Sunday 30 September 2012

How will you show through your actions that you belong to the kingdom?

If you wish to read the texts click here: 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.

Will you speak on behalf of God today?

If you wish to read the texts click here :  Num 11:25-29; Jas 5:1-6; Mk 9:38-43,45,47-48

The English word, “prophet,” comes from the Latin, “propheta” or Greek, “prophētēs” which means “one who speaks on behalf of God”. Since the prophet is the mouth by which God speaks to humans, what a prophet says are not his own words, but God’s words. Moses, who figures in the first reading of today, is an example of a prophet from the Old Testament.  James, from whose letter the second reading of today is taken, is an example of a prophet in the New Testament.

The first reading, from the book of Numbers, tells about an incident that occurred as the Israelites were marching through the desert toward the Promised Land. God offered to bestow some of the spirit that was in Moses on seventy elders of the people.  These seventy would then share the duties of leadership with Moses. When God bestowed the spirit on the elders, they, like Moses, became prophets and were able to prophesy or speak on behalf of God. Two men, Eldad and Medad, who had not been part of the group of seventy, also received the spirit and began prophesying. Joshua, who was the assistant to Moses, told Moses to stop them, apparently thinking that it was improper for anyone who had not been part of the group of seventy to prophesy. But Moses refused to accept Joshua's advice. Instead, he said, “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!”

The point that Moses makes is that the Spirit of God cannot be controlled by human structures. It is a force for change that blows where it will. The charisma of God can appear in members who are not supposed to have such power. Their prophesying illustrates that the boundaries of even minimal forms of hierarchy can be broken by the uncontrollable Spirit of God. The role of Moses in this episode illustrates how an ideal and charismatic leader will promote and recognize such power in unexpected places, rather than view it as a challenge to his own authority, as did Joshua. Charisma breaks established boundaries both inside and outside of communities. Charismatic leadership forces communities to be self-critical, because the power of God can appear in unexpected forms, places, and persons.

Such charismatic leadership is noticed in the second reading of today when James also speaks as a charismatic prophet. With words that are bound to sting, he berates the oppressors of the poor. He does not mince words and is categorical and forceful in his criticism of the rich.  He is especially critical of those who have made their riches ends in themselves. Speaking on behalf of God, he calls on them to realize that it is their riches which will be used as evidence for their condemnation and judgement. Like his Lord, Jesus, had done before him, James pronounces woes on the rich because of their mistreatment of the poor.

This Lord, who speaks in the Gospel text of today, is not merely a prophet. He does not merely speak on behalf of God. Rather, he is God. If the words of the prophet have to be taken seriously and acted upon, how much more so the words of God himself.  In the first part of the Gospel text of today, Jesus corrects John, like Moses corrected Joshua. Like Joshua before him, it seems that John, too, was jealous of the unnamed exorcist who was able to exorcise despite not being part of the inner circle of Jesus. Jesus, however, is open and accommodating. He will not set limits on persons as long as they are doing what God wants them to do. He will not be an obstacle or stumbling block in the way of anyone who is doing good, and he exhorts his disciples to adopt this way of thinking. Since Jesus does not stand on his ego, he is able to allow the unnamed exorcist to do God’s work. He does not claim a monopoly on such work. What is important is that the work be done and the kingdom brought closer.

However, the kingdom will remain a distant dream and will not be translated into reality if there are stumbling blocks that keep coming in the way of the kingdom. These are not external events, but persons and their attitudes and this is what Jesus addresses in the second part of today’s Gospel. The behaviour and attitude of the disciples can become a scandal to those who witness them. On the one hand, one cannot blame others for the decisions one makes.  On the other hand, however, if these are simple people, there is every possibility that the scandalous behaviour of Jesus’ disciples can scandalize them. Thus, the disciples are warned.

The scandals that we can cause, as disciples of Jesus, can be seen in two areas. One area is when, like Joshua and John, we become narrow minded and parochial in our way of proceeding. We may focus so much on the external that we might lose sight of the internal. We may place so much emphasis on our small community that we might neglect the larger community. The second area in which we can cause scandal is through the words that we speak and the actions that we do.  Our words and actions may, at times, push people away from Jesus rather than draw people to him. When people look at the lives we lead, and at our way of proceeding, and know that we are followers of Jesus, is it likely or unlikely that they will be inspired to follow him?

The call of the readings then, is a two fold call. It is first a call to each one of us to be prophets of God and to have the courage to speak on his behalf to a world that has grown deaf and will not hear and to a world that has grown blind and will not see. It is also a call to an open-minded attitude that will welcome the actions of those who may not belong to our “inner circle” of faith, realizing that the Spirit of God can work when and where the Spirit wills.  It is also to live our lives as Christians and followers of Jesus in such a manner that, when people see and hear us, they will be seeing and hearing Jesus Christ. It is to dare to say, with Paul, that it is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us. (Gal 2:20)

Friday 28 September 2012

Does it make sense to proclaim a “Suffering Messiah” today? How will you do it if it does?

If you wish to read the texts click here: 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. Most 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 27 September 2012

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?

If you wish to read the texts click here: 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

Wednesday 26 September 2012

472nd Anniversary of the Approval of the Society of Jesus

The Society of Jesus (also known as the Jesuits) was approved on September 27, 1540 by Pope Paul III in the sixth year of his Pontificate. This was done through the Bull Regimini Militantis Ecclesiae (which is Latin for "To the Government of the Church Militant).
Kindly say a prayer for all Jesuits today who work in almost every country in the world that we may remain true to our commitment to the Lord and the ideals of our founder St. Ignatius of Loyola.

You know a great deal about Jesus, but do you really know him? When did you last meet him personally?

If you wish to read the texts click here: Ecclesiastes 1:2-11; Lk 9:7-9

This text (9:7-9) forms the meat of the sandwich formed by the sending out of the Twelve (9:1-6) and their return (9:10-17). In a sandwich construction, an event is begun, interrupted by another event and the first event is continued and completed. In this instance, the disciples are sent on mission (9:1-6), the return is interrupted by the question of Herod (9:7-9) and the event of the sending out of the disciples is continued and completed by their return (9:10-17). In such a construction, the first and the third events throw light on the event in the middle or the meat of the sandwich. The first and third events narrate the sending and successful return, and it is in this light that the question of Herod, “Who is this?” which is the second event or in the centre, must be read. Herod’s desire to see Jesus foreshadows coming events. When Herod did meet Jesus, his desire to see Jesus was fulfilled, but he wanted only to see Jesus perform a sign. He never really grasped the answer to his own question. Though John the Baptist has been beheaded and Jesus will also be killed, yet the violence of the wicked will be no match for God’s grace. The success of the disciples’ in mission is only a shadow of the success that Jesus will experience in mission.
The intention behind wanting to meet Jesus is extremely important. If one’s approach is curiosity that will be the level at which one will see him. If one’s approach is faith, then one will encounter him as he is.

Tuesday 25 September 2012

What does mission mean for you today? How and where will you proclaim it?

If you wish to read the texts click here:  Proverbs 30:5-9; Lk 9:1-6

This passage may be seen as the culmination of the entire section Lk. 7:1 – 8:56. In this section, we were shown the nature of Jesus’ Kingdom mission. The Twelve now share in that same mission. These verses may be termed as the Mission Discourse according to Luke. Though Luke has taken much material from the Mission Discourse of Mark (see Mk. 6:6b-13), he has also made changes, which bring out his meaning of mission more clearly. Before Jesus instructs his disciples on how they must go about their mission, he gives them not only authority as in Mark, but power and authority. This power and authority is given not only over the unclean spirits as in Mark, but over all demons and to cure diseases. Only in Luke are they also sent to “preach the Kingdom of God”. This indicates that for Luke, mission is inclusive and includes both doing as well as saying, both action as well as word.
Besides power and authority, Jesus also gives the disciples a strategy for mission. This may be summed up as detachment from things (take nothing for your journey), persons (stay there and from there depart) and from events (and wherever they do not receive you, when you leave shake off the dust from your feet). Dependence ought to be only on the Providence of God. The rejection shown Jesus is also in store for those sent by Jesus. The last verse in today’s text, underscores the disciples’ obedience to the commands of Jesus by reiterating the principal features of mission: preaching the good news and healing the sick. That mission is universal is made clear in the last word, “everywhere”.
As missionaries today, we are called to continue to the Mission inaugurated by Jesus and put into motion by his first disciples. It is a mission, which includes every aspect of life and involves all persons. This means that we are called not to be part-time missionaries or disciples, but on mission always and everywhere. 

Monday 24 September 2012

Would Jesus point to you as a member of his family? Why?

If you wish to read the texts click here: Proverbs 21:1-6.10-13; Lk 8:19-21

Though this text, which concerns the mother and brothers of Jesus, is found also in Mark 3:21-22 and 3:31-35 and Matthew 12:46-50, Luke narrates it quite differently from both. In Mark 3:33 and Matthew 12:48 Jesus asks who his mother and brothers are. In Luke, however, Jesus does not ask this question, but says simply when told that his mother and brothers desire to see him, that his mother and brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it. Luke thus gives a positive thrust to the scene unlike Mark and Matthew. It might be said that while in Mark and Matthew Jesus seems to reject his physical family and choose instead the crowd (so Mark) or his disciples (so Matthew), in Luke he does not do so. This means that though family relations with Jesus are not based on physical relations but on the word of God, his physical family does indeed hear the word of God and acts on it.
We might possess the name Christian because of our baptism, but this does not necessarily mean that we belong to the family of Jesus. In order to belong what is also necessary is putting into action what Jesus has taught.

Sunday 23 September 2012

What is the Good News according to you? Will you share it with others today? How?

If you wish to read the texts click here: Prov 3:27-34; Lk 8:16-18

These verses in Luke are a commentary on the Parable of the Sower, which in Luke appears in 8:5-8. Just as a farmer sows the seed so that all of it may bear fruit, so also a lamp is lit so that it may give light. Like seed is sown not to be trampled on, eaten by birds, to wither or to be chocked, so a lamp is lit not to be hid under a jar or under a bed. Knowledge of the kingdom is not esoteric or secret, reserved for a particular group alone, but must be made known to all. It is knowledge, which must be shared openly with others. It is indeed the Good News, since it is a communication of love, and therefore it must not only be heard, but also experienced. By adding, “Then pay attention to how you listen”, the Lucan Jesus reminds listeners that they can choose and control how they will listen to the word of God. A total openness to the word of God results in an appropriate response to it.
Hearing is an active process. It calls for a commitment. Those who are open to that word are like a lamp, which gives light to all. An attentive hearing of the word of God can result in the transformation of one’s life and the living out of that word can lead to transformation in the lives of others.

Saturday 22 September 2012


 If you wish to read the texts click here: Wis 2:12,17-20; Jas3:16-4:3; Mk 9:30-37

The Gospel of Mark contains three Passion and Resurrection predictions. Three times in the Gospel, albeit with some differences in each, Jesus speaks about his suffering, death, and resurrection. After each of these predictions, there is a misunderstanding of what Jesus says. In the first instance, Peter misunderstands. He insists that Jesus must not suffer and die.  In the third instance, the brothers, James and John, misunderstand.  They ask for places on the right hand and left hand of Jesus in the kingdom.

It is the second prediction of the Passion and Resurrection, and what follows after, which is the Gospel text of today. Immediately after Jesus has spoken, Mark states unambiguously that the disciples did not understand what Jesus was saying. This is shown also by the silence with which they respond to Jesus’ question “What were you arguing about on the way?” The reason they do not respond is because they had been discussing which one of them was the greatest. They knew, even as they remained silent, that this kind of discussion was not appropriate and did not fit in with Jesus’ world view and scheme of things.

Be that as it may, some more important questions that the Gospel of today raises are these: How could the disciples, who had been so closely associated with Jesus and knew him so intimately, even consider thinking about greatness? Did not all the time they spent with Jesus have any effect on them at all? How come the values that Jesus lived and spoke about constantly, values of self abnegation, service, selflessness, and the like, have no impact on them?

The answer to these questions is provided in part by the first and second readings of today. The first reading spells out how the attitude of a righteous person, like Jesus, is not at all easy to accept. The righteous person is someone who is inconvenient and tiresome to many. There are two responses to such a person. The first is to ignore him and all that he stands for. However, sometimes, through his life of righteousness, he exposes us who are unrighteous.  The second response, therefore, is to do away with him as quickly as one can. It is to test him with opposition, insult, and torture, in the hope that he will give up his position of righteousness and buckle under the pressure. It is to test his forbearance, and patience, and perseverance. It is to find out whether he is really serious about what he preaches and whether he will be able, in reality, to practice it. The disciples choose the first response. They pretend not to understand because what Jesus preaches is too difficult to translate into action. They prefer, instead, to go the way which most normally go. They prefer to walk the easy road, trod by most others; the road of power, prestige, and honour. The adversaries of Jesus, however, choose the second response. They will do away with Jesus. His presence, and all he stands for, is a threat to them. They will not tolerate this new way that he preaches. It is against everything that they want to be.

The reason they will do this is because, as James explains in the second reading of today, there is envy and selfish ambition in the very core of their being. There is a lack of wisdom and thus, disorder and wickedness of every kind. Their cravings and covetousness prevent them from seeing that there is another way. Their unchecked desires prevent them from daring to walk the path of selflessness and service. They would rather be served than serve.

Jesus, however, will make no compromise. He is convinced that the only way to live life, fully and completely, is through serving rather than being served. In his scheme of things, and in his view of life, the only way to be first is to be last; the only way to be master is by being servant. The only way to be No. 1 is by being No one. He makes this explicit, not only through his words, but also by his action of placing a child in front of the disciples.  He points to the child, one who was regarded as a non-person, as his representative. In doing so, Jesus is telling his disciples, and each of us, that in his kingdom, egolessness, dying to oneself, and serving as he served, are the only ways through which one can hope to enter his kingdom.

Greatness in the kingdom overturns the usual perceptions we have of greatness and honour. It is almost normal to consider the first as first and the last as last. The challenge is to learn to think as God thinks, which runs counter to well-established behaviour patterns. We often pay lip service to the view that the “first shall be last,” as long as we are not challenged to put that view to the test.  The readings of today then, issue a call and challenge to each of us to dare to see that there is another way: the way of being No one so that one can indeed be No. 1.

Friday 21 September 2012


If you wish to read the texts click here: 1 Corinthians 15:35-37.42-49; Lk 8:4-15

Fr Thomas Sitjar and his six fellow Jesuits and four Jesuit brothers became the Martyrs of the Spanish Civil War when they gave their lives for God in Gandia and Valencia, Spain between August 19 and December 29, 1936.
Fr Thomas Sitjar , the superior of the Gandia community was the first to die a week after the 1936 civil war broke out. He was born on March 21, 1866 in Genoa and entered the Jesuit novitiate at Veruela on July 21, 1880. He taught philosophy for eight years at the diocesan seminary in Montevideo, Uraguay after completing his philosophy at the Tortosa scholasticate. He again returned to Tortosa for theology and was ordained in 1900. He taught metaphysics to young Jesuits at Tortosa and later at Sarria for three years before he was appointed superior for five years at the residence at Terragona. Subsequently he was elevated to rector in Gandia in 1929.
When the Spanish revolutionary government suppressed the Society of Jesus in 1932, the Jesuits remained dispersed and lived in small apartments in the city. Fr Sitjar was living with Br Peter Gelabert and had refused to move in with friends, saying: “if they kill us, then it will be God’s will.” At 10.30 pm on July 25, 1936, a terrible banging was heard on Fr Sitjar’s door. He answered it, but only after Br Gelabert had escaped through a window. The captors pushed and beat Fr Sitjar and tried to rip his cassock off when he could not walk as quickly as them because of a bad leg. They then imprisoned him. The next day, Br Gelabert, Fr Constantine Carbonell and Br Raymond Grimaltos who were captured joined Fr Sitjar. The four Jesuits were allowed visitors and friends who brought them mattresses for sleeping and food for meals.
On August 17 and 18, they were taken before their accusers and were asked about their political views and party affiliation, to which Fr Sitjar merely answered: “We belong to God’s party.” Then on August 19, shortly after midnight, Fr Sitjar was told he was being set free. But instead of releasing him, he was taken together with two other gentlemen to the Albaida road near Palma de Gandia and executed beneath an olive tree at about 3.00 am. Fr Sitjar had a rosary in his hand when the bullet pierced his heart. He was seventy years old.
The text of today combines both the Parable of the Sower (8:5-8) and the allegory (8:11-15) {in an allegory, every element in the story is given a meaning. So, the seed is regarded as the word of God, those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved, and so on}. Though it is true that the Sower disappears from the scene after he is first mentioned, and the seed takes centre stage, the parable is really one of contrast between the beginning and the middle, and the end. Thus, the Sower (whom the end will affect) is still an important figure in the parable. Since many have confused the allegory with the Parable, the meaning of the parable may have been missed. In this reflection we will focus on the Parable.
The farmer would sow along “the path”, because according to research done on the agricultural practices in Palestine at the time of Jesus, the practice was to sow seeds first and then plough it into the ground. Sowing on “rocky ground” is not surprising because the underlying limestone, thinly covered with soil, barely showed above the surface until the ploughshare jarred against it. Sowing among “thorns” is also understandable, because this too will be ploughed up. Though the ploughing of the three kinds of soil above will be done, it will result in a loss, because in none of them will the seed grow. It will seem that seventy-five percent of the effort is lost. While most of the parable focuses on “sowing”, in the last verse it is already “harvest time”. The abnormal, exaggerated tripling, of the harvest’s yield (thirty, sixty, a hundredfold) symbolises the overflowing of divine fullness., surpassing all human measure and expectations (A tenfold harvest counted as a good harvest and a yield of seven and a half as an average one).To human eyes much of the labour seems futile and fruitless, resulting in repeated failure, but Jesus is full of joyful confidence; he knows that God has made a beginning, bringing with it o harvest of reward beyond all asking or conceiving. In spite of every failure and opposition, from hopeless beginnings, God brings forth the triumphant end, which he has promised.
1.         Do I usually focus more on the reaping than on the sowing? Do I focus more on the result than on the action? Do I focus more on the future than on the present?
2.         How do I react when most of my effort seems to be in vain? Do I throw up my hands in despair? Do I give up? Do I get despondent? Or do I carry on despite all odds? Do I continue to persevere? Do I keep on keeping on?
3.         How attached am I to the result of my action? Can I plunge into the din of battle and leave my heart at the feet of the Lord?  
5.         Do you sometimes act as the “General Manager of the Universe”? Will you resign from that position today?

Thursday 20 September 2012

THE FEAST OF ST. MATTHEW - Matthew wrote a Gospel to share his experience of the Lord. What will you do today to share your experience of the Lord?

If you wish to read the texts click here: Eph 4:1-7, 11-13; Mt 9:9-13

Most scholars hold today that the Gospel of Matthew was written after Mark. Matthew’s Gospel was the one that was used most often in the early Church and so it has been placed before Mark in the Bible. It is known as the Ecclesial Gospel or the Gospel of the Church. One reason for this is that Matthew’s thesis seems to be that since Israel for whom Jesus came rejected Jesus as Messiah, the Church has become now the new and true Israel. Also Matthew is the only one of the four Evangelists who uses the word “Ekklesia” translated “Church” in his Gospel (16:18;18:17). There is however, throughout the Gospel the tension between Particularism on the one hand and Universalism on the other. The Jesus of the Gospel of Matthew is sent “only to the lost sheep of Israel” (15:24; see also 10:6) and the same Jesus can tell Israel “the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing the fruits of it” (21:43).
Matthew’s Gospel begins with the genealogy of Jesus, which goes back to Abraham. Joseph is not called the father of Jesus but the husband of Mary (1:16) since Matthew is clear that Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus. The birth of Jesus is then narrated, followed by the visit of the wise men to Bethlehem and Herod’s plan to kill Jesus. This leads the family to go to Egypt where they remain till Herod’s death and then return to Nazareth. The birth, flight into Egypt and return to Nazareth all fulfil scripture. Matthew then goes on to narrate the Baptism of Jesus by John and Jesus’ temptations and his overcoming them. Jesus then begins his public ministry in Galilee after calling the first four disciples. Unlike Mark, which is a story, Matthew intersperses his narrative with long discourses. The first of these is the Sermon on the Mount (5:1-7,29). There are four other discourses in the Gospel. These are The Mission Discourse (10:1-11:1), The parable Discourse (13:1-53), The Community Discourse (18:1-19:1) and the Eschatological Discourse (24:1-26:1). Each of these discourses ends in a similar manner with the words, “and when Jesus had finished (7:28; 11:1; 13:53; 19:1; 26:1). This is also Matthew’s way of focussing on the teaching of Jesus and giving it as much if not more importance that the deeds of Jesus. Like in Mark, Jesus enters Jerusalem triumphantly, but soon encounters opposition, which grows and leads to his arrest, passion and death. The Gospel ends with accounts of the resurrection appearances of Jesus to his disciples and what is known as the Great Commission, in which the disciples are commanded to go to all nations and make disciples of them and assured of the presence of the ever present Lord to whom all authority in heaven and earth has been given (28:16-20).
The characteristics unique to Matthew’s Gospel are as under:
1.   Matthew mentions five women in his genealogy (Luke has no mention of women). While many explanations have been offered to explain this fact the most plausible one is that in the case of all five women there was something irregular in their union with their husbands.
2.   The visit of the wise men from the East (2:1-12) is exclusive to Matthew and probably with the intention to show that though the Jewish leaders “know” the details of the birth of the Messiah, they “do” nothing about it. On the other hand, Gentiles (represented by the Magi) do not “know” the details, but are willing to “obey and do”.
3.   Only in the Gospel of Matthew is the tax collector who is called referred to as Matthew (9:9) and is referred to as "Matthew the tax collector" in the list of the disciples (10:3).
4.   Matthew uses the phrase "the Kingdom of God" only in 12:28; 19:24; 21:31.43. Instead, the term "the Kingdom of Heaven" is preferred (3:2; 4:17; 5:; 7:21; 8:11; 10:7; 11:11.12; 13:; 16:19; 18:1.3.4; 19:; 20:1; 22:2; 23:13; 25:1). In some of these, Matthew has changed his Marcan source. The best explanation of this phenomenon is Matthew prefers to avoid use of the word "God," using the circumlocution "Heavens" instead.
5.   More than the other synoptic gospels, the Gospel of Matthew stresses the fulfilment nature of Jesus' ministry. The author explicitly cites Old Testament messianic prophecies as having been fulfilled in or by Jesus, often with a formula using the verb "to fulfil."  The following are those instances that are unique to the Gospel of Matthew.
6.   Matthew often doubles the numbers found in his Marcan source. Thus one demoniac of Mark 5:1-20 becomes two in Mt 8:28-34; one blind man of Mark 10:46-52 becomes two blind men in Mt 20:29-34. Matthew also has in 22:2 an ass and a colt where Mark 11:2 has only a colt. One reason that has been proposed for this is that Matthew wants to ensure the proper number of witness that was required to certify an act.
7.   Only in Matthew 16:17-19 is Peter commended by Jesus after his answer that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God” and given the keys of the kingdom and the power to bind and loose. This is interpreted here as the authority to determine who is allowed in and for the authority to determine what interpretation of the law is binding. Also Peter’s failed attempt to walk on water (14:28-31) after Jesus has successfully done so and the incident of payment of the Temple tax in which Peter is asked to go to the sea to find a shekel in a fish’s mouth (17:24-27) are exclusive to Matthew. This probably indicates that Peter was an important figure in the Matthean community.
8.   Matthew alone narrates that Judas was paid thirty pieces of silver for his willingness to betray Jesus (26:14-16). While some see the connection with Zech 11:12-13 where thirty shekels of silver is mentioned as the wages of the shepherd, others see it as related to Exodus 21:32 which is price that had to be paid by the owner of an ox to the master of a slave who was gored to death by the ox. Judas’ repentance and suicide is also exclusive to Matthew (27:3-10)
9.   Pilate receiving a message from his wife to have nothing to do with Jesus (27:19) and his washing his hands and declaring himself innocent of the death of Jesus (27:24), are incidents that are found only in Matthew. Some see this as Pilate’s obedience to the command of God communicated to him by his wife’s dream and also as Matthew’s attempt to put the onus for the death of Jesus on the shoulders of the Jews. This is also probably why Matthew alone has the people as a whole answer, “His blood be on us and on our children!” (27:25).

The text chosen for the feast contains the call of Matthew, and Jesus’ fellowship with tax collectors and sinners. It is only in the Gospel of Matthew that the tax collector is called Matthew. In Mark and Luke he is called Levi. However, in the lists of the Twelve in both Mark and Luke, the disciple is named Matthew and Levi does not appear. It is unlikely that Matthew and Levi refer to the same person. It was rare for Jews to have two different Jewish names. The reason for the author choosing the name Matthew remains unknown. However, in the text what strikes one is that whereas most people who passed by the tax office would see a corrupt official; Jesus was able to see a potential disciple. It was Jesus’ way of looking that led to the transformation and the response of Matthew to the call. In his response to the objection of the Pharisees, Jesus responds with a common proverb about the sick needing a doctor, and also quotes from Hoses 6:6, which here is interpreted to mean that the mercy of God in Jesus is extended to all humanity and takes precedence over everything else. All else must be understood in this light.
There are times when we judge people too easily and many of these times our judgement of them is negative. This is also how we often look at the whole of creation and because we put labels on things, people and all else in creation, we may miss out on the uniqueness that each possesses.

Wednesday 19 September 2012

Does love lead to forgiveness or is the ability to love the result of being forgiven?

If you wish to read the texts click here: 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Lk 7:36-50

This is a fairly well known story from the Gospel of Luke. However, it is important to note that though the woman is termed as a “sinner”, she is not named. The dinner given by the Pharisee would have been much more public than a dinner in a private home today, so the presence of uninvited persons would not have been unusual. The guests would have been reclining on pillows, supported by their left arms and would be eating with their right hands, with their feet away from the mat on which the food would have been spread before them. Thus the woman could easily approach Jesus’ feet. The fact that she brought a jar of ointment shows that she had planned to anoint Jesus – a sign of her love. Though the woman’s act expresses love and gratitude, it also violated social conventions. Touching or caressing a man’s feet could have sexual overtones, as did letting down her hair, so a woman never let down her hair in public. Moreover the woman was known to be a sinner. Assuming that she was unclean, she would have made Jesus unclean by touching him. In the Pharisee’s eyes the woman’s act represents a challenge both to his honour and to Jesus’. In response, Jesus poses a riddle for Simon to solve, based on patron-client relationships. If a patron had two debtors, one who owed him much and the other who owed him little and he cancelled the debts of both, who would love him more? After Simon answers that it would be the one who had the greater debt cancelled, Jesus exposes the contrast between Simon’s lack of hospitality and the woman’s selfless adoration of Jesus. The main point of the story is Jesus’ pronouncement in 7,47. Did the woman love because her sins were forgiven or was she forgiven because she loved much? The woman’s loving act is evidence that she has been forgiven. She recognised her need for forgiveness and therefore received it totally, whereas the Pharisee did not recognise his need and therefore received less.
This story seems to make two points that we can reflect on. The first is our judgement of others without knowing all the facts. Some of us are sometimes quick to judge from external appearances, only to realise later that we misjudged. The second point is the acceptance of our need for God’s mercy and love. Like the Pharisee, there may be some of us who do not consider ourselves as grave sinners and consequently we may not be open to God’s unconditional love and grace.

Tuesday 18 September 2012

Will you dance to the tune of the Lord or are you dancing your own dance?

If you wish to read the texts click here: 1 Corinthians 12:31 – 13:13; Lk 7:31-35

The point of these sayings of Jesus is to bring out the failure of the crowd to respond to the invitation of John and Jesus. Though John and Jesus are different from each other and went about their ministries differently, the people accepted neither. John lived a very austere life and indulged in no excesses at all, but he was not accepted. Rather he was labelled as a wild man. Jesus on the hand lived quite openly and freely due to this was labelled as a glutton and drunkard.
Many of us are so concerned about what people say about us that we sometimes live our lives based on their opinions. The text of today teaches us that you cannot please everybody every time. There are some who will neither join in the dance nor in the mourning, but sit on the fence and criticise. It is best to leave these alone and do what one believes one ought to do.

Monday 17 September 2012

If God were to call you to himself now, what are the three things you would regret not having done? Will you do them today?

If you wish to read the texts click here: 1 Corinthians 12:12-14.27-31; Lk 7:11-17

The miracle of the raising the widow’s son at Nain is a miracle that is found only in the Gospel of Luke. If the centurion’s servant healed in 7,1-10 was ill and at the point of death, the son of the widow in this story is already dead. There are many similarities between this story and that of Elijah’s raising the widow’s son in 1 Kings 17,10.17-24. Luke emphasises that the son was the widow’s “only son” (7,12). Luke also states that when Jesus saw the widow, he had compassion for her.. Jesus raises the boy quite simply with an authoritative command. The crowd responds by regarding Jesus as a prophet and by affirming that God has been favourable to his people through the deed that Jesus had just done.
The scripture offers many instances where men and women of faith ask for help, and are granted it, even though under normal experiences they might have gone on for the rest of their lives with sin or weakness or sickness or oppression. Does prayer change anything? Again and again the scripture teaches that it does indeed. God can and does intervene in the normal running of his universe. We see just such an instance in this passage. The young man is dead -- his life cut short by sickness perhaps, but death is a "normal" experience in our fallen world. Then Jesus sees a mother's tears, realizes that this widow -- there is no husband and other children mourning beside her -- has lost her only son, and Jesus moved with compassion, and intervenes. God doesn't intervene every time we are hurting or have problems, just as loving parents do not or cannot intervene to soften everything for their children. Sometimes we are angry with God for not giving us the answer to prayer that we desire. Sometimes we blame him for not intervening when our loved ones are sick or die. But it is not because God lacks compassion, for Jesus shows us the Father, and Jesus is full of compassion. We are left with the fact that Jesus indicates that the Father will do things as a result of our prayers, because of his compassion, that he will not otherwise do. Prayer can appeal to the heart of God to bring about change.

Sunday 16 September 2012

St. Robert Bellarmine SJ - 1542 - 1621 -- When was the last time you performed an action without any expectation of reward? Will you perform one today?

If you wish to read the texts click here: Wis 7:7-14; Mt 5:17-19

Robert Bellarmine was born on October 4, 1542 and entered the Society of Jesus on September 20, 1560 when he was 18 years old. His intellectual ability led him to earn a reputation as professor and preacher. His spiritual depth was so much that many lay people, Priests, Bishops and Cardinals flocked to him for solace and advice. He was available to all.
In 1592 he was made Rector of the Roman College, and in 1595 Provincial of Naples. In 1597 Clement VIII recalled him to Rome and made him his own theologian and likewise Examiner of Bishops and Consultor of the Holy Office. Further, in 1599 he made him Cardinal-Priest of the title of Santa Maria in viâ, alleging as his reason for this promotion that "the Church of God had not his equal in learning".
His spirit of prayer, his singular delicacy of conscience and freedom from sin, his spirit of humility and poverty, together with the disinterestedness which he displayed as much under the cardinal's robes as under the Jesuit's gown, his lavish charity to the poor, and his devotedness to work, had combined to impress those who knew him intimately with the feeling that he was of the number of the saints.
Among many activities, he became theologian to Pope Clement VIII, preparing two catechisms which have had great influence in the Church.
Bellarmine died on September 17, 1621. The process for his canonization was begun in 1627 but was delayed until 1930 for political reasons, stemming from his writings. In 1930, Pope Pius XI canonized him and the next year declared him a doctor of the Church.
The readings for the feast of this great Saint contain what are commonly known as the “theme” of the Sermon on the Mount. In these verses, the Matthean Jesus makes explicit that he is a law abiding Jew. His attitude towards the Jewish law is fundamentally positive. However, Jesus also makes explicit here, that he has come not merely to confirm or establish the law, but to fulfil or complete it. This means that he will go beyond a purely legal interpretation to a broader perspective. He will remove the focus from the mere external and concentrate on the internal. The focus will be more on the attitude than merely on the action. This was exactly the attitude that Robert Bellarmine possessed.
While laws, rules and regulations are necessary and help towards order, it is also possible that they can become ends in themselves and not as they are meant to be, means to an end. We might follow in some cases the letter of the law, but miss out on its spirit. We might even follow the rule or law only because we are afraid of getting caught and punished and not because we are convinced of it.

Saturday 15 September 2012

Who do say Jesus is?

If you wish to read the texts click here: Is 50:5-9a; Jas 2:14-18;Mk 8:27-35

“Praise the Lord! Father, my son has been healed from his cancer. Brother Manuel laid his hands on him and prayed and the cancer was gone.” These were the words spoken to me by the mother of a young boy who was stricken with cancer. A month later, the cancer came back stronger than before and before long, the young boy was called to eternity.

Many interpreters of Mark’s Gospel consider the Confession of Peter as the watershed of Mark’s Gospel. This confession is the first part of the Gospel text of today. In a sense, this is true because, everything up to this point in the Gospel seems to lead to this confession and it is from this confession that the rest of the Gospel flows. However, even as Peter confesses Jesus as Christ, he is not fully aware of what he is really saying and Jesus has to both correct and enhance his understanding through the words that he speaks after the confession.

The reason why Jesus asks the disciples the two questions about his identity is not because he was facing any sort of identity crisis, but because he wanted to ascertain whether the people, and his disciples, really understood who he was. Where one would have expected immediate praise from Jesus after Peter’s confession, there is the surprising command to the disciples to tell no one about it. This might even seem strange. However, deeper reading shows that this is not as strange as it seems. In the first part of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus commands both demons and some of those whom he has healed to silence after the exorcisms and cures. He does not want them to reveal his identity. The main reason for this seems to be that he did not want to be understood, primarily, as a miracle or wonder worker. Here, too, he commands Peter and the disciples to silence because it is clear that, though the correct confession has been made with the lips, it is not a confession that has come from understanding. That there is lack of understanding is evident in Peter’s rebuke of Jesus after Jesus challenges him, and the disciples, to realize that, as Son of Man, he must suffer, die, and be raised. This means that the title of Messiah, for Jesus, is a title that can only be correct when in the same breath one speaks of him as the Suffering Servant of God. While, for Peter, the title “Messiah” excluded suffering, for Jesus there could be no “Messiah” without the cross and vindication after it.

This image of the Suffering servant is brought out in the first reading of today, which contains the third of the fourth servant songs found in Isaiah. In this song, the focus and elaboration is very clearly to exhort those who listen to it. They, who have witnessed the servant’s activity and suffering, are called to follow in his footsteps rather than go their own way of selfishness and self-interest. The servant, very clearly, will follow God’s will no matter how difficult it may be. God has taught him, prepared him, and will continue to help him. God will not abandon him. God has faithfully responded to the servant in his situation of distress. In fact, it is in the context of God’s attending to the servant that affliction arises and yet, is borne without complaint or resistance to bearing additional afflictions. The servant is helped by God precisely in his ability to bear assaults. God is the source of strength more than of merited justice, and God will, in time, vindicate his servant. No one is able to declare the servant guilty, yet, despite his not being guilty, he will suffer in silence and will suffer courageously.

We are living in a culture in which suffering is seen as a negative and thus, something to be avoided at all costs and to be gotten rid of as soon as possible. This is not to say that suffering is good and desirable or that God delights in human suffering. As a matter of fact, in the second reading of today, James is emphatic that a faith that does not show itself in deeds is a faith that is dead. Only such a faith is truly alive that manifests itself in action. It has to be a faith that results in making the pain and suffering of a fellow human being less, and lighter to bear. The Gospels, too, explicate that Jesus reaches out to people in their need and redeems them from their suffering. When he sends his disciples out on Mission, it is not merely to preach but also to heal and make whole. Yet, we must also keep in mind that suffering is part of the human condition and the fact that we are human means that we will suffer. The call of the readings of today is not a call to run away from suffering or regard it in any way as punishment from God.  The call is to face up to it squarely in the manner in which Jesus did. While we continue to believe in the miracles of Jesus, and in the fact that Jesus can work miracles even today, we must balance this understanding by realizing that there is also, in Jesus, the cross. The challenge is to make God’s will for us, our own.