Translate

Saturday, 31 December 2011

A HAPPY NEW YEAR 2012 - Num 6:22-27, Gal 4:4-7, Lk 2:16-21


The first day of the New Year brings with it many thoughts, feelings and emotions. The fact that it is January and named after the Roman god Janus with two faces already indicates that it brings with it a looking back and a looking ahead.  Thus it is a day for retrospection and introspection and also a day for planning and goal setting. The retrospection must be with a view to help the planning and goal setting and not an exercise in condemnation of oneself or feeling regret.
It is fitting then that the first reading of today should speak of a blessing. The blessing is what is commonly called a Priestly blessing and pronounced on all the people of Israel. There are three pairs of verbs used in the blessing resulting in a threefold blessing. The first emphasizes concrete gifts—blessing and protection. The second stresses the hope that God will be well disposed toward the person and thus temper judgment with mercy and grace. The third asserts that God will pay attention and heed to his people thus providing fullness of life. The central message of the blessing is Peace, which must be translated as wholeness or completeness. The peace of God embraces every aspect of an individual’s life.
The idea of blessing is taken up in the Second reading of today. Paul in writing to the Galatians speaks of the blessing that God conferred not just on Israel but on the whole world when he sent his Son. The sending of the Son was for one reason alone, namely to reconcile the world to himself and through that to make each of us sons and daughters of God. The Son that God sent in to the world was not an angel but born of a woman, Mary who dared to say that unconditional yes to God’s invitation to be the mother of his Son.
This son whom God sent is human in every single aspect of the word and is therefore circumcised and given a name. The name that the child bears signifies his function. He is named Jesus because he will save his people from their sins. This child will be king, but a new kind of king. He will inaugurate a new world order, a world not like that of earthly kings but under the direction of God’s design for the redemption of all peoples. In this world, God’s Word is heard by all who remain open to that Word. In this world, there is hope for the oppressed, and those who heard what God is doing are filled with joy. God has not forgotten us or abandoned us to the brokenness we have created. God continues to be concerned and to make new and whole. The New Year thus, is for us as Christians, an announcement of hope. It is a call to continue to believe that God continues to be in control of all the events that will take place and that we only have to do what is required of us and leave the rest to God.
Thus the triple celebration of Mary Mother of God, the giving of the name of Jesus and New Year’s Day all close in on one theme: Hope. The past is over and forgotten; it is forgiven and absolved; it is pardoned and made new. The challenge is for us to respond like Mary did to what God is doing in us and in our world. If we like Mary are open and receptive to the working of God in our lives, if we like her are willing to let God do in us, if we like her are willing to say that unconditional and categorical Yes, then the savior Jesus will continue to be made present all through the year.
The priestly blessing of peace pronounced on the people in the first reading of today becomes then a blessing pronounced on each of us as we begin the New Year. We must keep in mind throughout the year that like the Galatians we are no longer slaves but sons and daughters of God. This means living in a fearless and bold manner. It means being able to face all the vicissitudes and challenges of life with equanimity and confident in the knowledge that we are loved unconditionally by God and that God will be with us every step of the way in the New Year.

Friday, 30 December 2011

What one action will you do to make the incarnate word present today? 1 Jn 2:3-11; Jn 1:1-18


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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Have you accepted the revelation that Jesus makes? How will you show this in your life today? 1 Jn 2:12-17; Lk 2:36-40


Luke is fond of pairing male and female figures in his narrative. The role of Simeon and Anna in the Temple at the end of the birth narrative balances the role of Zechariah and Elizabeth at the beginning of the narrative. Anna’s character and piety are emphasized, but not her words. She was a descendant of a family from the northern kingdom, and a devout widow, advanced in age. Anna evidently married young and was widowed seven years later. The reference to 84 years probably records her age, but may be read as the number of years she had lived as a widow.
Anna’s blessing, though not recorded, is characterized as praising God and speaking about the child. Since this description corresponds to the content of Simeon’s oracles, we can probably say that Anna’s prophecy matched his. Similarly, the reference to “all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem” serves as an inclusion, balancing the description of Simeon as one who was “looking forward to the consolation of Israel” at the beginning of this scene. Simeon and Anna, who represent the pious ones, declare that Jesus is the one who will bring salvation for Israel, but not all would receive this salvation. Jesus himself would be rejected, and many in Israel would reject the gospel, but it was also meant for “a light for revelation to the Gentiles”.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

How will you show that the presence of Jesus has changed your life for the better? What three actions will you perform to show that the coming of Jesus has made a difference to your life? 1 Jn 2:3-11; Lk 2:22-35


The text of today consists of the presentation of Jesus in the Temple, the purification of Mary and the Song of Simeon.
According to Jewish law a woman became ceremonially unclean on the birth of a child. During this time, she was not permitted to enter the Temple or touch any holy object. On the eighth day the child was circumcised, after which the mother was unclean an additional thirty-three days—sixty-six if the child was female. At the conclusion of this period, the mother offered a sacrifice, either a lamb or, if she was poor, two doves or two young pigeons. That Luke does not mention a lamb but refers to two turtledoves or pigeons may indicate that Jesus was born to the poor of Israel.  In addition, the first son was to be presented to the Lord as a reminder of the Exodus, and then, bought back with an offering. Luke does not mention that Jesus was redeemed either because he was not aware of this requirement or because he wanted to convey that Jesus was constantly devoted or dedicated to the Lord. In this part Luke emphasizes that the law of the Lord was fulfilled in all respects at the birth of Jesus.
Simeon is introduced immediately after the presentation of Jesus and the purification of Mary. He too like Zechariah and Elizabeth is described as “righteous”. He is also “devout”. He looked forward to the restoration of the people and the fulfillment of God’s redemptive work. The Spirit, who had revealed to him that he would not see death until he saw the anointed one of God, is the same Spirit who rests on him and gives him utterance to speak.
His hymn of praise of God is known as the “Nunc Dimittis” (“Now Dismiss”). It is only loosely related to the occasion of the birth of Jesus. It declares the praise of God for faithfulness and the redemption of the people. Though some interpret “now you are dismissing your servant in peace” to mean that Simeon was now prepared to die, it can also mean that he recognizes that he is being released from his mission to watch for the coming of the Messiah because he has now seen the coming of the one who will bring salvation.  His blessing relates the birth of Jesus to the fulfillment of the promise of salvation and looks ahead to the inclusion of all peoples in the experience of the blessings of God. Even as the parents of Jesus wonder at what is being said by Simeon, he blesses them and then addresses Mary, the mother of Jesus. He speaks about the coming rejection of Jesus. Not everyone will want to see the light, not everyone will want top receive the salvation by God for all peoples. Not everyone will recognize God coming in Jesus. Jesus will be rejected and treated as someone to be opposed. Even his mother will have to share in his sufferings.

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

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

The Feast of the Holy Innocents - Will you perform one unselfish act today?


Matthew’s Gospel is the only one of the four which has the story of the killing of innocent children by Herod. A king is born, but a king is already here; and there is room for only one king. The birth of Jesus, the messianic king, precipitates a conflict with the kingship already present in this world.
It is not merely with the historical Herod with whom Matthew is concerned, however, but with Herod as a character in the story, who serves as a foil for the kingdom of God. When this Herod hears of the birth of the new king, he is “troubled”. Matthew is not describing Herod’s psychology but the clash of two claims to kingship that occurs in the advent of Jesus. Herod represents the resistance of this world to the divine kingship represented by Jesus. When “all Jerusalem” is troubled with him, this is not mere sympathy with or fear of Herod. Matthew is again looking ahead to the passion story and implicating Judaism’s capital city as a whole, not only its king, in the rejection of Jesus’ messianic claim.  

When Herod asks the magi the chronological question “When?” to determine the time of Jesus’ birth, he acts hypocritically, claiming that he too wants to worship, but with murder in his heart.

Herod’s slaughter of the innocents is in character with the historical Herod the Great, who was ruthless in maintaining his grasp on power. There is no record of such an act among the detailed records of Herod’s numerous atrocities, nor is it reflected elsewhere in or out of the New Testament. The story seems to be part of Matthew’s Moses typology, with Herod cast in the role of Pharaoh.
Matthew does not sentimentalize the tragedy of the innocent victims or speculate on how the other mothers and fathers of Bethlehem might have interpreted the divine decision to warn one family. His attention is fixed on this event as a fulfillment of Scripture. Matthew does alter his usual formula in such citations of Scripture from his usual “in order that”, and thus avoids saying that the murders happened for the purpose of fulfilling Scripture.

Matthew’s third formula quotation in 2:18-19 is from Jer 31:15. In the New Testament only Matthew explicitly mentions Jeremiah. Jeremiah 31:15 pictures Rachel, matriarch of the tribes of Benjamin and Ephraim (but not of Judah) weeping at Ramah for her “children,” the Israelites, as they are led away captive to Babylon in Jeremiah’s time. Ramah (in the area of Benjamin, five miles north of Jerusalem) was chosen by Jeremiah because one tradition locates Rachel’s tomb there, at the site where Nebuchadnezzar’s troops assembled captives for deportation (Jer 40:1). Another tradition locates Rachel’s tomb at Bethlehem. Matthew combines these traditions to achieve the desired effect. The Jeremiah passage is in a context of hope; it is not clear whether Matthew interprets contextually or whether lamentation is the only note to be heard in this text. In any case, the child Jesus recapitulates the experience of Israel.

Like in Matthew’s day so in ours the war between the two kingdoms continues. Those who regard power as absolute will continue to massacre the innocent. They will continue to destroy others for selfish means. Our response has to be one of courage and hope. Though some will have to suffer because of the selfishness and egoism of a few, there are many more who live unselfish lives for the benefit of others. If each of us were to perform one unselfish act every day, the world becomes a better place for all.