25 February 2017

FEAR NOT FOR GOD CARES

VIII SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
isaiah 49:14-15; 1 corinthians 4:1-5; matthew 6:24-34

the three-year old was happy in his father’s arms as dad stood in the middle of the pool. then dad, for fun, began walking towards the deep end as he chanted: «deeper and deeper…» as the water rose higher on the boy, his face registered increasing levels of panic, and his hold on dad grew tighter and tighter.
had junior been able to analyse his situation, he’d have realized there was no reason to panic. the water may have been rising but dad was not out of his depth, and he was safe in dad’s arms. even in the shallowest part of the pool, had he not been held up, he’d be under water; his safety anywhere in that pool depended on dad. 


so often, in the pool of life, we are like the three-year old! we feel we are «going deeper and deeper», and we become increasingly anxious. if/when we analyse our situation, we realise that there is no reason for our anxiety. we’re always held by GOD. he is never out of his depth, and therefore we’re always safe.

that’s the bottom-line of today’s readings! 
jesus urges us not to worry about life and its basic necessities. GOD—who looks after the birds of the air and the lilies of the field—loves us and cares for us, his sons and daughters. he knows our needs and provides for them (we need to work for necessities; we do not need to worry). we need to do the bare necessity: «seek first the kingdom of GOD and his righteousness» (aka doing his will); we need to serve him single-mindedly. 
in the first reading, GOD promises us he will never forget us. one reassuring sentence! «even if a mother forgets her suckling child, i will not forget you.»

a wise person wrote: «i am inwardly fashioned for faith, not for fear. i am so made that worry and anxiety are sand in the machinery of life; faith is the oil. i live better by faith and trust than by fear and anxiety. in anxiety and worry, my being is gasping for breath—these are not my native air. but in faith and confidence, i breathe freely—these are my native air.»

will i trust GOD and his providential love for me? will i seek and serve him, and live by faith not fear?

18 February 2017

RECONCILIATION, NOT RETALIATION

VII SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18; 1 corinthians 3:16-23; matthew 5:38-48

on 25 february 1995, samandar singh—a hit man for some landlords—attacked sr rani maria in a bus in madhya pradesh; he then dragged her out and stabbed her to death. 
singh was sentenced to life imprisonment; however, his jail term was reduced after sr selmi paul (sr maria’s sister) and her family sought his early release. sr paul says she was angry with the killer at first, but soon pardoned him. she spoke with the nuns in her convent about forgiving him but they rejected the idea with contempt and said singh should be paid in the same coin. in 2002, she visited singh in jail, and tied a «rakhi» on his wrist on rakshabandhan.
this act of love and reconciliation transformed singh. after his release he has been helping the marginalised and tribals!


when someone insults/hurts/harms us, our natural inclination is to get even. sr selmi paul gave up this natural urge and reached out her sister’s killer… and made him a brother!

this what the readings challenge us to do: to reach out in forgiveness and love, without retaliating.
in the gospel, jesus calls his disciples to nonviolence and love of enemies. he quotes the eye-for-an-eye rule of the mosaic law, which was meant to mitigate the human instinct for unbridled retaliation, and rules out retaliation and revenge altogether.
however, he is not advocating that we become wimps and doormats! the examples he gives are instances of non­violent response to dishonour and oppression (context!), and to inspire similar forms of creative nonviolence (cf. the ways of mahatma gandhi and martin luther king jr). further, love is not affection; it is willing the good of the other, praying for our persecutors, and doing good to them.

why ought we to behave thus? 
because it helps us and them!
because it is the way GOD acts. we are made in his image and likeness, and we are called to imitate him: «be holy, for i, the LORD, your GOD, am holy» (first reading) and «be perfect, just as your heavenly father is perfect» (gospel). jesus is not calling his disciples to impossible flawlessness but to imitate GOD’s inclusive and universal love (some translations use the word «compassionate»)

when someone insults/hurts/harms me, what will i toss back—insults or love, retaliation or reconciliation? 
do i need to be reconciled with someone? if yes, how will i reach out to him/her? 
how will i strive to imitate GOD in holiness and compassion? 

11 February 2017

GOING BEYOND «THE BOOK»

VI SUNDAY OF THE YEAR 
sirach 15:15-20; 1 corinthians 2:6-10; matthew 5:17-37

there were two junior executives in a company. both were diligent workers. one always went by the book and never erred. the other didn’t always follow the book, and sometimes made mistakes. when there was an opening for a senior executive position, the managing director promoted the second exec.
mr by-the-book was enraged and questioned a director about the decision! he always followed the book; he never made mistakes; he had a better record. the director replied: «yes. but what will you do when something comes up that isn’t in the book? you know the rules. he knows our rationale; he understands the mind of the directors.»


it’s not enough to go by the book. often in life—and always in the christian life—we need to go beyond the book. that’s the bottom line of today’s scripture.
it is not enough to keep the law; one needs to fulfil it, and live in communion with GOD and neighbour. it is not enough that one’s actions are correct; one’s attitude must also be correct. jesus challenges his disciples to surpass the righteousness of the scribes and pharisees.
he does this through six antitheses (four in today’s text) which have the form «it was said… but i say to you.» disciples must not only 
a) avoid murder but also avoid all attitudes and behaviour that inappropriately express anger and disrespect; 
b) avoid adultery but also have hearts free of lust;
c) avoid divorce but also remain faithful to the marriage covenant;
c) avoid false oaths but also avoid oaths (an oath calls on GOD to witness to the truth of one’s statement).

it’s not enough to know and keep the rules. we need to know the rationale for the rules and keep their spirit. we need to know why we are disciples and who we should be… by knowing JESUS, putting on his mind, and living his values. 
am i ready to go beyond «the book»? am i ready to imitate the ONE who came to «fulfil the law»?

04 February 2017

BE SALT AND LIGHT

V SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
isaiah 58:7-10; 1 corinthians 2:1-5; matthew 5:13-18

a young lady went to her pastor: «i am the only christian in my office. there’s corruption and nepotism everywhere. i get nothing but taunts and sneers. i’m quitting.»
the pastor asked her: «where are lights placed?» the lady asked him bluntly: «huh? what’s that to do with my situation?» 
the pastor replied: «never mind. answer my question.» she said: «in dark places.»
«and that is why you are in that office where there is spiritual darkness and where there is no other christian to let his/her light shine.»
the young lady went back to work determined to let her light shine in that dark place! 


this is our mission as christians: to let our light shine. this is the mandate jesus gives his disciples in today’s gospel: to be salt and light… wherever we are.
by itself, salt tastes awful and is useless. salt is valuable when it associates with other things and transforms them: a little salt—invisible though it is—brings out the flavour of food; the little salt in our bodies helps control blood pressure, and regulates the function of muscles and nerves; salt purifies and softens, cleans and preserves. of itself, light is useless; we seldom look directly at a source of light. light is valuable when we look toward objects it illuminates; it warms and nurtures, sustains and cheers.
to be the «salt of the earth» is to associate with people to bring out the inherent goodness in them; to be the «light of the world» is to illuminate a dark and cold society with GOD’s presence.
the first reading gives us concrete ways to be the light: be just, alleviate need, and remove oppression.

how will i be salt? how will i let my light shine?