25 July 2015

GIVE - HELP - GO AWAY

XVII SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
2 kings 4:42-44; ephesians 4:1-6; john 6:1-15

we experience constant, unexpected, and maybe even unwanted, demands on our time and resources. sometimes, it gets overwhelming and we want to say: «stop! give me a break!» 

JESUS experienced something similar! 
today’s gospel opens with him going to the other side of the sea of galilee. the synoptic gospels tell us that he withdrew after john’s beheading… perhaps to avoid danger after john’s execution; more plausibly, to grieve over a personal loss.
he has no time to be by himself for the crowds follow him, and JESUS is faced with an unexpected demand, an intrusion on his privacy. 


we usually counter such situations in one of two ways.
the first: completely ignore these calls because these conflict with my plans/needs. the second (especially if i’m someone who cannot say «no»: always put aside my plans and respond to the call… even when i cannot and/or do not want to respond. 
neither response is appropriate; neither is the one that JESUS made. 


JESUS had compassion on them, and he satisfied their hunger. but it is important to recall three points. 
first, before JESUS fed the people with bread and fish, he fed them with his word!
second, he did not wave a magic wand to produce food out of nothing. he asked the disciples to provide food for the crowds, and worked with the «five barley loaves and two fish» which they gave him. he drew on their resources!
third, he «withdrew again to the mountain alone» because he did not want to make the people dependent.

sometimes, compassion is helping people by giving them resources and myself. more often, compassion is helping people find their own resources and themselves. 


an anecdote to end. a young girl was watching chicks hatch. there were a dozen downy yellow chicks huddled under the mother hen… with one egg not fully hatched; she could see a little yellow body pulsing and struggling for freedom through the cracks in the shell. the kid picked up the shell, and peeled it open to free the chick. and she froze… because the chick gasped and stop breathing.
the little girl ran to her mum with tears in her eyes and told her what had happened. her mum explained that each chick has to struggle to break through its shell, and becomes strong through that struggle. she concluded: «there are some things that you cannot do for others; they have to do these themselves.»

will i, sometimes, reach out to meet people’s needs, and at other moments «withdraw» so that they become independent? will i discern when to help people and when to help them help themselves; when to give and when to go away?


18 July 2015

HE HAD COMPASSION ON THEM

XVI SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
jeremiah 23:1-6; ephesians 2:13-18; mark 6:30-34

eleanor craig’s book «p.s. your not listening» is the story of five kids… each with a terrible story. when craig began a special education class for them, she had no idea what she’d let herself into. the love she had given scores of pupils was held suspect by children who had never known love. they threw chairs at each other and at her; they assaulted each other; they withdrew into their shells. she tried to reach them with patience, empathy and gentle humour. nothing seemed to work… and she just continued to love them and care for them.
did craig make a difference in their lives? these are the notes the kids wrote to her when she was ill:
- get well soon please. did you have to get sick? love. douglas
- i hope you feel god. i hope you can come bok to school soon. eddie.
- i love you. and i like you too. and i hope you get well. love, kevin.

we have read/heard about and experienced similar stories of compassion. the greatest story of compassion is the story of GOD’s love for his people, of his constant and caring presence with them through judges and kings.

unfortunately, as the first reading describes, some of these shepherds showed no concern for the needs of their people. GOD’s response is swift: he himself will be their shepherd, and raise up new shepherds for them.

the model of the new shepherds is JESUS. in today’s gospel, he manifests his compassion twice.
he has compassion on his disciples, who return weary after their missionary travels, but are interrupted by the «many who were coming and going» so that «they had no time to eat». JESUS takes them to a lonely place.
but there is no «lonely place»! the people see where the boat was headed and get there first! these are the «poor of the land»… considered ignorant, labelled sinners and treated as outcasts by the pharisees and scribes. but JESUS has compassion on them. by not turning the boat around, by not sending the crowds away, JESUS gave his disciples a profound teaching, an illustration of the tender love of GOD for his people.

the word of GOD invites us to have this caring and compassionate love of GOD, especially for the «poor of the land.»
whom am i called to love with care and compassion? how am i going to be caring and compassionate in the week ahead?

11 July 2015

CALLED AND SENT…

XV SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
amos 7:12-15; ephesians 1:3-14; mark 6:7-13

she begins her program with a bach symphony. she next plays an irish air, then a bob dylan folk song and finally a jazz improvisation of her creation. the venue: a hospice; the audience: one… a 70-year-old woman with terminal cancer. through her music she provides a measure of peace for those walking their last steps in this world.
as soon as he gets home from office, he heads to his garden, a quarter-acre plot, where he grows tomatoes, beans and corn. he saves a small part of the harvest for his family, and shares the rest with needy families in the locality (author unknown).
with their «walking sticks»—a guitar or a few seeds—these two (and so many others like them) reach out to the needy. they make us realize that we don’t need much to be apostles of compassion and healing.  

this is the emphasis of this sunday’s liturgy. 
the first reading tells us about amos, a sheep-breeder from tekoa in the southern land of judah. GOD sends him to the neighbouring northern land, israel, where amos denounces social injustice and laxity in religion. he is not a qualified prophet. in his own words: «i am not a prophet, nor a prophet’s son.» GOD’s word—«go prophesy»—is his only qualification. 
the gospel is about the mission of the twelve. they had no special qualification for the mission: no special social position, no special education in scripture/theology. plus they have JESUS’ instructions: «no resources.» all they have and need is trust in the one who sends them; all they carry with them is his message. 


all of us, by virtue of our baptism, are called and given the mission to proclaim the good news, to reach out to the suffering, the sick and the downtrodden. 
i do not need much; i do not need to be a qualified… priest or prophet or theologian to proclaim the good news and to reach out to GOD’s people. in fact, i already have the sole qualification i need: BDC… baptised disciple of CHRIST!

do i believe that i have a vocation… that GOD has called me and given the mission to be his messenger to the people in my life? how am i going to proclaim his message in my way in the week ahead?

04 July 2015

ORDINARY BUT REJECTED PROPHETS

XIV SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
ezekiel 2:2-5; 2 corinthians 12:7-10; mark 6:1-6

in 1960 religious persecution broke out in sudan. paride taban fled to uganda, studied for the priesthood and was ordained. when things settled down in sudan, young fr taban returned and was assigned a parish in palotaka. his parishioners always had white priests who gave them clothing and medicine. fr taban was black like them. he was poor like them. they would not accept him as a priest.

the story of fr taban is an example of the rejection every prophet encounters. 
in the first reading, GOD sends ezekiel to proclaim his message; he warns ezekiel that he will meet with resistance, and challenges him to be a prophet regardless of the people’s response.
the second reading is an excerpt from a section called the «letter in tears». paul appeals to his beloved corinthians; they have betrayed him by shifting allegiance to the «super-apostles» who have seduced them with their eloquent speech. all that paul has is «a thorn in the flesh».
in the gospel, JESUS’ townspeople reject him. they know that he is «the carpenter»; and though they are astonished at his wisdom and mighty deeds, they refuse to accept him. they do not hear his message because they are blinded by their familiarity of him. 

the word of GOD challenges us on two fronts: one, it challenges us to receive GOD’s word irrespective of the status/power/origin of the messenger. two, it reminds us that every christian, because of his/her baptism, has been called to be a prophet. we may be afraid; we may feel incompetent; GOD will work through our fear and incompetence. 

will i discover and listen to the prophetic voice of GOD in ordinary and simple people?
or am i impressed by showy rhetoric but impervious to the grace that comes through weakness?
how will i, a simple and ordinary person, be his prophet?