Translate

Thursday, 31 March 2011

Will your love for God show in your love for at least one person today?

In Matthew 22:35, the lawyer asks the question about the great commandment in order to test Jesus; in Mark he is not hostile and does not intend to test Jesus. As a matter of fact Mark mentions at the beginning of the incident that the lawyer thought that Jesus had answered the Sadducees well and at the end of that response, he commends Jesus for his answer. Jesus responds to the lawyer’s question in the words of the “Shema”, which speaks of love of God (Deut 6:5-6), but adds also the love of neighbour (Lev 19:18). The scribe’s response to this is to acknowledge Jesus’ answer as correct and to add that following these commandments is greater than sacrifices and burnt offerings. Jesus concludes the dialogue by stating that because the scribe has recognized what his priorities are, he is not far from the kingdom of God.

Love of God cannot really be separated from love of neighbour. The two go together. Our love for God is made manifest and tangible only when we reach out in love to someone else. While Paul gives a beautiful description of what love is and what it is not in 1 Corinthians 13, my own definition of love is that in love there is no “I”.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Which is the demon that has possessed you and does not leave you free? Will you attempt to get rid of that demon today?

The onlookers respond to the exorcism of a demon that made a man mute, in different ways. While there are some who are amazed, others attribute Jesus’ power to cast out demons to Beelzebul and still others ask for a sign from heaven. This is an indication that no one doubted Jesus’ power to exorcise and heal. They attributed it to different sources. In his response to this charge and test, Jesus says that since exorcisms represented a direct assault on Satan’ power and kingdom, it is clear that he cannot be on Satan’s side. Also, if Jesus’ exorcisms’ were performed by the power of Satan, the same would have to be said of other exorcists belonging to their community. Instead Jesus’ works indicate that the kingdom of God has indeed arrived. Through his exorcisms, Satan’s power is broken. In the simile of the strong man and his castle, Jesus explicates that he is the stronger one who overpowers Satan who had guarded his kingdom well till this time. Finally Jesus invites his listeners to take a stand for him. The saying here is strong. If one does not positively opt for Jesus, one has opted against him. The time now is for decision and choice.
Once he has answered his critics (11:17-23), Jesus moves on to exhort his listeners to fill their lives with the kingdom of God, because it is possible that despite the exorcism, if a person persists in his old ways, he will be possessed once again and this will be ever worse than before.

While there is no doubt that Jesus did exorcise people who were possessed by demons, we must avoid getting caught up with exorcisms ourselves. Rather, today there are many subtle forms of “possession” which are more dangerous than “external possession”. Some of these are consumerism, selfishness, ignorance and a better than thou attitude. We need to ask the Lord to exorcise these demons from our lives.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

When was the last time you performed an action without any expectation of reward? Will you perform one today?

These verses 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 fulfill 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.
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.

What would be your position if God kept a grudge against you for every sin you committed? Will you give up all your un-forgiveness today?

The text of today is the conclusion to Matthew’s “Community Discourse” (18:1-35). It begins with a question from Peter about the number of times one is expected to forgive. While Peter proposes seven times, Jesus’ response far exceeds that proposal. The number seventy-seven can be understood in this way or even as four hundred ninety (seventy times seven). The point is not so much about numbers but about forgiveness from the heart. If one has to count the number of times one is forgiving, it means that one is not really forgiving at all. The story that follows in 18:23-35 about the king who forgave his servant a debt of ten thousand talents (a talent was more than fifteen years wages of a labourer). The combination of “ten thousand” and “talents” is the greatest possible figure and indicates the unimaginable sum of money owed. An indication of how large this sum was can be seen when compared with the annual tax income for all of the territories of Herod the Great which was 900 talents per year. The point is that the debt is unpayable. The servant in his desperation asks for time to pay back the debt. Though the king knows that no matter how much time is given to the servant he will never be able to pay back what he owes, forgives him all the debt in his magnanimity and generosity. The debt of the fellow servant to him pales in comparison with his own debt to the king. Yet, if given time there was a clear possibility that the money could be repaid, because though by itself it was a large sum, it would not be impossible to repay. The servant who had been forgiven by the king will have none of it. He refuses to listen and be convinced. When the matter is reported to the king be the fellow servants, the king takes back his forgiveness because the one who was forgiven could not forgive in turn. This indicates that he had closed himself to the forgiveness of the king and not received it completely. The conclusion is frightening because it will be impossible for the first servant to repay the debt. This means that he will be tortured for eternity.

How easy it is to say “I am sorry” when we know we are in the wrong or have done something that deserves punishment. We expect to be forgiven by others when we do them harm after we have said sorry, and sometimes if they do not forgive us, we get upset with them even more. We need to apply the same yardstick to ourselves when others ask for forgiveness from us.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Have you set limits on where, when and in whom God can work? Will you leave God free? Will you let God be God?

The text begins with the words “Truly I tell you” (Lk 4:24-30) which is used six times in the Gospel of Luke and always to introduce a solemn statement. Luke alone uses it here to introduce the proverb that follows. This proverb is found also in Mark (6:4), Matthew (13:57) and John (4:44), but in a different form there. In Luke, the proverb is given in a negative form and “hometown” may also be translated as “home country”. This leads to the interpretation that Jesus will be rejected not only by the people of Nazareth (his hometown) but also by the whole of Israel (his home country).The references to Elijah and Elisha are to reinforce the statement made namely that the blessings of God were not restricted to one particular group or community but were available to all peoples. No one was excluded from the graciousness of God and from his bounty. This statement of Jesus enraged the people who were listening to him and drove Jesus out of their town. Though they were hostile to him, Jesus did not let that deter him, but continued to do what he was meant to do.

This scene suggests that the basis for their hostility toward Jesus was a difference in the way they read the Scriptures. The people of Jesus’ hometown read the Scriptures as promises of God’s exclusive covenant with them, a covenant that involved promises of deliverance from their oppressors. Jesus came announcing deliverance, but it was not a national deliverance but God’s promise of liberation for all the poor and oppressed regardless of nationality, gender, or race. When the radical inclusiveness of Jesus’ announcement became clear to those gathered in the synagogue in Nazareth, their commitment to their own community boundaries took precedence over their joy that God had sent a prophet among them. In the end, because they were not open to the prospect of others’ sharing in the bounty of God’s deliverance, they themselves were unable to receive it.

Not only is this scene paradigmatic of Jesus’ life and ministry, but it is also a reminder that God’s grace is never subject to the limitations and boundaries of any nation, church, group, or race. Those who would exclude others thereby exclude themselves. Human beings may be instruments of God’s grace for others, but we are never free to set limits on who may receive that grace. Throughout history, the gospel has always been more radically inclusive than any group, denomination, or church, so we continually struggle for a breadth of love and acceptance that more nearly approximates the breadth of God’s love. The paradox of the gospel, therefore, is that the unlimited grace that it offers so scandalizes us that we are unable to receive it. Jesus could not do more for his hometown because they were not open to him. How much more might God be able to do with us if we were ready to transcend the boundaries of community and limits of love that we ourselves have erected?

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Will you like the Samaritan woman make Jesus known by the deeds of your life?

At first glance, it might seem that because of the mention of water in the first reading and the Gospel, the theme of today centers around water. However, it goes much deeper. It goes as deep as the immanent presence of God who is not only with and around us, but also within us.

This story of Moses bringing water from a rock is similar to the one in Num 20:2-13, where Moses and Aaron are denied entry into the land because of their lack of trust in God when Moses after striking the rock twice, brought water from a rock. The story in Exodus, which is the first reading of today, relates two place names associated with this miracle to Israel's contention or quarreling with Moses (Meribah) and their putting God to the test (Massah). The grumbling of the people reflected their general attitude. Even though they were freed from oppression and led by God through the wilderness, they still complained. Blessings were not enough. They wanted their needs and desires fulfilled immediately! This attitude of the people stood in stark contrast to the immanent and constant presence of the Lord. The testing of God is summed up in the last sentence of the text: “Is the Lord among us or not?”

If anyone doubted that God is indeed with us and in Jesus could cut through any barriers that may have been set up, Paul reminds the Roman community of one overriding fact: "Christ, while we were still helpless, died for the ungodly....God proves his love for us in that, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." If Jesus entered our lives while we were enemies of God and sinners, how can anything we do later take Him out of our lives? He lives in us constantly.

This also means therefore that no place, event, time or person is unworthy of God’s salvation, and Jesus' conversation with the Samaritan woman makes this abundantly clear. This incident is perhaps one of the most unusual of all those reported in the New Testament. The conversation would surprise his contemporaries. By engaging in a dialogue with the Samaritan woman, Jesus broke two clear boundaries that had been set up. The first, which was between Jews and Samaritans, and the second, between male and female. Yet John tells it to reinforce the theme that in Jesus who is the source of living water God continues to be present to all irrespective of caste, creed, race, colour or gender and he is available freely.
In explaining how this was possible, Jesus compared the water from Jacob's well with his living water. The water drawn from Jacob's well, would satisfy only physical thirst. Lack of this water would thus cause thirst again. However, the living water Jesus offered truly satisfied, because it gave eternal life. Jesus painted the image of an artesian spring, water leaping up in an inexhaustible supply, leaping up into life everlasting. The woman understood only in part. She desired eternal life, but only as a continuation of her present existence. She did not realize that the reception of God's gift required her to look to the giver. Even when she did look, all she saw was a prophet, one who worshipped at the Jerusalem Temple. She, being a Samaritan had her own centre of worship. Jesus corrects this misunderstanding by inviting her to realize that the time was fast approaching when the location of worship would be irrelevant. Indeed, in the presence of Jesus, that time had arrived. He revealed himself to her in the words, “I AM”, and through this revelation, which here is absolute and with no predicate, showed her God as someone who is present and acts in this world. Jesus is the one in whom God is seen and known. Now the woman knew. Gender, nationality, and moral standing did not matter. Only the Spirit mattered.

The challenge of the texts of today is therefore to realize that openness like Jesus has shown, is necessary, if the Church is to continue the revelation that Jesus made. All too often exclusivism on the part of the Church and a closed attitude to those of different orientations has led to their being pushed away from Jesus rather than being drawn to him. They also point out that with healthy dialogue, understanding and insights can be gained. Through the dialogue Jesus had with her, the Samaritan woman’s expectations were fulfilled and exceeded and the Samaritans from the city recognized the Saviour of the world. If, we as Church realize this, then we can lead people to the immediate experience of Jesus, which is and continues to be both a gift and a task.

Friday, 25 March 2011

 How would you define your relationship with God? What names do you use to address God? What does this tell you about your relationship?

The setting for the Parable of the Prodigal son (more correctly called “The Prodigal father”) is the same as at the beginning of Chapter 15 and concerns the murmuring of the Pharisees and scribes because Jesus eats with “tax collectors and sinners.”
Direct taxes (poll tax, land tax) were collected by tax collectors employed by the Romans, while tolls, tariffs, and customs fees were collected at toll houses by toll collectors, the group that appears frequently in the Gospels and is not entirely accurately identified as “tax collectors.” Toll collectors paid in advance for the right to collect tolls, so the system was open to abuse and corruption. The toll collectors were often not natives of the area where they worked, and their wealth and collusion with the Roman oppressors made them targets of scorn.
Those designated as “sinners” by the Pharisees would have included not only persons who broke the moral laws but also those who did not maintain the ritual purity practiced by the Pharisees. The scandal was that Jesus received such outcasts, shared table fellowship with them, and even played host to them.
The beginning of the Parable which speaks of “two sons” indicates that the focus is on their relationship to the Father and not to each other as “brothers”. The demand of the younger son is disrespectful and irregular. There is no rationale here. He was breaking family ties and treating his father as if he were already dead. The father divides his life among them. As soon as the younger son receives his share, there is a progressive estrangement. He goes into a far away country which indicates gentile land and mismanages the money given to him. He spends it all on loose living. His descent into poverty and deprivation is swift. He descends as low as to agree to work for a gentile and in a gentile land. Swine were an abomination to Jews, and they were prohibited from raising swine anywhere. The man who would dare to breed swine was considered cursed. Human beings even ate carob pods, which were used as animal fodder, in times of famine. This is an indication of the complete destitution of the younger son. He comes to his senses when he is at the depth of his degradation and in the midst of mire and filth.
There are four parts to the speech that the younger son prepares
1. An address – “Father”
2. A confession – “I have sinned”
3. Contrition – “I am no longer worthy”
4. A Petition – “treat me as one of your hired servants.
The journey begins with coming to himself and ends with his going to his Father. It means learning to say ABBA again, putting one’s whole trust in the heavenly Father, returning to the Father’s house and the Father’s arms. That the younger son is serious about his return is shown in his action. He gets up from the mire and begins the return to his father.
The father’s response is mind boggling. While the son is still a long way off, he runs to meet him. In the first century it was considered undignified for grown men to run. The father sets aside respect and dignity. His only focus is his son. The son begins his speech but is not allowed to complete it. The father interrupts his son even before he can finish. He gives instructions to his servants for a robe, ring and sandals all of which indicate that the son is given back his original place as son. The call to kill the fatted calf is a sign that the return of the son is to be regarded as a time of celebration. The dead son has come alive, the lost son has been found.
Even as the celebration is on, the elder son is introduced. When he is informed about the reason for the celebration, he sulks and refuses to enter the house. Like in the case of his younger son, the father goes to meet his elder son. However, while he does not have to plead with the younger son, he does so with the elder son. The elder son does not address his father as “Father”, nor does he refer to his brother as “brother”. His argues his case on the grounds of merit and what he thinks he rightfully deserves. Even as he does this, he points to the failings of the younger son. What then is the point of being good?
In his response to the elder son, the father first addresses his son as “Son” though he was not addressed as “Father” and also reminds him that the younger son is also his brother. Reconciliation for the younger son meant reconciliation with his father, but for the elder son it means reconciliation with his brother. There is thus both the vertical dimension and the horizontal dimension of reconciliation.

Much of the fascination of this parable lies in its ability to resonate with our life experiences: adolescent rebellion; alienation from family; the appeal of the new and foreign; the consequences of foolish living; the warmth of home remembered; the experience of self-encounter, awakening, and repentance; the joy of reunion; the power of forgiveness; the dynamics of “brotherly love” that leads to one brother’s departure and the other’s indignation; and the contrast between relationships based on merit and relationships based on faithful love.
Unfortunately, we usually learn to demand our rights before we learn to value our relationships. The younger son was acting within his rights, but he was destroying his closest relationships in the process. How many times a week will a parent hear one child say to another, “This is mine. Give it to me”? Children quickly learn to demand their rights, but it often takes much longer for them to learn how to maintain relationships. Governments and law courts defend our civil rights, but how do we learn to defend our civil and familial relationships?
From a distance, the “far country” can be very appealing. Young people leave home for fast living. Spouses move out to form liaisons with exciting new partners. The glow that surrounds the far country is a mirage, however. Home never looks as good as when it is remembered from the far country.
The journey home begins with coming to oneself. That means that the most difficult step is the first one. The younger son had to face himself in the swine pen of his own making before he faced his father on the road. Pride can keep us from admitting our mistakes; self-esteem may require us to take decisive action to set right the things we have done wrong.
Although the opportunity to restore relationships and remedy wrongs begins with coming to oneself, it requires more. We must go to the person we have wronged. Was the younger son just seeking to improve his situation, or was he seeking reconciliation with his father? The direct confession in his interior monologue confirms the sincerity of his intent. Neither the younger son’s pride nor his shame mattered as much as his need to restore his relationship to his father. He did not ask for his filial privileges to be restored. He did not even ask for forgiveness. He merely stated his confession. When the prodigal son came to himself, he came to his father. . . .
The temptation a parent faces is to allow the child’s separation to become reciprocal. If the child separates from the parent, the parent may be tempted to respond in kind. The parable’s model of parental love insists, however, that no matter what the son/daughter has done he/she is still son/daughter. When no one else would even give the prodigal something to eat, the father runs to him and accepts him back. Love requires no confession and no restitution. The joyful celebration begins as soon as the father recognized the son’s profile on the horizon.
Insofar as we may see God’s love reflected in the response of the waiting father, the parable reassures all who would confess, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.” The father runs to meet his son even before the son can voice his confession, and the father’s response is far more receptive than the son had dared even to imagine. The father’s celebration conveys the joy in heaven. The picture is one of sheer grace. No penance is required; it is enough that the son has come home.
If this is the picture of God’s joy in receiving a sinner coming home, then it can also give assurance of God’s love to those who face death wondering how God will receive them. In the end we all return home as sinners, so Jesus’ parable invites us to trust that God’s goodness and mercy will be at least as great as that of a loving human father.
The elder brother represents all of us who think we can make it on our own, all of us who might be proud of the kind of lives we live. Here is the contrast between those who want to live by justice and merit and those who must ask for grace. The parable shows that those who would live by merit can never know the joy of grace. We cannot share in the Father’s grace if we demand that he deal with us according to what we deserve. Sharing in God’s grace requires that we join in the celebration when others are recipients of that grace also. Part of the fellowship with Christ is receiving and rejoicing with others who do not deserve our forgiveness or God’s grace. Each person is of such value to God, however, that none is excluded from God’s grace. Neither should we withhold our forgiveness.
The parable leaves us with the question of whether the elder brother joined the celebration. Did he go in and welcome his brother home, or did he stay outside pouting and feeling wronged? The parable ends there because that is the decision each of us must make. If we go in, we accept grace as the Father’s rule for life in the family.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

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

The Annunciation of the Lord is the beginning of Jesus in his human nature. Through his mother and her courageous YES, Jesus became a human being. The point of the Annunciation is to stress that Jesus did not come down from heaven as an “avatar” but rather that in every sense of the word; he was totally and completely human. Another related point is that God “needs” the co-operation of human beings to complete the plans god has for the world. One of the most beautiful examples of co-operating with God is that of Mary and her unconditional Amen.

The text chosen for the feast is that of the Annunciation as narrated by Luke. It relates the 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.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Is my faith mere “lip service”? What prevents me from “acting” out my faith? Did the brothers get the message? How would you like to conclude the story? Place yourself in the position of the rich man’s brothers’ and write down what you would do to ensure that you do not suffer the same fate as the rich man.

The parable of today has often been titled as the parable of “Dives and Lazarus”. It can be seen to be divided into three parts. If in the first part the focus is on rich man’s (who is not named. The term “dives” in Latin means “rich”) opulence and wealth, in the second part it is on his death and burial. In the third part which is the longest there is for the first time in the story, a dialogue. It is between the rich man and Abraham and is the climax of the story.
The story begins by describing the rich man and his dress and food. The “purple and fine linen” may signify that he was a high ranking official, since the Romans had set standards regarding who could wear purple and how much purple they could wear. In contrast to the rich man there is a poor man who is named Lazarus. He is the only character in Jesus’ parables to be given a name. The name Lazarus means “God helps”. The fact that he is at the gate of the rich man’s house signifies that though the rich man could see Lazarus, he was not aware of his existence. He is so caught up in his world of material things that this results in his inability to see reality right before him. Lazarus would have been content with the bread which was used to wipe the grease from the hand of the one eating and then thrown under the table. However, even this he did not receive. Instead, dogs fed off his sores.
The death of Lazarus is no surprise. However, the detail that is added is that Lazarus is carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham. This detail brings to mind that God indeed comes to Lazarus’ help. The death of the rich man is described in a short sentence which brings out strikingly the transient nature of all his opulence and wealth.


In the third part, there is dialogue between the rich man and Abraham. Lazarus does not speak at all. He is in the bosom of Abraham. Being “in the bosom” of Abraham may imply that Lazarus was the honoured guest at the eschatological banquet, feasting while the rich man was in torment. In the request that the rich man makes of Abraham to let Lazarus dip the tip of his finger in water to cool his tongue, he calls Lazarus by name which indicates that he knew who Lazarus was and yet refused to look at him on earth as a person. In his response, Abraham reminds the rich man of his and Lazarus’ past and of the chasm that separated them then, but which had been erected by the rich man, and which still separates them now. It is admirable that even in his torment the rich man can think of others (even if they be members of his own immediate family). He makes a second request of Abraham to send Lazarus as a messenger to warn his brothers. Abraham responds that the brothers have already received enough and more instruction and if they have not heeded that they will not heed another. The rich man tries one final time to convince Abraham to send Lazarus as one who has gone back from the dead. Abraham responds by telling the rich man that for those who believe no proof is necessary and for those who do not no proof is sufficient.

The rich man in the story is so caught with the things of the world and with his own self interests that these prevent him from even becoming aware of the needs of another. A number of questions to which there are no easy answers are raised by this parable and we must keep reflecting on them constantly if we are not to lose touch with reality.

Can I be accused of sins of lack of concern, inability to assess the reality of situations, closing my eyes and ears to the injustices around me, being caught up in my own small world? Does my reflection on sin include “sins of omission”?
Is my attitude towards those less fortunate than I one of condescension? Or do I regard them as persons like myself?

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

When you are being introduced by a friend to a stranger how would you want your friend to introduce you?

The text (Mt 20: 17-28)begins with what is known as the third and final Passion and Resurrection prediction in Matthew’s Gospel. This is the most detailed of the three and Matthew specifies crucifixion as the manner in which Jesus will be put to death. However, Jesus is not simply a passive victim, his death is in obedience to the will of God and he will let nothing and no one come in the way of this obedience. Even as he speaks of his death, Jesus also predicts his being raised on the third day.
If in Mark, it is the brothers James and John who make of Jesus the request for places of honour (Mk 10:35-37), in Matthew, it is the mother of the sons of Zebedee (Matthew does not name the brothers since he wants to spare them this ignominy) who comes with the request on behalf of her sons. The right hand and left hand symbolize places of honour and authority. In his response, Jesus does not address the mother or even James and John, but all the disciples. In contrast to Mark who mentions both the cup and baptism, Matthew focuses exclusively on the cup of suffering, testing, rejection, judgement and violent death. The metaphor “cup” here seems to refer to the death ordained by God which is willingly accepted by the one who is to go to his death. The disciples’ bravado and willingness to drink the cup is only verbal and not one which they can show in their deeds. Though Jesus is aware of this, he looks beyond their failure and invites them to share his cup. However, even martyrdom does not gain one a special place in the kingdom because not even Jesus will be able to assign such places. These are the exclusive prerogative of God.
The request of the mother of the sons of Zebedee leads to anger on the part of the other ten. This anger indicates that they too like the mother (and the two brothers) had not really understood Jesus’ way of proceeding. Jesus thus has to teach them yet again the meaning of discipleship, authority and service in the kingdom. The king in the kingdom is not a ruler but one who serves, the Lord does not lord it over others but is their slave. By adding “Just as” before the final verse here, Matthew makes Jesus as the model whom the disciples are called to imitate.

The desire to be in charge and dominate others is a very real desire and most of us possess it. Some in large measure others in small, but it is there. We like others to follow our instructions and do what we tell them and feel upset or angry if they do not obey. Too easily we judge people by the titles they have or the positions they occupy in society and this leads to a desire in each of us to want to possess those titles or occupy those positions. We identify ourselves and others too much by these external titles and do not look at other more important areas of their lives and ours. The text of today calls us to review our need for titles and positions of honour and spend ourselves instead in service.

Will you let people hear what you do rather than what you say? How?

Jesus here addresses the people and his disciples and speaks of the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees. Scribes were a professional class with formal training. They were schooled in the tradition and its application to current issues. Pharisees were a group within Judaism defined by strictly religious rules, composed mostly of laypersons without formal theological training. Some scribes were also Pharisees, but few Pharisees were scribes. Moses’ seat is a metaphorical expression representing the teaching and administrative authority of the synagogue leadership, scribes and Pharisees. Jesus condemns only the practice of the scribes and Pharisees and not their teaching. The Matthean Jesus makes three points about the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees. The first is that “they say but do not do”, which means that there was no consonance between their words and actions. They did not act on their words. The second is that “they burden while failing to act themselves” which means that they lay law upon law upon the people and make life so much more complicated than it really is, and the third is that “they act for the wrong reasons: to make an impression on others”. This they did by wearing broader phylacteries. “Phylacteries” is the term Matthew uses for the “tephillin”, which were small leather boxes containing portions of the Torah (Exod 13:1-16; Deut 6:4-9; 11:13-32) strapped to the forehead and arm during the recitation of prayers in literal obedience to Deut 6:8. The “tassels” were attached to the prayer shawls, and the most important seats in the synagogue refer to the place of honour at the front facing the congregation, occupied by teachers and respected leaders. The term “Rabbi” was a title of honour. The Scribes and Pharisees wanted to be noticed, commended and honoured more than to pray.
In contrast the disciples of Jesus ought not to go for external titles and especially those which heighten distinction since they were brothers and sisters and there was to be no greater and smaller among them. They were to be one in God who alone is father. Authority and leadership were to be expressed in selfless service.

It is easy to say, but difficult to do, it is easy to preach but difficult to practice. There must be a correlation between our words and our actions. The way to ensure that there is a correlation between the two is to first do and then say, or better to let people hear not what we say but what we do. This doing, if it is to be regarded as a genuine work of love must be done not to earn titles or the approval or commendation but because one is a disciple of Jesus who has shown through his life and actions what true leadership means.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

How often have you done something for someone else without any expectation whatever? Will you do something like this today?

The injunction to “be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” which begins the text of today (Lk 6:36)adapts the Old Testament command to “be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy” (Lev 19:2), which in the Sermon on the Mount of Matthew has become “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:48). Whereas this injunction stands at the conclusion of the six antitheses in Matthew 5, here it concludes the section on love for one’s enemy by placing the challenge to be merciful in a theological context. Just as God’s love for all is indiscriminate, so must the love of the true disciple be. If love is given only in return for love, it is not love at all. To be called love, it must be unconditional.
The next two verses move to the theme of not judging and not condemning. The reason for this is that the one who does not judge and condemn will not be judged or condemned him/herself. Instead, the disciple of Jesus is called to forgive and let go of hurts and resentments as these block the receipt of pardon and forgiveness that is freely available from God. The section ends with a call to a kind of giving which does not count the cost, but which gives generously and freely. The result of such giving will be God’s unbounded generosity.

Mercy, forgiveness and love are in short supply today. Most relationships between people are built on what one can gain from the other and how the relationship will help one. It is rare to see (even in relationships between members of one family) selflessness and generosity. Yet, this is what Jesus calls the disciple to and expects that the disciple will live such a generous life.

Never say never again

There is a common thread which runs through all three readings of today (Gen 12:1-4a; 2 Tim:1, 8b-10; Mt 17:1-9). All of them speak of grace given freely and without reserve. This gift of grace is promised to Abram in the promise of a new land, descendants sufficient to people a great nation and participation in God’s life. Abram becomes the means through which God’s saving grace will bless all the families of the earth. God takes the initiative and his gratuitousness alone is responsible for this. Abram has done nothing to achieve this blessing. What Abram (noble father) will become (Abraham – father of a multitude) is the result of God’s grace and not Abram’s effort. This point is reiterated by Paul in the second reading of today in which he states that the grace in Christ was given freely before the beginning of time, and further, it has been revealed in its fullness in the coming of Jesus. In Christ, this grace takes the form not merely of new land and progeny, but of new life in his victory over death itself and the proclamation of immortality. It is revealed to the three disciples Peter, James and John and to all others who dare to go up to the mountain, in the transfigured body of Jesus. Thus, in Jesus, we are promised even more than was promised to Abram. We are offered the gift of life and victory over death as the early disciples, and we are being invited into the presence of the same glory as that seen by Peter, James, and John.

Three enormous offers of grace given freely and in abundance … and we hear them as we have heard them so many times before, and hardly pay heed. Grace? Free? What is it that keeps us from grabbing this offer wholeheartedly? Do we not trust it? Do we think it too simple or too na├»ve? Is it that we don’t know what’s good for us? One would think that if we were given a choice between something good and something bad we would choose the good. But in human beings there is a mysterious streak of self-denial that runs through our nature so that given the choice between life and death we often settle for the easy familiarity of death rather than the risky pleasures of really living.

We find ourselves always in a mixture of life and death. Some things in us are thriving, are growing, and are bearing fruit. Some things in us are drooping, are fading, and are shriveling up. And for some reason we get mesmerized by death and let life pass us by. We seem to think that death is more real than life, more to be trusted, more fitting for humble people. But the words of Paul do not allow us to do that: “He (Christ Jesus) abolished death, and he has proclaimed life and immortality through the Good News”. It is thus a matter of life and death.

It is Abram at seventy-five and childless who sets out on what seems at first glance as a ridiculous journey to new land, new family, and new life. Timothy knows only too well that the promise of life is made in the middle of the hardship that the gospel entails. And Jesus stands on a mountain top, glowing with glory, alive as no one had ever been before, precisely between prophesies of his death. The same Jesus who will at the end of his Lent go to his death and in it and through it finds life for us all. On the mountain of Transfiguration, Jesus trusted life and trusted what God was doing for him.
Peter, James and John realized on the mountain that they were dealing with a reality that reached beyond human experience. They were dealing here, not merely with a social reformer or a political visionary; they were dealing with a man who had a unique relationship with God. The intensity of that relation was obvious to all on the mountain.
However, not only were they permitted to experience a new dimension of Jesus, but they also hear a voice from heaven that applies that dimension to them: "This is my chosen Son; listen to Him." The implication is that anyone who forms a relationship with God's Son will one day share in the transfiguration of God's Son. The good news is good news for the whole human race, not reserved for the elite few. So the apostles had to come down from the mountain with Jesus. As much as they may have wanted, they could not stay there.

If we are to be transfigured by his message we must do strange and sometimes painful things indeed: like forgiving our enemies and praying for those whom we think have hurt us, maintaining hope in a world that sometimes seems hopeless, turning the other cheek not as an act of cowardice but courage, giving generously to those in need even from the little we have, and so on. This is where the shadow of the cross intrudes in a practical way. The message learned on the mountain must be lived in the valleys. Through living his message we are being gradually transfigured. But we hold out the hope that some day all will be utterly transfigured. But we must leave the choosing of that day to him. Our challenge is to remain with Christ on whatever mountain, or in whatever valley, we find ourselves. Because we are assured that he will be there waiting for us.

Friday, 18 March 2011

How often has the expectation of some “reward” been your motivation for “doing good”? Will you “do good” without any expectation of reward today?

In the last of the six antitheses, Matthew focuses on the love command. . While there is no command to hate the enemy in the Old Testament, yet, there are statements that God hates all evildoers and statements that imply that others do or should do the same. Jesus, makes explicit here the command to love enemies. This is the behaviour expected of a true disciple of Jesus. They cannot merely love those who love them, since one does not require to be a disciple to do this. Everyone, even the vilest of people can do this. The conduct of the disciples of Jesus must reveal who they are really are, namely “sons and daughters of God”.
The command to “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” does not mean to be without faults, but means to be undivided in love as God is undivided in love.
The love we have for others is more often than not a conditional love. We indulge in barter exchange and term it love. We are willing to do something for someone and expect that they do the same or something else in return. It is a matter of “give”, but also a matter of “take”. When Jesus asks us to be like the heavenly Father, he is calling us to unconditional love.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

How many times were you angry yesterday? Will you attempt to make it one less time today?

The righteousness of the disciples of Jesus must exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees whose standard of religious piety and practice was high. These of course did what they did only to be seen by people and to show off their piety. The disciples are called not merely to avoid being hypocritical.
In the six antitheses (5:21-48) that follow, Matthew shows what it means in practice for the righteousness of the disciples to exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees. Each of the six begins with what was said of old and what Jesus is now saying. In these verses (5:21-26) Matthew narrates first of the six, which is about the Torah’s prohibition of murder (Exodus 20:13; Deut 5:18). The supplementary “whoever murders shall be liable to judgement” is not found verbatim anywhere in the Old Testament, and seems to have been added by Matthew to introduce the word “judgement” which he uses in the next verse. After stating the law and adding a supplementary, the Matthean Jesus then radicalises the law and calls for an interiorization of it (5:22). The call seems to be to submit one’s thoughts about other people, as well as the words they give rise to, to God’s penetrating judgement. It is a call to realize that God wills not only that human beings not kill each other but also that there be no hostility between human beings. The next verses (5:23-26) are an application of what Jesus says. Reconciliation is even more important than offering worship and sacrifice. The disciples are called to work for reconciliation in the light of the eschatological judgement toward which they are journeying.

If we come to worship God and there are feelings of anger, revenge or hatred in our hearts, then our worship remains incomplete. It is only an external worship and not true worship. God does not need our adoration, but if want to adore him it must also come from within.

Pray for Japan

Let us admire the resilience on the people of Japan and keep them in our prayers.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

How will you live out the Golden Rule today?

The text of today (Mt 7:7-12) consists of three imperatives: Ask, Seek and Knock. These imperatives are based on three unconditional promises: you will receive, you will find and it will be opened. While the point made here is of perseverance in prayer and not giving up it is not the focal point. The reason for this perseverance is God’s goodness and gratuitousness. Thus, it is not human asking, seeking and knocking that is the focal point, but God, who remains the actor. The reason why humans must ask, seek and knock is in order to acknowledge their dependence on God. Ultimately it is always God who is in control. That this is the point that Matthew makes is clear in the explanation that follows. If human fathers who are weak, frail and selfish themselves would never give their children anything that would be to their detriment, how much more will God give what is good to those who acknowledge their dependence on him by asking?
The last verse of today is what is known as “The Golden Rule’ and serves as the conclusion not just to this section but to the whole Sermon. The addition here of the clause “for this is the law and prophets” results in this verse forming an inclusion with the similar clause in 5:17 which began the theme of the Sermon. Also by adding the words “In everything” before the rule, Matthew makes it all inclusive. There are numerous parallels to the Golden rule but most of them are stated in the negative form. Here it is positive; “do to others as you have them do to you”. This is initiatory and not retaliatory or reciprocal. It means in other words that the disciple is the one who takes the initiative in doing always the most loving thing to others.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

What sign are you seeking from the Lord? Will you believe in His love even without this sign?

Jesus’ debate with the crowd following the exorcism of the demon that made a man mute (11:14-16) continues. One of the challenges posed by some in the crowd was to demand from Jesus a sign from heaven. The response of Jesus is not to give in to their demand for a sign. A similar saying is also found in Matthew (12:38-42) which indicates that both Matthew and Luke have taken it from the “Q” source {Mark also has the episode of the demand for a sign and Jesus’ response (Mk 8:11-12), but it is much shorter and does not have the details found in both Matthew and Luke}. However, Luke has so formulated the response of Jesus, that it forms an inclusion. It begins and ends with Jonah. Through this, Luke has associated Jonah’s preaching with Solomon’s wisdom. Since Luke makes this association, for him the sign of Jonah was not Jonah’s being in the belly of the whale for three days and three nights (Mt 12:40), but the call to repentance that Jonah preached. As the people of Nineveh repented after the call by Jonah, so Jesus calls the crowd to repentance after his proclamation. The Queen of Sheba, or the Queen of the South, journeyed from her kingdom in southwest Arabia to test the reports she had heard of Solomon’s wisdom (1 Kgs 10:1-13; 2 Chr 9:1-12). When she had tested Solomon with “hard questions” (1 Kgs 10:1), she was convinced of the wisdom God had given to him and blessed the Lord who had set Solomon on the throne of Israel (1 Kgs 10:9). At the judgment, therefore, she also would rise to condemn that wicked generation because they had one who was greater than Solomon, and they did not hear him.
Jesus thus refuses to give the crowds any other sign, because any demand for a sign meant that they have not understood what Jesus was about, and what his mission was. Jesus also knew that for those who believe, no sign is necessary, whereas for those who do not, no sign is sufficient.

The call to repentance is a call to look at everything in a new light. The old is past, the new has come with the coming of Jesus. If one persists in the old way of looking which is a way of finding God only in miraculous and spectacular events, one will miss him. Now he can be found in all things and all things can be found in him.

Monday, 14 March 2011

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?

The three chapters beginning from Mt 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.

Will the life of one person be better today because of you?

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.

How will you celebrate today your call to be a disciple of Jesus?

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, 12 March 2011

Let the season be for you a season in which you will Leave Everything Negative Thing.

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 as part of these forty days, since Sundays commemorate the Resurrection of the Lord.

While Lent means the spring season, it translates the Latin term “quadragesima” which means “forty days” or literally the “fortieth day”. The forty day period is symbolic of the forty days that Jesus spent in the desert, a detail mentioned by all the synoptic gospels. “By the solemn forty days of Lent the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert." (CCC 540).

In all three of the synoptic gospels the scene of the temptation of Jesus in the desert, follows immediately after the baptism and thus must be seen in connection with it. In Matthew, at the baptism of Jesus, the voice from heaven speaks in the third person and so reveals Jesus as Servant King to the people. The temptation scene which follows is therefore about whether Jesus will be faithful to this mission entrusted to him or whether he will cave in and give up. It is a lesson on how this revealed Messiah conquers every kind of temptation that comes in the way of being who he is, and so conquers Satan as well. The disobedience of the first human beings is set right through the obedience of Jesus. The temptation of Jesus is fundamentally the same as the temptation of Adam and Eve: to become one’s own god. By overcoming the same temptation that the first human beings had, Jesus brought to the fore both the field and the focus of his mission: liberation from sin and its destructive and enslaving effects.

Of the three Synoptic gospels, Mark does not narrate the “three temptations”, only Matthew and Luke do. However, the order of the second and third temptations is different in these Gospels. It seems that Luke has changed the order to have as the third temptation the challenge to Jesus to jump down from the pinnacle of the Temple. This allows Luke to have the climactic scene to occur at the Temple where his Gospel begins and ends.

The temptations in Matthew begin after the forty day period of fasting, and while the presence of the Spirit with him during these days will have strengthened him, the physical fast will have made Jesus hungry.

The first temptation is addressed directly to this aspect, but has deeper overtones. It is about the means that Jesus will use to fulfill his mission. By asking Jesus to turn “stones” (not “this stone” as in Luke) into bread, the temptation is not merely about alleviating Jesus’ hunger, but also about conforming to the popular expectations of the Messiah as one who would provide for the material needs of the people. While Matthew does narrate two feeding miracles (14:15-21; 15:32-38), the response of Jesus here is that true nourishment comes not merely from physical bread that is eaten but from obedience to God’s word.

The second temptation seems to concern sensationalism and probably even a desire to “test” God’s providence. Jesus responds by quoting Deut 6:16 that he will refuse to test divine providence. He will trust completely and needs no proof of God’s providence. He does not need God to give him a sign.

The third temptation is the offer to Jesus of “all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them”. This is a challenge to accept the ways of the world namely: to use domination rather than service, to accept selfishness rather than selflessness and to be crowned with gold rather than thorns. Jesus’ response is to reaffirm the mission he received at his baptism and to refuse to follow anything else except the will of his father. Here, however, before Jesus can quote the scripture to disprove Satan, he adds his own words, “Begone, Satan!” (not in Luke) through which Matthew indicates that Satan has indeed been defeated and though Jesus and his disciples will continue to be tempted, Satan will not have the same power.

Someone once said to me tongue in cheek, “The best way to overcome temptation is to give in.” While we might smile at the humour we also realize that while this was what our first parents did, it was not the way of Jesus. The overcoming of the temptations by Jesus stands in stark contrast to the first human beings capitulating to the guiles of Satan as narrated by the first reading. This is the theme of Paul’s hymn to God’s unconditional love and grace. Through his overcoming sin and therefore death, Jesus has attained for all humans for all time the grace of God. He is the one who justifies us. No one will now condemn.

Unlike the first human beings who disobeyed God and in their pride tried to define for themselves what was good and evil, Jesus continued to remain obedient and because he was confident of his intimate relationship with the Father did not need any miraculous signs of that presence. Nor did Jesus have to prove his own status by being a wonder working, spectacular and dominating King. His kingdom will come through service, selflessness, helplessness and through the cross.

Friday, 11 March 2011

How will you celebrate today your call to be a disciple of Jesus?

The call of Levi the toll collector and his response to that call is the text for today. Toll collectors like Levi was were those individuals who paid the Roman authorities in advance for the right to collect tolls. Since they decided the value of the goods being brought in, they could abuse the system and many did. Due to this also because they were seen as colluding with the Romans, they were despised by the people and made targets of scorn and ridicule. The calling of Levi is a revolutionary act on the part of Jesus. When almost everyone else would have seen Levi as a thief and corrupt individual, Jesus was able to see him as a potential disciple. This is an indication not only of the deep insight into people that Jesus had but also of God’s grace which is given without any merit on the part of the individual. It is a gift and not earned but gifted.
Levi on his part accepts this call. He leaves “everything” for the privilege of following Jesus. Luke’s Gospel alone mentions the word “everything” to stress the total sacrifice that Levi was called to and made. It is an indication that he left his old way of life behind to take on a new kind of life that Jesus was calling him to. He then arose and followed Jesus. The sequence of the actions of Levi is interesting. He gets up and follows, only after giving up.
Levi then gives a feast in his own house to celebrate his call. The scribes and Pharisees complain about the scandal of sitting at table with tax collectors and sinners. By doing so those who sat at table with them were making themselves unclean, but they were also showing social acceptance of a group that was considered as outcasts. Jesus’ response is in and through a proverb and a statement. It is obvious that the services of a physician are required by those who are sick not be those who are well. The mission of Jesus is very clearly directly to those who need him: the sinners. Repentance is not the condition for following Jesus; it is his purpose for coming into the world. He has come in order that sinners might be transformed.

The call which Jesus made to his disciples and here to Levi is startling brief: “Follow me”. This is because his call was a call to a personal commitment to him. It was not a call to a set of values or principles. It was not a call to any kind of philosophy or theology. It was not a call to a particular political programme. It was a call that had as its base and origin Jesus himself. The only reward that one could expect from such a following was that others would be drawn to Jesus because of one’s own commitment and perseverance.
The call is made here to Levi, who was considered as an outcast and one who was beyond the bounds of God’s mercy. This indicates that no one is excluded from the Mission of Jesus. Everyone has a place, all are called. Like Levi it is important to give up the former way of life and then to get up and follow. This requires God’s grace surely, but also human response.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Do you often do the right thing at the wrong time or the wrong thing at the right time?

The question of fasting is raised by the disciples of John the Baptist. They want to know why they and the Pharisees follow the rule of fasting, but the disciples of Jesus do not. Jesus’ first response is that the guests at a wedding do not fast at the wedding. It would be absurd to do so. Since the coming of the kingdom has often been portrayed as a messianic banquet, Matthew seems to want to insist that Jesus is the messianic bridegroom and with his coming the wedding feast has begun. There will be a time when the bridegroom is taken away and that will be the time to fast. The “taking away” of the bridegroom refers to the death of Jesus.

The book of Ecclesiastes points out wisely that “there is a time for everything”. There is a time for feasting and a time for fasting. But here is the rub: To know which time is for which. Even as we discern about the times for suitable actions, we must keep in mind that rules and regulations can never be ends in themselves. They are only means to an end. All rules are at the service of humans no matter how good or noble they may be. If the rule becomes an end in itself, it loses its relevance and meaning. Also, if following the rule makes one less tolerant of others and leads to pointing out the faults of others, then it may be better to give it up.

At the end of today will you consider your life as having been one that has been worthily lived?

On the day following Ash Wednesday, the church makes explicit through the choice of the readings what the overarching theme of the season will be. It has to do with suffering, the cross and death, which here, is not primarily physical death, but death to self and the ego.
This is seen clearly in the first passion and resurrection prediction in the Gospel of Luke which is part of the text for today. Like in the other two synoptic gospels, the prediction in Luke appears immediately after Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ. Immediately following Peter’s confession Jesus sternly commands the disciples not to tell anyone of this. This is because he does not want to be misunderstood as a glorious and triumphant Messiah or as one who will come conquering, but as a Messiah who will suffer and die. This is because God has ordained it and Jesus will always be obedient to God’s commands.
Anyone who wishes to follow Jesus must be of the same mind. The first saying on discipleship which follows emphasizes not so much the readiness to die for Jesus as much as the courage to persevere in following him. This is why Luke adds the word “daily” after the call to take up the cross. It is in spending oneself for the good of others rather than pursuing one’s own selfish ambitions that true joy, peace and fulfillment can be found. Paradoxically, spending one’s life for others results in gaining one’s life. The final saying of the Gospel of today cuts the ground from under our preoccupation with material and temporary wealth. What will we have gained, even if we acquire all the possessions in the world, but lose ourselves in the process? This saying reminds us that there are dimensions of life vital to fulfillment and happiness that are not satisfied by financial security or material wealth.

The impulse to succeed in a given profession, to acquire material possessions, and to prosper is powerful. In a materialistic culture we are easily seduced by the assumption that security and fulfillment are achieved by means of financial prosperity. We strive for things that do not last and in the process of our striving, are not able to see the beauty that life has to offer. We exist without really having lived. The challenge is to seek for that which brings real fulfillment and not illusory happiness.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Does God have priority in your life? How does this show?

The Pharisees theoretically accepted the position of the Zealots who refused to admit the subjection of God’s people to a foreign power but they would not use force. The question of the Pharisees and Herodians is asked to trap Jesus and so the praise of Jesus is ironic and implies that Jesus is being asked to decide the question because his impartiality mirrors that of God. They think they can trap Jesus because if he said yes or No, he was bound to alienate one group or another. If he supported the payment, he would make himself unpopular with the people and if he said No, he would be politically suspect to the Roman authorities. The tax was to be paid in Roman coinage and instead of answering the question, Jesus first calls for the denarius. The denarius would bear a portrait of the emperor Tiberius (14 - 37 C.E.). Jesus forces them to look at the coin which would have been offensive to them, because having the Emperor’s portrait on the coin violated Jewish rules of making images and worshipping idols. As soon as they identify the head on the coin, Jesus points to them what they already say, namely that the coin since it bears Caesar’s head belongs to Caesar.
Jesus rejects the position of the Zealots without accepting that of the Herodians who would be willing to pay the tax.
By adding “and to God the things that are God’s.” Jesus turns the pronouncement of paying taxes into a spiritual challenge to meet ones obligations to God as conscientiously as one meets the obligations of the state.
How often we too are so conscientious in fulfilling our state duties because we are afraid of being caught, but are lax with God.

If God were to ask for the produce of your life, what would be your response to him be?

This Parable is known variously as the parable of the wicked tenants or the Parable of the Vineyard. While the parable in Mark has been allegorised, it is not clear whether there was a non-allegorical parable going back to Jesus. Those who are of the opinion that there was a non-allegorical parable interpret it to mean that just as the tenants took radical action, so radical action is required in order to gain the kingdom. Others see the parable to mean that the kingdom will be taken away from Israel’s false leadership and given to gentiles and sinners. Still others see the parable to mean that God does not abandon and relentlessly seeks and searches for them and longs for a response from them.
As the parable stands now in Mark, it has been allegorised. The vineyard stands for Israel and the murderous tenants for the bad leaders of Israel. The owner of the vineyard is God who sent his servants to collect the produce due to him. The tenants treat the servants shamefully and as the parable unfolds, so does the escalating nature of violence, which culminates in the murder of the son. God, finally takes matters into his own hands but does not destroy the vineyard, rather he gives it to others whom he knows will give him what is due to him.
The authorities realise that the parable is about them and this only hardens their stance against Jesus and strengthens their resolve to destroy him.
All that we possess is given to us in trust. This means that while we may use what we have, we have also to be concerned about those who do not have and be generous with them. Selfishness on our part leads to our thinking that we must use the things we have exclusively without even the thought of sharing them with others.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

For those who believe no proof is necessary, for those who do not no proof is sufficient. Which kind of person are you?

Mark links the incident of the Challenge to the authority of Jesus (11,27-33) with the incident of the Cleansing of the Temple (11,15-19). When asked by the Pharisees where his authority comes from, Jesus points back to the baptism of John and so to his own baptism (1,9-11) where he received the invitation to be both slave and son. Since they are not able to answer because whatever answer they give will result in their condemnation, Jesus too refuses to answer their question. The point that Mark seems to be making is that the authorities had closed themselves to the revelation of God in Jesus and so would not be willing to accept Jesus as God’s chosen one. There would not be much use in trying to explain to those who were not open to listen.
We sometimes make up our minds about something and take so rigid a stand about it that we are then unwilling to change our stance or see another point of view. The danger of this attitude is that we might miss out on learning something new and the revelation that the situation or person makes to us.

If the Lord were to come to the tree of your life, would he find fruit or only leaves?

In the first part of today’s text Mark uses what is know as a “sandwich construction”. This means that he begins narrating an incident, interrupts it by another incident, which is completed, and then the first incident, which was begun and left incomplete, is completed. There are various reasons for the use of this technique.
Here, Mark begins by narrating what is known as the cursing of the fig tree (11,12-14). Only Mark tells us that ht was not the season for figs and yet, when Jesus did not find any fruit on the tree he cursed the tree. It is the only miracle that occurs within the Jerusalem section of the Gospel and the fact that it destroys nature does not fit the pattern of the other miracles of Jesus, which make people whole. Mark wants his readers; therefore to see the symbolic character of the miracle of the cursing of the fig tree and associate its fate with the fate of the Temple, which is also not producing the fruit, at is meant to produce.
Mark keeps in suspense what happens to the fig tree till much later (11,20-21), after he has narrated the incident that he places in the middle of the sandwich. This is what is known as the Cleansing of the Temple (11,15-19). It is an incident that is narrated by all the four Gospels though John narrates it quite differently from the manner in which the Synoptics do and even within the Synoptics there are slight differences. Mark is the only one of the evangelists who tells us that Jesus would nod allow anyone to carry anything through the temple which indicates that for Mark Jesus has the power to determine what activity is proper to the Temple. The teaching of Jesus is a combination of two Old Testament texts Isaiah 56,7 and Jeremiah 7,11. The chief priests and scribes take affront when they hear about this incident and look for a way to kill Jesus.
Mark then continues the first incident (the cursing of the fig tree) and completes it (11,20-21). The fig tree has indeed withered. This is what will happen to the Temple if it continues in the way of the fig tree, namely if it does not produce the fruit required of it.
Peter is amazed that the fig tree has withered and comments on it (11,22). This gives an opportunity for the Marcan Jesus to teach has disciples about prayer (11,23-25). The first saying about the mountain being thrown into the sea (11,23) brings out forcefully through a dramatic metaphor what is possible for one whose faith does not waver. The second saying (11,24) applies to the community the general principle of the previous verse, namely that there must be absolute confidence in prayer. The final saying (11,25) speaks about forgiveness as a condition to receive the forgiveness of God. This is because if there is unforgiveness in one’s heart it is not possible to receive the forgiveness of God. The unforgiveness acts a block to receiving God’s forgiveness.
Most doctors today are convinced that the larger majority of the illnesses we suffer are psychosomatic. This means that because our mind/heart/internal (psyche) is affected, our body/external (soma) will also be affected. Keeping grudges, harbouring feelings of revenge, nurturing anger and not forgiving are sure ways to spoil one’s health. Illnesses like acidity, hyper tension, fistula, piles, stress diabetes, high blood pressure and many others can be controlled and even avoided if one removes all the negative from one’s heart and mind.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye. (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)

This miracle of the healing of blind Bartimaeus is the final miracle in the ministry of Jesus. On hearing Bartimaeus the crowd attempts to silence him. However, he exhibits great faith and perseverance. The title that he uses to address Jesus: “Son of David” carries messianic overtones. This is the first time in the Gospel of Mark that such a title is used for Jesus. When he is called by Jesus, Bartimaeus goes to him throwing off his cloak, which could signify a throwing away of the old order to put on something new. After inquiring what he would like to be done to him and hearing his request for sight, Jesus heals him with a mere word. Jesus attributes the healing to the faith of Bartimaeus. Only in Mark are we told that after he was healed, Bartimaeus followed Jesus “on the way”.
We often imagine that we can see only with the eyes in our head and so judge people based on what we see physically. We must realise that this is only one way of seeing and sometimes it is more important to see with the eyes of our hearts. Though Bartimeaus was physically blind, he could recognise with the eyes of his heart who Jesus really was.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

How would you define honour? What does your definition say about you?

In this pericope Jesus predicts for the third and final time that he is to suffer and die and be raised (10,32-34). It is the most detailed of all the three. Here too, like in the case of the two previous Passion and resurrection predictions there is a misunderstanding. This time it is on the part of James and John who want places of honour in the kingdom. In response to Jesus’ question of whether they are able to drink the cup that he must drink and be baptised in the baptism with which he must be baptised, they say that they are able. Jesus promises that they will indeed drink the cup and undergo the baptism, but cannot he cannot determine the position of places in the kingdom. That role is left only to the Father.
The other disciples who become agitated with the request of the brothers are in the same boat as they are, and once again Jesus has to teach them the way of the kingdom. Only those willing to serve others can hope to have a place of honour in the kingdom. The last verse of this section points to the Son of man who has come to show the way to the kingdom through his service.
The attitude of the ten towards James and John may be termed as confrontation. This often happens when one desires what the other person is striving for and so feels jealous and envious of the other. It also leads to backbiting and thinking ill of the other like the ten did in the case of James and John. An alternative to confrontation is the attitude of “care-frontation” which would involve challenging the other person to rise above trifles and that, which is not necessary. It arises out of a genuine concern for the good of the person.

What is the thing, which is the person, what is that event which is preventing you from working for the kingdom? Will you give it up today?

In response to the statement of Jesus that it is impossible for the rich to enter the kingdom of God, Peter states that they as disciples have left everything to follow Jesus. The response of Jesus is a reassurance that what they have given up will be replaced by the new bond that they will share with each other both in this life and in the life to come. It must also be noted that the Marcan Jesus also mentions persecutions as being part of the lot of the disciples. These are to be expected by anyone who is a true witness of the Gospel. The last verse of this pericope speaks about the reversal of status that will be part of the kingdom indicating that that the values of the world do not apply in the kingdom.
When we sacrifice something for a cause we must realise that our reward must be the sacrifice itself. The reason why we sacrifice is because we believe in the cause, whether it is helping the poor, reaching out to the needy or any other and we must gain our satisfaction from the understanding that someone has lived more fully because of the sacrifice that we have made.