30 December 2017

FOREVER FAITHFUL

THE HOLY FAMILY
genesis 15:1-6, 21:1-3 or sirach 3:2-6; 12-14;
hebrews 11:8, 11-12, 17-19 or colossians 3:12-21;
luke 2:22-40

on 23 october 1983, a bomb explosion at the marine barracks in beirut killed 220 marines and 21 other personnel, and wounded several others.
a few days later, paul kelly, marine corps commandant, visited the wounded in hospital. among them was corporal jeffrey nashton. he had suffered a fractured skull collapsed lungs, a broken leg, and a crushed arm. as kelly neared him, nashton motioned for writing material, wrote briefly, and passed the paper to his commandant. it had two words: «semper fi» (forever faithful), the marines’ motto. 
with those two words nashton spoke for the millions who have remained faithful despite and in the face of adversity. 


semper fi! two words which sum up the thrust of today’s readings, and speak for each character in them.
the first and second readings extol the faith of israel’s first family. GOD promises abraham many descendants. abraham, though old and childless, «put his faith in the LORD.» GOD asks abraham to leave his homeland, and to sacrifice his son. abraham is unconditionally and forever faithful.
the gospel recounts the faith of the holy family. joseph and mary present their son in the temple «just as it is written in the law of the LORD.» they did and would undergo difficult times, and their son—simeon tells them—«is destined… to be a sign that will be contradicted.» they remain forever faithful. 
simeon and anna are idealized portraits of the faithful remnant of israel awaiting the messiah’s coming.

semper fi! that’s the challenge to our families today… despite all the pressures, tensions and crises we face. 
will you and i remain faithful to GOD and to one another despite and in the face of troubles?

24 December 2017

TRANQUILLITY AMID TURMOIL; CELEBRATION AMID CHAOS

CHRISTMAS
mass during the night: isaiah 9:1-6; titus 2:11-14; luke 2:1-14
mass during the day: isaiah 52:7-10; hebrews 1:1-6; john 1:1-18

a city commissioned two artists to paint a picture depicting peace. a panel of distinguished artists would select one to display in the city square.
the first artist unveiled his painting: a beautiful family scene with a farmer back home after a hard day at work, his wife by his side, and his children playing around the hearth; all at peace in a beautiful home. 
the judges decided that the picture depicted peace but looked at the other rendering anyway: it was a raging waterfall under dark skies! in a nook in the craggy rocks there was a branch. on the end of the branch was a bird’s nest with a mother bird, covering her fledglings with her wings and singing amid the turbulence.
the judges declared: «this is peace and celebration amid turmoil.» 


that picture portrayed peace; it also realistically depicts christmas!
christmas is the birth of the prince of peace. but the peace that jesus brings is not the quiet of an ideal and idyllic home; it is peace despite and amid problems.
that’s the reassurance we and our world need right now: the coming of GOD brings tranquillity amid turmoil—he covers us with his wings—and that’s reason to celebrate amid chaos.

what we experience today—brutal violence, the killing of innocents, fear—is reminiscent of what happened in bethlehem two millennia ago.
after the birth of JESUS, the angels announce «on earth peace to people of goodwill.» but soon an angel tells joseph to «take the child and his mother, flee to egypt,» and herod orders «the massacre of all the boys in bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under.» 
peace on earth? then? now?

yes! peace on earth! we believe—and we must proclaim—with st john: «what came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race… and the darkness has not overcome it.»
and we must live as people who have seen the light, who live by the light, whom «he gave power to become children of GOD.» we cannot live in the darkness; we cannot surrender to and imitate the darkness; we cannot relinquish our privilege and our duty to love.

we need christmas. 
but the christmas we need is the courage to live as children of the light, and as brothers and sisters of the prince of peace. the christmas we need is the courage to oppose violence and injustice with a love that comes from GOD.
may you and i and our world experience tranquillity amid turmoil and celebration amid chaos. amen.

23 December 2017

GOD’S MYSTERIOUS AND INEXPLICABLE CHOICES

IV SUNDAY OF ADVENT
2 samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16; romans 16:25-27; luke 1:26-38
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/122417.cfm

once upon a time, a prince yearned to win the heart of a princess. he had everything—looks, fame, and fortune—and tried everything but failed in his quest. the princess had her eyes and heart fixed elsewhere, and married a penniless woodcutter who did nothing to win her favour! the princess chose the woodcutter because of the mysterious preference of her love.

that happens only in fairy tales! right, it happens in fairy tales and in GOD’s tales!
the first reading and the gospel highlight GOD’s choice of people.


in the first reading, GOD reminds david of his transformation from shepherd to king through GOD’s choice and grace. it was a mysterious choice! jesse did not even line him up before samuel; david, the youngest, was tending sheep. but GOD knew whom he was choosing, and did great things through david.
the gospel recalls GOD’s choice of mary as the mother of his son. again, it was a mysterious choice! mary lacked the credentials one would think are needed for such an important task; everything was against her: age, gender, marital status, power. GOD knew whom he was choosing; his grace transformed mary from maiden to mother of GOD.
GOD’s choice required of david and of mary a simple «yes»… which st paul, in the second reading, calls «the obedience of faith.»

GOD makes another mysterious choice today: he chooses you and me! he chooses us to be a part of his salvific plan; to be entry points for his love into the world. he transforms us as he transformed david and mary.
it might sound like a fairy tale; it’s not. it’s GOD’s story… of his mysterious choice.

am i willing to say «yes»? am i willing, like mary, to be the servant of the LORD? to allow the holy spirit to overshadow me and transform me? to believe that nothing is impossible with GOD and that he is indeed with me?

16 December 2017

REJOICE IN THE LORD

III SUNDAY OF ADVENT
isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11; 1 thessalonians 5:16-24; john 1:6-8, 19-28

a king instructed his gardener to plant trees to represent different virtues to show the world that the king had made his reign fruitful. the gardener planted a palm to symbolise joy.
when the king saw the palm, he said: «i thought you would typify joy with a flowering plant like the tulip or magnolia. how can the palm symbolize joy?»
the gardener replied: «flowering trees get their nourishment from open sources in orchards or forests. i found this palm in a desert; its roots had found some hidden spring far beneath the burning surface. i thought highest joy has a foundation people cannot see and a source they cannot comprehend.»


how true that is! the foundation and source of our joy is GOD.
that’s the emphasis of the readings on «gaudete sunday»; they urge us to rejoice… in the LORD.
the first reading from isaiah invites us to rejoice in GOD because he clothes us with salvation and justice. this invitation is heart-warming because we are the broken-hearted GOD heals; the poor who receive the glad tidings; the captives he liberates.
in the second reading, paul urges the thessalonians to rejoice because the one who calls them is faithful. 
in the gospel, john’s response to the pharisees highlights the primary reason for our joy: jesus has already come into our world as our saviour.

the readings also give us a mission: to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to captives, and—above all—to testify to the light.

what is the source of my joy: the pleasures of the world or GOD and his liberating and healing love? will i rejoice in the LORD and joyfully testify to his presence in my life? or will i give in to a sense of unworthiness? 

john gipson was listening to his car radio. a singer was belting out «i can’t get no satisfaction.» gipson thought about the many people who cannot find satisfaction and joy; and wondered whether they even know where to look.
we know where to find joy! let us rejoice in the LORD!

09 December 2017

PREPARE THE WAY OF THE LORD

II SUNDAY OF ADVENT
isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11; 2 peter 3:8-14; mark 1:1-8

we are one week into advent, and many of us are preparing for christmas. our facebook walls have photographs of cribs and home decor, announce carol-singing events, advertise cakes and cookies… 
but that’s not quite the preparation scripture and the advent liturgy recommend! 

isaiah, in the first reading, assures the exiles in babylon that their desperate wait for freedom is almost over; GOD will lead them, like a shepherd, back home. but the exiles have a task: to prepare the way of the LORD, in the desert, by the filling the valleys and levelling the hills.
mark, in his gospel, has the same message and task. john the baptist invites the people to straighten the pathways of their lives.
peter urges his christians to conduct themselves «in holiness and devotion» and to «be eager to be found without spot or blemish before him».

in the second week of advent, we need to put the c’s (cribs/carols/cakes/cards) on the back-burner and focus on the s’s: spend time in the «wilderness/desert» of our lives; straighten the pathways in our hearts; and share the glad tidings that our GOD is coming with power to care for us. 

will i spend time in the wilderness? what areas of my life need straightening: what are the valleys that need filling; which are the mountains that need levelling? how and with whom will i share the good news of the LORD’s coming?

a collegian failed all his college work. he texted his mother: «failed everything; prepare papa.» his mother texted back: «papa prepared; prepare yourself.»
this is our advent task: we need to prepare ourselves for the coming of GOD in our midst. our «papa» is prepared… with his loving mercy.

02 December 2017

WAITING IN HOPE

I SUNDAY OF ADVENT 
isaiah 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7; 1 corinthians 1:3-9; mark 13:33-37

waiting is a part of life. outside schools, parents wait to pick up their children. at bus stops and railway stations, people wait for their loved ones; in hospitals, patients wait for their families. all waiting for someone to come. all they can do is wait… in hope!
waiting is a part of life. all of us waited to be born, waited to be nourished, waited to be loved. we learned, soon enough, that not everything is available «instant». we have to wait.


advent is a time and a season of a more profound waiting… a waiting for GOD to reveal himself, to come to us.

the first reading graphically portrays a people waiting for GOD. recently returned from captivity in babylon, they hope that GOD will again adopt them as his children. but jerusalem is a heap of ruins; there is no sign to confirm their hope. the people remember what GOD did for them in the past. this memory makes the people pray to GOD to come among them as he did on mount sinai. this memory gives the people hope as they wait. 
the gospel and the second reading give us attitudes for this waiting period: be responsible and dutiful servants; stay awake to the signs of the kingdom around us and to the opportunities to serve others; stay firm to the end though GOD’s grace and gifts.

like the newly-returned exiles, we are between the first and second comings of jesus; we sometimes feel anguish and frustration when GOD seems absent from our lives.
what attitude characterizes my waiting: optimism or desolation? joy or anguish? hope-filled service or despairing passivity?
what are the gifts GOD has given me? how can i use them as a responsible servant for the task he has given me?

may we be ready for the coming of the LORD. may we be alert to the signs of his presence everywhere: in every checkout counter, every bus/train station, every waiting room…

25 November 2017

REACHING OUT TO AND IDENTIFYING WITH THE LEAST

JESUS CHRIST THE UNIVERSAL KING
ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17; 1 corinthians 15:20-26, 28; matthew 25:31-46

according to a jewish legend, a man went to heaven and watched at the gates.
a rabbi came and made his claim to enter: «day and night i studied the torah.» the angel at the gate said: «wait! we will investigate whether your study was for its own sake or for the sake of honours.»
a zaddik approached next: «i fasted much; i underwent many ritual cleansings; i studied the mystical commentary on the torah day and night.» the angel said: «wait until we have completed investigating your motives.»
then a tavern-keeper drew near and said: «i kept an open door and fed without charge every poor person who came into my inn.» the angel opened the gates for him.

the jewish legend has the same thrust as the gospel parable of the final judgment: GOD judges us not upon our acts of religiosity but upon the little acts of mercy we show (or do not show) the least—the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the ill, and the imprisoned. further, whenever we serve them, we serve him, who identifies himself with them.
in the first reading, through ezekiel, GOD promises that he will reach out to the lost, the injured, and the sick, and he will shepherd them. in the gospel, he challenges us—who have experienced his shepherding love—to be the shepherds and to do the reaching out to the least.

at the end of the liturgical year, today’s solemnity invites us to examine how the LORD has loved and cared for us in the past year, and how we have reached out to his «least brothers and sisters».
am i aware of the numerous ways in which GOD has reached out to me and shepherded me? how will i reach out to and identify with the least of his brothers and sisters?

18 November 2017

BE A HI-FI CHRISTIAN

XXXIII SUNDAY OF THE YEAR 
proverbs 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31; 1 thessalonians 5:1-6; matthew 25:14-30

as a child, norman geisler—the famous apologist, theologian and author—went to a vacation bible school because some friends invited him. he returned to the same church for sunday school. each week a bus driver picked him up. week after week, for eight years, he attended church, but never committed his life to GOD. finally, during his senior year in high school, after being picked up for church over 400 times, he committed his life to CHRIST. what if the bus driver had given up on geisler at 395? what if the bus driver had said: «this kid is going nowhere spiritually, why waste any more time on him?» (cf. max lucado, GOD came near)

that unknown and unsung bus driver (or drivers) was a hi-fi (high-fidelity) christian! he stuck to the task entrusted to him; he was faithful to his responsibility!


that’s the challenge jesus puts before us in this sunday’s gospel: fidelity to our GOD-given mission.
the parable of the talents is NOT about using/multiplying our skills and gifts (though we need these for the mission, and GOD gives us a mission based on our capacities)! 
a talent was about fifteen years’ wages, and—in the parable—symbolises something of great value to the LORD, something that belonged to him, and that he entrusted to his servants.
the talents represent his word (also: his love, forgiveness, sacraments…). those who transmit it find that it multiplies; those who study it find their understanding of it deepens (recall that isaiah 55:10-12 tells us that GOD’s word, when invested, always brings a return!)… and those who bury it find its value diminishes.

the first reading has a similar thrust: it glorifies «a worthy wife» not for her talents and gifts but for her fidelity to her responsibility.

the gospel and the first reading promise a reward for such fidelity: «enter into the joy of your master» and «give her a reward for her labours».
am i faithful to my GOD-given mission of doing my daily duty and of proclaiming his word? or does fear (of failure, rejection, judgement…) prevent me from being faithful?
on world communications day, may i be a hi-fi christian and faithfully communicate GOD’s love, word and forgiveness to all people. on the world day of the poor, may i build up the poor and the marginalised.

11 November 2017

THE HAZARDS OF WAITING

XXXII SUNDAY OF THE YEAR 
wisdom 6:12-16; 1 thessalonians 4:13-18; matthew 25:1-13

in early 1874, elisha gray transmitted a few musical notes over a telegraph wire. he thought if he could send music, perhaps he could send also the human voice. 
a year later gray thought out his idea: tin-can like voice chambers connected by a wire in a liquid. inexplicably, he did not put his idea on paper for two months. after finally making a sketch, he waited four more days before he went to the patent office.
when he arrived, gray was told that just two hours earlier a school teacher had applied for the patent for a similar device. gray was shown the teacher’s sketch and plan. they were near identical to his! 
the teacher’s name was alexander graham bell! the reason we know his name and have never heard, until today, the name elisha gray is because bell seized the opportunity, gray waited until it was too late.


waiting—especially in spiritual matters—is hazardous. that’s today’s thrust. 
jesus uses the context of a palestinian wedding to exhort us to be ready to meet him, the bridegroom.

the parable has an immediate-local meaning: it was directed against the jews. their history and their scriptures should have prepared them for the coming of jesus. but they were unprepared and were therefore shut out.

the parable has also a universal significance. 
we cannot put off our prep for the LORD’s coming. we must have the wisdom to be prepared! 
the fact that the wise did not share their surplus oil suggests that the prep for the LORD’s coming is not something that one can borrow/share. one cannot borrow/share a relationship with GOD; character/attitude; love and good works. every person must make his/her own preparation! 
moreover, what separates the wise from the foolish? both were invited to keep vigil, both brought their lamps, both fell asleep. two things separate them: one, the wise had adequate oil; they were prepared. two, there is no mention that the lamps of the wise ones were going out; only the lamps of the foolish ones were. perhaps the oil they were using was insufficient in quality as well. 

every person is responsible for the state of his/her lamp!
what is the oil level of the lamp of my life: do i have enough oil to see me through serious moments? do i have enough oil to make changes in my life that are difficult and i’ve been putting off? 
if my lamp is going out, perhaps i have not filled it with the right oil!

04 November 2017

CREDIBLE SERVANT LEADERSHIP

XXXI SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
malachi 1:14b-2:2b, 8-10; 1 thessalonians 2:7b-9, 13; matthew 23:1-12

a pastor was excited that a university professor was coming to his parish. the pastor endeavoured to prepare and to deliver better homilies. a few months later, while chatting with the professor, the pastor found that the professor came to the parish not because of the homilies; he came because an elderly couple made him feel welcomed and valued. hospitality outdid erudition. servanthood surpassed showmanship.


that’s the thrust of this sunday’s readings.
malachi condemns the priests for not living up to the priestly ideal, ¬and for causing the people to falter. the consequence? yahweh will make them «despised and abased before all the people.»
in the gospel, jesus condemns the pharisees because theirs was a religion of legalism and ostentation; theirs was a life that lacked credibility. jesus condemns not religious authority but its abuse as a means of self-promotion. 
in contrast, paul had a deep pastoral concern for the thessalonians, and describes his pastoral ministry among them as being «like a mother taking care of her children». part of this concern was shown in his refusal to be an economic burden to the infant community; he worked night and day to earn his living.
jesus says GOD will humble self-glorified leaders, and exalt those who practise credible servant leadership!

today’s readings present two models of leadership: the model of showmanship described in the first reading and the gospel; the model of gentle and nurturing concern which paul shows towards the people of thessalonica. 
what kind of leader and disciple am i? 
what kind of religion do i follow: a religion preoccupied with rules; that focuses on external practices and ostentation; that is inauthentic? or a religion that is people-centred, spirit-filled, and authentic?

28 October 2017

LOVE IN 3D

XXX SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
exodus 22:20-26; 1 thessalonians 1:5c-10; matthew 22:34-40

at the entrance to the harbour at the isle of man there are two lights. one would think that two signals would confuse the pilot. no! the pilot must keep both in line for the ship to safely enter the channel. 

it is the same with life. we need to keep the three dimensions of love—love of GOD, love of others, and love of self—in line; then we remain safe in the channel of life.


the sunday readings challenge us to learn and practise these three dimensions of the «greatest commandment».
in response to the scribe’s question—which commandment is the first of all?—jesus gathers up the scripture of israel in one statement. in the first part, he quotes the jewish creed, the shema, which every jew knew by heart: «hear, o israel: the LORD our GOD is one LORD; and you shall love the LORD your GOD with all your heart, and will all your soul, and with all your might.» alongside this creed, he places a passage from leviticus: «you shall love your neighbour as yourself.» 
in the first reading, from exodus, fidelity to the covenant with GOD is expressed in compassion towards the needy neighbour: the stranger, the widow, the orphan, the poor. 

for jesus, religion is more than keeping rules; rules are for relationships.
how will i love GOD, my neighbour and myself in the week ahead? how will i practise love in 3d?

21 October 2017

DIFFERING LOYALTIES?

XXIX SUNDAY OF THE YEAR 
isaiah 45:1, 4-6; 1 thessalonians 1:1-5b; matthew 22:15-21

the opening scene of a film shows two puppeteers arguing over who should control the strings of the puppet on the stage below. as they argue, one tries to wrest the strings from the other. the puppet is pulled this way and that as each puppeteer pulls the string to an arm or leg, hand or foot.
our many commitments can do the same to us. family, school/office/workplace, possessions, the church, the government… to a varying extent, these determine the way we spend our time, energy, resources and money. we feel pulled in many different directions, and we often feel helplessly out of control.

who or what should take priority? 
this sunday, in response to the pharisees’ and herodians’ carefully-formulated and absolutely-loaded question—«is it lawful to pay taxes to caesar or not»—jesus gives us a response to our important question! 
he challenges them (and us) to «repay… to GOD what belongs to GOD.» first, there is no dichotomy between GOD and the many caesars in our lives; each has its rightful place. second, «repay» what belongs to GOD. what does? in one word: everything! resources, my being, me… i belong to GOD! 
jesus illustrates this when he asks for a tax coin and then asks: «whose image is this?» the emperor’s image, stamped on the coin, showed that the coin belonged to him. we are stamped with the image of GOD. we belong to him!*


how am i going to give myself to GOD in the week ahead? 
today is mission sunday. how will i give myself to the mission of proclaiming GOD, his love and his kingdom?
may i allow GOD to tug at the strings of my heart and mind. then, my differing loyalties will not leave my out of control; i will discover balance and equanimity.

* there’s an addition: belonging to GOD means belonging to one another! so, give to others what belongs to others. it’s not charity when we give people sustenance and shelter, freedom of speech and religion; it is justice. to give to GOD is also to share the goods of the earth with all people… and with all of creation!

14 October 2017

FIRST CATCH THE RABBIT!

XXVIII SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
isaiah 25:6-10a; philippians 4:12-14, 19-20; matthew 22:1-14

a nineteenth-century recipe for rabbit pie begins with the injunction: «first catch the rabbit.» haddon robinson comments: «the writer knew how to put first things first. that’s what we do when we establish priorities; we put the things that should be in first place in their proper order.»


that’s precisely what the guests in this sunday’s gospel parable did not do!
it was jewish custom to prepare food according to the number who accepted an invitation (like today’s rsvp). when the feast was ready, the host would summon the guests to partake of the banquet. in the parable, the king sent his servants twice to summon the guests, but the guests «made light of it» and went about their business. they refused to honour the king’s invitation (which they had accepted earlier).
the jews had accepted GOD’s invitation on mount sinai. but when the LORD came and summoned them to his banquet, they refused to honour the invitation.

it’s important to note the reasons for the guests’ refusal: they «went away, one to his farm, another to his business.» they were busy with something urgent: their livelihood. but the wedding feast represents the messianic kingdom; it symbolises the important: salvation and eternal life. 
the guests got their priorities wrong: they left the important for the urgent; they gave up life for livelihood.

GOD invites us to the banquet of life. we accepted the invitation at our baptism. 
do i honour the invitation? do i have my priorities in order? or am i so engrossed in gathering the other ingredients for «rabbit pie» and i forget to «catch the rabbit»?

«things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least» (johann wolfgang von goethe).

07 October 2017

TENANTS, NOT OWNERS

XXVII SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
isaiah 5:1-7; philippians 4:6-9; matthew 21:33-43

the angel gabriel returned from surveying the earth, and reported to GOD: «you own a choice piece of real estate called earth. but the tenants to whom you’ve leased it out are destroying it. they have polluted your rivers; fouled the air; degraded the soil; destroyed the rain-forests… in another few years, it won’t be fit to inhabit. by any rule of sound management, you have one option.» then raising his trumpet to his lips, gabriel asked: «shall i sound the eviction notice?»
GOD said: «no, gabriel! not yet. you are right, but i keep thinking if i give them a little more time, they’ll quit acting like they own the place!»


the readings of today 
- portray us as tenants of GOD’s vineyard, and remind us not to act like we own the place. 
- highlight GOD’s generosity and trust: he provided everything the people needed—fertile land, hedge, winepress, tower—to produce a good vintage. 
- tell us of GOD’s patience: he sends his servants several times to collect the produce, and finally sends his son. 
- remind us that GOD’s justice will prevail: the people yielded «wild grapes» (first reading); they refused to hand-over the produce, and treated the servants and the son violently. so he finally evicts the tenants: «the kingdom of GOD will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.»

we are tenants. GOD has given us a mission to accomplish. he has provided the means and the freedom to accomplish the mission in a most amazing «vineyard»! 
do i care for creation, or do i ruin it though my selfish and materialistic consumerism? what kind of fruit do i bear: «wild grapes» or grapes of good vintage? do i hand over the produce to GOD, or do i act like i own the vineyard? 

30 September 2017

THE END MATTERS

XXVI SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
ezekiel 18:25-28; philippians 2:1-11; matthew 21:28-32

it isn’t how the journey starts, it’s how it ends that matters. 
malcolm muggeridge (who filmed the famous documentary «something beautiful for GOD») was a self-professed agnostic for most of his life and a left-wing sympathiser. he described himself as «religious maniac without a religion». later in life, he saw that christianity made far more sense than agnosticism. he became an apologist for christianity. he said «yes» to GOD’s call after he had said «no» for several years.


muggeridge—and several folks before and after him—is like the first son of the gospel parable. 
in the parable, jesus compares tax collectors and prostitutes—whom the religious leaders considered transgressors of the law—to the first son; they rebelled initially but heeded john’s exhortation and repented. jesus is emphatic that they «are entering the kingdom». 
the chief priests and elders are like the second son; they professed to do GOD’s will but did not. jesus implies that if they fail to repent, they will be left out of the kingdom.
this does seem outrageous! but the first reading from ezekiel emphasises that, for GOD, it’s the end of the journey that matters: if a wicked person turns away «from all the sins that he has committed, he shall surely live.» 

GOD is concerned about our present relationship with him. he has a very short memory! no matter how far we have strayed from GOD, it is never too late to turn back to a no-questions-asked welcome. remember the thief crucified with jesus! he repented in the last moments of his life; and jesus promised him: «today, you will be with me in paradise.» GOD’s kingdom is for those prepared to answer his call today, no matter what happened yesterday.

like which son am i? am i willing to repent and do GOD’s will despite past failings?
the challenge is to be like the third son—jesus—who was always faithful.

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.