Monday, 19 February 2018
Tuesday, February 20, 2018 - How will you acknowledge your dependence on God today? Is there someone who you think has hurt you whom you have not yet forgiven? Will you forgive that person today?
To read the texts click on the texts: Isa55:10-11; Mt 6:7-15
The three chapters beginning from 5:1 and ending at 7:29 contain one of the most famous discourses of Matthew known as “The Sermon on the Mount”.
It is important to have a brief background of the Sermon in order to appreciate fully each separate text within it. The first point that we note about the Sermon on the Mount is that it is the first of the five great discourses in the Gospel of Matthew. Each of these five ends with the phrase, “and when Jesus had finished…” (7:28; 11:1; 13:53; 19:1; 26:1). It begins by showing Jesus as a Rabbi teaching ex-cathedra (5:1) and ends by showing Jesus as the Messianic prophet addressing the crowds (7:28).
The second point that must be kept in mind is that the Sermon is a composition of Matthew. An analysis of similar texts in the Gospels of Mark and Luke indicate that many verses found here in Matthew are found in Mark and Luke in different contexts. This does not mean that Jesus did not say these words. It means that Matthew has put them together in this manner.
The third point is the theme, which will determine how one will interpret the Sermon as a whole. Most are agreed that the theme of the Sermon is found in 5:17-20, in which Jesus speaks about having come not to abolish but to fulfill the Law and Prophets, and issues a challenge to those listening to let their “righteousness” be greater than that of the scribes and Pharisees in order to enter the kingdom.
The mountain is a “theological topos” in the Gospel of Matthew (Luke’s Sermon is from “a level place” see Lk 6:17) and therefore means much more than simply a geographical location. Matthew does not name the mountain, but by choosing it as the place from where Jesus delivers the Sermon, he probably wants to portray Jesus as the New Moses delivering the New Law from a New Mountain. While Jesus in the Gospel of Luke “stands” and delivers the Sermon (Lk 6:17), in Matthew, Jesus sits down. This is the posture that the Jewish Rabbis adopted when communicating a teaching of importance or connected with the Law. In Luke the crowd is addressed from the beginning of the Sermon and addressed directly, “Blessed are you poor…” (Lk 6:20), but in Matthew, it is the “disciples” who come to Jesus and whom he begins to teach.
The section on Prayer begins in 6:5 and Jesus contrasts the prayer of his disciples with the prayer of hypocrites who like to be seen by all and also Gentile prayer which heaps words upon words and may also mean a prayer made to many “gods” to placate them. This kind of prayer is only for self gratification or to receive favours. The prayer of the disciple is to God who is Father and who knows what they need even before they can ask. Thus, prayer is not simply to place the petition before God who is all knowing but primarily to acknowledge dependence on God for everything.
What follows this contrast is the prayer that Jesus teaches his disciples and which is commonly known as the "Our Father". However, a better term for this would be "The Lord's Prayer". The reason for this is because there are two versions of the same prayer. The other is found in Lk. 11:2-4. There, the pronoun "Our" is missing and the prayer begins simply with "Father". In Matthew this prayer is at the very centre of the Sermon and must be read with that fact in mind. It begins with an address and then goes on to make two sets of three petitions. The address of God as “Father” brings out the intimacy of the relationship that disciples and God share. The pronoun “Our” here indicates that God is not merely the father of individual believers but of the community as a whole and therefore all in the believing community are brothers and sisters.
The opening petitions indicate that prayer does not begin with one’s needs, but with the glory and honour due to God. God’s name is and will be honoured by all men and women, since God as revealed by Jesus is primarily a God of mercy, forgiveness and unconditional love. The kingdom of God has come in Jesus and is also in the future when God will be all and in all. This is a situation in which God will show himself to be king as he has done in the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus. As Jesus constantly did God’s will, so it will continue to be done both in heaven and on earth. It is only when God’s will is done rather than one’s own that there can be true and lasting peace and harmony.
Despite petitioning God for something as stupendous as the kingdom, the disciple also acknowledges dependence on God for something as regular and ordinary as bread. God’s forgiveness is unconditional and without any merit on the part of the disciples. However, in order to receive this forgiveness which God gives graciously and gratuitously, the disciple will have to remove from his/her heart any unforgiveness, resentment, bitterness or anger that might be present there. The prayer ends with a final petition that God, who always leads the people, will not bring them into a time of testing, when the pressure might be so great as to overcome faith itself, but that he will save them from the ultimate power of evil.
The Lord’s Prayer is not just a prayer; it is also a way of life. The words of the prayer communicate the attitude that one must have toward God and others. While we must acknowledge our dependence on God for everything that we need and regard him always as the primary cause, our attitude to others must be one of acceptance and forgiveness.
Sunday, 18 February 2018
Monday, February 19, 2018 - Lev 19:1-2,11-18; Mt 25:31-46
To read the texts click on the texts: Lev19:1-2,11-18; Mt 25:31-46
The Gospel text of today is a passage about the "kingdom" of God, about all those who are kin to God, and, therefore, who are kin to each other. We are each of us kin to one another. We are all indeed one. The deepest expression of this truth, on this side of life, is a spirituality in which there is no split between our devotion and our deed; no split between mystery and commandment; no split between piety and ethics and no split between being and doing. Like mystery and commandment, interwoven as they are, Jesus is one with the hungry and the thirsty, is one with the stranger and the prisoner, and is one with the naked and the sick. To care for these, is to care for Jesus. To care for them is to reach back into the very essence of life and to touch the God who takes shape in the hungry, in the thirsty, in the naked, in the sick, in the stranger, in the prisoner. "And then the king will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these, who are members of my family, you did it to me.'" The text, thus, is not so much about the condemnation of God, as it is really about the universal vision of the love of God, about the very scope of God's love in Jesus for the whole world. Jesus remains the model of unconditional and eternal love. This was shown in the most powerful of ways by Jesus himself, when in total obedience to the Father, he dared to spread his arms on the Cross in total surrender of self. Therefore, God raised him.
This understanding is important to avoid any kind of misinterpretation that might arise due to a person thinking that it is his/her deeds that earn merit and reward. The righteous who reached out to the least of their brothers and sisters, did so because of the necessity to help, love, serve, visit and feed. They dared to listen to the promptings of the Spirit and responded to these promptings. They did not do what they did for reward. It was not the condition of their good deeds, but its consequences. They did not earn the kingdom but inherited it. Inheritance is determined by the giver not the receiver. The kingdom remains a free gift of God.
Though the unrighteousness also address Jesus as Lord – a title used in Matthew’s Gospel only by those who at least have some faith - it is not enough. Their address remains at the theoretical level and is not translated into action. They did not act because they did not believe that God could hide himself in the poorest of the poor. They did not believe that God could be present in the scum of society and in those who live on the margins. They believed that God could be present only in a beautiful sunset or in the stimulating fragrance of a rose or in the silence of one’s heart. They did not realize that our God had been made visible in Jesus, who taught all who were willing to listen, that God was primarily a God of the poor, and that though he was king, he came only to serve.
The sufferings borne by the least of our brothers and sisters continue to summon and challenge us as Church today. They continue to ask us to dare to be credible and authentic witnesses of the Gospel. They invite us not merely to preach acts of loving kindness but to do them. However, what we need is not merely more action, more doing for the sake of doing. No! What we need is a universal unity of love and togetherness. It is a togetherness that transcends all of our frontiers, the frontiers of our mind and of our heart, the frontiers of our creeds and doctrines, the frontiers of our ideas and concepts. This is a radical call to transcend all of those externals that keep us apart, that keep us separated and split.
The challenge for us today is to forget our own needs for love and happiness and to reach out in love to make someone else happy who may be in greater need. For whatever we do to the least of these needy children of God, these brothers and sisters of Jesus, we do to Jesus Himself.
Saturday, 17 February 2018
First Sunday in Lent - Gen 9:8-15; 1 Pet 3:18-22;Mk 1:12-15
To read the texts click on the texts: Gen 9:8-15;1 Pet 3:18-22;Mk 1:12-15
Lent is a forty-day period of fast and abstinence before Easter. It begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday when we go into Easter. Sundays are not counted, since they commemorate the Resurrection of the Lord. While Lent is actually a translation of the Latin term, quadragesima, which means ‘forty days’ or literally the ‘fortieth day’, it also refers to the spring season. The forty-day period is symbolic of the forty days that Jesus spent in the desert, a detail mentioned by all the synoptic gospels. This is why, in all three years, the Gospel reading on the First Sunday in Lent is about the temptations of Jesus in the desert.
While Matthew and Luke narrate the three temptations in the desert and Jesus’ responses, Mark does not do so. His focus is different. Mark’s narrative of the temptations compares Jesus, who is faithful, with unfaithful Israel. Jesus overcame the temptations when tested for forty days, but Israel succumbed to temptations during their forty year period of testing in the desert. The overcoming of the temptations by Jesus leads to the wilderness being transformed into paradise, the desert being transformed into an oasis and humans being no longer subject to Satan or his rule. However, the overcoming of temptation, with angels ministering to Jesus, is only one part of the story.
The second part – the positive overcoming of temptation – is integral to the story and completes it. Soon after overcoming temptation, Jesus comes into Galilee to proclaim his experience of who God really is. Mark prepares for this revolutionary and radical proclamation through four pointers or indicators. The first of these is a time indicator (proclaiming), and a content indicator (the Good News of God). These serve to clarify the proclamation.
The arrest of John serves to remove him from the story, so that he can make way for Jesus, with whom a new time has begun. Galilee is home for Jesus, a place of acceptance, a place of the proclamation of the kingdom. That Jesus comes “proclaiming” instead of “teaching” indicates that this is the message to be heard by all. The good news that Jesus proclaims is not made up by him, but is the good news of God. It is God who has mandated Jesus to speak these words. This indicator is crucial because it speaks of who God is and how he regards humans who are created in his image and likeness.
A glimpse of this good news of God is given to us in the first reading in the covenant or promise that makes to Noah. It is a promise that is made after the destruction of the whole world by the flood. God’s promise here is significant, because it is the first promise in the Bible that is to be fulfilled, not only in the lives of the Israelites but, in the lives of all people. The whole of humanity will never again be threatened with destruction. This covenant marked the start of a whole new world and a whole new way of looking at, and dealing with, God. It was completed when God sent his son, not merely to make a new covenant but also, to be the Covenant or Promise for all times and all ages.
This then is the good news that Jesus proclaims from God that, in him, as never before, all people everywhere have been saved. If in the promise made to Noah, the focus was on non-destruction of the human race, in the proclamation of Jesus, the focus is on salvation through love. The core of the proclamation of Jesus is that God has taken the initiative. He has loved first, he has forgiven first, and he has accepted first. The kingdom has come, not because we are worthy or have done something commendable. It has come because, in Jesus, God loves unconditionally. Peter echoes this idea in the second reading of today, when he explicates that this Covenant or Promise made by God was made even when men and women were sinners.
As humans, we have only to respond to that love, forgiveness, and acceptance. This response is done through repentance which never means being sorry. Rather, it means a change of heart, mind, and vision. It is a call to realize that God’s love is given freely, unconditionally and without measure.
Thus, on the first Sunday of Lent, the call is to leave every negative thing. It means a refusal to walk in the path of frustration, anxiety, or despair and to take instead the road of happiness, peace, and joy. It means that, though the road might get steep and the going difficult, we will continue to carry on walking the path, confident in the knowledge that, in Jesus, we are saved, and that sin is overcome by love. The old has gone, the new has indeed come.