Friday 30 September 2011

Have you seen and experienced the Lord? How does this shown in your life? Baruch 4,5-12.27-29; Job 42,1-3.5-6.12-17; Lk 10,17-24

Since neither Matthew nor Mark narrates the rending of the seventy-two (10,1-12), they do not have these verses (10,17-24), which narrate the return of the seventy-two from Mission. When the disciples who were filled with joy on their return report to Jesus that even the demons submit to his name, the response of Jesus is to see the fall of Satan and of his power, and to thank the Father for his graciousness.
Since the disciples here confirm that the demons are cast out in the name of Jesus, it follows that Satan’s rule is indeed coming to an end with the coming of Jesus and the giving of his authority to his disciples. However, as far as the disciples are concerned what is more important that Satan submitting to them is the fact that their names are now recorded in the book of life.
The thanksgiving to the Father is found also in Matthew 11,25-27 and is because God has favoured not the wise and intelligent but the unlearned and revealed to them the mysteries of the kingdom.
The last two verses in which Jesus speaks of the blessedness of the disciples (10,23-24) are found also in Matthew 16,16-17. The disciples are indeed in a privileged positinn because they have been able to see and experience what prophets and kings have not been privileged to see, namely the mighty works of Jesus, which resulted in the fall of Satan and his kingdom.
The results of our actions ought not to concern us as much as doing the action to the best of our ability. If we are clear that it is God’s kingdom that we are called to work towards and that he is the one who is finally in control, we will be able to focus on what we have to do and not bother about what will happen later.

Thursday 29 September 2011

If you were a resident of Chorazin, Bethsiada or Capernaum, what would you do after hearing these words of Jesus? Baruch 1,15-22; Ecclesiastes 38,1.12-21; 40,3-5; Lk 10,13-16

Immediately after the Mission Discourse to the seventy-two (10,1-12), Luke has added the sayings on the woes against Chorazin , Bethsaida and Capernaum (10,13-15). The reason why the woe is pronounced on them is because they did not repent even after seeing the deeds of power that were wrought in their towns. The people of even Tyre and Sidon, which were condemned in Isaiah 23,1-18, would have repented if the same deeds had been done in their towns. Therefore the judgement on Chorazin and Bethsaida will be all the more severe. In Luke, Jesus had done a number of deeds of power in Capernaum (4,23.31-41), and still there was no repentance in the hearts of the people. Capernaum will not be exalted, but will be brought down to Hades. The last verse of this section (10,16) confers on the disciples the authority of Jesus himself. The authority of the disciples who are sent by Jesus is the same as the authority of Jesus himself.
Miracles take place every day if only we open our eyes to see. When a child is born, when a tree comes out if flower, when it rains, when a bird sins, when a person reaches out selflessly with a kind word or deed, miracles happen. We need to stop looking for miracles only in the spectacular and extraordinary and realise that they happen at every moment of every day.

Wednesday 28 September 2011

How would you define mission today? Are you engaged in mission? Nehemiah 8,1-12; Job 19,21-27; Lk 10,1-12

Luke’s is the only Gospel in which we find the sending of the seventy-two. Matthew and Mark have the sending of the Twelve, as does Luke. This then is regarded as a doublet of the sending of the Twelve in Lk. 9,1-6. The fact that seventy-two and not just twelve are sent indicates growth and movement. The kingdom of God is preached not just by Jesus or the Twelve, but also by many more. In some manuscripts, the number is recorded as seventy. This is probably due to the list of nations in Genesis 10, where while the Hebrew text lists seventy nations, the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible) list seventy-two. This will mean that the commissioning of the seventy-two foreshadows the mission of the church to all nations. In this sending, they are sent in pairs (not in the earlier sending of the Twelve in Lk. 9,1-6), and ahead of Jesus, in order to prepare the way before him. In this sense, they are called to be pre-cursors, forerunners like John the Baptist. The instructions begin with a prayer to be made to God, because it is his mission that they will be engaged in. At the outset they are warned that they will need to be on their guard at all times. The strategy proposed is detachment from things, persons and events. This detachment will help to proclaim the kingdom more efficaciously. Three interconnected aspects of the mission are stressed. The missionaries are to eat what is set before them in order to show the same table fellowship that Jesus showed, they are to cure the sick and to proclaim the kingdom in order to show that the kingdom is not only spiritual but also very practical and touches every aspect of human life. They are to do and also to say.
It is sometimes mistakenly thought that only religious men and women are called to be missionaries. Some also think that only those who work in the villages are to be termed missionaries. However, the sending of the seventy-two corrects this misunderstanding. Every Christian is sent on a mission and called to engage in mission, simply because mission is to be done where one is. The threefold mission task in these verses is a further confirmation of the fact that mission includes every aspect of life and so is not the responsibility of only a few, but every disciple of Jesus.

Tuesday 27 September 2011

What is preventing you from following Jesus unconditionally? What will you do about it today? Nehemiah 2,1-8; Job 9,1-13.14-16; Lk 9, 57-62

While part of this text is found also in Matthew, the latter part (9,60b-62) is exclusive to Luke. It concerns the would-be followers of Jesus, and Jesus’ warnings about what discipleship will entail.
To the first would-be follower who promises to follow Jesus wherever he goes, Jesus responds by stating clearly that unlike even the foxes that at least have holes, he does not have anywhere he can call his own. If the would-be follower is ready for this insecurity, he may follow.
The second person is called to follow by Jesus, but responds by asking for permission to bury his father. This was a duty that was binding on all devout Jews. Jesus’ response is harsh and demands that the disciple be primarily concerned about the kingdom.
The third would-be follower puts conditions to his following namely that he wants to say farewell to his family. However, here too the response of Jesus is clear. Looking back while ploughing leads to a crooked furrow.
While it is not necessary to give up the state of life one has chosen in order to follow Jesus, what is to be understood is that following will necessarily mean changing one’s style of life. It will mean a move from selfishness to selflessness, from acquiring material possessions to sharing them with others and from anything negative to everything that is positive.

Monday 26 September 2011

Don’t try to teach a pig to sing. It is waste of your time and irritates the pig. Zechariah 8,20-23; Job 3,1-3.11-17.20-23; Lk 9, 51-56

The section of the Gospel of Luke beginning from 9,51 and ending at 19,28 is known as the Travel Narrative or Journey to Jerusalem. Beginning today and on all weekdays till November 17,2004, (except on feast days) we will be reading from this section of Luke’s Gospel. It is therefore important to have an understanding of what this section means. Luke begins this travel narrative by telling us that when the days drew near for Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. Jesus’ arrival at Jerusalem in 19,28 marks the end of this section. One important reason for this section where Luke diverts from Mark, is so that Luke can add here material from his own special source and also material from the source known as “Q” which he and Matthew have in common. In this section we will also find many parables, sayings meal scenes, controversies and warnings, through which the Lucan Jesus explicates his way of life.
In the text of today, we will read of the opposition that Jesus encounters already at the beginning of his journey. A Samaritan village refuses to welcome him. This rejection of Jesus at the beginning of his ministry coincides with the rejection at the beginning of his ministry in Nazareth (4,16-30). This foreshadows the rejection that Jesus will face in Jerusalem. In response to the rejection, James and John want to react and destroy the whole village. Jesus’ rebuke of James and John is an indication that he will not use violence in his ministry, but will win people only through love. The last verse of this text where we are told that they went on to another village also makes clear that Jesus will not force his teaching on anyone who does not want to listen to it.
Sometimes we are faced with opposition with regard to an idea that we may put forward or a suggestion that we may offer. When we identify with that idea or suggestion and feel rejected when it is rejected, then we might be tempted like James and John to react. The attitude of Jesus invites us to detach ourselves from all that we propose, so that we can continue to stay calm and collected.

Sunday 25 September 2011

How will you show through your actions that you belong to the kingdom? Zechariah 8,1-8; Job 1,6-22; Lk 9, 46-50

This scene shows the disciples debating among themselves as to which of them was the greatest. The fact that this episode occurs immediately after Jesus has predicted his passion, death and resurrection for the second time, shows that the disciples have not understood the meaning of Jesus’ predictions. In his response to their argument, Jesus puts a child by his side as an example of what it means to be the greatest. The one who like a child acknowledges total dependence on God, the one who does not have any visible means of support, is the one who is greatest.
The second scene in this section is the last one before Jesus turns towards Jerusalem, and also shows the disciples of Jesus in a poor light. This is the only scene in which the apostle John appears alone in the Synoptic Gospels. Here he acts as the spokesman for the group. The reason why they try to stop the unnamed exorcist is because he does not belong to the “inner circle”. The irony is that they as disciples were not able earlier to cast out a demon (9,40), and now someone who is not even part of their group is able to do so. Jesus’ response calls for openness and tolerance. Jesus also seems to say that one’s actions will determine who belongs and does not belong to the kingdom.
Even two thousand years after Jesus, we do not seem to have understood the meaning of what it takes to belong to the kingdom. We keep associating greatness with possessing things or having authority to dominate. Authority for anyone who belongs to the kingdom can only be translated as service.
Though the Gospels do seem to indicate that Jesus came primarily for the Jews, his was an inclusive approach. He excluded no one. All who were open to receive his radical message were welcome to be part of his community. We need to be constantly aware of this especially when we make such clear distinctions between those of other faiths and ourselves. They are also called in their own way.

Saturday 24 September 2011

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Will you both say and do? Ez. 18:25-28; Ps. 25; Phil. 2:1-11; Mt. 21:28-32

A priest friend was telling me how during the time of heavy rains in his town because of which many people lost a lot of their belongings, he made an appeal during his Sunday homily for people to come and help him reach out to those who were affected by the rains. When he asked people to raise their hands to indicate if they would come about 70% of the 500 people present raised their hands. He fixed the following Saturday as the day on which they would go out to help. When the day came, five people actually turned up. They said, but did not do. They had words but no action.
There is an intimate connection between all three readings of today. In the reading from Ezekiel, the prophet calls the people to realize that it is not God’s ways that are unfair but their own. He asks the people to grow up and accept responsibility for their actions and not lay the blame on God’s door. It is a person’s wrongdoing that leads to his or her condemnation. It is not God who punishes or condemns, but punishment is the consequence or result of a person’s wrong doing. The ones who persist in their evil ways condemn themselves. Ezekiel’s portrayal is of a generous and forgiving God who wants everyone to come back to him. Anyone who turns back to God will be accepted and forgiven.
This theme of acceptance and forgiveness is expounded on by Matthew in the Gospel text of today when he summarizes at the end of the Parable of the two sons that those who turn to God after renouncing their former evil ways will indeed be saved. This turning to God has to be a turning that is shown in action and not mere words. The parable is unique to Matthew’s Gospel and can be seen to be divided into two clear parts. This first of these is the parable itself and the second is its application. Before interpreting the Parable it is important to understand the immediate context.  It is placed in the Gospel almost immediately after Jesus has entered the temple in Jerusalem and “cleansed” it. This action leads the chief priests and elders of the people to question Jesus’ authority and in responding to them, Jesus points to the baptism of John as the source of his authority. It is in this context that the Parable is told and the audience continues to be the chief priests and the elders. It brings out powerfully the fact that these who just questioned Jesus’ authority are themselves rejecting the kingdom.
The first son after initially refusing his father’s request which was culturally unacceptable afterwards does go and do what his father asks. Thus his initial refusal is followed by eventual obedience. The second son not only agrees to go but also reinforces this agreement by addressing his father as “Lord”. However, he does not go and his initial agreement is followed by eventual disobedience. Though the answer to Jesus’ question as to which son did the will of the father is obvious and the Jewish leaders answer correctly, what shocks and offends them is the application that Jesus makes. They are compared with the son who was ready with words and even words of respect, but with what remained mere empty words. Though God spoke to them through the Law and numerous prophets, they had merely heard and not obeyed. The tax collectors and prostitutes on the other hand, who are likened to the first son, are the ones who are entering the kingdom and receiving salvation because they dared to do so even though they may have initially refused to listen.
The second reading from Philippians provides the Christological foundation of such conversion. Jesus himself is the model of the truly obedient son, who says yes to his Father in the most radical and action oriented way. His actions match his words. There is no dichotomy. In this he goes one better than the first son in not only doing but also saying. The initial verses of the hymn explode with verbs of action. Jesus did not grasp at equality with God; he emptied himself; he took on the form of a slave; he came in human likeness; he was obedient to the point of enduring the ignominy of death in one of the most shameful of ways: on a cross. This is the attitude that true followers of Jesus are challenged to adopt. In the second half of the hymn, the verbs then shift. God becomes now the actor or doer exalting Jesus and giving him a name above every name. God shows through the self sacrificing act of Jesus, the meaning and consequence of doing his will.  Doing the will of the Father, for Jesus, was more than simply a matter of words; it is always a matter of deeds. It is one thing to say one does or will do the will of the Father; it is another thing to actually do it. Words alone mean nothing. Appropriate and relevant action, accompanying the words, is the way of a true disciple of Jesus.
Matthew’s application of the parable to his community has special power today. Both perennial and recent problems summon the church to a depth of integrity that is expressed in deeds, not fine words. The church is also always a community of forgiven sinners and the repentance that the texts of today call for must be interpreted not as a “being sorry” for sin, but a radical change of heart, mind and vision. This change can only be regarded as a change if it shows itself in the radical act of denying self and reaching out to everyone in need. It is true that there will be times when, like the first son, we may say an initial “I will not”, but when we dare to look at the example of Christ that continues to shine brightly before us, we are challenged to imitate him and have that same mind and heart. We are called to realize, like him, that if we dare to open ourselves to obedience, even though it might not seem at first glance as the best option, we too like him will conquer death and be that example which the world so badly needs today.

Friday 23 September 2011

Does it make sense to proclaim a “Suffering Messiah” today? How will you do it if it does? Zechariah 2,5-9.14-15; Ecclesiastes 11,9 – 12,8; Lk 9, 43-45

The second Passion prediction in the Gospel, which is our text for today, follows immediately after Jesus’ mighty work in exorcising the demon in the previous scene. It is only in Luke that Jesus announces his passion and death while “all were marvelling at everything he did.” Only Luke adds the phrase, “Let these words sink into your ears;” in order to bring out the gravity of the pronouncement. He abbreviates the Passion prediction of Mark, so that his passion prediction simply has “the Son of Man is to be delivered into the hands of men.” Through this shortening, Luke focuses on Jesus’ “being handed over” or “delivered”, and omits any reference to Jesus’ death and resurrection. Like in Mark, here too the disciples’ are not able to understand. However, Luke gives a reason for this, namely “it was concealed from them”, though he does not say by whom.
It is not easy for us to give up control. Moat of us like to be in control of every situation so that we do not need to depend on someone else. These verses are calling us to understand that this is not always possible or even necessary. There may be times when we need to give up control and especially to God acting through humans if we are to be faithful to his will.

Thursday 22 September 2011

Can you identify with a “Suffering Messiah”? Would you have preferred that Jesus not go to the Cross? What kind of death would have preferred Jesus to die? Haggai 1,15 – 2,9; Ecclesiastes 3, 1-11; Lk 9, 18-22

Though Luke depends on Mark for this scene of Peter’s confession, he has made some significant changes in order to bring out his meaning of the text. The first is that unlike Mark, Luke does not give the geographical location (Caesarea Philippi), but gives instead the context of the prayer of Jesus. Through this change, Luke makes the confession a spiritual experience. Luke also changes Marks, “one of the prophets” to “one of the old prophets has risen.” Though the difference does not appear to be great, it is for Luke. In the Gospel of Luke, before Jesus everything is old. Jesus makes all things new. Luke has also eliminated Peter’s refusal to accept Jesus as the suffering Messiah and the rebuke of Peter by Jesus. Luke avoids narrating Marcan texts that show Peter and even the disciples in a bad light.
The second question to the disciples, “But who do you say that I am?” shows on the one hand that the answers given of the crowd’s understanding of Jesus are inadequate, and on the other that Jesus wants to know their understanding of him. In all the Synoptic Gospels it is Peter who answers, but here too Luke adds to Mark’s, “You are the Christ”, the words “of God”. The Greek word “Christos” means in English “the anointed” and this conveys the meaning of royalty. However, by his addition, Luke also brings in the prophetical dimension of Jesus’ person and mission. This prophetical dimension is explicated in the verses, which follow the confession of Peter, in which Jesus explains the kind of Christ/Messiah/Anointed One that he will be. The reason for the rebuke or “stern order” not to tell anyone is because Jesus wanted to avoid any misunderstanding of the term which could be understood only in the glorious sense. Jesus as “the Christ of God” will come in glory, but only after he has gone to the cross, died, been buried and then raised.
Who Jesus is cannot be captured by a title and we must not attempt to do so or imagine that this is possible. Any title we may use for Jesus will always be inadequate and this leads us to the realisation that while we may encounter him in