24 September 2016

FAILING TO SEE THE LITTLE ONES

XXVI SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
amos 6:1, 4-7; 1 timothy 6:11-16; luke 16:19-31

a botanist was observing heather-bell (a tiny flower native to western europe) through his magnifying glass. a shepherd approached and asked him what he was doing. rather than explain, the botanist invited the shepherd to observe for himself. when the shepherd saw the wonder of the flower, he exclaimed: «my gosh, and i have been tramping on them all my life!» 
with his eyes blinded by the cares of his world, the shepherd had failed to see the tiny flower; it took a special lens to see it.

that was the sin of the rich man in the gospel parable! blinded by his life of luxury, he failed to see the homeless and non-descript lazarus lying at his door. dogs noticed lazarus, the rich man did not. 


after death and in torment in hades, he sees lazarus! it takes the lens of suffering for him to see lazarus. 
but even in hades, the rich man clings to the illusion of his superior status, and «commands» abraham to send lazarus with water to cool his tongue! like the leisured upper classes in jerusalem at the time of amos, who were incapable of imagining the collapse of joseph (cf. first reading), the rich man cannot grasp the reality of his situation and persists in thinking that he can secure his family’s future. 
the parable highlights the apathy that riches can cause… an apathy and numbness that neither moses nor the prophets nor even the one who rises from the dead can penetrate.

who are the lazaruses that i fail to see in my life? what is it that blinds me to them?
what lenses do i need to see the tiny and non-descript people in my life and stop «tramping» them?

17 September 2016

KAL PAR CONTROL

XXV SUNDAY OF THE YEAR 
amos 8:4-7; 1 timothy 2:1-7; luke 16:1-13

this thursday, india begin another cricket series versus new zealand. with home advantage and after a series win in the windies, india should win. should they lose (or when they lose next), the knives will be out again! the couch critics’ analysis will be simple: «this had to happen when these guys spend time endorsing products instead of practising.» the cricketers’ rejoinder is equally simple: «our playing days are limited; we have to secure our future.»

perhaps one can’t blame them for getting «life insurance»! think of the time we spend checking which bank gives the best interest rates, in which shares/mutual funds to invest, which courses to do that improve our market-value… we are trying to ensure «kal par control».

that is what the steward in today’s gospel parable does: when given the pink slip, he does everything—even cheat—to secure his future. 
however, the parable has nothing to do with the steward’s honesty/dishonesty; it challenges us to be resourceful and committed to secure our future… with GOD. 
jesus gives us sound investment advice: «make friends for yourselves with unrighteous mammon» (the aramaic «mammon» is related to «emet», the word for faithful; it stands for something upon which one depends). we think that our security lies in material possessions. jesus tells us to exchange these for bonds of appreciation and to use our resources to build relationships, because people—as the steward knew—are more important than money; real friends last longer than money.
jesus asks his disciples to imitate «the children of this world» who are totally committed to a single cause and serve only one master. 

what am i going to do to gain «kal par control»? in whom/what will i invest my time and resources?
will i use the resources that GOD has given me, and serve him with all the shrewdness, effort and resources that i put into other areas in my life?

10 September 2016

LOST – FOUND – FORGIVEN

XXIV SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
exodus 32:7-11, 13-14; 1 timothy 1:12-17; luke 15:1-32

an ocean liner was headed to the middle east. nine hundred miles out to sea, the crew sighted a sail on the horizon. as the liner drew closer, they saw that the boat had run up a distress signal and a flag asking for its position at sea; the small vessel was lost. for nearly an hour the liner circled the little boat, and gave its crew its correct position. there was a great deal of interest in the proceeding among the passengers of the liner. a boy of about twelve was on the deck watching all that was happening. he remarked aloud to himself: «it’s a big ocean to be lost in.»

it is a big universe to be lost in, too. and we do get lost! we make mistakes, we break relationships with GOD, others, self and creation. we deserve the wrath of GOD.
and that is what the pharisees and scribes of jesus’ time maintained. but what we get is a search and rescue operation, and GOD’s caring and forgiving love!


through the three lost-and-found parables—the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son(s)—jesus emphasizes that GOD is like a shepherd who cares for every single sheep; like a poor widow who treasures all her coins, and searches in the dark for that one lost coin; and above all, is a father who cares for his children and yearns to have them close to him (but respects their freedom).
the thrust is similar in the other readings. in the first reading, though israel’s sin of worshipping a molten calf calls for GOD’s wrath, he relents and forgives her. in the second reading, paul acknowledges that GOD has mercifully treated him who «was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and arrogant», and this mercy is an example of GOD’s patience. 

the readings communicate the good news that no matter how lost we are, GOD searches for us, waits patiently and eagerly for us to «come to our senses» and return home; he delights when he finds us and forgives us.

when i am lost, will i allow GOD (and his search party!) to find me? will i return home trusting in his caring and forgiving love? 
may this year of mercy help me realise that i will never fall into the «lost forever» category, that the FATHER never tires of forgiving me.

03 September 2016

DISCIPLESHIP: COUNT THE COST AND COMMIT

XXIII SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
wisdom 9:13-18; philemon 9-10, 12-17; luke 14:25-33

some time ago, a priest invited me to preach a retreat for his school boys. since he is a dear friend, i said yes without any hesitation. i did not consider my community and province responsibilities; i did not consider my health or that i’d have to manage a hundred boys. and i struggled. before, during and after! and i wished—quite often—that i had not said «yes»!

have you ever felt that way?! we take up invitations/ tasks/ responsibilities… without realizing their demands, and then fail/ struggle to honour them. 


we cannot do the same with christian discipleship! we need to know the cost of discipleship, and consider whether we have the resources to meet it (notwithstanding grace which is an absolute need!) before we commit ourselves. 
jesus uses two parables to stress the point: before beginning construction, a builder would work out the cost of his defence tower; before battle, a king would consider whether his outnumbered army would be able to face the enemy. 
the advice is clear: take time. sit down and look at the demands. figure out whether you can honestly meet them. jesus’ demands total and unconditional commitment expressed in strange terms: «hating father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters…» 
in aramiac, «hate» is not a feeling word! it is a priority word: to say that i love one and hate another means that i choose to carry out my commitments to one in preference to the other when these commitments are in conflict. no commitment, however important, can come before our commitment to GOD. 

the second reading gives us the cost of discipleship for philemon!
were philemon not a christian, he could have killed onesimus or punished him so severely that he would never again consider running away. but as a christian dealing with a christian, he had to accept the runaway slave... as a brother!

what is the cost of discipleship for me? 
do i have to give up my hatred/resentment against those who hurt me? my attachments to people and things? what are the commitments and relationships that i have to «hate» so that i can commit myself to jesus?