Weekly Reflection (17 Nov 2019)

33rd Sunday Year C

Malachi 3:19-20
2 Thessalonians 3:7-12
Luke 21:5-19

Theme of the week: The signs of the end time manifest as crosses in our present times. Persevere in our mission work, as we are spiritually fed through our work.

Have you ever contemplated on eternity? This seems an odd question to ask, for “eternity” is a word we hear often in our Christian lexicon. While we may be familiar with the word and the Christian teachings associated with it, how many of us really contemplate on eternity? Probably not many. It is almost a case of “familiarity breeds contempt” that we do not contemplate eternity. For compared with eternity, our life on earth is a like a drop in the ocean. Yet, if our eternal life is that ocean, this drop in the ocean is going to determine what the entire ocean is going to be perpetually calm and blissful; or perpetually stormy and turbulent. Therefore, it is rather ironic that many of us live as if our life on earth is all there is to life – that we emphasise so much on this little drop that we forget there is the ocean. Many are losing sight of the eternal implications of our individualistic and materialistic living.

The Scripture passages this week focus our minds on our eternal life as we reflect on the end time.

The First Reading is drawn from the Book of Malachi, written some time after the Temple was rebuilt in 515BC, at a time when the Jewish community was experiencing a decline in their moral standards. It encourages the people to lead righteous lives. We recall the story of the martyrdom of a mother and her seven children in the previous week’s First Reading. Righteous living often exacts a cost on the righteous. In the Gospel, Jesus prophesised of “wars and insurrections” (verse 9) at the end time, where his followers will be persecuted (verse 12, 17) and betrayed by those closest to them (verse 16). In the face of such prophesy, am I spiritually ready? In this context of persecution that we take comfort of the redemptive vision of the end time painted by the First Reading, where “the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings” (verse 20); whereas the evil-doers will be completely burnt up in the furnace, leaving “neither root nor branch” (verse 19).

The signs of the end times are apt reminders to us in our current times, as we face the challenges of secularism and relativism. For the signs for the end time also manifest themselves as crosses that we carry in our present times. In our journey through life on earth, as Christians, we often face personal disasters and persecution by the secular world. Whether we are standing up for the unborn in the case of abortion; the sick and vulnerable in the case of euthanasia; or the sanctity of Christian marriage, we face persecution from our secular society. Amidst these trials, let us not lose sight of our ultimate goal, which is Christ’s promise of eternal life. As I contemplate eternity, am I mindful that I am asked to prepared for eternity through my earthly life? As Paul explained in the Second Reading, even if the end time is imminent, it is no reason to stop our work on earth. For in addition to spiritually nourishing those whom we serve, through our service, we ourselves are fed. In verse 10 of the Second Reading, Paul said, “anyone unwilling to work should not eat”. While Paul was laying a rule relating to physical food, this is true too for our spiritual nourishments – we must constantly do God’s work in order to be spiritually fed.

Let us never cease working for a perpetually calm and blissful ocean in the eternal life – for us and for all we serve, including those who persecute and betray us. May God grant us peace and serenity.

 



Weekly Reflection (10 Nov 2019)

32nd Sunday Year C

2 Maccabees 7:1-2,9-14
2 Thessalonians 2:16-3:5
Luke 20:27-38

Theme of the week: When challenged to adopt the values of the world, have I held steadfast to my faith; or have I succumbed to a secular and relativist world view?

In our relativist and secular world, it is not easy being a Christian. The relativist and secular forces of our society always stand ready to challenge our beliefs and our values, often marginalising and even ridiculing us. Reading the Scripture passages this week, we would conclude that it is not easy being a Christian in any age! Let us learn and reflect; and let our forefathers inspire us.

Set in the context of the Maccabean Revolt around 300BC, the First Reading tells of the story of the martyrdom of a mother and her seven children. At the time, the Jews were pressured by their Greek ruler to abandon their Jewish faith and culture and embrace Greek beliefs and culture. Many did, but some, like the family in the story, bravely refused. For their steadfast adherence to their faith, they were tortured and put to death. This story reminds us of one of Jesus’ teachings: “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:25) Today, in the face of increasing secularism and materialism in our society, as in Maccabean times, we too are challenged to abandon our faith and embrace the values of the world.

The secular world tells us that there is no eternal life; that our life on earth is all there is to life. In the “gospel” of the world, we are taught to focus on our enjoyment and sensual pleasure in this life, as there is no consequence beyond this life. Hence, everyone should be free to believe in whatever maximise one’s enjoyment and pleasure in this life. Everyone is free to create their individual value systems; believing in whatever he/she wants to believe. There is no absolute truth, everything is relative. Under this world view, we do not worship God because he does not enter our consciousness. In our obsession with enjoyment and pleasure, we are effectively glorifying ourselves. We worship ourselves. We are our own God.

Faced with similar oppositions in his times, without compromising his faith Paul declared in Rom 1:16 saying, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith.” What about me? Am I ashamed of the Gospel? In the face of the tidal wave of godless worship of self, I am asked to hold steadfast to my faith – not just for my own sake, but also for the sake for those who lost their way. With God’s help, let us convert hardened hearts and turn them away from their erroneous ways. In the Second Reading, Paul prayed for hope, comfort and strength. He prayed that he and others can spread God’s message quickly, and be protected from the interference of evil people. In our modern-day struggle against secularism, we too need hope, comfort, strength and protection. For without these virtues, we would easily be tempted and succumb to pressure ourselves, abandoning our faith and embracing the values of the world.

The Gospel story of seven brothers teaches us to look beyond our life on earth and look to eternal reality. The Sadducees, who did not believe in resurrection, posed a tricky theological scenario to Jesus: a woman married each of seven brothers during their lifetime. At resurrection time, whose wife will she be? Theological questions such as these are often asked by those who wish to shift attention to a non-personal topic so to deflect the focus from their own lives. How is my faith life? Have I succumbed to a secular and relativist world view? Have I worshipped myself more than I worship God? These are hard questions that we do not like. In the case of the Sadducees’ question, the answer lies in the fact that marriage is in fact an earthly institution, not a heavenly one. Marriage brings about an earthly union that mirrors our heavenly union with God; and to perpetuate life on earth through procreation. The earthly institution of marriage is no longer required and does not exist in heaven (verse 34-35). Marriage on earth points to heavenly truth. In a similar way, our earthly life mirrors our eternal life. Rather than deflect the focus from our own lives, let us reflect on our life on earthly – frequently and honestly. As Paul said in the Second Reading, “may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen [us].” (verse 16-17)

Amen.

 



Weekly Reflection (3 Nov 2019)

31st Sunday Year C

Wisdom 11:22-12:2
2 Thessalonians 1:11-2:2
Luke 19:1-10

Theme of the week: Let me invite Jesus into my heart and let Him transform me.

For those of us who come to church every Sunday; serve in church ministries; donate to charities; send our children to Christian schools; and practise our faith in many different ways, how do we view others who are not like us? How do I view someone who is not as righteous as me? How do I view a non-believer who does not go to church like me; or another Christian who does not live an active faith life like me? Have I indulged myself in such complacency that I believe I am heaven-bound and not the other person?

In Jesus’ times, the tax collectors are a despised lot. Not only did they act as agents of a foreign regime; as was often the case, they often over-taxed the people so that they may keep the excess for themselves. This week’s Gospel tells the conversion story of Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus was a tax collector, a rich person and a sinner. Zacchaeus was also a very short man. However, in his yearning to see Jesus, Zacchaeus forewent his status, climbed up a tree so that he could see Jesus from afar. On witnessing his faith, our Lord invited Himself into Zacchaeus’ house. On witnessing this, others started to grumble, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” (verse 7) For those of us who practise our faith, this is often how we view others who are not like us. Filled with self-righteousness, we too make the same mistake, when God’s mercy and grace is extended to someone we feel is not as worthy as us. Rather than being judgemental, let us instead reflect on our own failings. Rather than being self-righteous, let me acknowledge that I am no different from Zacchaeus, that I too am a sinner. As Zacchaeus forewent his status to climb up a sycamore tree, let me too put my pride aside to take that extra step to reach out to Jesus for his grace and mercy.

God’s mercy and grace for you and me are put into context as the First Reading exalts the grandeur of God and marvel at His mercy and love (verse 11:22-24). In God’s eye, in spite of the world being so small that it is “like a speck” and “like a drop of morning dew” (verse 22), God nevertheless showers upon the world his endless mercy and love. As insignificantly small as we are, God loves us unconditionally; patiently guides us on the path of righteousness; and is always ready to pardon our sins: “You correct little by little those who trespass, and you remind and warn them of the things through which they sin, so that they may be freed from wickedness and put their trust in you” (verse 12:2). What mercy! What love!

In the Gospel story, the invitation of Jesus brought about a conversion in Zacchaeus, who promised to give half of his wealth to the poor and generously compensate anyone he had wronged. Through this story, we see the teachings of the First Reading in action – we see how a patient God guides a wayward Zacchaeus to the path of righteousness. Whatever our failings are, like Zacchaeus, we too have the opportunity to invite Jesus into our house – the house of our hearts. Let us cast aside our pride, our self-righteousness and our complacency, open ourselves to Jesus and let him convert our hearts. And whatever wrongs we may have done in our past, never think that we are unworthy of the Lord. As Jesus said to his critics in the story, Zacchaeus too was a son of Abraham and was deserving of His grace. Like Zacchaeus, regardless of the sins we have committed, we remain the sons and daughters of God, worthy of His promises. As the First Reading teaches, “You spare all things, for they are yours” (Wis 11:26).

In the Second Reading this week, Paul wrote to the Thessalonians to dispel some myths regarding the end of the world. Some Thessalonians believed that the end of the world was imminent and many did not want to work. In the Second Reading, Paul dispelled the myth and urged these followers not to get too excited, or be alarmed by any false predictions. As workers in God’s vineyard, we must not make the same mistake of complacency. As long as we have the means and the ability, we must never cease our work – especially our work to act as instruments of conversion; and administer to the Zacchaeus’ of our times. Let us reflect on who are Zacchaeus’ of my life – is it a friend, a family member perhaps? Or indeed, it could even be myself.

 



Weekly Reflection (27 Oct 2019)

30th Sunday Year C

Ecclesiasticus 35:12-14,16-18
2 Timothy 4:6-8,16-18
Luke 18:9-14

Theme of the week: Rather than trying to glorify ourselves, let us serve God in humility.

What is our motivation for serving in church ministries? Do I serve so that I will stand out in my church community; that other people will notice me; and praise me for all the work that I do? And when I see someone doing similar things to me, perhaps doing an even better job than me, what is my reaction? Do I see this person as collaborator, so that together we may glorify God even more? Or do I see this person as a competitor, taking away glory that are due to me; so much so that, fuelled with jealousy, I try my utmost best to hinder or stop that person’s work? And, turning the table around, if I am that person who is hindered or even persecuted, what is my reaction? In last week’s Second Reading, Paul taught us to always “proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favourable or unfavourable.” (2 Tim 4:2) When we do God’s work, we are in fact proclaiming the Gospel. Hence, the more effective we become, the more the Devil would want to disrupt us, and the more obstacles we will face. Therefore, it is important that we persevere even in the face of great hardships and unfavourable circumstances. For if we give up, we will hand victory to the Devil.

Paul was often in the same situation during his lifetime, persevering through great difficulties. Written in the context of Paul’s second capture, the Second Reading depicts Paul as being resigned to his fate, realising that this capture will end in his martyrdom. In the passage, Paul said he has “finished the race” (verse 7); and he will soon be conferred the “crown of righteousness” (verse 8). Paul’s salvation is close at hand. In these final days, Paul’s companions had deserted him, leaving him alone to defend for himself against his accusers. In these final moments of his, Paul has carried Christ’s cross in uncanny similarities – subjected to adversarial circumstances similar to Jesus’ on Good Friday. In the midst of this great adversary, Paul drew strength from his faith: “the Lord stood by me and gave me strength” (verse 17). Following Paul’s example, we too must be willing carriers of Christ’s cross, drawing strength from the Lord in times of adversaries.

In the Gospel, Jesus tells the story of the Pharisee and tax collector. Like many of us serving in church ministries, the Pharisees in the story was keen to parade his good deeds. He lived his life observing the law and often exceeding the requirements of the law. He fasted twice a week when the law only requires one fast a year on the Jewish Day of Atonement; and he gave tithes on all his earnings. The tax collector, on the other hand, was well aware of his sins and was humble before God. When we serve, we must realise that we are giving a part of ourselves to God. Let us give humbly as the tax collector did; rather than trying to draw others’ attention to our good deeds as the Pharisee did. Which one of these stood justified before God? As Jesus taught in Mt 6:2, “do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.”

Our good deeds may win us man’s accolades, but they do not earn us salvation. Do not offer our services to God like a bribe, for, as the Second Reading teaches, “he will not accept it” (verse 14). And if we view our co-workers in the Lord’s vineyard as competitors rather than collaborators, if we hinder or even persecute them, remember that the Lord will “listen to the prayer of one who is wronged” (verse 16). Rather than trying to glorify ourselves, let us serve God in humility. Amen.

 



Weekly Reflection (20 Oct 2019)

29th Sunday Year C

Exodus 17:8-13
2 Timothy 3:14-4:2
Luke 18:1-8

Theme of the week: In our fight against sin and evil, we must be persistent in our faith, hold true to God’s message, and be prepared to stand firm against popular secular values.

There is one word that keeps coming up in this week’s Scripture passages – persistence.

It is not easy being a Christian in this current age – where God’s moral truths are constantly being challenged by a secular and relativist world. However, if we examine history, we will quickly realise that it is not easy being a Christian in any age. In the Second Reading, Paul encourages us to not only hold steadfast to the teachings in the Scripture but boldly proclaim it! He made an important point on the value of Scripture, that “all scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” (Verse 3:16) As Christians, we have a duty to proclaim God’s teachings, even if the message is an unpopular one. Last week, we heard Paul’s persistence in proclaiming the Gospel, even though his evangelisation landed him in jail. Leading off from Paul’s example, this week’s reading challenges us to “proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favourable or unfavourable” (verse 4:2). Paul presents us this great challenge: that even if we have to swim against the popular tide to proclaim the truth, we must persevere and do so. Today, many teachings of the Church are being rejected by the secular world, branded as “old-fashion”, “controversial” or “politically incorrect”. So successful is the secular world in drowning God’s message that many believers today become too afraid to speak out; or worse, become “unevangelised” by the values of the secular world.

The First Reading tells of the story of the Israelites’ first battle in the Promised Land. In this battle, God acted through Moses to help the Israelites fight against the Amalekites. During the battle, Moses stood on top of a hill and summoned the power of God by raising his hands. While Moses’ hands were raised, the Israelites gained advantage over their enemies. However, every time Moses lowered his hands, the enemies gained the advantage. At a spiritual level, this battle signifies our struggle against sin and evil. Like the Israelites, on our own, we are not able to prevail over sin and evil. It is only through our persistence and the constant invocation of God’s help that we can defeat sin and evil.

On the theme of being persistent, the Gospel too preaches perseverance in prayer through the parable of the Unjust Judge. The unjust judge was not interested in giving the widow her justice, possibly because the poor widow had no money to bribe him. However, after experiencing her persistent pestering, he eventually relented. The passage concluded with a teaching on submitting our petitions to God: if even an unjust judge will accede to the persistent request of a widow, how much more readily will our loving God accede to our dire needs!

18th Century British philosopher and politician Edmund Burke once said, “All that is necessary for evil to succeed is that good men do nothing.” So let us ask ourselves this: am I prepared to take up the challenge and proclaim God’s teachings fearlessly, even if it means preaching against the accepted beliefs of the relativist and secular world? Or do I prefer to just “do nothing”? My brothers and sisters, may God be with you as you contemplate this challenging question.

 



Weekly Reflection (13 Oct 2019)

28th Sunday Year C

2 Kings 5:14-17
2 Timothy 2:8-13
Luke 17:11-19

Theme of the week: Am I being too judgemental and too proud? God sees what is in our hearts rather than what we profess on our lips. Let us turn to God for a conversion of the heart.

We often think that we are better than the other person. In our faith life, we often judge harshly those who do not believe in God; even those who believe but does not practise their faith as fervently as we do. We think that we are better because we attend church more often; pray more often; volunteer more often; and whatever else that we do well more often. If I am one of those who thinks this way, this week’s Scripture passage often me some food-for-thoughts.

Naaman the Syrian was suffering from leprosy. He was a great army general who served the mighty Kingdom of Syria. Hence, it was a great act of humility for Naaman to seek out Elisha, a prophet from the weak nation of Israel, for a cure to his leprosy. As if this experience was not humbling enough, Elisha sent Naaman to dunk himself wet in the Jordan River, not just once but seven times. After initially feeling offended, Naaman eventually followed Elisha’s instructions. Upon completing the seven immersions, Naaman was cure of his condition. For those of us who think that we are better than the other person, Naaman’s humility in approaching a prophet from a tiny nation gives us a great example. For those of us who judge the non-believers and non-Christians harshly, Naaman’s story carries a second lesson for us: God’s deliverance is not confined to the believers or the faithfuls. Before his encounter, Naaman was a non-believer. Contrary to the prevalent Jewish belief that only Jews may be saved, this story tells of the Lord’s mercy and grace towards a foreigner and a non-believer. As Christians, haven’t we made the same mistake sometimes, thinking that we are the chosen ones, the only ones that are worthy of God’s saving grace?

God sees what is in our hearts and that Naaman has a good heart. After he was cured, Naaman asked for two mule-load of Israel soil, so that upon his return to Syria, he may continue to worship God standing on the soil of Israel. Naaman the foreigner showed immense gratitude and reverence to God. Through this story, we learn that it is not by one’s professed faith that a person receives the grace of God, but rather it is by the faith in our heart that we receive the grace of God. It is through the grace of God that Naaman was not just physically cured, but spiritually healed, as evident from his gratitude and reverence to God after the experience.

The Gospel carried a parallel story to the First Reading. It tells of the story of how Jesus cured ten lepers. Of the ten, only the Samaritan (a foreigner) showed gratitude. The other nine, presumably Jews, accepted God’s grace as their entitlement and simply went away without evening thanking Jesus. Thus, while ten lepers were physically cured, only the Samaritan was spiritually healed. This was affirmed by Jesus when he said to the Samaritan, “your faith has made you well” (verse 19). By the phrase “making you well”, Jesus was not just referring to the cure of the external ailment, but a healing of the inner soul. Just like Naaman, this Samaritan leper was not only cured of his physical ailment, but was also healed spiritually.

Therein lies the danger for those of us who thinks too highly of ourselves by virtue of our professed faith. Let us ask ourselves, is my pride blocking out the grace of God that flowed so freely to Naaman and the Samaritan leper? If so, let us cloth ourselves in humility, turn to the God and seek a conversion of our hearts. Paul, a supreme intellect and a highly learned man, once made the same mistake. In his younger days, Paul was a zealous Jewish persecutor of the early Christians. Later, Paul experienced a conversion experience, and made it his life’s mission to convert foreigners and non-believers. For his trouble, Paul was eventually imprisoned and martyred. In the Second Reading, written by Paul from his prison cell, Paul said that although he was imprisoned, the words of God that he carried can never be chained down. “If we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he will also deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful – for he cannot deny himself.” (verse 12-13) To us who seek a conversion experience like Paul, these are very encouraging words indeed.

 



Weekly Reflection (6 Oct 2019)

27th Sunday Year C

Habakkuk 1:2-3,2:2-4
2 Timothy 1:6-8,13-14
Luke 17:5-10

Theme of the week: Let us bear witnesses to Christ, and persevere through any hardships that might bring.

As Christians living in Western democracies, we live in challenging times. We live in a broken world of broken people – ourselves included. As Christians, we love everyone in spite of their brokenness; and importantly, acknowledge our own brokenness in humility. Jesus is the sure remedy to heal the world of its brokenness. As Christians, we are called to bear witness to Jesus’ power to heal. Part of this means standing up to all forms of immorality that plague our modern world – divorce, abortion, euthanasia, homosexuality, radical gender practices, and so on. For the first step to healing is to acknowledge and reject all forms immorality that plague our lives. Standing up for Christ in this way is not easy, and often brings us persecution and even alienation. In the face of such hardships, many Christians choose to stay silent instead.

The First Reading is set at the time when the Babylonians has conquered the Holy Land. Similar to our world today, the prophet Habakkuk complained bitterly of the oppression and tyranny committed by the Babylonians. God’s response to Habakkuk is to be patience, and promised a future where “the righteous live by their faith” (verse 2:4). Today, as we witness immorality and encounter personal trials, like Habakkuk, we often wonder where God is amidst the carnage. In response, God comforts us with his assurance of a promise. At that appointed time in the future, we would realise that the pains of the present are merely to emphasise the greatness of God’s salvation. So, all is not what it seems. With God’s deliverance in mind, let us persevere through the hardships that we face. As Jesus said when he heard of Lazarus’ illness in John 11:4, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory.” Praise be to God!

In the Second Reading, Paul was imprisoned for his faith. Writing as a prisoner, Paul reminds us that the Holy Spirit that lives within us is a Spirit of power, love and self-discipline (verse 7). Underpinning the message of the First Reading, Paul drew strength from the Gospel and the power of God (verse 8) and persevered in the face of great hardships. Calling upon the Holy Spirit to give him strength, Paul guarded his faith like treasures entrusted upon him (verse 14). Sanctified by the Holy Spirit, Paul willingly accepted his sufferings for the sake of Christ. He urges Timothy, and us as well, to heed his example and do the same. Like Paul, hardships await us when we bear witnesses to Christ. That is why many Christians choose to stay silent instead. Stay silent no more, Paul urges us. As the great Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

In the Gospel, Jesus uses the parable of the Unprofitable Servant to explain that in serving the Lord, in observing His Laws and accepting His Cross, we should adopt the attitude of the Unprofitable Servant and not expect anything in return. For “we have done only what we ought to have done” (verse 10). Thus, as hard as this might sound, while we bear witnesses to Christ, while we endure hardships as a result, while we persevere in these hardships and look forward to God’s deliverance; one thing is clear: deliverance is for God to deliver and not for us to demand. Instead, we place our trust in God, that ever faithful, God will in due course and in His time provide us with the most appropriate deliverance. In the midst of our hardship, it is important that we keep this in mind.

My dear brothers and sisters, may the Holy Spirit walk with us as we go forth. Amen.

 



Weekly Reflection (29 Sep 2019)

26th Sunday Year C

Amos 6:1,4-7
1 Timothy 6:11-16
Luke 16:19-31

Theme of the week: Beware of over-indulgence in material comfort. Instead, seek good virtues and follow in Christ’s footsteps.

The Gospel passage this week tells the parable of Dives and Lazarus. Dives (which means “rich man”) indulges in his riches, oblivious to the suffering Lazarus outside his gate. After they both died, Dives ended up in hell; while Lazarus was gloried in heaven. In his torment, Dives pleaded with Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his five brothers, saying, “if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” (verse 30)

Last week, we reflected that for most of us who have jobs, own our cars, and live in our own home, we are blessed with great monetary wealth. Like Dives, have I committed the sin of over-indulgence and not showing compassion to my fellow men? In this week’s First Reading, the prophet Amos denounced the decadent behaviour of the rich, who indulged themselves in food, music and “beds of ivory” (verse 4); and in spite of their great wealth, they ignored the plight of the poor – “the ruin of Joseph” (verse 6). As we have reflected previously, wealth is a gift from God, and like any of God’s gifts, we have a duty to use our wealth to serve God. Hence, while being wealthy by itself is not a sin, one can easily fall into sin by over-indulging in one’s wealth at the expense of our service to God. Amos went on to prophesise that those heartless rich would be the first to suffer the pain of exile. True to the prophesy, within a generation, the Northern Kingdom of Israel (to whom Amos preached) fell to the Assyrians. The Southern Kingdom of Judah fell soon after, and the Jewish race would once again live in exile.

Let us pause to reflect. When God blesses me with wealth and material comfort, like Dives and the people of Israel in the First Reading, have I too committed the sin of over-indulgence? Have I placed my material well-being above my spiritual well-being? Have I let my secular quest for fame and fortune overshadow my spiritual quest? If so, like the people of Israel, I am in exile – not a physical one but a spiritual exile from God. In the verse that immediately precede this week’s Second Reading, Paul teaches that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains” (1 Tim 6:10). Indeed, riches do not buy us happiness; fame does not buy us contentment. Quite the contrary, our relent quest for fame and fortune can bring us much misery. That is why many rich and famous people live unhappy lives. In the Second Reading, Paul presents this challenge to all Christians, that rather than pursuing money, we should “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, [and] gentleness” (verse 11). Paul asks us to emulate Jesus and “fight the good fight”. Think about it, in His pursuit of righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness, Jesus was prepared to submit himself to suffering and ultimately, death.

Beyond simply saying no to the temptation of indulgence, how far am I prepared to go for the sake of my faith? Indeed, we are called to carry our cross and follow Christ. As Christians, God calls us to evangelise the Good News to the Dives of this world, by our deeds and our words. Have I heeded God’s call?

 



Weekly Reflection (22 Sep 2019)

25th Sunday Year C

Amos 8:4-7
1 Timothy 2:1-8
Luke 16:1-13

Theme of the week: Obsession with money is a sin. Let us develop a sense of detachment to our wealth.

For most of us who have jobs, own our cars, and live in our own home, we are blessed with great monetary wealth. Yet most of us are not satisfied. We are always hoping for a bigger house, a better car, the next promotion, etc. While these quests are not wrong in themselves, they can often become an obsession, taking us away from our family, our civic duties and our spiritual well being. This is when our relentless quest for money becomes a sin.

Amos was a prophet who lived around 750 BC, at a time where wealth is concentrated in the hands of a privileged few. It was typical of these wealthy people to exploit the poor, tempering with weighing scales and selling them poor-quality “sweepings of the wheat” (verse 6). Not only that, in clear violation of the Third Commandment (to keep holy the Sabbath day), they despised the holy days and Sabbath (verse 5), as they could not trade on those days. While being rich is not a sin per se, like many of us today, their relentless zest to pursue wealth led these people to sin. When we allow money to become an end in itself, when our desire for money supersedes our desire for God, then money becomes our god. In doing so, we violate another Commandment – the First Commandment, to worship no other gods other than the one True God.

Staying on the theme of wealth, in the Gospel, Jesus related to his disciples the parable of the Astute Manager. Without a contextual understanding of financial transactions in Jesus’ time, this parable would sound odd. In the parable, we were told that before the master can dismiss him, the dishonest manager altered the books to lessen the debt of his master’s debtors. In so doing, he not only earned the favour of those debtors but surprisingly, also earn the praise of his master! To understand this parable, we first need to understand that in Jewish custom, it is not legal to charge interest. Hence it is common practice for the creditor to inflate the amount owed in the deed so as to charge a de facto interest. The Astute Manager’s altering of the deed effectively cancelled out his master’s illegal profit. In this way, the master was compelled into doing the right thing by Jewish custom. By his action, the Astute Manager has forced the master into not pursuing ill-gotten wealth, thereby helping the master develop a sense of detachment to money – and that is why the master praised the manager. Jesus concluded, “make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes” (verse 9). Allegorically, for many of us obsessed with making money, it will be our detachment to wealth that will grant us a place in our eternal home in heaven.

Think of the last time you plan a major purchase, say, a house or a car. You probably would have been very astute with the way you spend your money – working through your budget and repayment schedule; evaluating whether you were getting value for your money; etc. Think about it, have you applied the same shrewdness in planning for the Kingdom of Heaven? All earthly rewards (such as wealth) are transient in nature; and pale in comparison to our heavenly reward. If we have been astute in planning for the Kingdom of Heaven, we would have been prepared to forego all our earthly possession in preference for God’s heavenly favour. As Jesus said near the end of the passage: “No slave can serve two masters; … You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Verse 13) We recall the story of Zacchaeus (Lk 19:2-10) as a great example of this teaching – after encountering Jesus, Zacchauus was transformed. He pledged half his wealth to the poor and promised to repay anyone he defrauded four times the amount. In today’s materialistic world, the Gospel challenges us to do the same.

The Second Readings helps us end this week’s reflection on a more positive note. The passage emphasises the importance of intercession prayers for those in high places – “kings and all who are in high positions” (verse 2) Whether it is the rich or the powerful, Christ “desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (verse 4). And for the sake of that, Christ has paid “a ransom for all” (verse 6). Yes, he loves us so much as he has already paid the ransom. All that is left for you and me to do is to follow his teachings and renounce our sins. Amen.

 



Weekly Reflection (15 Sep 2019)

24th Sunday Year C

Exodus 32:7-11,13-14
1 Timothy 1:12-17
Luke 15:1-32

Theme of the week: Jesus goes out of His way to seek out that prodigal sinner. Is it me He is seeking?

The lead-up to this week’s First Reading, Ex 32:1-6 tells the story of how the Israelites, at the slightest sign of doubt, fashioned a golden calf out of their jewelleries and worshipped it. The Israelites made the golden calf out of their earthly possessions and worshipped it in preference to God. In today secular world, many of us are like the Israelites, worshipping our earthly possessions instead of God. This is a dangerous pursuit. While the pursuit of earthly possessions in itself is not a sin, we can easily fall into sin when our pursuit becomes an obsession. Obsession and over-indulgence will cause us to turn away from Christian living; to turn our back on our families, friends, humanities itself, and most important of all, God. As James warned us in Jas 4:2, “You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts”.

This is the mistake of the prodigal son in this week’s Gospel. In the parable, the second son asked the father for his inheritance while the father is still alive – an extremely disrespectful gesture. The son then squandered away the money in debauchery living before coming to his senses and decided to return to the father. When the father saw the son from afar, in spite of what the son has done, the father ran out to the son (verse 20); restored his full status as a son by bestowing on him a robe, ring and sandals (verse 22); and celebrated his return.

Such is the mercy of God, that he would leave behind his flock of 99 sheep to go out of his way to seek that one lost sheep (verse 4). Let us reflect on our own lives. Does the way I live, the way I treat others and the values I hold reflect Christian living? Have I drifted so far from God that I am Christian in name only? Am I that lost sheep in the parable? Is Jesus calling out to me to return to his fold? Or perhaps I am the elder son, who looked down on the brother, and was filled with self-righteousness and jealousy. The elder son too needs to return to the father, as the father invited him into the house. Be assured, the day a prodigal son returns to the father, “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (verse 7).

Paul, the author of the Second Reading, was such a prodigal son. Before his conversion, Paul was a Pharisee who persecuted Christians. In fact, Paul was responsible for the death of Steven, the first Christian martyr. In the Second Reading, Paul shows great humility by readily admitting his sinfulness. Through the mercy of our Lord, Paul was redeemed and went on to become a great Saint. In spite of being a highly intelligent and spiritual person, Paul’s unreserving repentance gives us a great example in humility. If a great man like Paul can adopt such humility, in the face of our sins, who are we to hold on to our pride?

As we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us”. Peace be with you, brothers and sisters.