17th Sunday (A)

Hidden Treasure and the Finest Pearl

 The past two weeks, we have been reflecting on the reality of the kingdom of heaven, which was the most important mission of Jesus in His public ministry. Today it is more centered on the motivation and the commitment of the individual who wants to possess the Kingdom of God and how he achieves it rather a generic expression earlier. This Sunday’s Gospel offers us the final part of chapter 13 of St. Matthew‘s gospel with the parables that compare the Kingdom of God to a treasure, to a precious stone and to a net thrown into the sea that gathers all kinds of fish.

While the parable of the net admonishes that the time of judgment is at the end of time and there is a time dedicated to penance, the parables of the treasure and of the pearl remind us of the necessity of making use of earthly riches in order to enter the kingdom of heaven and rejoice of this membership. These two short stories teach us above all that Jesus, the Savior of man, comes to offer to every person worried for his or her tomorrow, the true treasure and the true pearl that ensures happiness: the kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is worth more than things, more than life. It has a prime value for which we must to be ready to sacrifice every other reality. The Lord, his friendship, his love, and eternal salvation are the treasure that no one can steal. There are those who give their life for a treasure and, today, Christ offers himself to us as the treasury of life: let us choose him.

The first is that the Kingdom requires a decisive and quick choice, like that of the man who immediately sells all his possessions, to buy the field with the treasure or the merchant who, without wasting time, sells everything he has to buy a pearl of exceptional value. The idea obviously is that when one really discovers Jesus and his vision of life everything else becomes secondary. In the service of the Kingdom there are no half measures and in that service there is a special kind of liberating joy. This was Paul’s experience: “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8) and again “For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 2:21). To have a personal relationship with Christ and to have made his view of life one’s own is the most beautiful, the most precious thing in the world. It is not enough, of course, just to say this; one must personally experience it as a fact – as many have done and many, unfortunately, have never really tried to do.

The second is that the choice, which implies a total detachment, springs from having found something of inestimable value. This is the true teaching of the parable. The reason that compels the disciple to leave everything is the joy of having found the treasure of life. The motive of joy is explicit in the parable of the man who buys the field: “Then he goes, full of joy, and sells all his belongings. “The Kingdom of God is demanding, but finding it has one hundred times value and eternal life.

The two parables describe two different kinds of people: the first tells us of a farmer who works a field that is not his; the second speaks to us about a merchant who is very rich. These two characters are the main characters only on the surface. The real protagonists are the treasure and the pearl that seduce the two men. The farmer and the merchant act because they are totally “grasped” by the treasure and the pearl they came across. If we recognize that the precious pearl or the invaluable treasure is Christ and His Kingdom, then we ought to make every effort to possess it.

In the first Christmas night the shepherds who were resting in the field with their sheep after the day long walk with the sheep, receives from the angels the Good News the whole world waited for years, like the man who went to work in the field finds the treasure. An invaluable treasure was waiting for the Samaritan woman who went to Jacob’s well to fetch water. Mathew who was sitting in the tax office and Peter who was in his boat also had the similar experiences.

But the learned kings who saw the star made tremendous effort, they leave the comforts of their palace and made long and tedious journey to reach Jesus. The devout and the righteous old man Simeon waited in the temple for years in prayer waiting for Jesus. Among the thousands of Children brought to the temple he searched for the Messiah and he found him and took him in his hands. Holding that precious treasure in his hands he said, Now let your servant depart in peace.(Lk. 2: 25-30). And the old woman Anna who did not depart from the temple, worshipping with fasting and prayer day and night, found the Messiah who was to redeem the Israel. For both of them it was a lifelong search. (LK 2: 36-38)

Some find the treasure unexpectedly and for some it is the fruit of their continuous search and effort. But in both cases the effect on them is same. The laborer who finds the hidden treasure and the merchant who finds the finest pearl sold everything they had and brought that. After finding the treasure or the pearl, to make it one’s own great sacrifices are to be made. Sacrifice is something very painful. Offering a lamb from among the thousand one has is not sacrifice, but offering one’s only child really is great sacrifice. That’s why Abraham became great.

For the invaluable treasure of attaining God and getting the vision of God what sacrifice am I doing? Life becomes meaningful when we find this treasure and make it our own. How many years Simeon and Anna lived on earth, but for them life became meaningful when they found the Messiah. We may find the invaluable God experiences unexpectedly through the incidents of life we think are accidental or we may find Him through our ardent search and prayer. In whatever way we find Him we must be ready to lose everything in order to possess the person of Christ, the most valuable treasure and the pearl of our life.

 

 

16th Sunday (A)

Our Lord was an educator par excellence, who could use simple metaphors and parables to teach and make it easy for His listeners to understand the core of His message. Last Sunday we did listen to the parable of the sower, which highlighted the quality of the seed and fertility of the land. Today’s parable is about the seed that is already sprouted and weeds that have been sown by the enemy. The Gospel is speaking very emphatically about the world in which are living now. The Kingdom represents the kind of world that God, through Jesus, wants to see realized among us here on earth. We pray for it daily in the Lord’s Prayer – “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven…” And it will only come about in so far as we co-operate, work together with Jesus.

Nature of the ‘Kingdom’: is primarily an environment, it is a set of relationships; it is a situation where God’s values prevail. And what are God’s values? In practice, they are the deepest human values and aspirations as mirrored in the life of Jesus, who is himself the revelation of God to us in accessible human form. These values include truth, love, compassion, justice, a sense of solidarity with all other human beings, a sense of trust in other, a deep respect for the dignity of every other human person, a holistic concept of human growth and development. And, of course, all these are seen in the light of God, who is their Ultimate Source. It is to be like him and with him that we live according to these values. People who, individually and collectively, try to live these values belong, with Jesus, to the Kingdom of God. They are united with the rule of God in trying to build a world; we would all like to see happen. It is basically the vocation of the Church, and therefore the vocation of every parish community and of every member of that community.

Weeds and wheat: In today’s Gospel reading we have three images or parables of the Kingdom at work among us. The first is the parable of the weeds among the wheat. The Kingdom of God clearly calls for people of the highest ideals and great generosity. It also calls for a great measure of tolerance, patience and understanding in seeing the Kingdom become a reality. The conversion of our societies into Kingdom-like communities is a very gradual process. The world in which we live there is good and evil, saints and sinners, rich and poor, success and failures, joy and sorrows. I do not think of any place here on earth where there are only good people, but the ratio makes a lot of difference of one influencing the other. What is conspicuous and favorable is the compassion, mercy and the patience of God, who eagerly wait for the conversion of sinners rather than condemning them. There is great joy in heaven over one repentant sinner than the ninety nine virtuous. The parable of the lost sheep is a clear indication of the love and care the Lord has for the lost ones. I have come to call the sinners to repentance and not the just. The healthy do not need a doctor, but the sick do need.

Living side by side: The parable is saying that people who are filled with the vision and values of God and Jesus; must learn to live side by side with a whole spectrum of people who, in varying degrees, do not yet share or live this vision and these values. This applies to differences between Christians and non-Christians but also within Christian communities themselves. We are – and always will be – a sinful Church. To pretend that we are anything else is a lie. It is not the healthy who need the physician Jesus but the sinners and tax collectors. Paul recognized that struggle within himself (cf. Romans 7:21-25). So we need to learn how to be tolerant with our own weaknesses. God told Paul that it was precisely through his weaknesses that he could reveal his glory. “My power is made perfect in your weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). The coming of the Kingdom then is not going to be a neat and tidy process. And experience again and again confirms that fact, whenever we try to bring out change and reforms in any community.

Small beginnings: The next two parables point to two other characteristics of the Kingdom. The parable of the mustard seed shows that the work of the Kingdom has tiny beginnings, whether we are talking of the fledgling Church, which Christ established or any newly established Kingdom-inspired movement today. And wherever the vision of the Kingdom becomes truly rooted, it will experience certain and inevitable growth. At its beginnings the Church, as the instrument for the building of the Kingdom, must have felt it faced a daunting task. Its tiny communities were scattered all over Asia Minor, Greece and Italy. Waves of persecution and hostility followed each other in a determined effort to wipe them out. But they prevailed as Truth, Love and Justice must in the end always prevail. Even so, the “weeds” of opposition will always be present.

An element of growth: In the third parable, the Kingdom is compared to a small amount of yeast in a large batch of dough. Its presence cannot be easily detected for it is totally blended with and part of its environment, as a good Kingdom community should be. At the same time, it has an energy of its own, which produces a remarkable influence of growth in the whole. Perhaps part of our Christian problem is that we are too exclusively concerned with the growth (or even the survival) of the Church in general or of our little corner of the Church and not sufficiently with the growth and wellbeing of the whole community to which we belong.

Opportunity for conversion and the need to possess the mind of Christ: This parable indicates that there will be a separation of “weeds” from wheat, good from bad fish (13:47-50), and sheep from goats (25:31-46). The Lord says “judge not and you shall not be judged, condemn not and you shall not be condemned,” God wants us to take a good look into the field of our own lives to see what is growing there. Let us work with Him to pull out the “weeds” in our own personalities.  Then we need to start treating the so called “evil ones” as Christ did. Why did he not weed out Judas who betrayed him, or Peter, who denied him? Jesus saw the “weeds” in their lives, but he saw also saw the wheat. He knew that with encouragement the wheat could prevail. It is said that patience with family is live, patience with others is respect, patience with self is confidence and patience with God is faith.

15th Sunday (A)

The establishment of the Kingdom of God was the main emphasis of Jesus in His public ministry. The inaugural message was repent and believe the Gospel for the Kingdom of God is close at hand. John the Baptist too did spoke of the Kingdom of God. I believe it is the awareness and acknowledgement of His presence and responding to the call of God, by living out the plan God has for us would be in tune with the Kingdom of God. St. Paul writing to the Romans 14, 17 has a very nice expression: “the kingdom of God does not mean food and drink, but righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” The disciples asked him; where is the Kingdome of God? His reply to them was spontaneous, that “It is within you.” It is the realization of God within us, God with us and God for us.

 

The Gospel of today is an example of how we could become members of this kingdom. Jesus compared the Kingdom to a sower going out and spreading seed. The sower is God himself and the seeds are his words. The ground is what we are, our openness and response will be judged by the kind of fruits that we produce. If we introspect into our lives, we could easily understand the disposition of our mind and the kind of response we make, because we are judged by the kind of fruits we bear.

  1. The soil along the path refers to the hardened heart:

This soil is too hard to absorb the seed.   Soon the birds eat it up or passers-by trample it under foot.  Jesus explains that this soil is like the person who hears the word of God without letting it sink in. The seed/word is then replaced by worldly concerns. This type of soil represents people with hard hearts and closed minds due to laziness, prejudice, fear, pride or immoral living.

  1. The soil on flat circular pieces of limestone is the distracted heart:

This soil-type represents emotional people who always look for novelties without taking permanent interest in anything. Jesus explains that this kind of person is at first impressed by the message, but quickly loses interest because of the effort needed to keep the word alive.  We have the example of a group of disciples who followed Jesus for a long time until the day he announced that he is the “bread of life”.  They found that teaching “too hard to accept” and just drifted away.

  1. The soil filled with weeds is the defeated heart:

This soil represents people addicted to evil habits and evil tendencies and those whose hearts are filled with hatred, jealousy and greed. They are interested only in acquiring money by any means and in enjoying life in any way possible.  Jesus explains that these people are filled with worldly interests that undermine them.  The classic example is Judas who follows Jesus for a long time, but in the end cannot let go of his worldly interests and so exchanges his Lord for earthly silver.

  1. The good soil is the hopeful and joyful heart:

This soil-type represents the people who hear the word of God diligently and keep it. They have open hearts filled with holiness and humility. They are eager to hear the word and ready to put it in to practice.  They are attentive to the Holy Spirit. Fortunately, the gospel is filled with people who have accepted the Lord’s message and whose lives have been changed. Jesus’ words, in spite of obstacles and barriers, will produce the kingdom. Although the seed may seem scattered at random, it will nevertheless produce amazing results: thirty-fold, sixty-fold – even a hundred-fold, an enormous yield with modern farming methods.

St. Ignatius of Loyola in his spiritual writings speaks about three categories of people and their response to the word of God. The first category is ever open to the word of God and they listen attentively, but nothing strikes their hear as they are superficial and not interested. The second category is also open and attentive, but they put a sieve to filter and accept what is convenient to them. What is difficult and challenging according to the demands of the Gospel is not acceptable to them. The third category is ever open and they translate the word of God into their lives. Their response is like Samuel the prophet “speak Lord your servant is listening.” These are the categories that Jesus himself compares to the man who built his house on rock.

What kind of soil are we?

How do we respond to the word of God, and to the various Acts of God in our lives? Do we allow the trials and tribulations of this world to overwhelm the tender seed growing within us?  Do we pull back when people harass us because we are believers?  Do we decide, because things are not working out the way we think they ought, that God doesn’t care for us, or that He is powerless, weak and not to be heeded? Do we allow the cares of this world, our ambitions or our desires for success and happiness to choke out the messages that God sends us through the various events of our daily lives and through the various people we encounter? How we respond to the Word of God is the key to how fruitful the gospel is going to be in our lives. Unlike the situation in nature, we can, as it were, change the kind of soil that we are. God allows the seed to land on the hard paths, on the rocky ground and in the thickets of our lives in the hope that in those places it will find a place to mature and bear fruit, that those things which impede growth will be removed and that the soil may be just a little deeper than it at first appears to be in those rocky places.

 

 

 

14th Sunday (A)

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest”

In the first reading as well as in the Gospel we see that the prophet and Jesus Christ praise the Father for his marvelous deeds. Jesus specially praises the Father that he chose to reveal the great mysteries to the babes instead of the intelligent and prudent.  Usually in the world there is no place for the weak and the unlearnt.  They are usually not counted as such. But for Jesus the weak and the unlearnt are the ones who are blessed ones because the Father chose to reveal them his glory.  When the disciples had returned from their mission work in the villages where he himself was about to go, Jesus had praised the Father similarly for revealing his glory to the poor illiterate disciples-Lk. 10-21-24.

We see this happening all through the Gospels. Jesus praises the poor widow for putting in two copper coins while the rich were putting in big amount as donations-Lk. 21:3. He praises the sinner tax collector for praying with real repentance in the temple-Lk. 18-14. He lauds the Canaanite woman for her answer that the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master-Lk.15: 28. In the story of the rich man and Lazarus, it is Lazarus who is appreciated though being poor and neglected by rich man and the society- Lk. 16:22.  He eats with the sinners and tax collectors Mt.9: 10-12. In his parable of the lost sheep there is great joy on finding the lost one over the 99 which were never lost- Lk.15:7. In the parable of the lost son, there is joy on getting the lost one back-Lk. 15: 24. When the disciples compete to be the greatest among them, Jesus puts a child in their midst and tells them that the one like this child will be greatest in the Kingdom of God-Mt.18.2. For Jesus the lowly, humble, and simple of heart are the people who are great.  They are the ones in whom Father is well pleased.  They are being liked and appreciated for their simplicity and purity of heart.

The second part of the gospel is an invitation to accept Jesus’ easy yoke: Jesus addresses people, who are desperately trying to find God, who are exhausted by the search for truth, who are desperately trying to be good, and who find the task impossible. God gave His People basic guidelines for a holy life, but the Pharisees ended up making God’s Law inaccessible and impossible to follow. For the orthodox Jew, religion was a matter of burdens:  613 Mosaic laws and thousands of oral interpretations, which dictated every aspect of life. Jesus invites burdened Israel and us to take his yoke upon our shoulders. The yoke of Christ can be seen as the sum of our Christian responsibilities and duties. To take the yoke of Christ is to enter into relationship with Christ as his loving servants and subjects and to conduct ourselves accordingly. The yoke of Christ is not just a yoke from Christ but also a yoke with him. A yoke is fashioned for a pair — for a team working together. So we are not yoked alone to pull the plow by our own unaided power; we are yoked together with Christ to work with Him using His strength. By saying that his “yoke is easy” (11:30), Jesus means that whatever God sends us is made to fit our needs and our abilities exactly.

“My burden is light” (11:30): This burden is meant to be carried in love, and love makes even the heaviest burden light. When we remember the love of God and translate it by loving others, then the burden becomes easy. Jesus is returning to the simplicity of God’s original Covenant and Law, giving people what they need to guide them on their path easily.  By following Jesus, a man will find peace, rest, and refreshment. Although we are not overburdened by the Jewish laws, we are burdened by many other things: business, concerns about jobs, marriage, money, health, children, security, old age and a thousand other things. Jesus’ concern for our burdens is as real as his concern for the law-burdened Jews of his day.   “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest” (11:28). The yoke of Jesus is the love of God. By telling us: “Take my yoke . . . and you will find rest(11:29), Christ is asking us to do things the Christian way. When we center in God, when we follow God’s commandments, we have no heavy burdens.

Tommy Dorsey was a well-known band leader in the 1930’s and 40’s. The birth of this classical hymn “Precious Lord” had a history of its own and it is worth remembering. In 1932 he was living in a little apartment in Chicago’s south side. One day he had to go to St. Louis where he was to be the featured soloist at a large revival meeting. Since Nettie was in the last month of pregnancy with their first child, he was unwilling to go, but a lot of people were expecting him in St. Louis. He wished Nettie goodbye and moved on. However, outside the city, he discovered that in his anxiety at leaving, he had forgotten to his music case. On his return he found Nettie was sleeping peacefully and something telling him to stay back, but eager to get back and unwilling to disturb Nettie, he quietly slipped out of the room. The next night the crowd at St. Louis called on him to sing again and again. Finally he sat down, a messenger boy ran up with a Union telegram. He ripped open the envelope and the message was “YOUR WIFE JUST DIED”. He rushed to a phone and called home. All he could hear on the other end was “Nettie is dead Nettie is dead.”

When he got back, he learned that Nettie had given birth to a boy. There was joy and sadness, but the same night the boy died. He buried Nettie and the little boy in the same casket. Then for days he closeted himself and felt that God had done an injustice to him. He did not want to serve him anymore or write gospel songs and just wanted to go back to the jazz world, which he knew so well. But then, as he hunched alone in the dark apartment those first sad days, he thought back to the afternoon that something kept telling him to stay with Nettie. He realized that if he had paid more attention to it, he would have stayed and been with Nettie when she died. From that moment he vowed to listen more closely to his inner voice. The following Saturday one of his friends took him to Maloney’s Poro College, a neighborhood music school. It is there he sat down at the piano, and his hands began to browse over the keys. He could feel the touch of God and felt at peace. These were the beautiful words come he composed “ Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on, let me stand, I am tired, I am weak, I am worn, through the storm, through the night, lead me on to the light, take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.” The Lord gave him these words and melody. He also healed his spirit and he learned that when we are in our deepest grief, when we feel farthest from God, then He is closest, and when we are more open to His restoring power. The rest of his life he lived for God willingly and joyfully.

13th Sunday, Year A

Cost and Demands of Discipleship

Let us take a look at the Acts of the Apostles, which gives us some powerful insights into the beginning and the growth of the church after the feast of the Pentecost. The apostles were transformed and were filled with the power of the Holy Spirit to be zealous missionaries to fulfill the command of the Lord. They were no more frightened, but became courageous to proclaim, what they have seen, heard and experienced in their life about person of Christ. Think about those 50 years after Jesus’ death, the struggles and difficulties the disciples had to endure for their beloved master. Before the last one died their efforts had brought 500,000 men, women, and children into the ranks of the church. They were vibrant Christian communities. There was no compromise, but commitment, fidelity and total dedication to their mission was very evident. History tells us that every Apostle shed their blood for Christ.
We have the apostle Paul, turning away from an ardent persecutor to an ardent believer and beheaded after becoming the greatest missionary of the gentiles. St. Francis of Assisi had to make a choice, he was willing to give away all that he had in order to posses the person of Christ. Similarly numerous saints made a radical choice in favor of the person of Christ rather than anyone or anything else. Look at the scenario today with so much of persecution and oppression on Christians. Christianity is not wiped out, but where there is fidelity it has grown and is growing in numbers, because it is the work of the Lord.

The primacy of Christ’s love – To love the neighbor in God: Today materialism and consumerism dominate our lives. There is a paradigm shift from God-centeredness to self-centeredness. The beginning of today’s Gospel: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; who loves son or daughter more than me, is not worthy of me “(Mt 10:37) sounds incomprehensible, not to say inhuman. Also the following two verses: “Whoever does not take his own cross and follow me, is not worthy of me. Whoever has kept his life for himself, will lose it, and who will lose his life for my cause, will find it “(Mt 10, 38-39) are not easily understandable. If we reason like the Jews and the Greeks of two thousand years ago, we would consider these phrases of Christ foolish and scandalous.

Therefore, let us understand their wise rationality, taking into account what Saint Paul states: ” For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom; and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. (1 Cor. 1: 22-25).

“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me….” These words may sound a bit extreme, since family comes first for most of us. 1) What Jesus means is that all loyalties must give place to loyalty to God.  God is to be loved with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. We should have the absolute primacy for God and everything else is secondary. It is the ability and courage to stand for truth and the values of the gospel when we are confronted with unfavorable situations. If members of one’s family   act unjustly, one must, in conscience, separate oneself from them. He is giving a warning to his disciples of the conflicts and misunderstandings they will experience through their living out the word and thus becoming prophets, proclaiming God’s Will and living presence among His people through their own lives.

We need to be ready to take up our cross and lose our life for Christ: The cross stands for unconditional forgiveness, the total emptying of ourselves of our wants and needs for the sake of another, and the courageous, consistent choosing to do what is right and just.   The main   paradox of the Christian life is that we must lose life in order to find Life, and we must die to ourselves in order to rise again. (“Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”). We live in a world where “finding their lives” is the paramount ambition of the majority of people. But Jesus tells us very clearly that this should not be our main concern. What he asks of us is that we should “lose this life” which means that we must stop living for ourselves alone.   Whatever we do for others is credited, because we are doing for the love of God.

We live in a competitive society that believes in power and influence for a successful life. The values of the Gospel are totally different and Jesus’ argument is that when we work hard to ensure that everyone has enough, there will be enough for us, too. Hence the question we should ask is:  Am I living my life at the expense of others? Am I trying to live in solidarity with others?  Am I aware of people in my area who are in real need? In the words of Mother Teresa, “The Gospel is written on your fingers.” Holding up her fingers, one at a time, she accented each word: “You-Did-It-To-Me.” Mother Teresa then added: “At the end of your life, your five fingers will either excuse you or accuse you of doing it unto the least of these.”

The Primacy of Christ’s Love in the family: When the Messiah says that He must be loved by us more than our father and our mother, does not mean to erase the fourth commandment, which is the first great commandment towards people. When family affairs are converted to the witness of the Gospel, they become capable of unthinkable things that make us aware of the works of God, the works that He does in history like those that Jesus did for the men, the women and the children whom he met. He asks us to love our dear ones in God, that is to live love in Love, in the today’s Gospel Christ teaches us that in order to do a gesture of love little is enough: “Whoever will have given just a glass of fresh water to one of these little ones, because he is my disciple, in truth I say to you, he will not lose his reward.” Every gesture of love and welcome, even the simpler, the less demanding, the one that apparently does not count, is not rated along the parameters of modern economy, utility, and performance, in the same way as that of a glass of water given to those who ask for it, if done with love and for love, will not lose his reward in front of God