27 August 2016

KINGDOM ETIQUETTE...

XXII SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29; hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24a; luke 14:1, 7-14

someone asked leonard bernstein, the conductor of the new york philharmonic orchestra, to name the most difficult instrument to play. without hesitation, he replied: «the second fiddle. i can get plenty of first violinists, but to find someone who can play the second fiddle with enthusiasm—that’s a problem. and if we have no second fiddle, we have no harmony.»

most of us want to be in the spotlight. this sunday’s readings challenge us to be humble, and to be willing to play second fiddle
jesus notices guests at a sabbath dinner jockeying for positions of honour. he uses a parable to challenge them to humility; he echoes the wisdom of sirach in the first reading: «humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favour with GOD.»
in kingdom etiquette, status—which society confers—counts for nothing. our status is measured not by our rank or occupation, but by the quantum of love we offer GOD through service. our status depends not on how others look at us, but on the care and compassion with which we look at them.
in the second part of the gospel, jesus shifts focus from guest etiquette to host etiquette. through his preferred guest list, he reminds us of his preferential option for the poor. throughout his ministry, jesus sought the least, the lost and the forgotten. further, he wants inclusion, not exclusion; he has opened wide the narrow door of last week to let all people in.


do i jockey for position in church and in society? 
am i humble: do i acknowledge my strengths and shortcomings, and recognize others’ feats and forgive their failures? is there place in my heart/life for the world’s «nobodies»... the least, the lost and the forgotten?
may you and i learn kingdom etiquette!

20 August 2016

EVERYONE’S INVITED

XXI SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
isaiah 66:18-21; hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13; luke 13:22-30

a few years ago, paul roediger, an american, was beaten up for entering the jagannath temple in puri. outside a place of worship in south india hangs a signboard that reads: «no entry for dogs and christians.» shocking indeed!
but, there are other places with equally shocking «no entry» signboards even if these are less obvious and sometimes invisible: some churches in india do not allow dalit christians. in anumanthanpatti in south india, they have a separate cemetery and an exclusive hearse.


it was similar in biblical times! the jews, especially the pharisees and scribes, had a «no-entry» sign on the gate of heaven: «no-entry» for non-jews, for tax collectors and prostitutes, for those broke the smallest of the commandments… the kingdom of heaven was exclusively for the «chosen ones».
this attitude prompts the question we hear in today’s gospel: «will those who are saved be few?»
jesus, typically, does not answer the question. he refuses to speculate on who’s in and who’s out. rather, he looks forward to the time when people will come from east and west and from north and south, and sit at table in the kingdom. he looks forward to the fulfilment of isaiah’s vision (in the first reading, isaiah foretells a time when people from all nations – and on all modes of transport – shall come to jerusalem).

the «no-entry» signs are off; jesus’ signboard reads: everyone’s invited; there are neither reserved places nor favoured people. but there is the fine print: entry is restricted to those who choose the «narrow gate»! we have to walk his way of the cross and keep his commandment of love.

all of us have «no-entry» signboards! 
what are the «no-entry» signs in my life? whom do i exclude from my circle of life, from my circle of relationships?
what does the «narrow gate» mean for me? am i ready to choose the discipline of the narrow gate?

13 August 2016

JESUS BRINGS DIVISION

XX SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
jeremiah 38:4-6, 8-10; hebrews 12:1-4; luke 12:49-53

«the robe» (the 1942 lloyd c. douglas’ novel, which henry koster directed as the epic film) explores the experiences of the roman tribune marcellus gallio. 
marcellus won jesus' robe after the crucifixion. he set forth to find the truth about the robe… a quest that took him to the roots and heart of christianity. he and his slave demetrius became christians, and missionaries with st peter! eventually, marcellus’ father disowned him as an enemy of rome, and demetrius’ physician denounced them to the authorities. 
«the robe» captures the division that jesus brings about within families… a division that he predicted and experienced! this division is not about religion; it arises because of a conflict of values. 


to understand the meaning of division, we look at the peace that jesus says he gives («not as the world gives»): it is not a compromising, anything-for-a-quiet-life peace; it is a peace that comes from living according to GOD’s will and kingdom values. recall jesus’ experience: each time he does his father’s will, it divides him from those who won’t take the step with him, and it moves him deeper into a peace that comes from being true to oneself. when we can understand the meaning of the «peace» that jesus talks about, the «promise» of «division» no longer seems strange! division is almost the price of peace. 
further, we forget how unconventional and counter-cultural jesus was! a samaritan was the hero of his story; the return of the prodigal son is celebrated; he asked the disciples to share their cloaks and tunics… literally all they wore, and to love their enemies! his open-hearted approach divided him from those with closed and hard hearts.

in the first reading, jeremiah experiences his own people’s rejection and condemnation. for fearlessly speaking the word of GOD, he is left in a muddy cistern—without food and water—to die. the one who rescues him is a cushite, a foreigner!

living by kingdom values—love, justice, peace—will bring us into conflict those who do not accept such values…  even when they are family. 
will i live by the values - lifestyle - choices of the kingdom (and my convictions)… even at the risk of division in my family? will i do GOD’s will and become the person he wants me to become… even if it means going against my own?

06 August 2016

BE PREPARED FOR THE FINAL TEST

XIX SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
wisdom 18:6-9; hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19; luke 12:32-48

it was exam time during my second year of theology. i was studying after supper. there was a knock on my door. it was my scripture teacher! 
he said: «i know your exam is day after tomorrow. i have a ‘must-attend’ meeting in the morning and i will reach late for your time-slot. can you appear for your exam earlier?» i was stumped: «earlier? i have another exam tomorrow!» «can you come now?» 
now! i wanted some time to dress appropriately and to glance through my notes. but the teacher said: «just come as you are!» i had no choice but to close my books and my door… and go for the test!


all of us will have to face a much more important—and dead-cert—test at the end of our lives. we do not know when jesus—the «teacher»—will call us for the test; he tell us it will be «on an unexpected day and at an unknown hour.» 
in this sunday’s gospel, through the parable of the vigilant servants, jesus advises his «little flock» to be ready for this final test. 

an attitude that will help us be prepared for the final test is commitment to the task/mission GOD has entrusted to us. jesus calls the disciples to be «faithful and prudent stewards» who loyally and responsibly administer their owner’s assets. when we do this, we are always ready for the teacher and we need not fear the final test. 
there is another—more important—reason for being unafraid: jesus tells us that we are a flock loved by the father, chosen and intended for the kingdom. like abraham, our father in faith, we need to trust GOD’s loving providence which sustains us always and in unexpected ways (cf. second reading). 

am i ready for the final test? am i a «faithful-prudent-vigilant steward» committed to my GOD-entrusted mission? do i trust in divine providence?