3rd Ord Sunday (Sunday of the Word of God)
Isaiah 8:23-9:3; Ps. 26: 1.4.13-14; Gospel of Matthew 4:12-23
Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at Cathedral of Good Shepherd, Singapore on 26 January 2020
There is a story of a very generous and wise king who one day came across a beggar Tom who looked very lonely and desperate. The king stopped his carriage and asked to speak to the beggar. The king listened to the pain and suffering of the Tom, the beggar and invited him to his palace. When Tom arrived, the king showed him his room full of treasures and then opened a chest full of gold coins and said, “Tom, you can take as many gold coins as you wish, but only as many as you can hold in both your hands. And, whatever coins that fall off your hands cannot be taken away.” Tom was filled with great joy and scooped up a huge number of gold coins, and thanked the king profusely for his generosity.
As Tom was walking out of the palace, with his coins falling off his hands as he had scooped great pile full of them, the king met him and said, “Tom, I have something to offer you, that I have in my hand. You can choose to accept what I am happy to offer you in my hand, or choose to keep the gold coins that you have in your hands. But, to accept what I have in my hand, you have to let go of all the gold coins that you have in your hands.
Tom, hesitated as what the king was holding in his hands seems small and insignificant, and moreover what the king is holding is unknown to him. So, Tom was not willing to take any risks and said, politely to the king, “Your majesty, I thank you for the offer, but I am happy with the gold coins that I have.” The king looked at Tom with much compassion, gave a deep sigh and opened his hand and showed Tom, a gold key that he was holding and said, “Tom, this gold key is the key to my treasure room.
If you had only accepted my offer, you would have access to my treasures anytime you wish. But, you did not dare to trust me and preferred to hold on to what you have.” Tom was deeply saddened and started to cry, and as he was crying with deep regret, more and more coins fell off his hands. By the time he left the palace gate, he was only holding on to a few coins.”
My brothers and sisters in Christ, in today’s Gospel, when Jesus called Peter and his brother Andrew, and James the son of Zebedee and his brother John, all of them immediately left their fishing nets and followed Jesus. Unlike Tom, the beggar, even as they did not know what it would be like and what their future would be to be an apostle of Jesus, they had the wisdom to trust that following Jesus the Messiah, as “fishers of men” is more important than being fishermen.
In other words, Peter, Andrew, James and John were willing to be detached from the material securities of their lives and also from their families and accepted Jesus’ invitation because they dared to trust that what Jesus is offering them, would be infinitely more valuable than what they already know and have experienced in their lives, as fishermen.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, Jesus is also inviting you and I to “let go” of all our attachments in our lives and trust in Him more fully and more wholeheartedly. The good, generous and wise king in our story, could symbolise Christ our King, and Messiah for us, and we the beggars in this earthly life. If so, then “Are we going to be like Tom the beggar and not willing to trust the good and wise king because he was too attached to the gold coins and material attachments of our lives”? If so, then like Tom, we too would lose the infinitely greater treasures and blessings that God wants to give us.
And, if unlike Tom, we are going to respond to Jesus’ call to be His disciples like Peter, Andrew, James and John, then our trust in Him would give us the “key” to the happiness and glory of God for all eternity in heaven, when we die.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, if we reflect on our lives more deeply, we will realise how “foolish” we too can be, if we continue to behave and have the attitude of Tom, instead of the apostles. This is because our life’s experiences tell us that all the material wealth and possessions, and even power, popularity and glory of this earthly life do not and cannot fulfil the true and lasting peace and joy that we deeply long for in life.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, our “attachments” in our lives need not only be for material wealth and possessions, and all the glory and glamour that go with them. Sadly for many of us, we may be attached to and not willing to let go of our resentments, bitterness and anger toward people who have hurt us in our lives. And, very often, we can even be harbouring such deep hurts and unwillingness to forgive for the past twenty or more years in our lives. And if this is so, then very sadly, we may even not die in peace, but with such deep anger, resentment and hatred in our hearts . . . If so, then how are we going to meet God and explain our situation to Him, and hope to enter the gates of heaven? This is precisely why, Jesus in today’s Gospel, proclaims, “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is close at hand.”
My brothers and sisters in Christ, none of us are perfect, and we are all sinners and in need of God’s Mercy and forgiving love. And as such, some of us may be the cause of the deep pain, division and traumas of others, especially our loved ones, through the wrongs and sins we have committed, like our sins of infidelity, injustice, greed, deceit, pride, and the like.
All of these sins that we may have inflicted and caused much harm and hurt to others, can fester into deep guilt and a sense of self-pity and failure in our lives. And as such, very often we cannot forgive ourselves for all that have happened. Such “darkness” can further lead us to a despair, where we feel that our sins are so grave that even God cannot forgive us . . .
My sisters and brothers in Christ, let us remember that when Jesus in today’s Gospel invites us to “repent of our sins,” He wants to forgive ALL our sins, if we are truly sorry for them. To choose to continue to live in the guilt of our sins, cannot come from the Good Spirit of God and certainly this is NOT God’s Will because Jesus has died for our sins, and wants to forgive us. The greatest Truth of the Good News of Salvation that Jesus proclaims, is that our God of Mercy has forgiven us of our sins, and as such, you and I are called by God to be reconciled with Him and with one another, regardless of how much harm and hurt we may have caused others, OR others may have caused us.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, in today’s Gospel the prophecy of Isaiah proclaims, “The people in darkness have seen a great light; on those who dwell in the land and shadow of death a light has dawned.” This “Great Light” that “has dawned” is Jesus the Messiah that the Jews have been waiting for more than 2,000 years. “Are we open to following this Light that offers us Eternal Life?” There is no doubt that regardless of how far you and I may be from God through the sins we have committed, deep within every person’s heart is the desire to know God, love God and live with Him for all eternity.
A friend shared with me, that her neighbour (Shalee, not her real name) only allows her domestic helper to only one slice of bread at noon and control what she can eat or not eat, the rest of the day; even for a 3 in 1 coffee packet, she can only use half in the morning and keep the other half for the afternoon. The maid is always hungry, and my friend who is the neighbour secretly gives the maid food and drinks when her employer is not around. There are times when the maid keeps the extra food and fruits in her room. But, when Sharlee finds out, she confiscates the food and fruits and keeps them for herself and family. In all probability, Sharlee is also exploiting her maid in her work.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, “Do you think Sharlee and her family has peace in their hearts and home?” Whatever and however Sharlee tries to justify her ill treatment, she cannot hide her true self from God who knows everything about us, and in fact, knows us more than we know ourselves. And even if we were to justify and fool ourselves into thinking that we can hide our sins from others, like Sharlee, our sins will eventually create an emptiness within our hearts, destroy relationships whom we are supposed to love, and eventually, even destroy the true peace that God wants to give us, and only God can give us.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, this Truth of our conscience that is constantly present in our hearts, is God’s Ways of reminding us that as a human person, we are created in God’s Image and Likeness, and that every human person belongs to God, and will only find true and deep peace if we live for God in the Gospel of Jesus, and eventually return to God in His Glory for all eternity after we die.
This also means that if our hearts are not at peace with God, then we will also not be at peace with ourselves and with others. It is not how long we live, but how well we live and how much love we have shared during our lifetime that truly matters.
And so, as I conclude, let us remind ourselves, that as Jesus in today’s Gospel is calling His apostles, Peter, Andrew, James and John to be His apostles to proclaim the Good News of Salvation, Jesus is also inviting you and I to be His disciples and witness to the Gospel of Salvation through our lives. And if we do so in obedience to God’s Will and Ways, then we can be sure that we will live a life that will be filled with God’s Peace, Forgiving Mercy and Compassionate Love, and experience the joy and fulfilment in our lives that nothing and no person in this world can give us.
Will our response be a “Yes” that dares to trust Jesus willingly and wholeheartedly or will we turn away from Jesus’ invitation like Tom in our story? Let us pray that you and I have the humility to ask Jesus for His Forgiving Mercy for the sins we have committed, and then have the grace of God’s wisdom to say “Yes” to Jesus, like the apostles to follow Him and witness to His Gospel regardless of the challenges we face in our lives.
Story adapted from: Hearts Burning; Homilies for the Sundays of the Year, (Cycle A, B and C); Nil Guillemette, S.J.; St Paul’s Pub.; Philippines; 2006; p. 76.
Msgr Philip Heng, S.J.