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?