Sunday, 25 February 2018 : Second Sunday of Lent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday, the second one in the season of Lent, we are called to reflect on the meaning of obedience to God, which is something that many of us may not have done with our own lives, as we live our daily lives without realising of the obligations and duties which we have as those who believe in God and walk in His ways.

In the first reading today, we heard first of all, the story of how God called upon Abraham, His faithful servant, with whom He had created a Covenant with, to bring his son, Isaac, to the Mount Moria to be sacrificed to Him. God promised in His Covenant with Abraham that He would give him a son, as Abraham was once childless even unto his old age. His wife Sarah was unable to bear a child, and he had to resort to a slave woman to provide him a son.

But God fulfilled His promises to Abraham, proven by Sarah’s pregnancy in her old age, and the birth of Isaac, the promised son, through whom God had promised Abraham that he would have descendants as many as the stars in the heavens and the sand grains at the seashore of the world. Then it must have come as a surprise for Abraham to hear such a command from the Lord, asking him to bring his beloved son Isaac to Mount Moria to be sacrificed.

How can God say such a thing? How can He, Who is good, demand a human sacrifice, more so that of a young child? How can He be like the pagan gods of my ancestors, who demanded human sacrifices? How can He do this to me? I thought that He has promised me a son, and now that I finally have received the son I was promised, and saw him grew up all these while, only for God to ask for him to be sacrificed to Him? How can this be?

Brothers and sisters in Christ, all of these are the thoughts and concerns which must have been in Abraham’s mind the moment he heard the Lord’s strange command, and it must have continued to trouble him throughout the journey towards Mount Moria. After all, Abraham is a human being just like us, with all of its flaws and worldly concerns and thoughts. I am sure that Abraham also had doubts about what the Lord had asked him to do.

Yet, regardless of all that, Abraham remained true to his faith in God, and chose to trust God in all that He had called him to do. St. Paul in one of his Epistles mentioned about this matter, speaking about Abraham and his faith in not holding back even his beloved son, Isaac, to be given to God if He so wished, as he had complete trust that God would be able to raise Isaac his son from the dead if He wanted it. Abraham therefore placed himself in God’s hands.

In the end we saw how God was only testing the faith that Abraham had in him, and as he has devoutly fulfilled his part of the Covenant, not withholding even his own son from God, the one he loved so much, thus God saw there was no blame in Abraham, and as a result, affirmed Abraham in all that He had promised him that He would do. From Isaac, many nations would come forth, including the Israelites, the ones whom God had chosen to be His first beloved people.

Just as Abraham did not hesitate not to hold back his own son from being given up to God as an offering, then we see just how amazing our Covenant with God is, as we clearly should have remembered, just how God did not hesitate, equally, to give us His own most beloved Son, Jesus Christ, Our Lord, to be our Saviour, by none other than the offering of His life on the cross. By His cross, all of us have been saved and made worthy.

In the Gospel passage today, we heard a different story, and yet, one that is incredibly similar and showed a great parallel to what we have heard in the first reading today. In that passage, we heard about how the Lord Jesus brought up His three most trusted disciples, St. Peter, St. James and St. John the Apostles, up to the Mount Tabor in Galilee. Already in this, we can see a parallel with the story of Abraham going on a journey with Isaac to the Mount Moria.

The Lord Jesus went up Mount Tabor, and He was glorified and transfigured before the eyes of His disciples, shining with His divine glory and majesty, revealing before all those who saw Him, the true nature of Jesus Christ, as both Son of Man, as well as the Son of God, the Divine Word of God incarnate into flesh. Moses and Elijah also appeared on the Mount Tabor, and spoke with the Lord Jesus.

The symbolism of the appearance of these two most prominent among the servants of God cannot be underestimated, as they together represent what the Lord Jesus came into this world for, and what He represented. Moses was one the greatest of the leaders of the people of Israel in the past, through whom God passed down to His people the Law and the commandments, which the Israelites preserved through the ages. Meanwhile, the prophet Elijah was among the greatest and most prominent among the prophets and messengers that God had sent to His people.

Therefore, they affirmed the Lord’s arrival in this world as the perfect fulfilment of all that God Himself has promised to His people through His prophets, and even Moses also prophesied about the coming of the Messiah, saying that the Lord would raise up a Leader from among His own people, that is Jesus, Who was born into the people of Israel, a descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as well as the heir of David, king of Israel.

And the Lord Jesus was indeed also a Prophet, the greatest of all the Prophets, for while all the other prophets spoke on the authority granted to them by the Lord, the Lord Jesus spoke on His own authority, revealing to the people the will of God and telling them the truth and teaching them about the Law of God. He spoke with the combined authority of the prophets. And as Moses represented the Law, the Lord Himself is the Law, through which He wanted everyone to know how to love, as the essence of Law is about loving God and loving one another.

That was why God called Abraham to Mount Moria, testing him with the demand to sacrifice his own son, Isaac, whom surely Abraham loved beyond anything else. Abraham obeyed God and listened to Him, despite all the concerns, doubts and questions he might have of God’s command. This showed Abraham’s love and devotion for God, which surpassed anything else, even for his son and for any of his worldly riches and power.

And Jesus, in our Gospel passage today, showed the same obedience as what Abraham had done, as He listened to the will of His Father, that despite all the glory He experienced at Mount Tabor during His Transfiguration, He knew that the purpose of His coming into the world was for the salvation of mankind. And in order to do that, He would have to suffer and be condemned to death, the most painful death on the cross.

Thus, when St. Peter and the other Apostles told Jesus that they would build three tents for Him and for Moses and Elijah, God rebuked them by reminding them that they must listen to Him and follow the examples shown by Jesus, Who showed perfect obedience to the will of His Father even unto accepting death on the cross, for the sake of our salvation.

Why did St. Peter tell such a thing to Jesus? It is the devil that spoke through St. Peter, just as he tempted the Lord three times during His fasting of forty days in the desert, our last Sunday’s Gospel passage. Again we see how the devil might tempt us in various ways, as what I have mentioned earlier today, with all the questions and doubts that Abraham had regarding God’s orders.

St. Peter said that, ‘It is good that we are here’ which refers to the blissful moment they spent at that mountain. They wanted to stay there forever, because they feel satisfied and happy, and the pursuit of happiness and personal satisfaction is the main way through which the devil is trying to bring us down through temptation and persuasion, that we fall into sin and disobedience against God.

If they went down the mountain, they would suffer persecution and challenges from the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, the priests and elders who hounded them and harassed them at every possible opportunity. It is our human weakness and frailty which bring about our desire to seek happiness, profit and enjoyment for ourselves. And the devil exploits these at every possible opportunity.

The Lord resisted the temptation to avoid the sufferings and difficulties which He had to face if He obeyed the Father’s will. He went down the Mount Tabor with His disciples, fully knowing that He was going down to His suffering and death on the cross, on Calvary. And the disciples obeyed Him and followed Him, and even though some faltered and they were scattered when the Lord was arrested, but they persevered on, and went on to follow Him, eventually to martyrdom as they kept their faith in God firmly.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, what is it that each and every one of us must take away from today’s Scripture passages and reflection we have just had? First of all, to be a Christian, we must be God-centric and not self-centric. God must be the priority of our respective lives, and there can be nothing else more important for us than to glorify God through our words, actions and deeds. And as Christians we must obey the Lord and follow His will in everything we do.

And it is inevitable that in our lives we will encounter difficulties and persecution, challenges and obstacles, just as the Lord and His disciples had encountered, and just as Abraham surely had encountered in his own life. The Lord Jesus Himself did not call His disciples to a life of happiness, joy, prosperity and comfort, as what we surely want to have with our lives. No, He called us to a life filled with both joy of serving the Lord, as well as the realisation of suffering, by calling us to ‘take up our crosses, and follow Him.’

In this season of Lent, we are called to rediscover our true priority in life, that is God. That is why we fast, so as to restrain ourselves, as well as abstinence, that we may look beyond all sorts of earthly goodness and sources of happiness as familiar to us, known to us since we were born. We have been inundated with the various happiness that we may gain from the world, be it prestige, wealth, fame, pleasures of the body, sexual pleasures, pleasures of the stomach, good food, and many others. But are these really true sources of happiness that will last?

Therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, shall we make best use of this time of Lent to rediscover our faith, and understand why is it that we need to be faithful to God and to put Him above all else, following the examples that Abraham our father in faith has shown us, and the Lord Jesus Himself showed us. After all, if God has always been faithful to His Covenant with us, not holding back His own Son, Jesus Christ, to be crucified for us, that we may live, in the manner of Abraham’s faith, why should we not show the same commitment and faith to the Covenant God had made with us?

Let us all draw ever closer to God and follow His ways. Let us seek to be ever more faithful to Him, and obey Him as far as possible in all the things that He has commanded us to do. May the Lord bless us all in our journey of faith, that we may grow in our relationship with Him, and find our way to His everlasting grace. Amen.

Sunday, 25 February 2018 : Second Sunday of Lent (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Mark 9 : 2-10

At that time, six days later, Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain. There, His appearance was changed before their eyes. Even His clothes shone, becoming as white as no bleach of this world could make them. Elijah and Moses appeared to them; the two were talking with Jesus.

Then Peter spoke and said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here; let us make three tents, one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” For he did not know what to say; they were overcome with awe. But a cloud formed, covering them in a shadow, and from the cloud came a voice, “This is My Son, the Beloved : listen to Him!”

And suddenly, as they looked around, they no longer saw anyone except Jesus with them. As they came down the mountain, He ordered them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept this to themselves, although they discussed with one another what ‘to rise from the dead’ could mean.

Sunday, 25 February 2018 : Second Sunday of Lent (Second Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Romans 8 : 31b-34

If God is with us, who shall be against us? If He did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all, how will He not give us all things with Him? Who shall accuse those chosen by God : He takes away their guilt? Who will dare to condemn them?

Christ, Who died, and better still, rose, and is seated at the right hand of God, interceding for us?

Sunday, 25 February 2018 : Second Sunday of Lent (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Psalm 115 : 10 and 15, 16-17, 18-19

I have kept faith, even when I said, “I am greatly afflicted.” It is painful to YHVH to see the death of His faithful.

O YHVH, I am Your servant, truly Your servant, Your handmaid’s son. You have freed me from my bonds. I will offer You a thanksgiving sacrifice; I will call on the Name of YHVH.

I will carry out my vows to YHVH in the presence of His people, in the courts of the House of YHVH, in your midst, o Jerusalem.

Sunday, 25 February 2018 : Second Sunday of Lent (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Genesis 22 : 1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18

Some time later, God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he answered, “Here I am.” Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I shall point out to you.”

They came to the place to which God had directed them. Abraham then stretched out his hand to seize the knife and slay his son. But the Angel of YHVH called to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

And he said, “Here I am.” “Do not lay your hand on the boy; do not harm him, for now I know that you fear God, and you have not held back from Me your only son.” Abraham looked around and saw behind him a ram caught by its horns in a bush. He offered it as a burnt offering in place of his son.

And the Angel of YHVH called from heaven a second time. “By Myself I have sworn, it is YHVH Who speaks, because you have done this and not held back your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the land of their enemies. All the nations of the earth will be blessed through your descendants because you have obeyed Me.”

Sunday, 18 February 2018 : First Sunday of Lent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday, the first one in the season of Lent, all of us are gathered together to celebrate the Eucharist and having heard the word of God from the Scripture passages today, we are all called to remember what we all need to do during this time of Lent, the time of renewal and rejuvenation of our spiritual, mental and physical existence.

The season of Lent spans the forty days period between Ash Wednesday and Holy Thursday, marking a special season and time of preparation and contemplation, during which time we also practice fasting and abstinence, namely the practice of restraining our physical bodies by means of reducing our intake of food to just one full meal and two smaller meals, as well as not eating certain kind of food such as meat during Fridays in remembrance of Our Lord’s sacrifice on Good Friday.

This is a special time set aside by the Church for the good of all the faithful, because all of us indeed need to be fully prepared to celebrate the most important mysteries and tenets of our faith which culminates during the Holy Week and Easter, when we commemorate the suffering, death and resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Saviour, Who died on the cross that all of us who believe in Him may live.

Why do we need to prepare ourselves to celebrate those important events of our faith? That is because we should not and indeed must not be giving lip service for our faith, and if we come to the celebrations of the Holy Week and Easter without preparing ourselves first, in body, mind, heart, spirit and soul, we are shortchanging ourselves and not helping ourselves in our journey to seek God’s salvation.

Each and every one of us must take it seriously upon ourselves, to prepare ourselves spiritually throughout this season of Lent. The time of Lent itself, spanning forty days has a very rich biblical background and roots, if we refer back to what we have heard in today’s readings and from our understanding of the Scriptures. The number forty has a very significant meaning, often found throughout the Scriptures representing a significant length of time linked with a time used for preparation before a certain holy occasion.

For example, Moses spent forty days atop the mount Sinai with God, as he listened to Him speaking His words and passing down His laws and commandments as part of the Covenant He made with them, and then the prophet Elijah also spent forty days and forty nights in journey through the desert as he travelled to meet God after he was terribly persecuted in the land of Israel. When Elijah met God, He made it clear to him what He wanted him to do for the sake of His people, to call them to conversion and repentance.

In our first reading today, we heard about the Great Flood which happened at the time of Noah, in the early years of mankind’s history. Much of the world were then filled with wickedness and sin, and Noah alone among all those people, the descendants of Adam and Eve, remained faithful to God and His ways. The Lord sent the flood through non-stop rain and the seas which lasted for forty days and forty nights before it stopped and the water starting to recede after that.

Again, in this case, we see the importance attached to the number forty as a period of time spent, as a major event in the history of our faith took place. Then, later on, in the Book of Exodus, we may also remember how the people of Israel spent forty years in the desert, as they waited for the opportunity to enter the Promised Land after their Exodus from Egypt. The journey should not have taken that long, but the people of Israel rebelled against God, and as they continued to be stubborn and refused to obey Him, God punished them to wander off in the desert for forty years.

In all these, we see the journey and the progression made during that period, be it forty days or be it forty years in the case of the Israelites. From a state of sin, disobedience, wickedness, unworthiness and from the clutches of darkness, those who were involved were transformed by their respective experiences, into a new state, a state of grace, of obedience, of righteousness, of joy and entering into a new Covenant with God.

In the first reading today, God made a Covenant with His servant Noah, after the end of the forty days and night of rain and after the Great Flood receded. He promised him and his descendants that He will never again send any flood to destroy the earth and its entire inhabitants as He had done at that time. He put the bow in the sky, the rainbow as the sign of His covenant and as a remembrance of His saving love, having spared Noah and his descendants, including all of us from total destruction, because of their faith.

And God renewed the Covenant He made with Israel after they had survived the forty years of journey in the desert and entered into the lands which He had promised to them and settled there. It was a time of renewal and a time of renewed grace, which was once lost because of the disobedience of their forefathers. Those who have disobeyed the Lord perished in the desert and were left behind, while those who were faithful were allowed to enter into the Promised Land and settle there.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, how are all these readings and references I brought from the Scriptures relevant to us? They are indeed important for us, to be remembered and to be reflected upon, as we embark on our own forty days of preparation during this season of Lent. The first thing that we must ask ourselves is, ‘What have we done or what do we have in mind, in order to make our observation of Lenten practices more meaningful and fruitful?’

We do not need to look any further than the examples set by the Lord Jesus Himself, Whom in the Gospel today mentioned about His temptation by the devil in the desert as He fasted there for forty days. Again, in this yet another occasion, the number forty made its appearance. This time, it represents the time spent by the Lord right after His baptism by St. John the Baptist before He began His earthly ministry.

The devil tempted the Lord Who was hungry after going for forty days without food and sustenance, telling Him that He could just turn the stones into bread, and His hunger would have been easily satisfied. But the Lord rebuked Satan, saying that ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ Through those words, the Lord Jesus is indeed speaking to us and calling on us to be faithful to Him in this season of Lent.

And how do we do that? In this season of Lent, as mentioned, all of us fast and abstain on certain times and periods, with the purpose of resisting the temptation of greed, of human desires and wants. But do we realise that fasting and abstaining alone is not enough, if we do not fully comprehend its significance? If we just do those practices for our own benefit, then I fear that we may not be doing it right.

Instead, we should heed what the Lord said, ‘but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’ as reminders that we should do our fasting, abstinence and other forms of piety and Lenten observances because ultimately we love the Lord, and we want to listen to Him and do His will, and obey Him in everything that He has commanded us to do. This is what all of us should be doing as Christians.

And then, we should also be always vigilant lest the devil tempt us in many other ways, as he had done to the Lord Himself. The devil tempted the Lord with power and pride, when he asked Him to leap down from the top of the Temple of Jerusalem, arguing that the Angels would not let His feet to hit the ground. Satan tempted the Lord with pride, knowing that it is pride that was the greatest of his own sin, having been proud with his own greatness, once the greatest and most brilliant among the Angels, Lucifer, fallen from grace because of his pride.

But the Lord would not fall into the temptation, and rebuked Satan for his attempt to test God with that act. Yet, Satan is not a being who would just easily give up. If he could not tempt the Lord, he would just continue to tempt us as he had always done, tempting us with pride, and also with power and worldly glory, as how he showed Jesus with all the kingdoms and the glories of the world, saying that he would give it to Him if only He would worship him. The Lord rebuked him and cast him away, saying that God alone is worthy of worship.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, during this time of Lent, we are called to spend our time well, on a time of preparation, on a time of spiritual renewal and the rediscovery of our faith, by means of prayer, by being closer to God, and by resisting the temptations with which Satan and his allies are trying to subvert us and to snatch us away from God and His saving grace.

Are we able to stay strong in our faith and resist the temptations of our flesh, imitating the examples shown by Our Lord Himself? Are we able to move beyond worldly matters and concerns, and grow to love the Lord ever more strongly, as we deepen our prayerful and love-filled relationship with Him? Are we able to show the same love to our brethren as well? There are many out there who are in need of our help and our love.

When we fast and abstain in this season of Lent, instead of just omitting the meal and the food, let us all use the spare food, the blessings and graces we received to be more charitable for the need of those who have little or none on their own. While we restrain our human greed, ambition and desires, let us remember how our greed and our desires have caused many to suffer, from hunger, from lack of love, from destitution and more.

Let us pray, that all of us Christians throughout the world, within our families and among our friends, we may all benefit greatly from this season of Lent, drawing ever closer to God’s grace, and be worthy to receive His love, mercy and compassion. May we spend these forty days with full understanding of how by growing stronger in spirituality and in our relationship with God will enable us to be better disciples and followers of the Lord. Let us all be more charitable, generous with our giving and loving for our brethren, especially those who are in need.

May the Lord be with us throughout this forty days of prayer and contemplation, throughout this season of Lent, that we will be able to make best use of it, for the sake of the salvation of our souls, that we will be worthy in the end, to receive the fullness of God’s promise as He has made through His Covenant with us, made through the sacrifice of Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the cross, the reason why we fast and why we abstain, to prepare ourselves to commemorate the greatest event of our faith, Our Lord’s suffering, death and glorious resurrection. May God bless us all. Amen.

Sunday, 18 February 2018 : First Sunday of Lent (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Mark 1 : 12-15

At that time, the Spirit drove Jesus into the desert. He stayed in the desert forty days and was tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, but Angels ministered to Him.

After John was arrested, Jesus went into Galilee and began preaching the Good News of God. He said, “The time has come; the kingdom of God is at hand. Change your ways and believe the Good News.”