We are living in a broken world and each one of us is a part of that brokenness. If black was the colour of Good and white the colour of bad, EVERYONE OF US would be GREY. There is SIN in every one of us. Thus any reflection of sin must begin WITHIN and also WITHOUT.
Tuesday 31 March 2015
Wednesday, March 31, 2015 - Do you often blame God and others when things do not go the way you want them to go? Will you grow up and accept responsibility for your actions today?
To read the texts click on the texts: Isa 50:4-9; Mt 26:14-25
The text on the day before Maundy Thursday invites us to reflect on the initiative taken by Judas in going to the chief priests and agreeing to betray Jesus, the preparation for the Passover and the prediction of Judas’ betrayal.
Matthew’s reason for the betrayal by Judas is greed. Judas wants something if he agrees to betray Jesus and agrees to the thirty pieces of silver offered to him, a detail mentioned only by Matthew. Unlike in Mark where the money is promised, in Matthew Judas is paid on the spot. Some see the reference to the thirty silver pieces as taken by Matthew from Zech 11:12-13 in which there is an obscure reference to the wages of a shepherd, who puts money back into the treasury. In Exod 21:32 thirty silver pieces is the price of an injured slave.
According to Exod 12:1-20, the Passover lambs were to be killed on the afternoon of the 14th of Nisan, and the festival itself began with the ritual meal on the evening that began the 15th of Nisan. The Festival of Unleavened Bread began on the 15th and continued for seven days, during which no leaven should be found in the house. By the first century, the two festivals had merged and their names were used interchangeably. In addition, the pious practice of removing leaven one day early, the 14th, had become common.
Preparation for the Passover involved (1) locating an appropriate place within the city walls of Jerusalem, the only legitimate location for eating the Passover meal; (2) searching the room for leaven and removing any items that might contain yeast (bread crumbs, etc.); (3) obtaining a lamb and having it ritually slaughtered by the priests in the Temple; (4) roasting the lamb and preparing it with the other necessary items for the meal in the place previously arranged. While it is important to Matthew for theological reasons that the last supper was a Passover, he narrates none of the details associated with the Passover meal and ritual, concentrating his interest on the meal of the new covenant to be celebrated.
While Judas’ question to the chief priests focuses on himself and what he can gain, the disciples question to Jesus focuses on Jesus and what he wants them to do.
After Jesus takes his place at the table, he announces the fact of his betrayal by one of the Twelve. This announcement leads to distress on the part of the disciples. Each asks in turn whether he is the one. Jesus responds by indicating that one of those who eat with him will betray him, but does not explicitly identify Judas. Judas’ question is left till after Jesus’ response.
The dialectic of divine sovereignty and human responsibility in the passion is brought out strongly in Jesus’ comment that it would be better for the betrayer if he had not been born. Jesus is fully aware of who it is that will betray him. God is not taken by surprise in the betrayal that leads to crucifixion; it goes according to the divine plan expressed in Scripture. But this does not relieve the burden of human responsibility. God is fully sovereign, humanity is fully responsible.
Judas who is in the process of betraying Jesus asks if he is the one. Unlike the other disciples who address Jesus as Lord, Judas addresses him as Rabbi indicating that he is not an insider but an outsider. Jesus’ response “You said it” is a clear affirmation that Judas is indeed the one.
There are some, who because they find it easier, prefer to lay the blame at God’s door for their “misfortune”. These are people who have not yet grown up. If children blame others for the mistakes they make or refuse to accept responsibility it can be understood, but when adults do that it is a sign of not having grown up. While it is true that God remains sovereign, it is also true that we as humans have total freedom and thus must accept responsibility for our actions. We are always free to act as we see fit, but we must also realize that our every action has consequences which we must be willing to accept.
Monday 30 March 2015
In this talk http://youtu.be/BUxjdXSxIy4 which is for around 35 minutes, I suggest a way of life in which detachment is the key. While one might possess things, one must not allow things to possess us. While we may plan for the future we must never be obsessed with it and while we must learn from the past we do not need to regret it. Enjoy and feedback of any kind even if one disagrees is welcome.
Tuesday, March 31, 2015 - When things do not go the way you plan do you throw in the towel too quickly? Has your arrogance sometimes led to your downfall?
To read the texts click on the texts: Isa 49:1-6; Jn 13:21-33, 36-38
The text of today begins after the action of the washing of the feet of his disciples by Jesus and the words that he speaks explaining the meaning of the event. Thus this text must be read with that background in view.
It begins by an announcement of the betrayal in the context of Jesus’ emotional distress. This announcement is greeted with confusion on the part of the disciples. This confusion is an indication that betrayal can lie in the heart of any disciple and that no one is really exempt or can take for granted his/ her fidelity. This confusion leads to questioning on the part of the disciples. Each wants to know who Jesus meant. “The disciple whom Jesus loved” is introduced for the first time in the Gospel and plays a prominent role from now on. The fact that the disciple is not named points to the fact that it is not so much the person, but his relationship to Jesus that defines and determines who he is. Like the Son who is in the bosom of the Father (1:18) so this disciple reclines in the bosom of Jesus. Prompted by Simon Peter’s nod, the beloved disciple asks Jesus who the betrayer is. Through the gesture of giving the morsel to Judas and his words, the contrast between the intimacy of the meal on the one hand and the betrayal by Judas on the other is brought into sharp relief. Even as he is offered a sign of friendship, intimacy and fidelity, Judas chooses distance, betrayal and infidelity. Though Jesus “knows” who will betray him, he still reaches out in love and friendship.
The mention of Satan entering Judas indicates that the real battle is not between Jesus and Judas but between Jesus and the powers’ of evil, between light and darkness, and between falsehood and truth. Jesus is willing to face head on and immediately the powers’ of evil and so instructs Judas to act quickly. Jesus alone understands the significance of the hour. The disciples remain ignorant and even misunderstand. That Judas leaves immediately is an indication that his commands are followed even as he is going to be betrayed. Jesus remains in control of all the events of his “hour”. The phrase “and it was night” can mean on the surface level a chronological notation. However, it has a much deeper meaning in John. On the deeper level it means that Judas has cut himself off from Jesus who alone is the light and also that he has sided with the darkness which tries to overcome the light.
The verses which follow and complete the reading of today can either be seen as a conclusion to the previous episodes of the washing of the feet and the prediction of the betrayal or as an introduction to the Farewell Discourse. They speak of the glorification of Jesus as Son of Man and also of the glorification of the Father. While it is true that the mutual glorification began when the father was manifested through the Son at the incarnation and continued in the words and works of Jesus, it will be completed and reach its fulfilment in the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus to the Father. This final departure from the world and return to the Father is here seen as a seal of the disciples’ new relationship with God, with him and with one another. Jesus responds to Simon Peter’s question about his final destination by predicting Peter’s denial of him. Though Peter protests by offering his life to Jesus in keeping with the command to lay down one’s life for one’s friend, he speaks more from a misplaced enthusiasm than from the reality of the situation. When confronted with reality, Peter will in fact deny Jesus three times.
There are numerous times in our lives when things do not go the way we plan. It is as times like these that we tempted to throw in the towel like Judas and Peter did. However, the challenge is that even at times like these to continue to trust and believe that even though we may not fully understand why things happen the way they do, that God is still in control and will never let anything happen to is that is not for our good and for his glory.
Remaining with Jesus, following his commands and living the life that he demands is thus not an easy task. The numerous laws, rules and regulations of the Jews have been summarized into one command which is to love God by loving neighbour. This reduction of the numerous into one does not mean that the one is easier; it means that the focus has changed from external observance to internal disposition and from personal achievement to grace. That grace is at the heart of the command is made evident in the cases of Judas and Peter who both fail in keeping it. While Judas’ betrayal may be seen as a dramatic and extreme case of refusing to remain with Jesus and follow his commands, the denials by Peter indicate that every disciple is at risk of failure if he/ she depends on his/her own strength and not enough on the Lord.
Sunday 29 March 2015
Monday, March 30, 2015 - How will you make the unconditional love of Jesus tangible for at least one person today? Will you respond to the unconditional love of God like Mary or like Judas?
To read the texts click on the texts: Isa42:1-7; Jn 12:1-11
The story of the anointing of Jesus is found in all four Gospels. Yet, the manner of the anointing, the reason for the anointing and the anointing on the head as mentioned by Mark and Matthew and the feet as mentioned by Luke and John indicate that each evangelist interprets the anointing differently. While in Mark and Matthew the anointing is as a preparation for the burial of Jesus’ body and is thus just before the Passion, in Luke the anointing of the feet of Jesus by a sinful woman is an explication of her love and respect for Jesus and his love for her shown in the forgiveness of her sins. The woman is named only in the Gospel of John and is not Mary Magdalene. In John, she is Mary, the sister of Lazarus. Though it is not the head but the feet of Jesus which Mary anoints, the focus of the anointing here is the “hour” of Jesus. The dinner that Jesus is attending here is an anticipation of the last dinner that he will have with his disciples soon.
The story begins with the dinner given for Jesus by Lazarus and his sisters Martha and Mary. The anointing by Mary is narrated immediately after this. Though Mark also points to the quality of the ointment, only John mentions the quantity. By wiping the feet of Jesus with her hair, Mary anticipates the wiping of the disciples’ feet by Jesus at the last supper. The anointing here therefore points to the washing and wiping of the feet of the disciples by Jesus. The protest about the extravagance of the gesture is voiced in John by Judas alone. This is already an anticipation of the betrayer’s role that Judas will play later in the garden. The protest of Judas is not genuine, because his concern stems from his own desire to steal. Jesus’ response to Judas is to point to the revelatory significance of Mary’s act. It is an anticipation of the final anointing after the death of Jesus and thus confirms that it will take place. Jesus also reminds his disciples of the limited time before his “hour” and invites them to recognize it like Mary did. They need to respond like her.
Since many of the Jews were going to Jesus and began to believe in him, the chief priests make plans to kill Jesus. They also plan to kill Lazarus so as not to leave any trace of the miraculous powers of Jesus and also to stop people from believing in him.
The contrast between the insight of Mary and the blindness of Judas is brought out powerfully in this story. She recognizes who Jesus is and the fate that awaits him and so acts accordingly. Judas on the other hand has closed himself to the revelation of God in Jesus and thus can only act to suit his selfish interests. The anointing of the feet by Mary and the wiping them with her hair is also an indication of the action of a true disciple of Jesus.
She anticipates what her master and Lord will do and does it. She does not need to be taught it like the other disciples at the last supper. She has learnt it by observing the actions of the Lord. Judas on the other has shown that he is not a true disciple because he is able to see only the negative in the loving action of service and reaching out. His only response is therefore to protest.
The love command was not only spoken of by Jesus but lived out by him throughout his life. The best manner in which that love command was manifested was not only in the washing of the feet of his disciples, but in the spreading out of his arms in total surrender and unconditional love. This is the love to which we as disciples are challenged today. We can decide to respond like Mary because we are convinced and have experienced the unconditional love of God ourselves, or we can be like Judas who focus on our own selfish interests and so miss out on the beauty and reality of unconditional love.
Saturday 28 March 2015
To read the texts click on the texts: Isa 50:4-7; Phil2:6-11; Mk 14:1-15:47
In the past, the fifth Sunday of Lent (the Sunday before Palm Sunday) was known as Passion Sunday, However, following Vatican II, the sixth Sunday of Lent was officially re-named Passion Sunday. This Sunday is also called Palm Sunday, since palm branches are still distributed, but the focus is on the betrayal arrest, suffering and crucifixion of Jesus rather than on his triumphal entry into Jerusalem just before his death. Passion / Palm Sunday is the start of Holy Week in which the Church commemorates the Last Supper and the first Eucharist on Holy Thursday and Christ’s death on Good Friday.
What Jesus experiences for us is a manifestation of God’s overwhelming love for each one of us. Further, by our identifying ourselves with the ‘mystery’ of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection we ourselves experience a great liberation, a joy and freedom. This is because Christ came for precisely this purpose, to save in and through his death.
This idea is brought out powerfully by Mark in his Passion Narrative, which, though the shortest of all the four, is unique in many ways. While some think that the Passion narrative proper begins with the last supper, others see it as beginning with the prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane after the supper. The fact that the reading of today begins at 1:1 is an indication that the Church wants us to see the Passion Narrative beginning with the plot to arrest and kill Jesus. Be that as it may, it seems to me that the Passion Narrative actually begins after the Baptism of Jesus, when Jesus accepts the invitation of the Father to be both beloved son and slave, but more importantly the invitation to become beloved son and king, by being slave and servant.
Following the last supper and beginning with the prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane, the narrative may be seen to be divided into six parts. The first of these is the prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane, followed by the scene of his arrest. There is then the trial before the Sanhedrin or the Jewish trial followed by the Roman trial. This is followed by the way of the cross, crucifixion, and the events after the death of Jesus and concluded in the sixth scene by the burial of Jesus.
The prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane (14:32-42) is a lesson in prayer. There are two aspects to this prayer. The first aspect is that this is the only time in the Gospel that Mark gives us the content of the prayer of Jesus. In the first part of the prayer, Jesus states his petition, but adds in the second part that he wants this to accord with God’s will. The second aspect of the prayer is that though Jesus does not hear the Father’s voice like he heard at his Baptism and Transfiguration, he gets up fortified after his prayer. The fact that he was fortified is seen clearly in Jesus’ response to those who come to arrest him (14:43-52). If God wanted it this way, Jesus was willing. The disciples all run away. Not even one remains.
The trial before the Sanhedrin (14:53-72) ends with the whole Sanhedrin condemning him, not one voice is raised in protest. The trial before Pilate (15:1-15), deals with a political question which is whether Jesus is king of the Jews. Jesus’ response is enigmatic. He neither denies nor confirms. Pilate representing the Roman authorities condemns Jesus to death.
On the way to the place of crucifixion, Jesus is hailed as King of the Jews albeit in mockery. Those who mock him do not realize that this is indeed the kind of king he has come to be. When on the cross, the passersby deride him and the chief priests mock him. Even the one crucified with him taunts him. Jesus has no support from anyone. He is alone. Not even his Father will come to his aid. But the centurion recognizes the crucified Jesus, the Jesus who dies on the Cross as Son of God.
The final scene in the Passion narrative which is the scene of Jesus’ burial (15:42-47) also reinforces the idea of a servant king. Joseph of Arimathea who was a respected member of the Sanhedrin that condemned him as deserving death now realizes that Jesus is indeed Son of God. This is what prompts him to take courage and ask Pilate for Jesus’ body, so that he could bury it. This is exactly how Jesus won victory. In his suffering and ignominy, God vindicates him. He becomes Son of God when he hangs on the Cross.
This vindication and exaltation forms the last part of the kenosis hymn of Paul. The hymn summarises the whole of salvation history succinctly. It begins with the pre-existence of Christ, moves on to the incarnation and mission and then narrates his passion and death on the cross before speaking of his resurrection and exaltation.
However, there is no room for any kind of triumphalism here! There is no room for a victory that does not first know the “fellowship of His sufferings” on behalf of others. He clung to nothing; he let go of everything. Do we have the courage to do likewise?
Friday 27 March 2015
Saturday, March 28, 2015 - Impatience is trying to go faster than the Holy Spirit. Are you by nature impatient?
To read the texts click on the texts: Ezek37:21-28; Jn 11:45-56
The first two verses of today can be seen as the conclusion of the miracle story of the raising of Lazarus. While some of those who witnessed the miracle respond positively, others do not. However, the number of those who believe is more than that of those who do not as is evident in the use of “many” for those who believed and “some” for those who did not. The chief priests and Pharisees respond to the information they receive about the miracle by calling a meeting during which they discuss the fate of Jesus. Their main concern seems to be their own loss of power. They do not seem really interested in the destruction of the temple or even Jerusalem but with the effect that Jesus’ popularity will have on their own selfish interests.
Caiaphas who was high priest speaks on behalf of all of them. Even as he wants Jesus to die so that greater trouble can be avoided, he is in fact unknowingly prophesying about the true meaning of the death of Jesus. Though his sole aim is political expediency, he is collaborating in God’s plan of salvation for the whole of the human race. He uses his power to suppress God’s word but in effect witnesses to him. In his death Jesus would gather together all the scattered people of God to bring them to a union and unity never witnessed before.
Jesus retreats to Ephraim after the Sanhedrin’s decision. This retreat, however, is not to escape death but to control its time. Jesus will not go to his death until his hour arrives. It is God who decides that hour and no amount of human plotting or planning can hasten its arrival.
Even as the Passover draws near, questions remain about whether Jesus will come to the feast or not. It is not clear whether those who are looking for him have a positive or malicious intent. The question, however, reinforces the idea that Jesus acts not according to the will of human beings but of God and if God so ordains then no matter what the threat or consequence, Jesus will do what is required.
God’s ways are not our ways. As high as the heavens are from the earth so are God’s ways different from ours. It is not always possible to accept this simple truth and there are times when we try to go faster than the Holy Spirit because of our impatience. We are reminded as we reflect on today’s readings that there will be numerous times when we will knowingly or unknowingly try to upset the plans of God because they do not fit in with what we think is good for us. At times like these we too behave like the adversaries of Jesus. We have to realize that no matter how much we try we will never be able to upset God’s will for the world though it might seem sometimes that we have and can. When we witness evil overpowering good, selfishness dominating selflessness or fear overtaking love, then it might seem that we have done so. However, these “victories’ are only temporary as was the victory of the ones who crucified Jesus on the cross. In the final race it is always God who wins, it is always selflessness that come first and it is always love that will overcome.
Thursday 26 March 2015
To read the texts click on the texts: Jer20:10-13; Jn 10:31-42
The text of today begins with the Jews picking up stones to stone Jesus. While the immediate context is the last words of Jesus in his response to who he is, namely “The Father and I are one”, this reaction must also be seen in the larger context of the revelations that Jesus has been making. Jesus’ question to the Jews immediately after their attempt to stone him is indicative of this. He asks them for which of his good works they want to stone him. In response they accuse Jesus of blasphemy. Though it is true that Jesus is equal to God, they do not realize that it is not he who makes such a claim on his own accord. It is God who confirms him. Jesus uses “their” law to prove his claims and disprove theirs. He begins by citing the first half of Ps 82:6 in which human beings are regarded as “gods” because they receive the Word of God and then goes on to prove from the lesser to the greater, that thus it cannot be blasphemy if Jesus speaks of himself as God’s Son. It is the Father who sanctified and thus set apart Jesus and sent him into the world and thus he always does what the Father commands him to do.
Jesus goes on to appeal to his works as a proof of the fact that he has indeed been sent by God. His works, which are in keeping with God’s plan for the world, are clear indication that he and the Father are one. He is in the Father and the Father is in him. To be able to recognize this is to come to faith. These words do not go down well with the listeners who try to arrest him. Again as in the past Jesus escapes because his hour had not yet come.
The last three verses of the text look back to 1:28 and to John’s witness of Jesus at Bethany. John’s witness and then truth of that witness manifested in Jesus leads people to believe in Jesus.
In these verses, Jesus does not claim to be another God or to replace God or even make himself equal to God. He claims to make God known as never before. He reveals God as loving Father and as one whose only will for the world is its salvation. This is evident in the works that he performs, which are works of unconditional and redeeming love.
Jesus’ offer of recognizing him in the world is an offer that is relevant and available even today. The “good works” he inaugurated are on view whenever one goes beyond oneself and reaches out in love and compassion. They are continued when one speaks an enhancing word or performs a loving action. There are visible in selfless service and forgiveness. They are visible when love is made real.
Wednesday 25 March 2015
Thursday, March 26, 2015 - Will you look for the revelation of God in everything that happens to you today?
To read the texts click on the texts: Gen 17:3-9; Jn 8:51-59
The consequence of keeping Jesus’ word is the destruction of death itself, since his word is a life giving word and can only result in life. This promise of Jesus is misunderstood by the listeners. They attack Jesus’ identity by appealing to Abraham and the fact that he died. Since Abraham died, the words of Jesus cannot be true. They thus accuse Jesus of being possessed by a demon. They keep challenging Jesus by asking him whether he is greater than Abraham. While the question here assumes a negative response, for the one who has accepted Jesus, the response can only be positive. Jesus is indeed greater than Abraham and all the prophets. The reason for this is that Jesus does not glorify himself. It is the Father himself who glorifies Jesus. It is the God in whom the Jews believe who glorifies Jesus. The Jews claim to “know” him, but in reality do not. It is Jesus who knows and reveals the Father and so anyone who refuses to believe in this revelation is shutting him/herself out from the truth and so indulging in lies and falsehood.
For the first time here Jesus himself appeals to Abraham to prove his claims. However, by the use of the distancing “your ancestor Abraham” Jesus indicates on the one hand that there is a distance between him and his listeners and on the other that while they may have Abraham as their ancestor (father) he has only God as his. Even so it is Abraham their father who also testified to Jesus when the grace was given to him by God to “see” Jesus’ day. He did see it and rejoiced in it. Here too the Jews misunderstand Jesus. They appeal to chronology, not realizing that Jesus goes beyond time and space. The double “Amen” with which Jesus responds is an indication on the one hand of a new teaching and on the other of a deep revelation. While on the one hand there is a contrast of tenses: the past (Abraham was) and the present (I am), on the other hand the “I am” saying is used here in the absolute sense indicating that Jesus identifies himself with God. Jesus is infinitely greater than Abraham since Jesus is one with God.
The Jews respond to this revelation by wanting to stone Jesus because they consider it blasphemy. However, since his hour had not yet come, Jesus cannot be touched.
As human beings we often set limits on ourselves. While this is bad enough, we often also go further and set limits on God. We decide in advance what God can and cannot do and so miss out on mystery and miracle. Our stereotypes and closed minds result in our missing out on the revelation that God continues to make to us. In our understanding of who God is or how God reveals himself, it is important for us to note that with our finite minds we will never be able to totally fathom the depths of this mystery. We are limited by space and time, but God is not. Thus, it is important to open our minds as fully as we can and even after we have done this to know that there will still be much that we do not and can never know.
Tuesday 24 March 2015
Wednesday, March 25, 2015 - The Annunciation of the Lord to Mary - Will you say YES to all that God wants to do through you today even when you fully cannot understand why?
The Annunciation of the Lord is the beginning of Jesus in his human nature. Through his mother and her courageous YES, Jesus became a human being. The point of the Annunciation is to stress that Jesus did not come down from heaven as an “avatar” but rather that in every sense of the word; he was totally and completely human. Another related point is that God “needs” the co-operation of human beings to complete the plans god has for the world. One of the most beautiful examples of co-operating with God is that of Mary and her unconditional Amen.
The text chosen for the feast is that of the Annunciation as narrated by Luke. It relates the scene immediately after the announcement of the birth of John the Baptist and contains the announcement of the birth of Jesus. There are many similarities in the annunciations to Mary and to Zechariah. The angel Gabriel is the one who makes both announcements. Both Zechariah and Mary are called by name and exhorted not to be afraid. Both ask a question of the angel, and it is the angel who tells them what name each child is to be given. It is the angel who predicts what each child will turn out to be. However, even as there are similarities, there are differences in the narratives. While the announcement to Zechariah comes in the Temple and as a result of his fervent prayer, the announcement to Mary comes (apparently) when she is in her home and it is unanticipated. While Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth are advanced in age, Mary has not yet stayed with her husband, and so is a virgin. The birth of John to parents who are past the age of child bearing is a miracle, but even greater is the miracle of the birth of Jesus, who would be born through the Holy Spirit, and to a virgin. Even as John the Baptist goes with the spirit and power of Elijah, Jesus will be called “Son of God”. Luke clearly wants to show John as great, but only the forerunner of the Messiah, Jesus, who is greater.
Here, too, like in the case of the announcement of the birth of John the Baptist, God intervenes in human history. Mary though betrothed or engaged to Joseph, who was of David’s family, had not yet lived with him. This she would do only after marriage, which would be one year after the betrothal. The angel greets Mary as the recipient of God’s grace. She has opened herself to the promptings of God’s Spirit. While Zechariah was gripped with fear at the very appearance of the angel, in the case of Mary, it is the angel’s greeting that perplexed her. The angel reassures Mary and makes the announcement, not only of Jesus’ birth, but of who he will be and all that he will accomplish.
In response to this announcement Mary, like Zechariah, asks a question. While both questions seem similar, it is clear that Zechariah’s question expressed doubt and asked for a sign, as is evident in the angel’s words before Zechariah is struck dumb. Mary’s question, on the other hand, is a question asked in faith. Mary did not question the truth of the revelation like Zechariah did. She asked only for enlightenment on how God would accomplish this wonderful deed. This will be accomplished in Mary through the work of God’s spirit. This is why the child will be called holy. Luke probably also intends to convey here that it is not merit on Mary’s part that obtained for her what she received, but God’s generous gift in the Spirit.
The evidence that what the angel has announced will indeed take place is the pregnancy of Elizabeth, for nothing is impossible for God. Mary responds, not merely with a Yes, but by asking that the Lord work in her to accomplish all that he wants. The annunciation would not have been complete without Mary’s trusting, obedient response.
Today, many assume that those whom God favors will enjoy the things we equate with a good life: social standing, wealth, and good health. Yet Mary, God’s favored one, was blessed with having a child out of wedlock who would later be executed as a criminal. Acceptability, prosperity, and comfort have never been the essence of God’s blessing. The story is so familiar that we let its familiarity mask its scandal. Mary had been chosen, “favored,” to have an important part in God’s plan to bring salvation to God’s people, but it is unthinkable that God would have forced Mary to have the child against her will. Mary is an important example, therefore, of one who is obedient to God even at great risk to self.
When we think of or reflect on Mary, the one word that comes to mind to describe her whole life is the word, AMEN, a word which may be translated, “so be it”, “your will be done”, “do whatever you want to do in my life”. This was, indeed, Mary’s constant response to every situation in her life, especially when she could not understand why things were happening the way they were. The text of today is, then, a call and challenge to each one of us, that we, too, like Mary, might be able to say YES to all that God wants to do in our lives. It is a challenge to be open and receptive to the Spirit of God, so that we, too, might be able to give birth to the Savior in our hearts.
To read the texts click on the texts: Num 21:4-9; Jn 8:21-30
The words which begin today’s text continue the theme of Jesus’ departure begun in 8:14. Here, it is his death, resurrection and ascension which will be the focus. Though God has revealed himself in Jesus, the Jewish leaders have refused to recognize him. This is the sin in which they will die. When Jesus speaks of his departure, he is misunderstood. The Jewish leaders think of suicide, but Jesus speaks of laying down his life of his own accord for the salvation of all. The reason why they misunderstand is because they and Jesus stand on opposite sides. They are from below and of this world, Jesus is from above and not of this world. If they want to change their position, they can only do so by recognizing in Jesus, God. The leaders are not able to do this and show that they have completely misunderstood Jesus in the question they ask. Jesus affirms that he has told them from the beginning who he is. He is the one sent by God and it is God who affirms and confirms him.
When they “lift up” Jesus on the Cross (which can also be translated as “exalt” and so mean resurrection and ascension) then they will recognize him. This statement of being “lifted up” or “exalted’ is the second of the three such statements in the Gospel of John. The first appears in 3:14 and the third in 12:32-34. In these two cases because of the use of the passive voice, the suggestion is that God will do the exalting. It is only here that the responsibility for the “lifting up” is thrust on the people. Thus, even as they crucify him, they will also exalt him and in this act recognize him as the one who is. Even when on the cross Jesus will not be alone because the Father will be with him.
Jesus’ words touch the hearts of many who hear him and they come to believe.
Jesus’ coming into the world was not primarily to die but to save. Yet, if this salvation could only be achieved through his death on a cross, then so be it. Jesus was willing for it if this was to be the only way. He was also aware that because of his faith, trust and confidence in the Father that his crucifixion or being lifted up on the cross would also be his resurrection and ascension, his being exalted. Even as he is crucified, the very ones who crucify him realize that what they have done is nailed love incarnate to the cross. This love accepts, forgives and continues to love even from the cross.
Sunday 22 March 2015
To read the texts click on the texts: Dn 13:1-9,15-17,19-30,33-62; Jn 8:12-20
In these verses Jesus’ teaching places him in conflict with those who are opposed to him. The text begins with an “I am” saying of Jesus and here the predicate is “light of the world”. Light was an important symbol in the celebration of the Fest of Tabernacles or Booths. By proclaiming that he is the light of the world, Jesus declares himself to be the true fulfilment of Tabernacles joy and hope. The lights at the feast illuminated only the city of Jerusalem, Jesus illuminates the whole world.
The response to this light can be one of two responses. One can opt to follow the light and so have the light of life, or to walk in darkness.
The Pharisees respond to Jesus’ invitation by questioning the validity of Jesus’ self-witness. However, Jesus’ knowledge of his origin and his destination validates his self-witness, because it derives from his relationship to God and his whole career as the Word. Thus, Jesus is the only one who can bear witness “on his behalf,” because he is the only one who has seen God and can make God known. Because his opponents do not share Jesus’ knowledge, they cannot recognize the validity of his witness. The opponents of Jesus judge by what is visible and so do not recognise the divine origin of Jesus. Though Jesus judges no one, when a moment of judgement occurs, his judgement, like the witness out of which it arises, is valid, because he judges at one with the God who sent him, the same God who sent him for salvation. Jesus then meets the Pharisees’ demand for two witnesses by offering himself and God.
At the conclusion, it is made explicit that the time set for Jesus by God governs Jesus’ life, not human intentions.
The choice of light and darkness exists even today. There are numerous times when we too like Jesus’ opponents choose darkness over light. Sometimes we do this because we imagine that darkness is more appealing than light, at other times it is because it is more convenient and to our advantage. If like Jesus we are able to see beyond the merely physical and recognise light for what it is, we will always opt for the light.
Saturday 21 March 2015
To read the texts click on the texts: Jer 31:31-34; Heb5:7-9; Jn 12:20-33
‘Anticipation’ is the word that best describes what the readings of today convey. The first reading, from Jeremiah, begins with the words, “The days are surely coming”, and in the Gospel passage, Jesus responds to the arrival of the Greeks with the words “the hour has come”. What are these days? What is that hour? What must we anticipate? What must we expect?
Jeremiah explains that the expectation is of a “new covenant”. This covenant is new, not because it will be made again or made anew with the people but primarily because it is a covenant unlike the earlier ones. It is a covenant that will be written, not on stone tablets but on the hearts of all.
The effects of this covenant will be unlike the earlier ones. This covenant will be kept by the people and not broken. The reason for this is that people will be convinced of it and know that it is a covenant for their good and for God’s glory. They will know that it is in their best interest to keep it. Instead of being like children, who only keep their parent’s rules because of the promise of reward or the threat of punishment, the people will keep God’s law and live God’s commandments because their own consciences direct them to. They will be convinced of the law in their hearts. Instead of a purely external conformity, God’s law would now be internalized and people would pursue the right path because it would be part of their basic character and identity. This is what Jeremiah means when he talks about God’s Law being planted deep within his people and written on their hearts. God takes the initiative in making this new covenant and shows this in his action of forgiving all sin. He is a gracious God, a God who wants all to be saved.
This new covenant was made in the most perfect of ways when God made it in Jesus. In Jesus, sin was forgiven and love took centre stage. This is confirmed directly at the end of the Gospel reading, in what is termed as the final passion, resurrection, and ascension prediction in the Gospel of John. In that reading – he will draw all people to himself. The effect of the “lifting up” of Jesus will be – not condemnation – but acceptance of people. Even when on the cross, Jesus will continue to save and to redeem.
That Jesus could draw all to himself, only in and through the cross, is affirmed in his words about the whet grain. Speaking of himself and his impending passion, he directs attention to a grain of wheat which can only give life when it dies to itself. If the grain of wheat will not die, it remains what it is and will be unable give new life.
The letter to the Hebrews picks up this theme and narrates the incident of the prayer of Jesus at Gethsemane. On one level, Jesus would have preferred to save without the cross, and this was the content of the first part of his prayer when he asked the Father to take the cup away. However, on the deeper level, he knew that the cross was not just one way, but the only way, and that is why he adds “not my will but yours be done”. Hebrews thus confirms that Jesus willingly chose to become like the grain of wheat which would fall, and die, in order to give life and save. This was Jesus’ ‘hour’, the hour when he would go to his death, but also, without doubt, the hour when he would be glorified, the hour in which all would be drawn to him. It was the hour when self-centeredness was driven out by self-sacrifice. It was the hour when new life conquered death, and eternal, unconditional love conquered sin.
This is, therefore, a cause for great joy and optimism. Though we know how often wed have failed to live up to the promises we have made in the past, God continues to say to us at every moment: “See, I am making a new covenant”. Though we keep choosing sin over love, and self-centeredness over selflessness, God keeps inviting us to the ‘hour’ of his son. This is the hour in which he will make all things new.
This newness, however, can never come about unless we, like Jesus, make a conscious decision to collaborate and co-operate with God. We have to dare, like Jesus, to become like that grain of wheat which will fall to the ground and die. We have to understand, like Jesus, that unless we die to our selfish ambitions and our selfish desires to have more, that unless we die to our petty dreams of personal advancement at the expense of the majority, God cannot make all things new. The newness that God brings in Jesus is a newness that needs our active co-operation and collaboration. It needs us to keep saying “Yes”.
Friday 20 March 2015
Saturday, March 21, 2015 -Will you understand that God will reveal himself to you in ways you never even considered? Will you find him in everything that happens today?
To read the texts click on the texts: Jer11:18-20; Jn 7:40-52
The invitation of Jesus to the thirsty to come and drink from the living water that he will give leads to the discussion among the people which begins the text for today. While those who come on hearing this invitation regard Jesus as “the” prophet, others explicitly call him the Messiah. Still others question whether Jesus could really be the Messiah because of the popular belief that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem. Yet it was also true that some believed that the origins of the Messiah would be a mystery and no one would know where he would come from. These contrary views lead to a difference of opinion and though some want to arrest Jesus they do not lay hands on him.
When the police return to inform their masters that they could not arrest Jesus because they had never heard anyone speak like him, they are accused of having also been deceived by Jesus and taken in by his sophistry.
Nicodemus who is also one of the Jewish authorities speaks on behalf of Jesus and reminds his companions of the law and a hearing that was required before judgement. His question is ironic and seems intended to bring out that his companions knowledge of the law is a matter of doubt. They respond to Nicodemus in the same way in which they respond to the temple police. They deride him and assert their seemingly superior knowledge of scripture. Though they are emphatic that no prophet is to arise from Galilee, this knowledge is faulty, because the scriptures do speak of the Galilean origins of the prophet Jonah. John intends to convey through this assertion on the part of the Pharisees that they had misunderstood both the origins of the Messiah and who he is. Traditional messianic categories are inadequate because they rely on prior assumptions and expectations rather than judging Jesus on the basis of what he reveals about himself: that he is the one sent from God.
Jesus will always remain bigger than anything that we can ever imagine. Our most intimate encounters with him must make us realize this. He cannot be captured by the concepts, words or images that we use and while these help us to get to know his better, they will always be inadequate. Yet, this does not mean that we cannot know him as intimately as we want to. He reveals himself to each of us according to the level of openness we possess.
Thursday 19 March 2015
Friday, March 20, 2015 - Will you open your eyes, ears and heart and SEE that God is present in our world even today?
To read the texts click on the texts:Wis2:1, 12-22; Jn 7:1-2, 10, 25-30
The feast of the tabernacles was originally a harvest festival and was linked to the journey of Israel in the desert after the exodus when they stayed in tents or booths. It was a seven day festival that brought great joy and during this festival people lived in booths to remember their sojourn and God’s graciousness to them. The liturgical rites performed during this festival, included water libation and torch-lit processions. These form the background for the discourse of Jesus during this festival.
The crowds are surprised to see Jesus teaching in public despite the death threats and so wonder if he could indeed be the Messiah. They also wonder if the authorities know that Jesus is the Messiah but are denying it for some reason. Soon, “reasonableness” gives way to insight and intuition when the crowds go back to their stereotypes. They “know” where Jesus comes from and since no one will know where the Messiah comes from, Jesus cannot be the Messiah. The fact is that the crowds know only one aspect of Jesus’ antecedents. Jesus informs them that they are not aware that his real origin is in God. One will only be able to recognize and know Jesus when one realizes that he comes from God and has been sent by him. This upsets the listeners and though they try to arrest him, they cannot do so, because the ordained hour set by God has not yet come.
The crucial question here is whether or not one perceives Jesus as having been sent by God. The answer to this question determines whether one is on the right track or engaged in only superficial reflection. One reason why the authorities’ could not recognize Jesus as having been sent by God was because they had made up their minds already. They refused to let God work in the way he wanted. They decided how God must work and how the Messiah would come. They “knew”. This “knowledge” led to their being closed to the revelation that God made, so that even after he came, they continued to look for another.
God continues to come to us in various disguises and forms. He comes in persons, events and situations. If we decide in advance how he must come, then there is the danger that we too might continue to miss him and not be aware of his presence. The way to be able to find him in all things and all things in him is to be open and receptive and let God be God. It is to open our eyes, ears and every fibre of our being to the revelation that he will make and to be prepared for that revelation in the most unexpected persons, places and events.
Wednesday 18 March 2015
I will be conducting a Net Retreat from March 23, 2015 till April 05, 2015. This means that those who register will be sent every day, an E mail from me which will contain material for prayer in three formats. These are a youtube link to a talk by me, an Mp3 audio file and a Word Document. The youtube and MP3 will have the same content, but the Word document will be slightly different. The reason for three formats is to accommodate as many as possible. Some have slow connections and may not be able to watch the video or download the Mp3 audio file. These can download only the word document. Those with faster connections but who do not want to get distracted with the visual can only download the audio file, and those who want to see and hear can watch and listen on youtube.
The reflections may be done in your own time and at your own pace in a place that you choose. It can be done in the morning (before leaving home for work or college or any other errand) or at the lunch hour, in the evening or at night. You are welcome to do it alone or with your family. You are also welcome to ask for clarifications or make suggestions by sending an E mail to me on the address below. The skeleton structure of this Retreat is taken from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) who is the founder of the Society of Jesus and is also the Patron Saint of Retreats.
Though at times I will speak about Jesus, those of other faiths are also welcome to join.
I invite all who go to my blog to register by sending me an E mail on email@example.com.
Though there is a charge, I am not too concerned about the money. You can register free of charge. However, sending an E mail to the address will confirm your participation.
Thursday, March 19, 2014 - St. Joseph, Husband of Mary - When in a dilemma do you usually do the right thing or the loving thing?
To read the texts click on the texts: 2Sam7:4-5,12-14,16; Rom 4:13,16-18,22; Mt 1:16,18-21,24
St. Joseph has two feasts dedicated to him. One is that which we celebrate today and the other is on May 1 which is that of St. Joseph the Worker.
The Gospel text chosen for the feast is a text which appears immediately after the genealogy of Jesus, and narrates the story of his birth. Since Mary and Joseph were engaged, they were legally considered husband and wife. Thus, infidelity in this case would also be considered adultery. Their union could only be dissolved by divorce or death. Though Joseph is righteous or just, he decides not to go by the letter of the law and publicly disgrace Mary, but he chooses a quieter way of divorcing her. God, however, has other plans for both Joseph and Mary and intervenes in a dream.
Joseph is addressed by the angel as “Son of David” reiterating, once again after the genealogy, the Davidic origin of Jesus. He is asked to take Mary as his wife and also informed that is the Spirit’s action that is responsible for her pregnancy. He is told that he is to give the child the name “Jesus". Jesus (Iesous) is the Greek form of "Joshua" which, whether in the long form yehosua, ("Yahweh is salvation") or in one of the short forms, yesua, ("Yahweh saves”), identifies the son, in the womb of Mary, as the one who brings God’s promised eschatological salvation. The angel explains what the name means by referring to Ps 130:8. The name “Jesus” was a popular and common name in the first century. By the choice of such a name, Matthew shows that the Saviour receives a common human name, a sign that unites him with the human beings of this world rather than separating him from them.
Matthew then inserts into the text the first of ten formula or fulfilment quotations that are found in his Gospel. This means that Matthew quotes a text from the Old Testament to show that it was fulfilled in the life and mission of Jesus. Here, the text is from Isa 7:14 which, in its original context, referred to the promise that Judah would be delivered from the threat of the Syro-Ephraimitic War before the child of a young woman, who was already pregnant, would reach the age of moral discernment. The child would be given a symbolic name, a short Hebrew sentence “God is with us” (Emmanu‘el) corresponding to other symbolic names in the Isaiah story. Though this text was directed to Isaiah’s time, Matthew understands it as text about Jesus, and fulfilled perfectly in him, here in his birth and naming.
This birth narrative of Matthew invites us to reflect on a number of points. Of these, two are significant. First, many of us are often caught in the dilemma of doing the right thing which might not always be the loving thing. If we follow only the letter of the law, we may be doing the right thing but not the most loving thing. However, if we focus every time on the most loving thing, like Joseph, it is surely also the right thing. Though Joseph could have done the right thing and shamed Mary by publicly divorcing her, he decides to go beyond the letter of the law and do the loving thing, which in his case was also the right thing.
Second, the story also shows us who our God is. Our God is God with us. Our God is one who always takes the initiative, who always invites, and who always wants all of humanity to draw closer to him and to each other. This God does not come in power, might, and glory, but as a helpless child. As a child, God is vulnerable. He is fully human and in his humanity, is subject to all the limitations that humanity imposes on us. Yet, he will do even that, if only humans respond to the unconditional love that he shows.
Tuesday 17 March 2015
Wednesday, March 18, 2015 - Jesus revealed the Father through all that he said and did. Will you reveal Jesus by what you say and do today?
To read the texts click on the texts: Isa 49:8-15; Jn 5:17-30
These verses contain the first discourse in the Gospel of John. It is made up of many closely related themes. The Jews are outraged that Jesus has healed on the Sabbath and in answer to this outrage Jesus answers them in the following verses. To the charge that Jesus was making himself equal to God, Jesus answers that he as Son can do nothing apart from the Father. He is completely dependent on the Father and merely does the Father’s work. The Father reveals all that he does to his Son including raising the dead and giving them life. Thus the Son shares in the life giving work of the Father. The Son has also been given the power and authority to judge. This implies that everyone is under the Son’s reign and rule, and thus must confer on him the same honour that is conferred on the Father. The one who does not honour the Son does not honour the Father since it is the Father who has sent the Son.
To hear the Son’s word and believe in God opens the gift of eternal life. The alternative is judgment. This judgement will be based on the response to the Son in the present. Those who accept him and do good will be granted the resurrection of life whereas those who reject the Son and thus do evil will go to the resurrection of condemnation. The now will determine the later, the present will determine the future. This part of the pericope ends with an idea expressed earlier namely that the Son can do nothing on his own and will do nothing on his own, because he seeks only to do the will of his Father.
Monday 16 March 2015
Tuesday, March 17, 2015 - In which areas do I need a new Vision, a new way of looking at Persons/Things/Events? What are the hurts, resentments, bitterness that I am carrying in my heart and mind?
To read the texts click on the texts: Ezek47:1-9, 12; Jn 5:1-3, 5-16
The miracle of the healing of the paralytic is exclusive to the Gospel of John. The story is set in Jerusalem and the miracle occurs during one of the Jewish festivals though John does not specify which one. Later in the narrative we are told that the day of the festival was also the Sabbath and this adds to the significance of both the festival and the Sabbath and thus the miracle and the controversy that follows. Festivals in John are used as a platform for a deep revelation of the person of Jesus and this festival is no exception.
John gives a detailed description of the place where the miracle was performed as if encouraging the reader to place him/herself in that place. Three kinds of invalids are mentioned: the blind, the lame and the paralyzed. These are at the pool waiting for the stirring of the water. Popular belief was that an angel was responsible for the stirring of the water and thus for the inexplicable bubbling at the surface. Of these one is singled out. He is a man who has been ill for thirty-eight years, which symbolizes that his illness is almost permanent. At this point the text does not tell us what his illness is. Jesus picks out this man and again we are not given a reason. Did he come across to Jesus as the one most in need? Was he the only one who did not have someone to help him? We are only told that Jesus “knew that he had been there a long time”. Jesus initiates the miracle by approaching the man. Yet, he does not force his healing on the man as is evident in the question that he asks him; “Do you want to be made well?” The man does not answer the question but begins his litany of complaints. He has already set limits to what he believes can be done for him. He does not expect the impossible. Jesus responds to the man’s complaints with three imperatives: “stand up, take your mat and walk”. That Jesus’ words are effective and transformative is evident in the fact that the man was made well. He obeys Jesus’ commands to the letter: “He took up his mat and walked”.
Immediately after the miracle, there is an objection on the part of “the Jews” (which here refers to the Jewish authorities who oppose Jesus and not the Jewish people in general) because the man was carrying his mat on the Sabbath and this constituted work which was not allowed on the Sabbath. The man responds that he is simply obeying what Jesus asked him to do. The Jewish leaders prefer to focus not on the fact that he had been made well, but on the one who told him to violate the Sabbath. The man cannot respond to the question of the Jewish leaders about who Jesus is, since he does not know Jesus.
At this point Jesus reenters the story and finds the man in the temple confirming that he has been made well and speaks to him about sin. He invites the man to move from the mere physical healing to spiritual healing. The man on encountering Jesus again, announces to the Jews that it was Jesus who made him well. While some see these words of the man as pointing Jesus out to the Jewish leaders, others interpret them as an announcement of the man about who Jesus is. Again the leaders refuse to focus on the positive action of the man being made well and focus instead on the violation of the Sabbath. This is why they decide to persecute him.
Two issues are brought out in this story. The first is that of illness. While we may be able to see with the eyes of our head, it is possible that we too like many of those who were at the pool may be psychologically or spiritually blind. We may not be able to see another person’s point of view and imagine sometimes that ours is the only correct viewpoint. We may also be blind to the sufferings of the numerous people around us and close ourselves in on our own small worlds. We may have the facility and use of both of our legs, but may have given in to lethargy or laziness. We may have lost the desire and drive to do what we have to do. We may be able to use all our limbs and move about freely, but may have given in to fear. We may also be carrying resentments, bitterness, anger, jealousy and even rage in our hearts because of which we are paralyzed and not able to move freely.
The second issue which the story brings out is that of law versus love. Like the Jewish leaders we are also guilty sometimes of focusing too much on the law and not enough on love. Like they were not able to focus on the man’s wholeness but only on the violation of the Sabbath, so we are sometimes prone to focus on the negatives rather than on the positive. We prefer often to give a negative interpretation to a person’s actions and words rather than a positive one.
The miracle thus calls each of us to give up the blindness of our heart and the lameness of our mind and the paralysis of our spirit and to focus on the positive of God’s unconditional healing and love made visible in Jesus.
Sunday 15 March 2015
Monday, March 15, 2015 - Do you believe in God only when things go the way you plan or do you continue to believe in all circumstances? Is your God only a miracle worker or is he a God with you and for you?
To read the texts click on the texts: Isa 65:17-21; Jn 4:43-54
The healing of the royal official’s son (4:46-54) which is part of our text today begins after the dialogue with the Samaritan woman (4:1-42). The first two verses of today’s text (4:43-45) serve as an interlude between the two stories. John uses the saying of the prophet having no honour in his own country, to show why Jesus came to Galilee. In John, Judea is Jesus’ own country and since he was not accepted there, he had to go to others including the Samaritans. Like the Samaritans, the Galileans welcome him.
The first verse of the miracle story that follows is an introduction narrating the case. The son of a royal official is ill in Capernaum. The mention of Cana and a summary of the first miracle of turning water into wine anticipate another miracle. The healing in this miracle, however, is done at a distance. The official makes a request for Jesus to come down and heal his son who is at the point of death. The immediate response of Jesus is directed not to the official alone but to all. That Jesus did heal the official’s son is an indication that his words are not meant merely as a rebuke, but go deeper. Though the people will base their faith in him merely on signs and wonders, Jesus invites them to realize that these are not what will motivate him to act. He will act only in accordance with the will of God. Human expectation cannot determine his action. Even after hearing this seeming rebuke, the official is not deterred. He perseveres in his request. With a word and from a distance, Jesus performs the healing. The official’s faith is Jesus is seen in his obedience to the command to “Go”. He does go on his way.
The attestation of the miracle is provided by the servants of the official who meet him when he is still on his way to his home. The official on further enquiry realizes that Jesus is the one who has performed the healing and is led to faith. The man now believes in Jesus, not only in Jesus’ word.
At the end of the miracle John remarks that this was then second sign that Jesus worked after coming to Galilee. In his Gospel, John always refers to the miracles of Jesus as signs.
Sickness and brokenness are very much visible in our world today and most are in need of some form of healing or another. At times doctors are not able to diagnose an illness and at other times when they are and perform a complicated operation, ask the patient and family members to pray and have faith. There is only so much that they can do, the rest is in God’s hands. The official in the story had probably gone to Jesus as a last resort (his son was not merely ill but at the point of death) after having explored and exhausted all other avenues. He is single minded in his purpose and will let nothing deter him. He believes and perseveres. His faith gains for him not only his son’s life but also the gift of faith in Jesus.
This means that faith cannot be based on external signs alone and remain at that level. If it is and does, then one will look at Jesus as a mere miracle worker. The focus here would be only on the actions of Jesus and not on his person from which his actions flow. If one is able to go beyond the action to the person of Jesus, then one will also be able to see who God is: God with us, for us and in us.