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Sunday, 31 March 2013

Has Jesus risen in your heart? How will you show this today?

To read the texts click on the texts: Acts 2:14,22-33; Mt 28:8-15

The scene which forms the text for today is found only in Matthew’s Gospel. Immediately after the women leave the empty tomb, to obey the command of the angel to tell Jesus’ disciples about his resurrection, Jesus himself meets them and thus, they are the first to see the risen Christ. Through this appearance of the risen Christ, Matthew stresses a point he made earlier through the Emmanuel prophecy (1:23) in the Mission Discourse (10:40) and in other parts of his Gospel, that Jesus would accompany his disciples on Mission. His presence with them would be a constant presence. The risen Christ, who is simply Jesus, thus stressing the continuity with the crucified Jesus, repeats the command of the angel. However, in Jesus’ command, the disciples become “brothers,” indicating that they now belong to the family of Jesus and that all the past has been forgiven. Thus, the women, besides being communicators of the good news of the resurrection, are also commanded to communicate reconciliation. Though Jesus appears as he would have in his life time, he is, nevertheless, the risen Lord as is evident in the response of the women who take hold of his feet and worship him. The risen Jesus is real but he is also new.
The second part of the text (28:11-15) narrates the bribing of the guards and interrupts the flow of the story. However, it also completes the story begun in 27:62-66 in which the chief priests and Pharisees ask Pilate to make the tomb secure and Pilate responds to their request by asking them to place their own guards, which they do. Though the guards had seen the same events as the women, they do not come to faith. They narrate to the chief priests “everything that had happened.” The height of the irony is that the chief priests and elders become the perpetrators of the very story that they accused the disciples of Jesus of possibly fabricating. The soldiers are instructed to fall in line with the story fabricated by the chief priests and elders and money is used as the lure.

The presence of Jesus is an eternal presence. It is a presence that is always there even when we try to deny it like the Pharisees did or even when we cannot feel is as tangibly as we would like. This is not only because of the promise of Jesus to his disciples and us, but also because of the fact that whenever love is made present Jesus is, whenever concern for another is shown, Jesus is and whenever we reach out in love and forgiveness, optimism and hope, Jesus is and continues to be.

THE EASTER SEASON



It is fitting and appropriate that the First Week of Easter should concentrate on the resurrection appearances of Jesus. This it does by drawing our attention to the resurrection appearances of Jesus as narrated by the different Evangelists. The variety of appearances and manner in which Jesus appears indicates that the resurrection is an event that cannot be captured in words. We have to read, reflect, pray and also wonder.
From the beginning of the Second Week till the end of the Seventh Week of Easter, all the readings are taken from the Gospel of John. In the Second Week part of the focus is on the dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus and the correction of Nicodemus’ misunderstanding about below and above and the other part focuses on Jesus as satisfying the physical need of people by feeding the five thousand and then revealing himself as Son of God to his disciples by walking on water.
The Third Week is dedicated exclusively to Jesus as the Bread of Life. In these readings Jesus explicates how as Bread, he is not only available to all but is also able to satisfy the hunger of people more fully than any manna from heaven could ever do.
In the Fourth Week, Jesus is revealed as the Good Shepherd and the Sheep Gate. He comes across as one who knows the sheep by name and cares for them. Others who try to enter by other gates are impostors and the sheep will not listen to their voice. They will hear only the voice of the true and Good Shepherd.
The Fifth Week of Easter concentrates on the Vine and the Branches where the invitation is to be part of the vine. If a branch remains on its own, it will only wither and die. If it remains part of the vine then it will bear much fruit, fruit that will last.
The Sixth Week already begins the preparation for the departure of Jesus by focusing our attention on the Advocate whom Jesus gifts as his gift to the disciples and the whole world. The Advocate will not give a new teaching but will only explicate what Jesus has already taught. It will be with the disciples, guiding their way and lighting their path.
In the Seventh and Final week before Pentecost, Jesus prays in thanksgiving to the Father for all that the Father has accomplished in and through him. He also prays for the disciples who will continue to be in the world, that they may have the courage to witness to that love which Jesus manifested on the cross. Finally, he prays for all those who will believe because of the proclamation that the disciples make.
In the last two days before Pentecost, we read about the commission to Peter to be Shepherd of the flock that Jesus leaves behind and that a beloved disciple must remain until Jesus comes again.

Saturday, 30 March 2013

THE EMPTY TOMB

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THE EMPTY TOMB

Every Area Starts To Enter Renewal


To read the texts click on the texts: Acts 10:34, 37-43; Col 3:1-4;John 20:1-9

John Donne, the sixteenth century poet, ends his poem, “Death Be Not Proud” in the following manner: “One short sleep past we wake eternally, And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.”

This is a good summary of the Easter event. Death is no more; death has died because of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Easter thus is primarily a feast of hope. Light has conquered darkness, truth has conquered untruth, and eternal life has conquered death. No more will death hold sway.  No more will death be a threat.  No more will death be something to be feared. Those who believe in the Resurrection can look death in the face and not be afraid. The hope that Easter brings is that, no matter how bleak the present might look, no matter how daunting the road ahead might seem, no matter how intimidating the situation at hand might be, one need not give in to despair, one need not give up or give in, one needs only to hope, trust, and believe. Jesus went to his death believing his Father would raise him on the third day and, his Father did.

The Gospel text of today brings out this fact in the narrative of the Empty tomb. Unlike the Synoptic Gospels, where Mary Magdalene is accompanied by other women, in the Gospel of John, she comes to the tomb alone. John alone mentions that “it was still dark”. John is not stating here a time of the day, or narrating the physical situation.  He is saying that, no matter what time of the day it is, no matter how brightly the sun might be shining, it will continue to be dark, because Jesus is not present. The absence of Jesus is what causes the darkness. Once Jesus appears, it will always be light. This darkness that Mary experiences is the darkness all of us experience when Jesus is absent from our lives. Ordinary problems of life seem overwhelming.  Small difficulties seem intimidating and life becomes a burden. However, with the appearance of Jesus, darkness retreats and only light appears.

The fact that the stone is rolled back does not necessarily mean that the Lord is not in the tomb yet, that is how Mary Magdalene interprets it. She goes even further when she interprets the absence of the body of Jesus as his having been taken away.  She does not know where his body has been placed. This is indeed the mystery that all of us encounter. We cannot capture Jesus, we cannot confine him, and we cannot know where he comes from or where he is going. We have only to dare to follow and believe.

Peter and the beloved disciple act on Mary’s information and, like her, they run to the tomb to see for themselves what has been told them. If Mary saw only the stone rolled back, the beloved disciple sees that and also the linen cloths used to wrap the body of Jesus. Peter sees even more. Besides what the beloved disciple sees, Peter sees also the cloth that was used to wrap the head of Jesus. Thus, there is a progression, a development, an enlargement of the picture.  The puzzle is not so much a puzzle now.

The leaving behind of the grave cloths is very significant since the empty tomb, by itself, does not signify that Jesus has been raised from the dead. Thus, the cloths are an indication of two facts. First, the body of Jesus could not have been stolen by grave robbers since is extremely unlikely that they would unwrap the body before stealing it and leave the cloths behind. What is more likely is that they would take the cloths and leave the body behind. Second, by leaving the grave cloths behind, it means that Jesus has left death behind.  Death is symbolized by the grave cloths. When Lazarus, who was raised by Jesus from the dead, came out of the tomb, he brought out with him his grave cloths. This was because he would need them when he died again. Jesus, however, will never die again and so, will not need the grave cloths. He has risen to a new life.  He has risen, never to die again.  Death has died.

However, as Peter makes explicit in the first reading of today, the conquering of death by Jesus is only one part of the story. There is a second part, also narrated by Peter, and even a third part explicated in the second reading of today.

The second part of the story is that, because of Jesus’ resurrection, everyone who believes will also partake of the same privilege. For everyone who believes, death will never be the end. For everyone who believes, there is the hope of new life. This is because in Jesus, and through his death and resurrection, forgiveness of sins has been obtained by all. The colour of the person is inconsequential; the nationality does not matter; the language spoken is unimportant.  God shows no partiality. God forgives and welcomes all in Jesus, the Risen Christ.

Precisely because God forgives and welcomes, this forgiveness has to be accepted and lived out. The living out of the forgiveness and acceptance follows the forgiveness and the new life. It is not a condition. This is the third part of the resurrection story. The manner in which it is to be lived out is spelled out in the second reading of today which is part of the letter to the Colossians. Those who accept this forgiveness of God, in Jesus, will be determined to seek only that which enhances and builds up. They will strive only for what is positive and life giving. They will be encouraged and encourage. They will never give in to despair, they will never give up or give in, and they will never lose hope. 

Friday, 29 March 2013

TALK ON THE SEVEN SORROWS OF MARY

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THE SEVEN SORROWS OF MARY

THE SEVEN SORROWS OF MARY


BEING WITH MARY
Yesterday we celebrated the passion and death of the Lord. The last words of Jesus on the cross were “it is finished, it is accomplished”. Jesus accepted what the father sent him to do. And so he could say “it is finished”. However, it continues because of whom Jesus left behind. And he left behind his mother and his disciples.
During the course of our meditation this morning, when all over the world is Holy Saturday, we will spend this time with Mary by going through the mysteries of her life as mother of Jesus, as mother of God and see what fruit we can draw from the manner in which she responded. There are so many things that one could say about Mary but for our reflection this morning I will take, what is commonly called the 7 sorrow, the 7 dolours of our Blessed Mother.
The first of these is the prophecy of Simeon, Lk 2:34-35 - Jesus is brought by Mary and his foster father to the temple to be presented to God, to be gifted to God, to be handed over to God. And even as he is presented, Simeon who was waiting for the Lord’s kingdom realizes that it has come in this child. And his response on encountering Jesus is to address his mother, He speaks to Mary and tells her in prophecy that Jesus will be a sign that is accepted, and rejected, a sign that will frighten those who are corrupt and dishonest, a sign that will wake people up from their slumber and a sign that will be rejected and killed. And even as he says that, he brings Mary into salvation history when he speaks of a sword piercing Mary’s heart as well. Mary will be a collaborator with her son in achieving salvation history. And through this prophecy of Simeon brings to our attention the fact that just because God has favoured her, just because God has chosen her, just because God has given her the privilege and honour of being the mother of Jesus does not necessarily mean that everything will be smooth sailing. As a matter of fact it means she would have more difficulties than others who were not chosen. So often in our lives we might tend to lose hope, we might tend to think God is not on our side, we might tend to think that God is punishing us and we might ask “where is God in all of this?” If we reflect on the prophecy of Simeon addressed to Mary we will realize God is constantly present. So let the first sorrow of Mary be an inspiration for us that no matter how many trials we may have to undergo, no matter how many swords pierce our own hearts, we will look to Mary for consolation and strength.
The second sorrow is traditionally narrated as the flight into Egypt Mt. 2:13-15. It speaks you might say of displacement, it speaks you might say of uprootedness, it speaks you might say of change and transformation, it speaks you might say of Mary and Joseph’s world being turned upside down; it speaks of instability, it speaks of the fact that they are unable to make their home in one particular place, and have to constantly to be like pilgrims moving from one place to another. Many of us are fortunate to be living in the same place for a number of years, many of us are fortunate to have stable homes, many of us are fortunate to live in countries in which the political situation is stable and there is no threat of a war; and yet I want you to reflect on the instability of your life, of sometimes your own life is turned upside down and upheavals in your heart, when you are having marital discord for example, when your children go astray for example, when your parents don’t understand you for example, when in the community of religious you feel that you are isolated and alone, when as the Superior of the community or as the Parish Priest as in a parish, you feel that the parishioners, the members of your community don’t understand you, hen you go through these upheavals, there’s unprootedness I would like you to bring to mind the flight into Egypt, and you will see and reflect on how Mary and Joseph were so obedient to God’s word because they knew that God’s plan for them was better than the plan they would have for themselves. The flight into Egypt is a sign that God is in charge. So no matter how many upheavals there may be in your life, no matter how many times you might be uprooted in your hear, keep in mind that at these times the Lord is with you.
The third sorrow is commonly called the finding in the temple Lk 2:41-52 and even though it seems that it was Mary who found Jesus, my own interpretation is Jesus was never lost. It was Mary who was lost without Jesus, because the answer, the response of Jesus to his mother “Why did you look for me, you ought to know where I can be found. I can be found doing my Father’s business,” Mary was, at least in the beginning, looking in the wrong place and then she realized that Jesus is found when we do God’s will. And that is why in the gospel of Luke; Mary is portrayed right from the time of the Annunciation in Lk 1:26-38, till the end of the gospel, as a woman who constantly does God’s will. She learnt, you might say, from that incident of finding in the temple that if she had to be a disciple of her son, she to constantly do God’s will. And so I ask you where are you looking for Jesus? If you are looking for him only in the tabernacle, if you are looking for him only in the church, if you are looking for him only in holy places, you are looking for a very, very, limited places because the Lord  in the words of Teilhard de Chardin, the Cosmic Christ, the Lord is now the Risen Christ, the Lord must now be found in all things, in all persons, in all situations. And primarily, as the Lord tells us in Mt 7:21-28, the Lord can be found when you do God’s will.
The fourth sorrow of Our Lady which is not really narrated by the scriptures is Mary encounters Jesus carrying his cross. Even though none of the scriptures speak about Jesus meeting his mother on the way to Calvary or Golgotha, tradition is clear about this encounter because the Gospel of Luke tells us Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem on his way to Jerusalem. So surely he would have met his mother. What kind of an encounter do you think it would have been?  Do you think that Mary would have been feeling sorry for herself; do you think she would have been feeling sorry for er son, do you think she would want to reach out to Jesus and wipe his battered face? Do you think that she would want to help Jesus carry the cross? What kind of an encounter would this have been? I invite you to spend a few moments reliving this scene, seeing in your mind’s eye the Mother and Son. I would like to think that they would each be consoling the other. I would like to think that they would each be strengthening the other; I would like to think that they would each be reaching out to the other rather than being concerned about their sorrow. And so this encounter might be summarized in one word ‘selflessness’. It might be termed as a reaching out. When you reach out even when you’re sad and you feel the whole world is conspiring against you, when you reach out in sympathy and empathy to someone else, when you avoid making yourself the focus and saying ‘Oh, look at me, how I’m suffering for my sins and for the sins of the others”. When you avoid doing that and look outside of yourself then you are being like Mary focusing on Jesus, and focusing on others.
The fifth sorrow is Jesus dies on the cross Jn19:25-27 narrates this scene where Mary and the beloved disciple are standing at the foot of Jesus’ cross. And Jesus, before his last breath in the Gospel of John hands over his mother to the beloved disciple and hands over the disciple to his mother. Who then is the beloved disciple? The beloved disciple is anyone who loves Jesus. So if you love Jesus you cannot but take Mary into your home, if you love Jesus you cannot but honour his mother and ours. If you love Jesus, you cannot but make Mary an integral part of your life. As a matter of fact in the Gospel of John this is how Church is described. The Spirit of Jesus (which he breathes before his death), the beloved disciple (anyone who loves Jesus) and the mother of Jesus. These three elements make up church. These three are what church is all about in the Gospel of John. So today let us realize that we cannot really have a full church, the church of the Lord unless his mother is in that church as well. I am fond of saying that if Mary had to say NO we would never have had Jesus, and you would not even be listening to this talk of mine. So the fact that you are listening to the talk has its origin in Mary. And once again I repeat the beautiful words of the Memorare “It was never know that anyone who fled to her protection was left unaided.” And proof of that is again in the scriptures where the mind of Jesus has changed because of the intervention of Mary at Cana, Jn 2:1-12.
The sixth sorrow is Jesus is handed over to his mother, the pieta of Michael Angelo. And if you can google this, put down ‘pieta’, you will get a number of images of this beautiful scene, you will a number of images of this beautiful scene portrayed. So beautifully by Michael Angelo and so many artists after and before him of Jesus lying dead in the lap of his mother. And Mary is not a woman who’s going to shed tears for herself; Mary is not a woman who’s going to shed tears for her son, Mary is a woman who’s going to continue the mission because she knows that her son has done all that was required of him and that she is to do all that is required of her. And that brings me once again to how so many of us unfortunately cry at the death of a loved one as if the person is never going to rise again, how many of us cry at the death of loved one for years after the person has gone simply because we do not believe in the Resurrection. If you are one of those who is crying for a dead parent, or a dead relative, or a dead friend, then I need your you to understand that our God is not a God of the dead, but a God of the living. And so today is not a day when you shed tears. Today is a day when you give thanks that God did through your parent, through your friend, through your relative who is now living with God all the beautiful things. And now you have to let go, now we have to leave it in the hands of God, now you have to believe that the person is in a much, much better place and situation than ever before.

And the last sorrow is when Jesus is laid in the tomb, Even as we stand watching them lay Jesus in the tomb, let us stand with Mary and us stand with confidence, let stand with courage, let us stand with trust and faith and hope.
Let us remain quiet and as we see the stone being rolled to close the tomb, let us together recite the Hail and Holy Mary. Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you, blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen

Thursday, 28 March 2013

GOOD FRIDAY TALK

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GOOD FRIDAY


All over the world it is Good Friday, and Good Friday is the day on which we remember the passion and death of our Lord. The passion and death of our Lord is an event that is narrated by all the four evangelists – Mk 14:1 - 15:47; Mt 26:1 - 27: 66; Lk 22:1 - 23:56; Jn 18:1 - 19:42. These are the texts in which we find the passion narrated by the different evangelists and even as you go through the passion texts, you will realize that while the core of the writing is the same, there are differences in a few of the events and incidents. And the reason why there are these differences is because the event goes beyond the comprehension even of the evangelists. How are we to understand the passion?

I want to take three aspects of the passion for our reflection. The first of these is that before the passion proper, the second is when Jesus is in the throes of the passion, and the third after his death. The event that I was to focus on before his passion is his prayer at Gethsemane, and I would like you to read slowly and meditatively Mk 14:32-42 which speaks of this prayer. Jesus is tense, Jesus is anxious; Jesus is worried like any one of us might be. Because he knows what is going to come, and he knows what is going to come  not because he can tell the future but because he knows who he is and what he has done. He knows what is going to come because he has stood up for the truth no matter the consequences. And yet there is that anxiety, and yet there is that tension. And the first thing that Jesus does to get rid of the anxiety is, not to take a pill; it is not to go for a massage, but to go to pray. And to pray to his Father. The prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane provides for you and me a lesson on prayer, and the first step is the attitude, the disposition. We are told that as soon as Jesus reaches Gethsemane after telling his disciples Peter, James and John to watch with him, he goes to pray and his attitude and disposition is made clear when he throws himself on the ground. The throwing himself on the ground conveys an attitude of total surrender to God. Before his prayer he is very clear that he wants God to take control; that he wants God to take charge and that he wants God to direct the events of his life. The words that he uses is in his prayer are simple, are direct, are to the point. There is no philosophical jargon, there are no theological concepts – it is a prayer which comes from the heart. And the prayer is unashamedly, unabashedly to ask first for what he wants “Father, take this cup away from me”. It is difficult to drink, it is a challenge to drink because Jesus is not a sadist, Jesus does not want to run to his death, he does not want to die, he is like all of us who want to continue to live. “Father take this cup away from me”, and yet because the Father’s will is primary for Jesus, and yet because the Father’s will takes precedence even over his own life, Jesus adds “Not my will but Yours be done”. And this is the challenge of prayer. The prayer of Jesus was never unanswered, the prayer of Jesus was always answered because the prayer of Jesus was always a prayer in which he asks for what he wanted, but then let the Father do His will. Is my prayer the prayer like that of Jesus or do I stop with give me, give me, give me. Can you link and identify your prayer with the prayer of Jesus? Can you, whenever you make a prayer, whenever you pray to God, ask unashamedly for what you want and yet add at the end of your prayer “Your will not mine be done”. And even though Jesus receives no support from his companions because they are asleep, even though Jesus receives no response from the Father because the Father is silent, he gets up strengthened in his prayer as is evident from the fact that he makes no move to stop the fight in the garden, he makes no move to respond to Judas, he only says in the garden before he can be arrested “let the Scriptures be fulfilled”. In other words let God’s will be done. Jesus is fortified; Jesus is strengthened even despite not having received an audible answer. And the reason why Jesus is strengthened is because he knows he has prayed, and he knows the content of his prayer, and he means the content of prayer, and if it is the Father’s will that he die, so be it. “Let Your will be done”.

The second part is the passion and death proper. We encounter Jesus who seems to have no support whatever, His disciples have run away, the Sanhedrin have all condemned him as deserving death. Pilate could not really care less whether he dies or lives. The people, and the same people whom he probably fed with bread, whom he healed, whom he made whole are the ones now who shout “crucify him, crucify him”. And Jesus looks around and wonders whether he is a failure, and wonders whether all the good that he apparently did has come to naught, whether all the reaching out and making whole was useless. And even as he hangs on the cross he knows there is one person, even if human beings are ungrateful, there is one person who will support him in his hour of need and he turns to his Father. And the Father is silent. And the Father makes no move whatever to stop the situation. The Father will not interfere, the Father will not intervene. The Father seems to be absent from the life of Jesus, and the same Jesus who could hear his Father’s voice at his baptism calling him beloved son, the same Jesus who could hear the Father’s voice at the Transfiguration reiterating that Jesus was beloved son is now a Father who is silent. And this is the hour when Jesus needs all the support and strength he can get, and there is no one who can give it to him apparently, not even his Father. And so he turns to his Father and says “My God, my God why have you abandoned me?” And I want you to take note of these words. I want you to look now at the crucified Christ. I want you to go back to those times when you lost hope, when you gave in to despair, when you felt that God was punishing you, when you felt that God was not on your side. I want you to go back to those times when you lost faith. I want you to go back to those times when you behaved as if God was not alive, as if Jesus never came on this earth, and I want you even as you think those thoughts to look at the crucified Christ. And if you were to ask this Christ “Where are those numerous people whom you helped, where are those lepers who you made whole, where are the blind, the deaf, and the lame and the paralysed, where are they? When no one stands by you, he will say no one. And you say, it’s possible that people are ungrateful, it’s possible that people will not give you thanks. What about those disciples? I can understand that one of them has betrayed you. What about the other eleven, and especially the ones whom you were so close to – Peter, James and John, where are they now? And he will say “I do not know”. And then you turn to him and say human beings by and large might be ungrateful, they might not remember the good deeds done by someone else, they might not give thanks for them, but where is your Father – the Father who loved you, the Father whom you prayed in Gethsemane, the Father who was constantly walking with you, where is the Father? And he will say, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” Stay with this for a little while. Let these words of Jesus sink into your heart.

Before we can move on to the third aspect, the events immediately after the death of Jesus, there are two significant events which occur, the first of these is found in Mk 15:38 in which we are told that the veil of the temple is torn from top to bottom. A number of interpretations are given to this event, i.e. the veil which separated the Holy of Holies from the holy place is now no longer in existence. So God is available 24 x 7, 365 days of the year. That is one interpretation. A second interpretation that the veil of the temple has been torn is that God has abandoned the temple; God is no longer in the temple. But the interpretation which will make sense to us is that God is now visible on the cross, is that God can now be found on the cross, is that God so loved the world that he spread his arms in abject surrender when they were crucifying him. The second event is found in the next verse of Mk 15:39 when the centurion representing gentiles and unbelievers all over the world, points to the cross and said, “This man, this crucified Christ, this Christ who spreads his arms on the cross is indeed Son of God. When Jesus, spoke with his Father,  he said to his Father that even if one human being came back to them, his death would have been worth it, Will you be that “one” today?

As we continue our reflection on the passion and death with our brothers and sisters all over the world, let this event, this historical event be our consolation and our strength. Let it be hope for us when we carry our own cross no matter how heavy they might be. That even though the Father might seem absent, the Father is there.

TALK ON THE FIFTH DAY OF OUR RETREAT - MAUNDY THURSDAY

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MAUNDY THURSDAY

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

MAUNDY THURSDAY

Today is Maundy Thursday. The English word Maundy comes from the Latin Mandatum which means command. And the reason why Maundy Thursday is so called is because the church celebrates this as the day in which Jesus gave his love command. What Jesus was in effect doing was summarizing his entire life. In bending down to wash the feet of the disciples in Jn 13:1-13, Jesus brings together all that he was, all that he is, all that he does. With Jesus there was no dichotomy, there was no separation between his being and his doing. Jesus did who he was. Jesus said what he did. And so, on this Maundy Thursday we are called through this event of the washing of the feet, to ask ourselves some serious questions, and the first of these is “Is there a separation between my being and my doing?
Am I one of those persons who say one thing but does another? Or am I a person who does not do what he says?
Am I a person who cannot be trusted to fulfil an obligation?
Am I a person who is known for not keeping his word? Another area that we can look at, is the area of our conditional, of determined love?
Is my love barter exchange? Do I expect something in return for my love? Is my relationship with people a matter of “you give me, I give you”? Is it a matter of how much can I get out of this person rather than how much can I give?
A third theme that we can look upon during this reflection is the prophetic gesture that Jesus performs when he washes the feet of the disciples. Many interpret this gesture as an action of a slave. However, John is very clear that the washing was not before the meal as slaves would do but when they were in the midst of the meal. And even though Jesus knows that Judas is going to betray him, even though Jesus knows that Peter is going to deny him, he washes their feet. And this is what is prophetic about the gesture. First, that it was done after the meal had begun, something totally unexpected, and second, that he could wash the feet of the betrayer, of a denier and of the others who ran away. So there was nothing within the disciples that would have prompted anyone to wash their feet; there was nothing within the disciples that would have made anyone reach out to them. It was what was in Jesus that made him even to look at the disciples with the eyes, the heart, the mind, of love. And even as he washed the feet of Judas and Peter, he was loving, forgiving and accepting them. This is the true meaning of forgiveness; it is the true meaning of love, it is the true meaning of Maundy Thursday.
So, If Jesus was able to bring together his being and his doing, his word and his action, I need to ask myself whether I can do that myself. If Jesus was able to love unconditionally, expecting nothing in return, I need to ask myself whether I am capable of such love. If Jesus was able to love, forgive, and accept and pardon even those who he knew would reject him, deny him, betray him, am I capable of such forgiveness and acceptance? This is the theme of the life of Jesus, of the ministry of Jesus and of what Jesus is calling us to do before we enter, to reflect on his passion. And we need to ask ourselves what have I done for Christ, what am I doing for Christ, what ought I do for Christ?
During this time and before we can enter the passion proper, our hearts, our minds, our whole being must get ready for this challenge. In the gospel of Lk 9:57-62, we read about the would be disciples of Jesus, those who had the intention, may be even the desire of following, but those who had excuses ready why they could not follow. Am I like those would be disciples, am I like those who are ready with an excuse why I cannot love or cannot forgive, am I like those who are ready in fact that being and doing do not coincide and so can find an excuse. Or am I going to rise up to that challenge of Jesus who invites me today to take up your cross and follow him. And even as I spoke about love and forgiveness, I want to speak about your own love and forgiveness; I want to speak about your own love for your husband or your wife, for your children or parents, for your neighbour or your colleague, and I would like to ask you whether your love is unconditional or whether it can be termed barter exchange. A very good way to find that out is to ask yourself this question – one, do I love this person? Is it because of an obligation, is it because of a duty, is it because many years ago I made a commitment in the church, and so now I have to stick to that commitment? If that is the case, then it is very likely that your love is a barter exchange. But, if your love is without any kind of wanting from the other person then it can be like the love of Jesus. And even as you are unable to forgive, I would like to direct your attention to this beautiful scene, and picture in your mind’s eye of Jesus washing the feet of Judas, looking at him possibly, looking at his eyes and seeing in there the betrayal, and yet having the ability to wash his feet and forgive. If you can think, reflect, pray and know in your heart that you are capable of such love, then you can enter with the Lord into his passion.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

FOURTH TALK - MARCH 27, 2013

CLICK ON THE FOURTH TALK - MARCH 27, 2013  FOR YOUTUBE VIEWING

Do you often blame God and others when things do not go the way you want them to go? Will you grow up and accept responsibility for your actions today? Do you often play “the blame game”? Do you not realize that when you point one finger at someone there are three pointing back at you?


To read the texts click on the texts: Isaiah 50:4-9; Mt 26:14-25

The text on the day before Maundy Thursday invites us to reflect on the initiative taken by Judas in going to the chief priests and agreeing to betray Jesus, the preparation for the Passover and the prediction of Judas’ betrayal.
Matthew’s reason for the betrayal by Judas is greed. Judas wants something if he agrees to betray Jesus and agrees to the thirty pieces of silver offered to him, a detail mentioned only by Matthew. Unlike in Mark where the money is promised, in Matthew Judas is paid on the spot. Some see the reference to the thirty silver pieces as taken by Matthew from Zech 11:12-13 in which there is an obscure reference to the wages of a shepherd, who puts money back into the treasury. In Exod 21:32 thirty silver pieces is the price of an injured slave.
According to Exod 12:1-20, the Passover lambs were to be killed on the afternoon of the 14th of Nisan, and the festival itself began with the ritual meal on the evening that began the 15th of Nisan. The Festival of Unleavened Bread began on the 15th and continued for seven days, during which no leaven should be found in the house. By the first century, the two festivals had merged and their names were used interchangeably. In addition, the pious practice of removing leaven one day early, the 14th, had become common.
Preparation for the Passover involved (1) locating an appropriate place within the city walls of Jerusalem, the only legitimate location for eating the Passover meal; (2) searching the room for leaven and removing any items that might contain yeast (bread crumbs, etc.); (3) obtaining a lamb and having it ritually slaughtered by the priests in the Temple; (4) roasting the lamb and preparing it with the other necessary items for the meal in the place previously arranged. While it is important to Matthew for theological reasons that the last supper was a Passover, he narrates none of the details associated with the Passover meal and ritual, concentrating his interest on the meal of the new covenant to be celebrated.
While Judas’ question to the chief priests focuses on himself and what he can gain, the disciples question to Jesus focuses on Jesus and what he wants them to do.
After Jesus takes his place at the table, he announces the fact of his betrayal by one of the Twelve. This announcement leads to distress on the part of the disciples. Each asks in turn whether he is the one. Jesus responds by indicating that one of those who eat with him will betray him, but does not explicitly identify Judas. Judas’ question is left till after Jesus’ response.
The dialectic of divine sovereignty and human responsibility in the passion is brought out strongly in Jesus’ comment that it would be better for the betrayer if he had not been born. Jesus is fully aware of who it is that will betray him. God is not taken by surprise in the betrayal that leads to crucifixion; it goes according to the divine plan expressed in Scripture. But this does not relieve the burden of human responsibility. God is fully sovereign, humanity is fully responsible.
Judas who is in the process of betraying Jesus asks if he is the one. Unlike the other disciples who address Jesus as Lord, Judas addresses him as Rabbi indicating that he is not an insider but an outsider. Jesus’ response “You said it” is a clear affirmation that Judas is indeed the one.

There are some, who because they find it easier, prefer to lay the blame at God’s door for their “misfortune”. These are people who have not yet grown up. If children blame others for the mistakes they make or refuse to accept responsibility it can be understood, but when adults do that it is a sign of not having grown up. While it is true that God remains sovereign, it is also true that we as humans have total freedom and thus must accept responsibility for our actions. We are always free to act as we see fit, but we must also realize that our every action has consequences which we must be willing to accept.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Third talk Lent to Easter Retreat 2013 - March 26, 2013

When things do not go the way you plan do you throw in the towel too quickly? Has your arrogance sometimes led to your downfall?


To read the texts click on the texts: Isa 49:1-6; Jn 13:21-33, 36-38

The text of today begins after the action of the washing of the feet of his disciples by Jesus and the words that he speaks explaining the meaning of the event. Thus this text must be read with that background in view.
It begins by an announcement of the betrayal in the context of Jesus’ emotional distress. This announcement is greeted with confusion on the part of the disciples. This confusion is an indication that betrayal can lie in the heart of any disciple and that no one is really exempt or can take for granted his/ her fidelity. This confusion leads to questioning on the part of the disciples. Each wants to know who Jesus meant. “The disciple whom Jesus loved” is introduced for the first time in the Gospel and plays a prominent role from now on. The fact that the disciple is not named points to the fact that it is not so much the person, but his relationship to Jesus that defines and determines who he is. Like the Son who is in the bosom of the Father (1:18) so this disciple reclines in the bosom of Jesus. Prompted by Simon Peter’s nod, the beloved disciple asks Jesus who the betrayer is. Through the gesture of giving the morsel to Judas and his words, the contrast between the intimacy of the meal on the one hand and the betrayal by Judas on the other is brought into sharp relief. Even as he is offered a sign of friendship, intimacy and fidelity, Judas chooses distance, betrayal and infidelity. Though Jesus “knows” who will betray him, he still reaches out in love and friendship.
The mention of Satan entering Judas indicates that the real battle is not between Jesus and Judas but between Jesus and the powers’ of evil, between light and darkness, and between falsehood and truth. Jesus is willing to face head on and immediately the powers’ of evil and so instructs Judas to act quickly. Jesus alone understands the significance of the hour. The disciples remain ignorant and even misunderstand. That Judas leaves immediately is an indication that his commands are followed even as he is going to be betrayed. Jesus remains in control of all the events of his “hour”. The phrase “and it was night” can mean on the surface level a chronological notation. However, it has a much deeper meaning in John. On the deeper level it means that Judas has cut himself off from Jesus who alone is the light and also that he has sided with the darkness which tries to overcome the light.
The verses which follow and complete the reading of today can either be seen as a conclusion to the previous episodes of the washing of the feet and the prediction of the betrayal or as an introduction to the Farewell Discourse. They speak of the glorification of Jesus as Son of Man and also of the glorification of the Father. While it is true that the mutual glorification began when the father was manifested through the Son at the incarnation and continued in the words and works of Jesus, it will be completed and reach its fulfillment in the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus to the Father. This final departure from the world and return to the Father is here seen as a seal of the disciples’ new relationship with God, with him and with one another. Jesus responds to Simon Peter’s question about his final destination by predicting Peter’s denial of him. Though Peter protests by offering his life to Jesus in keeping with the command to lay down one’s life for one’s friend, he speaks more from a misplaced enthusiasm than from the reality of the situation. When confronted with reality, Peter will in fact deny Jesus three times.

There are numerous times in our lives when things do not go the way we plan. It is as times like these that we tempted to throw in the towel like Judas and Peter did. However, the challenge is that even at times like these to continue to trust and believe that even though we may not fully understand why things happen the way they do, that God is still in control and will never let anything happen to is that is not for our good and for his glory.
Remaining with Jesus, following his commands and living the life that he demands is thus not an easy task. The numerous laws, rules and regulations of the Jews have been summarized into one command which is to love God by loving neighbour. This reduction of the numerous into one does not mean that the one is easier; it means that the focus has changed from external observance to internal disposition and from personal achievement to grace. That grace is at the heart of the command is made evident in the cases of Judas and Peter who both fail in keeping it. While Judas’ betrayal may be seen as a dramatic and extreme case of refusing to remain with Jesus and follow his commands, the denials by Peter indicate that every disciple is at risk of failure if he/ she depends on his/her own strength and not enough on the Lord.

TALK II OF THE RETREAT

RETREAT TALK I

Sunday, 24 March 2013

How will you make the unconditional love of Jesus tangible for at least one person today? Will you respond to the unconditional love of God like Mary or like Judas?


To read the texts click on the texts: Isaiah 42:1-7; Jn 12:1-11

The story of the anointing of Jesus is found in all four Gospels. Yet, the manner of the anointing, the reason for the anointing and the anointing on the head as mentioned by Mark and Matthew and the feet as mentioned by Luke and John indicate that each evangelist interprets the anointing differently. While in Mark and Matthew the anointing is as a preparation for the burial of Jesus’ body and is thus just before the Passion, in Luke the anointing of the feet of Jesus by a sinful woman is an explication of her love and respect for Jesus and his love for her shown in the forgiveness of her sins. The woman is named only in the Gospel of John and is not Mary Magdalene. In John, she is Mary, the sister of Lazarus. Though it is not the head but the feet of Jesus which Mary anoints, the focus of the anointing here is the “hour” of Jesus. The dinner that Jesus is attending here is an anticipation of the last dinner that he will have with his disciples soon.
The story begins with the dinner given for Jesus by Lazarus and his sisters Martha and Mary. The anointing by Mary is narrated immediately after this. Though Mark also points to the quality of the ointment, only John mentions the quantity. By wiping the feet of Jesus with her hair, Mary anticipates the wiping of the disciples’ feet by Jesus at the last supper. The anointing here therefore points to the washing and wiping of the feet of the disciples by Jesus. The protest about the extravagance of the gesture is voiced in John by Judas alone. This is already an anticipation of the betrayer’s role that Judas will play later in the garden. The protest of Judas is not genuine, because his concern stems from his own desire to steal. Jesus’ response to Judas is to point to the revelatory significance of Mary’s act. It is an anticipation of the final anointing after the death of Jesus and thus confirms that it will take place. Jesus also reminds his disciples of the limited time before his “hour” and invites them to recognize it like Mary did. They need to respond like her.
Since many of the Jews were going to Jesus and began to believe in him, the chief priests make plans to kill Jesus. They also plan to kill Lazarus so as not to leave any trace of the miraculous powers of Jesus and also to stop people from believing in him.
The contrast between the insight of Mary and the blindness of Judas is brought out powerfully in this story. She recognizes who Jesus is and the fate that awaits him and so acts accordingly. Judas on the other hand has closed himself to the revelation of God in Jesus and thus can only act to suit his selfish interests. The anointing of the feet by Mary and the wiping them with her hair is also an indication of the action of a true disciple of Jesus. She anticipates what her master and Lord will do and does it. She does not need to be taught it like the other disciples at the last supper. She has learnt it by observing the actions of the Lord. Judas on the other has shown that he is not a true disciple because he is able to see only the negative in the loving action of service and reaching out. His only response is therefore to protest.

The love command was not only spoken of by Jesus but lived out by him throughout his life. The best manner in which that love command was manifested was not only in the washing of the feet of his disciples, but in the spreading out of his arms in total surrender and unconditional love. This is the love to which we as disciples are challenged today. We can decide to respond like Mary because we are convinced and have experienced the unconditional love of God ourselves, or we can be like Judas who focus on our own selfish interests and so miss out on the beauty and reality of unconditional love.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Victory in the Cross


To read the texts click on the texts: Isaiah 50:4-7; Phil 2:6-11; Lk 22:14-23:56

The parents of a young boy in a Private school were at their wits end about what to do with their child. He was failing in all subjects and no amount of coercion, rewards, or gifts, could effect any change. They consulted many of their friends and relatives.  They took the child to Psychologists and academicians but, to no avail. Finally, one of their relatives suggested that they send their son to a school run by the Jesuits. Since they had tried every other means, and since they did not think the child could get any worse, they enrolled him in the local school run by the Jesuits. After the first semester results were out, the parents were pleasantly surprised to find that their son had not only passed in all subjects, but had topped the class in three of the six subjects that he was studying. They rushed to the school to thank the Jesuit Principal whom they thought was responsible for the change. The Principal accepted the praise as humbly as he could. He then called the boy to his office to find out from him the reason for this dramatic change. When the boy was asked the reason, he looked up at the Crucifix hanging in the Principal’s office and said, “When I looked up at that man hanging on the Cross, I got scared because I knew that you were serious about things and I decided not to take any chances.”
                                                                             
The man hanging on the Cross is what Passion Sunday is all about. This Sunday is also called Palm Sunday, since palm branches are distributed. However, the focus is on the betrayal, arrest, suffering, and crucifixion of Jesus rather than on his triumphal entry into Jerusalem just before his death.  Passion/Palm Sunday is the start of Holy Week in which the Church commemorates the Last Supper and the first Eucharist on Holy Thursday, Christ's death on Good Friday, and his resurrection on Easter Sunday. What Jesus experiences for us is a manifestation of God's overwhelming love for each one of us.  Further, by identifying ourselves with the 'mystery' of Jesus' suffering, death, and resurrection, we ourselves experience a great liberation, a 'Passover' from various forms of sin and enslavement to a life of joy and freedom. 

The Passion narrative in Luke, read in this year, begins with the Last Supper. During the meal, three significant events take place, all of which are connected with what happens in the rest of the narrative. The first is the prediction of betrayal by Judas, the second is the teaching on greatness, and the third is the prediction of Peter’s denial. With regard to the betrayal, it must be remembered that being a participant at the last supper will not protect one or absolve one from the act of treachery.  Judas must accept responsibility for his action. While it is true that at every step, God is in control, it is also true that each of us is given the freedom to act in the manner we deem fit and so, are responsible for our every action. This is, therefore, true for all those disciples who think that they are greater than others, and for Peter who vehemently denies that he will deny. They, too, must accept responsibility for their failings. These acts are the exact opposite of Jesus’ attitude of service and fidelity which are so powerfully brought out in the narrative.

Jesus was able to have these attitudes because of his being in constant touch with God and, even now, in this hour of crisis, he turns first, not to humans for consolation, but to God. Unlike Matthew, who states explicitly that Jesus prayed three times, and Mark, who alludes to three times, Luke mentions only once the content of Jesus’ prayer. However, the content is similar to that found in Matthew and Mark. The first part of the prayer is for what Jesus wants, but the second, the conclusion, is for what God wants. Jesus will state, clearly and unambiguously, his own need for deliverance, but he will not forget to add that, to do God’s will is his final aim. On the surface level, it might have seemed more conducive to be delivered from trial and tribulation, to be delivered from the Cross and delivered from ignominy, shame, and death.  However, at the deeper level, it was infinitely better that Jesus embrace the Cross in order to gain victory over death and to be born to new life. Since Jesus knew this, in the inner most core of his being, he gets up from his prayer strengthened and ready to face any trials that might come his way.

This is why he is serene and calm when he is arrested and even reaches out to heal the servant whose right ear was cut off in the melee. At the time when he needed all the help that he could get, he reaches out to help others. This is the effect of prayer. The effect of his prayer also sustains him before the Sanhedrin, Pilate, and Herod. Jesus will not be cowed, browbeaten, or intimated.  He will stand for what he believes in.  He will stand for the truth. Even if it means that he is not understood, even if it means that he is abused, and even if it means that he is condemned to death, he will continue to hold his head high. So confident is Jesus of his convictions that, even as he carries his cross, he does not seek consolation for himself but consoles others, especially the women who weep for him.  He knows in whom he has believed, his concern is for them. This confidence continues even as he hangs on the Cross and is ridiculed and challenged to come down. He will not accede to popular demand; he will not be frustrated by lack of understanding. Instead, he will gift the kingdom to all those who are open to receive it, even as he hangs on the Cross. As he gifts the kingdom to one of those crucified with him, he also gifts the core gift that makes the kingdom what it is: forgiveness. He forgives all. He forgives those who ridiculed him, those who spat upon him, those who slapped him, those who crowned him with thorns, those who shouted “crucify him”, those who sat in judgement on him, even those who condemned him to death and those who crucified him.  His confidence in God will not be shaken even at the end. He will not be overcome with self pity. He will not be defeated. This is why his last words, before he breathes his last, are to commend his Spirit into God’s care.

The veil of the Temple being torn in two, the Centurion proclaiming Jesus’ innocence, and the people going to their homes beating their breasts, all these occurrences point to the fact that true worship is now, no longer in the Temple but, on the Cross. They point to the fact that, in death is victory, and that only in dying is there the possibility of new life. They point to the fact that the man who hangs on the Cross is not someone of whom we should be scared.  They point to the fact that the Cross is no longer a symbol of fear or defeat, but a symbol of victory forever.

Impatience is trying to go faster than the Holy Spirit. Are you by nature impatient?


To read the texts click on the texts: Ezek 37:21-28; Jn 11:45-56

The first two verses of today can be seen as the conclusion of the miracle story of the raising of Lazarus. While some of those who witnessed the miracle respond positively, others do not. However, the number of those who believe is more than that of those who do not as is evident in the use of “many” for those who believed and “some” for those who did not. The chief priests and Pharisees respond to the information they receive about the miracle by calling a meeting during which they discuss the fate of Jesus. Their main concern seems to be their own loss of power. They do not seem really interested in the destruction of the temple or even Jerusalem but with the effect that Jesus’ popularity will have on their own selfish interests.
Caiaphas who was high priest speaks on behalf of all of them. Even as he wants Jesus to die so that greater trouble can be avoided, he is in fact unknowingly prophesying about the true meaning of the death of Jesus. Though his sole aim is political expediency, he is collaborating in God’s plan of salvation for the whole of the human race. He uses his power to suppress God’s word but in effect witnesses to him. In his death Jesus would gather together all the scattered people of God to bring them to a union and unity never witnessed before.
Jesus retreats to Ephraim after the Sanhedrin’s decision. This retreat, however, is not to escape death but to control its time. Jesus will not go to his death until his hour arrives. It is God who decides that hour and no amount of human plotting or planning can hasten its arrival.
Even as the Passover draws near, questions remain about whether Jesus will come to the feast or not. It is not clear whether those who are looking for him have a positive or malicious intent. The question, however, reinforces the idea that Jesus acts not according to the will of human beings but of God and if God so ordains then no matter what the threat or consequence, Jesus will do what is required.

God’s ways are not our ways. As high as the heavens are from the earth so are God’s ways different from ours. It is not always possible to accept this simple truth and there are times when we try to go faster than the Holy Spirit because of our impatience. We are reminded as we reflect on today’s readings that there will be numerous times when we will knowingly or unknowingly try to upset the plans of God because they do not fit in with what we think is good for us. At times like these we too behave like the adversaries of Jesus. We have to realize that no matter how much we try we will never be able to upset God’s will for the world though it might seem sometimes that we have and can. When we witness evil overpowering good, selfishness dominating selflessness or fear overtaking love, then it might seem that we have done so. However, these “victories’ are only temporary as was the victory of the ones who crucified Jesus on the cross. In the final race it is always God who wins, it is always selflessness that come first and it is always love that will overcome.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

The Lord delivers in the First reading

Proof in the Gospel text

How will you make Jesus visible today?


To read the texts click on the texts: Jer 20:10-13; Jn 10:31-42

The text of today begins with the Jews picking up stones to stone Jesus. While the immediate context is the last words of Jesus in his response to who he is, namely “The Father and I are one”, this reaction must also be seen in the larger context of the revelations that Jesus has been making. Jesus’ question to the Jews immediately after their attempt to stone him is indicative of this. He asks them for which of his good works they want to stone him. In response they accuse Jesus of blasphemy. Though it is true that Jesus is equal to God, they do not realize that it is not he who makes such a claim on his own accord. It is God who confirms him. Jesus uses “their” law to prove his claims and disprove theirs. He begins by citing the first half of Ps 82:6 in which human beings are regarded as “gods” because they receive the Word of God and then goes on to prove from the lesser to the greater, that thus it cannot be blasphemy if Jesus speaks of himself as God’s Son. It is the Father who sanctified and thus set apart Jesus and sent him into the world and thus he always does what the Father commands him to do.
Jesus goes on to appeal to his works as a proof of the fact that he has indeed been sent by God. His works, which are in keeping with God’s plan for the world, are clear indication that he and the Father are one. He is in the Father and the Father is in him. To be able to recognize this is to come to faith. These words do not go down well with the listeners who try to arrest him. Again as in the past Jesus escapes because his hour had not yet come.
The last three verses of the text look back to 1:28 and to John’s witness of Jesus at Bethany. John’s witness and then truth of that witness manifested in Jesus leads people to believe in Jesus.

In these verses, Jesus does not claim to be another God or to replace God or even make himself equal to God. He claims to make God known as never before. He reveals God as loving Father and as one whose only will for the world is its salvation. This is evident in the works that he performs, which are works of unconditional and redeeming love.
Jesus’ offer of recognizing him in the world is an offer that is relevant and available even today. The “good works” he inaugurated are on view whenever one goes beyond oneself and reaches out in love and compassion. They are continued when one speaks an enhancing word or performs a loving action. There are visible in selfless service and forgiveness. They are visible when love is made real.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

JESUS AND ABRAHAM

COVENANT WITH GOD.

ill you look for the revelation of God in everything that happens to you today?


To read the texts click on the texts: Gen 17:3-9; Jn 8: 51-59

The consequence of keeping Jesus’ word is the destruction of death itself, since his word is a life giving word and can only result in life. This promise of Jesus is misunderstood by the listeners. They attack Jesus’ identity by appealing to Abraham and the fact that he died. Since Abraham died, the words of Jesus cannot be true. They thus accuse Jesus of being possessed by a demon. They keep challenging Jesus by asking him whether he is greater than Abraham. While the question here assumes a negative response, for the one who has accepted Jesus, the response can only be positive. Jesus is indeed greater than Abraham and all the prophets. The reason for this is that Jesus does not glorify himself. It is the Father himself who glorifies Jesus. It is the God in whom the Jews believe who glorifies Jesus. The Jews claim to “know” him, but in reality do not. It is Jesus who knows and reveals the Father and so anyone who refuses to believe in this revelation is shutting him/herself out from the truth and so indulging in lies and falsehood.

For the first time here Jesus himself appeals to Abraham to prove his claims. However, by the use of the distancing “your ancestor Abraham” Jesus indicates on the one hand that there is a distance between him and his listeners and on the other that while they may have Abraham as their ancestor (father) he has only God as his. Even so it is Abraham their father who also testified to Jesus when the grace was given to him by God to “see” Jesus’ day. He did see it and rejoiced in it. Here too the Jews misunderstand Jesus. They appeal to chronology, not realizing that Jesus goes beyond time and space. The double “Amen” with which Jesus responds is an indication on the one had of a new teaching and on the other of a deep revelation. While on the one hand there is a contrast of tenses: the past (Abraham was) and the present (I am), on the other hand the “I am” saying is used here in the absolute sense indicating that Jesus identifies himself with God. Jesus is infinitely greater than Abraham since Jesus is one with God.
The Jews respond to this revelation by wanting to stone Jesus because they consider it blasphemy. However, since his hour had not yet come, Jesus cannot be touched.

As human beings we often set limits on ourselves. While this is bad enough, we often also go further and set limits on God. We decide in advance what God can and cannot do and so miss out on mystery and miracle. Our stereotypes and closed minds result in our missing out on the revelation that God continues to make to us. In our understanding of who God is or how God reveals himself, it is important for us to note that with our finite minds we will never be able to totally fathom the depths of this mystery. We are limited by space and time, but God is not. Thus, it is important to open our minds as fully as we can and even after we have done this to know that there will still be much that we do not and can never know.

True Freedom

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

True Freedom in the Gospel

What is the falsehood that is binding you? Will you let go of it and allow the truth to set you free?


To read the texts click on the texts: Dan 3:14-20, 24-25, 28; Jn 8:31-40

The verses which form the text for today contain what may be seen as the fundamental lines of debate and disagreement between Jesus and the Jewish leaders. In these verses the succeeding verse builds up on the preceding one and thus intensifies the debate. The sayings are addressed to the Jews who “believed in him”. Though these do, their faith seems inadequate as is seen in their response to Jesus to come to the truth. The truth that Jesus refers to here is not an abstract principle but the presence of God in Jesus. The recognition of this truth results in a person’s being set free. The words “will make you free’ result in upsetting the listeners who protest that since they are Abraham’s descendants they are naturally free. However, they do not realize that in rejecting Jesus they are also rejecting Abraham and so are not really his descendants and consequently not free. 

Since freedom is a gift, it cannot be earned or acquired through one’s antecedents. It is made visible in the actions that one performs. If one performs sinful actions, then one is a slave and so not free. Though the Jews claim to be descendents of Abraham, their actions do not correspond to their claim. They are guilty of the sinful action of trying to kill Jesus. Freedom is possible only through the Son who alone can make free because he is the Truth. In order to receive this freedom one must be able to recognize the truth of who Jesus is. This they cannot do.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Who is God??? Look closely at the Gospel text.

Are you able to experience like Jesus joy even in the midst of your pain?


To read the texts click on the texts: Num 21:4-9; Jn 8:21-30

The words which begin today’s text continue the theme of Jesus’ departure begun in 8:14. Here, it is his death, resurrection and ascension which will be the focus. Though God has revealed himself in Jesus, the Jewish leaders have refused to recognize him. This is the sin in which they will die. When Jesus speaks of his departure, he is misunderstood. The Jewish leaders think of suicide, but Jesus speaks of laying down his life of his own accord for the salvation of all. The reason why they misunderstand is because they and Jesus stand on opposite sides. They are from below and of this world, Jesus is from above and not of this world. If they want to change their position, they can only do so by recognizing in Jesus, God. The leaders are not able to do this and show that they have completely misunderstood Jesus in the question they ask. Jesus affirms that he has told them from the beginning who he is. He is the one sent by God and it is God who affirms and confirms him.
When they “lift up” Jesus on the Cross (which can also be translated as “exalt” and so mean resurrection and ascension) then they will recognize him. This statement of being “lifted up” or “exalted’ is the second of the three such statements in the Gospel of John. The first appears in 3:14 and the third in 12:32-34. In these two cases because of the use of the passive voice, the suggestion is that God will do the exalting. It is only here that the responsibility for the “lifting up” is thrust on the people. Thus, even as they crucify him, they will also exalt him and in this act recognize him as the one who is. Even when on the cross Jesus will not be alone because the Father will be with him.
Jesus’ words touch the hearts of many who hear him and they come to believe.

Jesus’ coming into the world was not primarily to die but to save. Yet, if this salvation could only be achieved through his death on a cross, then so be it. Jesus was willing for it if this was to be the only way. He was also aware that because of his faith, trust and confidence in the Father that his crucifixion or being lifted up on the cross would also be his resurrection and ascension, his being exalted. Even as he is crucified, the very ones who crucify him realize that what they have done is nailed love incarnate to the cross. This love accepts, forgives and continues to love even from the cross.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Do you “feel” forgiven by God? If No, why not?


To read the texts click on the texts: Dan 13:1-9, 15-17, 19-30, 33-62; Jn 8:1-11

Most scholars today are of the opinion that this text did nor originally belong to the Gospel of John and was added later. Numerous reasons are put forward to support this view. One is that the term “scribes” used here is the only time in the Gospel that it is used. John does not use “scribes” anywhere else in his Gospel. Another reason is that while in the rest of the Gospel of John the debates with the Jewish leaders are long, here it is brief. This fits in better with the controversy stories of the Synoptic Gospels. Also the Mount of Olives is mentioned only here in the Gospel of John, though in the Synoptic Gospels it is frequently mentioned. Jesus is addressed as “teacher” only here in John. Be that as it may, the text is now part of John’s Gospel and we have to interpret it within the Gospel.
This event takes place in the Temple. Though the law commanded that both the man and woman who engaged in adultery would be put to death (Lev 20:10; Deut 22:22), the scribes and Pharisees accuse the woman alone and do not provide the necessary witnesses who had “caught” the woman in the very act of committing adultery. The intention of the scribes seems clear: it is to trap Jesus. Initially, Jesus does not want to engage the question and so bends down and writes with his finger on the ground. The point here is not what Jesus was writing but the distancing gesture that he performs. Since the scribes persist in the question, Jesus straightens up and addresses the scribes directly. The statement that he makes takes them beyond the question that they ask to a self examination and introspection. Once he has raised the issue, Jesus bends down again and writes with his finger. This time, the intention of writing is to show that he has said all that he has to say and wants them to decide what they have to do. They do not answer in words, but through their action of leaving the place. That all of them leave beginning with the elders is an indication that no one is without sin. When Jesus straightens up the second time he addresses the woman who is alone with him since all others have gone away. The woman who is addressed directly for the first time confirms that no one is left to condemn her. Jesus responds by not condemning her, but also challenging her to receive the new life that forgiveness brings.

The attitude of Jesus to people, whether those who engaged in condemnation or the condemned seems to be the focus of the story. The questions of Jesus to the scribes and Pharisees and the woman allows them equal opportunity to part with old ways after having received forgiveness. Jesus condemns no one, not even those who condemn. However, while the woman accepts the gift of new life, the scribes and Pharisees show their non-acceptance through their actions of going away. It is thus a story of grace and mercy freely given by God in Jesus which when received results in a radical transformation of a person and the challenge of a new life.

While it is true that this story may be seen as a moral lesson informing us that we are not to judge rashly or point fingers at others since when we do, there will be three fingers pointing back at us, it is also a story that goes beyond this moral lesson to the core of the revelation that God makes in Jesus. The God revealed in Jesus is a God who does not condemn, a God who accepts each of us as we are and a God who even when we find it difficult to forgive ourselves, keeps forgiving and accepting us.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Jesus reveals God

The Second Reading has the answer

God does not forgive!!!


To read the texts click on the texts: Is 43:16-21; Phil 3:8-14 ; Jn 8:1-11

A Jesuit friend of mine, who is now with God, was steeped in Ignatian and Jesuit Spirituality.  He said to me one day, when he was 86 years old, “Errol, did you know that God does not forgive.” I was taken aback by his statement and, in my naiveté, began to quote the many texts from both the Old and New Testament that speak of the unconditional mercy and love of God. After I had finished my spiel, he turned to me with a twinkle in his eye and said, with a smile, “God does not forgive, because God does not condemn”.  A few months later, we met again, but he had forgotten what he had told me and repeated the statement. This time, I was ready and knew what was coming. However, since I did not want to spoil the great finale for him, I pretended that I was hearing it for the first time and again, began to quote the scripture texts of God’s unconditional mercy, forgiveness, and love.  When I had finished, he said, “God does not forgive, because God does not condemn.” After that, every time we met, he would begin his conversation with me by saying, “God does not forgive” and he would end our conversation by saying, “because God does not condemn”.  As I reflected on his words, I began to think that if, as he grew older, that is all he remembered, it was surely enough.  He needed nothing more.

The Gospel text of today speaks, not of the forgiveness of God but, of non-condemnation. In the Gospel today, Jesus has no need to forgive the woman caught in adultery because he has not condemned her. It is important to note, however, that Jesus also does not condemn the condemners of the woman.  He condemns no one. Many fanciful interpretations have been given about Jesus’ action of writing on the ground when he is asked the question. While some think that Jesus was writing the sins of the bystanders, others think that he did not hear the question or, that he was trying to gain time to come up with a good answer.  Still others think that Jesus was overcome by shame and embarrassment at the question and so, stooped down to so as to hide his face.  Nothing in the text allows such interpretations and it may well be that the reason Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground was to distance himself from the situation and refuse to play judge. Be that as it may, after Jesus has challenged the accusers of the woman to cast a stone at her if they are sinless, he bends down and writes on the ground once again. It seems plausible to interpret this second action of Jesus as stemming from his desire to condemn and to judge no one. He will not even accuse or judge the very ones who have accused and judged the woman.  This is the challenge of unconditional love.

This love was manifested to the people of Israel, as narrated in the first reading of today, when, through the words of Isaiah, the Lord promised the people a “new thing”. This was because the “former things” were not remembered anymore.  They were forgotten and erased. The “new thing” which the Lord will do is make a way in the wilderness.  He will travel like a shepherd on this way, and will lead his flocks to safety and nourishment.
This is also the “new thing” that Paul is convinced he has received and, because of which, all the old or former things are of no consequence whatsoever. They are to be counted as refuse when compared with the gain of knowing and experiencing the unconditional forgiveness and love of God made manifest in Jesus. This is also made explicit in the words Jesus spoke to the woman caught in adultery.  Jesus said, “Do not sin again”.  He is not stating what is required for acquittal.  He is acquitting freely and without reservation. This unconditional love has to become the starting point for a new life that one is challenged to live.

The readings of today are thus a consolation to everyone, no matter to which category we may belong. If we are like the scribes and Pharisees in the Gospel story of today, quick to condemn others and point fingers at them, the readings are saying to us that God will not condemn us or point a finger at us. We have been forgiven for this sin and forgiven unconditionally.   If we identify with the woman in the Gospel story, then to us, too, the message is that our sin has been erased and that we have been forgiven, unconditionally.  However, no matter with whom we identify, the next step after having experienced the forgiveness of God in Jesus is, like Paul, to forget what lies in the past and to press on to what lies ahead. And, what lies ahead is only unconditional forgiveness, mercy, and love.  Will we press on?