30 August 2014

THE MESSIAH AND THE DISCIPLE MUST SUFFER

XXII SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
jeremiah 20:7-9; romans 12:1-2; matthew 16:21-27

islamic state militants have captured several christian (and yazidi) villages/cities in iraq. they gave the inhabitants a choice: convert, pay an exorbitant «infidel tax,» or die. refusing to renounce christianity, over 100,000 have fled… deprived of all their belongings—money, automobiles, even food and water—except their clothes. many—including children—have been killed. according to an arab news report, the militants have moved from beheading to burying people alive in mass graves. suffering, persecution and death is the lot of these christians.

these christians probably feel like jeremiah, who had a difficult time accepting the cost of being a prophet. 
the first reading describes jeremiah’s suffering in following his prophetic vocation. the people of judah and jerusalem hear his message as treason. he is attacked and tortured; he is isolated; he suffers so much that he tries voluntary retirement.

these christians probably feel like peter, who had a hard time accepting the cost of discipleship. he who protests the suffering, rejection and death that JESUS foretells the messiah must undergo. there is a certain necessity about JESUS’ suffering and death.
peter cannot understand! suffering has no place in his understanding of messiahship. the rock becomes a stumbling block! JESUS tells him to get behind him, to take his place as a disciple… behind the master. JESUS then challenges his disciples to walk with him to jerusalem and calvary: «if anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me.»
like the messiah, the disciple must suffer.

but messiahship and discipleship are not only about the cross; there is also the crown. JESUS believes that GOD will vindicate him on «the third day» [that is, definitely/ultimately]. and he promises his disciples a share in his glory and life if they carry their crosses.
the gospel has two sides: the cross and the crown. if we embrace the glorious side, and reject the suffering side, we falsify the gospel. 

each one of us has a cross to carry. what are the crosses in my life? am i willing to carry these and follow JESUS to my jerusalem and calvary? 
let’s pray for christians in iraq, and elsewhere, who are being persecuted for their faith.

23 August 2014

PERFECTED IN WEAKNESS

XXI SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
isaiah 22:19-23; romans 11:33-36; matthew 16:13-20

duke ellington—american composer, pianist and conductor of jazz orchestras—composed with each musician in the band particularly in mind. he said: «you keep their weaknesses in your head as you write, and that way you astonish them with their strengths.»

perhaps, that’s the way GOD works with the people he chooses as leaders and with us: he keeps our weaknesses in mind and astonishes us with our strengths; he perfects us in weakness.
how else does one explain his choice of leaders? when studying church history, and reading about some infamous leaders and the scandals in the church, one question kept popping up: why does GOD allow such leaders in the church?
we have a response in this sunday’s gospel. 

in response to JESUS’ question about his identity, simon acknowledges JESUS as the CHRIST. JESUS blesses simon and gives him a new name—peter, and a mission—the rock on which JESUS will build his church.

what kind of a rock was peter? 
soon after being named rock, peter misunderstood the nature of JESUS’ mission.
at the last supper, peter boasted that he’d never deny JESUS, and a few hours later, denied him thrice.
after the resurrection, peter left the LORD and went back to his boat and nets.
twenty years later, when one would think he had finally managed to get things sorted out, peter withdrew from table fellowship with fellow christians merely because they were gentiles.
by nature, peter was definitely not rock!

but the weak and human peter becomes rock when he is open to divine revelation («blessed are you, simon…»), and when JESUS prays for him (peter, i have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail…»). after pentecost, peter fearlessly proclaimed the gospel. he was imprisoned, tried, tortured, forbidden to preach… he did not stop preaching! 
through grace, peter became rock.

there is something of simon in each of us. we misunderstand JESUS’ mission and words, deny him, get engrossed in our own business. GOD chooses us—keeping our weaknesses in mind—and strengthens us to be his church. he perfects us in weakness.

will i open myself to his revelation and grace? will i allow him to perfect me?

16 August 2014

GOD’S LOVE… ACROSS BORDERS, BEYOND BARRIERS

XX SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
isaiah 56:1, 6-7; romans 11:13-15, 29-32; matthew 15:21-28

in 1947, jackie robinson became the first afro-american to play major league baseball. he faced discrimination from teammates, derision by opponents, racial slurs from spectators. during one game in boston, when the slurs reached a peak, harry «pee wee» reese came over, and put his arm around robinson. there was silence in the stadium. robinson later said that gesture saved his career.

that gesture—immortalized in a bronze sculpture in keyspan park, brooklyn—also broke ethnic barriers.

in the gospel, no barrier could keep the canaanite woman away from JESUS… neither his indifferent silence nor his statement about his mission «only to the lost sheep of the house of israel» nor his apparent rebuke. her persistent faith persuaded JESUS to reach beyond ethnic/ geographical boundaries to cure her daughter.

the first and second readings set the stage for the drama in the gospel.
isaiah gives voice to GOD’s intention to extend israel’s privileges to all «foreigners who join themselves to the LORD.» GOD yearns to be in relationship with all peoples.
paul emphasises that GOD’s mercy is intended for all, whether jew or gentile.

pope francis symbolised this aspect of GOD’s love (and caused a furore among traditionalists!) when he washed the feet of two women and two muslims at a juvenile detention centre last year, and of disabled men and women of varied ethnicities and creeds.

do i reach out in love to all people irrespective of gender, caste, class, creed or ethnicity? will i imitate GOD and go beyond borders and barriers?

09 August 2014

STEPPING OUT ON THE WORD OF GOD

XIX SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
1 kings 19:9a, 11-13a; romans 9:1-5; matthew 14:22-33

br patrick nshamdze, director of  st joseph’s catholic hospital in liberia, died last saturday of  ebola. fr miguel parajes, dr kent brantly and nancy writebol, are fighting for their lives after contracting ebola while treating infected patients in liberia. nancy’s husband, david (who’s still in liberia) imagines he should be beside himself with worry but instead finds «in a very real and unexpected way... the peace and the comfort of GOD.»
these are but few heroes who have stepped out to care for ebola victims. they did not need to risk their lives. they did.


today’s readings feature two heroes, who stepped out… on the strength of GOD’s word. 

the first reading presents elijah.
elijah confronted the infidelity of the monarchy, and destroyed the false prophets of baal. then, overwhelmed by fatigue, he wanted to give up. but strengthened by GOD’s food and word, he journeyed to horeb where he encountered the LORD… in a still small voice. this encounter strengthened him to continue his mission.
elijah did not need to leave the comfort of his homeland tishbe. he obeyed GOD and stepped out on his word.

the gospel features peter and his walk upon the water.
in the midst of the storm, the disciples encountered JESUS, who calmed their fears. the impetuous peter dared to get out into the stormy seas.
peter did not need to get out of the boat. he did… on the strength of the LORD’s word.

elijah and peter (and patrick, miguel, kent, nancy and david) show us what happens when we respond to the LORD’s call: we triumph over the forces of chaos and meaninglessness; his power lifts us up and allows us to weather the storms of life.

which boats do i need to step out? on which stormy waters does the LORD call me to walk? will i risk stepping out on the word of GOD?
i can 
- risk, because i have a GOD who watches over me;
- trust, because i have a GOD who cares for me;
- step out because i have a GOD who saves me.

02 August 2014

COMPASSION ACCOMPLISHES THE UNBELIEVABLE

XVIII SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
isaiah 55:1-3; romans 8:35, 37-39; matthew 14:13-21

on a farm near maine, lloyd bachelder was pinned under a 3,000-pound tractor. hearing him scream, arthur hinkley, his friend, lifted the tractor with bare hands for lloyd to wriggle out.  arthur’s compassion accomplished the unbelievable (cf. calvin miller, «rethinking suburban evangelism»).

we see such compassion in the readings of today.
the gospel opens with JESUS withdrawing to a lonely place after he hears of john’s beheading. but he has no time to be «by himself» for the crowds follow him. JESUS is faced with an unexpected demand on himself. 
there are two usual responses to such a situation. one: i completely ignore such demands because they conflict with my plans/needs. two: if i’m one who cannot say «no», i will always put aside my plans and respond to the call… even when i can’t/don’t want to respond. i play the «martyr»; the result is eventual burnout/frustration. neither response is appropriate.
JESUS’ response? he «had compassion on them» and responded to their need. BUT it is important to note that in john’s version of this story, JESUS goes away after satiating the people’s hunger because he does not want to make them dependent!
sometimes, compassion is helping people by giving them resources and myself; at other moments, compassion is helping people find their own resources and themselves. 

however, there is so much «hunger» for food, education, love… is it possible to satiate this hunger?
the first reading asks an important question: «why do you spend money for that which is not bread…?» if we use money for others’ basic needs, instead of spending on our wants and whims, we will help alleviate people’s hunger. 
further, the disciples had «only five loaves and two fish». JESUS multiplies this «only five loaves and two fish» and it becomes enough to feed the multitude. the «great crowd,» the «lonely place» and the feeding with «bread» remind us of the way GOD fed his people in the desert with manna, and assure us that GOD still satisfies his people’s hunger through the messiah and his disciples. 

today’s liturgy reassures us: GOD really cares for us; he can and will satisfy all our hungers. but he needs me to mediate his compassion.
am i ready to be compassionate… sharing my resources sometimes and helping people find their own resources at other moments? will i give my «five loaves and two fish» and allow the LORD to multiply them? am i willing to buy only what i need and to give the surplus so others can meet their needs?