25 April 2015

FROM OBLIGATION TO LOVING COMMITMENT

SUNDAY SNIPPETS: EASTER SUNDAY IV
acts 4:8-12; 1 john 3:1-2; john 10:11-18

a few years ago, i picked up a new pair of specs from dinshaw’s in pune. back home, i was trying them on and one of the lenses got chipped.
i returned at once and explained to the salesperson what had happened. he rudely told me that i would have to pay for the replacement of the lens. as we were talking, the owner entered and asked what the matter was. i explained what had happened. he apologized for the inconvenience and assured me that the lens would be replaced at no charge. when the salesperson tried arguing with him, he bluntly told him: «nc. no charge»! 

there is a big difference between an owner and a hired hand. perhaps there is a bigger difference between people who are committed and those who are just doing a job. 

that is the point JESUS makes in this sunday’s gospel. 
he contrasts the attitudes of a good shepherd and a false one. a real shepherd is born to his task; it is a vocation! he knows his sheep and even calls them by name; he loves his sheep and they love him; it is second nature for him to think of his sheep before he thinks of himself; he does not abandon his sheep even, and perhaps especially, in the face of danger. for hired hands, to which JESUS likens the pharisees, it is a «job» and not as a calling; they are in it solely for the pay, with absolutely no concern for the sheep: «they care nothing for the sheep» and so they run away in the face of danger. 
one who works out of loving commitment thinks of the people one is serving, and is totally with them. one who works out of a sense of obligation thinks chiefly about oneself and recompense.

JESUS was the good shepherd who loved his sheep deeply and whose concern for them extended to freely laying down his life: «no one takes it from me, but i lay it down on my own.»

JESUS, the good shepherd, invites us to be good shepherds. he challenges us to move from acting out of obligation to service in loving commitment; to stand with and be a faithful presence to people in need.
who, in my life, needs «good shepherding»? what forms will «being with» take? 

18 April 2015

REPENT AND BEGIN AGAIN

III SUNDAY OF EASTER
acts 3:13-15, 17-19; 1 john 2:1-5a; luke 24:35-48

frederick charrington, the owner of the charrington brewery, was walking along a london street with a few friends.
suddenly, just ahead of them, the door of a pub flew open. a man staggered into the street with a woman clinging to him and pleading: «please, dear! the children haven’t eaten in two days! i’ve not eaten in a week! please come home! or… just give me a few coins so i can buy the children some…» her pleas were cut off as the man struck her. charrington and his friends leaped forward to help her.
a little later, as a policeman led the drunken man away, charrington noticed a lighted sign on the pub: «drink charrington ale.» the multi-millionaire brewer was stunned. he later wrote: here was the source of my family wealth, and it was producing untold human misery before my own eyes. then and there i pledged to GOD that not another penny of that money should come to me.»
frederick charrington renounced his family fortune and spent the rest of his life striving to free people from alcoholism.

charrington had the courage to «repent» and begin again. this is thrust of today’s readings!
in the first reading, peter moves quickly from castigating the jews for putting to death «the author of life» to calling them to «repent… and be converted.» he knows that—as the second reading puts it—we have an advocate with the father: JESUS, the righteous one, who is the expiation for our sins. 
repentance is the content of the message that JESUS entrusts to the disciples in one of his post-resurrection appearances. after giving them his peace, he commissions them to preach «repentance for the forgiveness of sins.»

as human beings, we sin, we produce misery for others, we put people to «death»… sometimes out of ignorance and sometimes deliberately. the LORD calls us to have the courage to repent and to begin anew. and then we will experience his peace.
let me start again…

11 April 2015

WHAT GOOD DID IT DO?

II SUNDAY OF EASTER
acts 4:32-35; 1 john 5:1-6; john 20:19-31

one sunday, a butcher, who ran a shop on the outskirts of london, decided to hear the great preacher charles spurgeon. when returned that afternoon, his wife questioned him about the service: «what hymns did they sing?» the butcher couldn’t remember. « what was his text?» again he couldn’t remember! exasperated, his wife asked: «what good did it do for you to go to church this morning?»
the butcher was quiet for a moment. then he said: «what good? i will tell you what good it did. you know the scales in the shop that really weigh 14 ounces to the pound? before we open for business tomorrow, i am going to correct those scales to weigh the correct 16 ounces to the pound.»

going to church did the butcher a load of good. it transformed him. so it was with the disciples who encountered the risen LORD!
the gospel portrays thomas’ radical transformation from one who doubted JESUS’ resurrection and wanted a personal experience to the first one who courageously confessed that JESUS was GOD!
the first reading is a description of the early christian community. the disciples were transformed from people fearfully behind shut doors to people who testified to the resurrection with great power; from people who fought for position and greatness to people who were of one heart and one soul… that’s the good that came from their encounter with the risen LORD (and the outpouring of the holy spirit).

it doesn’t matter if we cannot remember the hymns sung at the eucharist or the text of the readings (and the homily!). if our lives are radically transformed by our encounter with JESUS, that’s a load of «good». 
may our encounter with the risen LORD in the eucharist and in the world transform you and me.

04 April 2015

THE TOMB WAS EMPTY

EASTER SUNDAY

readings for the vigil
genesis 1:1—2:2; genesis 22:1-18; exodus 14:15—15:1; isaiah 54:5-14; isaiah 55:1-11; baruch 3:9-15, 32—4:4; ezekiel 36:16-28
romans 6:3-11; mark 16:1-7

readings for the eucharist during the day
acts 10:34a, 37-43; colossians 3:1-4 or 1 corinthians 5:6b-8; john 20:1-9

little philip, born with down’s syndrome, attended a third-grade sunday-school class. 
the sunday after easter, the teacher brought l’eggs containers, which look like large eggs, gave the children one each, and told them to find a symbol for new life and put it in the container. after running around, the students returned to the classroom and placed the containers on the table. the teacher began to open them. after each one, whether a flower, butterfly, or leaf, the class would ooh and ahh.
then she opened one which was empty. the children exclaimed: «that’s stupid. that’s not fair. somebody didn’t do their assignment.»
philip spoke up: «that’s mine.» a student retorted: «philip, you don’t ever do things right! there’s nothing there!»
philip insisted: «i did so do it. it is empty. the tomb was empty!»

the tomb was empty! but why was the tomb empty?
the jewish authorities claimed JESUS’ disciples stole his body (matthew 28:11-15). now that’s a dubious claim on several counts: the authorities had asked for guards precisely to prevent the stealing; it was unlikely that eleven frightened men, who fled during the arrest and crucifixion, could overpower the guards at the tomb; it was even more unlikely that a dead and stolen body could effect such a dramatic transformation in the people accused of stealing the body… they held their belief that he had risen despite persecution and death. 
all these point to the authenticity of the christian belief that the tomb was empty because JESUS «has been raised». and the empty tomb is a symbol of the new life that the risen JESUS brings… as little philip recognized. 

philip died a few months after this incident. at his funeral, the teacher and students of his sunday-school class did not place flowers on his coffin; they placed empty l’eggs containers! 
the empty tomb is also a foretaste of the day when all tombs will be empty, and we will be raised from the dead to the fullness of life. 
as we look forward to that day, may you and i empty our lives of everything that is «lifeless» within us, and all that prevents us from living full and authentic lives.