Wednesday, 27 February 2013
Is my faith mere “lip service”? What prevents me from “acting” out my faith? Did the brothers get the message? How would you like to conclude the story? Place yourself in the position of the rich man’s brothers’ and write down what you would do to ensure that you do not suffer the same fate as the rich man.
To read the texts click on the texts: Jer 17:5-10; Lk -31
The parable of today has often been titled as the parable of “Dives and Lazarus”. It can be seen to be divided into three parts. If in the first part the focus is on rich man’s (who is not named. The term “dives” in Latin means “rich”) opulence and wealth, in the second part it is on his death and burial. In the third part which is the longest there is for the first time in the story, a dialogue. It is between the rich man and Abraham and is the climax of the story.
The story begins by describing the rich man and his dress and food. The “purple and fine linen” may signify that he was a high ranking official, since the Romans had set standards regarding who could wear purple and how much purple they could wear. In contrast to the rich man there is a poor man who is named Lazarus. He is the only character in Jesus’ parables to be given a name. The name Lazarus means “God helps”. The fact that he is at the gate of the rich man’s house signifies that though the rich man could see Lazarus, he was not aware of his existence. He is so caught up in his world of material things that this results in his inability to see reality right before him. Lazarus would have been content with the bread which was used to wipe the grease from the hand of the one eating and then thrown under the table. However, even this he did not receive. Instead, dogs fed off his sores.
The death of Lazarus is no surprise. However, the detail that is added is that Lazarus is carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham. This detail brings to mind that God indeed comes to Lazarus’ help. The death of the rich man is described in a short sentence which brings out strikingly the transient nature of all his opulence and wealth.
In the third part, there is dialogue between the rich man and Abraham. Lazarus does not speak at all. He is in the bosom of Abraham. Being “in the bosom” of Abraham may imply that Lazarus was the honoured guest at the eschatological banquet, feasting while the rich man was in torment. In the request that the rich man makes of Abraham to let Lazarus dip the tip of his finger in water to cool his tongue, he calls Lazarus by name which indicates that he knew who Lazarus was and yet refused to look at him on earth as a person. In his response, Abraham reminds the rich man of his and Lazarus’ past and of the chasm that separated them then, but which had been erected by the rich man, and which still separates them now. It is admirable that even in his torment the rich man can think of others (even if they be members of his own immediate family). He makes a second request of Abraham to send Lazarus as a messenger to warn his brothers. Abraham responds that the brothers have already received enough and more instruction and if they have not heeded that they will not heed another. The rich man tries one final time to convince Abraham to send Lazarus as one who has gone back from the dead. Abraham responds by telling the rich man that for those who believe no proof is necessary and for those who do not no proof is sufficient.
The rich man in the story is so caught with the things of the world and with his own self interests that these prevent him from even becoming aware of the needs of another. A number of questions to which there are no easy answers are raised by this parable and we must keep reflecting on them constantly if we are not to lose touch with reality.
Can I be accused of sins of lack of concern, inability to assess the reality of situations, closing my eyes and ears to the injustices around me, being caught up in my own small world? Does my reflection on sin include “sins of omission”?
Is my attitude towards those less fortunate than I one of condescension? Or do I regard them as persons like myself?
Tuesday, 26 February 2013
When you are being introduced by a friend to a stranger how would you want your friend to introduce you?
To read the texts click on the texts: Jer 18:18-20; Mt 20:17-28
The text begins with what is known as the third and final Passion and Resurrection prediction in Matthew’s Gospel. This is the most detailed of the three and Matthew specifies crucifixion as the manner in which Jesus will be put to death. However, Jesus is not simply a passive victim, his death is in obedience to the will of God and he will let nothing and no one come in the way of this obedience. Even as he speaks of his death, Jesus also predicts his being raised on the third day.
If in Mark, it is the brothers James and John who make of Jesus the request for places of honour (Mk 10:35-37), in Matthew, it is the mother of the sons of Zebedee (Matthew does not name the brothers since he wants to spare them this ignominy) who comes with the request on behalf of her sons. The right hand and left hand symbolize places of honour and authority. In his response, Jesus does not address the mother or even James and John, but all the disciples. In contrast to Mark who mentions both the cup and baptism, Matthew focuses exclusively on the cup of suffering, testing, rejection, judgement and violent death. The metaphor “cup” here seems to refer to the death ordained by God which is willingly accepted by the one who is to go to his death. The disciples’ bravado and willingness to drink the cup is only verbal and not one which they can show in their deeds. Though Jesus is aware of this, he looks beyond their failure and invites them to share his cup. However, even martyrdom does not gain one a special place in the kingdom because not even Jesus will be able to assign such places. These are the exclusive prerogative of God.
The request of the mother of the sons of Zebedee leads to anger on the part of the other ten. This anger indicates that they too like the mother (and the two brothers) had not really understood Jesus’ way of proceeding. Jesus thus has to teach them yet again the meaning of discipleship, authority and service in the kingdom. The king in the kingdom is not a ruler but one who serves, the Lord does not lord it over others but is their slave. By adding “Just as” before the final verse here, Matthew makes Jesus as the model whom the disciples are called to imitate.
The desire to be in charge and dominate others is a very real desire and most of us possess it. Some in large measure others in small, but it is there. We like others to follow our instructions and do what we tell them and feel upset or angry if they do not obey. Too easily we judge people by the titles they have or the positions they occupy in society and this leads to a desire in each of us to want to possess those titles or occupy those positions. We identify ourselves and others too much by these external titles and do not look at other more important areas of their lives and ours. The text of today calls us to review our need for titles and positions of honour and spend ourselves instead in service.
Monday, 25 February 2013
To read the texts click on the texts: Isaiah 1:10,16-20; Mt 23:1-12
Jesus here addresses the people and his disciples and speaks of the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees. Scribes were a professional class with formal training. They were schooled in the tradition and its application to current issues. Pharisees were a group within Judaism defined by strictly religious rules, composed mostly of laypersons without formal theological training. Some scribes were also Pharisees, but few Pharisees were scribes. Moses’ seat is a metaphorical expression representing the teaching and administrative authority of the synagogue leadership, scribes and Pharisees. Jesus condemns only the practice of the scribes and Pharisees and not their teaching. The Matthean Jesus makes three points about the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees. The first is that “they say but do not do”, which means that there was no consonance between their words and actions. They did not act on their words. The second is that “they burden while failing to act themselves” which means that they lay law upon law upon the people and make life so much more complicated than it really is, and the third is that “they act for the wrong reasons: to make an impression on others”. This they did by wearing broader phylacteries. “Phylacteries” is the term Matthew uses for the “tephillin”, which were small leather boxes containing portions of the Torah (Exod 13:1-16; Deut 6:4-9; 11:13-32) strapped to the forehead and arm during the recitation of prayers in literal obedience to Deut 6:8. The “tassels” were attached to the prayer shawls, and the most important seats in the synagogue refer to the place of honour at the front facing the congregation, occupied by teachers and respected leaders. The term “Rabbi” was a title of honour. The Scribes and Pharisees wanted to be noticed, commended and honoured more than to pray.
In contrast the disciples of Jesus ought not to go for external titles and especially those which heighten distinction since they were brothers and sisters and there was to be no greater and smaller among them. They were to be one in God who alone is father. Authority and leadership were to be expressed in selfless service.
It is easy to say, but difficult to do, it is easy to preach but difficult to practice. There must be a correlation between our words and our actions. The way to ensure that there is a correlation between the two is to first do and then say, or better to let people hear not what we say but what we do. This doing, if it is to be regarded as a genuine work of love must be done not to earn titles or the approval or commendation but because one is a disciple of Jesus who has shown through his life and actions what true leadership means.
Sunday, 24 February 2013
How often have you done something for someone else without any expectation whatever? Will you do something like this today?
To read the texts click on the texts: Dan 9:4-10; Lk -38
The injunction to “be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” which begins the text of today adapts the Old Testament command to “be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy” (Lev 19:2), which in the Sermon on the Mount of Matthew has become “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:48). Whereas this injunction stands at the conclusion of the six antitheses in Matthew 5, here it concludes the section on love for one’s enemy by placing the challenge to be merciful in a theological context. Just as God’s love for all is indiscriminate, so must the love of the true disciple be. If love is given only in return for love, it is not love at all. To be called love, it must be unconditional.
The next two verses move to the theme of not judging and not condemning. The reason for this is that the one who does not judge and condemn will not be judged or condemned him/herself. Instead, the disciple of Jesus is called to forgive and let go of hurts and resentments as these block the receipt of pardon and forgiveness that is freely available from God. The section ends with a call to a kind of giving which does not count the cost, but which gives generously and freely. The result of such giving will be God’s unbounded generosity.
Mercy, forgiveness and love are in short supply today. Most relationships between people are built on what one can gain from the other and how the relationship will help one. It is rare to see (even in relationships between members of one family) selflessness and generosity. Yet, this is what Jesus calls the disciple to and expects that the disciple will live such a generous life.
Saturday, 23 February 2013
To read the texts click on the texts: Gen 15:5-12,17-18; Phil 3:17-4:1; Lk 9:28b-36
The Transfiguration of Jesus, which is the subject of the Gospel text for today, is an event narrated by all three Synoptic Gospels. This scene in Luke makes three major points. The first is the revelation of who Jesus is; the second is the foreshadowing of his death, resurrection, and exaltation into heaven; the third is the training of the disciples, and each of us, about the meaning of the whole Christ event.
It is only in Luke that the Transfiguration occurs in the context of Jesus’ prayer. Just as the voice from heaven, inviting him to be Son and slave, spoke while Jesus was praying after his baptism, so also now, at the Transfiguration, the voice from the cloud speaks in the context of Jesus’ prayer. Through this, Luke draws attention to the fact that prayer has the power to mediate the presence of God.
The Transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain confirms that Jesus was in the presence of God. It also serves to clarify that Jesus is, indeed, God’s Son. While Moses and Elijah, who appear with Jesus on the mountain, might represent the Law and the Prophets, they are also mentioned because of the actions they performed. Like Moses, who parted the sea on the command of God, and who fed the multitude in the desert with manna from heaven, Jesus calms the storm and feeds the five thousand with bread. Like Elijah, who multiplied loaves, cleansed a leper, and raised the dead, Jesus does the same, and even more. Only in Luke are we given the content of the discussion that Moses and Elijah have with Jesus. They are discussing his exodus from this world to the next. They are discussing his departure.
Though Peter and his companions, John and James, witness the event, they do not know what to make of it. Peter, however, wants to remain there and commemorate the place. He wants to remain in the past. Jesus knows that he cannot remain on the mountain, tempting as that might be. He knows what he has to do and he will let no one come in the way. He has to come down and go to the Cross. That Jesus is, indeed, confirmed in this is manifested by the voice from the clouds which, in words similar to those used at the Baptism, affirms Jesus as Son and slave. Jesus is both at the same time. He is Son of God and he is Suffering Servant. He will, through his death, bring salvation to all. He is the fulfilment of all the hopes, not only of Israel but, of the whole world. He supersedes both Moses and Elijah. They are no longer needed now that Jesus has come.
This time, unlike at the time of the Baptism, the voice from the clouds adds, “Listen to him”. This command endorses and confirms Jesus’ interpretation of the future course of events that will take place in his life, namely, his death, resurrection, and ascension. God approves of Jesus’ orientation and wants the disciples to realise that this is the only way. Thus, they cannot remain on the mountain. They cannot freeze the event and stay there. They have to go down with Jesus and let him go to where the Cross awaits him.
The Transfiguration is an event which encapsulates the whole Christ event. It is here that we see his entire life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension unfold. It is a summary of what was, what is, and what will be. Thus, the Transfiguration emphasizes that God has been revealed through Jesus and that the essence of Jesus’ identity and work cannot be understood apart from the cross and resurrection. Only in the light of the cross and resurrection do we understand the character of God and the significance of Jesus.
The Transfiguration also serves to emphasize that, though God will seem hidden at the passion and death of Jesus, and though Jesus might seem defeated, things are not as they seem. Rather, God is as present at the passion and death of Jesus as he was at the Transfiguration. Jesus is as victorious in his passion and death as he was in his Transfiguration. In the first reading of today, this is precisely the kind of confidence that Abram is challenged to have. He and his wife are old, they do not have even one son and yet, God commands him to believe that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the sky. Abram dared to believe, even when he could not understand, and it was so. He first believed and then, he saw.
The readings of today teach us an all important lesson. There are times in our lives when things do not go the way we plan, when all that we plan goes awry, when the road seems steep and the going is difficult, when every step that we take is laboured and arduous, when we cannot see or understand and, when we feel like giving up and giving in. It is at times like these that we, like Peter, wish we had stayed on the mountain. It is at times like these when we, like Abram, might like some tangible proof, some sign. Yet, the Transfiguration of Jesus, and the attitude of Abram, teach that God continues to walk ahead of us and, though we may not be able to see him as clearly as we would like, God is there.
This is why Paul calls the Christian community at Philippi to join him in imitating Christ. This means that they must be able, like Christ, to look beyond and not be weighed down by the trials and tribulations of the world. It means that they must continue to have faith and trust at all times since trials and tribulations are always temporary and passing. What is permanent is God’s unconditional love, manifested in his Son, Jesus Christ. Our confidence is not in our ability to overcome the challenges that come our way, but in God’s grace that we constantly receive in, and through, Jesus Christ.