Be strong in faith, God will stand by you even if men reject you

Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Myanmar (Photo courtesy of OSC-CBCM)

May God protect and bless you all. These are days of prayer. Prayer for peace in this land. Prayer to stop the pandemic. The long road to freedom and the long road to total cure from the pandemic looks longer.

We continue to pray for our people. We pray for those areas in the North which have seen too much of infections and deaths, including three priests. We mourn those who fell to the ferocity of violence and to the merciless violence.

The readings gently guide us: It is easy to become wary of everything, including faith. Faith in these times is violently challenged. When we see thousands suffering without food, when we see mothers running around looking for food for starving children, faith is challenged.

These are moments when we become weak. Darkness looks so heavy. The readings talk of such moments. The first reading from Ezekiel talk of people becoming stubborn and lacked faith. When wealth is lost, it can be regained, when health is lost something is lost forever, when faith is lost, it is very challenging to get it back.

For the last five months, our faith is challenged. How to believe in a God when everything goes against God’s love in the reality? Our people have grappled with that darkness. The people who lose hope and faith have lost their future. We find Paul under the same condition: he was suffering every day from a mysterious sickness. He prayed three times to remove that sickness which was like a thorn in his flesh. But God told him, “My Grace is enough for you; my strength is revealed in weakness.”

Paul could exclaim: when I am weak, I am strong. This is the prayer we ask for each one of you and for this nation today. These are very weak moments for our people. Dreams have become nightmares. Life looks like a journey inside an endless tunnel.

For our own spiritual health, we need to return to faith. Even a miniscule faith: faith of the mustard seed. For the last three weeks we have been listening to the Gospel passages, where Jesus is doing great miracle. Last week we saw him raising the Jairus daughter from death. He was healing many people and people were astounded.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus returns to his hometown. He was even rejected. His village people considered him just a carpenters son and rejected him. Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.”

He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith. When faith evaporates, even Jesus is challenged.

The condition in this country could be like this. For 16 long months, livelihood has evaporated. Life has been threatened. Starvation has exploded in all places. Thousands have become refugees in their own country, surviving in the jungles. Now, every day, thousands are infected with a deadly virus. Without proper medical care, the number of deaths is increasing.

Faith is challenged. We look for miracles. The miracles are not happening since the faith is shaken. Jesus went away empty handed when his townsfolk had no faith. When faith went away, the messiah looked only as a carpenter’s son. Not Jesus, the Son of the living God.

We look with compassion to those, in thousands, who undergo this predicament. Paul shows the way: he was a great apostle, encountered Jesus, converted by that encounter, but he had a mysterious sickness. It was a very painful sickness, like a thorn in his flesh. He thought God would heal him. He prayed thrice for healing. He was not healed. He was told: My Grace is enough for you. In weakness, Paul acknowledges his strength. His faith is strengthened, not diluted. It fortified him.

That is the grace we ask today. Despite the feeling of rejection and suffering, we need to return to faith.

The Gospel passage unfolds a continuing theme of Mark’s Gospel: Who is Jesus? His kinfolk in Nazareth might know the carpenter, the son of Mary, but they do not know Jesus, the Son of God. Mark is foreshadowing Jesus’ rejection by his own people, the people of Israel. Mark tells each one of us this simple message: Christ was like you and me, a hardworking man from an ordinary family. He too felt rejected in his own place.

He is also reflecting on and trying to explain the situation of the community for which he wrote. While many of the first Christians were Jewish, Christianity took hold and flourished in the Gentile community. Mark’s community was mostly a Gentile community, who may have been experiencing persecution. By showing that Jesus himself was rejected, Mark consoles and reassures his first readers. He also prepares us to accept this possible consequence of Christian discipleship.

For mysterious reasons, a true follower of Christ undergoes rejection; suffering. But Paul gives the reason. It is those moments of darkness that leads us to true faith. Jesus has walked the path we are walking: suffering, starvation, rejection, loss of comfort, betrayal and ultimate price on the cross. He knows our pain.

He knows our dark moments and like his walk with the disciples of Emmaus, he walks with us. When he breaks bread with us with his wounded hands, we return to faith, we recognize amidst our brokenness, our darkness, God did not abandon us. The boat may be shaking in the stormy seas, Jesus may look like sleeping in the rocking boat, the disciples still prayed to him: Lord save us. That is the same condition. Lord save us. Our boat of faith is rattled in our context. But let us raise our hands and cry out: Lord save us. Like St Augustine let us pray: Lord I want to believe; help my unbelief.

After the recent painful events, we need to rebuild everything. Rebuilding comes only when faith stays on. The disciples saw Jesus crucified; they ran away in fear. They thought everything was over. All the great promises, the coming of the Kingdom, everything disappeared as if in a dream. But they waited, the Holy Spirit dawned on them. Faith they had in Jesus proved to be the greatest revival. Christian witness started through darkness but it became the city set on the mountain, a light that is kept above the bushel. It started with the faith in the hearts of those simple men who underwent the same darkness as we undergo. They waited for the time of the Lord.

Then the miracles started. Church started exactly from the status we experience now. We acknowledge our present challenges. But we never forget God is always faithful. In his time, he will intervene and everything will be graced moment. God’s time is the best time. It is easy to be broken by situations, people and time.

If only we have the faith of the mustard seed, then we are healed. For those who do not believe, Jesus is only a Carpenter’s son and no miracle. And for those who believe, he is the Messiah, the healer, the miracle maker, the way maker. Every thing is possible in Jesus to those who believe.

We pray for that faith. Let that faith heal us, heal the nation. Let Myanmar of miracles be born again and we as sons and daughters of the living God, see our faith rewarded hundred fold.

With prayers wishing all of you to stay safe and stay blessed.