3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Nehemiah 8:2-6.8-10; 1 Cor. 12:12-30; Gospel of Luke 1:1-4. 4:14-21
Grace of Liberation leading to Acceptance

Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at Church of Our Lady of Lourdes – Singapore
on 24 January 2016

Two days ago, there was a sad account in the Straits Times of how a domestic helper Miezel Limbaga a Filipino was cruelly treated by her employer.  Miezel cooked, cared for her employers’ children and had no days off.  On January 20th last year, the man employer dragged Miezel into the master bedroom as he had been unhappy with her for opening the fridge and microwave earlier that day, and accused her of stealing food.  In the bedroom, both Miezel’s employers took turns to hit and scold her for her wrongdoings.  The man slapped her, punched her stomach and chest, while his wife grabbed her neck.  And when Miezel fell to the ground and could not stand up when she was told to do so, the man stamped on her back.

Let us note that from the report, all that happened to Miezel because her employers were “unhappy with her opening the fridge and microwave, and accused her of stealing food.”  And so, if we do not cringe when we hear of such an account of abuse, then probably we have either been watching too many Hollywood violent movies or there is something wrong with us psychologically.  Worse still, if we are to take the side of Miezel’s employer and hold the view that probably Miezel deserved to be treated that way, then there is something seriously wrong with us emotionally and psychologically.  And if we should ever dare to treat others so cruelly, then we are simply inhumane and cannot call ourselves Christians, unless we are reconciled with God and the people we have harmed. 

My brothers and sisters in Christ, let us pray that even as we may be angry at times, none of us here have anything that resembles such cruelty and evil.  God created every human person in His image of Love.  We are created to love one another.  The deepest desires of our hearts; the most natural and innate thing to do as a human person is to love as fully, unconditionally and selflessly as Christ has shown us.  So, if we should ever behave like Miezel’s employers, then we are living a lie and have distorted the true image of what it is to be a human person – we need to be reconciled with God and our neighbour. 

In today’s Gospel, from the scrolls, Jesus read from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah 61:1-2 that said, “the Spirit of the Lord has been given to Him, He has come to proclaim liberty to captives
and to the blind new sight,
to set the downtrodden free . . .
And when Jesus said these words, all eyes in the synagogue were fixed on Him.” Then Jesus added, “This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen.”  The core meaning of this text of the Prophet Isaiah is our need to be liberated from evil and the bond of sin in our hearts. 

And so, my sisters and brothers in Christ, let us pray that none of us here are held “captives to our sinfulness; or are blind to the different ways to our sinfulness as Jesus in today’s Gospel wants us to stop causing harm, hurts and division in the relationships we have in our lives.  As such, you and I are called to be humble enough to admit that we each have different degrees of un-freedom in our hearts; whether big or small. 

These different degrees of un-freedom or what we call sin, express themselves in different forms.  For some of us it is our prejudice and pride (which probably what Miezel’s employers had).  For others, our un-freedom could be our selfishness and vanity.  For still others it could be our desires for glory, gratification and greed . . . and the like.  Whatever our areas of un-freedom and sin, however big or small they may be, we need God’s Mercy and Forgiveness; we need to return to God and allow Him to heal us and give us the graces and strength we need to live the wholesome and Christ-like life that God wants us to live, for God has created us to love and not destroy one another.

There is a true story of Arn Chorn who once lived in a loving, peaceful and beautiful countryside of Cambodia.  However, when he was nine years old, the Khmer Rouge, under the brutality and cruelty of Pol Pot started the massacre of more than three million people in his country.  Arn Chorn was captured and put in a child labour camp.  For four years, Arn Chorn was taught how to hate and forced to watch thousands of innocent people tortured and executed.  Arn Chorn says, “I had to kill my heart in order to survive.” 

In 1979, I managed to escape from the camp into the jungle.  There I lived for many months.  I survived by watching the monkeys and only ate what they ate.  I came to learn how they cared tenderly for one another.  Gradually, I began to trust the monkeys and they became my friends.  During these times, I began to experience a tiny part within my heart beginning to heal. 

One day, a group of rescue team found Arn Chorn and brought him to the Sakeo refugee camp.  He then became the first Cambodian orphan to be permitted to enter the United States.  Shortly after arriving, in October 1980 Arn Chorn began working with young people from Cambodian refugee communities. 

Ten years later, in 1990, Arn Chorn returned home to Cambodia and organised the Cambodian Volunteers for Community Development.  50,000 young people joined the programmed which was designed to rebuild and heal their homeland.  Arn Chorn shares, “It seems unbelievable that I can forgive what happened to me and my people.  Sharing with my other young country folks who have also endured similar horrors and traumas have helped me feel again and they soften my frozen feelings and opened the closed doors of my heart. I am alive after all these years because I can love again.” 

My brothers and sisters in Christ, if we wish to experience the grace of being “liberated” from the captivity of our hurts, trials and traumas of our lives, we need to ask God for the graces of forgiveness.  In other words, we need to have God’s graces and strength to accept people as they are and not judge them for how they have treated us, or how they have sinned against us.  We are called to let God judge them.  There is a saying that, “If we cannot forgive, we will destroy the very bridge over which we ourselves need to pass.” 

There is a short story of a little black boy who was watching a man selling balloons.  To attract other kids to come to him, he would release some of the balloons he had.  As this little black boy watched, he noticed that the balloon man first released the bright colours: the red, then the yellow, then the blue and the green.  Each time a balloon was released, it would soar up into the sky till it disappeared.  He also noticed that this balloon man had not released the black balloon that he was holding on to.  So, he asked him, “Sir, if you release the black balloon, would it also soar up into the sky like the others?”  The man turned to the little boy, smiled at him and said, “Son, it is not the colour, but what is inside that makes it rise.” 

As I conclude, let us remind ourselves that even as we condemn the cruel treatment of Miezel’s employers and the demonic killings of the millions in Cambodia by Pol Pot as grave sins, we are still called to let God judge them.  Let us not forget that when Jesus was hanging on His Cross and about to die, He prayed, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” As Christians, we are called only to condemn the sin, but not the sinner.  This is because when we judge others, we not only end up condemning them, but we will also be fanning the flames of our anger; and if we are not careful,these feelings of anger will develop into desires for revenge and revenge will lead to untold destruction in families and relationships, as with Miezel’s employers. 

Jesus in today’s Gospel wants us to allow the Spirit of the Lord to transform us.  And if we allow this is to happen, then the Holy Spirit within us will heal us, as it healed Arn Chorn. The Holy Spirit will empower us to live the Christ-like life that God desires of us.  In doing so, we will be living the fullness of life as a human person through our love for one another; live in harmony and eventually live in the fullness of unity, peace and glory with God and one another in heaven and for all eternity. 

(Adapted from: Happiness Manufacturers, Hedwig Lewis, S.J.; pub.: Gujarat Sahitya Prakash; 2001; p.118-119, 121.)
(cf. Extracts from: The Straits Times, 22 January, 2016, B13; byseow@sph.com.sg)
(Adapted from: More Quips and Anecdotes for Preachers and Teachers; Anthony Castle; Twenty-Third Pub: A Division of Bayard; Mystic, CT; pub. 1994: p. 466.) .

Msgr Philip Heng,S.J.

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