24 July 2022 – 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

by Fr Stanley Antoni

Genesis 18:20-32
Psalm 137(138):1-3,6-8
Colossians 2:12-14
Luke 11:1-13

Theme: Thy Kingdom Come

I suppose there are two kinds of questions, we call it the factual questions and the value questions.

The factual question is scientific in nature. For example: What causes rain? Such a question is pre-occupied with answers, solutions or even technics. It is very pragmatic in nature: What I can get out of it.

The value question is moral in nature. For example: What is justice? Such kind of a question challenges us to define what is justice, whether we are just or not. How can we build a just society? Or a just community?

So value questions help us to reflect and challenges us to evaluate and to grow in character. And that is why today, my dear friends, both questions are important because fact and character are like what our body and soul to human beings. Without either one, human beings are dead. So we need facts and also allow the facts to challenge us to grow in character. They are distinct yet they are inter-related. However, most of the time we tend to downplay the value questions. Look around. Most of the time the factual questions overshadow value questions.

And that is why today, as I said earlier, the kind of question that we raise, the kind of question that we ask is important. Because the God that we worship allows us to question. He welcomes us to have a dialogue, to ask Him, to grapple with Him, even to challenge Him. But how many of us will do that?

That is why in today’s First Reading, Abraham questioned God. His question enabled him to rediscover the character of God and the character of the people of Sodom. Abraham came to know that God is just and merciful. But the people of Sodom were adulteress, persistent liars and most of all proud, too proud to acknowledge their wickedness. And that is why when you read further in the chapter or the whole book of Genesis, you will come to know Abraham will go home quietly after this dialogue with God. Somehow he was at peace. Somehow he was prepared to accept God’s judgment because he has come to know that He is merciful and just. So His judgment will never, never go wrong.

At the same time, the next day, the following day, with full of anticipation, he will rush towards that place to see what has happened to Sodom because Abraham was a man full of hope. And we know what happened to Sodom because people in that town refused to re-evaluate their character collectively. You scratch my back, I scratch your back. Everything will be qualified, everything will be justified, everything is reasonable, nothing is sin.

The Second Reading, Paul seems to be pre-occupied with the question: Why do Christians sin even after baptism? It is a value question. We know what is baptism. After receiving all this and yet we sin, so why do we sin? We are not ignorant because we know sin hurts, not only us but also people around us because sin has social dimension. Yet we continue to sin. Why?

I suppose we are actually silly or stupid or most of all, a bit harsh, we are oxymorons. We like to contradict ourselves. And that is why for Paul, yes you know what is baptism but have you exhaust the graces that you received from baptism? That is the valued question and that is why Paul somehow challenged them to re-discover what is baptism.

I suppose when we are baptised, we receive, or our lives are enriched in four ways. We become children of God so we are able to call God as our Father. That is why Christianity is a unique religion that dares to call God as ‘Father’. This is the Father who had a son called Jesus. So if we call God our ‘Father’ and Jesus calls His father ‘Father’, it means this Father will do all that He did to Jesus to us. Like Jesus, do we disturb Him? Jesus always disturbs his Father: How is it possible? Help me. If possible, take this cup away but if it is Your will, I will embrace it. The one who disturbs his Father because he knew his Father is willing to listen. So have we disturbed our heavenly Father?

And when we are baptised, we are entitled to use the name of Jesus and this is not an ordinary name. Scripture says whether in heaven, on earth or under the earth will bow at the name of Jesus. This name is power. So when we invoke this name, things tremble, things will bow down because this name has conquered everything. So do we believe and invoke this name? With confidence and with conviction?

And the third blessing, I suppose, we are filled with the Holy Spirit who is our best friend, who accompanied us in our search for truth, love and trust. So if we have this kind of a friend who knows what is truth, what is love and what is trust, then we will never give in to lies. We will integrate lust and we will remain hopeful. Do we have this friend? Do we seek his company?

And finally, we become part of a bigger family, not that we are not brothers and sisters. In heaven we have brothers and sisters who lived their lives faithfully in the midst of failures, weaknesses and sin. They are not extraordinary people. They are vulnerable heroes who knew that they need God’s grace to remain faithful. And they remained faithful and they continued to struggle. That is why when we meet them in heaven, we can ask them a direct question.

For example: St Augustine prayed this prayer which is a very moving prayer: Lord, grant me the grace of chastity but not today. Because we know his lifestyle. He tasted lust, he tasted the pleasure to the fullest. That is why he prayed this prayer: Grant me the grace of chastity but not today. So if we see him in heaven, we can ask him the question: When you made this prayer, when you said this prayer, did you stop struggling? Or you continue to struggle and remained faithful?

And that is why today, my dear friends, Paul is challenging the people or Christians in Colossae to come down and ask yourself: Do you know the value of baptism? The value that is able to form our character? That is the question that Paul asked the Christians in Colossae.

In the Gospel, I suppose we are encouraged to ask the question: Why did the friend of the friend was so slow to share what he had? He had something to share but he delayed it. I suppose and I know that I think this is a value question. A question that enables us to evaluate the character of the friend. Scripture scholars say the word ‘debt’ used today means what is due, an obligation or a debt owed to others. If this is how we interpret the word ‘debt’, so what the friend did to his friend is a sin, in the sense that he could have helped him immediately but he delayed. Why did he delay? Because it would have caused him inconvenience. That is why he delayed. He needed to get up, go to the kitchen, opened the door, opened the cupboard, take the bread, put it in the tupperware, opened the door, and then come back wash your hand, go back, blanket, o my gosh, a lot of work. A lot of work.

So can such a friend be a friend? So we need to evaluate. So all that is delayed when it could have been done immediately is sin. I suppose that is why the legal maxim ‘justice delayed is justice denied’ makes sense because we owe people a debt. Because we can respond to that need. And that is why the question that we ask is vital.

So today, my dear friends, as we gather here to celebrate the Eucharist, do we witness the collective sins of Sodom today among us? As Catholics in Malaysia, let us ask simple, simple questions:

  • What do you think is the cause of inflation?
  • Why do you think chicken is subsidised and not pork?
  • What is the criteria of subsidy?
  • What is your opinion when you hear a Minister say 90% bumiputera civil servants is not quota based?
  • What is your response when you see people question the CPI (Corruption Perceptive Index)? What is the motive behind? So you want to qualify corruption?

That is why people at the top, they don’t realise the pain of corruption because they are obese, they are overfed. That is why today do you see the collective sin of Sodom here in our country, among us alive? Do you sin? Do I still commit sin? Yes we are all human beings but we have received the grace of baptism that will enable us to fight, to integrate, to delay and eventually to overcome our sins. So are we, can we in all honesty, consider ourselves as silly, stupid or most of all, oxymorons? Can we say that? Or we will deny?

If you continue to sin, what is the particular sin that I keep on repeating? Is it Pride? Greed? Lust? Envy? Gluttony? Anger? Or Sloth? Are you a sinner? Am I a sinner? And we know sin hurts and it is okay for us to experience pain? Looks like we are masochist or we are sadists and it is okay with us. Fine. Good. Do we witness delay of what could have been done spontaneously and immediately? Why that is happening? What kind of friends we have? Why do you think a mother who took a tin of milo was prosecuted while people who stole billions are still going around like heroes, can say what they want to say?

Or another question: Why did not the staff or the owner or the people around at that time did not come forward to pay for the tin of milo on behalf of the mother? I hope Catholics were not there at that time because we take pride that we are people who practice charity. I hope and I pray. I thank God I was not there because I am part of that already. That is why you see today why nobody came forward? How much would it have cost? A mother, why a mother would do that? A mother…..

See how low we have become. What is happening to us? That is why today, my dear friends, what kind of a question do we ask? Young people, you are going to school, you are doing degree, you are doing masters. What kind of questions do you ask? What is the biggest question you will ask your professor? What is the biggest you will ask your Parish Priest? What is the biggest question that you will ask from your life? Are we people merely contented with factual questions? We are happy we know the answers but that answer will never challenge us, will never mold us, will never shape our character. What is the point?

That is why Jesus say what is the point gaining the whole world but you end up losing your soul. Fools, he said.

So today, my dear friends, let us be honest. Value question is as important as factual question. Both are vital. They are distinct but they are inter-related. People who are contented with factual questions will never live life to the fullest.

Finally, our survey for Synod, what kind of question you will ask? Value question? Or factual question? Or both? That will show the kind of church we envisioned. The kind of church that we want.

So today, my dear friends, the questions you ask will reveal who you are. The places, the situations, the relationship that you would like to evaluate, that you want to explore. That is why questions are important and God welcomes questions, Catholic church welcomes questions, some priests (not all priests, not all bishops), welcomes questions. Go look for priests or bishops who welcomes questions. Engage. Talk to them. Enlighten them also. None of us know the truth to the fullest. That is why in relation to truth, we all are agnostic. In relation to God, we all are agnostic.

Click below to listen to the homily and watch the video:-

Click to live-stream Mass on 24 July 2022