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!

The Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord (Year A)

Jan 8, 2023 Views 36 Listen 3 Downloads 0
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First Reading

A reading from the Book of Prophet Isaiah (60:1-6)

Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you. See, darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds cover the peoples; but upon you the Lord shines, and over you appears His glory. Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance. Raise your eyes and look about; they all gather and come to you: your sons come from afar, and your daughters in the arms of their nurses.

Then you shall be radiant at what you see, your heart shall throb and overflow, for the riches of the sea shall be emptied out before you, the wealth of nations shall be brought to you. Caravans of camels shall fill you, dromedaries from Midian and Ephah; all from Sheba shall come bearing gold and frankincense, and proclaiming the praises of the Lord.

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

Responsorial Psalm

Psalms of David (72:1-2, 7-8, 10-11, 12-13)


(R) Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.

O God, with your judgement endow the king, and with your justice, the king's son; he shall govern your people with justice and your afflicted ones with judgment. (R)

Justice shall flower in his days, and profound peace, till the moon be no more. May he rule from sea to sea, and from the Rover to the ends of the Earth. (R)

The kings of Tarshish and the Isles shall offer gifts; the king of Arabia and Seba shall bring tribute. All kings shall pay him homage, all nations shall serve him. (R)

For he shall rescue the poor when he cries out, and the afflicted when he has no one to help him. He shall have pity for the lowly and the poor; the lives of the poor he shall save. (R)

Second Reading

A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Ephesians (3:2-3a. 5-6)

Brothers and sisters: You have heard of the stewardship of God's grace that was given to me for your benefit, namely, that the mystery was made known to me by revelation. It was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

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

Gospel

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew (2:1-12)

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, "Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage." When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They said to him, "In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it has been written through the prophet: And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; since from you shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd my people Israel." Then Herod called the magi secretly and ascertained from them the time of the star's appearance. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and search diligently for the child. When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage." After their audience with the king they set out. And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.

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

Homily

A canyon is a deep, narrow valley with steep walls, tall and rocky cliffs. One of the most famous canyons is the Grand Canyon in the United States. It is known for its overwhelming size and colourful landscape. It measures more than 270 miles long, 18 miles wide and a mile deep. Scientists say this natural landmark may have formed about five to six million years ago. It draws millions of visitors each year and when asked about it every visitor describes it differently. In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt visited the site and said, "The Grand Canyon fills me with awe. It is beyond comparison - beyond description; absolutely unparalleled throughout the whole world."

A man named Bill who visits several times a year says, "It is so big compared to us and physically challenging. It puts you in your place physically and mentally; yet, it can be so intimate with its side canyons, hanging gardens, waterfalls and big horn sheep." Whereas a historian, journalist, and writer named Hendrick Van Loon, on his first visit to the Grand Canyon, is reported to have said, "I came an atheist; I leave a believer." I guess it all depends on how we look at things. As someone rightly says, "The secret to understanding a place is when everyone describes it differently."

Over two thousand years ago, a man named Saul had his own dramatic experience of change-in-life course. Unlike Henrick, Saul was already a believer in God and a self-righteous person, Acts (23:6). Like many other Jews, he had rejected the Christian idea of Jesus as the Messiah and the Son of God, and persecuted Christians. He was even present at the death of the first Christian martyr, Stephen, and it was Saul who approved the former's stoning, Acts (8:1). Spiritually speaking, Saul was living in darkness until that day on the road to Damascus when he was knocked down by the bright light from heaven and confronted by the voice of the Resurrected Jesus.

Following the dramatic experience, he received baptism and changed his name to Paul as an outward symbol of his spiritual conversion and new life as a Christian, Acts (9:3-31; 22:6). And furthermore, over the next 30 years, Paul travelled widely throughout the Roman Empire and zealously served God by preaching the gospel of Jesus to people, in particular, the Gentiles and establishing Christian communities. He also wrote letters to those communities to encourage them and to resolve problems that were occurring. Some of these letters were written during his missionary journeys, and some were written while he was in prison. Paul had a unique perspective of Jesus. As a matter of fact, he describes Jesus differently in each letter.

According to tradition, while in a Roman prison around 62 AD. Paul wrote the Letter to the Ephesian Christian community which was made up of both Jews and Gentiles, meaning non-Jews. These two groups were very different from one another and tension was growing between them because of different cultural and religious backgrounds. On the one hand, the Gentile Christians had grown up in non-Jewish settings which did not know and worship the one true God of Israel. They had not been familiar with Jewish customs and practices, such as circumcision, dietary requirements, traditional Shabbat observance and so on.

On the other hand, the Jewish Christians had deep roots in Jewish religion and history. Jesus was born and lived as a Jew, and his earliest followers were Jews as well. They had been brought up following all of the laws, they believed that God had given them. They viewed Gentiles to be inherently "unclean" or "impure", and sometimes even referred to them as "dogs". They also considered the Gentiles as well as the Samaritans, who were half-Jew and half-Gentile, as enemies to be shunned, John (4:9; 18:28) and Acts (10:28). It is precisely this sort of issues that made the Gentile Christians wonder if the gospel of Christ was limited to Jews; if Jewish Christians had a special status in the eyes of God and so on. So, Paul wanted the Ephesian Christians to know that they were all united under Christ. In today's section of the letter to the Ephesians (3:2-3a-5-6), we read just that.

Paul wrote, "You have heard of the stewardship of God's grace that was given to me for your benefit, namely, that the mystery was made known to me by revelation", Ephesians (3:2-3a). What did Paul mean by "the stewardship of God's grace that was given to" him? The word "stewardship" comes from the Greek word oikonomia, which means a careful and responsible management or administration or dispensation of something, particularly someone else's property, money, or wealth, entrusted to one's care.

Paul employed the same word with a wider meaning, to describe the sacred commission or his call from God to dispense "God's grace", that is, "the Gospel of God". Furthermore, Paul made it clear to the Christians in Ephesus that, foremost, they had already heard of his "stewardship" directly from him while he was in Ephesus and that he was not writing anything new in the letter. Secondly, the stewardship was entrusted to him by God. Thirdly, the stewardship was given to him for their benefit. Lastly, this special stewardship which Paul called a "mystery," was made known to him "by revelation".

The word "mystery" comes from the Greek word mysterion and appears twenty-seven times in the New Testament of the Bible. Mystery is defined as something that is unknown, obscure, secret, or puzzling; something that is difficult or impossible to understand or explain. However, in the New Testament, the word denotes not so much of the modern meaning but rather something that is kept hidden or awaits disclosure or interpretation. The apostle Paul has used the word twenty-one times in his Letters to refer to a divine truth or knowledge, once hidden but now revealed to people.

In today's text of the letter to the Ephesians, Paul claimed that "the mystery" was directly delivered to him by a revelation from God. In addition, he wanted the Ephesians to know that the mystery was "unknown to previous generations in the way it has now been revealed to the prophets and apostles, and that revelation was given to them by the grace of God through the Holy Spirit", Ephesians (3:5). The important point to note here is that even though Paul did not hesitate to claim that the mystery was personally revealed to him, he did not consider it as a unique privilege because the mystery was also disclosed to many others, particularly to the prophets and apostles.

After having given some insight into the mystery revealed to him, Paul identified what the mystery was. The mystery was that "the Gentiles are co-heirs, members of the same body, and co-partners of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel", Ephesians (3:6). In the mystery, God affirmed three things to the Gentile Christians:

  • They are "co-heirs", that is, both Jews and Gentiles have the same legal standing before God as heirs to the inheritance.
  • They are "members of the same body", meaning both Gentiles and Jews are equally members of God's family.
  • They are "co-partners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel", meaning both Jews and Gentiles are equal sharers of the salvific benefits of Christ's work. Thus, Paul declared that he was called by God to dispense the gospel, particularly, the aspect of the gospel which unites both Jews and Gentiles as one family, and which came from God Himself, hidden for generations past but now revealed to God's own servants, the prophets and apostles, including Paul. He mentioned this special message in his letter to Ephesian Christians so as to encourage them to live at peace with each other, participate equally in the life of the church and share in the blessings of God which came through Jesus Christ.

What is the message for us?

  • Today, we too have been approved by God through our baptism, to be entrusted with the stewardship of the grace of God, namely, the mystery of the gospel of Christ, just as the apostle Paul and successive generations of preachers and lay people were. Each of us has a vitally important role to play as a steward of the mystery of the gospel. And we can and should demonstrate our stewardship of the gospel in the following ways:
    • By reading, studying, knowing and understanding the gospel, Ephesians (3:4).
    • By believing and accepting it as true, powerful and reliable, Ephesians (1:13) and Colossians (1:5).
    • By loving it with all of our heart, Psalm (119:161-168) and John (14:21).
    • By putting it into practice in our everyday lives, 1 John (3:18); Matthew (7:21); Luke (6:46) and James (1:22).
    • By promoting, preaching and teaching it to others, both the lost and saved, Matthew (24:14); Mark (16:15) and Hebrews (5:12).
    • By defending it against the onslaught of those who seek to undermine its authority, secular humanism and false teaching from within the church, Mark (8:35; 10:29); Thessalonians (3:2); Galatians (1:6-11); Ephesians (6:15) and 2 Timothy (4:9-11, 16-17).
  • We, Gentile believers, can thank and praise God for, in Christ, He sees us fit to be His heirs and co-heirs, co-members and co-partners with Jewish believers in Christ. In other words, because God is not just the God of the Israelites but of all people, of the whole world, and His Son Jesus Christ came into the world not just for the Jews but all humanity, we too have our full share with the Jews in all riches inherited by God's children. We also are invited to belong to His body, which is the Church; and through this union will we receive inexhaustible benefits of the salvific work or the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, the greatest of which is that it brings us to God Himself.

    Biblical scholar Dr. Hammonds has identified many other wonderful personal benefits we can enjoy in the salvific work of Christ. We can conquer any fear invading our life, Hebrews (2:25) and Psalm (27:1). We no longer need to see the future as personal uncertainty, Philippians (1:6); Proverbs (23:18) and Jeremiah (29:1). We belong to the Church which is, the Body of Christ, Ephesians (1:21-23) and 1 Corinthians (12:4).

    We can have a renewed thinking and behavioural change, Ephesians (4:22-24) and Romans (12:1-2). We can have access to power over the evil forces of demonic activities, Luke (10:19) and Colossians (2:12, 15). We can have a new, holy, empowering way of living in this world through a new attitude and wise, healthy, and sensible actions, Colossians (3:1-11) and Hebrews (10:19-20). We can rejoice and be victorious in life, 1 Corinthians (15:5) and 1 John (5:4). We can have the personal experience of love, happiness, peace, job security, a place to live, friendship, hope, family life and everything else we need, Philippians (4:6) and 1 Timothy (6:17-19). We can have the abundance of salvation and all that it means - spiritually, socially, emotionally, materially, and physically, 2 Corinthians (9:8, 11) and Psalm (23).

  • God has been so kind and loving to us that He has made all these benefits available to us through His Son Jesus Christ. While we pursue with all our hearts these benefits, we should also thank God for all the benefits He intends for us. Let us therefore jointly praise His Holy Name with thanksgiving, and as the Psalmist enjoins us, let us say in our hearts, thus, "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits", Psalm (103:2).
(P) Amen.

God Bless You!

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