Prayer and Reflection by Bishop Sylvester David OMI

Auxiliary Bishop Sylvester David offers his prayer and reflection for the people of the Archdiocese of Cape Town for today, Friday 13 November 2020, during this time of the coronavirus pandemic. It is also available on the Archdiocese of Cape Town’s Facebook page and YouTube channel. Please also see below the text of his reflection, primarily for the deaf.

Reflection for Friday 13 November 2020. Please read Luke 17:26-37

Good morning and welcome to my office at the Chancery. It is Friday during lockdown and I am pleased to be able to share faith with you. Our Gospel passage for today, taken from Luke 17:26-37, ends with a proverb used by Jesus: “Where the body is, there too will the vultures gather.” (Luke 17:37). After recalling the indifference of people; their sinfulness and using some of the symbols of punishment inflicted on people because of their disobedience, Jesus speaks the proverb. I would like to say something about the word translated “vultures”. This word could also be translated “eagles” and some translations have used eagles instead of vultures. But the latter is the correct word as eagles do not gather in flocks and are also less likely to eat carrion.

But what provoked this horrible image of birds of prey picking the bones of deceased human beings? One thinks of the old western movies when the good lawman hunted down the tyrant and killed him in a deserted place. As you see the victorious sheriff riding off into the sunset, you see the vultures circling and you know immediately that there will be a corpse.

There is also a biblical reference in the book of Jeremiah where in chapter seven the prophet gives a stirring homily at the Temple challenging the people to turn from their indifference and disobedience. In verse 33, near the end of the chapter, there is reference to their corpses being food for the birds of prey. This is a hard hitting homily stating that the very place where they demonstrate a hollow kind of holiness will be the site of their downfall. All this happens because of false faith proclamations.

Jesus too gives a word of caution using the same image used by Jeremiah. We cannot be Christian in name only. As indicated in the first reading of today’s Mass taken from the second letter of John we have no option but to love one another. If we fail in this basic commandment then we are as good as dead and the vultures will circle. There was a man who died at 15 and was buried at 50. How is this possible? Well from the age of fifteen he was spiritually dead. Nothing he did promoted life. Instead, the opposite was true with his violent behaviour, substance abuse and the chaos he caused. The vultures circled for 35 years but got their prize in the end. On the other hand the teenaged St Kizito while still a catechumen made his option for life and is now numbered among the martyred companions of St Charles Lwanga of Uganda.

As the liturgical year rushes to its closure we are reminded that our choice of lifestyle matters. We will be reminded of this in several ways and we will be encouraged to stand erect and be ready because our salvation is close at hand. In practical ways this means declining the invitations held out to us by the ever present and insistent peer pressure and to remain true to the Gospel of Christ – not only in words but also in the ways in which we treat ourselves, our neighbours and the place which sustains us. I use the word “place” deliberately as that word is the thread holding the seventh chapter of Jeremiah together, thereby giving a spellbinding and convincing reason for the transformation of our lives from mediocrity to people of faith who do not make hollow proclamations but live out the faith they profess. Yes – the ways in which we live out our marriage vows, religious vows, baptismal of vows, etc. all matter in our Christian life.

I wish you well as you negotiate the difficulties of our time – not only with the pandemic but also with the ever present voice of dissent coming at us through peer pressure with its false promises.

Let us pray: Lord, you constantly call us to transform our lives. Send your Holy Spirit to help us to become more and more obedient to you so that you may see and love in us what you saw and loved in Jesus. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Bp. Sylvester David OMI
VG: Archdiocese of Cape Town.