26 September 2015

STIFLING GOD’S/GOOD WORK

XXVI SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
numbers 11:25-29; james 5:1-6; mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48

a few years ago, during cricket australia’s tour of india, matthew hayden was not in the one-day international team, and was to return home after the tests. but he performed brilliantly in the tests, and the selectors added him to the one-day squad. some argued that he shouldn’t have been included because he wasn’t in the original team. but for team australia it didn’t matter that he wasn’t it the original team. what counted was that hayden was a good player in good form; they didn’t stifle hayden or his form… and it paid off.


this is a sound principle to build the team for the kingdom of GOD: it shouldn’t matter whether or not one is part of the «original team». the only criteria: how good is a person and is GOD’s spirit in him/her? the kingdom is not an «exclusive club» with a no-entry sign; it sports an «everyone’s invited» board!

the sunday liturgy invites to recognize that GOD’s spirit works in all people of good will, and to co-operate with it. 
in the first reading, joshua asks moses to stop eldad and medad from prophesying because they were not part of the «in-group». in the gospel, JESUS’ disciples tell him that they told a man driving out demons in his name to stop because he was not one of them. 
the answers of moses and JESUS are instructive! moses tells joshua: «would that all the LORD’s people were prophets.» JESUS tells john: «do not forbid him… for he that is not against us is for us.» 
moses and JESUS taught their followers to recognize GOD’s work within and outside the immediate community; kingdom work is not reserved to a few chosen ones, but is for all people of good will.

the world is saturated with GOD’s spirit. 
do i look at the church as an exclusive club? can i open my eyes to the good that others do and recognize GOD’s spirit working in them? do i recognize the way the spirit moves in my immediate family and community? 
may i cooperate with (and not stifle) the spirit and every person doing GOD’s/good work.

19 September 2015

REJECT SELFISH AMBITION; WELCOME LITTLENESS

XXV SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
wisdom 2:12, 17-20; james 3:16—4:3; mark 9:30-37

a fisherman was carrying his catch of crabs back home in an open basket. a passer-by remarked: «aren’t you afraid the crabs will crawl out?» the fisherman replied: «no! do you know anything about the behaviour of crabs? watch!» 
as a crab crawled towards the top of the basket, the others pulled the climber down. this kept happening! the crabs would not allow the others to climb towards the top.

it’s not just crabs that pull one another down. we do the same because of jealousy and selfish ambition.

today’s readings address these two human foibles that destroy people.
in the second reading, st james writes: «where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice,» and lists the reason for war and conflict: unsatisfied craving.
the first reading from the book of wisdom is a rare, inside-view of how selfish minds work, and illustrates the extremes to which jealousy and selfish ambition can lead a person when confronted by a «righteous man». 
it’s the same in the gospel. the religious leaders are jealous of the righteous man called JESUS; his virtue is an examination of conscience for them! he predicts that they will hand him over to torturers. 

jealousy and selfish ambition destroy people and community.
JESUS smells these foibles enter his fledgling church! he has just instructed his disciples on his coming passion. but suffering does not fit into their perspective of the kingdom; they cannot comprehend the powerlessness that JESUS maps out for himself. they are busy discussing their great positions in the kingdom. 
JESUS nips this one in the bud. he puts a child in their midst and challenges the twelve to welcome that little child. when they can welcome «littleness,» they welcome him.
in effect, JESUS compares himself to the little child who cannot resort to power tactics when threatened. on the road to jerusalem, in the face of suffering and death, he can only turn to his father in trust. this makes him vulnerable; unless the disciples can accept vulnerability they will never understand his way.


when we are righteous and live upright lives, we can be sure that people will pull us down. the challenge before us: 
will i give in to jealousy and selfish ambition? will i resort to power tactics or will i welcome the vulnerability of a little child?
how will i welcome and accept the child part of my personality, and become less power conscious and success oriented?

12 September 2015

WHO IS CHRIST? WHO IS A DISCIPLE?

XXIV SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
isaiah 50:5-9a; james 2:14-18; mark 8:27-35

before joining an organization, prospective members need to know two things: the identity and the mission of the organization; and their job profile. 
likewise, to belong to the «organization» of JESUS, disciples need to know his identity and mission; and what being a christian entails.


today’s readings unambiguously answer these questions.

the gospel is the mid-point of mark’s gospel.
the first part of mark’s gospel reveals JESUS as the messiah who mediates GOD’s power by teaching and healing with authority, and reaches its climax in peter’s faith-declaration: «you are the CHRIST». 
the second part reveals the kind of a messiah JESUS is: a messiah who must suffer, be rejected and be killed. «must»… there is a certain necessity about his suffering and death. he is not a glorious messiah; not a david-like figure; not a military leader. he is the suffering servant. 

the first reading expresses the suffering of yahweh’s servant; he resolutely and unflinchingly faces the suffering that necessarily comes his way as GOD’s prophet.

but there is no place for suffering in peter’s idea of the messiah. he objects and rebukes JESUS, who tells peter to take his place as a disciple… behind the master! 
getting behind JESUS entails taking up the cross and following him on his way to jerusalem. being a disciple necessarily involves suffering.
but messiahship and discipleship is not only about suffering. JESUS is convinced that he will be raised on the third day, and promises his disciples that if they carry their cross, they will find their real life in communion with GOD.

we are not prospective disciples. we already are JESUS’ disciples, but we need to be clear about his identity and our profile. 
who is JESUS for me? is he merely a wonder-worker? a healer? someone whom i ask to take away my problems to smoothen my life? 
how do i see discipleship? a coupon for blessings and graces? or a taking up of my cross to follow JESUS along the via dolorosa? am i willing to accept suffering… the grief of life i can do nothing about and the suffering that comes from living as a disciple? 

05 September 2015

LACKING COMMUNICATION AND COMMUNION IN A COMMUNICATION ERA

XXIII SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
isaiah 35:4-7a; james 2:1-5; mark 7:31-37

in ancient greece, it was customary for hawkers to cry out: «what do you lack?» to let people know they were in the vicinity. people would come out to see what the hawker was selling. it might be something they lacked and/or needed. 

what did the people of JESUS’ time lack?. 
throughout his ministry, JESUS pleaded with people to listen to his word. they lacked the ability to listen: the disciples couldn’t understand his teachings, the crowds wanted only wonders, his own people wouldn’t accept him, the religious leaders saw him as a threat. mark presents group after group with their spiritual lack.

what did the man in today’s gospel lack?
he «was deaf and had an impediment in his speech.» he couldn’t communicate his feelings/needs. he could do nothing for himself. 

JESUS took the man aside, away from the crowd. he spent time with him. he communicated with him through touch, a language he could understand,  and gave him back his ability to communicate. 

this is more than a wonderful healing story. 
first, there is a parallel between the deaf-mute and JESUS’ disciples. the man could neither hear nor speak; he needed healing. the disciples couldn’t understand JESUS’ message, and therefore couldn’t proclaim it; they, too, needed healing.
second, this healing indicates that the messianic age has dawned. it fulfils isaiah’s prophecy to the exiles (cf. first reading). 

what do we lack?
today, in a communication-filled age, we lack the ability to communicate: we hear but we do not listen, and fail to comprehend what people say; we speak but we seldom communicate. 
the great tragedy we face in a world of sophisticated communication: we have the faculties and the means but very little communication; we have hundreds of social-network friends but very few real life friends; we are experts in virtual communication but failures in personal communication and communion.

what must i do to restore communication and communion with people, especially my loved ones? will i allow the LORD to take me aside from the multitude to touch me? will i spend time with my loved ones away from the crowds (of people and gadgets) and communicate in a language they understand?