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Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Is the home of your life built on rock or sand? How will you show that it has been built on rock today? Is the home of your life able to withstand the storms that threaten it from without? If No, what will you do about it today? Isa 26: 1-6; Mt 7:21, 24-27


The three chapters beginning from 5:1 and ending at 7:29 contain one of the most famous discourses of Matthew, known as “The Sermon on the Mount”.  This is the first of the five great discourses in the Gospel of Matthew.  Each of the five ends with the phrase, “and when Jesus had finished…” (7:28; 11:1; 13:53; 19:1; 26:1). The Sermon on the Mount 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 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 also 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. 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 fulfil the Law and Prophets.  He 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.  This they will do if they internalize the law rather than if they simply follow it as a set of rules and regulations.

The text of today is from the conclusion of the Sermon. It begins with Jesus stating emphatically that mere words on the part of people, even if one addresses him with lofty titles and fervent pleas, will not gain one entry into the kingdom.   Entry into the kingdom is determined by “doing” the Father’s will. Right action is more important than right words.

What it means to do the Father’s will is brought out clearly in the parable of the two builders. The point here, besides action, is one of foresight. The builder who builds his house on sand is doing, at first glance, as well as the one who builds his house on rock. It is only when the rain falls, the storm comes, and the wind blows, that the difference is seen. The house built on rock continues to stand, whereas the one built on sand falls. The wise person represents those who put Jesus' words into practice; they too are building to withstand anything. Those who pretend to have faith, which is a mere intellectual commitment, or who enjoy Jesus in small doses as and when it suits them, are foolish builders. When the storms of life come, their structures fool no one; above all, they do not fool God.

The sermon speaks of grace, but the grace of God is known only in that community committed to doing God’s will, as revealed in Jesus. There can be no calculating “cheap grace.”  One must take the Sermon on the Mount seriously as the revealed will of God to be lived. The subject matter of the sermon is not the person of Christ, but the kind of life Christ’s disciples are called to live. One cannot avoid Christology and appeal only to the teaching or great principles of Jesus, for these are inseparable from the claims of his person. But, for Matthew, the converse is also true: “Correct” Christological understanding can never be a substitute for the ethical living to which Jesus calls his disciples. Christology and ethics, like Christology and discipleship, are inseparable for Matthew.

While some regard the Sermon as an ideal to be read and not lived, others see it as being capable of being lived out by only a select few. These kinds of interpretations miss the point. Since the Sermon is addressed to both the disciples and the crowd, there is no doubt that it is meant for all. It is a challenge to be lived out by anyone who professes to be a disciple of Jesus.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Will someone go hungry today because you have more than you require? Will you dare to share at least a little with one person today? Isa 25: 6-10; Mt 15:29-37


While in a similar context, Mark narrates the story of the healing of a deaf man with an impediment in his speech, (Mk 7:31-37) Matthew omits this miracle and instead, introduces the miracle of the feeding of the four thousand. While the miracle of the feeding of the four thousand is the only miracle narrated by all the four Gospels, this miracle is narrated by Mark and Matthew. While it is clear that Mark wanted to show two separate feedings, the first and more abundant for the Jews (Mk 6:35-44) and the second and less abundant, for the Gentiles (Mk. 8:1-10), this cannot be Matthew’s intention, because in his Gospel, there seems to be no scope for a Gentile mission. This is why Matthew has altered Mark substantially. All of Mark’s references, to show this as a Gentile feeding, have been omitted or altered by Matthew. Thus, Matthew omits Mark’s Gentile location in the Decapolis, as well as the Markan note that some had come from a great distance. Matthew’s picture is thoroughly Jewish—the “God of Israel” who is praised in Matthew’s conclusion, is not a Gentile acclamation but is in the language of Israel’s own liturgy (Pss 40:14; 71:18; 105:48; Lk 1:68). In addition to preserving it simply because it was in Mark, Matthew seems to welcome another picture, useful in this section that portrays Jesus acting compassionately for Israel while in conflict with the Jewish leadership.  In Matthew’s retelling, the two feedings have been assimilated to each other, so that he emphasizes the similarities between the two feedings rather than the differences between them. The Messiah of Israel, typically, almost stereotypically, heals and feeds.

A number of interpretations have been given to explain this miracle. The main ones are:
(1) A miraculous event of feeding hungry people actually happened in the life of Jesus. Jesus was such a charismatic figure that people went away from his presence healed and filled.
(2) A symbolic meal was conducted by Jesus for his followers, foreshadowing the messianic banquet. This was later elaborated into a miracle story in which the numbers were exaggerated.
(3) Jesus gave the people a lesson in altruism or unselfishness by sharing with others the little food that he and his disciples had with them. This action of Jesus motivated others to do the same and there was enough for all.
(4) The story is not fact, but symbol. It summarizes the life of Jesus. His was a life of selflessness and service, a life of giving to everyone who was in need.

However the story may be interpreted, what comes across strongly is the concern and compassion that Jesus has for the crowd.  It is a practical concern, one that shows itself in action.

The abundance of the remains, even after such a large number of people have been fed, stresses the generosity of God, revealed in Jesus. Our God is a generous God who gives not only bread to the hungry, but even his very self. He showed this through the Incarnation and the ministry of Jesus. However, this was shown in the most perfect of ways on the Cross. The miracle is thus a call to accept the generosity of God and to show that we have accepted it by the generosity we show to others.

Monday, 28 November 2011

What is preventing you from seeing and hearing God’s word today? What will you do about it? Isa 11:1-10; Lk 10:21-24


The Gospel text of today is found also in the Gospel of Matthew, but here, in Luke, it follows the return of the seventy (seventy-two) from mission and continues the note of celebration that this successful return began. There are three clusters of sayings. Today’s text contains the second and third of the three. The second cluster is addressed by Jesus to God. In it, he acclaims the Father for hiding revelation from the wise and intelligent and revealing it to infants. This theme is not new, and is also found in other Jewish wisdom literature. However, the next verse, which speaks about the relationship between the Father and the Son, is unique and distinctly Christological. The knowledge that God gives is “handed over” by the Father directly to the Son. This is the source of Jesus’ authority and is also why the Son is competent to reveal the Father as father. 
The third cluster of sayings is made by Jesus to the disciples. A blessing is first pronounced on the disciples for what they have seen, followed by an explanation. Even prophets and kings were not privileged to see the Son and hear him, but the disciples are so privileged.

The revelation that Jesus made was never meant to be a secret or restricted to only a few. However, since it was a revelation and was done in freedom and generosity, it had to be accepted in like manner. Any kind of a block, whether pride, a closed attitude, or a preconceived notion, would prevent one from seeing and hearing. Thus, it is not God or Jesus who restricts, but a person’s attitude which prevents the person from seeing and hearing. Openness, receptivity, and humility are required in order to receive the revelation that Jesus continues to make, even today. The ones who receive this revelation are indeed blessed.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Do you give up when at first your prayers are not answered? Will you persevere in your asking today? Isa 2:1-5; Mt 8:5-11


Weekdays in the season of Advent begin with the miracle of the healing of a Gentile officer’s servant. In Matthew’s narrative of this miracle, the focus of attention is on the sayings of both Jesus and the centurion. The centurion does not explicitly tell Jesus his request, but simply relates the situation of his servant. The fact that he addresses Jesus as “Lord” indicates that he is a believer (in Matthew, only those who believe in Jesus address him as “Lord”). Though the response of Jesus might be read as a statement (“I will come and cure him”) it seems better to read it as a question, “I should come and cure him?” Read as a question, it expresses hesitancy and fits in with Matthew’s portrayal of Jesus as the one sent only to the lost sheep of Israel. The centurion, however, responds with faith.

He regards Jesus as one who is under no power or authority. If he, though under the authority of his superior officers, can command and expect to be obeyed, then it is a sure fact that Jesus, who is above all and under no one, will surely be able to heal his servant. This is why there is no need for Jesus to even enter his house.

Jesus’ response to the centurion’s faith is to comment on the lack of faith of those to whom he had been sent, Israel. This lack of faith on the part of Israel, and faith on the part of the Gentiles, will lead to the inclusion of the Gentiles in the eschatological banquet.

 Faith has often been regarded, by some, as a verbal profession of belief. While this is necessary, what is more important is that faith be shown in action. The centurion did this. The confidence with which he approached Jesus is already an indication that, though he had not recited a creed, he had faith. His response to Jesus’ hesitancy is to respond with a positive word of confidence in Jesus’ ability to make whole. He knew in his heart that Jesus had the power, since Jesus’ authority was God’s authority and his word was effective because it was, in fact, God’s word.

THE FOUR WEEKS OF ADVENT


The readings on Weekdays during the four seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter are the same every year. Though there is sometimes a connection between the first reading and Gospel, at other times the connection is tenuous. This is why I have commented only on the Gospel and not on the first reading. It also seemed that commenting on the first reading would result in making the book cumbersome and heavy to read. However, since the readings chosen for these seasons though from different Gospels have a common theme, I will introduce each of the seasons and comment generally on the readings for that season to aid that focus. 

INTRODUCTION TO THE FOUR WEEKS OF ADVENT

In the first week of Advent with the exception of Tuesday when Luke is read, the Gospel readings are all from the Gospel of Matthew. The readings begin by inviting us to look at Jesus who reaches out to a Gentile by healing his son and gives us a lesson on the meaning of perseverance in prayer. They then take us to Jesus who is the most perfect revelation of the Father and the unconditional love that the Father wants to lavish on the world. This love is shown not in words alone but also in deeds as is evident in the feeding of the four thousand and in Jesus inviting all listeners to show that their faith in him and his words is a practical and tangible faith. This faith is manifested by the two blind men who even though they cannot see, “know” who Jesus is and make their knowledge known. This gift of faith enables the disciples to be sent out like Jesus and to continue the work of preaching and healing that he began. The Mission which Jesus inaugurated is a mission that is shown in deeds and not words alone.
In the second week, except for Monday when the Gospel reading is from Luke, it is from Matthew on the other five days. Here the focus is on the revelation that Jesus makes in revealing his authority to forgive sin which is shown practically in his ability to heal a paralytic. Jesus shows tangible concern for the least in the community and also for the unlettered and ignorant by informing members of the community that the least are their responsibility since they are first God’s responsibility and inviting these to come and learn from him and be sated. These least are even greater than John the Baptist since they have had the privilege of encountering Jesus and hearing his words and seeing his works. However, those who close themselves to the revelation that he makes will continue to be blind and refuse to see. Though Elijah has come in John the Baptist and so the Messiah has come in Jesus, not everyone will be able to recognise him. Faith is needed to see.
In the third week of Advent, Jesus is questioned about his authority and in his answer invites those who pretend to be blind to open their eyes and see. These, however, though they say they know like the second son, do not really know because they do not act on that knowledge. Because Jesus acted so uniquely and unusually, even John the Baptist is not sure whether he is really The One and has to send messengers to ask who Jesus really is. Jesus answers the disciples of John the Baptist by inviting them to see and hear what he says and does. He then reveals to the people how the testimony of John was about him and thus his own testimony is greater because his testimony is that of the Father himself and no other.
In the days leading to Christmas from December 17 onwards, we focus exclusively on events leading to the birth of Jesus. This is done by beginning with the genealogy or origins of Jesus in Matthew and with the birth narrative there. Luke’s Gospel prepares for the birth of Jesus by the announcement of the births of John the Baptist and Jesus and Mary’s visitation to Elizabeth and her song of praise to God. The narrative of the birth of John the Baptist and Zechariah’s song of praise “The Benedictus” bring the Advent Season to a close and ready our hearts for the coming of the Saviour.