23 September 2017

IS GOD UNFAIR?

XXV SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
isaiah 55:6-9; philippians 1:20c-24, 27a; matthew 20:1-16a

robert de moor shares an incident from his childhood:
«when the apples ripened, mom would sit all seven of us down… with pans and knives until the mountain of fruit was reduced to neat rows of filled canning jars. she never bothered keeping track of how many we did… when the job was done, the reward for everyone was the same: a large chocolate-dipped cone money. 
a stickler might argue it wasn’t quite fair... but i can’t remember anyone complaining about it. a family understands it operates under a different set of norms than a courtroom.»


when we understand the kingdom of GOD as a family—with a different yardstick of fairness and equality—we will cease «complaining» about owner of the vineyard!
the landowner does seem unfair. human justice argues that those who work a full-day should be paid more than those who work less. 
however, the landowner pays those who laboured the whole day the agreed-upon wage. he generously pays the «late-comers» what he considers just: a full-day’s wage (nb: the average «daily wage» was enough only for «daily bread» for a worker’s family. were the owner not to pay the late-comers the full daily wage, their families would go hungry).

further, the parable is about GOD’s invitation to collaborate in the work of the kingdom. 
the kingdom cannot be earned through our effort. true, we must do all we can to receive it: sow the word, launch the boat and cast the net, love with all our strength… but we do not merit the kingdom.
GOD’s offer is for all people; it is repeated often and throughout the «day». each receives what each needs: «daily bread» and fullness of life. GOD does not partition grace into different amounts for different people; he gifts his grace abundantly and equally to all… regardless of the hour they accept his offer.
unfair? the first reading reminds us: «my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.»

will i begrudge GOD’s fairness to the late-comer… forgetting that i am a late-comer, too, and do not merit his grace? will i do my part of the kingdom work, and allow GOD’s grace to do the rest?

16 September 2017

REMEMBER GOD’S MERCY

XXIV SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
sirach 27:30—28:7; romans 14:7-9; matthew 18:21-35

corrie ten boom lost her whole family in the nazi concentration camps. after the war, she travelled about europe lecturing on forgiveness and reconciliation. after a talk in munich, a man came forward to thank her for the talk and reached out to shake her hand. she recognized him as a guard in the camp in which she was interred! corrie froze. she felt deep resentment and revulsion. she had just spoken about forgiveness and she couldn’t forgive someone. 

we can empathise with corrie’s experience. forgiveness is difficult. we experience deep hurt, the kind that remains for years; we think we have forgiven, but then we meet the person who hurt us and the feelings resurface. 

it’s not surprising, therefore, that peter asks jesus in the gospel: «how often must i forgive my brother? seven times?» it was rabbinic teaching that a man must forgive his brother thrice. peter doubles the rabbinic three, adds one, and suggests that forgiving seven times is enough. 
jesus’ answer (seventy-seven times) reverses the old law of vengeance: «if cain is to be avenged seven-fold, truly lamech is to be avenged seventy and seven-fold» (genesis 4:24). for the jews there was no limit to hatred and vengeance; for jesus’ disciples there can be no limit to love and forgiveness.
jesus emphasises this through the parable of the two debtors. the contrast between the debts is staggering. the offences we suffer from other humans are nothing compared to our offences against GOD. and while GOD forgives all, we do not. 


we often hear and say «i can forgive but i can’t forget.» 
it is when we forget that we cannot forgive… it is when we forget GOD’s forgiving love that we cannot forgive. 
corrie ten boom did forgive the ex-nazi guard! after a moment of prayerful reflection, she remembered GOD’s gracious and forgiving love towards her, and embraced the man.  

what unforgiven hurts still torture me? is there anyone i have not forgiven? 
let me remember GOD’s immense compassion towards me and forgive that person from the heart.

09 September 2017

BUILD BRIDGES, NOT WALLS

XXIII SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
ezekiel 33:7-9; romans 13:8-10; matthew 18:15-20

in «the great divorce,» c. s. lewis writes that hell is like a vast city inhabited only at the periphery; it has rows and rows of empty houses in the middle… empty because the inhabitants quarrelled with their neighbours and moved. then, they quarrelled with their new neighbours and moved again. this process of quarrel-move-quarrel slowly left the old neighbourhoods empty. hell has gotten so large because everyone chose distance instead of honest confrontation.

lewis’ picture is as true as it’s stark! when someone hurts us, it’s either fight or—more often than not—flight! «let it be» is the preferred course of action… with one problem: we do not «let it be»!


in today’s gospel, jesus sets guidelines for conflict resolution. he challenges us to seek reconciliation by talking to the person instead of about the person! 
the first step is dialogue: «if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault…» dialogue is not a finger-pointing venture; it is an honest and specific sharing of and listening to perspectives/feelings.
if/when dialogue fails, if the other refuses to see his/her fault or rebuffs attempts at reconciliation, resort to step two—diplomacy: if your brother «does not listen, take one or two others along with you…»
if/when diplomacy also fails, move to step three: «let him be to you as a gentile and a tax collector.» since the gentile and tax collector were considered outcasts, is step three dissociation? that would be great, but jesus loved the gentile and the tax collector, and never ceased to associate with them.
so step three is deep love… that wills the good of the other (this is not affection!). this is what paul tells the romans in the first reading: «owe no one anything except to love one another… love does no wrong to a neighbour.»

we can’t always make peace with those who hurt us, but we can and must still love them… unless we want to live in hell.
will i resolve hurts through dialogue, diplomacy and deep love… and be reconciled with the people who have hurt me? will i construct walls or build bridges?

02 September 2017

DISCIPLESHIP*

*CONDITIONS APPLY
XXII SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
jeremiah 20:7-9; romans 12:1-2; matthew 16:21-27

i am fascinated when i see advertisements! almost every product is “new and improved”, almost every product is the best available, almost every product is described in superlatives! 
well, to sell a product, one must embellish it and highlight its usp. then, invariably, one has the small asterisk and the fine print: conditions apply or results may vary or… 

one may see this sunday’s gospel as an ad for discipleship! 
but jesus is a poor advertiser! he neither embellishes discipleship nor describes it in superlatives. there are no «conditions apply»! or rather, the whole ad is the condition that applies: if you wish to be my disciple…! 


jesus introduces a theme central to the gospel: it is suffering that leads to life. 
he shows his disciples that he is a messiah who must suffer and be killed. he had decided to confront opposing forces and challenge oppressive powers. he understood it was a decision with tragic consequences but he accepted them.
but peter cannot understand! there is no place for suffering in his understanding of the messiah. peter the rock is also a stumbling block! 
jesus rebukes him and tells him to take his place as a disciple… behind the master! and makes it clear what getting behind him entails: taking up the cross and following him on his way to jerusalem and calvary.

the theme of suffering is found in the other readings too. 
the first reading expresses in vivid detail jeremiah’s suffering as a prophet.  jeremiah had to deliver an unpopular message, which the people heard as treason. they attacked and tortured him. he suffered so much that he tried voluntary retirement!

suffering is an integral part of discipleship. suffering is a necessary consequence of confronting oppressive forces.
but discipleship is not only about the cross; there is also the crown. jesus promises his disciples that if they carry their cross, they will find life in communion with GOD.

each one of us here has a cross to carry. 
what are the crosses in my life? am i willing to carry these and follow jesus? 
who are «the elders, chief priests and scribes» i must confront? who is the «peter» to whom i must say «get behind me»?

26 August 2017

PERFECTED IN WEAKNESS

XXI SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
isaiah 22:19-23; romans 11:33-36; matthew 16:13-20

duke ellington—composer, pianist and conductor—composed with each musician of his band in mind. he said: «you keep their weaknesses in your head as you write, and that way you astonish them with their strengths.»


that’s the way GOD works with the leaders he chooses and with us: he keeps our weaknesses in mind and astonishes us with our strengths; he perfects us in weakness.
how else does one explain his choice of leaders? why does GOD choose people with faults and foibles as leaders?
we have a response in this sunday’s gospel. 

in response to jesus’ question about his identity, simon acknowledges jesus as the christ. jesus gives simon a new name—peter, and a mission—the rock on which jesus will build his church.

what kind of a rock was peter? 
soon after being named rock, peter misunderstood the nature of jesus’ mission. during jesus’ passion, peter denied him thrice. after the resurrection, peter left the LORD and went back to his boat and nets. twenty years later, peter withdrew from table fellowship with fellow christians merely because they were gentiles.
by nature, peter was not rock!

but the weak and human peter becomes rock when he is open to divine revelation («blessed are you, simon…»), and when jesus prays for him (peter, i have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail…»). after pentecost, peter fearlessly proclaimed the gospel. he was imprisoned, tried, tortured, forbidden to preach… he did not stop preaching! 
through grace, peter became rock.

there is something of simon in each of us. we misunderstand jesus’ mission and words, we deny him, we get engrossed in our own career and work.
yet GOD keeps choosing us, with and despite our weaknesses, and strengthens us to be his church. he perfects us in weakness.
will i open myself to his grace? will i allow him to perfect me?

#sundaysnippets #perfectedinweakness

19 August 2017

GOD’S LOVE… ACROSS BORDERS, BEYOND BARRIERS

XX SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
isaiah 56:1, 6-7; romans 11:13-15, 29-32; matthew 15:21-28

for several years, dr devi shetty and his narayana hrudayalaya have been treating children from various countries. dr shetty says: «pain has no language… reaction to pain and suffering is the same, so our reaction to the problem is also the same.» he says they are «doctors without frontiers.»
on 30 september 2009, fr davis chiramel donated his kidney to c. gopinathan in kochi. on 2 september 2016, anwar ahmed and vinod mehra stepped beyond religious boundaries, and donated their kidneys to each other’s wives in jaipur.
these attitudes and gestures—there are several similar heart-warming stories—have broken ethnic and religious barriers.


in the gospel, no barrier could keep the canaanite woman away from jesus… neither his indifferent silence nor his statement about his mission «only to the lost sheep of the house of israel» nor his apparent rebuke about not throwing children’s food to the dogs. further, she had several strikes against her: she was a woman, a widow (most likely), and a foreigner.
her persistent faith persuaded jesus to reach beyond gender/ ethnic/ geographical boundaries to cure her daughter.

the first and second readings set the stage for the drama in the gospel.
isaiah gives voice to GOD’s intention to extend israel’s privileges to all «foreigners who join themselves to the LORD.» GOD yearns to be in relationship with all peoples. 
paul emphasises that GOD’s mercy is intended for all, whether jew or gentile.

pope francis symbolises this aspect of GOD’s love when he washes the feet (on maundy thursday) of men and women of varied ethnicities and creeds, of the disabled, and of inmates of juvenile detention centres and prisons. 

do i reach out in love to all people irrespective of gender, caste, class, creed or ethnicity? how will i imitate GOD to go beyond borders and barriers?


12 August 2017

STEPPING OUT ON THE WORD OF GOD

XIX SUNDAY OF THE YEAR 
1 kings 19:9a, 11-13a; romans 9:1-5; matthew 14:22-33

during the floods in chennai in november 2015, 26-year-old mohammad yunus offered his two apartments to the people stranded in his area, and was instrumental in rescuing over 1500 people.
mamta rawat’s house was washed away in the 2013 flash floods in uttarakhand. this did not stop her from climbing dangerous terrains to save hundreds of stranded people. she was just 24, with no official status or government support for her rescue mission.
mohammad and mamta did not need to step out to help people. they did not need to risk their lives. they did.

today’s readings feature two heroes, who stepped out… on the strength of GOD’s word. 


the first reading presents elijah. 
he confronted the infidelity of the monarchy, and destroyed the false prophets of baal. overwhelmed by fatigue, he wanted to give up. but strengthened by GOD’s food and word, he journeyed to horeb where he encountered the LORD… in a still small voice. this encounter strengthened him to continue his mission.
elijah did not need to leave the comfort of his homeland. he obeyed GOD and stepped out on his word.

the gospel features peter and his walk upon the water.
amid the storm, the disciples encountered jesus, who calmed their fears. the impetuous peter dared to get out into the stormy seas.
peter did not need to get out of the boat. he did… on the strength of the LORD’s word.

elijah and peter (and mohammad and mamta) show us what happens when we respond to the LORD’s call: we triumph over the forces of chaos and meaninglessness; his power lifts us up and allows us to weather the storms of life.

which boats do i need to step out? on which stormy waters does the LORD call me to walk? will i risk stepping out on the word of GOD?
i can 
- risk, because i have a GOD who watches over me;
- trust, because i have a GOD who cares for me;
- step out because i have a GOD who saves me.

05 August 2017

A MOMENT OF GRACE

THE TRANSFIGURATION
daniel 7:9-10, 13-14; 2 peter 1:16-19; matthew 17:1-9

eric carle is an author and illustrator of children’s books; the most popular of these is «the very hungry caterpillar». carle recalls that he was a painfully shy six-year-old when the world of story-telling opened for him:
«when i was six, the world seemed a cold and confusing place, except for one thing—a picture of a cityscape at night that faced my bed: red brick buildings with darkened windows, except for one exploding with the joyful colours of a christmas tree. every night i fell asleep comforted by the warmth of that bright tree in the dark night. the picture was the work of an art director at my father’s job.
once, my father took me to work. i was so shy i could barely speak. the art director smiled, opened the drawer of his drafting table… a treasure of coloured drawing pencils, and said: ‘you can use them all.’ 
i had no language for what i felt. today i would call it grace.»


for jesus and the three apostles, the transfiguration was a moment of grace.
the transfiguration confirmed for jesus his identity as son of GOD and his saving mission (through his death and resurrection); provided him another affirmation of his father’s love; gave him a foretaste of his glory; and strengthened him for his journey to jerusalem and calvary.
matthew’s account takes place six days after jesus’ first predicted his passion and stated his condition for discipleship—taking up their cross. the twelve had thought the glory days were coming. jesus had fed the five thousand and the four thousand. then came this downer. at jesus’ transfiguration, peter, james and john realise that this is no carpenter; this is no preacher or healer or miracle-worker; this is GOD! as the disciples will later understand, the transfiguration is a powerful sign that the forthcoming events in jerusalem are indeed GOD’s will for his son.

we all have moments of grace: in prayer, in encounters with significant people, in key life events… GOD is present within us to enlighten and guide us, to affirm that we are his daughters and sons, to confirm his will for us. 
today, let me recall some of these! do i see these as «transfiguring» moments? do i allow GOD’s grace to transfigure sadness into joy, despair into hope, fear into faith and courage, alienation and isolation into communion?

29 July 2017

STAKING EVERYTHING ON ONE THING

XVII SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
1 kings 3:5, 7-12; romans 8:28-30; matthew 13:44-52 or 13:44-46

a youth-group member, an infosys employee, was leaving for the us of a, and wanted to sell his infosys shares. the others in the group were willing to do anything to buy those shares. one guy was willing to sell his bike; now this guy wouldn’t allow anyone to touch his bike! anything for infosys shares!
many youngsters run away from home chasing a dream. their dreams may be different—to become «somebody» or make it «big», to join bollywood—but they have one thing in common: they have left everything—home and family—to achieve that goal.  
the shares-seeking-youngster and the dream-chasing-kid are both willing to stake everything for something they perceive is invaluable.


that’s jesus’ point in today’s gospel: the farm-worker, who stumbles on a treasure, and the pearl merchant, who finds an invaluable pearl after a great search, appreciate the value of their find and sell everything to possess their find.
to an outsider, these men appear insane; they give up everything for one object. but they are certain about the wisdom of what they do: they give up something valuable to get the one invaluable treasure; they stake everything on one thing… the right thing. 
jesus gave up everything he valued—his family, his home, his comfort, his profession—to do his father’s will… his greatest treasure. in the first reading, solomon chooses «an understanding heart» over long life, riches and the life of his enemies! that was his treasure.

jesus invites us to seek the kingdom and its values. we might stumble over it (like the farmer) or we might find it unexpectedly after a long search (like the pearl merchant). one thing is clear: we will experience great joy when we discover it! 
the question then is: am i ready to stake everything for it?

22 July 2017

DON’T JUMP TO CONCLUSIONS

XVI SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
wisdom 12:13, 16-19; romans 8:26-27; matthew 13:24-43 or 13:24-30

a bishop was sailing on a transatlantic ocean-liner. when he went aboard, he found that he was sharing a cabin with another passenger. after he unpacked his bags, he went to the purser to inquire if he could leave his valuables in the ship’s safe. he explained that he was afraid that his co-passenger might not be trustworthy. the purser smiled, accepted the valuables, and remarked: «bishop, i’ll be very glad to keep your valuables in safe custody. the other man has just been up here and left his valuables for the same reason!»


jumping to conclusions is an exercise most of us get! we are quick to judge; we are intolerant and want to do away with wrong-doers… all without knowing circumstances/ facts/ motives. 

this sunday’s liturgy strongly challenges these attitudes. 
the first reading asserts that GOD is patient and merciful even with sinners; he gives people time to change. he asks his people to act with patience and tolerance towards one another, even their enemies.
the psalmist describes GOD as a GOD of mercy and compassion, who is slow to anger!
GOD’s patience with imperfection appears also in the gospel in the parable of the wheat and the darnel: the workers want to uproot the weeds. but the owner knows that wheat and darnel look identical to one another… until they ripen! and so he cautions the workers: «wait till all the facts are in; don’t jump to conclusions! else you might uproot wheat.» 

today’s readings counsel patience… in the face of our failures; amid our urge to fix things; in the face of our tendency to judge others and to act on those judgments. 

in which areas do i need to be patient with myself? with whom do i need to be patient? 
GOD is patient with us. let us be patient with ourselves, with others, with the world! let us stop jumping to conclusions.

15 July 2017

KEEP SOWING THE SEED

XV SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
isaiah 55:10-11; romans 8:18-23; matthew 13:1-23 or 13:1-9

«i’m quitting!» said a priest companion as he and i were vesting for the eucharist. before a stunned me could respond, he said his province was quitting a missionary region because even after thirty plus years of ministry, they were not seeing the fruit of their labour. they planned to relocate in places where the people were more receptive.

it is frustrating to work and not see the results of our labour. parents, educators, mentors… we’ve been there and felt it. we want to throw our hands up and say: «that’s it! i’ve had enough.» 


today’s word is addressed to those who want to quit: keep sowing… because GOD’s word is efficacious.

let’s situate today’s parable of the sower. the disciples are disheartened. jesus has had very little «success». the pharisees are against him. the crowds come to him, but only to benefit from his power. 
every israelite listening to the parable could identify with every detail: some seed necessarily fell on hard ground; much of their land was limestone, and beneath a few inches of soil there was rock; the soil which looked clean could have fibrous roots of weeds. every detail was commonplace except one: the size of the harvest. a farmer who reaped a fivefold harvest was considered fortunate; a sevenfold harvest was a bounty attributable to GOD’s blessing, and reason to celebrate. a thirty-fold harvest? unheard of. sixty-fold, hundred-fold? impossible!
when we sow GOD’s word, there will be miraculous success despite initial frustration. 

the first reading gives us reason for confidence in an abundant harvest: just as rain inevitably brings forth fruitfulness, GOD’s word is efficacious. 

the sower knows soils are different. he accepts that the seed will grow differently. he sows anyway; he sows everywhere. 
and so we ought. in an age that looks for quick results, we need to sow the seed with patience and in hope that what we sow will—in the end—produce a harvest… even when it appears pointless, even when it appears that every inch of ground is worthless. keep sowing the seed… because GOD’s word is efficacious. 
will i quit or will i keep sowing?

08 July 2017

COUNTER THE CULTURE

XIV SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
zechariah 9:9-10; romans 8:9, 11-13; matthew 11:25-30

an extract from ellen goodman’s editorial, «battling our culture is parents’ task»† in the «chicago tribune»:
one of your main jobs as a parent is to counter the culture. what the media deliver to children by the masses, you are expected to rebut one at a time. we need parents who know how to say «no». but the call for «parental responsibility» is increasing in direct proportion to the irresponsibility of the marketplace. parents are expected to protect their children from an increasingly hostile environment. are the kids being sold junk food? just say no. is tv bad? turn it off. are there messages about sex, drugs, violence all around? counter the culture.
parents see themselves in a struggle for the hearts and minds of their own children. it isn’t that they can’t say no. it’s that there’s so much more to say no to. they are expected to raise their children in opposition to dominant cultural messages.
it’s what makes child-raising harder. it’s not just that families have less time with their kids, it’s that we must spend more of this time doing battle with our own culture. 


what society is compelling parents to do today is what jesus challenged his disciples to do: counter the culture!

the indicators of this counter-cultural way: 
▪ GOD’s revelation is not to «the wise and the learned» but to the «little ones»;
▪ freedom from labour and burdens comes not from escapism but from surrendering to the easy-fitting yoke of jesus;
▪ the blessed in the kingdom are those the world considers unfortunate.

our reason/motivation for being counter-cultural: our GOD is a king 
▪ who rides not a horse but a colt, a symbol of peace; who proclaims not war but peace to the nations; who does not build weapons of destruction but destroys weapons (cf. first reading); 
▪ who took the form of a slave and was born in human likeness;
▪ who calls us to learn from his meekness and humility.

will i imitate my GOD and counter the culture? will i learn from him… who is meek and humble of heart??

† written in the nineties and still relevant.
for the whole editorial, click http://goo.gl/HPW0SS

01 July 2017

WELCOME HOME

XIII SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
2 kings 4:8-11, 14-16a; romans 6:3-4, 8-11; matthew 10:37-42

i arrived home last sunday evening; my mum and brother were at the gate to welcome me. early the following morning, my sister and her family arrived from the states. my brother and i were on the main road to receive them; the rest of the family was in the apartment with open arms! it feels good to be welcomed so warmly.
what’s true for my sis and me is true for everybody. everyone wants and loves to be welcomed.


the prophet elisha (first reading), perhaps, felt the same when the shunemite woman welcomed him and was hospitable to him. 
the woman was childless. in a culture that saw barrenness a curse, she would have felt the negative opinion of her neighbours; she might have had a sense of guilt.
but she didn’t focus on her condition. instead, she welcomed elisha to her home, and extended hospitality to this «holy man of GOD». her hospitality was extravagant—not just food, she gave him a furnished room…. «so that when he comes to us he can go in there.»  how thoughtful, how sensitive, how generous! 
and, though her hospitality had no strings attached, she received her reward! GOD acted powerfully for the woman because she was kind to one of his own.

the message about hospitality finds an echo in the gospel. jesus continues to instruct his disciples before he sends them out. he reminds them about the cost of discipleship, and then encourages them not to worry. for, as they travel with his message, they will meet people, like the shunemite woman, who will recognize them as prophets, righteous men, and disciples. he reassures them that they will find a welcome and hospitality. 

the liturgy challenges us to be a welcoming and caring people. 
today we find people joining new sects. why? they feel welcome, they experience fellowship and love, care and concern.
we need to open our hearts to others and, like the shunemite woman, to build room for others… in our lives and hearts. we need to return to biblical hospitality!

let me pick one person whom i will welcome in my life, for whom i will build a room in my heart. how will i welcome and be hospitable to this person in the week ahead? 

24 June 2017

PERSECUTED, BUT NOT ABANDONED

XII SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
jeremiah 20:10-13; romans 5:12-15; matthew 10:26-33

in march this year, fr tomy mathew was stabbed at his church in melbourne while preparing for mass by a man who said he should not celebrate mass because he was indian. last july in northern france, two men (who said they were from the isis) slit the throat of an 84-year-old priest, fr jacques hamel, during morning mass.
christians, priests and laity, are facing increasing persecution. people who proclaim the values of the gospel, people who stand up for what is right are inevitably ill-treated and persecuted. some give up; many fight on.


today’s first reading tells us about jeremiah who had a difficult mission: to denounce the abominations of the people and to warn them of GOD’s wrath. his friends discredited and denounced him; the army council threw him into prison and threatened him with death. 
perhaps, human that he was, jeremiah was afraid… but he did not allow fear to write his script. he refused to be intimidated. what sustained jeremiah was the profound belief that GOD cared for him and was on his side: «the lord is with me as a dread warrior.»

the gospel is a continuation of jesus’ commissioning of the apostles. in the verses preceding today’s text, he has warned them about imminent persecution. 
now he tells them to preach without fear: «do not be afraid.» but how can the apostles not be afraid in the face of persecution? 
the antidote to fear is GOD’s loving care! jesus uses the example of a sparrow to emphasise that the father cares deeply. sparrows were sold two for a penny and five for two pennies. «not one will fall to the ground without your father’s will.» the apostles are worth much more than a sparrow (the one thrown in free?). 

jeremiah and the apostles could face their persecutors with courage because they were deeply aware of GOD’s love for them.
we are called to be fearless prophetic voices—people who denounce what is wrong and stand up for what is right—in our places of work, in our communities… everywhere. 
am i willing to acknowledge jesus despite intimidation? what are the fears which keep me from witnessing to jesus and his values? do i believe that GOD cares for me?

17 June 2017

WE BECOME WHAT WE EAT

THE BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST
deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14b-16a; 1 corinthians 10:16-17; john 6:51-58

there are two birds that fly over deserts: the vulture and the hummingbird. the vulture eats the rotting flesh of dead animals. the hummingbird feeds on the colourful blossoms of desert plants. 
the vulture lives on the past; it fills itself with what is dead. the hummingbird lives on the present; it fills itself with freshness and life. each bird finds what it is looking for. each bird becomes what it eats. 

so do we! if we eat only fast/junk food, will we be healthy? no! to be healthy, we need to eat nourishing food and drink wholesome beverages. 
what applies to the body applies also to the soul! if we want to be spiritually healthy, we need to be nourished with spiritual food and drink: the body and blood of jesus… the word made flesh.


the readings on the feast of the body and blood of christ highlight the importance of spiritual nourishment. 
jesus’ teaching in the gospel takes place at the beginning of the feast of unleavened bread, which recalled how GOD nourished the people with manna in the desert (and with his word).
jesus emphasizes that the bread he gives is different from the manna in the desert!
- the manna that was not eaten within the day had to be thrown away; it was no longer any good. however, after jesus multiplied bread and fed the five thousand, twelve baskets of fragments were gathered and saved. this means that this bread lasts. 
- the manna was limited and only for the jews. the bread which jesus gives is for always and for all people. 
- the manna nourished the people only during the journey to the promised land. the bread of life nourishes us with eternal life. 
- those who ate the manna in the desert died. those who eat the living bread will live forever. 

jesus—the word made flesh and the living bread—nourishes us for always by giving us his word, and his body and blood… in the eucharist.
am i like the vulture eating rubbish or am i like the hummingbird that eats fresh food? am i satisfied with the junk food the world offers or do i feast on jesus the word and the living bread? 

10 June 2017

GOD LOVES AND FORGIVES

TRINITY SUNDAY
exodus 34:4b-6, 8-9; 2 corinthians 13:11-13; john 3:16-18

thomas a. edison was working on his crazy contraption—the «light bulb». it took his team twenty-four hours to put together each bulb. once, after the team finished crafting a bulb, edison gave it to a young boy to carry up to the store-room. the youngster took each step with extreme and watchful caution. at the top of the stairs, the poor chap dropped the priceless piece of work. it took the team another twenty-four hours to make a second bulb. when they finished it, and it had to be carried upstairs to the store-room, edison gave it to the same boy.

why would edison forgive someone who destroyed his handiwork? it’s bizarre. it defies understanding.
so does the reality that our GOD always forgives us though we constantly and repeatedly destroy his handiwork.


the readings on the solemnity of the trinity (surprisingly) are not incomprehensible theology/ doctrine explaining the trinity. they emphasize something more incomprehensible yet deeply consoling and hope-filled:  GOD’s forgiving love! his love is not a sentimental love but a non-condemning and forgiving love.
the first reading describes the incident after the debacle of the golden calf. GOD is willing to renew the covenant with israel despite its incessant infidelity. why? he tells moses that he is «a merciful and gracious GOD, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.» this succinct poetic description of GOD is an oft-repeated statement of israel’s belief, and describes GOD’s relationship with his people.
the gospel is a summary and the core of the good news! JESUS tells nicodemus that GOD sent his son because he loved the world and wanted us to have eternal life… life with him.
in the second reading, paul gives us a program to imitate our trinitarian GOD: «encourage one another, agree with one another, live in peace.»

do i forgive and love like GOD does? whom will i forgive and love in the week ahead?

03 June 2017

SHAPED BY THE WIND OF GOD

PENTECOST
acts 2:1-11; 1 corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13; john 20:19-23

a parish priest narrates a conversation he had with a funeral director about the effect the wind has on things! the director said that, over time, trees that stand out in the open become shaped in the direction the wind is blowing. unless there are other trees around to block it, a tree will eventually be shaped by the force and direction of the wind. then, the funeral director began to point out tree after tree that had been shaped in this way… the cemetery was literally filled with them! all shaped by the wind!


something similar happened to the apostles on the day of pentecost. they were shaped by the wind of GOD—the holy spirit. 
the apostles were afraid after jesus’ crucifixion, and confused by his post-resurrection appearances; they shut themselves «in one place together». 
at pentecost, the spirit shaped them: from being fearfully behind closed doors, they moved with bold freedom into the open; from being silent spectators, they became vibrant and fearless preachers of the gospel; from being a cluster of individuals, they became a community and a church with a definite mission and mandate to be agents of peace and reconciliation.

the same spirit—which jesus «breathed on» the apostles and which descended on them «like a strong driving wind»—is with us. he helps us move from fear to freedom; from silence to proclamation; from being individuals to being community; from division to reconciliation… when we stand out in the open and allow ourselves to shaped by the wind of GOD.

do i as an individual, and we as a congregation, show any evidence of being shaped by the wind of GOD? if not, what blocks the action of the spirit in my life?

27 May 2017

THE MISSION 2: CONTINUING THE WORK OF THE MASTER

ASCENSION SUNDAY
acts 1:1-11; ephesians 1:17-23; matthew 28:16-20

leonardo da vinci was working on a large canvas in his studio… with his inimitable genius: he chose the subject, sketched the outline, applied the colours. then he stopped, summoned one of his students, and invited him to complete the work. the horrified student protested that he was unworthy and unable to complete the work which his master had begun. but da vinci silenced him: «will not what i have done inspire you to do your best?» 


our master began his work of proclaiming the good news by what he said and did, and by his passion, death and resurrection. then he stopped and summoned his disciples to complete the work. 
will his life not inspire us to do our best? this is the thrust of the ascension. jesus gives his disciples a program (witness to him) and a promise (the holy spirit). 

in the gospel, jesus commissions his disciples to teach all nations and to make disciples of them. he promises to be with them «always, until the end of the age.»
in the first reading, the program and the promise is similar. jesus calls his disciples to be his «witnesses in jerusalem, throughout judea and samaria, and to the ends of the earth» and promises them the power of the spirit.

there are three aspects about christian witness.
- in a court of law, a witness cannot give hearsay evidence; it must be his/her personal experience. a christian testifies to a personal experience of GOD. 
- witness is not of words but of deeds. 
- the greek word for witness and for martyr is the same: «martus». to be a witness means to live the mission of christ no matter what the cost.

christian witness sounds a tough task. and it is… if we attempt it alone. that’s why jesus promises his presence and the spirit to strengthen us. 
like da vinci’s disciple we think we are unworthy and unable to complete the work. the life and the work of our master ought to inspire us.
how will i witness to jesus and carry on his mission? will i live the program and rely on the promise?

20 May 2017

NOT ALONE!

VI SUNDAY OF EASTER
acts 8:5-8, 14-17; 1 peter 3:15-18; john 14:15-21

home alone. the real life experience, not the movie, of several people. here’s just one story: 
i am sixteen. a year ago, i lost the most important person in my life, my grandmother. she was my world, and suddenly she was gone. i was alone. i cried for days, cursing GOD, her, and even myself for her death. i had no idea how to get through my freshman year of high school, but somehow i did. now i remember her and do what i know she would want me to do… help people.


alone. on their own. that’s perhaps the way the apostles felt during the last supper.
jesus, the most important person in their lives, has repeatedly told them about his death. the apostles cannot understand this talk of death and going away. 
jesus promises them his spirit to comfort and lead them: «the father... will give you another advocate to be with you always... i will not leave you orphans.»
and he reminds them: «if you love me, you will keep my commandments… whoever loves me will be loved by my father, and i will love him and reveal myself to him.»
a promise and a reminder! the promise of the eternal comforting, abiding, and advocating presence of the spirit. the reminder that they will experience the full presence of the spirit when they love… because the spirit is love.

we see the promise and the reminder unfold in the first reading: with the power of the spirit and with love, the disciples go out to proclaim christ to the people of samaria. like the sixteen year-old, when they reach out, they are alone no longer.

we, too, have been given this gift of the spirit. why do we still feel lonely and troubled? perhaps because we have forgotten the reminder. 
am i open to the comforting and guiding presence of the spirit? do i keep the commandment of love? then… i will not be alone. i will not feel «orphaned».

13 May 2017

FEAR BUSTERS

V SUNDAY OF EASTER
acts 6:1-7; 1 peter 2:4-9; john 14:1-12

a little boy was scared to sleep alone. he called out to his dad:  «i’m scared. couldn’t you stay in here with me?»
dad said: «son, nothing will happen to you. mom and i are in the next room.»
«i know, daddy. but i’m scared.»
«there’s no reason to be scared. GOD is here with you.»
«i know that, also, daddy. but i want someone with skin on.»


the little boy’s fear is similar to the disciples’ fear. jesus—their master, for whom they left everything—is leaving them. they are afraid to face the world alone; they fear staying in their «room» alone. 

jesus assures them that there is no need to be afraid, and gives them three fear busters.
faith in GOD and his son is the first fear buster: «you believe in GOD, believe also in me.» 
jesus tells philip: «whoever has seen me has seen the father… i am in the father and the father is in me.» the second fear buster: in and through his son, GOD is with us, is present with skin on, is deeply involved in the events and crises of our world.
jesus says: «i am going to prepare a place for you.» GOD has a special place for each one of us in the church and in the world. we need to find that place/mission/role. finding our mission and place in life is the third fear buster.

this does not mean there won’t be problems. the first reading describes the problems the fledgling church has in the food distribution system! 
the fear busters help the church overcome this problem: faith in GOD and jesus keep the apostles from getting overwhelmed. they find their place and role in the church: the apostles focus on preaching; they appoint deacons to look after the administration… and the church grew.

the little boy’s fear is similar to our own. problems assail us, the darkness of our nights frighten us… and we need someone—with skin on—by our side. 
do i have faith in GOD? do i believe that he is with me in his son and in people? what am i doing to find my place in life?

06 May 2017

DO I STILL HEAR THE SHEPHERD?

IV SUNDAY OF EASTER
acts 2:14a, 36-41; 1 peter 2:20b-25; john 10:1-10

a native american and his friend were walking in midtown new york. decibel levels were deafeningly high… people chatting, vehicles moving, and horns honking.
suddenly, the native american said: «i hear a cricket.» his friend said: «what! you’re crazy. you couldn’t possibly hear a cricket in all this noise!» 
the native american insisted that he had heard a cricket. he listened carefully, walked across the street to a big plant, looked under the branches and… found a cricket. 
his friend was stunned: «that’s incredible! you must have superhuman ears!» the native american said: «my ears aren’t different from yours. it depends on what you’re listening for. my ears are attuned to natural sounds. let me demonstrate.»
he pulled out a few coins from his pocket, and dropped them on the sidewalk. every head within twenty feet turned to see if the money that had tinkled on the pavement was theirs!
«see what i mean!» said the native american. «it depends on what’s important to you.»

today’s liturgy highlights the importance of having ears attuned to GOD and his word.
the gospel has two parables. in the first, the imagery is of a sheepfold into which the shepherd and a prowler seek to enter. the second parable concerns the relationship between the sheep and the shepherd, and between the sheep and a stranger. 
the first parable is a challenge to israel’s religious authorities: will they listen to and heed jesus’ message? jesus can offer no external credentials for his authority; in the second parable, a small group respond in faith to his message because they hear in it the authentic voice of GOD. 
both parables make the same point: jesus provides his people his word and sacraments, and gives them abundant life… provided they listen to him.


the first reading portrays the second parable! the people listen to peter’s admonishment. «they were cut to the heart», and ask what they must do. they again heed peter’s voice: they repent and are saved.

if jesus and his word are important for us, we will hear him above the bustle of our lives, above the noise of consumerism and materialism. if our ears are attuned to power, prestige and pleasure, we will hear those. 
the quality of our life indicates to what our ears are attuned! if we do not live «abundantly», we are listening to and following not the shepherd but a stranger. 
whom do i follow? to whom/what do i listen? do i still hear the shepherd?