15th Sunday Year B
God’s grace awaits those who truly accept Him.
Has God touched my heart? As Christians, this is a legitimate question, yet we do not ask that of ourselves often enough. Many of us come to church every Sunday. We listen to the Word of God proclaimed and preached. Occasionally, we may even be inspired by the preaching. But we should ask ourselves: Has the Word of God touched my heart? When I speak the words of the liturgy, do I speak them like rhetoric without meaning them? And when I hear an inspiring sermon, am I just entertained, without my heart being transformed? As I listen to the Word of God proclaimed and preached, have I become more like Jesus? Am I more loving, more compassionate, more forgiving, more generous? Or am I the same person day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year?
Take for example the Second Reading this week. These words of St Paul are familiar to us. But the words can only touch us if we open our hearts to them. In fact, if we pay attention to them, they are very profound indeed. Yet, because the teaching is so familiar to us, our hearts are not moved. The old saying “familiarity breeds contempt” holds true indeed. Let us take a moment to listen to St Paul. He said, God “chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love” (verse 4). In other words, out of His love for us, God wanted us to be perfectly pure, to be perfectly happy. He adopted us as His sons and daughters (verse 5). But we rejected Him by our sins. Through our sins, we brought destruction and sadness into our lives. Yet God did not give up on us. He reached out to redeem us from our sins. He did so by sacrificing His very own Son (verse 7). Through Jesus, the grace of God has been revealed to us (verse 9). As His redeemed sons and daughters, God shared His inheritance with us (verse 11, 14). This inheritance is none other than perpetual happiness with Him in heaven. This is His very plan for us from the beginning (verse 10). My brothers and sisters, I invite you to read and reflect on these words of St Paul. Let them sink in and take them to heart.
Am I truly touched by these Word of God? Am I ready to accept God’s redemption of me? The truth is, redemption presupposes healing. Healing presupposes the rejection of sins. This takes courage. How so? The truth is, God’s teachings are often challenging. Jesus teaches us to love and pray for our enemies (Mt 5:44); to forgive those who hurt us unlimited number of times (Mt 18:22); to come to the aid of our enemies (Rom 11:20); to give everything we have to God (Mk 12:17,42-44); to attended to the afflicted (Mt 15:30); to remain faithful to our marriage (Mt 19:6); and to acknowledge and repent our wrong-doings (Mt 3:2). Do we have the courage to response in these ways? These teachings are challenging indeed. As is often the case when we are challenged, pride tends to set in. Instead of acknowledging our faults, we try to justify ourselves. We try to justify what we do is ok because of our particular circumstances. Or worse, we question the validity of Jesus’ teachings. We try to convince ourselves that Jesus did not mean what He said; or perhaps the Church misinterpreted what Jesus said. This was what happen in Jesus’ time. The chief priests, scribes, and elders questioned Jesus, “By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?” (Mk 11:28) In last week’s Gospel, the crowd even questioned His upbringing, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” (Mk 6:3)
The rejection Jesus encountered is the same rejection Old Testament prophet Amos encountered in this week’s First Reading. Amos lived in a time when the Holy Land was divided into the northern kingdom of Israel and the Southern kingdom of Judah. Amos, a native resident of the Southern kingdom of Judah, was called by God to preach to the people of the northern kingdom of Israel. He preached against social injustice propagated by the established religious institutions. This angered Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, who rebuked him for not having received any authority from the established religious bodies. Amaziah rejected Amos; asked him to leave Israel and return to Judah. By his pride and insecurity, Amaziah rejected God. My dear brothers and sisters, how about us? By my pride, have I rejected God?
In the Gospel last week, the crowd rejects Jesus by questioning His upbringing. In response, “he could do no deed of power there” (Mk 6:5). This is truly a tragedy. By our rejection, we shut off the flow of grace to us. By the sins of my anger, lust, pride, greed and envy, I hurt those dear to me; I destroy my relationships with my loved ones, I live in bitterness and vengefulness. I do not have contentment or peace in my heart. I am unhappy. And as I continue to embrace sins and reject Jesus, He cannot heal me. God cannot restore me to live the fullness of life. He could do no deed of power in my life (Mk 6:5). Our redemption is hampered.
In the Gospel this week, Jesus sent off the Twelve to preach. He is similarly sending messengers in my life today, like the Apostles in the Gospel and Amos in the First Reading. Who are His messengers? God could be reaching out to me through a friend, a priest, a family member or a reflection like this. What is my response? Do I refuse to hear Him? (verse 11) Or do I welcome God into my life, and let His Word touch my heart? In the Gospel, for those who are receptive, the Apostles “cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them” (verse 13). What the demons in my life that need to be cast out? Am I spiritually sick and am in need of healing and anointing? Am I open to God to transform my life?
As Jesus said to the deaf man in the Gospel of Mark, “Ephphatha”. It means “Be opened” (Mk 7:34) Amen. Amen indeed.