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.

 



Weekly Reflection (8 Sep 2019)

23rd Sunday Year C

Wisdom 9:13-18
Philemon 9-10,12-17
Luke 14:25-33

Theme of the week: Enlightened by the virtue of wisdom, let us reflect on what we must do to uphold Christian teachings.

The Second Reading is a letter Paul wrote to his friend Philemon, to be hand-delivered by none other that Philemon’s escaped slave, Onesimus. Before reading this Scripture text, it helps to understand the back story: Philemon was a Colossian whom Paul has converted. As he wrote his letter to Philemon, Paul was being imprisoned because of his faith (verse 9). Onesimus, a slave of Philemon, escaped from his master, came into contact with Paul and was converted. While Paul recognised the wrongs of slavery, he was limited by the prevailing social norm where slavery is a commonly accepted practice. Paul was in a dilemma. To keep Onesimus with him, Paul would be depriving his friend Philemon of what was rightfully his under the law of that time – his slave Onesimus. On the other hand, to return Onesimus to Philemon would be to condone the practice of slavery, a practice that undermine the dignity of the human person. In the end, Paul did send Onesimus back to Philemon; though cleverly, he penned this letter to Philemon, urging but not compelling Philemon to set Onesimus free.

The lesson we may draw from this story is: We live in a sinful world and often, we are faced with practices unacceptable to our Christian teachings but are nevertheless commonly practised in the society. When faced with such challenges, while limited by the constraint of social rules, we must nevertheless stand firm to the teachings of God. While Paul was faced with the practice of slavery in his time; we today are similarly faced with practices unacceptable to God but are accepted as social norms – same sex marriage, abortion, divorce, euthanasia, pre-marital sex, etc. While we must never discriminate against those struggling with these practices; we also must never condone these practices themselves. By his example, Paul urges us to approach such issues with sensitivity and delicacy; while doing our bit to right these social ills. This is not always easy. Today, we hear of many Christians parents whose sons and daughters engage in practices immoral in the eyes of God. Afraid of alienating their sons and daughters, many Christian parents often choose to silently accept the immoral practices.

If I am a parent in this situation, what should I do instead? If I am a friend of someone undertaking an immoral practice, should I say something? Rather than raise the issue and risk a conflict, isn’t is better to stay silent and keep the peace? The First Reading teaches us that our finite mind is incapable of fully understanding the infinite God; our earthy limitations weigh down our ability to attain full spiritual fulfilment (verse 15). This echoes the teachings of Isaiah 55:8-9, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, … For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” To help us discern His divine will, God gives us wisdom, presented to us as a gift of the Holy Spirit (verse 17). Jesus affirmed this a thousand years after this text was written, when he promised: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” (John 16:13)

Two weeks ago, in Lk 12:51-53, we were taught that the price of following Christ could be the division of our families. In this week’s Gospel, Jesus continued this teaching by asking us to “hate” our relatives and follow Jesus. To properly understand this passage, we need to understand that in Hebrew, the word for “hate” does not necessarily mean emotional hatred but rather relegation of something to a lower priority, in other words to adopt a sense of detachment. As Peter taught us in Acts 5:29, when faced with a conflict, “we must obey God rather than any human authority”. That is why following Jesus often requires us to bear hardship, to carry our crosses and follow Him (verse 27). Our stand against practices unacceptable to our Christian teachings is one example. The parables of a person building a tower and a king waging war against another (verse 28-33) explain that following Christ is a free act of will that require us to deliberate over our action before undertaking it. May the Holy Spirit grant us the wisdom in difficult situations; and may our actions always convey love – love of our God; and love of our neighbour.

May the Holy Spirit be with you. Amen.

 



Weekly Reflection (1 Sep 2019)

22nd Sunday Year C

Ecclesiasticus 3:17-18,20,28-29
Hebrews 12:18-19,22-24
Luke 14:1,7-14

Theme of the week: Let us humble ourselves and reach out to the marginalised.

The Second Reading presents a contrast of styles between Old Testament and New Testament teachings. It would be helpful if we read the whole passage in its entirety, including the omitted verses of 20 and 21. By incorporating these omitted verses, it becomes clear that the passage presents a contrast between the old covenant brought about by Moses and the new covenant brought about by Jesus. It does so by contrasting Mt Sinai and Mt Zion. Whereas the former was where Moses received the Old Covenant, the latter is where the New Jerusalem sits, the heavenly destination Jesus promised us in the New Covenant. While Moses “tremble[d] with fear” (verse 21) as he encountered God on Mt Sinai, Mt Zion is a place of great joy, where everyone is a “firstborn” to God (verse 23). By this vision, Paul dispersed the image of a fearsome God. Instead, the image of God that Jesus conveyed is one of a loving father, to whom Jesus dearly addressed as “Abba” – similar the modern term “Daddy”.

The First Reading praises the virtue of humility. The passage declares that a humble person finds favour with the Lord. A humble person reflects on God’s teachings. Pride, on the other hand, will cause a person to shut out the teachings of God; and becomes a hindrance to the person’s gaining of wisdom. Thus, where the passage says “the greater you are, the more you must humble yourself” (verse 18), the reverse is also true: the humbler a person, the greater the person becomes. This is a variation to the counter-cultural message that we have been hearing for the past three weeks: “some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last” (Lk 13:30).

The first part of the Gospel passage describes an episode where Jesus was invited to a meal at a leading Pharisee’s house. The religious men at the function, driven by pride, felt that they deserved a place of honour and were clamouring for the best seats on the table. This parable presents an extension to the First Reading’s message. Jesus exalted those who assume a low place at the table in humility: “for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (verse 11) In today’s ego-centric world, self-centredness is abound or even encouraged. Against such social norm, Jesus’ teaching is not only challenging but also counter-cultural. That is what Christians are called to, to not conform to the values of the world but to be counter-cultural. Notice the the future tense used in verse 11 (“will be humbled”, “will be exalted”). This suggests that the verse is not just a conclusion for the parable, but also the foretelling of the future that is to come – at the Final Judgement.

The second part of the Gospel passage presents another paradoxical teaching. The passage encourages us to extend our charity to “the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” (verse 13). Instead of inviting well-endowed guests that will repay our goodwill in the future (which is the social norm), we are asked to invite the poor and afflicted, those who have no mean of repaying the goodwill. In return, God will reward us in eternity. And isn’t God’s reward infinitely more superior to any earthly reward?

Let us reflect upon this further: who are “the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” that I should reach out to? To many of us, these might be the poor and homeless. That is true, for these are a legitimate group of social outcasts that genuinely need our help. Spare a thought for a moment – what about those that we cast outside the Church? Jesus is asking us to invite these as well, the adulterous woman (see Jn 8:1-11) of the modern times. These include people caught in the vicious cycle of vices (drugs, prostitution); people experiencing same sex attractions; and others in similar situations. Here is a challenge for us: am I prepare to answer Jesus’ call and reach out to these brothers and sisters as well? Show them that our God is not a fearsome God that they should “tremble with fear” (First Reading, verse 21). Rather, we are all his “firstborn” (First Reading, verse 23) and He loves us. Let us carry this thought with us as go forth, to love and to serve. Amen.

 



Weekly Reflection (25 Aug 2019)

21st Sunday Year C

Isaiah 66:18-21
Hebrews 12:5-7,11-13
Luke 13:22-30

Theme of the week: Salvation is universal, available to all who are willing to walk through the narrow door.

In the previous week, we reflect on suffering for the sake of our faith. The Second Reading is a continuation of last week’s messages. It teaches that God uses suffering to teach his children, just like a parent sometimes allowing suffering to befall upon a child, so that the child may learn a valuable lesson. Just as a parent uses suffering to help the child grow into a mature adult, God uses suffering to help us grow into mature Christians. Seen in this way, suffering is actually a channel of grace from God, to help us in our pursuit of spiritual maturity. But as surely as God is prepared to let suffering befall upon us, he is also always ready to deliver us. For “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Cor 10:13)

The First Reading was written in the historical context of the Israelites’ exile to Babylon. In a literal sense, the passage speaks of God’s promise to lead the people out of exile and return to their earthly homeland of Jerusalem. In an allegorical sense, “Jerusalem” refers to the heavenly Jerusalem, our heavenly home. This is the promise of God, that He will lead us to our heavenly homeland. And it is not just us the believers who receive this promise. The passage speaks of the universal nature of salvation, where God will “gather all nations and tongues” (verse 18), including those who “have not heard of my fame or seen my glory” (verse 18), to his “holy mountain Jerusalem” (verse 20).

Contrary to the teachings of the First Reading, the Pharisees believe that only Jews may be saved; and that salvation is dependent upon one’s observance of the Law. Hence, in this week’s Gospel, someone asked Jesus: “Will only a few be saved?” (verse 23) As a direct rebuttal of the Pharisee’s teaching, Jesus explained that salvation will not be limited to a specific group of people, but those who will be saved will come “from east and west, from north and south” (verse 29), echoing the First Reading’s message of universal salvation. This same message is equally relevant to us modern-day Christians as it was to the Jews of Jesus’ time. It would be a mistake for us to assume that Christianity is some kind of exclusive club whose members are guaranteed salvation; and anyone outside this exclusive club are guaranteed condemnation.

If salvation is universal, it seems curious that in the Gospel, Jesus teaches that salvation comes to those who enter by the narrow door, for some interpret that to mean that very few people will be saved. In the context of Jesus’ teaching in this passage, this interpretation cannot be correct, as it directly contradicts the message of universal salvation. Rather, Jesus explains that in spite of the door being narrow, many can be saved. However, the door is narrow and hence is not comfortable to enter. In other words, salvation comes to those who are willing to bear the discomfort, to bear the cross. In the end, those who willingly accept their suffering will be first in the eternal life. On the other hand, those who tramped upon others for their own betterment will be last in the eternal life.

“Some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last” (verse 30). My brothers and sisters, may salvation be with you. And may we walk through the narrow door. Amen.

 



Weekly Reflection (18 Aug 2019)

20th Sunday Year C

Jeremiah 38:4-6,8-10
Hebrews 12:1-4
Luke 12:49-53

Theme of the week: Suffering for God’s truth and justice.

The Christian message is often counter cultural, sometime even counter intuitive. In proclaiming the message of truth and justice, we Christians often have to swim against the popular tide. This is true in every age. Today, Christians are faced with radical social practices such as the killing of the unborn, killing of the sick, sexual promiscuity, breakdown in traditional marriages and radical gender theory, just to name a few. What is our response to these? Some stay silent; some allow themselves to be “de-converted”, accept the radical practices. A small number, however, stays true to Christian teachings and continue to proclaim the truth even in the face of great adversity. Which category of Christian are you?

The year was 587 BC and the Babylonians had invaded Jerusalem. God revealed the truth to the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah conveyed the will of God to the people by prophesising defeat at the hands of the Babylonians, a very unpopular thing to say. This has angered the king’s officials. With a king too weak to object, officials threw Jeremiah in a well to drown him in the mud. Jeremiah suffered for his faith and was rescued through the intervention of Ebed-melech, a righteous official of the king. The king’s officials plotted against Jeremiah for proclaiming the truth. In proclaiming God truth, we too may face the same treatment. The story teaches to stay strong and commit ourselves to God’s truth, for God will deliver the righteous from the hands of his enemies.

In the Gospel, Jesus explains that his teachings will bring divisions, even among those closest to you (verse 51) – “father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother” (verse 53). This division can extend to our church families; with church members plotting against the righteous just as the king’s officials plotted against Jeremiah in the First Reading. By His teaching, Jesus inevitably becomes a cause of division within the society, among friends, within the family and even within church communities. In this week’s Gospel passage, Jesus asks us to be prepared to face such a dilemma, where we will be asked to stand on God’s side, possibly against people whom we love. Staying steadfast to God under such circumstances is perhaps one of the hardest crosses that we have to take up.

If the message of the First Reading and Gospel discomfort us, the Second Reading explains to us that we are not alone. The Second Reading likens life to a race where one has to suffer before finally reaching the final goal – the attainment of eternal glory. In standing for the truth, it is inevitable that we encounter setbacks. The passage urges us to always look to Jesus, “who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame” (verse 2). It is true that for most of us, our sufferings will never get to the point where we lose our lives (verse 4). Nevertheless, it is possible (in fact, likely) that we will be asked to carry the crosses that accompany our faith. In suffering for our faith, we emulate our Lord Jesus Christ and are unified with Him on His cross.

Are you suffering for your faith today? If you are, pick up a crucifix and contemplate on the suffering Christ on the cross. Let us pray with and for each other, that we may find joy and assurance through the crucified Christ. Peace be with you.

 



Weekly Reflection (11 Aug 2019)

19th Sunday Year C

Wisdom 18:6-9
Hebrews 11:1-2,8-19
Luke 12:32-48

Theme of the week: The gift of faith, its fruits and challenges.

The First Reading recalls the story of Exodus, where through one miracle on the Red Sea, God saved the Israelites for their faith and punished the Egyptians for their infidelity: “by the same means by which you punished our enemies you called us to yourself and glorified us” (verse 8). The contrasting fate of the Israelites and the Egyptians mirrors our lives, where we play the saint and the sinner from one moment to another, mixing blessings with dangers (verse 9). We may ask ourselves: how can I be more a saint than a sinner? The answer is faith.

Casting our mind further back in the history from the Exodus, the Second Reading provides an illustration of faith by recalling the actions of Abraham, our father of faith. Abraham was asked to leave his homeland and go to a foreign land. In spite of the uncertainty associated with this endeavour, Abraham followed the Lord’s lead. Then the Lord promised him a child, even though his wife Sarah was well advanced in her years. Abraham did not doubt and Sarah gave birth to Isaac at the ripe old age of 90. Then the Lord asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac to Him. Once again, Abraham did not question the Lord but went ahead with the preparation for the sacrifice. Having tested Abraham’s faith to the extreme, the Lord sent an angel to stop him from harming Isaac in the nick of time. Through these episodes, we witness the faith of Abraham manifested in his total trust in the Lord.

While Abraham was rewarded in earthly ways in his many acts of faith, the passage explains that the reward for faith is not just confined to earthly rewards. In fact, earthly rewards should not even be the most desirable form of rewards in our minds. They are temporary in nature; and are sometimes fulfilled only after we die, where the righteous “died in faith without having received the promises” (verse 13). Such was the case of the Promised Land, where it was given to Abraham’s descendants rather than Abramham himself. Beyond earthly rewards, beyond the earthly Promised Land, the passage tells us to desire “a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (verse 16). In other words, the ultimate reward for faith is not earthly rewards, but a heavenly existence where we share the glory of God – a heavenly Promised Land.

Continuing on the topic of faith, the Gospel uses three parables to explain the virtuous manifestation of faith. In urgining us to sell our possessions to shore up our heavenly treasures, the passage exults the virtues of preparedness, for we do not know when the thief will come at night. In urging us to be like the slave who is already ready for the master’s return, the passage exults the virtues of watchfulness, for we do not know when the master would be returning from the wedding. To help us build and feed our faith, the third parable preaches the virtue of service, so that when the day come, God would be pleased with how we serve others with the talents he has given us. The passage concludes with a paradox: having done all that is pleasing to God, by these very virtues, God placed an even higher demand on us: “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded” (verse 48). Such responsibilities can be overwhelming, so much so that one might say it is better to be less virtuous! In fact, through this teaching, Jesus poses this challenge to us: that we accept the gift of faith from God and accept the higher demands God places on us. Mother Teresa understood this teaching fully, when she quite humorously said, “I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish that He didn’t trust me so much!” Let us pray that we too may accept the demands of our faith with the same child-like simplicity.

 



Weekly Reflection (4 Aug 2019)

18th Sunday Year C

Ecclesiastes 1:2,2:21-23
Colossians 3:1-5,9-11
Luke 12:13-21

Theme of the week: Do not store up treasures on earth; rather, store up treasures in heaven.

We live is a materialistic world. We work hard for financial rewards, so that we may enjoy the finer things in life, to provide our family and our children. When we die, many of us will leave behind inheritance for our children, so that they may enjoy the financial fruits of our labour. This is how many of us have and will lead our lives – those who are secular and even many of us who are spiritual. Make no mistake, there is nothing wrong with hard work or providing for our children. However, there is a danger. It is often that while we indulge ourselves in our pursuit of earthly treasures that we lose sight of our spirituality. It is then that our quest could easily fall into immorality. As the Apostle James warned us, “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.” (James 4:2) This week, the Scripture challenges us to transcend our pursuit from earthly treasures to a higher plain.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Christ taught us, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Mt 6:19-21) Compared to eternity, our earthly life is but a fleeting moment. Compared to heavenly treasures, our earthy treasures only provide for us while we are on earth, that fleeting moment. It is for this reason that the Second Reading urges us to focus on “things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (verse 2). In the passage, Paul urges us to leave our earthly thoughts behind and walk away from earthly sins such as “fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed” (verse 5). In their place, think only of heavenly things, so that we may build up heavenly treasures.

The Gospel tells the parable of the rich fool. In this parable, the rich man was busy making plans to store up his earthly treasures for his future enjoyment; foolishly neglecting the heavenly treasures he needs for his eternal salvation. In his indulgence in earthly treasures, the man even made the crucial error of not distinguishing between his earthly and his afterlife existence: “And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ ” (verse 19) In his indulgence, he forgot that his soul does not eat or drink! As the story goes, the man died that night. So in the end, all his meticulous planning came to naught.

Perhaps you might say, even though the rich man died, he would have at least left a rich inheritance to his descendants to live comfortably. However, this too is denounced by the Scripture. Written under the theme of social justice, the First Reading denounces the act of leaving inheritance for other “who did not toil for it” (verse 2:21). This is in fact a form of vanity, the passage tells us. Riches on earth are a gift from God, and need to be put to good use, such as helping the poor, evangelisation work, etc. Used wisely, earthly treasures build up heavenly treasures that no one can take away.

Let us reflect. Am I so consumed by the secular world that I have made the same mistake as the rich fool? Have I let my quest for earthly treasures overshadows what is really important? Have I failed to recognise the temporary nature of my earthly existence? May the verse of the Responsorial Psalm rings in our heart as we reflect: “teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart” (Ps 90:12). Amen.

 



Weekly Reflection (28 Jul 2019)

17th Sunday Year C

Genesis 18:20-32
Colossians 2:12-14
Luke 11:1-13

Theme of the week: Be persistent in our prayers and seek forgiveness, for the Lord is ever merciful.

The First Reading tells a story where Abraham interceded for the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. Cleverly, Abraham bargained with Lord. Through his persistence, the Lord eventually agreed to spare the two cities in their entirety even if there were only ten righteous persons in the cities. This passage illustrates the vital role of an intercessor in our salvation. In times of needs, we often ask others to pray for us. Over the ages, our Church has recognised many holy men and women as Saints. These holy men and women led righteous lives while on earth and now share God’s glory in heaven. As holy men and women sharing God’s glory in heaven, how much more powerful are their prayers compared to those of our earthly brothers and sisters! Hence, in addition to our brothers and sisters on earth, we should also ask these holy men and women to pray for us. In Catholic beliefs, this strong bond between us the believers on earth and those who have departed, forms us into a community that transcends earthly existence. We call this community the Communion of Saints.

In agreeing to spare Sodom and Gomorrah on account of ten righteous persons, you may be wondering: how can this be justice? How is justice served when the Lord is prepared to ignore the sins of all the other evil doers? This mystery of forgiveness is unlocked with the revelation of Jesus Christ. As Paul said in the Second Reading, “He has overridden the Law” (verse 15, Jerusalem Bible). By His passion, death and resurrection, Jesus took our sins upon Himself, suffering and dying for our sins. As sinners, none of us can earn our own salvation. It is Christ who earns us our salvation. As the passage explained, when we are baptised into Jesus, we died with him (verse 12); and by His death, all our sins are forgiven (verse 14). .

The parable of the persistent friend in the Gospel urges us to be persistent in our prayers, just as Abraham was persistent in the First Reading. The key to the message is this: “Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened” (verse 9-10). The keyword here is “ask”. Jesus has paid the price for our sins. To receive His free gift of forgiveness, all we need to do is ask. With a contrite heart, let us ask for forgiveness in the words our Lord gave us: “forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us” (verse 4). Shalom.

 



Weekly Reflection (21 July 2019)

16th Sunday Year C

Genesis 18:1-10
Colossians 1:24-28
Luke 10:38-42

Theme of the week: “You are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.” What is the one thing the Lord is asking of me?

The First Reading tells the story of Abraham being visited by the Lord. With great reverence, Abraham welcomed the Lord and prepared a lavish meal for his special guest. Before departing, God promised him a son by the following year. In this story, we see the Lord revealing many mysteries to us through this one act. First, God revealed the mystery of His inner self to Abraham and to us, appearing to Abraham as three men. This is an indication of the Trinitarian nature of God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Furthermore, God descended upon Abraham, walking on earth like a normal man. This is a sign of things to come, when God would be borne as a man in the person of Jesus and walk on earth, to bring about salvation of humankind.

In a scene similar to that of the First Reading, the Gospel tells the story of a feast in honour of the Lord; and the contrasting behaviour of the sisters Martha and Mary. While Mary played the role of an ideal disciple, sitting at the Lord’s feet and listening to him; Martha played the role of a dutiful host, busy preparing a lavish feast. In our faith journey, we are often called to be Martha, undertaking work of the Lord. Other times, we are asked the be Mary, sitting in front of the Lord, adoring Him. Let us ask ourselves, in my walk of faith, have I ever been so preoccupied by the work of the Lord and the forgot to stop and adore him? Notice Jesus’ reaction to Martha in the Gospel, “you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing” (verse 41-42). On the superficial level, Jesus seemed to be telling Martha that a lavish meal is not necessary, a simple dish will do. If we delve deeper, Jesus is in fact telling Martha that lavish formalities are really not necessary. Indeed, only one thing is necessary. What is the one thing in my faith that I need? In Martha’s case, it is the undivided adoration of the Lord – which is what Mary demonstrated, listening attentively to the Lord. This teaching also clarifies the message of the First Reading, that the promise of a son to Abraham is nota reward not for his lavish formalities, but for the one thing that Abraham demonstrated – his love and obedience to the Lord.

There are two key messages in the Second Reading:

  • Our suffering completes the suffering of Christ. In Paul’s words, his suffering completes “what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (verse 24). You may think, how can this be? How can Christ’s suffering be inadequate in any way? Yet it is true. To complete the salvific effect of Christ’s suffering, we need to lift up our own sufferings to be joined to His sufferings. It is just as Christ commanded to us: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34) Could this be the one thing the Lord ask of me?
  • The second message is a “mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations” (verse 26), that salvation is universal. Salvation is God’s gift to everyone, Pagans and Jews alike, Christians and non-Christians alike. Salvation is not the exclusive rights of a specific race or religion. Jesus suffered and died for the salvation of all. “For in the one Spirit we were all baptised into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” (1 Cor 12:13)

 



Weekly Reflection (14 Jul 2019)

15th Sunday Year C

Deuteronomy 30:10-14
Colossians 1:15-20
Luke 10:25-37

Theme of the week: How do we love God with all our heart and all our soul?

The Second Reading commences by stating that Christ is “the image of the invisible God” (verse 15). Each day, we come into contact with God who we cannot see through God the Son who we can see. This is Jesus who walked and lived among us, and still does so today. Paul then goes on to emphasise the role of Christ in human salvation. Humankind was created in the image of God and Christ is the proof of that. Christ is fully human and fully God. Because Christ is human, he can die. Because he is God, the gravity of God dying atone for the sins of the whole human (verse 20); and bought for the whole of humanity a share of eternal life. And he did it out of love. He loves us infinitely; and we in turn ought to love him with all our heart and all our soul.

Let us reflect: what does it means to love God with all our heart and all our soul? This question is posed to us twice in this week’s Scripture passages, in Deut 30:10 and Lk 10:27.

The First Reading suggests we must first seek the commandment of God. It tells us that the commandment of God is not beyond our reach. In fact, it is very near – it is in our mouth and in our heart (verse 14). The New Testament repeats this teaching in Heb 8:10: “I will put my laws in their minds, and write them on their hearts”. My brothers and sisters, God has written His commandment into our hearts so that it is not beyond our reach or our strength to obey it. As Paul said, “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength” (1 Cor 10:13). Hence, when we succumb to temptations, it is never because the temptation is too strong. Rather, it is because we allow ourselves to be weak. Remember, God always provide us the grace to resist temptations. When we fall, it is because we allow ourselves to be overcome by temptations. One reason we are weak is because we treat God’s commandment as an external law imposed upon us. Limited by this mindset, we find ourselves constantly struggling against God’s commandment as an external constraint. It is only when we are able to internalise God commandment into our hearts that the struggle ceases. God’s commandment is given to us to help us love our God and love our neighours better. When we truly desire in our hearts to love better, that is when the commandment of God becomes the commandment of our hearts. It is then that we are at peace with God’s commandment as an internal constraint within our hearts. As Paul so beautifully put it, it is the new mindset that “it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20).

What does it mean to love God with all our heart and all our soul? In the Gospel, Jesus provides us the second part of the answer. A lawyer asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbour?” This question is significant because in Jesus’ time, the Jews believe that only fellow-Jews are their neighbours. The Pharisees have an even narrower view on this, believing that only fellow-Pharisees are their neighbours. So Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan. In the story, the supposedly righteous priest and Levite would not help the injured man, for fear of making themselves spiritually unclean. Only the Samaritan, though being a member of an outcast group, showed compassion. At the end of the story, Jesus asked the lawyer, “which of these three … was a neighbour to the man?” (verse 36) Notice that Jesus did not directly answer the original question posed to him: “Who is my neighbour?” In fact, he turned the question around and was in fact asking the lawyer, “to whom should you be a neighbour to?” Let us pause and reflect on this for a moment.

Christian love should not be limited by human boundaries. In fact, to ask who is one’s neighbour is by itself an attempt to define human boundaries. Hence, the very basis of the question “who is my neighour” runs counter to Christian teachings. As we read this passage, Jesus is asking me: “to whom should I be a neighbour to?” In other words, “who should I love?” In today’s xenophobic world, where it has become common practice to discriminate against people dissimilar to us, be it on the grounds of religion, culture, race, social background, gender or other characteristics, Jesus is posing this challenge to us: who should I be neighbour to? It is only by showing the universal unconditional love of agape to our fellow human beings that we can truly claim to be loving God with all our heart and all our soul. For many of us, this is a great challenge indeed.

“For those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen” (1 Jn 4:20).