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Wednesday, 29 February 2012

How will you live out the Golden Rule today? Est. 4:1, 3-5, 12-14; Mt 7:7-12


The text of today 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, 28 February 2012

What sign are you seeking from the Lord? Will you believe in His love even without this sign? Jon 3:1-10; Lk 11:29-32


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, 27 February 2012

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? Isa 55:10-11; Mt 6:7-15


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”.
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.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Will the life of one person be better today because of you? Lev 19:1-2,11-18; Mt 25:31-46


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, 25 February 2012

A new mind and a new heart - Gen 9:8-15; 1 Pet 3:18-22; Mk 1:12-15


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). This is why, in all three years, the Gospel reading on the First Sunday in Lent is about the temptations of Jesus in the desert during the time that he spent there.

While Matthew and Luke narrate the three temptations in the desert and the responses that Jesus makes to the devil’s temptations, Mark does not do so. His focus is different. Mark’s narrative of the temptations compares Jesus, who is faithful, with unfaithful Israel. Jesus overcame temptation even after being tested for forty days, but Israel succumbed to temptation during their forty year period of testing in the desert. He also compares Jesus, the new Adam who is at home with wild beasts, with the first Adam with whom the wild beasts and nature were at enmity after his sin. The overcoming of the temptations by Jesus leads to the wilderness being transformed into paradise, the desert being transformed into an oasis and, humans being no longer subject to Satan or his rule. However, the overcoming of temptation, which is explicated by the mention of the angels ministering to Jesus, is only one part of the story. The second part, which may termed as the positive overcoming of temptation, is integral to the story and completes it.

Soon after overcoming temptation, Jesus comes into Galilee to proclaim his experience of who God really is. Mark prepares for this revolutionary and radical proclamation through four pointers or indicators. The first of these is a time indicator (after John is arrested), followed by a place indicator (Galilee), a form indicator (Proclaiming), and a content indicator (the Good News of God). These serve to clarify the proclamation.

The mention of the arrest of John serves to remove him from the story so that he can make way for Jesus. It also serves to explain that the time of John is now past and that a new time has begun. John’s baptism with water is being completed through the baptism of the Spirit that Jesus alone can give. Galilee is home for Jesus, a place of acceptance, a place of the proclamation of the kingdom and the stage where the kingdom will be revealed in action. That Jesus comes “proclaiming’ instead of “teaching” indicates the desire for the message to be heard by all. The proclamation is universal and includes every human being and all of nature. The good news that Jesus proclaims is not made up by him, but is the good news of God. It is God who has mandated Jesus to speak the words that follow. This indicator is crucial because it speaks of who God is and how he regards humans who are created in his image and likeness.

A glimpse of this good news of God is given to us in the first reading in the covenant or promise that God makes to Noah. It is a promise that is made after the destruction of the whole world by the flood. God’s promise here is significant, because it is the first promise in the Bible that is to be fulfilled, not only in the lives of the Israelites but, in the lives of all people. The whole of humanity will never again be threatened with destruction. This covenant marked the start of a whole new world and a whole new way of looking at, and dealing with, God. However, this covenant, complete as it may have seemed, was still lacking because it was a covenant with God from on high, in heaven, and his people down on earth. It was to be completed and made perfect in yet another covenant that would be the final and definitive covenant between God and his people. It was completed when God made it so by sending his son, not merely to make an absolutely new covenant but also, to be the Covenant or Promise for all times and all ages.

This then is the good news that Jesus proclaims from God that, in him, as never before, all people everywhere have been saved. If in the promise made to Noah, the focus was on non-destruction of the human race, in the proclamation of Jesus, the focus is not merely on non-destruction, but on salvation through love. The core of the proclamation of Jesus is that God has taken the initiative. He has loved first, he has forgiven first, and he has accepted first. The placement of the words in the proclamation confirms this, since it tells us that the kingdom has come, not because of any effort on our part, not because we have done some commendable act or, because we are worthy. It has come because, in Jesus, God loves unconditionally.

As humans, we have only to respond to that love, forgiveness, and acceptance. This response is done through “repentance” which never means being sorry. Rather, it means a change of heart, mind, and vision. It is a call to look at every person, situation, or thing, in a new way. It is a call to look at God anew. It is a call to give up the old, stereotypical and prejudiced way of looking at God, at others, and at the world.  It is a call to dare to look as if looking for the first time. It is a call to realize that God constantly makes all things new.

Peter echoes this idea in the second reading of today, when he explicates that this Covenant or Promise made by God was made even when men and women were sinners. There is no longer any condition that humans must fulfill in order to earn or gain God’s love.  God’s love is given freely, unconditionally and without measure.

Thus, on the first Sunday of Lent, the call is to Leave Every Negative Thing. It means a refusal to walk the path of frustration, anxiety, or despair and to take instead the road of happiness, peace, and joy. It means that, though the road might get steep and the going difficult, we will continue to carry on walking the path, confident in the knowledge that, in Jesus, we are saved. The negative has gone, the positive has come, and sin is overcome by love. The old has gone, the new has indeed come.