Father Valan Arockiaswamy

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HOMILIES

Close Dear Audience,
For better understanding of the spiritual message behind this homily I kindly remind you to first read and contemplate the biblical texts before reading or listening to my preaching - a human reflection on the Word of God!

Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year C)

Feb 24, 2019 Views 158 Listen 36 Downloads 0
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First Reading

A reading from the first Book of Samuel (26:2, 7-9, 12-13, 22-23)

In those days, Saul went down to the desert of Ziph with three thousand picked men of Israel, to search for David in the desert of Ziph. So David and Abishai went among Saul's soldiers by night and found Saul lying asleep within the barricade, with his spear thrust into the ground at his head and Abner and his men sleeping around him.

Abishai whispered to David: "God has delivered your enemy into your grasp this day. Let me nail him to the ground with one thrust of the spear; I will not need a second thrust!" But David said to Abishai, "Do not harm him, for who can lay hands on the Lord's anointed and remain unpunished?" So David took the spear and the water jug from their place at Saul's head, and they got away without anyone's seeing or knowing or awakening. All remained asleep, because the Lord had to put them into deep slumber.

Going across to an opposite slope, David stood on a remote hilltop at a great distance from Abner, Son of Ner, and the troops. He said: "Here is the King's spear. Let an attendant come over to get it. The Lord will reward each man for his justice and faithfulness. Today, though the Lord delivered you into my grasp, I would not harm the Lord's anointed."

(P) The word of the Lord.
(R) Thanks be to God.

Responsorial Psalm

Psalms of David (103:1-2,3-4,8,10,12-13)


(R) Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.

Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all my being, bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits. (R)

He pardons all your iniquities, heals all your ills. He redeems your life from destruction, crowns you with kindness and compassion. (R)

Merciful and gracious is the Lord, slow to anger and abounding in kindness. Not according to our sins does he deal with us, nor does he requite us according to our crimes. (R)

As far as the east is from the west, so far has he put our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him. (R)

Second Reading

A reading from the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians (15:45-49)

Brothers and sisters: It is written, the first man, Adam, became a living being, the last Adam a life-giving spirit. But the spiritual was not first; rather the natural and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, earthly; the second man, from heaven. As was the earthly one, so also are the earthly, and as is the heavenly one, so also are the heavenly. Just as we have borne the image of the earthly one, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly one.

(P) The word of the Lord.
(R) Thanks be to God.

Gospel

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke (6:27-38)

Jesus said to his disciples: "To you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well, and from the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic. Give to everyone who ask of you, and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same. If you lend money to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, and get back the same amount. But rather, love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. "Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give, and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you."

(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
(R) Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.

Homily

Once, a priest was visiting a man in a hospital who had been injured in a fight. "I am going to pray so you will forgive your enemy for hitting you with a brick", the priest said. "It might be better, Father", said the man, "if you waited until I get out of here and then, you can pray for him."

Last week, we started to read Luke's narrative of the discourse that Jesus, at the start of His earthly ministry, delivered to His disciples, on a plain at the foot of a mountain. Jesus began the discourse by proclaiming blessings to those who had chosen or would choose to live a life of poverty, be detached from material possessions, share their riches with others, sympathize with the sufferings of others and suffer persecution for Him and His Gospel. He then also pronounced woes to those who had stood or would stand in stark contrast to the "blessed", Luke (6:17, 20-26).

After He presented the Beatitudes, Jesus said his disciples, "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you... Give to everyone who asks of you... Lend to others without expecting to get anything back... Do not judge or condemn the ungrateful and wicked but show mercy to them and forgive them", Luke (6:27-37).

I believe Jesus' instructions in today's gospel are linked together by one main theme: the power of Christian love. What is "love"? Just like fear, anger, sadness, and joy, love is one of the most profound and complex emotions that we, human beings, experience. Love can be experienced and expressed in many different ways, and it can range from respect, warmth, kindness, compassion, affection, to infatuation and pleasure. As the New Testament of the Bible was originally written in Greek, a study of seven Greek words for love will help us understand what loving someone really means.

The ancient Greeks used seven distinct words for love:

  • Philia - It is the love between close friends. It is also known as brotherly or platonic love, meaning intimate and affectionate but not sexual.
  • Eros - It is the love that constitutes passion, romance, physical attraction and sexual desire. Eros is obviously the root word for "erotic".
  • Pragma - It refers to the love between married couples which develops over a long period of time.
  • Storge - It relates to affection and fondness that naturally occur between parents and children, and among family members.
  • Ludus - It refers to flirtatious, playful and teasing kind of love. Such a love thrives without attachment or commitment.
  • Philautia - It is self-love and, it can be healthy, or unhealthy. It is healthy in the sense that when we truly love ourselves, we are capable of truly loving other people, be it our spouse, family or friends. Unhealthy self-love is akin to being selfish, conceited or self-absorbed.
  • Agape - It is considered to be the highest form of love. It is selfless, sacrificial and unconditional. While, in some ancient Greek texts, agape has been used to denote the love that exists between husband and wife, and among siblings, it mainly refers to the love of God for humankind and of humankind for God.

At the time of Jesus, Jews hardly required an exhortation to love neighbours for it was already there in the scriptures. At the very centre of the Torah, Book of Leviticus, we find the commandment of the Lord to the Israelites, "to love your neighbour as yourself", Leviticus (19:18). God had reinforced these words by reminding them that these were not simply idle instructions but given by His authority, "I am the LORD", and therefore in accordance with His own standards.

Besides, the Book of Deuteronomy contained numerous injunctions to care for the strangers in their land just as God had done for them while they were sojourners in a foreign land, Deuteronomy (10:18-19; 14:29). Thus, while it was a universal commandment to love and care for all fellow humans, many Israelites understood that "neighbour" meant only a fellow Israelite or a Jew, that is, a descendant of Abraham through ritual circumcision, not a foreigner or a stranger and, therefore, denied justice to immigrants and others who were vulnerable, Genesis (12:1-3; 15:1-6; 17:1-8, 9-14). But Jesus sought to expand the concept of "neighbour" to include non-Jews. And to reinforce that "love your neighbour" applies to everyone, Jesus extended the rule of love to even enemies and persecutors. While it was neither contrary to Jewish law nor to Jewish practice, it clearly was challenging to many in Judaism.

Moreover, Jesus' call to "love" meant loving others with agape love, whether others were family members, friends, fellow believers or bitter enemies. It meant an exclusive, unconditional, loyal love that transcended and persisted regardless of circumstances. And Jesus, being aware of the struggle of human beings to apply His teaching, wanted to motivate his followers to be seen, first and foremost, as a group of people who could express the agape love which God Himself had displayed through Him. He wanted them to be God - like in their loving and in their giving. Just as God is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked, He encouraged them to be merciful; give of themselves but expecting and wanting nothing in return; and not to judge or condemn others but to show mercy and forgive them, Luke (6:35-37).

Jesus expected and demanded that His disciples express agape love because this was the kind of love that Jesus Himself perfectly exemplified in His life and death. He is the prime example of an Agape Lover. Throughout His life, He reached out in infinite love and with great compassion to all human beings - the rich, poor, men, women, children, outcasts, unclean, sick, suffering, lepers, prostitutes, widows, sinners, righteous, Jews and Gentiles. And finally, He voluntarily laid down His life on the cross so that the whole humanity could have life. He even made His enemies and those who put Him to death to be at peace by praying that God might forgive them for their ignorance. Thus, through teaching, praying and leading, Jesus showed that loving enemies was reasonable and not only was not impossible but also really the only thing to do.

What is the message for us?

  • Many of us, Christians, even devout ones, far too often blatantly ignore or simply dismiss Jesus' teachings on loving others, especially loving enemies, as unrealistic, irrelevant, unattainable and impractical. We tend to say that His teachings are too idealistic; that we cannot live as He clearly asks of us because of this world; that following His teachings is to try something which is totally beyond our capacity; that it would require a tremendous amount of will - power and that it would only encourage others to behave even worse and so on.

    Yes, indeed, there is nothing easy about loving our enemies and those who are hard on us or who dislike us. In the same way, forgiving someone is also hard, especially, when we are still hurting. It is also not easy giving through sacrifice and expecting nothing in return. But let us not forget that this is the core of Jesus' teaching, which He Himself practised.

  • There are two ways we can deal with people who hate us. We can set out to do more harm to them, to take revenge on them, or try to wipe them out completely. Or we can try and work to turn them round. But our problem is that we often tend to focus too much on ourselves and our own immediate needs and overlook the needs of others. Today, we are reminded that the love we need to have is agape love, which is God's sort of love and is primarily concerned with the well - being others.
  • Jesus had started the sermon with, "To you who hear I say", which could mean that he was directing His instructions to those who were willing to listen to Him and not to those who were prejudiced or doubtful, Luke (6:27a). Because the common misperception is that the agape love can be folly, disappointing and even unrewarding. Hence, Jesus promised His followers that they would enjoy greater rewards if they would love others in a God like way. If they would live God's way, treating people with love and kindness, especially their enemies, they would be children of the "Most High", and a full measure, running over, would be poured onto their laps.

    In other words, the reward promised to those who treat others with mercy would be greater than one could possibly imagine on earth, Luke (6:38). Today, we have had the chance to hear Jesus' teaching on loving others unconditionally, especially our enemies, just as God loves us. Standing on His Word and believing His promises, let us also express agape love towards other human beings so that we too can receive the same promised rewards.

The following story may be worth telling, originally posted on Vision Times :

Long ago, a girl named Marina got married and went to live with her husband and mother-in-law. After a short while, she found that she absolutely could not get along with her mother-in-law. Their personalities were entirely different and Marina could not stand her mother-in-law's habit of nagging her. As days went by, their relationship worsened. Marina's husband was caught in the middle and felt very miserable. Eventually, Marina could no longer stand her mother-in-law's extreme attitude and went to find her father's friend, Mr. Wong, who sold Chinese herbal medicines. She told him about her situation and asked him for some poison in order to take care of her problem for good. Mr. Wong pondered for a moment and said, "Marina, I can help you solve the problem, but you have to listen to me and do exactly what I say", Marina agreed.

Mr. Wong took out a packet of herbs and handed it to Marina. He told her, "Marina... listen. You cannot get rid of your mother-in-law quickly by poison. If you do, others will suspect you. The herbs that I chose will take effect slowly. The toxin will gradually develop in the body. It is best that you prepare meat and fish for her every day, and put a small amount of the poison in the dishes. In addition, in order to keep others from suspecting you when she dies, you must act respectfully towards her and obey her. Neither can you quarrel with her." Marina promised to do as he instructed and, after thanking Mr. Wong, she rushed home to implement her plan to murder her mother-in-law.

Every day, she cooked special dishes for her mother-in-law. She remembered Mr. Wong's words. To avoid suspicion, she tried her best to control her temper and obeyed her mother-in- law. Gradually, Marina found that she did not get angry as easily as before, and she no longer had disputes with her mother-in-law. Her mother-in-law's attitude toward Marina also changed, and she loved Marina like her own daughter. She started singing her praises to her neighbours, relatives, and friends, and said Marina was the best daughter-in-law in the world. Seeing that his mother and wife could live in harmony, Marina's husband was very happy.

One day, Marina went to get help from Mr. Wong again. She said: "Mr. Wong, please, please help me stop the poison. I do not want it to kill my mother-in-law. She has become a good woman and I love her like my own mother. I do not want her to die because of the poison." Mr. Wong nodded and smiled: "You can rest assured, Marina. I never gave you any poison. Those herbs are to nourish the body and will only improve your mother-in-law's health. The only poison was in your heart and your attitude toward her. It is fortunate that your hatred has been washed away by your love for her."

This story is a great reminder that, in this world, resentment cannot be eliminated by poison. Only love, as Jesus said, can wash away the grievances in our heart, allowing us to live in harmony with others. There is unlimited possibility if we are willing to change, and the beautiful result will eventually come back to bless our own life.

(P) Amen.

God Bless You!

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