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Friday, 31 December 2010

Have a grand New Year 2011

My prayer for all of you is that the New Year bring hope, peace and joy. These are not gifts that we find outside of ourselves but within ourselves. We have each of us to decide that we want to be hopeful, peaceful and joyful and it will be so. This is possible if we decide to let nothing that happens get us down. This is the way we can stay on top of the world. This does not mean that everything will go as we plan or even that we will always get what we desire and pray for. It does mean, however, that no matter what happens we will be happy.
This is why I can wish each and everyone of you a VERY HAPPY NEW YEAR AND ALL THROUGH 2011.

What one action will you do to make the incarnate word present today?

The prologue of the Gospel of John is an extremely rich text. Unlike Matthew and Luke who begin their Gospels with stories of the birth of Jesus, the Gospel of John begins with the pre-existent WORD and the relationship of the word to the world. It is Word which is God and also an incarnate word, a word made flesh. Thus the Prologue is concerned with the sphere of God, the eternal sphere and the sphere of human beings the temporal.

Thus the prologue makes two main points.

The first of these is that the abstract, the incomprehensible, the indecipherable, the unknowable, and the absolute mystery which is the Word and God, have become concrete, comprehensible, decipherable, and knowable and a mystery revealed because of the Word becoming flesh. However, this mystery is not as easy to understand as it may seem. Many take offense at this. They want something more spectacular; some divine figure, some hero or god-man, some fascinating, mysterious being, able to impress everyone with the feats of might and glory. But what they saw was only a man; a man of compassion, a man who claimed to speak the truth. And they saw no glory here. But this is how God decided to come. He wanted to be one of us in all our limitations. Thus no longer can we say that our God could not understand what it is like to struggle against the opposition, to have to flee to another country, to be betrayed by a friend, to grieve the loss of a loved one, to fear suffering and death, to experience a seeming absence of his father. No, our God has truly walked our walk; God's Word of Love has truly taken flesh. Through this act of the Incarnation, God and the Word have become Father and Son. God, the Father is revealed in the Son, Jesus. Through this act, heaven has come down to earth and earth and heaven are reconciled as never before. The incarnation means that human beings can see, hear, and know God in ways never before possible. The relationship between divine and human is transformed, because in the incarnation human beings are given intimate, palpable, corporeal access to the cosmic reality of God. The newness wrought by God in Jesus is so dramatic that a conventional narrative of origins is good, but insufficient. That is because the story of Jesus is not ultimately a story about Jesus; it is, in fact, the story of God. When one sees Jesus, one sees God; when one hears Jesus, one hears God.

The second point that the prologue makes is the response of humanity to the incarnate Word. Since the Word is not a Word that is thrust on creation, but given freely and in total generosity, human beings must respond to the Word in freedom. This response is either of acceptance or rejection. One cannot ignore the potent power of the Word.

The rejection of the Word by Jesus’ own people while being a historical fact is a rejection that continues even today. Darkness continues to try to overcome the light. This becomes evident when we look at our world which is a world in which corruption, selfishness, injustice, intolerance, and communal disharmony, racial and caste discriminations continue to raise their ugly heads. It is seen when people still concern themselves with only the desire to have more rather than be more. It is seen when the concern to accumulate for oneself even to the detriment of not giving others their just due overpowers us.

Yet, despite this rejection of the Word, there is a note of hope and promise because there continue to be people who will choose light over darkness and selflessness over selfishness. There will continue to be people who fight for justice and will never give up this cause. There will continue to be people who will generously give not only of their wealth but also of themselves in imitation of the one who became human and gave all. Those who opt for the light can continue to do so because their openness to the Incarnate Word and all that he stands for makes them receive grace upon grace from him. This abundance of grace continues to sustain through the most trying times and gives them the courage never to give up or give in, but to continue and carry on. God became what we are, so that we could understand better what God is, and we could believe with all our hearts that God understands what we are.

Those who dare to accept the light and walk in its ways begin to realize that God himself walks with them and ahead of them. They know that God does not stay distant from them, remote and isolated; rather, in Jesus, God chose to live with humanity in the midst of human weakness, confusion, and pain. This bond holds true for all times and all places. To become flesh is to know joy, pain, suffering, and loss. It is to love, to grieve, and someday to die. The incarnation binds Jesus to the “everydayness” of human experience. The Word lived among us, not simply in the world. The Word became flesh and the Word’s name is Jesus Christ. This Jesus continues to be born in our midst even today. When selflessness triumphs over selfishness; when generosity triumphs over greed; when light overcomes darkness, then Jesus is born again and again.

Have you accepted the revelation that Jesus makes? How will you show this in your life today?

Luke is fond of pairing male and female figures in his narrative. The role of Simeon and Anna in the Temple at the end of the birth narrative balances the role of Zechariah and Elizabeth at the beginning of the narrative. Anna’s character and piety are emphasized, but not her words. She was a descendant of a family from the northern kingdom, and a devout widow, advanced in age. Anna evidently married young and was widowed seven years later. The reference to 84 years probably records her age, but may be read as the number of years she had lived as a widow.

Anna’s blessing, though not recorded, is characterized as praising God and speaking about the child. Since this description corresponds to the content of Simeon’s oracles, we can probably say that Anna’s prophecy matched his. Similarly, the reference to “all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem” serves as an inclusion, balancing the description of Simeon as one who was “looking forward to the consolation of Israel” at the beginning of this scene. Simeon and Anna, who represent the pious ones, declare that Jesus is the one who will bring salvation for Israel, but not all would receive this salvation. Jesus himself would be rejected, and many in Israel would reject the gospel, but it was also meant for “a light for revelation to the Gentiles”.




Wednesday, 29 December 2010

How will you show that the presence of Jesus has changed your life for the better? What three actions will you perform to show that the coming of Jes

The text of today consists of the presentation of Jesus in the Temple, the purification of Mary and the Song of Simeon.

According to Jewish law a woman became ceremonially unclean on the birth of a child. During this time, she was not permitted to enter the Temple or touch any holy object. On the eighth day the child was circumcised, after which the mother was unclean an additional thirty-three days—sixty-six if the child was female. At the conclusion of this period, the mother offered a sacrifice, either a lamb or, if she was poor, two doves or two young pigeons. That Luke does not mention a lamb but refers to two turtledoves or pigeons may indicate that Jesus was born to the poor of Israel. In addition, the first son was to be presented to the Lord as a reminder of the Exodus, and then, bought back with an offering. Luke does not mention that Jesus was redeemed either because he was not aware of this requirement or because he wanted to convey that Jesus was constantly devoted or dedicated to the Lord. In this part Luke emphasizes that the law of the Lord was fulfilled in all respects at the birth of Jesus.

Simeon is introduced immediately after the presentation of Jesus and the purification of Mary. He too like Zechariah and Elizabeth is described as “righteous”. He is also “devout”. He looked forward to the restoration of the people and the fulfillment of God’s redemptive work. The Spirit, who had revealed to him that he would not see death until he saw the anointed one of God, is the same Spirit who rests on him and gives him utterance to speak.

His hymn of praise of God is known as the “Nunc Dimittis” (“Now Dismiss”). It is only loosely related to the occasion of the birth of Jesus. It declares the praise of God for faithfulness and the redemption of the people. Though some interpret “now you are dismissing your servant in peace” to mean that Simeon was now prepared to die, it can also mean that he recognizes that he is being released from his mission to watch for the coming of the Messiah because he has now seen the coming of the one who will bring salvation. His blessing relates the birth of Jesus to the fulfillment of the promise of salvation and looks ahead to the inclusion of all peoples in the experience of the blessings of God. Even as the parents of Jesus wonder at what is being said by Simeon, he blesses them and then addresses Mary, the mother of Jesus. He speaks about the coming rejection of Jesus. Not everyone will want to see the light, not everyone will want top receive the salvation by God for all peoples. Not everyone will recognize God coming in Jesus. Jesus will be rejected and treated as someone to be opposed. Even his mother will have to share in his sufferings.

Jesus came not to make us comfortable but to wake us up from our sleep and this is what Simeon had prophesied. He came to challenge our way of looking at the world. This challenge is not easy to accept because it means that many of our preconceived ideas and notions will have to be given up and we will have to start anew. It is easier and more comfortable to live the selfish and self-centered lives that we are used to rather than be concerned about others. It is easier to be caught up in our own small worlds, rather than get out of our wells and see that life is much more than simply having more.


Tuesday, 28 December 2010

The Season of Christmas

The season of Christmas begins on the day after Christmas and continues till the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. However, every year, the fist day after Christmas (except if it is a Sunday) is celebrated as the feast of St. Stephen the first martyr of the Church. The second days after Christmas is the feast of St. John the Evangelist and the day after that is the feast of the Holy Innocents. This is why the weekday readings during the season of Christmas begin from December 29.

The revelation of Jesus as a child begins in the Temple during the event of his presentation by his parents and through the mouths of Simeon and Anna. Jesus is indeed the Word made flesh and splendour of the Father. Before Jesus can begin his public ministry, John the Baptist bears witness to him and points him out as the Lamb of God. This identification by John, results in his own disciples going after Jesus, because they realize that while they did receive a great deal as disciples of John, they will receive the completeness of revelation in Jesus. The first words that Jesus utters in his public ministry are words that invite people to a change of mind and heart because they have been forgiven and loved unconditionally. The change is not a condition, but a consequence of having received unconditional love from God. Since his mission is a tangible mission, he shows this by feeding five thousand and satisfying them completely. He also walks on the water to show that he has subdued evil and that he is indeed Son of God. His Mission is to be available to all but very especially the poorest of the poor, the outcasts, the marginalized and lepers. He has come to heal and make whole those who need his healing touch.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Have a grand Christmas

I am sure all of you will have a grand Christmas. May the Christ child born in our world be born also in your heart and may Mary whose courageous YES gave to our world a Saviour give you all her courage to always say AMEN

You can be more.


The Introduction and the Entrance Antiphon of today’s liturgy makes clear that for those who celebrate Christmas the word of God is no longer merely the message spoken by the prophets, but the messenger of God in person. The Word of God is a child born for us on whose shoulder dominion will be laid. This is seen clearly in the readings that have been chosen for today.

In the first reading from the Second Book of Isaiah which is a prophetic oracle of salvation, the prophet announces through a messenger the return of the exiles to Jerusalem. Jerusalem which had experienced war, destruction and sorrow will now experience peace, unity and happiness. This is the good news that is proclaimed.

The letter to the Hebrews takes up the theme of the good news spoken through God’s word in a variety of ways. In the old days, this was spoken through the prophets, but in the now, the new days God will not content himself with merely speaking through intermediaries but speaks through a part of himself when he speaks through his son. His speaking is definitive not because God will not speak again, but because in Jesus, God has said all that he would want to say. God will not need to speak like this anymore.

This is also the theme of the prologue of the Gospel of John. However, John puts it even more elaborately than Hebrews does. Jesus is here described as the one who was with God from all eternity, who was, is and will be divine. This Word “became flesh and dwelt among us.” But again this totally other "Word" has a history and a purpose. He comes into the world as life and light. He asks to be accepted in faith. His own did not accept him; throughout history he offers himself to all of good will. Those who do accept him he empowers to become children of God, to have a new birth, to be born of God in the new birth of the Spirit.

The impossible has become possible, the totally incomprehensible has become somewhat comprehensible and our humanity is never again to be seen as a limitation but as an advantage. We have been blessed with a new and radiant vision. God could not be seen, but now in Jesus he is visible. Our God is not a God out there or up there, but a God who is with us and for us and showed us this in the unique and astounding way of becoming like us. We share through the Incarnation in the very life of God. Our cry after the Incarnation is not a plaintive “I’m only human”, but an exuberant, “I’m human”. This is what Christmas means and this is what the birth of the Christ child is saying. Before the Incarnation of Jesus, we human beings thought we could be only this brave, but the Incarnation has shown that we can be braver. Before the Incarnation we thought we could only love so much, but the Incarnation has shown that we can love even more and to the very end. Before Jesus’ incarnation we human beings thought we could be only so much, but the Incarnation of God shows us that we can be more. We have become through the incarnation, children, women and men of the Magis, the greater, the more. The Incarnation has made each of us aware of the immense potential that exists in us because we have been graced through the humanity of the divinity. Christ became human to show us that even in our humanity we can become divine. The Incarnation does not simply invite us to be good men and women, rather through the Incarnation; Jesus makes us into people who can use all their strengths and defects to the service and the glory of God. This is the proof to us that it is not by our own will power that we are able to become children of God. It is by God's grace, by God's unmerited and unconditional love of us.

Thus, Christmas is not merely the celebration of a historical birth or a birth that took place over two thousand years ago. It is about becoming conscious of who we really are as human beings. It is the celebration of life in all its fullness. It is the celebration of the transformation of limit to limitlessness, of selfishness to selflessness, of bondage and fear to freedom and unconditional love.

Christmas belongs not only to a few who call themselves Christians but to the entire earth. The lowly animals, birds, plants, trees indeed the whole of nature participates in this nativity of the divine light at Christmas. Our compassion for our human brothers and sisters is increased when we realize that the animals, birds, plants, trees and the rest of nature is also made up of wondrous beings in even more humble, limited and unrecognizable form than ourselves.

As the Logos (Word) descends into the earth and becomes sarx (flesh) to bring Light to the world, we realize that it is in and through this Light that we have life.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Does fear still rule the larger majority of your actions? What will you do about it today?

Zechariah’s song, which is traditionally called “The Benedictus” (Blessed), is the text which the Church reads on the day before Christmas. It may be seen to be divided into two parts. The first part praises God for his messianic deliverance and the second speaks of John the Baptist’s role in this deliverance. The progression of thought in the Benedictus shows that the true end of God’s redemption is not merely deliverance from political domination, but the creation of conditions in which God’s people can worship and serve God without fear. When people are released from external domination, they can worship in peace. The people of God are a covenant people, saved and rescued by the hand of God. God has thereby fulfilled the promises to Abraham and to David. Holiness and righteousness are to mark God’s people “all the days of our life”. The hymn comes to a climax as it describes the place of John in God’s redemptive work. John’s birth announced God’s new deliverance. John would be a prophet who would go before the Lord. Four infinitives outline the progress of God’s redemptive work. The first two describe the role of John the Baptist. The last two allude to the inauguration of the kingdom, “when the day shall dawn upon us from on high”.

The mark of the redeemed is that they live out of the knowledge of God that has been given to them. Darkness is dispelled by the revelation of God’s being and God’s grace toward us. Finally, through John’s call for justice and righteousness, and far more through Jesus’ unique ministry, God would “guide our feet into the way of peace”

The Benedictus links the promise of salvation and redemption inseparably to the achievement of peace. God’s people cannot have redemption without peace, for each is necessary for the realization of the other. It affirms that God’s purposes are being fulfilled in the delivering of his people from the hands of their oppressors. Their feet are being guided in the way of peace so that they may worship without fear.


Will you speak God’s word to at least one person today?

Two days before the birth of the Messiah, the Church invites us to reflect on the birth, naming, and circumcision of his precursor or forerunner, John the Baptist.

Luke does not give us too many details about the birth of John, and he narrates it with a short sentence. He focuses more on the events that follow the birth and, through them, show that God’s word spoken through the angel, Gabriel, is being fulfilled. Elizabeth does bear a son and the people rejoice at the birth because of the great mercy shown by God.

Circumcision of the child on the eight day was in accord with Gen 17:9-14 where God makes circumcision on the eight day a sign of the covenant with Abraham. It was the father who normally named the child and, in doing so, recognized the child as his own. Sometimes, the child was named after the father, especially if the father was a person who was highly esteemed. Objections were raised to the name “John” (“God had been gracious”), chosen by Elizabeth. That the people made signs to Zechariah to ask him what he wanted to name the child indicates that, besides being dumb, he was also deaf. The moment Zechariah writes the name “John” on a writing tablet, Zechariah regains his speech. Once again, God’s word comes to pass. The fear and amazement with which the people respond to these happenings is an indication that they experienced God’s awesome power. The question that the people ask, about what the child would turn out to be, is answered in summary form by Luke when he ends this narrative by stating that “the hand of the Lord was with him.”

God’s word is a word of power and will come to pass, no matter how many obstacles we may put in its way. It is a word that enhances and builds up, a word that gives life. To be sure, we may not always be able to understand and accept it for what it is, but in the final analysis, it is always a word that is for our good and for his glory.


Wednesday, 22 December 2010

What image do you have of God? Does your image lead you to have confidence in God? How does this show in your life?

The verses which make up the Gospel text of today are commonly known as “The Magnificat” or Mary’s hymn of praise. It seems to have been modeled on the prayer of Samuel’s mother, Hannah, in 1 Sam 2:1-10 and contains many Old Testament concepts and phrases. It communicates a picture of Mary as someone quite steeped in scripture. It reveals God primarily as a God of the poor. God is the one who will vindicate the poor by removing the rich and mighty from their positions and raising the lowly.

The hymn may be seen to be divided into four parts. The first part consists of praise to God for what he has done in and for Mary; the second part speaks of God’s power, holiness and mercy; the third part shows God acting as a Sovereign in reversing social conditions in favor of the poor and downtrodden; and the fourth and final part recalls God’s mercy and promises to Israel.

The hymn speaks of the effects of the Lord’s coming for all of God’s people. It begins on a note of salvation as Mary acknowledges her dependence on God. It was the grace of God that sustained and brought her to the position in which she finds herself. She has not achieved anything on her own, it is all a gift of God and thus, Mary acknowledges her humble state, referring to herself as God’s servant. She is to be called “blessed’ because God, in his mercy and goodness, had raised her to this level.

God has shown this mercy and goodness to the poor by showing the strength of his arm, by scattering the proud, and deposing the powerful. The poor, on the other hand, have been raised, and the hungry have been filled. God remembers not only those of old but also the present generation. He is a God not only of the past, but also a God of the present, the now.

The stress on God as a God primarily of the poor stands out in Mary’s hymn of praise. In a world where the rich seem to be getting richer and the poor, poorer, one wonders whether the Magnificat is a hymn that can make sense to the poor, to those of low degree. Yet, it is important to remember that God’s ways are not our ways and so, the poor must, in confidence, sing this song as their song. The confidence with which Mary sings this song runs through the entire hymn. She uses past tense to denote God’s future actions, thus expressing that God will indeed accomplish his will, and the poor will be vindicated. What is important for the poor to realize is that they, like Mary, need to continue to open themselves to all that God wants to do in them. They need to continue to acknowledge their dependence on God by doing all that is required of them and then, leaving the rest in his capable and strong hands.


Monday, 20 December 2010

Will you say YES to all that God wants to do through you today even when you fully cannot understand why?

The text of today’s Gospel relates a scene immediately after the announcement of the birth of John the Baptist and contains the announcement of the birth of Jesus. There are many similarities in the annunciations to Mary and to Zechariah. The angel Gabriel is the one who makes both announcements. Both Zechariah and Mary are called by name and exhorted not to be afraid. Both ask a question of the angel, and it is the angel who tells them what name each child is to be given. It is the angel who predicts what each child will turn out to be. However, even as there are similarities, there are differences in the narratives. While the announcement to Zechariah comes in the Temple and as a result of his fervent prayer, the announcement to Mary comes (apparently) when she is in her home and it is unanticipated. While Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth are advanced in age, Mary has not yet stayed with her husband, and so is a virgin. The birth of John to parents who are past the age of child bearing is a miracle, but even greater is the miracle of the birth of Jesus, who would be born through the Holy Spirit, and to a virgin. Even as John the Baptist goes with the spirit and power of Elijah, Jesus will be called “Son of God”. Luke clearly wants to show John as great, but only the forerunner of the Messiah, Jesus, who is greater.

Here, too, like in the case of the announcement of the birth of John the Baptist, God intervenes in human history. Mary though betrothed or engaged to Joseph, who was of David’s family, had not yet lived with him. This she would do only after marriage, which would be one year after the betrothal. The angel greets Mary as the recipient of God’s grace. She has opened herself to the promptings of God’s Spirit. While Zechariah was gripped with fear at the very appearance of the angel, in the case of Mary, it is the angel’s greeting that perplexed her. The angel reassures Mary and makes the announcement, not only of Jesus’ birth, but of who he will be and all that he will accomplish.

In response to this announcement Mary, like Zechariah, asks a question. While both questions seem similar, it is clear that Zechariah’s question expressed doubt and asked for a sign, as is evident in the angel’s words before Zechariah is struck dumb. Mary’s question, on the other hand, is a question asked in faith. Mary did not question the truth of the revelation like Zechariah did. She asked only for enlightenment on how God would accomplish this wonderful deed. This will be accomplished in Mary through the work of God’s spirit. This is why the child will be called holy. Luke probably also intends to convey here that it is not merit on Mary’s part that obtained for her what she received, but God’s generous gift in the Spirit.

The evidence that what the angel has announced will indeed take place is the pregnancy of Elizabeth, for nothing is impossible for God. Mary responds, not merely with a Yes, but by asking that the Lord work in her to accomplish all that he wants. The annunciation would not have been complete without Mary’s trusting, obedient response.

Today, many assume that those whom God favors will enjoy the things we equate with a good life: social standing, wealth, and good health. Yet Mary, God’s favored one, was blessed with having a child out of wedlock who would later be executed as a criminal. Acceptability, prosperity, and comfort have never been the essence of God’s blessing. The story is so familiar that we let its familiarity mask its scandal. Mary had been chosen, “favored,” to have an important part in God’s plan to bring salvation to God’s people, but it is unthinkable that God would have forced Mary to have the child against her will. Mary is an important example, therefore, of one who is obedient to God even at great risk to self.

When we think of or reflect on Mary, the one word that comes to mind to describe her whole life is the word, AMEN, a word which may be translated, “so be it”, “your will be done”, “do whatever you want to do in my life”. This was, indeed, Mary’s constant response to every situation in her life, especially when she could not understand why things were happening the way they were. The text of today is, then, a call and challenge to each one of us, that we, too, like Mary, might be able to say YES to all that God wants to do in our lives. It is a challenge to be open and receptive to the Spirit of God, so that we, too, might be able to give birth to the Savior in our hearts.


Saturday, 18 December 2010

What's in a name??

The meeting between Isaiah and King Ahaz is the second meeting between the two. The first was when God asked Isaiah to go to Ahaz with the message that he remain calm and not let his courage fail him before Rezin the king of Damascus and Pekah the king of Samaria who wanted to replace Ahaz with Ben Tabeel. In this second meeting, the reluctance of the king to ask for a sign is interpreted by Isaiah as a failure of faith, an unwillingness to be reassured by God. Thus the sign will be given even though unasked for. The sign will be the child that Ahaz’s wife Abiyah was carrying in her womb who was King Hezekiah (some think the reference is to the third child of Isaiah). However, though he began well with religious reforms, Hezekiah gradually turned away from the Lord and so the people began to look for another Emmanuel.

In the opening section of his letter to the Romans, Paul makes two main points after describing himself as servant and apostle of Christ and specially chosen to preach the good news that God had promised long ago. The first is that the good news is about the Son of God, and descendant of David who was born in human nature and was truly man and who was proclaimed Son of God through his resurrection from the dead. The second is the call to the addresses to belong to Christ.

The Gospel text is from the Infancy Narrative of Matthew and contains the prophecy of Isaiah found in the first reading of today which here is applied to Jesus. Matthew uses Joseph’s dream as a tool with which to answer questions that may have risen about the virginal conception of Jesus. Since Matthew’s intention is to show Jesus as a descendant of David the focus in his story is on Joseph who in Matthew is a descendant of David. Jesus, who is Son of David, is also Son of God as indicated by the virginal birth and the one who will save all people from sin. In this he is Emmanuel, God with us, not in judgement but grace.

As the feast of Christmas draws near we are invited through the readings to reflect on the meaning of the birth and significance of the name of the God/Man Jesus. Both Matthew and Paul emphasize that Jesus is both God and man. He is God incarnate, Jesus Christ. Matthew goes through great pains to show Jesus clearly as a descendant of David (and so his humanity) but at the same time insists that the Christ child is not really Joseph’s child but conceived through the Holy Spirit (and so his divinity). Paul too seems to have this in mind when writing to the Romans as is shown in his description of the human nature of Jesus and his being a descendant of David, but who is at the same time Son of God through his resurrection from the dead. The point that both seem to want to make is that God has acted decisively in history and through his personal action has caused something new in our world that goes beyond human comprehension.

This decisive action of God was intended to convey to all who encounter him that God is Emmanuel and that his function is to save people from their sin and even each one of us from ourselves. This is what we must keep in mind as we continue our preparations. He is the long cherished hope of all peoples. He is the prophecy of Isaiah fulfilled completely. Even if Hezekiah was not able to live up to what was predicted of him, it does not really matter because Jesus has more than made up for the shortfall.

Having as God, a God who saves and, through his incarnation (and so real death and resurrection) is the news that Paul proclaims to the Church in Rome and that is still proclaimed in the Church today. The implications of this are many. The first is that we need never fear God since he is God with and for us, and our response to him must only be a response of love. The second is that we do not have to do anything nor can we do anything to obtain the love of God. It is given freely simply because God wants to. All we have to do is receive it with openness and humility. This leads to a third implication which is accepting that each of us is a sinner and so in need of the saving grace of God. Once we accept this reality then we become more accepting towards others because we realize that we are in the same situation as they are. We are not better than they. We also become more aware of the responsibility that each of us has to reach out in making the other whole and show that we do indeed belong to Christ.

When in a dilemma do you usually do the right thing or the loving thing? Would your life have been any different if Jesus had not been born?

This text, which appears immediately after the genealogy of Jesus, and is the Gospel text for today, narrates the story of his birth. Since Mary and Joseph were engaged, they were legally considered husband and wife. Thus, infidelity in this case would also be considered adultery. Their union could only be dissolved by divorce or death. Though Joseph is righteous or just, he decides not to go by the letter of the law and publicly disgrace Mary, but he chooses a quieter way of divorcing her. God, however, has other plans for both Joseph and Mary and intervenes in a dream. Joseph is addressed by the angel as “Son of David” reiterating, once again after the genealogy, the Davidic origin of Jesus. He is asked to take Mary as his wife and also informed that is the Spirit’s action that is responsible for her pregnancy. He is told that he is to give the child the name “Jesus". Jesus (Iesous) is the Greek form of "Joshua" which, whether in the long form yehosua, ("Yahweh is salvation") or in one of the short forms, yesua, ("Yahweh saves”), identifies the son, in the womb of Mary, as the one who brings God’s promised eschatological salvation. The angel explains what the name means by referring to Ps 130:8. The name “Jesus” was a popular and common name in the first century. By the choice of such a name, Matthew shows that the Savior receives a common human name, a sign that unites him with the human beings of this world rather than separating him from them.

Matthew then inserts into the text the first of ten formula or fulfillment quotations that are found in his Gospel. This means that Matthew quotes a text from the Old Testament to show that it was fulfilled in the life and mission of Jesus. Here, the text is from Isa 7:14 which, in its original context, referred to the promise that Judah would be delivered from the threat of the Syro-Ephraimitic War before the child of a young woman, who was already pregnant, would reach the age of moral discernment. The child would be given a symbolic name, a short Hebrew sentence “God is with us” (Emmanu‘el) corresponding to other symbolic names in the Isaiah story. Though this text was directed to Isaiah’s time, Matthew understands it as text about Jesus, and fulfilled perfectly in him, here in his birth and naming.

This birth narrative of Matthew invites us to reflect on a number of points. Of these, two are significant. First, many of us are often caught in the dilemma of doing the right thing which might not always be the loving thing. If we follow only the letter of the law, we may be doing the right thing but not the most loving thing. However, if we focus every time on the most loving thing, like Joseph, it is surely also the right thing. Though Joseph could have done the right thing and shamed Mary by publicly divorcing her, he decides to go beyond the letter of the law and do the loving thing, which in his case was also the right thing.

Second, the story also shows us who our God is. Our God is God with us. Our God is one who always takes the initiative, who always invites, and who always wants all of humanity to draw closer to him and to each other. This God does not come in power, might, and glory, but as a helpless child. As a child, God is vulnerable. He is fully human and in his humanity, is subject to all the limitations that humanity imposes on us. Yet, he will do even that, if only humans respond to the unconditional love that he shows.

The Gospel of Matthew begins with the genealogy of Jesus. One important reason he begins this way is because it is theologically important to him to begin by referring to Jesus as the son of David and the son of Abraham. Jesus is, for Matthew, the Messiah who has descended from David, as foretold by the scriptures. Another reason why Matthew begins with the genealogy of Jesus is to show that God continues to act in human history, and that he acts now, in a decisive way, in the sending of his Son. God is not simply a God in the heavens, but a God who is Emmanuel, God with us.

Matthew’s genealogy consists of three parts. The first, which begins with Abraham, ends with the Davidic kingship. The second begins with David and ends with the deportation or exile to Babylon. The third begins with the exile and ends with the birth of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

Matthew calls attention to the number fourteen at the end of the genealogy and, though a variety of suggestions have been offered as to why he chose fourteen, the simplest explanation is that the numerical value of “David” in Hebrew (DWD) is fourteen (d, 4; w, 6; d, 4). By this symbolism, Matthew points out that the promised "son of David" (1:1), the Messiah, has come. And, if the third set of fourteen is short one member (to solve this problem some count Jechoniah twice), perhaps it suggests that, just as God cuts short the time of distress for the sake of his elect, so also he mercifully shortens the period from the Exile to Jesus, the Messiah.

Unlike Luke’s genealogy, which does not name a single woman, Matthew’s genealogy mentions four women besides Mary. These are Tamar, Ruth, Rahab, and Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba. Several reasons have been offered as to why Matthew mentioned these four women. Three of these reasons are widely accepted today: (a) there was something extraordinary about their union with their partners; (b) they showed initiative or played an important role in God’s plan and so came to be considered as instruments of God’s providence or of his Holy Spirit; and (c) all four women (except Mary) were Gentiles and Matthew wants to show that in God’s plan of salvation, the Gentiles were included from the beginning.

Through this, Matthew probably wants to show that God wants all to be saved and that he uses the unexpected to triumph over human obstacles and that he intervenes on behalf of his planned Messiah. This combination of scandalous and irregular union, and divine intervention, explains Matthew’s choice of the four women.

What are the points that Matthew makes in his genealogy and what does he want to achieve by it? Matthew clearly wants to show that Jesus is the fulfillment of all Israel’s hopes. The story of Jesus is part of the story of God’s constant saving acts throughout the history of Israel. God involves himself in the nitty-gritty of life. Despite the constant infidelity of Israel, God remained faithful and, in a definitive way, directed its history towards its fulfillment in Jesus Christ.

Matthew is also interested in affirming that the plan of God has often been fulfilled in history in unanticipated and “irregular” ways, as was the case in the birth of Jesus from Mary, and that Matthew is interested in showing that God worked through irregular, even scandalous ways, and through women who took initiative, like Tamar and Ruth. Yet the main reason for Matthew’s inclusion of these women corresponds to one of the Gospel’s primary themes: the inclusion of the Gentiles in the plan of God from the beginning. All of the men in Jesus’ genealogy are necessarily Jewish. But the four women mentioned, with the exception of Mary, are Gentiles, “outsiders,” or considered to be such in Jewish tradition. Just as the following story shows Jesus to be the fulfillment of both Jewish and Gentile hopes, so also the genealogy shows that the Messiah comes from a Jewish line that already includes Gentiles.

By showing Jesus as descended from David, Matthew wants to explicate that Jesus is the royal heir to the throne. Jesus, however, thorough his life, cross, death and resurrection will redefine the meaning of Kingship as never before.

Finally, Matthew wants to stress that God is active constantly in history and involved in the lives of his people. He works not only miraculously but also ordinarily in human effort, pain, and struggle to bring people to the kingdom.

Who do you say Jesus is? Has your response resulted in a transformed identity?

As we near Christmas, the readings make more and more explicit who Jesus really is. In the text of today, which compares John with Jesus, the point is clearly made that Jesus is superior in every way. This testimony is offered, not only by Jesus, but also by John who is just one of the other witnesses that testify to Jesus. John witnessed to Jesus when he witnessed to the truth, since Jesus is the Truth. Jesus does not need this testimony because he knows who he is and God has testified to him. Thus, he needs no human testimony. Yet, it is given because people are swayed by such testimony. John was a mere lamp in contrast to Jesus, who was the light and to whom John testified. The people were happy to accept from John’s testimony only what suited them. They conveniently rejected what did not suit them. Another witness to who Jesus is, are the works that Jesus does, which here do not seem to refer only to the miracles that Jesus worked, but to the whole of his ministry. This was a ministry that he received directly from God and thus, was a greater testimony to his person and mission than John could ever be. God bears witness to who Jesus is. Jesus does, and completes, the works of God.

The text of today invites us to ask ourselves who Jesus is for us. He is one sent from God and always seeks to do God’s will. In all that he does, he points to God. He is the one who has come to give life and draw people to God by giving them a new, transformed, identity. This is what one has to realize and accept if one desires the transformation that Jesus effects. There can be, on the one hand, an attitude of rejection of Jesus and his witness and thus, a rejection of the transformed identity or, there can be an acceptance in faith of Jesus as the revelation of God who comes that we may have life in abundance.


Thursday, 16 December 2010

When things do not go the way you want them to, where do you look for answers? Whom do you approach? Why?

This text appears immediately after the one which was read yesterday and after Jesus had answered the question about Messiahship asked by John’s disciples. It contains Jesus’ assessment of John and John’s role and, in doing so, defines his own identity more clearly. The last two verses of this text are exclusive to Luke. In the three questions that Jesus asks concerning John, it is obvious that the first need not be answered because the answer is obvious. While reeds shaken by the wind might be found in the wilderness, no one would go into the wilderness to see them. The second is answered but its inadequacy is shown immediately. Those who wear fine clothes are not found in places like the wilderness, which is where John preached. The third answer, that John is a prophet, is also inadequate because John is more than a prophet; his coming was prophesied by scripture. John is not merely a prophet, but also the messenger who would prepare the way for the coming Messiah. He is the forerunner of the Lord and is thus, by implication, Elijah, and so is greater than any other human being. However, as the forerunner, John is outside the kingdom since he announces its coming. Thus, even the least that is in the kingdom is greater than John. John was great and impressive. Jesus is greater and more impressive. John is the precursor; Jesus is the one whom John announces.

There are times in our lives, especially when things do not go as we plan, when we turn to faith healers and others in the hope that they will do for us what we desire. These are like reeds shaken by the wind or, those who, because of their desire to wear fine clothes, milk gullible people of all that they have. This pericope, therefore, moves the reader from searching for figures or movements that will satisfy their spiritual needs, to finding and accepting God’s justice and God’s purposes. The answer is not in our attachment to any movement or human figure, but in our submission to God’s claims on us. The two are radically different. It is important that we recognize the difference, and check our personal questing from time to time, to be sure that we have not been fooled into substituting one for the other. To be even the least among those who have submitted to God’s sovereignty is to be greater than any of the prophetic figures outside the kingdom, regardless of their appeal or their following.

What name do you use to address Jesus? Why?

Though Luke has mentioned earlier in his Gospel (3:20) that John was in prison, there is nothing to suggest that he is still in prison when he asks the question about Jesus’ identity. Here, the question is asked after John receives a report from two of his disciples about the things that Jesus was doing. Thus, a number of explanations have been offered as to why John asked this question of Jesus. One reason is that John, after hearing the report from his disciples, was troubled by uncertainty. If he was still in prison (as Matthew clearly states he was when he sent his disciples to ask the question) then this uncertainty would have been greater. Another reason is that John expected the Messiah to come with spewing fire and venom, but Jesus was reaching out to people in unconditional love. This surprised John since Jesus was not the kind of Messiah he had expected. Another reason is that John, though not sure, was hopeful that The Messiah, whose coming he had announced, had indeed come in Jesus and that would vindicate his own proclamation. Or, John thought that, by asking such a question of Jesus, he could encourage him to make a public announcement so that all would know that the Messianic age had arrived.

The disciples sent by John repeat the question of John to Jesus. In his response to them, who had probably seen, just then, the healings performed by him, Jesus lists six prophetic actions. These actions are works which both Elijah and Elisha had accomplished, as well as others mentioned in the book of Isaiah. Jesus was not merely a prophet, like Elijah or Elisha; he was the fulfillment of all the prophets. Besides healing those in need of it, the poor were also promised redemption through the preaching of Jesus. Jesus’ answer ends with a challenge not to have a stereotypical view of him or a preconceived notion that will prevent one from encountering Jesus as he is. A blessing is pronounced on those who will not reject him even though he turns out to be different from what they expected, imagined, or hoped he would be.

Jesus cannot be captured in an image, or picture, or put in a box. He remains bigger than anything we can ever imagine. Thus, what is required if one is to encounter him is to get rid of any categories that we may have used to define him. Jesus fits no specific category and yet, belongs to all of them. We sometimes think we know who Jesus is, what he stands for, and what he is doing, and then he surprises us and does something quite contrary to our expectations. Many scholars and holy men and women have proposed first one understanding of who Jesus is, and then another. They are all correct and all incorrect. Thus, the best response to Jesus is to be constantly open to whatever revelation he decides to make and to keep our whole being open in the hope that we will encounter him.

It is only important for us to constantly realize that God has acted in Jesus, and has been revealed as a God of the poor, a God who wants all people to be whole, a God who reaches out to the lame, the blind, the deaf, the mute, and the scum of society. God reaches out to tell them that they are loved and honoured because they, too, are created in the image and likeness of God. The ones who accept this Jesus, will also accept that the mission he inaugurated is now their own, and they are called to join him in continuing it as he would have done.


Monday, 13 December 2010

Are you a person who says but does not do? Do you say YES but mean NO?

The parable, which is the text of today, is exclusive to Matthew and contains the first of three parables. These parables are all addressed to the chief priests and elders of the people, as a continuation of Jesus’ response to their challenge of his authority. Since they remained silent to his earlier question about John the Baptist, the Matthean Jesus begins this parable by forcing them to answer. He does this through the question, “What do you think?” The older son is first asked to go and work in the vineyard. He initially refuses, but afterwards, relents and goes. Since the older son refused him at first, the father then goes to the younger son and asks that he go and work in the vineyard. This son replied that would certainly go, but did not do so. Without any doubt, the one who did the will of the Father was the older son who was asked first.

The Parable does not seem to be so much about Jew and gentile as it is about religious leader and public sinner. Thus, Jesus is saying that the scum of society, though it says no to God, repents, performs the Father's will, and enters the kingdom, whereas the religious authorities loudly say yes to God but never do what he says, and therefore they fail to enter.

Both religious leaders and public sinners had John as a pointer of the way to Jesus and the kingdom. Yet, of these, while the sinners repented and believed, the religious did not, even after seeing sinners repent.

Lip service is easy. It does not require any action on the part of the person who gives it. This kind of person merely says, but will not do. Committed service is more difficult, because this calls for action and putting oneself out for the sake of another. It is not those who say “Lord, Lord”, but those who DO what God wants, who will gain entry into the kingdom.


Do you usually mean what you say?

In these verses, in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus enters the Temple for the last time. Even while he teaches, the chief priests and elders of the people challenge his authority. The context in Matthew for this challenge seems to include Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple, his miraculous healing, and also, perhaps, his teaching in the Temple. In his response to this challenge, Jesus mentions John the Baptist and his entire ministry, including his baptism. In doing so, Jesus is not being evasive. He is trying to get the chief priests and elders to recognize that John was, indeed, sent by God, so that they will then be able to recognize Jesus as the Messiah, about whom John prophesied. If they gave the correct answer to the question that Jesus asked, they would know from where Jesus’ authority comes.

The answer of the chief priests and elders that they did not know is loaded with meaning. This is evident in the way they argued among themselves how they must respond. Thus, what they were in effect saying was that they knew, but did not want to say it aloud because that would lead to their being trapped in their own net. If they answered that John was from God, they would have to also answer why they did not accept him and his baptism. However, even more than that, they would have to answer why they are not accepting Jesus to whom John pointed. They could answer that John was not from God, or of human origin, since they were afraid of the people who regarded John as a prophet from God. This leads them to realize that it better not to answer at all. Jesus responds by refusing to answer their question, since they have shown that they do not have the authority to ask it. Since they have not opted for John, they have not opted for Jesus.

While it is true that a person will not know the answer to all questions and “I do not know” is an accepted and legitimate response because of the fragmentary nature of human knowledge, we must be careful in using “I do not know” when we really mean that we do not want to know or do not want to say. We may not want to know because the knowledge that we profess to have will demand a response from us. We may not be ready for this response and, thus, hide our closed minds under the words “I do not know”. We may not want to say because we are afraid of the consequences that our views will have, on us and, on others. We may prefer to let things be as they are rather than rock the boat and topple over ourselves.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Expectation fulfilled?


The text from Isaiah is a prophetic announcement of salvation and portrays eschatological hope even in the midst of a seemingly dire situation. The central theme of the proclamation is the renewal of creation and human salvation. These are kept together as the common goal of God’s promises. Thus God’s power will be seen not only in the fact that the desert will bring forth flowers and will rejoice and sing like humans would do, but also in the fact that the exiles who are afraid, tired and have lost hope are called to a renewed hope and courage because the Lord is indeed coming to save. All kinds of brokenness will be turned to wholeness. The blind, the deaf, the lame and the dumb will receive healing and become whole again. The return to Zion will be with joy. Sorrow will be a thing of the past.

In the last chapter of his letter and in the verses which form the text of today, James continues the theme of Isaiah in offering hope and advocating patience. In order to make his point he uses an agricultural analogy. As the farmer waits patiently, so must Christians. However, this waiting must be an active waiting which will show itself in acceptance of each other which would result in building community rather than complaints against each other which would result in breaks in community and unity. The Parousia (literally “presence” but also “the second coming of the Lord”) must be the motivating factor in this striving for unity.

The question of John the Baptist through his disciples which begins the Gospel text for today “Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?” seems to reflect a problem that John may have faced. His view of the Messiah was of one who would come with the winnowing fork to clear is threshing floor and separate the wheat from the chaff (Mt 3,12), but Jesus seemed to be behaving quite contrary to these predictions. In his reply to the disciples of John the Matthean Jesus quotes Isa 35, 5-6 and 61, 1, of which the former is clearly about signs which will accompany the coming of God himself and the latter seems to clinch the identity of Jesus as the Messiah. The prophetic vision which Isaiah expounded of a transformed society is realized in the ministry of Jesus. The questions that Jesus asks the people about John seem to be in order to make clear that John was not merely a prophet but more than a prophet. He is the one who goes before the Messiah to prepare his way as promised in Malachi. However, what is also implied is that since John went before Jesus, he (Jesus) is the Messiah.

When we look around us and notice the overwhelming poverty, injustice and corruption. When we see how nature is being destroyed and the ecological balance wantonly disturbed. When we read about how the marginalized are becoming even more so with each passing day. When we experience the brokenness that seems to be so permanent, we might be tempted like John to ask if the Messiah has indeed come and if he has then why he has not destroyed the destroyers. A further reflection reveals, however, that it is not as simple and Alexander Solzhenitsyn, in his book The Gulag Archipelago puts it very succinctly, “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” This means in other words that if good was black in colour and evil was white, every one of us would be grey. This has two implications. On the one hand it means that each one of us is broken and so a combination of good and evil and on the other hand that each one of us is responsible for the brokenness that we experience around us. Sin is within.

Once we realize this then we will be able to first understand and then adopt the attitude of Jesus who was adamant against sin but so tolerant towards sinners. This is the approach that he takes when he reaches out to make whole the blind, the lame, lepers and the deaf. This approach of making whole connects us to the prophetic vision expressed by Isaiah in the first reading of today, but in the case of Jesus it was not so much a future event as a present happening. He brought the kingdom not with a pitchfork and fire but with compassion and healing and through his cross. This connects also with the exhortation of James who tells his readers to strive for that unity and wholeness within the community through patience and understanding rather than through strife.

Are you still waiting for the Messiah? How will you show that he is present in your midst today?

The text of today is immediately after the Transfiguration and concerns the question that the disciples ask about the coming of Elijah. This question is extremely important because it concerns the authenticity of the Messiah. There are three views regarding the “WHY” of the disciples’ question. The first is: If the scribes say that Elijah must come before the Messiah comes, and if Elijah has not yet come, then can Jesus be the Messiah? The second view is that the disciples’ question was prompted by their assumption that Elijah’s appearance at the Transfiguration was itself his coming again, as prophesied by the prophet Malachi, and so the question of the disciples’ is: Why did Jesus (if he is the Messiah) appear before Elijah did, when the scribes say the order should be reversed. The third view is that Elijah was expected to come again and restore justice and teach people the meaning of true worship. If this is so, then how could the Messiah, who would come after this restoration by Elijah, be killed in the violent manner that Jesus had predicted?

The third view seems to fit the context best, since Jesus’ answer to the disciples’ question confirms this. Elijah has indeed returned and he has returned in the person of John the Baptist. His attempt to restore all things was rejected by the majority. Indeed, he was killed violently. The Messiah, who has come in Jesus, (and who comes after John) will thus suffer the same fate. It is therefore not surprising that the Messiah will be treated shamefully, rejected by the people, and killed violently. Though Jesus had not explicitly identified John the Baptist with Elijah, the disciples understood that he was speaking of John the Baptist when he spoke of Elijah having come.

Preconceived notions that we may have prevent us from seeing things as they are. We often see things, not as they are, but as we are. This is why we miss out on so much that life has to offer. What is required, in order to be able to see, is an openness and receptivity which are gifts that God gives us, if we but ask. This openness and receptivity allows us a new vision, a new insight, and a new way of seeing.


Friday, 10 December 2010

Do you regard yourself as a contented person or are you a constant complainer?

In the text of today, Jesus uses an analogy to show his view of the present generation. One group wants to play a happy game, a game of joy, a game of a wedding celebration, but the other group will not join. The first group then agrees to change the game to a game of mourning, a game of sorrow, a game of funerals, but even with this change, the other group will not participate.

The latter option corresponds to the gaunt and ascetic figure of John, whose message of coming judgment was too threatening, and whose life-style was too unworldly for the sophisticates of “this generation.” But when Jesus came in meekness, announcing the peaceable kingdom of unconditional love and forgiveness and celebrating the goodness of life with all, he was rejected as not “spiritual” enough. “This generation’s” description of Jesus as a glutton and a drunkard is reminiscent of Deut 21:20, suggesting more than merely an insult: Jesus is a rebellious Israelite worthy of stoning, one who should be executed in order to purge evil from the midst of the covenant community. For you, “the Baptist is a madman because he fasts, while you want to make merry; me you reproach because I eat with publicans, while you insist on strict separation from sinners”. You hate the preaching of repentance, and you hate the proclamation of the Gospel. The change of “all her children” found in Luke, to “her actions” in Matthew is probably because Matthew wants to identify Jesus as Wisdom incarnate and not merely as one of Wisdom’s messengers. Wisdom is proved right by her actions since they are the actions of Jesus himself.

The mother of a young boy of 10 was at her wits end when it came to dealing with him. Nothing she did would please him and he would always complain about something or other. If she fried an egg for him at breakfast, he would refuse to eat it and ask for a boiled one instead. If she boiled one the next day, he would ask for a fried egg. This went on and she had reached the end of her tether. One morning before breakfast, she thought she would be able to win and so fried one egg and boiled another. The boy came to the breakfast table, looked at both eggs, and said to his mother; “You fried the wrong one”.


Wednesday, 8 December 2010

What one action will you perform today to make Jesus known to someone who has not encountered him?

John the Baptist is clearly a precursor in the Synoptic Gospels. He is the one who goes before the Lord to prepare his way. In Matthew, John has a borderline role. John is the last and greatest of all prophets until the time of Jesus. He is indeed the one who, alone among the prophets of the Old Testament, was the forerunner of the Messiah and this is what makes him the greatest human being.

Even so, John does not belong to the new era of God’s rule inaugurated by Jesus. While on the one hand, the content of his proclamation about the kingdom is the same as that of Jesus; on the other hand, even the least in the kingdom is greater than John.

The “least” in the kingdom, who is greater than John, while it may refer to Jesus (who came after John and was “younger” than him), here seems to refer to the disciples. These are greater than John because they have the privilege of seeing the inauguration of the kingdom which John was not privileged to see. They are also the ones who recognize the Messiah and point to him more clearly than John could hope to do.

From the beginning of Jesus' ministry, the kingdom has been forcefully advancing. The Prophets and the Law prophesied until then and, implicitly, prophesied this new era. And from that time on, the fulfillment of the prophecy, the kingdom itself has been forcefully advancing. This advancement cannot be seen by those who have closed themselves to this kind of revelation and thus, the text ends with the invitation to hear.

The kingdom that Jesus inaugurated continues to advance today despite many setbacks. It is not a kingdom that advances by force or by any kind of pressure. It is a kingdom that wins over opponents by that unconditional love with which Jesus began it. We in the present generation are the fortunate ones who have been privileged to witness the kingdom. Now, it is our responsibility to point to him and make him known to those who have not yet had the privilege of encountering him as we have done.


Will you say YES to all that God wants to do through you today even when you fully cannot understand why?

The feast of the Immaculate Conception, celebrated on December 8, was established as a universal feast in 1476 by Pope Sixtus IV. He did not define the doctrine as a dogma, thus leaving Roman Catholics free to believe in it or not without being accused of heresy; this freedom was reiterated by the Council of Trent. The existence of the feast was a strong indication of the Church's belief in the Immaculate Conception, even before its 19th century definition as a dogma.

The Immaculate Conception was solemnly defined as a dogma by Pope Pius IX in his constitution Ineffabilis Deus on December 8, 1854. The Catholic Church believes that the dogma is supported by Scripture (e.g., Mary's being greeted by the Angel Gabriel as "full of grace") as well as either directly or indirectly by the writings of Church Fathers such as Irenaeus of Lyons and Ambrose of Milan. Catholic theology maintains that since Jesus became incarnate of the Virgin Mary, it was fitting that she be completely free of sin for expressing her fiat. In 1904 Pope Saint Pius X also addressed the issue in his Marian encyclical Ad Diem Illum on the Immaculate Conception.

In the Constitution Ineffabilis Deus of 8 December, 1854, Pius IX pronounced and defined that the Blessed Virgin Mary "in the first instance of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace granted by God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race, was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin."

The Gospel text chosen for the feast of today relates a scene immediately after the announcement of the birth of John the Baptist and contains the announcement of the birth of Jesus. There are many similarities in the annunciations to Mary and to Zechariah. The angel Gabriel is the one who makes both announcements. Both Zechariah and Mary are called by name and exhorted not to be afraid. Both ask a question of the angel, and it is the angel who tells them what name each child is to be given. It is the angel who predicts what each child will turn out to be. However, even as there are similarities, there are differences in the narratives. While the announcement to Zechariah comes in the Temple and as a result of his fervent prayer, the announcement to Mary comes (apparently) when she is in her home and it is unanticipated. While Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth are advanced in age, Mary has not yet stayed with her husband, and so is a virgin. The birth of John to parents who are past the age of child bearing is a miracle, but even greater is the miracle of the birth of Jesus, who would be born through the Holy Spirit, and to a virgin. Even as John the Baptist goes with the spirit and power of Elijah, Jesus will be called “Son of God”. Luke clearly wants to show John as great, but only the forerunner of the Messiah, Jesus, who is greater.

Here, too, like in the case of the announcement of the birth of John the Baptist, God intervenes in human history. Mary though betrothed or engaged to Joseph, who was of David’s family, had not yet lived with him. This she would do only after marriage, which would be one year after the betrothal. The angel greets Mary as the recipient of God’s grace. She has opened herself to the promptings of God’s Spirit. While Zechariah was gripped with fear at the very appearance of the angel, in the case of Mary, it is the angel’s greeting that perplexed her. The angel reassures Mary and makes the announcement, not only of Jesus’ birth, but of who he will be and all that he will accomplish.

In response to this announcement Mary, like Zechariah, asks a question. While both questions seem similar, it is clear that Zechariah’s question expressed doubt and asked for a sign, as is evident in the angel’s words before Zechariah is struck dumb. Mary’s question, on the other hand, is a question asked in faith. Mary did not question the truth of the revelation like Zechariah did. She asked only for enlightenment on how God would accomplish this wonderful deed. This will be accomplished in Mary through the work of God’s spirit. This is why the child will be called holy. Luke probably also intends to convey here that it is not merit on Mary’s part that obtained for her what she received, but God’s generous gift in the Spirit.

The evidence that what the angel has announced will indeed take place is the pregnancy of Elizabeth, for nothing is impossible for God. Mary responds, not merely with a Yes, but by asking that the Lord work in her to accomplish all that he wants. The annunciation would not have been complete without Mary’s trusting, obedient response.

Today, many assume that those whom God favours will enjoy the things we equate with a good life: social standing, wealth, and good health. Yet Mary, God’s favoured one, was blessed with having a child out of wedlock who would later be executed as a criminal. Acceptability, prosperity, and comfort have never been the essence of God’s blessing. The story is so familiar that we let its familiarity mask its scandal. Mary had been chosen, “favoured,” to have an important part in God’s plan to bring salvation to God’s people, but it is unthinkable that God would have forced Mary to have the child against her will. Mary is an important example, therefore, of one who is obedient to God even at great risk to self.

When we think of or reflect on Mary, the one word that comes to mind to describe her whole life is the word, AMEN, a word which may be translated, “so be it”, “your will be done”, “do whatever you want to do in my life”. This was, indeed, Mary’s constant response to every situation in her life, especially when she could not understand why things were happening the way they were. The text of today is, then, a call and challenge to each one of us, that we, too, like Mary, might be able to say YES to all that God wants to do in our lives. It is a challenge to be open and receptive to the Spirit of God, so that we, too, might be able to give birth to the Saviour in our hearts.