22 February 2014

DON’T RETALIATE; RELATE – REACH OUT – BE RECONCILED

VII SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18; 1 corinthians 3:16-23; matthew 5:38-48

wade boggs, former boston red sox baseball player, hated going to yankee stadium… because of one yankee fan. the guy had a box seat close to the field, and he would torment boggs by shouting obscenities and insults.
one day before the game, as boggs was warming up, the fan began his yelling routine: «boggs, you stink» and so on. boggs decided he’d had enough. he walked to the man and said: «hey fella, are you the guy who’s always yelling at me?» the man said: «yeah, it’s me. what are you going to do about it?»
wade took a new baseball out of his pocket, autographed it, tossed it to the man, and went back to the field to continue his warm-up. the man never yelled at boggs again; in fact, he became one of his biggest fans at yankee stadium (cf. paul thompson, «devotional» in novato star, 30 august 2000).

when someone insults/hurts/harms us, our natural inclination is to retaliate and to get even. boggs gave up his natural urge and reached out through a simple gesture to the obnoxious yankee fan… and made him «his» fan!

this what the first reading and the gospel ask us to do… to reach out to our enemies in forgiveness and love.
love is not liking or affection; it is willing the good of the other. in today’s gospel text love consists in not retaliating; in going the extra mile; in praying for one’s enemies.

why ought we to forgive and love those who harm us?
because this is the way GOD in JESUS acts… and we are made in his image and likeness, and we are called to be like him! «be holy for holy, for i, the LORD, your GOD, am holy» (first reading) and «be perfect (some translations use the word «compassionate». JESUS calls his disciples to perfection in love and gave us an example to follow!), just as your heavenly FATHER is perfect» (gospel).


yes, this is a tough ask. but the call to be disciples is not for wimps! the challenge is to go beyond the ordinary, to go beyond the law.

when someone insults/hurts/harms me, what will i toss back – insults or love?
do i need to reach out and be reconciled with someone? if yes, how will i do it?
how will i strive to be holy and compassionate in the week ahead?

15 February 2014

CHRISTIANS DON’T MAKE IT ONLY «BY THE BOOK»

VI SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
sirach 15:15-20; 1 corinthians 2:6-10; matthew 5:17-37

there were two junior executives in a company. both were hard and diligent workers. one always went by the book and seldom made mistakes. the other often went beyond the book, though he sometimes made mistakes. when there was an opening for a senior executive position, the company director promoted the second exec. mr by-the-book was enraged and asked his boss why! he had a better record; he never made mistakes; he always followed the book. his boss replied: «yes, but what will you do when something comes up that isn’t in the book? you know the rules. he knows what we are doing here and why we are here; he understands the company. that’s why he was promoted over you.»

it’s not enough to go by the book. often in life—and always in the christian life—we need to go beyond the book and beyond the call of duty.
that’s the bottom line of today’s scripture: JESUS challenges his disciples to go beyond the righteousness of the scribes and pharisees. he challenges them to not merely keep the law but to go beyond it and to live in communion with GOD and neighbour.
he does this through six illustrations (four in today’s text) which have the form «it was said… but i say to you.» disciples must not only
i) avoid murder but also avoid all attitudes and behaviour that inappropriately express anger and disrespect;
ii) avoid adultery but also have hearts free of lust (lust vs love: lust asks «how can i use the other to derive pleasure for myself»; love asks «how can i make the other happy»);
iii) avoid divorce but also remain faithful to the marriage covenant;
iv) avoid false oaths but also avoid oaths (oaths vs vows: an oath calls on GOD to witness to the truth of what one is saying; a vow is a solemn promise made to GOD).

it’s not enough to know the rules and to keep them. we need to know why we are disciples and who we should be… by knowing JESUS and living by his values. our reward is promotion in the kingdom; we «will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven»!
am i ready to go beyond «the book»? am i ready to imitate the ONE who came to «fulfil the law»?

08 February 2014

RELIGION: BEYOND RULES, RITUALS AND RHETORIC

V SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
isaiah 58:7-10; 1 corinthians 2:1-5; matthew 5:13-18

a little girl was visiting her grandparents, who held that sunday—as the LORD’s day—should be a day of quiet, and that the bible was the only book that should be read. the girl could not swing nor gather flowers that grew in the garden nor prance about. one sunday, she asked for and was given permission to walk to the gate. there she saw the old mule standing with his head bowed and his eyes closed. reaching out to pat him, she said: «poor old fellow, have you got religion, too?» (cf. bob deffinbaugh, «the fatal failures of religion»).

isn’t that how many view religion… as a set of do’s and don’ts? and many are completely turned off by the rules, rituals and rhetoric that we think comprise religion.

this sunday’s readings paint a very different picture of religion!
the context of the first reading is a critique of ritualistic fasting as an act of piety. in today’s selection, isaiah insists that true religion consists in being just and in removing need and oppression.
in the second reading, paul critiques preaching which is nothing more than empty rhetoric.
for JESUS, religion is witnessing by being «the salt of the earth» and «the light of the world» (much of the sermon on the mount will spell out how to be salt and light). salt and light function in three ways: by associating with the things they want to change; by being different from them; and by making a difference.

am i ready to be with people and to be involved in their lives (pope francis uses a brilliant phrase for this «association»: «the shepherd must smell like the sheep»); yet to be different from them; and above all to make a difference in their lives?
or am i satisfied with rules, rituals and rhetoric which lead to bowed heads, closed eyes and heavy hearts… in me and others??

01 February 2014

RECOGNIZING THE EXTRAORDINARY (AND THE DIVINE)

THE PRESENTATION OF THE LORD
malachi 3:1-4; hebrews 2:14-18; luke 2:22-40

on 20 november 2007, sotheby’s auctioned rufino tamayo’s abstract masterpiece «tres personajes» for more than $1 million. the painting had been stolen twenty years earlier. in november 2003, elizabeth gibson, a new yorker, noticed and rescued the painting from between garbage bags set out for morning collection! ms. gibson, who knew little about modern art, said she took it home because «even though i didn’t understand it, i knew it had power.»
several people must have seen the painting (and one even trashed it) but only ms. gibson recognized the extraordinary.

something similar happened a couple of millennia ago in jerusalem.
the busy temple of jerusalem must have been filled with hundreds of people—priests and scripture scholars, pilgrims and worshippers… and many of them must have seen an infant with his parents. only two senior citizens—simeon and anna—recognized the extraordinary in the ordinary infant and his ordinary parents who made the ordinary offering of the poor.
simeon and anna were the «anawim» who had neither power nor prestige, but had deep faith. simeon was «righteous and devout… and the holy spirit was upon him» and anna «worshipped night and day with fasting and prayer». this rootedness in GOD and their faith enabled them to recognize the extraordinary in the ordinary and the divine in the human.

each one of us is ordinary; yet, we have in us the extraordinary and the divine. do you and i recognize the extraordinary and the divine in ourselves and in others? or do we treat ourselves and others as trash?
may the SPIRIT in us and our eyes of faith help us recognize the extraordinary and the divine in us!