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!

First Sunday of Lent (Year C)

Mar 10, 2019 Views 139 Listen 14 Downloads 0
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First Reading

A reading from the book of the Deuteronomy (26:4-10)

Moses spoke to the people, saying: "The priest shall receive the basket from you and shall set it in front of the altar of the Lord, your God. Then you shall declare before the Lord, your God, "My father was a wondering Aramean who went down to Egypt with a small household and lived there as an alien. But there he became a nation great, strong, and numerous. When the Egyptians maltreated and oppressed us, imposing hard labor upon us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our fathers, and he heard our cry and saw our affliction, our toil and our oppression. He brought us out of Egypt with his strong hand and outstretched arm, with terrifying power, with signs and wonders; and bringing us into this country, he gave us this land flowing with milk and honey. Therefore, I have now brought you the first fruits of the products of the soil which you, O Lord, have given me." And having set them before the Lord, your God, you shall bow down in his presence."

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

Responsorial Psalm

Psalms of David (91:102, 10-11, 12-13, 14-15)


(R) Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble.

You who dwell in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, say to the Lord, "My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust." (R)

No evil shall befall you, nor shall affliction come near your tent, for to his angels he has given command about you, that they guard you in all your ways. (R)

Upon their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone. You shall tread upon the asp and the viper; you shall trample down the lion and the dragon. (R)

Because he clings to me, I will deliver him; I will set him on high because he acknowledges my name, he shall call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in distress; I will deliver him and glorify him. (R)

Second Reading

A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans (10:8-13)

Brothers and sisters: What does Scripture say? The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart - that is, the word of faith which we preach - for, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. For the Scripture says, No one who believes in him will be put to shame. For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all, enriching all who call upon him. For "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."

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

Gospel

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke (4:1-13)

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and when they were over he was hungry. The devil said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread." Jesus answered him, "It is written, one does not live on bread alone." Then he took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant. The devil said to him, "I shall give you all this power and glory; for it was handed over to me, and I may give it to whomever I wish. All this will be yours, if you worship me." Jesus said to him in reply, "It is written: You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve." Then the devil led him to Jerusalem, made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written: He will command his angels concerning you to guard you, and: With their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone." Jesus said to him in reply, "It also says, You shall not put the Lord your God to the test." When the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from him for a time.

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

Homily

Once, a monk, who was walking through a desert, spotted another man and, introduced himself, "I am a wandering monk, and I have travelled far in obedience to my vow." The other man said, "I am a desert mystic, and I appreciate all forms of life, especially birds." "Oh, wonderful", the monk replied, "I would like to stay with you for a few days so we can share our teachings. And guess what? Once a bird saved my life!" Hearing that a bird had saved the monk's life, the mystic delightedly agreed to the monk staying with him.

As they shared their teachings, the mystic kept asking the monk to tell him about how a bird had saved his life. But each time the monk refused to tell the story. One day, after much pleading, the monk finally agreed. "OK, here is how the bird saved my life", the monk began explaining while the mystic intently listened. He said, "One day, about ten years ago, I had fasted for forty days, and had not eaten anything; I was starving to death. At that time, I saw a bird. I killed it, cooked and ate it. The bird saved my life."

Biblically speaking, over two thousand years ago, in a dramatic manner, God saved a man, named Saul, from his sins and, gave him a new name, Paul, and a new life. Paul himself humbly acknowledged that he was a "chief" or "foremost of sinners", that is, the greatest sinner who ever lived, because he was one of the most zealous persecutors of the church of God, 1 Timothy (1:15). Although the New Testament has no record of Paul having met or even encountered Jesus during His earthly ministry, it is quite possible Paul could have seen Jesus or heard Him speak before His crucifixion.

The only encounter between Paul and Jesus, according to Acts of the Apostles, took place after Jesus' resurrection, when Paul was travelling from Jerusalem to Damascus to arrest the Christian Jews and bring them back to Jerusalem for punishment. The miraculous encounter drastically changed the course of Paul's life and all through his life, he wanted to change the world. He owed his deliverance from the domination of sin which could have brought him misery and death to Jesus Christ, and thereafter devoted himself to spread the message: "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners", 1 Timothy (1:15).

So convinced was he of Jesus as Christ, that he, with boundless energy, travelled far and wide into regions that included Jordan, Syria, Cyprus, Greece and Asia Minor (which is most of present-day Turkey), preaching and writing many letters of support and encouragement to various Christian communities of the early church. Among these is the Letter to the Romans, which Paul probably wrote from Corinth in Greece between 55-57 AD and during his third missionary journey, about 25 years after Jesus' death and resurrection. This letter is considered to be Saint Paul's longest, most detailed and, theologically, the richest.

Unlike the other churches to which Paul's letters were directed, the Roman church was not founded by Paul. Besides, at the time when he wrote this letter, Paul had never visited Rome. However, Luke in the Acts of the Apostles relates that Paul had expressed his desire to travel to Rome in the near future, Acts (19:21). Paul wrote the letter at a time when the Roman Christians were beginning to experience persecution for their faith in Christ. It was a persecution that would last about 250 years until the Roman Emperor Constantine embraced the Christian faith and declared Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire in 313 AD.

Even though the letter was meant for all the Christians in Rome, it was specifically directed at Jewish Christians, Romans (1:7). Because, just around that time, the Jewish Christians who had been expelled from Rome by the emperor Claudius were trickling back to Rome and joining the Christian community which was now socially dominated by Gentiles, Acts (18:2). Christianity had grown out of Jewish traditions but was being shaped by Roman cultural, political and social contexts. And so, upon their return to Rome, the Jewish Christians were working to figure out who they were - primarily Jewish or primarily Christians. Knowing their struggle with the question of exactly what it meant to be a Christian and addressing the issues related to the connection between Judaism and Christianity, and between Christianity and the Roman government, Paul wrote this letter to present an exposition and clarification.

First, Paul began telling the Jewish Christians some difficult things about themselves. He told them truths that they needed to hear. He lamented the fact that, though they were zealous for God just as he had been, it was misdirected. Especially quoting the Book of Leviticus, where it states that, if people meticulously obey the commandments of the law, they will find life, Paul plainly said that while that was true, no one ever had done so, Leviticus (18:5). In fact, he pointed out that Gentiles and Jews were alike in that all had sinned, as they had fallen short of God's glory and, all had done things that were displeasing to God: there was no one who was innocent, and everyone deserved to be punished for violating God's law, Romans (3:23). Nevertheless, he said that in God's loving kindness, He has provided, in Jesus Christ, a way for humanity.

According to Paul, by Jesus' death on the cross, He has broken the power of sin and set all mankind free. Accordingly, they were no longer bound by the Law. "Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness to all who believe", Romans (10:4). Sadly, Jews had, for the most part, pursued the righteousness which was based on the law, and rejected God by refusing to trust in Christ. So, Paul explained the righteousness of God as the righteousness available through Jesus, thus ending the Law and bringing the New covenant, in contrast with the law-righteousness that Jews pursued.

Today's passage is part of that explanation, Romans (10:8-13). Paul expounded it by quoting the Scriptures, specifically the Book of Deuteronomy, to show the relationship between "the righteousness that comes from the law", Luke and "the righteousness that comes from faith", Luke (10:5, 6-13). The passage from Deuteronomy describes what Moses was saying to Israel, specifically that they should not deceive themselves by saying that God's commands are hard to understand or obey, or wait for some new truth to fall from heaven, or float up from the abyss, Deuteronomy (30:11-14). Instead, they ought to recognize the Law which had already been given to them, and they were to live accordingly. It was in their mouths and hearts. It was near them.

Paul applied the same text to the faith in Jesus Christ and exhorted the Christians at Rome not to keep looking for the Messiah or expecting knowledge of Christ to suddenly come down from heaven or the sea. Since the Messiah had already come in the person and body of Jesus, He had already been near to them, had been in their midst and also accessible to them. It was, in fact, he said, "the word of faith which he and others preached", Luke (10:8). And therefore, they didn't have to wait anymore. Instead, they had to do only two things: they must confess Jesus as Lord and believe in His resurrection, and be declared righteous by God.

  • They must confess that "Jesus is Lord". Here, the Greek word that Paul used for Lord is kyrios or kurios. This word had four meanings.

    • It was a title of honour or respect addressed to a father or a master, like the "sir".
    • It was the official title for the Roman emperor. Everyone had to declare that Caesar is Lord. Some cities had even built temples to the emperors, and placed their statues among the Roman gods to worship.
    • It was a title for pagan deities, such as the Greek god, Zeus Kyrios. Zeus was the protector and ruler of humankind, the dispenser of good and evil, and the god of weather.
    • It was the most common name for Yahweh, the God of the Israelites, whose name was revealed to Moses at the burning bush.

    Today, it is easy to say that "I am a Christian" or "Jesus Christ is my Lord." But imagine the time of the first century believers. Paul was urging the Roman Christians during the time of persecutions to confess Jesus as Lord, which was a direct affront to the practice of emperor worship. It certainly would have meant not only assured persecution at the hands of Roman authorities but also the possibility of death. Even more so, Jews were refusing to call the Roman emperor "Lord", because the title was reserved for God alone. Paul, however, transferred the title to Jesus and called on the Jewish Christians to confess that Jesus is Lord.

  • They must believe that "God raised Jesus from the dead". The resurrection of Jesus is a central doctrine of Christian faith. The resurrection of Jesus implies that not only that Jesus lives, that he is a figure of the present and not just of the past, but that He is "Lord" - a divine reality, one with God and having the qualities of God, at "the right hand of God". Paul emphasized the resurrection of Jesus, because there were many believers who did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. Thus, Paul linked the confession that "Jesus is Lord" with the call to believe that "God raised Jesus from the dead", in order for salvation to be complete.

Paul wanted them to know that Christian faith involves belief plus confession: a true Christian is the one who truly "believes with the heart" and publicly "confesses with the mouth" that Christ is the Saviour and Lord. However, he knew that Jewish Christians would find it hard to believe that the way to salvation or eternal life or heaven or God, was not through the law but through belief in the resurrection of Jesus and acceptance of Him as Lord. He also knew that they would have real difficulty in accepting that the salvation was available to everyone because they could not see the Gentiles to be in the same position as themselves. So, to affirm the salvation of all who believe, Gentiles as well as Jews, Paul cited two Old Testament texts.

First, in alluding to the words of Isaiah, which says, "He who relies on it shall not be put to shame," Paul declares that, "No one who believes in him will be put to shame", Isaiah (28:16); Romans (10:11). And then, he quoted prophet Joel: "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved", Joel (2:32); Romans (10:13). In other words, Paul reassured them that:

  • Jesus would never let His trusting people, Jews or Gentiles, to be put to shame but, rather, enrich all people with His grace, His mercy, and His peace.
  • Salvation was not limited to the Jews nor to certain individuals or groups only, but rather it is offered to all people; to "everyone" who calls upon the name of the resurrected Lord.

What is the message for us?

  • The biblical claim that "the Word is near to you" may be a reminder that the Word, that is, God's message in Christ, is simple. We do not need to search for it. We do not need to pursue a formal theological education in order to understand it. We do not need any special talent or unique ability to find it. None of this is needed. Now, of course, I do not deny the value of sound and theological knowledge. It will sharpen and equip us to engage and understand God's word at a deeper level. But, what we do need is "trust". We must trust and believe that God has spoken, not just by the prophets but by His Son Jesus Christ: His Word is powerful, authoritative, true, unchanging, infallible, inerrant, and a guide for daily living. We must trust that whenever a faithful word is read or spoken or preached, God in Christ is present and near, our refuge and our strength.
  • Like the ancient Israelites and first century Christians in Rome, we also hear the universal offer of God's salvation through Jesus Christ, and Paul's call for faith which will result in salvation. Salvation requires only two things: belief and confession. Some scholars say that they are not really two things, but two sides of the same thing. God in Jesus Christ has already secured our salvation on the cross. And the same God has also already called us through baptism. He has called us to believe in our hearts that He has raised Jesus from the dead, and to confess that Jesus is our Lord. Now, we just have to make a decision whether we accept this great gift of love from God, follow Jesus by faith and confess Jesus Christ as Lord publicly in what we say and do and forsake our sin, so that we will obtain salvation.
  • To confess Jesus as Lord is to declare with our mouth, not only before God but also before our fellow men, that we believe and recognize Jesus as our Lord and Master, and that we are willing to obey and submit to Him. We must acknowledge the supremacy of the Lord Jesus over our lives in thought, word and action. It's easy to say we love God more than anyone or anything. But we must go beyond the Sunday school answer.

    Remember, this the Lord who created us; the Lord who gives the breath we breathe; the Lord who became a human being and appeared in human likeness; the Lord who came not only to teach and heal, but also to suffer and die for people's sins; the Lord who fell to His knees in the Garden of Gethsemane at the realization of the horror that awaited Him; the Lord who bore the wrath of God on our behalf; and He is the Lord who has destroyed death and has given us a living hope. Confessing Jesus as Lord would also mean upholding His truth and righteousness, which may cost us our work, job promotions, possessions, financial security, friendships, family relationships, and even our life.

  • In essence, Paul is appealing to us to abandon the way of legalism and accept the way of grace. He wants us to recognize that our zeal and passion for God and, our faith in Him, far too often are terribly misplaced. He reassures us that we will not be put to shame nor be humiliated for accepting God's gift of salvation and for putting our faith in Jesus Christ but, instead, be provided with respect, honour, dignity, and peace. Finally, Paul exhorts us to listen to the prophets who long ago declared that we would not and could not be saved by works and the law, but by obedience and faith, and that all people who call on the name of the Lord would be saved. It is the same love God has for all people, regardless of race, identity, sin, gender, or age.
(P) Amen.

God Bless You!

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