Tuesday 30 August 2011

Will you find the time today, “to be”, so that “your doing” will be more efficacious? How? Colossians 1,1-8; 1 Corinthians 3, 1-9; Lk 4, 38-44

The reading of today allows us to encounter a Jesus who was busy day and night “doing” and yet a Jesus who would manage to find the time “to be”.
The first of the three scenes that form part of this section deals with the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law. Since in Luke this healing takes place before the call of the first disciples, he does not mention Andrew, James and John as Mark does (Mk 1,29). He also probably uses this healing to prepare for the call of Peter, which he narrates in 5,1-11.
In the second scene, Luke depicts a Jesus who would heal people at all times of the day or night. While the demons use the title “Son of God” to identify Jesus, Luke himself informs the readers that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ. Luke seems to have taken the silencing function from Mark because it is not clear in his Gospel as it is in Mark, why Jesus would not allow the demons to speak.
In the third and final scene of this section, Luke portrays a Jesus who would find time to commune with his Father. He portrays a man of action and yet a man of prayer, though he does not explicitly state here that Jesus prayed. Though the crowds want to prevent Jesus from leaving, Jesus is clear that he must go on to other places as well, for the kingdom belongs to all.
This Jesus is the one who challenges us today to be men and women who derive our strength “to do” from “the one who is and will always be”.

Will your actions speak louder than your words today? How? 1 Thessalonians 5,1-6.9-11; 1 Corinthians 2, 1-16; Lk 4, 31-37

Immediately after leaving the synagogue, Jesus works a miracle. This miracle is the healing of a man possessed by a demon, thus putting into action immediately the manifesto he had spoken about. This exorcism is the first of the four exorcisms in the Gospel of Luke. The unclean spirit refers to Jesus here as Jesus of Nazareth and as the Holy one of God, which is a title Luke has taken from Mark, since it does not appear again in the Gospel of Luke. Jesus exorcises the demon with a command. It is interesting to note that the people who witnessed the miracle refer to it not as an action but as a teaching simply because there was never a separation between the words and deeds of Jesus, there was never a separation between what Jesus said and did.


The Gospel of Luke is generally regarded as the third of the four canonical Gospels. Almost all scholars agree that the author of Luke is also the author of the Acts of the Apostles.
The Gospel is known by many names. Some see it along with Acts as narrating the history of salvation, which is divided into three parts. This first is the time before Jesus where everything is old. This is possibly why Luke has changed Mark 8,28 which has “one of the prophets” as one of the answers of the people regarding Jesus’ identity to “one of the old prophets” (9,19). The second is the time of Jesus who inaugurates the kingdom (4,16-30) and the third is the time of the Church (The Acts of the Apostles), which continues the work of Jesus.
Others see it as a Gospel of Prayer because when compared with Matthew and Mark, the Lucan Jesus prays oftener. There are seven accounts of Jesus praying that are exclusive to Luke. (3,21; 5,16; 6,12; 9,18; 9,29; 11,1; 22,32).
Still others see it as a Gospel of Women since Luke gives special importance to women in his Gospel. In Luke’s Infancy narrative, Mary rather than Joseph is an important figure. Only in Luke do we find the miracles of the raising of the widow’s son (7,11-15) and the healing of the woman with a spirit of infirmity (13,10-17). Luke alone tells us that Jesus had women disciples who provided for him out of their means (8,1-3).
Some also see Luke as the Gospel of Great Mercy or Pardon. This is because the Parables of the Good Samaritan (10,30-35) and the Prodigal Son (15,11-32) are found only in Luke. While hanging on the Cross, it is in Luke’s Gospel alone that Jesus forgives those who crucified him (23,34).
The Gospel of Luke begins with the announcement of the birth of John the Baptist to Zechariah followed by the announcement of the birth of Jesus to Mary. Immediately after this announcement Mary goes to meet Elizabeth who will be the mother of John the Baptist in order to share the good news with her. Luke alone of all the Evangelists narrates an incident in the early life of Jesus after his birth where he is found in the Temple. Jesus begins his public ministry immediately after his Baptism and in the Synagogue at Nazareth where he reads from Isaiah what may term as his own manifesto and plan of action. He chooses disciples to help in his mission, which he continues in Galilee.
A large part of the Gospel (9,51-19,27) has been termed as the Journey to Jerusalem during which Jesus both preaches and heals. After his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, he cleanses the Temple but continues to teach in it even after this incident. During this time he is questioned about his authority and other matters of the law and most of the questions are with a view to trap Jesus. It is one of the Twelve, Judas who betrays Jesus to the Jewish leaders. He is tried, and condemned to death on a cross where he dies forgiving those responsible for crucifying him.
The last part of the Gospel begins with an episode of the empty tomb in which the women who go to the tomb are asked why they look for the living among the dead. Jesus then appears to two disciples when they are on their way to Emmaus and chides them for their lack of faith. Finally Jesus appears to the eleven, gives them a commission and then is then taken up to heaven. The disciples return to the Temple in Jerusalem with great joy.
Some of the characteristics unique to Luke’s Gospel are as under:
1.   The Gospel of Luke is the only Gospel, which narrates the annunciation of the birth of John the Baptist, and his birth. The birth of Jesus is announced to Mary (not Joseph as in Matthew). Luke alone narrates the ascension of Jesus into heaven.
2.   Only Luke narrates the incident of Jesus being found in the temple (2,41-52). This is the only incident from Jesus’ childhood that any evangelist narrates.
3.   Luke’s genealogy of Jesus goes back to Adam the first human being (3,38) unlike Matthew’s, which begins with Abraham. Luke alone gives us the age of Jesus when he began his ministry (3,23).
4.   In Luke alone we find the parables of the Good Samaritan, the Publican and the Pharisee who went to the Temple to pray, the rich man and Lazarus, the lost coin, the prodigal son, the unjust steward, the rich fool who would tear down his barns and build greater barns in order that he might store his goods, and the story of Zacchaeus, who climbed a tree in order that he might see Jesus. Each of these parables and stories illustrates what Luke regards as an essential characteristic of Jesus’ work.
5.   Compared to the other canonical gospels, Luke devotes significantly more attention to women. The Gospel of Luke features more female characters, features a female prophet (2,36), and details the experience of pregnancy (1,41-42). Prominent discussion is given to the lives of Elizabeth and of Mary, the mother of Jesus (Ch. 2).
6.   Luke portrays Jesus as extremely concerned about the poor and those who were considered social outcasts. Already in the Sermon on the Plain, the Lucan Jesus pronounces a blessing on “the poor" (6,20) unlike the Matthean Jesus whose blessing is pronounced on the “poor in spirit” (Mt 5,3). Three parables in Chapter 15 (the Lost sheep, the Lost coin and the Lost Son) are told one after another because the Pharisees and scribes complained about Jesus’ table fellowship with tax collectors and sinners.
7.   Luke mentions the Holy Spirit more than the other two synoptic gospels, Matthew and Mark. John the Baptist is filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born (1,15); next, John's mother Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit (1:41); before long, John's dumbstruck father Zechariah is also filled with the Holy Spirit (1,67). Jesus is conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit (1,35). The Holy Spirit reveals to the aged Simeon that he will see the Messiah (Christ) before he dies (2,26-27). John the Baptist announces that the powerful one coming after him will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire (3,16). When Jesus is baptized, the Holy Spirit descends on Him in bodily form as a dove (3,22), as God the Father confirms from heaven that Jesus is "My Son, whom I love". At this point Jesus is "full of the Holy Spirit" (4,1), and is "led out by the Spirit into the wilderness" (4:1), where the Devil tempted Him for forty days. Having successfully resisted the Devil as a man (4,4.8.12), Jesus returns to Galilee "in the power of the Spirit" (4,14). Luke uses all these references as a build-up to Jesus reading the prophet Isaiah in the synagogue: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me" (4,18-19). 'The Anointed One' is 'the Messiah' in Hebrew, 'the Christ' in Greek. The total involvement of the Holy anointing Spirit at every step of the way (conception, babyhood, childhood, extended family, baptism, temptation and inauguration to ministry) proves that He, Jesus, is the Anointed One, the Messiah, and the Christ.

Sunday 28 August 2011

The Beheading of John the Baptist - Where there is fear there cannot be love. Where there is fear decisions made are more often than not wrong.

Mark’s Account of the beheading of Saint John the Baptist by Herod Antipas is more elaborate than that of Matthew and Luke. According to Mark, Herod had imprisoned John because he reproved Herod for divorcing his wife (Phasaelis), and unlawfully taking Herodias, the wife of his brother Herod Philip I. On Herod's birthday, Herodias' daughter (traditionally named Salome but not named by Mark or the other Gospels) danced before the king and his guests. Her dancing pleased Herod so much that in his drunkenness he promised to give her anything she desired, up to half of his kingdom. When the daughter asked her mother what she should request, she was told to ask for the head of John the Baptist on a platter. Although Herod was appalled by the request, he reluctantly agreed and had John executed in the prison.
The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus also relates in his Antiquities of the Jews that Herod killed John, stating that he did so, "lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his [John's] power and inclination to raise a rebellion, (for they seemed ready to do anything he should advise), [so Herod] thought it best [to put] him to death." He further states that many of the Jews believed that the military disaster which fell upon Herod at the hands of Aretas his father-in-law (Phasaelis' father), was God's punishment for his unrighteous behaviour.
By using the legend of the righteous person in a wicked court and by placing it between the sending of the disciples (6:7-13) and their return from Mission (6:30-34), Mark alerts his readers to the dangers awaiting Jesus and the disciples. Herod recognizes that Jesus is in some sense the successor to John the Baptist. Yet repentance does not accompany his statement. He thinks more of the drunken oaths he has sworn and his honour before the assembled guests than he does of the prophet whom he was allegedly protecting. Willingness to sacrifice others to maintain honour, prestige, and power remains one of the great temptations of persons in positions of authority. The legend of John the Baptist shows us that justice is the ultimate victim in such situations.

Saturday 27 August 2011

Losing to find - Jer 20:7-9; Rom. 12:1-2; Mt. 16:21-27

It was the season of Lent and a teacher was explaining the Stations of the Cross to her Sunday school class. They got to the fourth Station where Jesus on the road to Calvary meets his mother. The teacher explained that even though this incident was not narrated by any of the four evangelists, it was very much part of the tradition of the Church and though they may not have talked to each other, mother and son would surely have spoken just using their eyes. “What do you think they said to each other?” she asked the children in her class. There were different answers. One boy suggested that Mary said, “This is unfair.” Another girl suggested that she said, “Why me?” Finally a sickly little girl raised her thin hand, got up and said: “Teacher, I know what the Blessed Mother told Jesus. She said to him, ‘My son, Keep on keeping on!’”

Why would a mother encourage her only son on the way to crucifixion to keep on keeping on? The mother of Jesus would understand that if Jesus did not go to his cross, he would not be fulfilling the will of his Father, and if he did not do that, his life would have no meaning whatever. The mother of Jesus would know that only in his cross would he find his meaning and only in death would he find new life. This is why she would encourage her son never to give up or give in, but to persevere all the way even to ignominy, self denial, the cross and yes, death itself.

Today’s readings begin with an example of what is called in scriptural writings a lament. The prophet Jeremiah laments about unbearable pain, anger, and misery at unspeakable horrors and uncontrollable events that surround him in his life as a prophet of God’s Word.  He is hostile towards God whom he believes has “seduced” or “duped” him, and he is convinced that he will no more mention God or speak in God’s name. Yet, even as he says this, he realizes that he cannot abandon his prophetic mission which is a fire burning in his heart, imprisoned in his bones. He is compelled from within to proclaim God’s word. The Word of God that comes to him, in response to his outburst of rage, is disquieting. He becomes aware that the misery is not going to stop or go away. There will be no respite from his torments and horrors. God simply assures Jeremiah of his presence, to strengthen him to withstand more misery. Jeremiah must continue to believe even in his unbelief, he must continue to have faith even in his lack of faith. He must keep on keeping on.

Peter’s objection to Jesus’ words of his passion, death and resurrection in the Gospel text of today sound like the first part of Jeremiah’s lament: Why must God’s son go to a Cross? Why must God’s son suffer? It would be nothing short of blasphemy for this to happen, and Peter states emphatically that this can never be. Surely there is another way. However, in his response to Peter, Jesus realizes like Jeremiah that it has to be this way. This is why Peter is called “Satan” which here is to be understood as one who intends to take Jesus away from his mission and so the will of his Father. Peter is a stumbling block, and Jesus will let nothing and no one stand between him and his Father’s will. He realizes that God’s word and will for him is so compelling that he cannot but fulfill it. It burns in his heart too like a fire that cannot be quenched. Difficult though it is to go to the Cross and though common sense and reason would rally against it, to the Cross he must and will indeed go.

Inspired by this example of Jesus, Paul in writing to the Romans urges them to imitate the Lord who did not conform to this world but dared to offer his body as a living and holy sacrifice to God.

Often in our lives like Jeremiah and Peter, each of us comes across something that is for all intents and purposes unbearable. Millions of people all over the world do not have enough to eat and are malnourished while others have more than they will ever need. Numerous people have no roof over their heads while others build mansions and palatial homes. A baby dies at birth, another is born deformed. Sooner or later, bearing the unbearable, we realize how little control we have over so much that damages our society and ourselves. Grief, rage, anger, and fear flash to the surface of consciousness and we wonder then about the kind of God that we believe in. Can this be the God of love? Can this be the God who demands justice? Can this be the God who makes no distinction between persons? Can this be the God of the poor and downtrodden? Why must the world we live in be filled with so much misery and pain?

When we are bearing the unbearable and are not able to fully understand it, we need a God who has suffered the depths of weakness, hopelessness, helplessness and even despair as we ourselves do.  No other God can be trusted or hope to understand, and this is the Good News of God in Christ. Whatever the unbearable suffering, whatever the uncontrollable events that afflict and grieve us to the core of our being, God has seen it, known it, experienced it and taken it into his own life in Jesus who was crucified, who died and who was raised on the third day.  This is why we cannot and must not take suffering out of the Jesus story since it says to us not that God has obliterated or removed everything that is unbearable in human misery, not that God has taken away all cause for pain and anger in human life, not even that God controls all things, but that God is the one who bears the misery, pain and helplessness with us and for us.  By bearing the unbearable, God overcomes it and faithfully keeps the conversation open for life.