28 February 2015

NO HOLDING BACK

II SUNDAY OF LENT
genesis 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18; romans 8:31b-34; mark 9:2-10  

«no holding back» is the title of michael holding’s autobiography.
it conveys his attitude during his career: he claimed 249 test and 142 odi wickets because he gave his all in every match. it highlights his manner as a commentator: though gentle, he is a fearless and rational critic. it captures the tenor of the book: he does not shirk controversial issues like the slide of west indian cricket, the dismal state of its admin, the controversy over allen stanford, and icc politics. 
holding owes his achievements as a cricketer, a commentator and a writer to «no holding back»! 

«no holding back» is the thrust of today’s lenten liturgy, and the reason for GOD blessing abraham and for JESUS’ glorification.
GOD blessed abraham abundantly because he did not hold anything back: he left his homeland, believed that GOD would give him an heir despite his and sarah’s advanced years, and then did not hold back the life of that heir.
at the transfiguration, GOD’s voice from the cloud said: «this is my beloved son…» «this» son is one who did not hold back his life. further, JESUS’ glorification—foreshadowed at the transfiguration—happened after his passion and death on the cross… after he sacrificed his all.
paul, in romans 8:32, writes that GOD did not hold back «his own son but handed him over for us all.»

what do i hold back from GOD? will i imitate GOD, JESUS and abraham… and make «no holding back» the thrust of my life? 
how will i practise «no holding back» today?

21 February 2015

ALONE

I SUNDAY OF LENT
genesis 2:7-9; 3:1-7; romans 5:12-19; matthew 4:1-11

many years ago, richard byrd spent four and a half months alone at the south pole. despite his achievements, byrd had felt aimless and empty. so, he chose to live in absolute isolation, «remote from all but the simplest distractions… obedient to no necessities but those imposed by the wind and night and cold.» 
byrd emerged from his experience a changed person. he discovered that one can live more deeply and profoundly if one keeps life simple without cluttering it with material things (cf. richard byrd, «alone»).

solitude changes us! 
so it’s not surprising that JESUS spends time alone (in mark’s version, this is not by choice: «the spirit drove JESUS out into the desert»!). through his ordeal in the wilderness, JESUS matures; understands his need to rely upon GOD alone; becomes aware of his mission and its implications. he returns ready for his mission to proclaim the good news.

byrd concludes his book: «no one could have done what i did without the loyal and sympathetic support of many other men.»
so it was with JESUS! in mark’s account of the temptation, JESUS discovers that GOD is with him, that angels care for him, and that nature is with him.

am i ready to spend some time alone (during lent)? will i give up my dependence on material things and rely on GOD? how will i clear the clutter from my life?
may you and i discover GOD’s providential care and the empathetic support of people during our desert moments, and support others during theirs.

14 February 2015

TOUCHED… AND HEALED

VI SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46; 1 corinthians 10:31—11:1; mark 1:40-45

kyrie and brielle jackson were born on 17 october 1995, twelve weeks premature. while kyrie made good progress, brielle had breathing and heart-rate problems. on 12 november, brielle became critical: her limbs turned gray; she gasped for air; her heart rate soared. 
nurse gayle kasparian, after exhausting conventional treatment, attempted an uncommon procedure: with parental permission, she placed the twins in the same incubator. brielle snuggled up to kyrie, and immediately calmed down. within minutes, her blood-oxygen readings improved. then kyrie wrapped her arm around brielle. brielle’s heart rate stabilized and her temperature became normal. in due time, the twins went home. the power of loving touch (and presence)!

in the gospel, JESUS shows us the power of touch. a leper approaches him with a heart-rending and faith-filled plea: «if you wish, you can make me clean.» JESUS is moved with compassion, and he does something very significant: he touches the leper.
in doing so, he defies the mosaic law (cf. first reading) and makes himself ritually unclean (at the end of the gospel passage, JESUS is the outcast!). in doing so, he expresses solidarity with the man and affirms him as a human person. the touch heals the man and makes him whole… and ready to re-enter society.

jesus’ compassion challenges us to «touch» the modern leper: people with hiv-aids; people with external/internal disfigurement; the marginalised; the infirm and the aged… and above all, people whom we keep away from our «camp». 
who are the «lepers» in my life? whom and how will i touch and affirm, and restore to communion?
what about the leper who is me?! what are the unclean aspects of my life that need the touch of the LORD, that i need to touch and accept?

07 February 2015

RESPONDING TO SUFFERING

V SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
job 7:1-4, 6-7; 1 corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23; mark 1:29-39

leonard sweet writes: «i visited an eight-year-old girl dying of cancer. her body was disfigured by the disease and its treatment. she was in constant pain. i was immediately overcome by her suffering: unjust, unfair, unreasonable» (cf. «postmodern pilgrims»).

we can identify with sweet’s experience. suffering—our own or of others—overwhelms us, and we often ask «why?» 
the book of job (today’s reading is his soliloquy on human suffering) raises this question. job is beset by immense suffering: he has lost his family and his possessions; he has terrible sores. what has job done to deserve this fate? his friends think he has sinned. but he is righteous and innocent.
job never receives an answer to the «why» of his suffering. perhaps, there is no answer to this question (were there an answer, we would not be still asking the question)! 

but there is a response to suffering… the response of JESUS. 
when JESUS is confronted with human suffering, he does not answer the question; he responds to the suffering person: he grasped simon’s mother-in-law’s hand and helped her up; he «cured many who were sick»…
in fact, the incarnation is GOD’s response to suffering: his comforting and caring presence in the midst of our suffering world.

we are called to continue JESUS’ response; to be part of the response!
often, the «why» is not an intellectual question; it is a cry for understanding. so, when confronted by suffering, we need to reach out: by grasping the suffering person by the hand; by allowing him/her to feel what his/she is feeling and express those feelings (like job did!); by not giving false explanations or false hopes, or denying the reality/extent of the suffering; by helping them find moments of solitude (like JESUS did)… and above all, by an empathetic and silent presence.

sweet continues his narrative: «even more overpowering was the presence of her grandmother lying in bed beside her embracing this precious, inhuman suffering… she never spoke while i was there. she was holding and participating in suffering that she could not relieve, and somehow her silent presence was relieving it.»

i do not have an answer to why people suffer. i can seldom do anything to relieve their suffering. will i give them my presence and help them up? will i give them space to feel their feelings and to express them?