30th Sunday (B)

“Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me.” “Master, I want to see” “Go your way; your faith has saved you.”
Two famous prayers for spiritual vision: Cardinal Newman prays for clear vision in his famous poem, “Lead Kindly Light”:
Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom; lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home; lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.
“Amazing Grace,” As the captain of a British slave ship, John Newton regained his faith during a storm at sea and became an ordained minister who was very active in the abolitionist movement. He explains how he gained his spiritual eyesight in his famous hymn, Amazing Grace.
Amazing grace!
How sweet the sound,
that saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost but now am found,
was blind but now I see.
Today’s Gospel, which tells of the healing of the blind man, Bartimaeus, challenges us to strengthen our faith in Jesus, the healer, and invites us to gain true spiritual vision.
Jesus and his disciples are on their way to Jerusalem. They reached Jericho and there was a large crowd following him since the fame of Jesus had spread far and wide. He was known to be a healer who could miraculously heal any disease, a preacher who preached about the revolutionary ideas of freedom and the Kingdom of God, the messiah who was expected to come for the redemption of Israel. The news about the healing powers of Jesus had reached the ears of blind Bartimaeus too. He might have been dreaming of that day when Jesus would come his way and he would get a chance to be healed by Him. Then as he sat idly on the side of the road he heard the sound of a crowd moving. He asked the passersby what the sound could be. He got the answer for which he waited through his life: Jesus of Nazareth is coming. He cried out competing with the noise of the crowd: “Jesus Son of David, have mercy on me a sinner.”

In spite of the crowd’s objections, Jesus stopped and, recognizing Bartimaeus’ faith, called the blind man to him. In the Law of Moses, the blind are among those who are to be accorded protection in the name of God. Leviticus admonishes the Israelites not to “curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind.” In Deuteronomy those who lead the blind astray along the road are placed under the same curse as those who withhold justice from the alien, the orphan or the widowed. Psalm 146 proclaims that God gives sight to the blind, lifts up those who are bowed down and loves the righteous.

The sound of the master was sweet music for him. He waited not for a second, but threw aside his long cloak, his only possession, which protected him from heat and cold. In throwing away his cloak, he gave up everything he had depended on, putting his complete trust in the Lord. Jesus then asked: “What do you want me to do for you?” Was it that Jesus did not know what the blind man wanted? But he wanted to hear it from his own mouth. It makes a difference. Bartimaeus replied promptly: “Master, I want to see.” Jesus rewarded his faith by restoring both his physical and spiritual sight. Suppose today Jesus asks you the same question – what do you want me to do for you – What will be your answer?

The healing of the blind Bartimaeus contains four main elements of Christian discipleship: a) the correct recognition of Jesus as Lord and Savior (“Jesus, Son of David”); b) the acknowledgement of the need for Jesus’ help (“Have pity on me”; “I want to see”); c) ready response to Jesus’ call (“He . . . came to Jesus”); and d) becoming Jesus’ disciple (” … followed him on the way”).

Having received physical and spiritual sight, Bartimaeus followed Jesus joyfully along the road. The gift of sight led Bartimaeus to faith, and faith came to full expression in committed discipleship. He wanted to stay close to his Savior, to thank, praise, and serve Him. Thus today’s Gospel presents Bartimaeus as the model for us in his prayer and in his wholehearted commitment to a discipleship that includes rejection by those who refuse to believe.

In a 2012 homily, Pope Benedict XVI reflected: “Bartimaeus represents one who has lost the light and knows it, but has not lost hope: he knows how to seize the opportunity to encounter Jesus and he entrusts himself to him for healing. Indeed, when he hears that the Master is passing along the road, he cries out: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”, and he repeats it even louder. And when Jesus calls him and asks what he wants from him, he replies: “Master, let me receive my sight!” Bartimaeus represents one aware of his pain and crying out to the Lord, confident of being healed. In the encounter with Christ, lived with faith, Bartimaeus regains the light he had lost, and with it the fullness of his dignity: he gets back onto his feet and resumes the journey, which from that moment has a guide, Jesus, and a path, the same that Jesus is traveling. The evangelist tells us nothing more about Bartimaeus, but in him he shows us what discipleship is: following Jesus ‘along the way,’ in the light of faith.”
Instead of remaining in spiritual blindness, let us pray for spiritual sight. Each one of us suffers from spiritual blindness, and hence we need the light of the Holy Spirit to enlighten us. Anger, hatred, prejudice, jealousy, evil habits etc. make us spiritually blind, preventing us from seeing the goodness in our neighbors and God’s presence in them. Hence, let us pray to have a clear vision of Christian values and priorities in our lives and to acknowledge the presence of God dwelling in ourselves and in our neighbors. A clear spiritual vision enables us to see the goodness in others, to express our appreciation for all that they have been doing for us, and to refrain from criticizing their performance.

29th Sunday (B)

“The son of man did not come to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many.”

The Gospel speaks about the contrast that exists between way of the world and the way of Jesus. The society of today is looking at greatness as material prosperity, power, position, prestige, name and fame. They use any means to achieve their end even exploiting others without any quam of conscience. The more they have the more they want to accumulate and there is no end to the greed for wealth, money, power and position. It is known from the lives of various people that a prosperous and glamorous life may not bring lasting peace, joy and happiness, as they are temporary. It is a fact that in life there are joys and sorrows, sufferings and pleasures, success and failures, but the way we accept these realities and have a proactive response would make a difference in our life.

Christ had a completely different understanding of authority. He saw it as an opportunity to serve, to promote good of others, rather than to promote one’s own glory and honor. He said: “look at the pagan rulers. See how they lord it over their subjects. It must not be like that among you. The one in authority must be the one who serves.” Surely this is the most revolutionary thing ever said about authority.
Jesus was trying to educate his followers that He has come into this world to give his life as a ransom for many, which is to be achieved by his passion and death on the cross. First time after the transfiguration Jesus talked about it and peter immediately retorted, “Let it not happen to you.” After the second prediction, the apostles were arguing over which of them was the most important. Now after the third prediction, James and John became more ambitious and ask for a favor from their master. He said to them, “What is it that you want me to do for you?” The answer is “Allow us to sit one on your right and the other on your left in your glory.”

Jesus tried to remind James and John of the sacrifices and sufferings associated with their effort to reach his abode. He tells them that in his kingdom, it is not about sitting. It’s about standing! Can you? Will you? Stand by me? Stand for me? Stand for what I am all about? They expressed their willingness to undertake any sort of adventures and undergo any amount of sufferings to reach where Jesus resides. Jesus knew their good intention in spite of the selfish spirit that instigated them. Therefore he clarified them, “The cup that I drink, you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right or at my left is not mine to give but is for those for whom it has been prepared.” The other ten disciples who watched this whole episode in dismay were not in any way superior to these two Zebedee brothers. Their fuming jealousy found its expression in the form of indignation.

Jesus, knowing full well their ignorance and inability to grasp of the realities of life, tells them that anyone who wants to become great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be slave to all. Here Jesus is talking about the spirit and the attitude that we should possess. The commandment is “to love one another as I have loved you.” So love of God is the power and the force that permeates in all our words and actions.

That radical teaching of Jesus is a deep spirituality to live by: “the more power I have, the more respect I must show; the more service I must give; the more aware of the ‘small people’ in life I must be!” This is to be acknowledged and appreciated in pope Francis, as he speaks out against global corruption, and speaks up for the refugees and the homeless!! He is people oriented than self oriented and so he goes out of his way to extend the love and compassion of Jesus to the poor, marginalized, the differently abled and the like just as Jesus went about doing good.

Jesus always notices the child; he notices the sinful woman; he notices the small man up a tree; he notices the beggar and the cripple; he notices the sinner; he notices the bereaved; he notices the stray – and the lost, he notices you and me and we are significant and important to him. And he says: “come to me! Come to me all you who labor, and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. For I am gentle and humble of heart, and I will give rest for your souls!! ”

James and John also converted from being greedy and selfish in the Gospel today to serve Jesus, each in his own way drinking the cup of Jesus’ Passion and undergoing the baptism of Jesus’ Passion. James gave his life in Jerusalem for Jesus and John looked after Mary taking her to safety in Ephesus in what we now call Turkey when Jerusalem became too unsafe due to persecutions of Christians. John would continue to give of himself for Jesus by writing one of our four Gospels, New Testament letters and the last book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation.

The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. When we return love for hatred, when we are misunderstood and spoken against, when we sacrifice our time and energy to perform thankless, hidden acts of love, we share in Jesus’ suffering. What could cause more pain than to love so deeply, and not be loved in return? Yes our reward is in heaven and we need to follow the path of our master to gain that eternal treasure, prepared for us.

28th Sunday (B)

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

In 1922, six of the world’s most successful businessmen held a special meeting in Chicago. They were a group of high-powered specialists who know the secret of making money. There was no doubt about where their alter was. Let us a look at those nine men 27 years later.
Charles Schwab, president of the largest independent steel company, died bankrupt and lived on borrowed money the last years of his life.
Samuel Insull, president of the greatest utility company, died a fugitive from justice, penniless in a foreign land.
Howard Hopson, president of the largest gas company, was insane.
Arthur Cutter, the greatest wheat speculator, died abroad in poverty.
Richard Whitney, president of the New York stock Exchange, was in Prison.
Albert Fall, a member of the president’s cabinet, was pardoned from prison so he could die at home.
All these men knew how to make money, but none of them knew how to live. As Jesus said, “You cannot serve both mammon of God.”

The story of the rich young man is one of the saddest in the gospels. It is the only instance recorded in the gospels of someone who was called directly, personally and individually by Jesus who refused the invitation. The initial encounter was good and promising as he followed all the commandments from his childhood and expected to be acknowledged by Jesus. What more should I do to gain eternal life? Jesus looks straight into his eyes and tells him there is one thing you lack. So he became all the more inquisitive to know about it and Jesus told him that he should “go and sell everything you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” The gospel says his face fell at these words and went away sad for he was a man of great wealth.

We have in the gospel of Luke chapter 9, 57- where a man comes and tells him master “I will follow you wherever you go”. The Lord said to him that the foxes have holes, the birds of the air have nests but the son of man has nowhere to lay His head. Then to another he said, “follow me”. He responded, let me go and burry my father. To which Jesus answered, “Let the dead burry their own dead but your job is to proclaim the kingdom of God.” Now a third one says I will follow you but let me go and say goodbye to my dear ones. To him Jesus said anyone who puts his hand on a plough and looks back is not fit for the kingdom of God.

Alexander the great was the famous Macedonian King, who practically conquered all the near by kingdoms with his military power, but towards the end of his life he called his ministers and instructed what has to be done after his death. First of all the doctors who treated him have to carry his coffin as they could not save him, Secondly, the coffin will have two holes and through that his hands will be laid bare and empty, because he carries nothing with him. Thirdly, all the precious stones and jewels he had amassed and plundered should be laid on the path of the funeral procession as they are of no use to him anymore.

This has been the fate of so many people who lacked the wisdom o f God at the right time. The Second Reading (Heb. 4:12-13) gives wonderful insights on the word of God and underlines its efficacy and formidable capacity of discernment. God’s living and effective word penetrates to the innermost part of a person and forces him/her to come to grips with what really matters. It scours our entire being, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and reveals the deep truth about God’s love and our gracious destiny.

Jesus is the personification of wisdom and it allows us to discern, often beyond deceptive appearances, what is true, just and good. He comes to reorient lives toward God’s will. Those who open up their hearts to Jesus will receive the gift of a discerning heart and will be empowered by God to make a radical choice for the Gospel.
So learn to accept the primacy of God and his Kingdom: The repeated message of Jesus is very clear – seek first the kingdom of God (Lk. 12:31)! What is it that occupies the core of our hearts? Is it our wealth and possessions? Is it our fame and achievements? Is it our human securities? Jesus simply challenges these ephemerals, and invites us to give God the prime place in our life. It is said that money can buy us a cozy bed but not sound sleep. Money can buy us a variety of food, but not the peaceful ambient to enjoy our meal. Money can buy us a house, but not a home of loving people. Money can buy us books, but not the gift of wisdom.

We do not have to see Jesus’ command to the man – go, sell, give, come, follow – as applying only to money. The one thing in which we are lacking may be something else. We may be lacking in some virtue. We may be proud or selfish or lustful and thus lacking in humility or altruism or purity of heart. We are not blind to ourselves but are sufficiently sensitive to be aware of how we could grow in holiness. We almost certainly know what is the thing lacking in our life and how the Lord is challenging us to grow in following him. As our second reading from Heb. 4:12-13 said, the Word of God shows up our secret emotions and thoughts, everything is uncovered before the Word of God.

When we do respond to Jesus’ challenge, Jesus promises us, as he promised the man in today’s Gospel, “treasure in heaven.” (Mark 10:21) Jesus wants only what is best for us and if we take up his challenge to us, whatever it may be, we can be sure that it will bring us only happiness. We want to do whatever the Lord asks of us, we want to follow him that we may have treasure in heaven.

26th Sunday (B)

Jealousy, Intolerance and Scandal

In 1994, a British Sociologist of religion (Grace Davie) published a book on the rise of secularism in Britain since 1945 and the book is named Believing without Belonging. She says that most of the people who do not belong to the institutional religions have some form of belief about God, but they do not want to be part of a special religion due to one reason or other. There are also other books and articles written on the theme of Believing and Belonging. Today we find people belonging to the church does not believe in what the church teaches. Recently another British scholar (Abby Day) in her book Believing in Belonging suggests that actually people believe because they want to belong to a group that gives them identity.

The first reading talks abut God’s command to Moses to choose seventy eldersas helpers in the task of leading the people. So it was done, and God tooksome of the spirit that was on Mosesto distribute it to his helpers. It happened that Eldad and Medad  had not gone to the meeting tent, although they were part of the gathering, began to prophesy in the camp where they had remained. When Joshua heard this, he asked Moses stop them, probably because he feared his master’s authority would not be respected. Such words betray a practical misunderstanding of God’s freedom, of the nature and finality of his gifts. These gifts are ways and means for being of service to the community, and not personal prerogatives to be jealously guarded. God does not impoverish anyone by spreading his gifts among many. Moses does not resent the “new prophets” and is not jealous of their gifts. He wishes that all the people of the Lord might be prophets and hopes selflessly that the spirit of the Lord be bestowed on them all. Christian tradition would see Moses’ prayer fulfilled in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.

 In today’s Gospel John comes to Jesus, informing of an unknown exorcist who was using Jesus’ name to drive out demons.Jesus in his response, however, recommends openness, allowing anyone who wants to exorcise in his name, to do so freely. For, the man who uses Jesus’ name cannot be against him; nor will he speak ill of him, because “whoever is not against us, is for us”. Jesus states a general principle. One of the hallmarks of Jesus’ life and mission is openness: He was ready to accommodate and accept even those whom the society had given up: The call of Levi, the tax collector and his reaching out to sinners and outcasts prove this point.

If we truly want to be disciples of Jesus today, we will have to accept that not all the goodness in the world comes from our actions. We will have to learn to live with other people, who are not of our group, but nonetheless fight against evil, at least as much as we do. We are disciples of Christ who live according to his gospel, and seek to do good in his name, should rejoice that others also do the same good and fight the same fight against evil, in the name of Jesus Christ. We should be happy that Jesus Christ, Our Lord, inspires others whom we, by the way we live our Christian lives, have not been able to inspire. As disciples of Jesus we should be proud that the name of Jesus, his life and his ideas, inspire people that we have not been able to convince by our lives and our ideals.

The Gospel reading continues to underline the challenges of Christian discipleship. Confronting the evil of causing scandal to others, Jesus uses the imagery of the unquenchable fires of Gehenna. In order to avoid this unfortunate destiny, the disciples must be extremely cautious of giving bad example to anyone. Jesus asserted: “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire”. Similarly our feet and eyes are to be controlled against any untoward behavior. Jesus’ remarkable saying is not to be taken literally, but the challenges should be understood as there can be no compromises.

Indeed, the Christian disciples need to be purified in their innermost motives. They need to be “salted with fire”and experience the purifying fire of trials by which the faithful become pleasing sacrifices to God and at peace with one another. They need to expunge the evils of ambition, intolerance and scandal from their midst. In place of these, they have to make a tough choice for primacy in service, for tolerance and openness to others of good will, and for integrity in their dealing with God’s “little ones”. Those who respond to the radical demands of Christian discipleship with zeal and passion become the “salt of the earth”. As the good “salt of the earth”, they continue to inspire people with the liveliness of the Gospel spirit and lead them to yearn for God’s kingdom.  

Let us avoid conduct that can lead to scandal.  We give scandal and become stumbling blocks to others: a) when we are unkind or unjust in our treatment of them, b) when we humiliate them by hurting their pride and damaging their self-image, c) when we discourage, ignore, or refuse to accept them, and d) when we become judgmental of those who are still struggling to reach a level of commitment that we feel is too low to be useful.

Let us learn the Christian virtue of tolerance: Christian tolerance asks that we bear with the weaknesses of others (without condoning the evil they do), by: a) remaining true to our conscience and beliefs, b) respecting the differences we encounter, c) working together on projects of common interest, d) affirming what is good in the other person’s position, even when we disagree on certain things, and e) allowing the light of Christ to shine through our loving words and deeds.