Monday 29 February 2016

Tuesday, March 1, 2016 - What would be your position if God kept a grudge against you for every sin you committed? Will you give up all your un-forgiveness today?

To read the texts click on the texts: Dan 3:25,34-43; Mt 18:21-35

The text of today is the conclusion to Matthew’s “Community Discourse” (18:1-35). It begins with a question from Peter about the number of times one is expected to forgive. While Peter proposes seven times, Jesus’ response far exceeds that proposal.  The number seventy-seven can be understood in this way or even as four hundred ninety (seventy times seven). The point is not so much about numbers but about forgiveness from the heart. If one has to count the number of times one is forgiving, it means that one is not really forgiving at all.  The story that follows in 18:23-35 about the king who forgave his servant a debt of ten thousand talents (a talent was more than fifteen years wages of a labourer). The combination of “ten thousand” and “talents” is the greatest possible figure and indicates the unimaginable sum of money owed. An indication of how large this sum was can be seen when compared with the annual tax income for all of the territories of Herod the Great which was 900 talents per year. The point is that the debt is unpayable. The servant in his desperation asks for time to pay back the debt. Though the king knows that no matter how much time is given to the servant he will never be able to pay back what he owes, forgives him all the debt in his magnanimity and generosity. The debt of the fellow servant to him pales in comparison with his own debt to the king. Yet, if given time there was a clear possibility that the money could be repaid, because though by itself it was a large sum, it would not be impossible to repay. The servant who had been forgiven by the king will have none of it. He refuses to listen and be convinced. When the matter is reported to the king be the fellow servants, the king takes back his forgiveness because the one who was forgiven could not forgive in turn. This indicates that he had closed himself to the forgiveness of the king and not received it completely. The conclusion is frightening because it will be impossible for the first servant to repay the debt. This means that he will be tortured for eternity.

How easy it is to say “I am sorry” when we know we are in the wrong or have done something that deserves punishment. We expect to be forgiven by others when we do them harm after we have said sorry, and sometimes if they do not forgive us, we get upset with them even more. We need to apply the same yardstick to ourselves when others ask for forgiveness from us.

Sunday 28 February 2016

Monday, February 29, 2016 - Have you set limits on where, when and in whom God can work? Will you leave God free? Will you let God be God?

To read the texts click on the texts: 2 Kgs 5:1-15; Lk 4:24-30

The text begins with the words “Truly I tell you” which is used six times in the Gospel of Luke and always to introduce a solemn statement. Luke alone uses it here to introduce the proverb that follows. This proverb is found also in Mark (6:4), Matthew (13:57) and John (4:44), but in a different form there. In Luke, the proverb is given in a negative form and “hometown” may also be translated as “home country”. This leads to the interpretation that Jesus will be rejected not only by the people of Nazareth (his hometown) but also by the whole of Israel (his home country). The references to Elijah and Elisha are to reinforce the statement made namely that the blessings of God were not restricted to one particular group or community but were available to all peoples. No one was excluded from the graciousness of God and from his bounty. This statement of Jesus enraged the people who were listening to him and drove Jesus out of their town. Though they were hostile to him, Jesus did not let that deter him, but continued to do what he was meant to do.

This scene suggests that the basis for their hostility toward Jesus was a difference in the way they read the Scriptures. The people of Jesus’ hometown read the Scriptures as promises of God’s exclusive covenant with them, a covenant that involved promises of deliverance from their oppressors. Jesus came announcing deliverance, but it was not a national deliverance but God’s promise of liberation for all the poor and oppressed regardless of nationality, gender, or race. When the radical inclusiveness of Jesus’ announcement became clear to those gathered in the synagogue in Nazareth, their commitment to their own community boundaries took precedence over their joy that God had sent a prophet among them. In the end, because they were not open to the prospect of others’ sharing in the bounty of God’s deliverance, they themselves were unable to receive it.

Not only is this scene paradigmatic of Jesus’ life and ministry, but it is also a reminder that God’s grace is never subject to the limitations and boundaries of any nation, church, group, or race. Those who would exclude others thereby exclude themselves. Human beings may be instruments of God’s grace for others, but we are never free to set limits on who may receive that grace. Throughout history, the gospel has always been more radically inclusive than any group, denomination, or church, so we continually struggle for a breadth of love and acceptance that more nearly approximates the breadth of God’s love. The paradox of the gospel, therefore, is that the unlimited grace that it offers so scandalizes us that we are unable to receive it. Jesus could not do more for his hometown because they were not open to him. How much more might God be able to do with us if we were ready to transcend the boundaries of community and limits of love that we ourselves have erected?

Saturday 27 February 2016

Sunday. February 28, 2016 - Third Sunday in Lent - Questions without answers

To read the texts click on the texts:Ex 3:1-8,13-15; 1 Cor 10:1-6,10-12; Lk 13:1-9

In William Shakespeare’s play. “Hamlet”, there is a scene in which Hamlet says to his friend, Horatio: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy”. Hamlet could well have been talking about God. No matter how much we think we know about God, he will always remain a mystery. We will know only so much and no more. There will always be more to know. The readings of today highlight this reality.

The first reading of today narrates Moses’ encounter with God. This encounter is one of both revelation and concealment. God was, is, and will be, and yet, this is not all that God is. Moses would never be able to fully understand or fully comprehend who God really is. Even so, the “name” of God reveals power, fidelity, and presence. God is revealed through this “name” as one who is able to make something from nothing, one who can make the impossible, possible. God is revealed as one who will remain faithful, even in the face of infidelity, and one who will be eternally present to people. God will be there when called upon. God will help when asked.

In the Gospel reading of today, Jesus makes a similar point about the mystery of God. Here, the point made is about God’s action. We can never fully understand God’s ways. There is no answer to the question of why the Galileans, whom Pilate had killed, had to die or, why it was that the specific group of eighteen, on whom the Tower of Siloam fell, had to be crushed under it. Our finite minds can never come up with plausible and believable answers to these questions. They will remain mysteries. Yet, in the parable of the fig tree, and even more, through the life and mission of Jesus, God is revealed as one who is willing to give humans a chance to improve, God is revealed as one who will continue to wait for humans to return to him. Since this is so, rather than speculate on the question why, Jesus invites the people to repentance.

The repentance that Jesus calls the people to is a change of mind, heart, and vision. It is a practical rather than speculative response to God and to life. It is an attitude that realizes that we will never have the answers to all the questions that we can ask. We will never be able to answer credibly why one person is stricken with the dreaded disease of cancer while another is healthy. We will never be able to answer plausibly why one mother should deliver a still born baby and another, a baby full of life. We will never be able to answer believably why a young person dies in an accident because of the negligence of someone else and why another, in the same vehicle, survives. In the face of conundrums like these, there is but one response. That response is to accept what happens as God’s will and plan for us. This does not mean that we develop a fatalistic attitude. This does not mean that we must do nothing but accept our fate. It does not mean that we must throw our hands up in despair because there is no use at all. Rather, it means a response of faith and trust in a God who will always do what is best for us.

Paul speaks of this response in the second reading of today when he interprets the Exodus event. At the time it happened, the people who went through it were not able to comprehend it. They complained and grumbled. They thought that God was not on their side. They thought God was unconcerned about them and their plight. Yet, as has been shown, God was on their side, even when they could not feel or see God’s presence as tangibly or as readily as they would have liked. God continued to go ahead of them, lighting their path and guiding their way. God was always present, even when they did not know it. The challenge for the Corinthian community is to learn from this event that God does not abandon people. Even in the face of the severest trials, even in the face of the hardest hardships, even in the face of the sternest challenges, God is there and does provide a way.

This remains the challenge for us, even today. Though science and technology have made much progress, and though we have found answers for many questions which we did not know earlier, it is also true that there remains a great deal that we do not know. There are, indeed, more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophies and theologies.

Friday 26 February 2016

Saturday, February 27, 2016 - Am I “good” because of fear of punishment or hope of reward, or am I “good” because it is good to be good? God has FORGIVEN YOU, have you FORGIVEN YOURSELF/OTHERS?

To read the texts click on the texts: Mic 7:14-15,18-20; Lk 15:1-31-32

The setting for the Parable of the Prodigal son (more correctly called “The Prodigal father”) is the same as at the beginning of Chapter 15 and concerns the murmuring of the Pharisees and scribes because Jesus eats with “tax collectors and sinners.” 

Direct taxes (poll tax, land tax) were collected by tax collectors employed by the Romans, while tolls, tariffs, and customs fees were collected at toll houses by toll collectors, the group that appears frequently in the Gospels and is not entirely accurately identified as “tax collectors.” Toll collectors paid in advance for the right to collect tolls, so the system was open to abuse and corruption. The toll collectors were often not natives of the area where they worked, and their wealth and collusion with the Roman oppressors made them targets of scorn.

Those designated as “sinners” by the Pharisees would have included not only persons who broke the moral laws but also those who did not maintain the ritual purity practiced by the Pharisees. The scandal was that Jesus received such outcasts, shared table fellowship with them, and even played host to them.
The beginning of the Parable which speaks of “two sons” indicates that the focus is on their relationship to the Father and not to each other as “brothers”. The demand of the younger son is disrespectful and irregular. There is no rationale here. He was breaking family ties and treating his father as if he were already dead. The father divides his life among them. As soon as the younger son receives his share, there is a progressive estrangement. He goes into a far away country which indicates gentile land and mismanages the money given to him. He spends it all on loose living. His descent into poverty and deprivation is swift. He descends as low as to agree to work for a gentile and in a gentile land. Swine were an abomination to Jews, and they were prohibited from raising swine anywhere. The man who would dare to breed swine was considered cursed.  Human beings even ate carob pods, which were used as animal fodder, in times of famine. This is an indication of the complete destitution of the younger son. He comes to his senses when he is at the depth of his degradation and in the midst of mire and filth.

There are four parts to the speech that the younger son prepares
1.   An address – “Father”
2.   A confession – “I have sinned”
3.   Contrition – “I am no longer worthy”
4.   A Petition – “treat me as one of your hired servants.

The journey begins with coming to himself and ends with his going to his Father. It means learning to say ABBA again, putting one’s whole trust in the heavenly Father, returning to the Father’s house and the Father’s arms. That the younger son is serious about his return is shown in his action. He gets up from the mire and begins the return to his father.

The father’s response is mind boggling. While the son is still a long way off, he runs to meet him. In the first century it was considered undignified for grown men to run. The father sets aside respect and dignity. His only focus is his son. The son begins his speech but is not allowed to complete it. The father interrupts his son even before he can finish. He gives instructions to his servants for a robe, ring and sandals all of which indicate that the son is given back his original place as son. The call to kill the fatted calf is a sign that the return of the son is to be regarded as a time of celebration. The dead son has come alive, the lost son has been found.

Even as the celebration is on, the elder son is introduced. When he is informed about the reason for the celebration, he sulks and refuses to enter the house. Like in the case of his younger son, the father goes to meet his elder son. However, while he does not have to plead with the younger son, he does so with the elder son. The elder son does not address his father as “Father”, nor does he refer to his brother as “brother”. His argues his case on the grounds of merit and what he thinks he rightfully deserves. Even as he does this, he points to the failings of the younger son. What then is the point of being good?

In his response to the elder son, the father first addresses his son as “Son” though he was not addressed as “Father” and also reminds him that the younger son is also his brother. Reconciliation for the younger son meant reconciliation with his father, but for the elder son it means reconciliation with his brother. There is thus both the vertical dimension and the horizontal dimension of reconciliation.

Much of the fascination of this parable lies in its ability to resonate with our life experiences: adolescent rebellion; alienation from family; the appeal of the new and foreign; the consequences of foolish living; the warmth of home remembered; the experience of self-encounter, awakening, and repentance; the joy of reunion; the power of forgiveness; the dynamics of “brotherly love” that leads to one brother’s departure and the other’s indignation; and the contrast between relationships based on merit and relationships based on faithful love.

Unfortunately, we usually learn to demand our rights before we learn to value our relationships. The younger son was acting within his rights, but he was destroying his closest relationships in the process. How many times a week will a parent hear one child say to another, “This is mine. Give it to me”? Children quickly learn to demand their rights, but it often takes much longer for them to learn how to maintain relationships. Governments and law courts defend our civil rights, but how do we learn to defend our civil and familial relationships?

From a distance, the “far country” can be very appealing. Young people leave home for fast living. Spouses move out to form liaisons with exciting new partners. The glow that surrounds the far country is a mirage, however. Home never looks as good as when it is remembered from the far country.

The journey home begins with coming to oneself. That means that the most difficult step is the first one. The younger son had to face himself in the swine pen of his own making before he faced his father on the road. Pride can keep us from admitting our mistakes; self-esteem may require us to take decisive action to set right the things we have done wrong.

Although the opportunity to restore relationships and remedy wrongs begins with coming to oneself, it requires more. We must go to the person we have wronged. Was the younger son just seeking to improve his situation, or was he seeking reconciliation with his father? The direct confession in his interior monologue confirms the sincerity of his intent. Neither the younger son’s pride nor his shame mattered as much as his need to restore his relationship to his father. He did not ask for his filial privileges to be restored. He did not even ask for forgiveness. He merely stated his confession. When the prodigal son came to himself, he came to his father. . . .

The temptation a parent faces is to allow the child’s separation to become reciprocal. If the child separates from the parent, the parent may be tempted to respond in kind. The parable’s model of parental love insists, however, that no matter what the son/daughter has done he/she is still son/daughter. When no one else would even give the prodigal something to eat, the father runs to him and accepts him back. Love requires no confession and no restitution. The joyful celebration begins as soon as the father recognized the son’s profile on the horizon.

Insofar as we may see God’s love reflected in the response of the waiting father, the parable reassures all who would confess, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.” The father runs to meet his son even before the son can voice his confession, and the father’s response is far more receptive than the son had dared even to imagine. The father’s celebration conveys the joy in heaven. The picture is one of sheer grace. No penance is required; it is enough that the son has come home.

If this is the picture of God’s joy in receiving a sinner coming home, then it can also give assurance of God’s love to those who face death wondering how God will receive them. In the end we all return home as sinners, so Jesus’ parable invites us to trust that God’s goodness and mercy will be at least as great as that of a loving human father.

The elder brother represents all of us who think we can make it on our own, all of us who might be proud of the kind of lives we live. Here is the contrast between those who want to live by justice and merit and those who must ask for grace. The parable shows that those who would live by merit can never know the joy of grace. We cannot share in the Father’s grace if we demand that he deal with us according to what we deserve. Sharing in God’s grace requires that we join in the celebration when others are recipients of that grace also. Part of the fellowship with Christ is receiving and rejoicing with others who do not deserve our forgiveness or God’s grace. Each person is of such value to God, however, that none is excluded from God’s grace. Neither should we withhold our forgiveness.

The parable leaves us with the question of whether the elder brother joined the celebration. Did he go in and welcome his brother home, or did he stay outside pouting and feeling wronged? The parable ends there because that is the decision each of us must make. If we go in, we accept grace as the Father’s rule for life in the family.