Saturday, September 20, 2014

Sunday, September 21, 2014 - Twenty-fifth Sunday of the year - Writing crooked on straight lines

To read the texts click on the texts: Is. 55:6-9;Phil 1:20-24; 27; Mt 20:1-14

After reading the title above you would be forgiven if you think I made a mistake and especially if you know the regular phrase which is: God writes straight on crooked lines, While God can surely write straight on crooked lines, he also sometimes writes crooked on straight lines.

Three years ago after the Gospel of today had been read I invited eight children to come and stand near the altar in full view of each other and the congregation.  I had a bag of chocolates with me and I began the distribution. To the first child I gave three and to each of the other seven one each. Each of the seven after looking into the hand of the first child kept waiting at the altar quite sure that the drama was not quite over. When I asked them to go back to their pews they looked at me with some confusion. The only child on whose face there was a broad smile was the one in whose hand I had put three chocolates. Even as they were returning, one child looked back at me in something like anger and even some disgust and asked as only children can: “Why you gave him three?”

The last verse from the first reading of today explains even if inadequately why the first child was given three. It was go drive home a point, to communicate a message. God’s ways are surely not our ways and no matter how hard we may try, they cannot be understood with our finite minds. “As high as the heaven s are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways” (Is 55:9). The context in Isaiah seems to be the questioning of the people of the prophetic message of Isaiah. The people were finding it difficult to understand how God could use a Gentile, Cyrus, the Persian king to free them from bondage and move them to freedom. They thus began to question the ways of God since they did not fit in with what they expected God to do for them. They were not able to comprehend that God sometimes writes crooked on straight lines. He turns logic on its head and sometimes even our world upside down.

A classic example of how God does this is narrated in the Gospel text; the parable found only in the Gospel of Matthew and sometimes called the parable of the Workers in the Vineyard. However, the focus is not so much on the workers but on the owner of the vineyard and his seemingly unjust and illogical actions. The parable makes three striking points. The first of these is that while the earlier four groups are simply told to go to the vineyard, it is only the labourers hired at the eleventh hour who are asked why they have been standing idle all day. The reason for this seems to be, to bring out through their response that they have not been considered worthy of being hired. They are the rejected, the unworthy, the undesirable. However, despite their unworthiness, these too are given the same invitation as the earlier groups. The second point is the manner in which the workers are paid. The ones hired last are paid first. This prepares for the objection of the ones hired earlier and for the response of the master. The response of the master to the objection by the labourers that a great injustice was done to them is the third striking point. The distancing term “friend” (which Jesus uses in the garden of Gethsemane when addressing Judas the betrayer in 26:50) used here sets the tone for the response of the master. Since the master has kept to the terms of the contract agreed upon, no injustice has been done and it is the master who decides that the last must be treated in the same way as the first. There is here a distinct note of grace. Though the last ones did not deserve what they got, they were given it because of the graciousness of the master. Only in the realm of grace upon which the kingdom proclaimed by Jesus is based, it is wrong to set one’s mind on the rewards that will set one on a higher level than others.

The fundamental assertion of the parable is that God’s grace is granted also to those who come last. Even those who come in the eleventh hour, the unwanted and the unworthy, will receive the same reward to be given to those who have come before. When we tend to despise those whom we consider unworthy either because of their manner of life or their way of proceeding which may not fit in with ours, we need to keep this in mind. When we consider ourselves as superior as or holier than others we need to remember that if not for God’s grace we could never be worthy to receive any of his blessings and it is only grace that makes us worthy.

The parable summons us to believe that God’s justice played out in this world is not limited by human conceptions of strict mathematical judgment, by which reward is in proportion to effort or merit. As a matter of fact, grace cannot be earned by even the most strenuous effort. Mercy and goodness are not opposed to justice, but they challenge us, as they did the workers in the parable, to move beyond justice. God’s ways are not human ways. God indeed does write crooked on straight lines.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Yours, mine, OURS

Saturday, September 20, 2014 - Do you sometimes act as the “General Manager of the Universe”? Will you resign from that position today?

To read the texts click on the texts: 1 Cor 15:35-37,42-49; Lk 8:4-15

The text of today combines both the Parable of the Sower (8:5-8) and the allegory (8:11-15) {in an allegory, every element in the story is given a meaning. So, the seed is regarded as the word of God, those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe an be saved, and so on}. 
Though it is true that the Sower disappears from the scene after he is first mentioned, and the seed takes centre stage, the parable is really one of contrast between the beginning and the middle, and the end. Thus, the Sower (whom the end will affect) is still an important figure in the parable. Since many have confused the allegory with the Parable, the meaning of the parable may have been missed. In this reflection we will focus on the Parable.

The farmer would sow along “the path”, because according to research done on the agricultural practices in Palestine at the time of Jesus, the practice was to sow seeds first and then plough it into the ground. Sowing on “rocky ground” is not surprising because the underlying limestone, thinly covered with soil, barely showed above the surface until the ploughshare jarred against it. Sowing among “thorns” is also understandable, because this too will be ploughed up. Though the ploughing of the three kinds of soil above will be done, it will result in a loss, because in none of them will the seed grow. It will seem that seventy-five percent of the effort is lost. While most of the parable focuses on “sowing”, in the last verse it is already “harvest time”. The abnormal, exaggerated tripling, of the harvest’s yield (thirty, sixty, a hundredfold) symbolises the overflowing of divine fullness., surpassing all human measure and expectations (A tenfold harvest counted as a good harvest and a yield of seven and a half as an average one).

To human eyes much of the labour seems futile and fruitless, resulting in repeated failure, but Jesus is full of joyful confidence; he knows that God has made a beginning, bringing with it a harvest of reward beyond all asking or conceiving. In spite of every failure and opposition, from hopeless beginnings, God brings forth the triumphant end, which he has promised.

Do I usually focus more on the reaping than on the sowing? Do I focus more on the result than on the action? Do I focus more on the future than on the present?

How do I react when most of my effort seems to be in vain? Do I throw up my hands in despair? Do I give up? Do I get despondent? Or do I carry on despite all odds? Do I continue to persevere? Do I keep on keeping on?

How attached am I to the result of my action? Can I plunge into the din of battle and leave my heart at the feet of the Lord?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

When the going gets tough....

Friday, September 19, 2014 - Does the plight of others affect me at all? What do I do about it?

To read the texts click on the texts: 1Cor 15:12-20; Lk 8:1-3

This is a text that is exclusive to the Gospel of Luke and is about the women who ministered to Jesus during his ministry. It begins by presenting Jesus as an itinerant preacher going through the cities and villages in order to proclaim the good news of the kingdom. 

Luke often mentions a corresponding female or group whenever he mentions a male. He does this first in the example of Zechariah and Elizabeth, and then in the examples of Joseph and Mary, Simeon and Anna. Here too, after Luke has mentioned the Twelve, he mentions women. Mary Magdalene is identified at the one from whom seven demons had gone out and Joanna as the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza and these two appear also in 24:10 in the episode of the empty tomb. Susanna the third woman named here does not appear elsewhere in the Gospel. These and other women provided for Jesus out of their resources.

The striking point about this text is the fact that the disciples were women. At a time when a woman was looked down upon and her place in society was pre-determined, it is quite amazing to note that these became followers of Jesus and even provided for him. This is an indication of the openness that Jesus possessed and of his freedom from all kinds of constraints.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Today is THE Day

Thursday, September 18, 2014 - Does love lead to forgiveness or is the ability to love the result of being forgiven?

To read the texts click on the texts: 1 Cor 15:1-11; Lk 7:36-50

This is a fairly well known story from the Gospel of Luke. However, it is important to note that though the woman is termed as a “sinner”, she is not named. The dinner given by the Pharisee would have been much more public than a dinner in a private home today, so the presence of uninvited persons would not have been unusual. The guests would have been reclining on pillows, supported by their left arms and would be eating with their right hands, with their feet away from the mat on which the food would have been spread before them. Thus the woman could easily approach Jesus’ feet. The fact that she brought a jar of ointment shows that she had planned to anoint Jesus – a sign of her love. Though the woman’s act expresses love and gratitude, it also violated social conventions. Touching or caressing a man’s feet could have sexual overtones, as did letting down her hair, so a woman never let down her hair in public. Moreover the woman was known to be a sinner. Assuming that she was unclean, she would have made Jesus unclean by touching him. In the Pharisee’s eyes the woman’s act represents a challenge both to his honour and to Jesus.
In response, Jesus poses a riddle for Simon to solve, based on patron-client relationships. If a patron had two debtors, one who owed him much and the other who owed him little and he cancelled the debts of both, who would love him more? After Simon answers that it would be the one who had the greater debt cancelled, Jesus exposes the contrast between Simon’s lack of hospitality and the woman’s selfless adoration of Jesus. The main point of the story is Jesus’ pronouncement in 7:47. 

Did the woman love because her sins were forgiven or was she forgiven because she loved much? The woman’s loving act is evidence that she has been forgiven. She recognised her need for forgiveness and therefore received it totally, whereas the Pharisee did not recognise his need and therefore received less.

This story seems to make two points that we can reflect on. The first is our judgement of others without knowing all the facts. Some of us are sometimes quick to judge from external appearances, only to realise later that we misjudged. 
The second point is the acceptance of our need for God’s mercy and love. Like the Pharisee, there may be some of us who do not consider ourselves as grave sinners and consequently we may not be open to God’s unconditional love and grace.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Wednesday, September 17, 2014 - St. Robert Bellarmine SJ - 1542 - 1621 - When was the last time you performed an action without any expectation of reward? Will you perform one today?

To read the texts click on the texts: Wis 7:7-14; Mt 5:17-19

Robert Bellarmine was born on October 4, 1542 and entered the Society of Jesus on September 20, 1560 when he was 18 years old. His intellectual ability led him to earn a reputation as professor and preacher. His spiritual depth was so much that many lay people, Priests, Bishops and Cardinals flocked to him for solace and advice. He was available to all.

In 1592 he was made Rector of the Roman College, and in 1595 Provincial of Naples. In 1597 Clement VIII recalled him to Rome and made him his own theologian and likewise Examiner of Bishops and Consultor of the Holy Office. Further, in 1599 he made him Cardinal-Priest of the title of Santa Maria in viĆ¢, alleging as his reason for this promotion that "the Church of God had not his equal in learning".

His spirit of prayer, his singular delicacy of conscience and freedom from sin, his spirit of humility and poverty, together with the disinterestedness which he displayed as much under the cardinal's robes as under the Jesuit's gown, his lavish charity to the poor, and his devotedness to work, had combined to impress those who knew him intimately with the feeling that he was of the number of the saints.

Among many activities, he became theologian to Pope Clement VIII, preparing two catechisms which have had great influence in the Church.

Bellarmine died on September 17, 1621. The process for his canonization was begun in 1627 but was delayed until 1930 for political reasons, stemming from his writings. In 1930, Pope Pius XI canonized him and the next year declared him a doctor of the Church.

The readings for the feast of this great Saint contain what are commonly known as the “theme” of the Sermon on the Mount. In these verses, the Matthean Jesus makes explicit that he is a law abiding Jew. His attitude towards the Jewish law is fundamentally positive. However, Jesus also makes explicit here, that he has come not merely to confirm or establish the law, but to fulfil or complete it. This means that he will go beyond a purely legal interpretation to a broader perspective. He will remove the focus from the mere external and concentrate on the internal. The focus will be more on the attitude than merely on the action. This was exactly the attitude that Robert Bellarmine possessed.

While laws, rules and regulations are necessary and help towards order, it is also possible that they can become ends in themselves and not as they are meant to be, means to an end. We might follow in some cases the letter of the law, but miss out on its spirit. We might even follow the rule or law only because we are afraid of getting caught and punished and not because we are convinced of it.

Do not try this anywhere. It is dangerous

Wednesday, September 17, 2014 - Will you dance to the tune of the Lord or are you dancing your own dance?

To read the texts click on the texts: 1 Cor 12:31-13:13; Lk 7:31-35

The point of these sayings of Jesus is to bring out the failure of the crowd to respond to the invitation of John and Jesus. Though John and Jesus are different from each other and went about their ministries differently, the people accepted neither. John lived a very austere life and indulged in no excesses at all, but he was not accepted. Rather he was labelled as a wild man. Jesus on the hand lived quite openly and freely due to this was labelled as a glutton and drunkard.

Many of us are so concerned about what people say about us that we sometimes live our lives based on their opinions. The text of today teaches us that you cannot please everybody every time. There are some who will neither join in the dance nor in the mourning, but sit on the fence and criticise. It is best to leave these alone and do what one believes one ought to do.