fled in fear and abandoned Him. And in the accounts, we heard how this King of ours, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, turned from complete glory into utter humiliation, that He was not just stripped from His dignity as even a human person, but even treated in the worst manner possible, and made to suffer the worst of the worst of injustices and treated as the worst and lowliest of criminals for sins and mistakes He did not commit.

Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, before we continue further, we ought to spend some time now to reflect on our own lives, on our own actions, on our own faith in God, on our own way of following the Lord and how we have lived our faith life all these while, especially as Christians, as those who profess to have faith in God. And we ought to remember that we are truly perhaps, just as terrible as those same people whom we just talked about earlier, all those who betrayed, abandoned and left the Lord behind for our own selfish desires, gain and purposes.

Many of us seek the Lord only to feel good and high, and perhaps seeking that spiritual satisfaction and fulfilment, or any other means to satisfy ourselves and to make ourselves feel good. And we often only remember the Lord when we have a vested interest, a desire that we want Him to fulfil, in our wishes and prayers, that when all those things have been fulfilled, or in the case when they were not fulfilled, we left the Lord behind and abandoned Him.

Many of us live our Christian life in most un-Christian like manner. Many of us only thought of fulfilling the barest minimum of our obligations as Christians, in coming for and attending the celebrations of the Holy Mass every Sundays of the year, and not more than that. And in this case, many of us even struggled to fulfil this barest minimum of what the Lord has called us all to do. We only hoped and wished what was best for ourselves, and not wanting to make the sacrifices for the Lord.

And even though we call ourselves Christians, how many of us continue to do what is wicked, sinful and unbecoming of ourselves as Christians? How many of us continue to act in manner that is selfish, greedy, condescending towards others, and being ignorant of the sufferings and troubles that others experience, often because of our own actions? How many of us continue to succumb to the temptations of the flesh and acted immorally, causing scandal within our own families and communities?

Brothers and sisters in Christ, this is the sad and unfortunate reality of our world, and especially our Christian world today. Many of us profess to be faithful to God, and yet, our hearts and minds are not completely attuned and focused on Him. We are still so easily swayed by the many temptations of the world, of desire for power, glory, fame, renown, human praise and the pleasures of the body and mind, that we can easily abandon our faith or not having true faith in God, as how the Israelites and the people at the time of Jesus had done.

Yet, it is to all of us, these delinquents, rebels, stubborn and hardhearted people that Christ has come, to deliver us all from all these attachments to sin and our wickedness. He, Who is King of Kings and Lord of Lords, willingly emptied Himself of all glory and honour, taking up not just the humble appearance of a Man, like us, but even more so, to be humiliated, ridiculed, rejected and made to suffer, enduring the worst of punishments, so that by all of that sacrifice and selfless giving of Himself, He may free us all from our sins and bring us to the salvation He promised us.

Every wounds that had been inflicted on Christ’s body, as He endured all the unimaginably painful suffering throughout the moments of His Passion, are in fact all of our imperfections, mistakes, our sins and rebelliousness, all of our iniquities and faults, all of our refusal to obey the Lord’s will and our selfishness. Every time we sin, we are causing that wound in the Body of Christ to fester and be even more painful, even as He endured it all and bore the burden of our sins on His cross.

Christ, in truth, showed us all, what it truly means for us to be Christians. First of all, all of us must be filled with love, the love for God and the love for our fellow brothers and sisters. It was love for His Father and the love that He has for each and every one of us, even the greatest and most wicked of sinners, that allowed Christ to endure the bitter and terrible pain of His suffering and death on the cross. Without His enduring love and compassion for us, God would not have done everything all the way to suffer death just that all of us may live.

And as Christians, we must be humble, and the greater we are, the humbler we are to be before God and men alike. For Christ Himself said, that He came not to be served, but to serve, and He showed His disciples at the Last Supper, what they ought to be doing to one another, loving one another as brothers and sisters, and to care for each other with true and genuine love. The Lord did not allow pride and ego to be in the way, and just as He rejected Satan’s advances through the temptations he attempted on the Lord, we too should cast aside our own pride and ego.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we journey through the Holy Week, let us all delve deeper into our understanding of our faith and our own relationship with God. If all these while, we have been distant and have not been spending our time with God, because of the many distractions and temptations we faced in life, then now is the perfect opportunity for us all to reorientate ourselves and to rediscover our true purpose in life, not for our own self-glory, but rather, for the greater glory of God.

Let us all grow deeper in our faith and in our conviction and dedication to love the Lord and to serve Him through our actions and deeds in life, that are pleasing to Him. Let us all also follow the Lord wholeheartedly from now on, carrying our own crosses with Him. He has called us and we should respond to His call. Let us all turn to Him with all of our hearts and with all of our might, and embrace the great love He has for us, that He was willing to suffer and die, just that we may live and not perish.

May the Lord continue to bless us all and may He continue to guide us as we continue to progress through this holiest of all periods and times of this year. May He sow in us all the seeds of faith, hope and love, so that we may grow ever deeper in faith, ever more hopeful in our lives, and be ever more filled with love at all times of our lives. May God be with us all, now and always. Amen.

Sunday, 14 April 2019 : Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion (Passion Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Luke 22 : 14 – Luke 23 : 56

When the hour came, Jesus took His place at the table and the Apostles with Him. And He said to them, “I was eager to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for, I tell you, I shall not eat it again until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.”

Then they passed Him a cup, and when He had given thanks, He said, “Take this, and share it among yourselves; for I tell you that, from now on, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” Jesus also took bread, and after giving thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My Body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.” And after the supper, He did the same with the cup, saying, “This cup is the new Covenant, sealed in My Blood, which is poured out for you.”

Jesus continued, “Yet the hand of the traitor is with Me on the table. Know that the Son of Man is going the way marked out for Him. But alas for that one who betrays Him!” They began to ask one another which of them could do such a thing. They also began to argue among themselves which of them should be considered the most important. Jesus said, “The kings of the pagan nations rule over them as lords, and the most hard-hearted rulers claim the title, ‘Gracious Lord.’”

“But not so with you; let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as the servant. For who is the greatest, he who sits at the table or he who serves? He who is seated, is it not? Yet I am among you as One Who serves. You are the ones who have been with Me, and stood by Me, through My troubles; because of this, just as the kingship has been given to Me by My Father, so I give it to you. You will eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and you will sit on thrones and govern the twelve tribes of Israel.”

“Simon, Simon, Satan has demanded to sift you like grain, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have recovered, you shall strengthen your brothers.” Then Peter said, “Lord, with You I am ready to go even to prison and death.” But Jesus replied, “I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day before you have denied three times that you know Me.”

Jesus also said to them, “When I sent you without purse or bag or sandals, were you short of anything?” They answered, “No.” And Jesus said to them, “But now, the one who has a purse or a bag must take it, or even his coat, and sell it, and but a sword. For Scripture says : He was numbered among criminals. These words have to be fulfilled in Me, and everything written about Me is now taking place.”

Then they said, “See, Lord, here are two swords!” But Jesus answered, “That is enough.” After this, Jesus left to go as usual to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed Him. When He came to the place, He told them, “Pray that you may not be put to the test.” Then He went a little further, about a stone’s throw, and kneeling down He prayed, “Father, if it is Your will, remove this cup from Me; however, not My will but Yours be done.” And from heaven there appeared to Him an Angel, who gave Him strength.

As He was in agony, He prayed even more earnestly, and great drops of blood formed like sweat and fell to the ground. When He rose from prayer, He went to His disciples, but found them worn out with grief, and asleep. And He said to them, “Why do you sleep? Get up and pray, so that you may not be put to the test.”

Jesus was still speaking when suddenly a crowd appeared, and the man named Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He drew near to Jesus to kiss Him, and Jesus said to him, “Judas, with a kiss do you betray the Son of Man?”

Those with Jesus, seeing what would happen, said to Him, “Master, shall we use the sword?” And one of them struck the High Priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. But Jesus ordered him, “No more of this!” He touched the man’s ear and healed him. Then Jesus spoke to those coming against Him, the chief priests, the officers of the Temple and elders; and He said to them, “Are you looking for a thief, a robber? Do you really need swords and clubs to arrest Me? Day after day I was among you, teaching in the Temple, and you did not arrest Me. But this is the hour of the power of darkness; this is your hour.”

Then they seized Him and took Him away, bringing Him to the High Priest’s house. Peter followed at a distance. A fire was kindled in the middle of the courtyard where people were gathered, and Peter sat among them. A maidservant noticed him. Looking at him intently in the light of the fire, she exclaimed, “This man also was with Him!” But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know Him!”

A little later someone who saw him said, “You are also one of them!” Peter replied, “My friend, I am not!” After about an hour another asserted, “Surely this man was with Him, for he is a Galilean.” Again Peter denied it : “My friend, I do not know what you are talking about!” He had not finished saying this, when a cock crowed. The Lord turned around and looked at Peter, and Peter remembered the word which the Lord had spoken : “Before the cock crows, you will deny Me three times.” Peter went outside, weeping bitterly.

Now the guards, who had arrested Jesus, mocked and beat Him. They blindfolded Him, struck Him, and then asked Him, “Who hit You? Tell us, Prophet!” And they hurled many other insulting words at Him. At daybreak, the council of the elders of the people, among whom were the chief priests and the teachers of the Law, assembled again. Then they had Jesus brought before them, and they began questioning Him, “Tell us, are You the Christ?”

Jesus replied, “You will not believe, if I tell you, and neither will you answer, if I ask you. But from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” In chorus they asked, “So You are the Son of God?” And Jesus said to them, “You are right, I am.” Then they said, “What need have we of witnesses? We have heard it from His own lips.”

The whole council rose and brought Jesus to Pilate. They gave their accusation : “We found this Man subverting our nation, opposing payment of taxes to Caesar, and claiming to be Christ the King.” Pilate asked Jesus, “Are You the King of the Jews?” Jesus replied, “You said so.” Turning to the chief priests and the crowd, Pilate said, “I find no basis for a case against this Man.” But they insisted, “All the country of the Jews is being stirred up by His teaching. He began in Galilee and now He has come all the way here.”

When Pilate heard this, he asked if the Man was a Galilean. Finding the Accused to come under Herod’s jurisdiction, Pilate sent Jesus over to Herod who happened to be in Jerusalem at that time. Herod was delighted to have Jesus before him; for a long time he had wanted to see Him because of the reports about Him, and he was hoping to see Jesus work some miracle. He piled up question upon question, but got no reply from Jesus.

All the while the chief priests and the scribes remained standing there, vehemently pressing their accusations. Finally, Herod ridiculed Him and with his guards mocked Him. And when he had put a rich cloak on Him, he sent Him back to Pilate. Pilate and Herod, who were enemies before, became friends from that day.

Pilate then called together the chief priests and the elders and the people, and said to them, “You have brought this Man before me and accused Him of subversion. In your presence I have examined Him and found no basis for your charges; and neither has Herod, for he sent Him back to me. It is quite clear that this Man has done nothing that deserves a death sentence. I will therefore have Him scourged and then release Him.”

(At Passover, Pilate had to release a prisoner.)

Shouting as one man, the crowd protested, “No! Away with this Man! Release Barabbas instead!” This man had been thrown into prison for an uprising in the city and for murder. Since Pilate wanted to release Jesus, he appealed to the crowd once more, but they shouted back, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” A third time Pilate said to them, “Why, what evil has He done? Since no crime deserving death has been proved, I shall have Him scourged and let Him go.”

But they went on shouting and demanding that Jesus be crucified, and their shouts grew louder. So Pilate decided to pass the sentence they demanded. He released the man they asked for, the one who was in prison for rebellion and murder, and he handed Jesus over in accordance with their wishes. When they led Jesus away, they seized Simon of Cyrene, arriving from the countryside, and laid the cross on Him, to carry it behind Jesus.

A large crowd of people followed Him; among them were women, beating their breasts and grieving for Him, but Jesus turned to them and said, “Women of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me! Weep rather for yourselves and for your children, for the days are coming when people will say, ‘Happy are the women without child! Happy are those who have not given birth or nursed a child!’ And they will say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us!’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us!’ For if this is the lot of the green wood, what will happen to the dry?”

Along with Jesus, two criminals also were led out to be executed. There, at the place called the Skull, He was crucified together with two criminals – one on His right and another on His left. (Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”) And the guards cast lots to divide His clothes among themselves.

The people stood by, watching. As for the rulers, they jeered at Him, saying to one another, “Let the Man Who saved others now save Himself, for He is the Messiah, the Chosen One of God!” The soldiers also mocked Him and, when they drew near to offer Him bitter wine, they said, “So You are the King of the Jews? Save Yourself!” Above Jesus there was an inscription in Greek, Latin and Hebrew, which read, “This is the King of the Jews.”

One of the criminals hanging with Jesus insulted Him, “So You are the Messiah? Save Yourself, and us as well!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Have you no fear of God, you who received the same sentence as He did? For us it is just : this is payment for what we have done. But this Man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me, when You come into Your kingdom.” Jesus replied, “In truth I tell you, today, you will be with Me today in paradise.”

It was almost midday. The sun was hidden, and darkness came over the whole land until mid-afternoon; and, at that time, the curtain of the Sanctuary was torn in two. Then Jesus gave a loud cry, “Father, into Your hands I commend My Spirit.” And saying that, He gave up His Spirit.”

The captain, on seeing what had happened, acknowledged the hand of God, “Surely, this was an upright Man!” he said. And all the people who had gathered to watch the spectacle, as soon as they saw what had happened, went home beating their breasts. But those who knew Jesus, and the women who had followed Him from Galilee, remained there at a distance. They witnessed all these things.

Then a member of the Jewish supreme council intervened, a good and righteous man named Joseph, from the Judean town of Arimathea. He had not agreed with the decision and action of his fellow members, and he lived uprightly in the hope of seeing the kingdom of God. Joseph went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ Body. He then took it down, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid it in a yet unused tomb, cut out of a rock.

It was the day of preparation and the Sabbath was beginning. So the women, who had come with Jesus from Galilee, followed Joseph to see the tomb, and how His Body was laid. Returning home, they prepared perfumes and ointments. And on the Sabbath day they rested, as the Law required.

Alternative reading (shorter version)

Luke 23 : 1-49

The whole council rose and brought Jesus to Pilate. They gave their accusation : “We found this Man subverting our nation, opposing payment of taxes to Caesar, and claiming to be Christ the King.” Pilate asked Jesus, “Are You the King of the Jews?” Jesus replied, “You said so.” Turning to the chief priests and the crowd, Pilate said, “I find no basis for a case against this Man.” But they insisted, “All the country of the Jews is being stirred up by His teaching. He began in Galilee and now He has come all the way here.”

When Pilate heard this, he asked if the Man was a Galilean. Finding the Accused to come under Herod’s jurisdiction, Pilate sent Jesus over to Herod who happened to be in Jerusalem at that time. Herod was delighted to have Jesus before him; for a long time he had wanted to see Him because of the reports about Him, and he was hoping to see Jesus work some miracle. He piled up question upon question, but got no reply from Jesus.

All the while the chief priests and the scribes remained standing there, vehemently pressing their accusations. Finally, Herod ridiculed Him and with his guards mocked Him. And when he had put a rich cloak on Him, he sent Him back to Pilate. Pilate and Herod, who were enemies before, became friends from that day.

Pilate then called together the chief priests and the elders and the people, and said to them, “You have brought this Man before me and accused Him of subversion. In your presence I have examined Him and found no basis for your charges; and neither has Herod, for he sent Him back to me. It is quite clear that this Man has done nothing that deserves a death sentence. I will therefore have Him scourged and then release Him.”

(At Passover, Pilate had to release a prisoner.)

Shouting as one man, the crowd protested, “No! Away with this Man! Release Barabbas instead!” This man had been thrown into prison for an uprising in the city and for murder. Since Pilate wanted to release Jesus, he appealed to the crowd once more, but they shouted back, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” A third time Pilate said to them, “Why, what evil has He done? Since no crime deserving death has been proved, I shall have Him scourged and let Him go.”

But they went on shouting and demanding that Jesus be crucified, and their shouts grew louder. So Pilate decided to pass the sentence they demanded. He released the man they asked for, the one who was in prison for rebellion and murder, and he handed Jesus over in accordance with their wishes. When they led Jesus away, they seized Simon of Cyrene, arriving from the countryside, and laid the cross on Him, to carry it behind Jesus.

A large crowd of people followed Him; among them were women, beating their breasts and grieving for Him, but Jesus turned to them and said, “Women of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me! Weep rather for yourselves and for your children, for the days are coming when people will say, ‘Happy are the women without child! Happy are those who have not given birth or nursed a child!’ And they will say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us!’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us!’ For if this is the lot of the green wood, what will happen to the dry?”

Along with Jesus, two criminals also were led out to be executed. There, at the place called the Skull, He was crucified together with two criminals – one on His right and another on His left. (Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”) And the guards cast lots to divide His clothes among themselves.

The people stood by, watching. As for the rulers, they jeered at Him, saying to one another, “Let the Man Who saved others now save Himself, for He is the Messiah, the Chosen One of God!” The soldiers also mocked Him and, when they drew near to offer Him bitter wine, they said, “So You are the King of the Jews? Save Yourself!” Above Jesus there was an inscription in Greek, Latin and Hebrew, which read, “This is the King of the Jews.”

One of the criminals hanging with Jesus insulted Him, “So You are the Messiah? Save Yourself, and us as well!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Have you no fear of God, you who received the same sentence as He did? For us it is just : this is payment for what we have done. But this Man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me, when You come into Your kingdom.” Jesus replied, “In truth I tell you, today, you will be with Me today in paradise.”

It was almost midday. The sun was hidden, and darkness came over the whole land until mid-afternoon; and, at that time, the curtain of the Sanctuary was torn in two. Then Jesus gave a loud cry, “Father, into Your hands I commend My Spirit.” And saying that, He gave up His Spirit.”

The captain, on seeing what had happened, acknowledged the hand of God, “Surely, this was an upright Man!” he said. And all the people who had gathered to watch the spectacle, as soon as they saw what had happened, went home beating their breasts. But those who knew Jesus, and the women who had followed Him from Galilee, remained there at a distance. They witnessed all these things.

Sunday, 14 April 2019 : Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion (Second Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Philippians 2 : 6-11

Though He was in the form of God, He did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking on the nature of a servant, made in human likeness, and in His appearance found as a Man.

He humbled Himself by being obedient to death, death on the cross. That is why God exalted Him and gave Him the Name which outshines all names, so that at the Name of Jesus all knees should bend in heaven, on earth and among the dead, and all tongues proclaim that Christ Jesus is the Lord to the glory of God the Father.

Sunday, 14 April 2019 : Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Psalm 21 : 8-9, 17-18a, 19-20, 23-24

All who see Me make a jest of Me; they sneer and shake their heads. “He put His trust in the Lord, let the Lord rescue Him! If the Lord is His friend, let Him help Him!”

Round about Me are vicious dogs, villainous rogues encircling Me. They have tied up My hands and feet. They can count all My bones.

Dividing My garments among them and casting lots for My raiment. O Lord, be not far from Me! O My strength, come quickly to My help.

I will proclaim Your Name to My brothers. I will praise You in the assembly. “All you who fear the Lord, praise Him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify Him! All you sons of Israel, revere Him!

Sunday, 14 April 2019 : Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Isaiah 50 : 4-7

The Lord YHVH has taught Me so I speak as His disciple and I know how to sustain the weary. Morning after morning He wakes Me up to hear, to listen like a disciple. The Lord YHVH has opened My ear. I have not rebelled, nor have I withdrawn.

I offered My back to those who strike Me, My cheeks to those who pulled My beard; neither did I shield My face from blows, spittle and disgrace. I have not despaired, for the Lord YHVH comes to My help. So, like a flint I set My face, knowing that I will not be disgraced.

Sunday, 14 April 2019 : Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Luke 19 : 28-40

At that time, Jesus spoke, and then He passed on ahead of them, on His way to Jerusalem. When He drew near to Bethphage and Bethany, close to the Mount of Olives, He sent two of His disciples with these instructions, “Go to the village opposite; and, as you enter it, you will find a colt tied up, that no one has yet ridden. Untie it, and bring it here. And if anyone says to you, ‘Why are you untying this colt?’ You shall say, ‘The Master needs it.’”

So the two disciples went and found things just as Jesus had said. As they were untying the colt, the owner said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?” And they answered, “The Master needs it.” So they brought it to Jesus and, throwing their cloaks on the colt, they mounted Jesus on it. And as He went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.

When Jesus came near Jerusalem, to the place where the road slopes down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of His disciples began to rejoice, and to praise God with a loud voice for all the miracles they had seen; and they cried out, “Blessed is He Who comes as King in the Name of the Lord. Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heavens.”

Some Pharisees in the crowd said to Him, “Master, rebuke Your disciples!” But Jesus answered, “I tell you, if they were to remain silent, the stones would cry out.”

Sunday, 7 April 2019 : Fifth Sunday of Lent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this fifth Sunday of the season of Lent, we are just one week away from the beginning of the Holy Week on Palm Sunday, the beginning of the most important week and time in our entire liturgical year. And traditionally this Sunday, the Fifth Sunday of Lent is also known as the Passion Sunday, marking the beginning of the two weeks Passiontide period spanning the period from today to the Resurrection of Christ at Easter.

At this occasion therefore, the Lord wants each and every one of us to delve deeper into the mystery of His Passion, suffering and death on the cross, as we approach the time when we will commemorate the most important events in our history, the time when God Himself willingly gave His all and fulfilled the promises that He had made with our ancestors, the promise of salvation and liberation from sin, and the promise of freedom from the tyranny of Satan and sin, and to make with us a new and everlasting Covenant.

That is why today’s Scripture readings focus on the love and mercy of God being shown and made evident before us, from the promises that God made to His people through the prophet Isaiah in our first reading today, where He reminded them of the many wonderful things that He had performed and done before them, since the time of their ancestors, and how He has loved and blessed them ever since. God wanted to show His people that His love and mercy is ever trustworthy and ever good.

And then, the Lord showed it firsthand through what we have heard in our Gospel passage today, when the Lord Jesus was confronted by the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law who wanted to corner and trap Him in an impossible situation, by bringing into His presence a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery, and asking Him what should be done upon that woman. Their plotting and opposition were truly sinister and wicked, and we will go through the reason why.

First of all, the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law were hoping that Jesus would side with the woman who had been caught in adultery, based on how He has often spent His time in the company of sinners, people like tax collectors and prostitutes, with people who were sick with various diseases, those who were considered unclean in body and in spirit, all those who have been spurned and rejected by the society and looked down upon as sinners.

And if the Lord sided with the woman, by forgiving her outright and ignoring whatever the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law had accused her for, then they could quickly seize on the opportunity and discredit the Lord Jesus, labelling Him as a friend of sinners and as a blasphemer, for allowing sin to continue to exist. This would have immediately brought a great problem for the Lord, Who would then lose His credibility, following and even trust by the people. And He could even be condemned by the authorities for such an action.

But then, if the Lord so chose that He would punish the woman in accordance with the Jewish customs and laws, then the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law would also seize upon the opportunity to enhance their own position and prestige, by pointing out that in the end, the Lord Jesus was no different from them, and probably was a usurper and a fake who is trying to seize the teaching authority from the Sanhedrin or the Jewish elite, and He would have also ended in trouble for this choice of action.

Clearly the Lord Jesus was trapped and cornered by the action of the Pharisees, the teachers of the Law and all those who have opposed Him. But the Lord then made a move that His enemies did not anticipate at all. He asked that the one who was without sin cast the first stone at the woman, for the punishment for adultery according to the Jewish laws and customs was stoning to death. And the people gradually left the place, beginning from the oldest to the youngest.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, what we have just heard and witnessed from the story in our Gospel passage today is the sad reality of our human life and our actions towards one another. We like to point out the shortcomings and faults in others, and we want to see others fail and we find joy in causing hurt and suffering in others, just because we hate or dislike the other person, or think that we are better than them.

That was how the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law were capable of doing such a heinous and wicked act, in trying to frame and discredit the Lord Jesus, by trapping Him in what was to be an impossible situation. But the Lord knew all that were going on in their minds, all their plots and thoughts, and surely, He must have been very sad to see many of His people behaving in such a way, condemning sinners and being selfish in their attitudes towards others.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we see today, the great mercy of God as we saw how Jesus was merciful towards the woman who was caught in the act of adultery. When all the people who wanted to condemn her had left, and no one threw the stone at her, the Lord told her to go and change her life, no longer sin but obeying God’s will from then on. And just as none of the people condemned her in the end, He Himself said that neither did He condemn her.

This is a reminder to each and every one of us, that first of all, each and every one of us are sinners, and all of us are in need of God’s healing and help, for otherwise, sin will become our undoing. And no one can heal us from our sins, except for God. For it is He alone Who is able to forgive us from our sins and restore us to the state of grace in Him. Sin is indeed a very dangerous disease that is slowly destroying us and corrupting us from inside out, often without us realising it.

And that is why, today through the passages, we are reminded to come to seek God’s forgiveness and mercy. And then, as we are all sinners, none of us have any rights to condemn and be judgmental on others, just as what the Pharisees, the teachers of the Law had done, in wanting to condemn the woman to death, and having that sinister intention to discredit the Lord Jesus by using that opportunity.

That was why, the Lord Jesus said, ‘Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone’. This reminds us that before we accuse others and try to make others look bad or suffer, or punishing them for their faults, we must always try to contemplate deep in our hearts, and think whether we have sinned or done the same fault ourselves. When we point a finger to judge and demean others, do we realise that the other four fingers are pointing to ourselves?

We know of one parable of Jesus, where it was said that ‘Remove first the splinter from your own eye, before trying to remove the plank from your brother’s eye’. A lot of us have this hurt and angst within us, in our relationships towards each other, to our friends, to our family members, to the members of our community, and frequently, within our Church ministries and organisations, in our parishes and in our faith communities and groups.

And that is caused by the pride that we have within us, in refusing to admit that we ourselves are not perfect and we ourselves are in need of the same healing that the other person is needing. We often think that others need to change to suit what we want or what we expect of them, but how many of us actually stop to think that we ourselves are in need of a similar change in our own lives? When we allow ego and pride to take charge of our thoughts and actions, we will end up doing exactly what the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law had been doing.

Let us instead follow the example of Christ, Who forgave and healed the adulterous woman from her sins. He told her to go and sin no more, and that is what we should be doing as well. God is so merciful and loving towards us, even towards His enemies, that when He was on the cross, He forgave even all those who have condemned Him. He, the Perfect One, willingly took up our imperfections and sins, and be punished for them, all because of His love and tender mercy towards us.

Are we able to follow Christ’s loving examples in our own actions in life? Are we able to reach out to all those whom we have hurt and who have hurt us, and forgive each other? This is one important challenge that I think we should take up in this remaining time of Lent, as we prepare ourselves to enter into the mystery of the Passion, suffering and death of Our Lord. It is essentially all about God’s love and generous mercy towards us.

Let us all look towards the cross of Christ, on the Lord crucified. Let us all look at how wounded He is, and realise that each and every one of those innumerable wounds are our own sins, that God has willingly taken up on Himself, that each and every one of us may be healed. Let us all be ashamed at our sinfulness, but with the hope that Christ will heal us from our sins, and instead of being prideful and judgmental to each other, let us all help each other to overcome the temptations of sin, and be loving and forgiving at all times, as Christ Our Lord Himself has done.

May the Lord our God continue to love us, and may He continue to shower us with His love and mercy. May God guide us always in our journey of faith towards Him, each and every days of our life. And may all of us be prepared to enter meaningfully into the commemoration of Our Lord’s Passion, suffering, death and resurrection. Amen.