7th Sunday (C)

Jesus is the visible manifestation of the invisible God. He taught us that God is love and anyone who dwells in love dwells in God. The core of the gospel message is the power of Christian love, to be exercised in mercy and unconditional forgiveness. On every action there is a choice and we should be able to make the right decisions that enable us to be pleasing in the sight of God. The right choices lead us to God, and the wrong ones break our relationship with Him and with one another. Last week we reflected on the beatitudes and today it spells out more concretely the way to translate them into our actions. It reverses the old practices of revenge and retaliation and to repay every evil with good through nonviolence. It contains four commands of Jesus: love, forgive, do good, and pray. They specify the kind of love that the Christian follower is expected to show toward an enemy. The ‘enemy’ is one who injures hates or rejects the Christian. 

1) Love your enemies: This command proposes a course of action that is contrary to human nature. Jesus invites those who follow him to repudiate their natural inclinations and instead follow his example and the example of the heavenly Father. Jesus before the Sanhedrin: When Jesus was brought before the Sanhedrin, the ruling council of the Jews, he was struck on the face by a soldier and accused him of insolence. Jesus did not retaliate but simply asked, “If I have done something wrong, tell me; if not, why do you strike me?” He speaks calmly and with dignity, respecting the soldier’s dignity. It is a perfect example of active non-violence. Significantly, Jesus was not struck again. His restraint was seen for what it was: courage, not weakness. In the whole of his Passion Jesus reveals his strength. He prayed for those battering him to death. “I have not come for the death of the sinner but that he may be converted and live.” Revenge wants to destroy. Love wants to restore life, truth, justice and right relationships between people.

2) “Forgive and you will be forgiven. Bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” This message might have sounded very strange to the Jews, who were familiar with a God who was merciful to his own people and vengeful to their enemies, as pictured in Psalms 18, 72 and 92. But Jesus repeats his teaching on forgiveness, both in the prayer he taught his disciples “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” (Mt 6:9-13; Lk. 11:4), and in his final commandment to his apostles, “Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another” (Jn. 15:12). Another good reason for us to forgive our enemies is, “(so that everyone will know that we are disciples of the Most High” (Jn. 13:34-35). That is, Christianforgiveness can be a form of evangelization. Jesus does not advise his followers to overlook evils, wars, economic disparity, and exploitation of the vulnerable. Instead, we are called to forgive, to be merciful and not to retaliate.  But we cannot achieve this level of love and forgiveness by ourselves. We need the power of God working through us by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. Jesus not only commanded us to love our enemies, he also gave us the most vivid and awesome example of this type of love in action.   While hanging on the cross, he prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

3) The Golden Rule“Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Christian ethics consists not in merely refraining from evil, but in actively doing good, not only to those who are friends, but to those who hate us or do evil against us.  In other words, Jesus expects us to rise above our human instincts and imitate the goodness and generosity of God.  The observance of the golden rule makes us like God whose love and mercy embrace saints and sinners alike. At the same time the Golden Rule does not require that we allow others to take advantage of us.  

4) Invitation to grace-filled behavior: What makes Christianity distinct from any other religion is the quality known as grace, i.e., God’s own life working in us, so that we are able to treat others, not as they deserve but with love, kindness and mercy. God is good to the unjust as well as to the just.  Hence our love for others, even those who are ungrateful and selfish towards us, must be marked by the same kindness and mercy, which God has shown to us.  When we pray for those who do us wrong, we break the power of hate in ourselves and in others and release the power of love.  How can we possibly love those who cause us harm?  God gives the necessary power and grace to those who believe and accept the gift of the Holy Spirit.  His love conquers our hurts, fears, prejudices and grief.  Only the cross of Jesus Christ can free us from the tyranny of malice, hatred, revenge, and resentment, and give us the courage to return good for evil.  

The radical call to forgiveness, love and mercy points to the extraordinary character of Jesus who addresses this challenge to us. He invites us to this radical expression of God’s benevolence and compassion will also give us the grace and inner strength to be radically loving and forgiving. Trusting in the grace of God, the Christian disciple who is called to be radically loving, radically generous and radically God-like is able to say: “In him who is the source of my strength, I have strength for everything” (Phil 4:13).

6th Sunday (C)

THE BEATITUDES have two important elements: a) a blessing; and b) a promise. First, Jesus pronounces blessedness to those people who embrace the values of the kingdom. Second, there is an accompanying promise of eternity he gives to them. Jesus had a clear vision for humanity and he expressed it as “Kingdom of God”. It is a situation in which human beings can experience true happiness and fulfillment by accepting and experiencing God as a loving father and all human beings brothers and sisters. For Jesus ‘Kingdom of God’ is not merely a future reality but a reality here and now. In order to experience the kingdom of God human beings have to undergo a radical transformation affecting their attitudes, value system, behavior and relationships. The beatitudes given in the gospel of the day is a project of life for every Christian to attain perfection as the Lord wanted, be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect. 

The practices of the beatitudes are one of the biggest challengesin a world that is materialistic, where the values are contrary to the gospel values. The World has a spirit, as each age has a spirit. In the Beatitudes, Bishop Fulton Sheen says Our Divine Lord takes those eight flimsy catch words of the world- “Security,” “Revenge,” “Laughter,” “Popularity,” ”Getting Even,” “Sex,” “Armed Might,’” and “comfort” and turn them upside down. He speaks of the Mount of Beatitudes and the Mount of Calvary. He who climbed the first to preach the Beatitudes must necessarily climb the second to practice, what he preached. The sermon, on the Mount constitutes the “essence of Christianity.”

There are thirty-seven beatitudesin the New Testament, seventeen of which are sayings of Jesus. Beatitudes appear in the Old Testament as well. The first reading tells us that true beatitude consists in placing our trust in God and in putting our trust in His promises. The Responsorial Psalm, (Ps 1), finds beatitude in keeping God’s Law. St. Paul warns us, in the second reading, that true beatitude is obtainable only in Heaven, and that Christ’s Resurrection is our assurance of reaching Heaven for an everlasting life of happiness. In today’s Gospel, Jesus instructs his disciples in the paradoxical   blessedness of poverty, hunger, sorrow and persecution because these contradict our natural expectations in every way.  “Blessed are those who are poor, hungry, weeping, hated, excluded, insulted and denounced,” because in poverty, we recognize God’s reign; in hunger, His providence; in sorrow, true happiness; and in persecution, true joy. Experiencing these miseries opens the way for us to receive the true riches, food, comfort and acceptance we can find only in His love and His presence here, and in His Kingdom forever. The beatitudes are commands for how we should live, and what we should do. What makes one blessed is not simply poverty or hunger or sadness or suffering for the Faith but living these in the context of our commitment to Jesus and His spirit of sharing. 

Liberation in the “Beatitudes:Luke presents the beatitudes as reinforcing what Mary had said a few chapters earlier in the Magnificat: “He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”  The themes of the beatitudes reappear throughout both Luke’s Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. Luke’s account, alone among the Gospels, expands on the words spoken by Jesus at his inaugural sermon in Nazareth. There, Jesus declared an “option for the poor” and “liberation from oppressive forces” with the powerful theme of economic and social reversal clearly stated. Luke’s account also demonstrates Jesus’ solidarity with the poor, the oppressed, and the vulnerable and with women, minorities, and the socially despised. In both Matthew and Luke, the beatitudes are a “series of bomb-shells” or “flashes of lightning followed by the thunder of surprise and shock” for Jesus’ hearers. That is because Jesus reverses our “natural” assumption that happiness lies in riches, pleasure, comfort and influence, and emphasizes the paradoxical   blessedness of poverty, hunger, sorrow, and persecution, not in themselves but in what they can do.  He also challenges his listeners to find the fulfillment of all their needs in God. Jesus teaches that, although the poorare despised, resented or pitied by the world, God loves them deeply in their poverty, their sadness, their hunger and their deprived status. This is the basis of the so-called “option for the poor” that we are called to have. 

To those who say “You cannot be happy unless you are rich,” He says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” That does not mean having no money. One could have lots of money and be poor in spirit at the same time although it would be more of a challenge. Being poor in spirit is not relying on own abilities but trusting in God instead. We are poor in spirit when we rely on God for his help to get us through life. We are poor in spirit when we have made plans and they fall asunder and we have to ask God’s help. Being poor in spirit is admitting that we are sinners in need of God’s grace and help. Being poor in spirit is admitting that we are absolutely nothing without God and that everything we have comes from God.

Happy are those who mourn, could mean accepting setbacks, failures and crisis with a sporting spirit or as a challenge. You might say to me that mourning is not a happy experience so how could Jesus say that mourners are blessed. What Jesus meant is “blessed are those who are sorry for their sins and the sins of others.”

Becoming a righteous person and working for the cause of righteousness is another expectation of Jesus from his disciples. Jesus wants honesty and integrity as the hallmark of his disciples and they work hard for creating a society in which righteousness flourish. The various religious practices of a disciple of Christ should enable him/her to become honest and upright. Such honest persons may come together and start a movement against corruption, which has affected the society as a deadly cancer.

Jesus calls those who are persecuted for their Faith blessedbecause 1) they are eligible for a glorious reward (“Your reward will be great in Heaven“), 2) they are given the privilege of sharing in the pain, suffering, and rejection which Jesus himself endured for our sins, and 3) they are following in the footsteps of the martyrs of the Old Testament period and of the early martyrs of the infant Church. The thousands of Christians who courageously face persecution for their Faith in different parts of the world today share in the same beatitude.  Bearing heroic witness to their Faith in Christ Jesus, they teach and inspire us to do the same.

4th Sunday (C)

“ No Prophet is accepted in his own native place

The central theme of the liturgy of the word today is tragedy of rejection and prejudice experienced by Jeremiah and the Lord Jesus Christ. Jeremiah foretold of the impending dangers and the anger of Yahweh due to the infidelity of the people of Israel. Instead of listening to the word of God, they attacked him, thrown into a cistern and eventually imprisoned him. 

Jeremiah did not want to be a prophet, but God chose him and empowered him, purified his lips and gave him the power of speech to deliver the word of God. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you.” Ironically it was the invaders about whom he had warned the people who eventually released him from prison and let him live in good conditions. 

Amazement turns to hatred:

At first, the crowd was amazed that one of their fellow villagers could speak with such grace and eloquence and with such authority.We see from the Gospels how Jesus was rejected in Israel, because they were prejudiced and could not grasp the fact that the messiah would be one among them. His listeners were enraged at his words and attempted to push him over a cliff. The people were certainly outraged by Jesus presenting himself as the Messiah so long foretold.  They rejoiced in his miracles and were captivated by his message but seeing him as the Messiah was probably a step too far for most of them. 

The prophet’s lot

But, says Jesus to them, a prophet is not normally accepted in his own place. He then gives two striking examples from the Hebrew Testament, one from Elijah and the other from Elisha, two prophets closely linked with the coming of the Messiah. 

Elijah was sent to help a poor Gentile widow in Sidon (a non-Jewish area) during a famine caused by three and a half years of drought. Why did the prophet go to her when there were so many Jewish widows in the same plight? Similarly, there were many lepers in Israel but Elisha was sent to Naaman, a Syrian general. The Syrians were the hated enemies of Israel. Jesus was being quite provocative in telling these stories. Why so? The answer comes in Mark’s account of this incident and he gives two reasons:

a. Because the people of Nazareth knew Jesus’ family so well, they were not ready to receive him or his message about his own identity and mission. It is a good example of familiarity breeding contempt. Because Jesus had grown up among them, they thought they knew who he was. They were not ready to accept that he was something very much more.

b. Secondly, Mark comments that Jesus was able to do very little healing in Nazareth because they refused to believe in him. They had no faith. It is clear on many occasions that Jesus’ healing power only came to those who had total trust in him. “Go in peace; your faith has made you whole again.” And, of course, the response of the people of Nazareth was only a foretaste of the total rejection of Jesus by many of his own people. Jesus’ words were not really provocative. They were simply a description of what was happening. 

We are all called to be disciples of Christ, in other words we are asked by God to be prophets in the modern world. We are asked to be the ones who proclaim Christ’s message of salvation to the people around us. If we take on this role we will inevitably find that we are opposed and perhaps even persecuted for it. In certain circles we will find ourselves unpopular if not facing outright rejection. 

Love is the most important gift of all

It is here that St. Paul gives us clear directions to live our faith and to be a witness to our divine master by our lives of authenticity. He clearly spells out the qualities we should posses in living a life of love for God and our neighbor. Paul, after speaking about the importance of the gifts of the Spirit, which each one has received, says that love is the most important gift of all. 

Love indeed is a gift. Loving is an art which has to be received and nurtured. The ancient Greeks had three words for ‘love’: eros , philia and agape. Putting it very briefly, eros is passionate, physical love, the love of young lovers. Philia is the love of friendship and implies a very deep intimate and mutual relationship between two people involving total transparency of one to the other. Agape, which is the love Paul is speaking about here, is a unilateral, unconditional reaching out in love to another, even if it is not returned or even rejected. This is the love that God has for every single person and the kind of love that should be the characteristic of the true follower of Christ in his/her relationship with people everywhere. It is agape which makes it possible to pray for those who curse us and bless those who harm us. 

St. Paul tells us that without this agape, none of other gifts of the Spirit have any value. I may speak with extraordinary eloquence about the Gospel message but, if I do it without love, I am like a booming gong – all sound and no substance. I may be able to utter prophetic statements in God’s name, be gifted with the deepest insights, knowledge and wisdom. Without love, it is nothing. I may even have a faith that can move mountains but, if there is no love there, it is nothing. 

Qualities of agape

Paul then lists some of the qualities of agape. It is kind, not envious, not boastful, not arrogant, not rude, not self-willed, not irritable, not resentful. It is does not rejoice in wrongdoing but in truth, integrity and wholeness. Agape has a high level of tolerance and is endlessly ready to trust. It endlessly hopes and is endlessly able to endure. In spite of all obstacles, it perseveres. Examples of real people who lived like this would be Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi. They consistently refused in the face of all kinds of misunderstanding and abuse to stoop to any form of violent retaliation. They affirmed the dignity of every single person, including their enemies. 

Speaking with a prophetic voice, Paul asserts that all forms of knowledge and learning will some day come to an end. But agape, as part of God’s own being, will go on forever. Now, Paul tells us, we know God and truth as in a clouded mirror but one day it will be face to face. Then there will be no need for faith or for hope. Faith will give way to total vision and hope will yield to realization. But agape will remain. Let us then cultivate this unselfish love in our lives so that we are able to see the needs of others rather than ours.