26 July 2014

STAKING EVERYTHING ON ONE THING… THE RIGHT THING?

XVII SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
1 kings 3:5, 7-12; romans 8:28-30; matthew 13:44-52 or 13:44-46

one of my youth-group members, who was with infosys, was leaving for the us and wanted to sell his infosys shares! the others in the group were willing to do anything to buy those shares; one guy was willing to sell his bike (this guy wouldn’t allow anyone to touch his bike!). anything for infosys shares!!!
many street children run away from home in search of a dream. their dreams may be different—to become «somebody», to meet a film star or to join bollywood—but they have one thing in common: they have left everything—home, family, property—to achieve that goal.  
the shares-seeking-youngster and the dream-chasing-kid are both willing to stake everything and make a total investment in something they perceive is invaluable.

that’s precisely JESUS’ point in today’s gospel: the farm-worker, who stumbles on a treasure, and the pearl merchant, who finds an invaluable pearl after a great search, appreciate the value of their find and sell everything to possess their find.
to an outsider, these men appear insane; they give up everything for one treasure. but they are certain about the wisdom of what they do: they give up something valuable to get the one invaluable treasure; they stake everything on one thing… the right thing. 
JESUS gave up everything he valued—his family, his home, his comfort, his profession—to do his father’s will… his greatest treasure. 

JESUS invites us to seek the kingdom and its values. we might stumble over it (like the farmer) or we might find it unexpectedly after a long search (like the pearl merchant); one thing is clear: we will experience great joy when we discover it! 
the question then is: am i ready to stake everything for it?

19 July 2014

JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS IS BAD EXERCISE

XVI SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
wisdom 12:13, 16-19; romans 8:26-27; matthew 13:24-43 or 13:24-30

a woman, walking past her pastor’s house, saw a terrible scene through his window. she saw her pastor chasing his wife with a broom; the wife was screaming and running around. the pastor was beating his wife! she spread the news around town. 
the pastoral council heard the scandalous news; they removed the pastor from ministry and informed him about their decision. the pastor silently accepted their decision, and said he wished to address the congregation the following sunday. 
after service the following sunday, he invited his wife to speak. she said: «the council has fired my husband because someone said that he hit me. this is what happened: while i was cleaning, i saw a mouse. i screamed and started running around the room. my husband grabbed a broom and began to chase the mouse. and someone jumped to conclusions.»

jumping to conclusions is an exercise most of us get! we are quick to judge; we are intolerant and want to do away with wrong-doers… all without knowing circumstances/ facts/ motives. 

this sunday’s liturgy strongly challenges these attitudes. 
the first reading asserts that GOD’s power neither crushes nor oppresses. he is patient and merciful even with sinners; he gives people time to change. he asks his people to act with patience and tolerance towards one another, even their enemies.
the psalmist describes GOD as a GOD of mercy and compassion, who is slow to anger!
GOD’s patience with imperfection appears also in the gospel in the parable of the wheat and the darnel: the workers want to uproot the weeds. but the owner knows that wheat and darnel look identical to one another… until they ripen! and so he cautions the workers: «wait till all the facts are in; don’t jump to conclusions! else you might uproot wheat.» 

today’s readings counsel patience… in the face of our failures; in the midst of our urge to fix things and make them right; in the face of our tendency to judge others and to act on those judgments.

in which areas do i need to be patient with myself? with whom do i need to be patient? 
GOD is patient with us. let us be patient with ourselves, with others, with the world! let us stop jumping to conclusions.

12 July 2014

KEEP SOWING THE SEED

XV SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
isaiah 55:10-11; romans 8:18-23; matthew 13:1-23 or 13:1-9

«i’m quitting!» said a priest companion as we were vesting for the eucharist! before a stunned me could respond, he said his province was quitting a missionary region because even after thirty plus years of ministry, they were not seeing the fruit of their labour. they planned to relocate in places where the people were more receptive.

it IS frustrating to work and not see the results of our labour. parents, teachers, mentors… we’ve been there and felt it. we want to throw our hands up and say: «that’s it! i’ve had enough.» 

today’s word is addressed to those who want to give up: keep sowing… because GOD’s word is efficacious.

let’s situate today’s parable of the sower. the disciples are disheartened. JESUS has had very little «success». the pharisees are against him. the crowds come to him, but only to benefit from his power; they receive it and go away. 
every israelite listening to the parable could identify with every detail: some seed necessarily fell on hard ground; much of the land in palestine was limestone and so beneath a few inches of soil there was rock; the soil which looked clean could have fibrous roots of weeds. every detail was commonplace except one: the size of the harvest! a farmer who reaped a fivefold harvest was considered fortunate. a sevenfold harvest was cause for celebration, a bounty attributable only to GOD’s blessing. a thirty fold harvest? unheard of. sixty fold, hundred fold? impossible!
when we sow GOD’s word, there will be miraculous success despite initial frustration. 

the first reading gives us reason for confidence in an abundant harvest: just as rain inevitably brings forth fruitfulness, so it is with GOD’s word. 

the sower knows soils are different. he accepts that the seed will grow differently. he sows anyway; he sows everywhere. 
and so we ought. in an age that looks for quick results, we need to sow the seed with patience and in hope… that what we sow will—in the end—produce a harvest.

an anecdote (from william barclay) to end!
in the church where h.l. gee worshipped, there was an old man, thomas. when thomas died, gee assumed there would be no one for the funeral because thomas had outlived his friends and few knew him; gee decided to go. 
it was a rainy day. at the cemetery gate, stood a soldier waiting. he came to the grave for the ceremony. when it was over, he stepped forward and swept his hand in a salute that might have been given to a king. as gee walked away with this soldier, the wind blew the soldier’s raincoat open to reveal the badges of a brigadier general. 
the general said: «you are perhaps wondering what i am doing here! thomas was my sunday school teacher; i was a wild lad and a big trouble to him. he never knew what he did for me, but i owe everything i am or will be to old thomas. today i had to come to salute him.» 

thomas did not know what he was doing. no parent, or teacher, or mentor, or any one ever does. it is our task to keep sowing the seed… because GOD’s word is efficacious. «sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let your hands not be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well» (ecclesiastes 11:6).

will i keep sowing?

05 July 2014

COUNTER THE CULTURE

XIV SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
zechariah 9:9-10; romans 8:9, 11-13; matthew 11:25-30

an extract from ellen goodman’s editorial, «battling our culture is parents’ task»* in the «chicago tribune»:
sooner or later, most americans become card-carrying members of the counterculture. this is not an underground holdout of hippies. no beads are required. all you need to join is a child. 
at some point… it becomes clear that one of your main jobs as a parent is to counter the culture. what the media deliver to children by the masses, you are expected to rebut one at a time. parents are expected to protect their children from an increasingly hostile environment. are the kids being sold junk food? just say no. is tv bad? turn it off. are there messages about sex, drugs, violence all around? counter the culture.


barbara dafoe whitehead, a research associate, writes: «a common complaint i heard from parents was their sense of being overwhelmed by the culture. parents see themselves in a struggle for the hearts and minds of their own children.» it isn’t that they can’t say no. it’s that there’s so much more to say no to.
americans once expected parents to raise their children in accordance with the dominant cultural messages. today they are expected to raise their children in opposition. once the chorus of cultural values was full of ministers, teachers, neighbours, leaders. they demanded more conformity, but offered more support. now the messengers are ninja turtles, madonna, rap groups, and celebrities pushing sneakers. 
it’s what makes child-raising harder. it’s not just that american families have less time with their kids, it’s that we have to spend more of this time doing battle with our own culture. it’s rather like trying to get your kids to eat their green beans after they’ve been told all day about the wonders of milky way. come to think of it, it’s exactly like that!

what society is compelling (not only american) parents to do today is what the gospel of JESUS has challenged christians to do! counter the culture!

the indicators of this counter-cultural way: GOD’s revelation is not to «the wise and the learned» but to the «little ones»; freedom from labour and burdens comes not from escapism but from taking the easy-fitting yoke of JESUS; the blessed in the kingdom are those the world considers unfortunate.

our reason/motivation for being counter-cultural: our GOD… a king who rides not a horse but a colt… a symbol of peace; who proclaims not war but peace to the nations; who does not build weapons of destruction but destroys weapons (cf. first reading); who took the form of a slave and was born in human likeness; who calls us to learn from his meekness and humility.

will i imitate my GOD and counter the culture? will i learn from him… who is meek and humble of heart??

* for the whole editorial, click http://goo.gl/HPW0SS