3rd Sunday (C)

“Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing”

The Old Testament passage (Neh. 8:2-41, 5-6, 8-10) describes a liturgy of the Word where the Law “which the Lord had given to Israel” was proclaimed and explained to the people, enabling them to understand what was read. When Ezra, the priest-scribe, read from the book of the Law, the people wept from the sheer emotion of hearing God’s Word. They had recognized the special character of the word proclaimed, producing a remarkable effect in their lives. Indeed, the community that actively sought the Law, not only heard it, but also understood its vital significance. The liturgical reading from the Law was not meant, to condemn, but to be a font of joy and strength for that assembly who hungered for the life-giving Word of God. Moreover, the divine Word that they had heard intently with their hearts moved them to a vital social action and impelled them to share compassionately their resources with the needy.

Mission Statement:

Today’s Gospel passage tells us that Jesus goes to Nazareth, where he grew up, and goes according to his custom into the synagogue on the Sabbath day and participates in the liturgy. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah is handed to him and, unrolling the scroll, Jesus solemnly proclaims the messianic prophecy: “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord” (Lk 4:18-19). This passage is an excellent summary of the messianic work of Jesus, “the anointed” of the Spirit.

Jesus’ pronouncement about Isaiah’s prophecy: “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing”(Lk 4:21), is an astounding revelation and a challenging moment of truth. Jesus of Nazareth declares himself to be the long-awaited Messiah and the fulfilment of the messianic yearning through the ages. However the people could neither understand nor grasp the truth as he grew up with them. He openly declared the messianic manifesto, which is His mission in the world.

A purposeful journey

Luke sees the public life of Jesus as a direct journey from Nazareth to Jerusalem. Unlike the other accounts, there will be no going back and forth between Galilee and Jerusalem. It is in Jerusalem, the city of peace, that Jesus will suffer and die. It is here that he will rise to life and become our Lord and Savior. And it is from here too that his disciples will go forth to every corner of the world with the Good News. 

Good news for the disadvantaged

They are addressed directly to the materially poor, those in prison, the physically blind, the oppressed and exploited of the world. While Matthew speaks of “the poor in spirit”, Luke addresses the beatitude directly to “you who are poor, weep, are hungry and oppressed”. The message for them is one of hope, of healing and of liberation. This will come about not by some miracle but by the transformation of those who, aligning themselves with Jesus, can put an end to these things. We need to understand that there are rich and poor, powerful and weak, oppressors and oppressed, all are equally in need of liberation.  So, in addition to the materially poor, there are those who are emotionally underdeveloped, those who are lonely or rejected and above all those who have lost their faith in God and being carried away by materialism. In Luke 7, when John the Baptist sends his disciples to find out if Jesus was the Messiah, Jesus tells them, “Go back and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind see again, the lame walk, those suffering from virulent skin-diseases are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, the good news is proclaimed to the poor.”

The Captives

In addition to those held in captivity, especially those who are unjustly in prison but also those who are guilty of some crime, need conversion and reconciliation. There are very few people indeed are truly free and many actually fear true freedom and the responsibility that goes with it. Jesus tells us that only truth can set us free and we need to enjoy the freedom of the children of  God. Come to me all you who labor and over burdened, I will give you rest.

“Give sight to the blind.”

Physical blindness is far less disabling than the blindness that comes from prejudice, ignorance, jealousy and other emotional blocks.  Most people, said a writer, “lead lives of quiet desperation”. We need to see beyond, often we have eyes but unable to see the light of the day or the events that surround us.

We need to ask ourselves a question. What does it mean to evangelize the poor? It means above all being close to them, having the joy of serving them, freeing them from oppression, and all this in the name of and with the Spirit of Christ, because He is the Gospel of God, He is the Mercy of God, He is the liberation of God. It is He Who was made poor in order to enrich us with His poverty. The text of Isaiah, reinforced by some small adaptations introduced by Jesus, indicates that the messianic proclamation of the Kingdom of God that has come amongst us is addressed in a preferential way to the marginalized, to prisoners, to the oppressed.

And we can ask ourselves: today, in our parish communities, in the associations, in the movements, are we faithful to the program of Christ? Is the evangelization of the poor, bringing to them the good news, the priority? It has to do with the strength of the Gospel of God, Who converts hearts, heals the wounded, transforms human and social relationships according to the logic of love. The poor, in fact, are at the center of the Gospel.

May the Virgin Mary, Mother of evangelizers, help us to feel strongly the hunger and thirst for the Gospel that exists in the world, especially in the heart and the flesh of the poor – and obtain for each one of us, the whole Christian community, to bear concrete witness to the mercy of God revealed in Christ.

2nd Sunday (C)

“Do what He tells you”

The miracle of Cana is not just about changing water into wine. The miracle has a deeper meaning. St. John called it a sign, something that is pointing us to a deeper reality. At Cana the wine ran out. Thiswas a way of saying that the old religion, the old observances, had been found wanting. The time had come for the promises of the Old Testament to be fulfilled. The prophets had foretold an abundance of wine with the coming of the messiah. At Cana Jesus provided just that and those who tasted the new wine agreed that it was better than the old.

The miracle of Cana points to what would happen all through the ministry of Jesus. His presence would change the lives of those with whom he came into contact. It is a time of joy and celebration and not for fasting. There is no fasting as long as the bridegroom is with them. Great things happen when God mixes with man. Some find peace, some find joy and some find life is no longer the same. 

It is a sign in as much as we are able to go into the deeper realities of it. At Cana water changed into wine and at the last supper wine was changed into his blood.

The multiplication of the loaves was a sign to feed the hungry, but at the last supper he gives us his own body and blood for our nourishment. Unless you eat my body and drink my blood you have no life in you. It was the sign of his very life given for the life of the world that we may have life in and through him.

They have no wine:

The wine runs out and the couple is left with nothing, but water. This happens in spite of the presence of Jesus with them. Those who have tasted wine, water will be a very poor substitute. Generally on any marriage feasts, the couples are surrounded by friends, relatives and well-wishers, who load them with gifts. Full of hopes, aspirations and dreams, they set off on their honeymoon with the sound of music and dancing ringing in their ears. The wine is flowing freely and all are happy especially the couple.

The challenges of a real life are to be faced with its ups and downs.  First and fore most is setting up a home and learning to live and adjust with one another. It is all an excitement and novelty and there is absolutely no cloud in their sky. They are convinced that their love was preordained in heaven and meant to last for eternity and the wine is flowing in abundance.

It is said that when the human beings are very close to one another problems are bound to arise. The realities of life are slowly going to be unfolded either for better or for worse. The rosy life begins to fade, fragrance is no more, petals dry and fall one by one. They find difficult to accept the other unconditionally, frustration, disagreements and tensions arise. The wounds and cracks in each other begin to show up and they begin to squabble over trivial things. They are horrified at the poverty they discover in one another, and the thought that they are committed to sharing this for their rest of their lives becomes frightening. 

It is natural to say that if I had ever known I would have never chosen it. The wine has run out. There is absolutely no joy in their lives or in their relationships. All is dull and flat, routine, boring and difficult to cope up with the situations. All that they are left with is the water of their own meager resources. It is the same with our careers, professions and even in our vocations to religious and priestly life.

Presence of Mary and her Intervention:

If it had not been for Mary, who noticed the shortage of wine in that house, and immediately told Jesus about it, the miracle would not have occurred and the joy of the feast would not have lasted long. Mary saw the danger and her intervention spared the young couple embarrassment and ridicule. Despite a negative response from Jesus at first, she looked for people who would be willing to obey her Son without asking any questions.

Mary tells the servants “Do what He tells you.”Mary could not solve the problem of the shortage of wine alone, nor could she salvage the feast, but she knew that her son could, if he wanted it and she trusted him. She encouraged others to trust him and obey him. They did not have to wait long for the miracle, even though it meant that Jesus reluctantly had to anticipate the time of his manifestation. The mere presence of Jesus is not enough to ensure the joy of life. It is necessary also to do what he says, whatever it might be, even if immediately beforehand he said he had no intention of doing anything.

The disciples who were present became happy believers without too much effort, not so much as a result of the miracle, but on account of Mary’s absolute trust and the silent obedience of the servants. Those who live joyfully as disciples together with Mary can be sure that joy will not be lacking in their lives. Their lack of faith, and their failure to find joy and enthusiasm in their own lives and in their homes, can be overcome. Nothing can take away the joy of living, not even our own inability to attain joy or to preserve it, if we stay close to Mary as we journey with Jesus through life. If Mary is missing in our lives, then we miss journeying with the woman of faith. We need to find her, if we are to become believers who will not lose the joy of living. 

Intervention of Jesus:

If we look at all the apparitions of our Blessed Mother, it is always directed to Jesus.  To become disciples of Jesus we need to accept her and learn from her who is our guide and teacher. She is not a miracle-worker, but a powerful intercessor to the generosity of her Son. A devotion that makes us obedient like the servants will ensure that we will witness miracles in our everyday life, just as the first disciples did. Why should we be any different from them? They did nothing special, but had the good fortune to be with Jesus and his mother at a feast. Our following of Jesus, with Mary becomes an experience of faith and the joy to be lived with others. Jesus will always come back to surprise us, as he surprised the first disciples at Cana in Galilee, as long as we share with Mary the joys and the limits of our daily lives. We do not have to renounce the joys of life, nor do we have to live without ever making a mistake. This is our good fortune if we have Mary alongside us as we follow her Son closely. 

At Cana he changed water into wine. At Naim for a poor widow he changed tears into joy. At Jericho for Zacchaeus he changed selfishness into generosity. Multiplied bread to feed the hungry, who were listening to him for a long time. The lepers are cleaned and return to their home. The blind see, the deaf hear and the lame walk. On Calvary for the good thief he changed despair into hope. On Ester morning he changed death into life. It is always a change and a transformation.

St John says in his account that the mother of Jesus was there. Today from her place in heaven Mary continues to intercede with her son on behalf of the church and of the world. The prayer memorare: Remember O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thy intersession was left unaided. 

Baptism of the Lord

“You are my Son, the Beloved; my favor rests on you.”

The Christmas season, celebrating the Self-revelation of God through Jesus, comes to an end with the feast of the Baptism of Our Lord. Christmas is the feast of God’s Self-revelation to the Jews, and Epiphany celebrates God’s Self-revelation to the Gentiles. At his Baptism in the Jordan, Christ reveals himself to repentant sinners. The Baptism of the Lord Jesus is the great event celebrated by the Eastern churches on the feast of Epiphany because it is the occasion of the first public revelation of all the Three Persons in the Holy Trinity, and the official revelation of Jesus as the Son of God to the world by God the Father.  

What was the need of baptism for Jesus?

Jesus of Nazarethby Pope Benedict, pp. 17-23 will help us to answer this question. Sinless Jesus did not have any sins of his own to take down into the river Jordan, therefore it could only have been our sins that he took down into the river Jordan. Naturally no one would understand this at that time but they would realize this later when they understood that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. So Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan and his dying on the cross go together; he did both for our sins. He took our sins on his shoulders as he went down into the Jordan and as he died on the cross.

We can see that there is a close connection between Jesus’ baptism and his cross in the Scriptures. Jesus, when speaking in prophecy about his Passion, described it as a baptism. “There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!” (Luke 12:50) 

When James and John wanted to sit in glory beside Jesus he spoke about his Passion to them but we can be sure that they understand only later. Jesus said, “You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” (Mark 10:38)

The Gospel of John tells us that when John the Baptist saw Jesus approaching him in the river Jordan he proclaimed, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) It is interesting that as Jesus appears at the river Jordan John the Baptist mentions that Jesus takes away the sin of the world. It is also interesting that John the Baptist describes Jesus as the Lamb of God. In the Gospel of John Jesus dies on the cross as the Passover lambs are being slaughtered in the temple. The Passover lambs were slaughtered in remembrance of the first Passover lambs whose blood was smeared on the doorposts the last night the Hebrews spent in Egypt to protect them from death. Jesus is the new Passover Lamb of the New Covenant who shed his blood for us to save us from our sins and already at his baptism he is proclaimed by John to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. 

Just as there is a close link between Jesus’ baptism and his cross there is a close link between our baptism and Jesus’ cross. Paul in his letter to the Romans tells us,

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Rom 6:3-4)

When we were baptized we buried sin by spiritually entering the tomb with Jesus and we rose again with the new life of Jesus just as Jesus rose to new life out of the tomb. Our baptism is a sharing in the effects and salvation of Jesus’ death and resurrection, a sharing in the new life of Jesus we receive from his death and resurrection. Jesus was baptized so that all righteousness might be fulfilled and this happens when we live our baptism by turning from sin to live the life of Jesus and all righteousness is fulfilled. We are children of God through the Holy Spirit, who burns and destroys Original Sin and restores us to grace. “Think of to what dignity Baptism elevates us! ‘See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are!’ (1 Jn 3:1) ” This stupendous reality of being children of God involves a responsibility of following Jesus, the obedient Servant, and to reproduce in ourselves His features: those of meekness, humility, tenderness.” 

Each of us has received that fire of the Spirit through Baptism and Confirmation. The same Holy Spirit who came down upon Jesus was given to us. We were granted the forgiveness of our sins and the promise that the One who raised Jesus would raise us up to everlasting life. The same Spirit who ignited a fire in the Apostles has been given to us so that we can live and spread his word, not with our puny efforts but with the very power of God. All this is given to us who have believed in the name of Jesus and have been baptized in his Spirit. It is a Spirit that leads us out of fear and slavery into freedom. The baptism of Jesus is dying to our self-centered endeavors and being resurrected into a life marked by grace and love. When we live in the baptism of Jesus, we touch the hearts of others and help open them to the Holy Spirit and new life in Christ. 

Today’s manifestation invites us to contemplate and to live 3 things:

Christ’s humility. He is the God made Man who, as a sign of penance and conversion, goes to another man to be baptized. He is the innocent Lamb who humbly carries the sin of the world. With his incarnation as a baby, the Son of God, infinite power and absolute greatness, become a humble weakness. Receiving the baptism, Jesus lowers himself even more: he presents himself almost as a sinner. He enters Jordan’s waters like a public sinner and a penitent. He loves us with infinite love and doesn’t hesitate to descend into the deepest bottom of our poverty, humiliation, and sin.

Christ’s” solidarity.” He, who is without sin, joins his sinner brothers and sisters to partake of their sufferings. He brings on himself the punishment of every sin to let mankind be part of His life and of His Holiness. Nothing shows better the divine mercy than the fact that He acquired our own misery. This mercy is not a sign of weakness. On the contrary, it is a passionate regenerating love.

The “testimony” of God as the Father who opens the sky of His Heart, sends His Spirit sweet as a dove and says:” This is my beloved Son. Listen to His words”. Mankind does not have any reason for unbelieving: God makes himself understandable to all of us and His testimony is truly believable. In the Gospels, we find two episodes in which God recognizes Jesus as His Son: at Baptism and during Transfiguration. John the Baptist and the people who saw Jesus descend in the waters together with the sinners were the witnesses of the Father’s testimony. They saw the sky open, heard the words of the Father and were able to recognize God’s greatness and His supreme humility. Jesus is the humility that goes below anyone to guide everyone to the Father.

Epiphany

Feast of the Epiphany

Where is the newborn king of the Jews?

The feast Epiphany is the celebration of the first appearanceor manifestationof Jesus to the Gentiles.“Epiphany” refers to God’s self-revelation as well as the revelation of Jesus as His Son. The angels revealed Jesus to the shepherds, and the star revealed him to the Magi, who had already received hints of Him from Jewish scriptures.  Later, God the Father revealed Jesus’ identity at His baptism in the Jordan. In the synagogue at Nazareth, Jesus revealed himself as the promised Messiah.  At the transfiguration Jesus reveals to his disciples. These multiple revelations are all suggested and signified by the Feast of the Epiphany. Today’s gospel teaches us how Christ enriches those who bring Him their hearts. Since the Magi came with joy in their hearts to visit the Christ child,Godallowed them to see wondrous things. 

According to the sixth century Italian tradition, there were three magi – Caspar,Baltazhar, and Melchior- is based on the fact that three gifts are mentioned in Matthew’s gospel: gold, frankincense and myrrh. There is a legend, which speaks or a fourth Magi, whose name is Artaban. He too saw the star and decided to follow it, taking with him a sapphire, a ruby and a pearl as gifts for the new King. The others were waiting for him at an agreed sport. However, Artaban comes across a traveller lying by the roadside stricken down with fever. Though he knew this would delay and probably miss his friends, nevertheless, he stopped and brought the man to an inn and had him taken care of. Finally he reached the meeting place and found that the others departed without him.  He needed a camel and supplies to get across the desert. So reluctantly he had to sell the sapphire to buy them. 

When he reached Bethlehem, Joseph and Mary had already fled to Egypt to escape from Herod. Artaban was staying in a house where there was a year old boy. One evening the soldiers came to the door, Artaban with the ruby bribed the captain and saved the child. He continued his search for the King, but all in vain. Some thirty years later he came to the Holy city of Jerusalem and a number of crucifixions were taking place that very day he arrived. He heard that Jesus was one of them and hurried towards the hill of execution. However he met a girl who was fleeing from a band of soldiers, because her father had incurred a debt and was being sold into slavery. He hesitated for a moment, but took out the pearl and gave to the soldiers and freed the girl. Now he had to face the King empty handed. 

Just then the sky began to get dark. An earthquake shook the ground under his feet. Houses began to rock. Roof tiles began to fly and one of them hit Artaban on the head. Mortally wounded he struggled onwards, but died before reaching the hill of execution. He not only saw the star, but he allowed the king to enter into his life that inspired in him deeds of love and generosity, and had lit up all his journeys with meaning and hope. Anyone who searches for God sincerely will always find him and will always manifest in our life and actions.

Gold, frankincense and myrrh may be thought of as prophesying Jesus’ future. Gold was a gift for kings; frankincense (an ancient air purifier and perfume) was offered to God in temple worship (Ex. 30:37); and myrrh to prepare bodies for burial. (It was also used by the High Priest in the   anointing oil (Ex. 30:23). This gift of myrrh pointed out that Jesus was the sacrificial lamb whose death restored life. Finding much to ponder in these offerings, the Church Fathers often interpreted them as symbols of what every Christian is called to present to God: the goldof charity and good works, the incenseof prayer and faith, the myrrhof purifying suffering and belief in the resurrection.

Epiphany can be looked on as a symbol for our pilgrimage through life to Christ. The feast invites us to see ourselves as images of the Magi, a people on a journey to Christ.Today’s gospel also tells us the story of the magi’s encounter with the evil King Herod. This encounter symbolizes three reactions to Jesus’ birth: hatred, indifference, and adoration

a) A group of people headed by Herod plan to destroy Jesus

b) Another group composed of priests and scribes ignores Jesus

c) A third group — shepherds and the magi — adore Jesus and offer themselves to Him.

A) The destructive group

King Herod considered Jesus a potential threat to his kingship. He was a cruel and selfish king who murdered his mother-in-law, wife and three children on suspicion that they had plotted against him.  Later, the Scribes and Pharisees plotted to kill Jesus, because he criticized them and tried to reform some of their practices.  Today, many oppose Christ and his Church from selfish motives, evil ways and unjust lives.Children still have Herods to fear, because many of them do not see the light of the day.

B) The group that ignored Christ

The Scribes, Pharisees and the Jewish priests knew that there were nearly 500 prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures concerning the promised Messiah. They were able to tell Herod the exact time and place of Jesus’ birth.  They were in the habit of concluding their reading from the prophets on the Sabbath day by saying, “We shall now pray for the speedy arrival of the Messiah.”  Unfortunately, they were more interested in their own selfish gains than in discovering the truth.  Hence, they refused to go and see the child Jesus — even though Bethlehem was quite close to Jerusalem. Today many Christians remind us of this group. They practice their religion from selfish motives such as political power, prestige and recognition by society.  They ignore Jesus’ teachings in their private lives.

C) The group that adored Jesus and offered Him gifts

This group was composed of the shepherds and the Magi.  The shepherds offered the only gifts they had: love, tears of joy, and probably woolen clothes and milk from their sheep.  The Magi offered gold, in recognition of Jesus as the king of the Jews; frankincense, in acknowledgment that he was God, and myrrh as a symbol of his human nature. 

Let us make sure that we belong to the third group

Worship Jesus every day at Mass with the gold of our love, the myrrh of our humility and the frankincense of our adoration.  Offer our very selves, promising God that we will use His blessings by doing goodto our fellow men. In the Christmas stable, the magi got transformed themselves. What Christ wants from us is a reformation of ourselves. Just as the Wise Men returned home to begin the work of transforming their own kingdoms, we too must go home and transform the world around us 

Like the wise men all of us are on a journey to get closer to Jesus our Savior. Like the wise men we too are relying on the grace of God to lead us to the light of Jesus our Savior. Like the wise men let us offer ourselves at His feet. May our hearts seek Christ, find Christ and love Christ.