Sunday, 21 October 2018 : Twenty-Ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday we listened to the words of the Scripture with regards to our calling as Christians, through our belief in our Lord Jesus Christ. We are called to follow the examples shown by the Lord, and to listen to Him, in what He has revealed and taught to us. And the essence of Christian discipleship is that of humility and the total giving of oneself to the will of God, and not to give in to our selfish, human desires.

Today, in the first reading we heard from the passage taken from the Book of the prophet Isaiah, which spoke of the prophecy of the suffering Messiah, foretelling what would happen to the faithful and true servant of God, the Messiah, Whom the Lord has promised to send to His people as the source of their deliverance. But through that suffering and selfless offering of Himself, God has willed to save all of His people, that by His sacrifice, He justified many through His death.

This prophecy was fulfilled in the Lord Jesus Christ, Who came into the world, sent by the Father, to be the Saviour of the world. He is the Messiah long awaited by the people of Israel, and the One Whom all mankind had been waiting for, since the time of their downfall into the tyranny of sin. However, He was deeply misunderstood by His own people, many of them who refused to believe that He is the Messiah of God.

To the Jews, who were looking forward to salvation through the Messiah, many of them were expecting a mighty and powerful King to come and lead them against their oppressors and the Romans, who were the masters of most of the known world at the time. The Jewish people did not expect at all that their Messiah would be One Who was totally without worldly ambitions, or the One Who would bear suffering and humiliation to such an extent that He became even the lowliest and the most humiliated of all beings.

This is a reality which many of the Jews during the time of Jesus’ ministry failed to understand, as they had different expectation of what the Messiah would be like and what He would do for their sake. They were expecting an immediate liberation from all worldly woes, the restoration of the glorious and earthly kingdom of Israel as how it was during the time of King David and Solomon. But that was not how God had desired it, for His kingdom was truly one that surpasses this world.

The second reading today, taken from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Hebrews, is the revelation of the truth of God to the Jewish people, especially to those Jews who have willingly accepted the Lord Jesus as their Messiah. St. Paul reiterated in his Epistle that the Lord Jesus is the One and True Eternal High Priest of all mankind, by the virtue of His sacrificial and perfect selfless love offering on the Altar of the Cross.

St. Paul reiterated the truth about what the Messiah of God came into this world to do, dispelling the misconceptions that He would be a powerful and conquering King, and instead, He came as a King in all humility, to serve His people, and to show the Lord’s mercy to His people. And He did all of these through His perfect obedience to the will of His Father in heaven, offering Himself as the perfect and only offering that is worthy of the salvation of all mankind, and Him as the High Priest, offering His own Body and Blood as the means of the absolution of our sins.

In doing this, He fulfilled the prophecy which Isaiah spoke about, and which was our first reading today. The prophet Isaiah spoke of an obedient and suffering servant, and by Christ’s perfect obedience and love for His Father, He willingly gathered to Himself all of our sins and the bonds and chains of our disobedience, and suffering the effects of our punishment. He patiently bore His cross on the way to Calvary, and offered Himself thoroughly as the means by which we may be freed from our sins.

Today, we also listened to the reading from the Holy Gospel written by St. Mark, in which we heard of the moment when the two disciples, St. James and St. John, brothers and sons of Zebedee, came up to the Lord Jesus and made a special request before Him. In another Gospel account, their mother also went with them before the Lord, and made the same request, that each one of them would be able to sit on the left and on the right hand of the Lord when He enters to His kingdom.

The significance of this is that, it precisely highlighted the attitude of the Jewish people in how they viewed the Messiah. The disciples wanted to gain favour with the Lord, and to gain even advantage over one another, a position more favourable, more prestigious and better in the sight of others. That is unfortunately, the reality of how things worked initially among the Apostles and the disciples of the Lord. That was why the Lord in other occasions as written in the Gospels, had to rebuke them for their grumbling and disagreements over who was the most esteemed and best among them.

Many of the people who followed the Lord Jesus also followed Him because of what they have seen, in His miraculous deeds and healings, in His wonderful teachings and popularity, and they hoped to gain from all of these, to gain benefit for themselves and perhaps to satisfy their own desires for worldly power, for honour, for worldly glory and honour, and for position in God’s promised kingdom to come.

But they failed to understand that the Lord’s ways are not like man’s ways. They thought that by following the Lord, they would gain favour and advantage for themselves, but unfortunately, the truth and reality is that, as the Lord Himself revealed to His people, that following Him would mean that they must suffer just as He has suffered, and they will experience rejection, pain and discomfort, just as He Himself had endured all of those.

The Lord foretold to them in the same Gospel passage that He would suffer, by referring to the cup that He was to drink. This is the same cup that the Lord Jesus mentioned to His Father, at the time of His agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, asking Him if it is possible, to let this cup of suffering pass Him by. In that we can see just how painful, heavy and terrible the burdens which Our Lord had willingly taken up on Himself, that He agonised it so in His humanity.

But the Lord obeyed His Father’s will, and surrendered Himself so completely to His Father that He willingly bore down the weight and burden of the cross, despite its pains and sufferings. He completed the task which the Father entrusted Him, and because of that, all of us have a new hope, through the loving and selfless sacrifice that Our Lord made on the cross, as the High Priest Who offered Himself for our salvation.

And He mentioned how the world will also hate His disciples just as they had hated Him. This is because of their inability to comprehend this mission which the Lord revealed unto His people. In addition, the ways of the world are also corresponding to the ways of sin and disobedience against God, and therefore, the Lord and His truth bring about opposition, challenges and difficulties to those who believe in them, because the devil is indeed actively at work trying to subvert God’s effort to save us mankind.

The reality of such suffering and trials have been evident throughout the history of the Church, during the many persecutions and troubles that Christians have suffered from all these centuries. But we should also then look at the examples of those many good and devout Christians, our predecessors in faith, who have withstood all these challenges and defended their faith even amidst the most vicious and harshest persecutions.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, now, for all of us, what we need to take note of from today’s Scripture passages is that first of all, we must not let our desire and greed, our selfishness and the weaknesses of our body to be stumbling blocks in the way of our faith. In our various groups and ministries serving the Church and the faithful, we often have bickering and disagreements, and sometimes even infighting and anger, which resulted from our own clashing desires and our inability to resist the many temptations of life.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today, we are challenged by the Lord Who calls each and every one of us to be His followers. And in order for us to be able to follow Him, then we must have love for God, and must centre ourselves upon Him and the truth which He has revealed and taught us. Only then that we will be able to become Christ’s true disciples. We must overcome our desires in life, and all sorts of obstacles that prevented us from carrying out what we are supposed to do as Christians.

That is why, brothers and sisters in Christ, it is important for us to follow Christ’s examples, His obedience to the will of His Father, and His love for each and every one of us, which allowed Him to bear His Cross of suffering for our sake. Had Christ not suffered or died for us, then there would have been no salvation, and all of us would still have existed under the tyranny and bondage of our sins.

Let us all be converted, and turn ourselves wholeheartedly to the Lord, by showing more love in our every moment’s actions and deeds, wherever we are, that we can be as selfless and as loving as Christ had been, in forgiving one another our sins and faults to each other, just as Christ has forgiven us from our sins, despite having to bear those sins and all of their punishments and consequences. Let us remember the great love which He has shown us from the cross, and show that same love in our every action from now on.

As Christians, let us be humble and not proud, be loving and not be filled with hatred, be gentle and not be easily provoked with anger, be filled with hope and not be despairing, be ready to serve others and to love them rather than to expect to be loved and served by others. Let us all be filled with Christ’s love in all things, so that in everything we say, act and do, we will always be loving just as our Lord is loving, and forgive just as we have been forgiven. This is our calling as Christians.

May the Lord be our guide, and may He continue to love us as He has always done, that each and every one of us may imitate the same love that He has shown us. Let us all live our lives from now on with a renewed faith and zeal, and do our best in order to love and serve the Lord, and love our fellow brothers and sisters, despite the persecutions, challenges and obstacles we may encounter on our journey. May God be with us always, now and forevermore. Amen.

Sunday, 21 October 2018 : Twenty-Ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Mark 10 : 35-45

At that time, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus and said to Him, “Master, we want You to grant us what we are going to ask of You.” And He said, “What do you want Me to do for you?” They answered, “Grant us to sit, one at Your right hand and one at Your left, when You come in Your glory.”

But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I drink, or be baptised in the way I am baptised?” They answered, “We can.” And Jesus told them, “The cup that I drink, you will drink; and you will be baptised in the way that I am baptised; but to sit at My right or at My left is not Mine to grant. It has been prepared for others.”

On hearing this, the other ten were angry with James and John. Jesus then called them to Him and said, “As you know, the so-called rulers of the nations behave like tyrants, and those in authority oppress the people. But it shall not be so among you; whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you shall make himself slave of all.”

“Think of the Son of Man, Who has not come to be served but to serve, and to give His life to redeem many.”

Alternative reading (shorter version)

Mark 10 : 42-45

At that time, Jesus then called His disciples to Him and said, “As you know, the so-called rulers of the nations behave like tyrants, and those in authority oppress the people. But it shall not be so among you; whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you shall make himself slave of all.”

“Think of the Son of Man, Who has not come to be served but to serve, and to give His life to redeem many.”

Sunday, 21 October 2018 : Twenty-Ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Second Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Hebrews 4 : 14-16

We have a great High Priest, Jesus, the Son of God, Who has entered heaven. Let us, then, hold fast to the faith we profess. Our High Priest is not indifferent to our weaknesses, for He was tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sinning.

Let us, then, with confidence approach the throne of grace; we will obtain mercy and, through His favour, help in due time.

Sunday, 21 October 2018 : Twenty-Ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Psalm 32 : 4-5, 18-19, 20 and 22

For upright is the Lord’s word and worthy of trust is His work. The Lord loves justice and righteousness; the earth is full of His kindness.

But the Lord’s eyes are upon those who fear Him, upon those who trust in His loving-kindness to deliver them from death and preserve them from famine.

In hope we wait for the Lord for He is our help and our shield. O Lord, let Your love rest upon us, even as our hope rests in You.

Sunday, 21 October 2018 : Twenty-Ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Isaiah 53 : 10-11

Yet it was the will of YHVH to crush Him with grief. When He makes Himself an offering for sin, He will have a long life and see His descendants. Through Him the will of YHVH is done. For the anguish He suffered, He will see the light and obtain perfect knowledge. My just Servant will justify the multitude; He will bear and take away their guilt.

Sunday, 14 October 2018 : Twenty-Eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday we are reminded of the Lord Who has given us His wisdom and His words of truth, as He revealed through His own Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, Who came into this world bearing the revelation of the divine truth, and then later on, by the sending of the Holy Spirit into this world, to be with the Apostles and the disciples, and therefore, to be with His Church.

God’s wisdom and truth are indeed so wonderful, that He has desired to give us this wisdom and truth, because of the great love which He has for each and every one of us. Through His wisdom and truth, God revealed to us what it is that He desires from each one of us, and how we should live our lives, in accordance with His will, and with the way that He has shown us. And that is what He presented before us through our Gospel passage today.

In that Gospel passage, we heard of a young, rich man, who came to the Lord Jesus, with the desire to gain eternal life. The Lord then told the young man first, whether he has obeyed and fulfilled the commandments of the Law as revealed through Moses. The young man replied that he has fulfilled the many commandments and kept them closely throughout his life, having been an obedient member of the Jewish community.

But then, the Lord asked him to do something that he could not bear doing, that is, to sell away all of his riches and to give them all to the poor, leaving everything behind and follow Him as His disciple. The young man immediately went away in sorrow, not being able to do what the Lord had asked of him, because he had great amount of wealth with him. It is likely that he could not bear to be separated from all those worldly achievements that he had gained and possessed.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, what is then the significance of what we have just heard in the Scripture passages, particularly that of the Gospel? First of all, we must not interpret the meaning of the Scripture literally, thinking that we should equate following the Lord with the total abandonment and selling of all of our worldly possessions and goods, for this is called interpreting God’s words without understanding the context.

Yes, indeed, there are those among us who are called to do so as part of their vocation, as religious nuns and monks, who left behind everything to live a life of total commitment to God, but that does not mean for the rest of us, we should just follow what we heard to the letter without understanding its meaning. Instead, we are called to listen to the word of God, speaking in the depth of our hearts and minds, and discern carefully on what it is that He wants us to do in our lives.

The issue which the Lord brought up in our Gospel occasion today, is that we mankind, even though we may be able to fulfil our obligations and our duties in our faith in God, but we can precisely do such efforts even without truly appreciating the true purpose and intention of why we do what we are doing, as part of our faith. The young and rich man fulfilled all the obligations of the Law, but in truth, he was not able to dedicate himself fully to the Lord, as shown when he was called by the Lord to dedicate himself fully to Him.

He was not able to commit, and left in sorrow because ultimately, he loved his riches and goods more than that of the Lord, and given the choice between those things and God, ultimately, God was secondary in importance to him. Then, if we carefully scrutinise what the young man said, he asked the Lord Jesus, “Good Master, what must I do in order to gain eternal life?”, in this question lies a desire from the man to want something for his own satisfaction.

What do I mean by this? The man asked Jesus in that manner, out of desire to gain for himself eternal life, and probably not because he truly loves God. This is a reality that exists even within our Church, where there are many among us faithful who have our faith and practice things within our faith, the various devotions, prayers and actions, because we want something for ourselves, be it for personal glory and fame, or for personal salvation and benefit.

It is not wrong that we want to be saved, for indeed, if we want to be saved, then we must seek it and desire it, otherwise, how will we then attain salvation if we ourselves do not want it in the first place? But we must not let that desire to supersede first and foremost, our love for God. Ultimately, we want to be saved and gain eternal life, not because we are afraid of hell or punishment from God, but rather, because we want to be together again with God and be reconciled with Him.

Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, today we are called to rediscover this purpose of our faith and our lives. If we have been wayward all these while, failing to recognise these shortcomings of our lives, and if we have been disobedient and been unable to give our best in serving the Lord, putting Him in secondary and even worse places in our hearts and minds, then perhaps, we should really consider spending some time in prayer and in the quietness of our hearts, in order to find out what it is that we can do, in order to become closer to God.

The Lord reminds us through the same Gospel passage, that the path to enter the kingdom of heaven is narrow and difficult, but at the same time, also manageable and accessible, given that we put our trust not in the human wisdom, power and intellect, but instead, in the wisdom and the power of God. Many of us failed to make progress because we are not having the correct focus in life, and we are easily distracted, as we depend too much on our worldly possessions, power and other achievements, and we end up becoming too attached to all of them.

Let us look at these examples, brothers and sisters in Christ, beginning with those who think that just by doing what we are supposed to do for our faith, by coming to Mass every Sundays, and yet, we are not focused at all on the Lord and become easily distracted, because instead of focusing our attention on God, we cannot wait for the Mass to end so that we can go back to our various worldly commitments and activities.

And then, some of us profess to believe in God and followed all obligations of the Church, coming regularly for Mass and also become active part of various ministries in our parishes, but then, in how we behave towards one another, towards our fellow Christians, we scandalise our faith by our actions. Many of us brought slander and gossip into our interactions, even within the ministries and Church groups we are part of. We bicker and fight even over the smallest of matters and over trivial things.

That is exactly what happens when we allow our so called human wisdom, intellect, power and ability to take over and control us in what we say and do. The clashes and incompatibilities between our varying human desires and wants will end up tearing us apart and causing divisions among us. This is what we cannot and should not do with our lives. And as the example of the young and rich man in the Gospel passage today has shown us, we should strive to overcome our human desires and attachments to all sorts of temptations present in this world.

And this means that we must resist the temptation of worldly pleasures, power, prestige, honour, fame, glory, wealth and all sorts of things that can bring about unhealthy attachment and desire. It is not wrong for us to possess wealth or possessions, or to achieve something in our lives, but we cannot be overtaken and swallowed by our desires for those things.

Therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, today, the Lord has called us all, each and every one of us, to be His true disciples. And that means, each and every one of us should respond with a thorough and genuine conversion of heart, changing our attitudes in life, from one that is world-centric and self-centric into one that is centred on God alone. Let us all turn towards God with a renewed faith, and with a renewed zeal, from now on. May the Lord be our guide in our journey towards Him and His everlasting life. Amen.

Sunday, 14 October 2018 : Twenty-Eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Mark 10 : 17-30

At that time, just as Jesus was setting out on His journey again, a man ran up, knelt before Him and asked, “Good Master, what must I do to have eternal life?”

Jesus answered, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments : Do not kill, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not bear false witness, do not cheat, honour your father and mother.” The man replied, “I have obeyed all these commandments since my childhood.”

Then Jesus looked steadily at him and loved him and He said, “For you, one thing is lacking. Go, sell what you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven. Then come and follow Me.” On hearing these words, his face fell and he went away sorrowful, for he was a man of great wealth.

Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God” The disciples were shocked at these words, but Jesus insisted, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

They were more astonished than ever and wondered, “Who, then, can be saved?” Jesus looked steadily at them and said, “For human beings it is impossible, but not for God; all things are possible with God.”

Peter spoke up and said, “We have given up everything to follow You.” Jesus answered, “Truly, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters, or father or mother, or children, or lands, for My sake and for the Gospel, who will not receive his reward.”

“I say to you : even in the midst of persecution, he will receive a hundred times as many houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and lands in the present time, and in the world to come eternal life.”

Alternative reading (shorter version)

Mark 10 : 17-27

At that time, just as Jesus was setting out on His journey again, a man ran up, knelt before Him and asked, “Good Master, what must I do to have eternal life?”

Jesus answered, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments : Do not kill, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not bear false witness, do not cheat, honour your father and mother.” The man replied, “I have obeyed all these commandments since my childhood.”

Then Jesus looked steadily at him and loved him and He said, “For you, one thing is lacking. Go, sell what you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven. Then come and follow Me.” On hearing these words, his face fell and he went away sorrowful, for he was a man of great wealth.

Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God” The disciples were shocked at these words, but Jesus insisted, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

They were more astonished than ever and wondered, “Who, then, can be saved?” Jesus looked steadily at them and said, “For human beings it is impossible, but not for God; all things are possible with God.”