17th Sunday (B)

The multiplication of the loaves and feeding five thousand is a familiar miracle story to all of us. The Gospel speaks about how Jesus responds to the human needs of the people, who were listening to him. A deeper look into the miracle story gives us very powerful insights. Once physical hungers are satisfied, then we are challenged to satisfy the deeper hungers, for love, mercy, forgiveness, companionship, peace and fulfillment. First of all it is Jesus, who takes the initiative and asks Philip, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” The spontaneous reactions of the disciples are quite natural as they see it is impossible, because of the scarcity of food in the area and the finance involved in procuring it.

We have to take into account the roles of different people in this miracle.  We see Andrew the brother of Peter takes a more proactive step. He says to Jesus: “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what good are these for so many?” It could also be in tune with the miracle of changing the water into wine witnessed by the disciples. The generosity of the boy is to be admired, because this young lad was willing to share the food he carried for himself. On the part of Christ, there are four steps: acceptance, blessing, breaking and distribution. Our generosity in giving selflessly is always been blessed, multiplied and fructified. The more we give the more we will receive. Luke’s Gospel 6,38 says: Give to others and God will give to you. Indeed, you will receive a full measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over will be poured into our lap. That is the generosity of God.

St. Augustine reflects on this miracle that is meant to lead the human mind through visible things to the perception of the divine: “Christ did what God does. Just as God multiplies a few seeds into a whole field of wheat, so Christ multiplies the five loaves in his hands – for there is power in the hands of Christ. Those five loaves were like seeds, not because they were cast on the earth, but because they were multiplied, by the one who made the earth. This miracle was presented to our senses to stimulate our minds; it was put before our eyes in order to engage our understanding and so make us marvel at the God we do not see because of his works which we do see.”

“You give them something to eat.” The Gospel story teaches that Jesus meets the most basic human need of hunger, with generosity and compassion.  Today’s readings also tell us that God really cares about His people and that there is enough and more than enough for everybody.  Studies show that the world today produces enough food grains to provide every human being on the planet with 3,600 calories a day, not counting such foods as tuber crops, vegetables, beans, nuts, fruits, meats, and fish.  Over the past twenty-five years, food production has exceeded world population growth by about 16%. This means that there is no good reason for any human being in today’s world to go hungry.  But even in a rich country like U.S.A., one child out of five grows up in poverty, three million people are homeless and 4000 unborn babies are aborted every day.  “The problem in feeding the world’s hungry population, lies with our political lack of will, our economic system biased in favor of the affluent, our militarism, and our tendency to blame the victims of social tragedies such as famine.  We all share responsibility for the fact that populations are undernourished.  Therefore, it is necessary to arouse a sense of responsibility in individuals, especially among those more blessed with this world’s goods.” (Pope John XXIII, Mater et Magistra (1961) 157-58).

We need to commit ourselves to share with others, and to work with God in communicating His compassion.  It is too easy to blame God, too easy to blame governments, too easy see these things as other people’s problems.  They are also our problems.  That is the meaning of the Eucharist we celebrate here today.  In other words, as Christians we need to commit ourselves to share what we have with others, and to work with God in communicating his compassion to all.   God is a caring Father and He wants our co-operation to be part of His caring for all of us, His children.  That’s what the early Christians did, generously sharing what they had with the needy.  They were convinced that everything they needed to experience a fulfilling life was already there, in the gifts and talents of the people around them.  People of our time need to be encouraged to share, even when they think they have nothing to offer.  Whatever we offer through Jesus will have a life-giving effect in those who receive it.  We are shown two attitudes in the Gospel story: that of Philip and that of Andrew (John 6:7-9). Philip said, in effect:  “The situation is hopeless; nothing can be done.”  But Andrew’s attitude was: “I’ll see what I can do; and I will trust Jesus to do the rest.”  Let us have Andrew’s attitude.

God blesses those who share their talents, with loving commitment.  This is illustrated by St. Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa), who went to serve the slum dwellers of Calcutta with just twenty cents in her pocket.  When she died forty-nine years later, God had turned those original twenty cents into eighty schools, three hundred mobile dispensaries, seventy leprosy clinics, thirty homes for the dying, thirty homes for abandoned children and forty thousand volunteers from all over the world to help her.  Let us offer ourselves and whatever we have to God saying, “Here is what I am and what I have Lord; use me; use it.”  And He will bless us and bless our offering, amplifying it beyond our expectations.  When we give what we have to God, and we ask Him to bless it, it is then the miracle happens.  We, too, can perform wonders in our own time and place, by practicing the four “Eucharistic verbs” of Jesus:  Take humbly and generously what God gives us, bless it by offering it to others in God’s love, break it off from our own needs and interests for the sake of others, give it away with joy-filled gratitude to God who has blessed us with so much. We are called by Christ to become the Eucharist we receive at this altar: giving thanks for what we have received by sharing those gifts — our talents, our riches, ourselves – to work our own miracles of creating communities of joyful faith

15th Sunday (B)

Today’s Gospel reading (Mk 6:7-13) is about the Lord who sends his disciples to continue the mission that he had inaugurated. The origin of the missionary vocation is Jesus who prepares the apostles for this important moment. It is Jesus who calls them personally; it is he who selects the Twelve to be his companions and to be sent out to preach with the power to cast out devils. Tutored by Jesus and present with him as he heals many from sickness and evil, the Twelve are sent out with tremendous power bestowed upon them. Mark narrates: “So they went off and preached repentance. The Twelve drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.” The task of those sent by Jesus is to bring the healing balm of forgiveness to those wounded by the virulence of sin and to denounce evil wherever its presence is obvious, openly confronting it by appealing to the power of Christ.

 

A little village came under heavy artillery fire during the Korean War. There was a fine statue of Christ, mounted on a pedestal outside the Catholic Church, which was blown off into fragments. A group of Soldiers helped the priest to put the pieces together, but the hands were missing. So these words are written at the base of the statue “Friends, lend me your hands.” Today he needs our hands to raise the fallen. He has no feet but ours to seek out the lost. He has no ears but ours to listen to the lonely. He has no tongue but ours to speak words of sympathy, of comfort and of encouragement to those weighed down by sorrow, pain and failure.

The meaning of Jesus’ instructions: Why did Jesus send the Apostles in pairs? Because according to Jewish law, two witnesses were needed to pronounce a truth.  Going two by two carries with it the authority of official witnesses. It is clear from the instructions that his disciples should take no supplies for the road but simply trust in God for their requirements.  God, the Provider, would open the hearts of believers to take care of the needs of the disciples.   They should be walking examples of God’s love and providence.  By doing so, they would also have the maximum of freedom and the minimum of burdens in their preaching and healing ministry.  Jesus wanted his apostles to be rich in all the things, which really mattered, so that they might enrich those who came into contact with them.

Convey the Good News of God’s love and mercy: Jesus’ disciples were to preach the Good News that God is not a punishing judge, but rather a loving Father who wants to save men from their bondage to sin through Jesus His Son. The disciples were to preach the message of metanoia or repentance–which has disturbing implications.  To “repent” means to change one’s mind and then fit one’s actions to this change.  This is an invitation for a total and complete transformation from a self-centered life to a God-centered life.  It is also interesting to note that Jesus commanded his disciples to anoint with oil.  In the ancient world, oil was regarded as a sort of cure-all.  In the hands of Christ’s servants, however, the old cures would acquire a new virtue through the power of God.

We have a liberating mission: Although many people don’t believe in real demonic possession in our age, there are many demons, which can control the lives of people around us making them helpless slaves.  For example, there are the demons of nicotine, alcohol, gambling, pornography and promiscuous sex, materialism and consumerism, or of any other activity, which somehow can take control of people’s lives and become an addiction over which they have no control.  All of these, or any one of them, can turn people into slaves.  We need the help of Jesus to liberate us from these things.  Jesus is inviting us today to cooperate with him.  He wants us to be his instruments of liberation, to help others recover their freedom. We are meant to help people to cure their sicknesses – not only the bodily sicknesses but psychological and emotional illnesses as well.  As a family member, a friend, a colleague, an evangelizer, when we work with Jesus, we can truly have a healing influence.

We, too, have a witnessing mission: Each Christian is called not only to be a disciple but also to be an apostle.  As disciples, we are to follow Jesus and imitate Jesus.  As apostles, we are to evangelize the world.  We are called to share with others not just words, or ideas, or doctrines but an experience, our experience of God and His Son, Jesus.  Like the apostles, like St. Francis of Assisi, like St. Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa), we are all chosen and sent to proclaim the Gospel through our living.  It is through our transparent Christian lives that we must show in our own actions the love, mercy and concern of Jesus for the people around us. Since we are baptized, Jesus is calling us in our working and living environment to evangelize, to invite people to know Jesus, to love him, to serve him and to follow him. An important part of evangelism is the simple act of inviting a friend or family member to join us in worship. This is where reconciliation between persons and God is most likely to take place. A simple invitation offered out of a loving and joyful heart is the most powerful evangelistic message of all. Remember the words of our second reading; the Father has “blessed us with all the spiritual blessings of heaven in Christ. Before the world was made, he chose us, chose us in Christ, to be holy and spotless and to live through love in his presence.” (Eph. 1:3-5)

16th Sunday (B)

Abraham Lincoln is one of the well-known and admired Presidents of America. It is believed that he spent practically 75% of the time meeting and interacting with the people. No matter how busy or preoccupied his schedules were, he always found time for those who called on him. The focus of today’s Gospel (Mk 6:30-34) is the Lord Jesus who shepherds. He shepherds the weary disciples who return from their missionary ministry, reporting to him what they had done and taught. His care for his tired and labor-spent disciples is heart-warming: “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while” (Mk 6:31). Indeed, the disciples-apostles who have completed their first mission of preaching repentance, driving away demons and anointing the sick need some quiet rest with their Master-Shepherd.

The Lord Jesus likewise shepherds the pursuing crowd who hunger for the bread of the Word. His response is beautifully described in the Gospel: “His heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them with many things” (Mk 6:34). Jesus accomplishes his pastoral care for them by teaching, that is, by nourishing their hungry souls with the bread of the Word. His service of teaching is a “nourishing ministry” and it is an important task in shepherding God’s people. He nourishes those who seek spiritual strength and solace by proclaiming the Gospel.

We see here an example of the kind of tension that exists in the life of every committed Christian. On the one hand, there is the need to draw away to a quiet place and to recharge one’s batteries, to reflect on and evaluate what one has been doing and to regenerate one’s spiritual energy. At the same time, there are constant demands on our commitment to serve. We need to respond generously and empathetically to where there is a real need. The emphasis is on ‘real need’ and not just on the demands of others or our own desire to be in demand. This calls for discernment: there will be times when, with difficulty, we know we should say ‘Yes’. There will be other times when, in spite of the criticism it may generate, we ought to say ‘No’. We need to be available but there is no absolute availability. We are limited in the quality service we can give.

There has to be an integration of contemplation and action, because the driving force derives from the communion with the Lord that we experience in our prayer life. In the life of the saints, there is the blending of nature and of grace, which helped them to have the right priorities to achieve their goal in life. Pope Francis in his encyclical Rejoice and be Glad speaks about holiness is living a life of love and being witness. He speaks about the extra mile that all of us need to make. At the middle of the night the doctor goes to the hospital to save one’s life. The teacher makes an effort to instruct the weaker student. The father finds ample time for his family after a day of hard work. The mother is at the side of a sick child constantly caring in spite of her daily duties. The employer is concerned about his employees. These are all the actions derived not because of duty but a ministry done for the love and glorification of God. The psalm 23 is a reflection of how the Lord involves in our lives.

The Lord is my Shepherd…that’s Relationship!

There is nothing I shall want…that’s Supply!

Fresh and Green are the pastures where He gives me repose…that’s Rest!

Near restful waters He leads me… that’s Refreshment.

He restores my drooping spirit… that’s Healing!

He guides me along the right path… that’s Guidance!

He is true to his name… that’s Purpose!

If I should walk in the valley of darkness… that’s Challenge!

No evil would I fear… that’s Assurance!

You are there … that’s Faithfulness!

With your rod and your staff comfort me… that’s Shelter!

 

You have prepared a table before me in the presence of mine enemies… that’s Hope!

You have anointed my head with oil… that’s consecration!

My cup is overflowing … that’s Abundance!

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life…that’s Blessing!

And I will dwell in the house of the Lord…that’s Security!

Forever…that’s Eternity!

In the second reading (Eph. 2:13-18), we hear again of the redemptive and unifying work of Jesus. He brings peace and reconciliation and makes the Jews and Gentiles one people. He unites people of all races and brings them back to God through his paschal mystery, and in the power of the Holy Spirit. In the pastoral ministry to the people of Israel, and especially through his sacrificial act on the cross by which he accomplished the fullness of his service as Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ leads the dispersed flock back to God the Father. The life-giving sacrifice of the Good Shepherd on the cross is in accord with the divine plan “to restore all things”. Every Christian disciple, by virtue of baptismal consecration and configuration to Jesus Shepherd-King has a duty to seek peace and to work for reconciliation in our fragmented world.

14th Sunday (B)

Jesus is amazed at the rejection in his own native place of Nazareth

One of the most painful realities in our life is to be rejected, ignored, falsely accused and misunderstood in return for the good things we have accomplished. The whole life of Jesus is seen doing good for others, but it is very unfortunate that he was alienated, unappreciated and ridiculed. They could not grasp or imagine that God could dwell among them, so they started questioning his credibility.

The faithless response to God began with the first couple. Eve disbelieved God and believed the serpent instead and ate the fruit of the tree, which was forbidden. Sin entered into the world and as a result of sin death instead of immortality and banishment from the Garden of Eden. Sin continued to grow so much that the world was full of wickedness. Only one family was good, Noah’s family, and they were saved from the flood. We see the pain the rejection of God’s word caused him; in Gen 6:6 we read, “God regretted having made man on the earth and his heart grieved.” It was like a new creation after the flood but once again sin began to increase and eventually people’s pride led to disaster, this time they were divided into different languages after the tower of Babel. Unfortunately this faithless response to God continues right through the Old Testament. The great event of the Exodus was a liberating experience, to reaffirm their faith as the people left Egypt on dry ground where the sea had been. But no, when the first trial came they complained and wanted to return to Egypt. Then when they entered Canaan, the Promised Land, after a while they began to ask for a king over them. It was a lack of trust in God’s leadership of them. Again this brought a punishment because with only a few exceptions most of the kings of Israel were not good leaders and their country sank lower all the time. God continually called prophets to speak his word to them but unfortunately only a handful listened to his prophets. It is no wonder that in the first reading today God called the Israelites a set of rebels (Ezek. 2:5). God punishes them for their sins and they were captured and taken as slaves to Babylon for about 50 years.

That rejection of God’s word continues into the New Testament. The birth of the long awaited Messiah in a stable, because there was no room for him. Joseph and Mary had to flee to Egypt in order to save the childe from the fury of insecure Herod. Jesus grew up in Nazareth and it was natural that he should visit his hometown, as a rabbi with a band of his disciples. On the Sabbath day, he went to the local synagogue and any distinguished person, who had a message to give, might be asked by the ruler of the synagogue to speak. Since Jesus’ fame as a preacher and miracle worker in other places of Galilee had reached Nazareth, he was invited to read from the Prophets and explain the text. During his “Inaugural Address” or “Mission Statement,” Jesus took upon himself the identity of a prophet, different from the image of a miracle worker that people wished to see.  At the end of the reading he said that this scripture passage has been fulfilled in your midst.

The first reaction of the people in the synagogue to Jesus’ words was one of astonishment. Luke says they were “amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips.” But Mark says that they asked one another: “Where did this man get all this? They knew him only as a carpenter from a poor family, with no formal training in Mosaic Law. Certainly, they thought he had gone far beyond what one of his status as a humble carpenter should go. Jesus’ neighbors did not expect him, “the carpenter’s son,” to be skilled in interpreting the Scriptures.  They also could not understand how a mere carpenter could be their political Messiah who would liberate them from Roman rule and reestablish the Davidic kingdom of power and glory. The local townsfolk also objected that Jesus had no distinguished lineage. He is identified as “the son of Mary” (v. 3) rather than the traditional “son of Joseph” (“Bar Joseph”) title. Such a reference could be seen as an insult because men in that culture were identified by who their fathers were (see John 1:45).Jesus was amazed at the lack of response and responded: “No prophet is accepted in his native place.” Those who accept the call of God and seek to follow Him may face indifference and hostility, contempt and scorn, weakness, hardship and persecution, insults and rejection.

Paul frankly admits the fact he had learned by trial and error, that he couldn’t preach the Gospel on the basis of his own strength and talent. Rather, the weaker he became, the more room he left for the Spirit of God to work through him. In the midst of a conflict with the Corinthian Christian community, Paul tells about two of his deepest spiritual experiences. In one he had an ecstatic theophany when he received an exceptional revelation. In the other, he fervently prayed to have the unidentified cause of great suffering removed but was given instead the reassurance that God’s grace would be sufficient for his every need. He understood that suffering, accepted as God’s gift, produces patience, sensitivity and compassion and a genuine appreciation of life’s blessings. Hence, Paul declares that the weaknesses, which continue to mark his life as an apostle, represent the effective working of the power of the crucified Christ in his ministry.  Paul was content with weaknesses and hardships for the sake of Christ; we, too, find God’s grace sufficient for our needs, for Christ’s power dwells in us in our weakness, and in weakness we are truly strong.

13th Sunday (B)

Faith has the power to do the impossible

The Gospel of today is an unusual combination of two miracle stories; one is of healing and the other restoration of life.  The story of the woman with the flow of blood interrupts and is sandwiched in between the two parts of the account of Jairus and his daughter.  These miracles were worked by Jesus; as rewards for the trusting Faith of a synagogue ruler and of a woman with a hemorrhage.

The stories have several common features.  One woman is 12 years old, and the other has suffered for 12 years.  Both are called “daughter,” and both are in need of physical healing.  The girl’s father is encouraged to have Faith, and the older woman is praised for her Faith.  The two stories illustrate Jesus’ power over both chronic illness and death. In each healing, Jesus shows his marvelousgenerosity by giving the recipients life and salvation in addition to physical healing.

The faith-experiences of Jairus and the sick womanJairus: As the ruler of the synagogue, Jairus was a well-respected man in the local Jewish community.  He was the administrative head of the synagogue, the president of the board of elders and the one responsible for the conduct of the services.  He probably shared in the Pharisees’ prejudice that Jesus was a heretic and a wandering preacher to be avoided.  If so, the urgency of his need and the helplessness of the situation prompted him to forget his position, to swallow his pride and prejudice and to seek help from Jesus the wandering wonder-worker. The woman with a hemorrhage: The account tells ofa woman who came to Jesus with expectant Faith as a last resort, after trying every other cure known in her day.  The Mosaic Law (Lv. 15:25-27) declared her unclean and shut her off from the worship of God and the fellowship of her friends.  That may be why she decided to try to touch the tassels of Jesus’ garment secretly.

The Faith that was rewarded: The woman’s boldness in touching Jesus’ garment and her Faith in the healing power of Jesus was so strong that she risked breaking all the social rules to seek what she believed He could do for her.  By affectionately calling her “daughter,” Jesus established a relationship with her and gave her the assurance that she was healed:   “Daughter, your Faith has saved you.  Go in peace and be cured of your affliction.”  In addition, she gained a personal relationship with Jesus as a member of his family (3:35).  By trusting in the power of God and doing His will, she was not only physically cured but was also fully restored to a normal religious and social life.  It was her deep Faith in Jesus symbolized by her touching the tassel of his garment that was a major factor in her healing.

The Faith that brought back life from death:As Jesus sent the woman to her house; Jairus received the shocking news of the death of his daughter.  But Jesus insisted on going to Jairus’ house and consoled the father saying, “Do not be afraid; only have Faith.”  The phrase, “Do not be afraid,”appears in the Bible 366 times. The crowd told Jairus: “Your daughter is dead.  Why trouble the teacher any further?” (35). But Jesus assured the crowd: “The child is not dead but sleeping,” meaning that the girl’s death was only temporary, and she would wake up at his call.  Jesus took the parents of the little girl with only Peter, James and John into the room, took the child by the hand and said to her, “‘Talitha koum,’ which means,‘Little girl, get up!’”  Those who had laughed Jesus to scornmust have been greatly amazed when they realized Jesus’ power.

Jesus lauds people for putting their faith in him. When we put our faith in Jesus we are opening our hearts to his presence. Jesus does not force himself into our lives, but he comes when he is invited. Prayer is our invitation to God to enter into our lives. Jairus invited Jesus into his home, and Jesus entered and healed his daughter. Healing is a complex issue because we don’ know the mind of God. Why some people are healed and others are not is a mystery that calls on a deep faith to accept. Sometimes we are attracted to various forms or methods of healing, but the power of Jesus cannot be confined, channeled or controlled by these. His healing is a gift to us that seems to come when we open our hearts and invite him into these situations. We are called to have the faith to invite Jesus into our lives, and allow his will to be done.

 

It is not only sickness that can knock us down, but also emotionally and psychologically. We can be knocked down by the hurts others inflict on us and by what they say or do to us. To begin the healing of these types of knocks I would like to recall for you the motto chosen by the Catholic Church for the Jubilee 2000, “Jesus Christ, the same, yesterday, today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8) No matter when you were hurt, remembering that today, yesterday and tomorrow are the same for Jesus, ask him to walk back in time with you to the day when you suffered a particular hurt or received the news of your illness.

Precious Lord, take my hand Lead me on, let me standI’m tired, I’m weak, I’m lone

Through the storm, through the night Lead me on to the light

Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home

When my way grows drear precious Lord linger near

When my light is almost gone Hear my cry, hear my call

Hold my hand lest I fall

Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home