Homily

5th Sunday of Lent (C)

“The law was given through Mosses, grace and truth have come through Jesus Christ.”

The central theme of all three readings is merciful and steadfast love of God.  In the whole of the New Testament we see God, in the person of Jesus, calling his sinful people to be converted, to put their whole trust in the message he brings and to follow his Way, as the way of truth and life. Inaugural message of Jesus is a call to “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” Jesus can be called the Sacrament of God among us, because Jesus is the visible manifestation of the power of God working among us.  He is the one came down form heaven to tell us that God loves us and reconciled us to the Father by sacrificing His own life for us. The Gospel of the day displays our constant temptation to use knowledge of God’s law to hurt others, not to liberate them. We gossip, we scapegoat, we blame—and we convince ourselves that we’re just following the divine law in pointing out other people’s problems. But then enters Jesus, who affirms that the law’s primary purpose is to make us humble, to draw us to higher attainment. Without denigrating the law in the least, Jesus reaches out in mercy in order to brings sinners back to life.

Pawn in a game:

The leaders of the Jewish people saw in the woman an opportunity to attack Jesus. They didn’t care whether the woman lived or died; she was just a pawn in their battle against the New Kingdom of God that Jesus was proclaiming. Some say it is the way of the world to use others to forward one’s own agenda, career, position in society, etc. If that is the case, then the way of the world is despicable. Our way needs to be the Way of the Lord. And yes, the Way of the Lord often leads to the Way of the Cross, which gives us eternal life. Here, a decision to stone her would be an indictment against Jesus’ stance of mercy and compassion; a resolution to release her would convict him of a lack of justice and righteousness. The malice of the scribes and Pharisees is viciously directed, not at the adulterous woman, but at the greater “accused”, Jesus Christ. 

The response of Jesus was a big surprise and humiliation to all of them, because his judgment is tempered by mercy and righteousness. According to the Gospel writer: “Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger” (Jn 8:6). This parabolic act is probably an allusion to Jer 17:3: “Those who turn away from thee shall be written in the earth, for they have forsaken the Lord, the fountain of living water.” If so, Jesus’ writing on the ground is an indirect reminder of the “guilt” of those who were condemning the adulterous woman. 

Jesus’ fair verdict:

The woman waited, to hear Jesus’ verdict. She knew that she was guilty. Jesus Perfectly understood the secret intentions of her self-righteous accusers and the helplessness of the repentant sinner. When the scribes and Pharisees continue to ask him about his judgment concerning the woman’s fate, Jesus straightens up and says: “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (Jn 8:7). Jesus bends down again and writes on the ground, in a symbolic action made more powerful and meaningful by the words he has just spoken. In response to Jesus’ symbolic action and words, the accusers go away one by one, beginning with the elders. Jesus’ writing on the ground and his astonishing challenge to cast the first stone confront the accusers’ culpability and frailty. 

Those about to throw the stones are those who have no problem judging other people. All of us have to fight the inclination to be judgmental. Someone may be a sinner, but it is up to God, the Just Judge, to make that determination, not up to us. So often, we attempt to hide our own sins behind the sins of others. We transfer our hatred for ourselves into hatred for others. Instead of throwing the first stone, we need to remove sin from our own lives.  St. Augustine puts Jesus’ stand as follows: “Let this woman be punished, but not by sinners; let the law be applied, but not by its transgressors.” Thus Jesus ingeniously escaped from the trap by leaving the judgment to the conscience of the accusers. It reduced them to silence prompting them to leave in shame. 

Judgment with a stern warning

Since Jesus knew that her sin was a violation of the sixth commandment: “You shall not commit adultery”he gave the woman the strong warning, “From now on do not sin anymore.”Jesus did not shrink from calling it a sin, inappropriate and offensive to the justice of God. He forgave the sinner but upheld the justice of God by not excusing or explaining away the sin. Without minimizing her sinfulness, Jesus showed the sinner the respect she deserved as a human being, treating her with compassion. Not only did Jesus not condemn the woman, he even gave her hope for the future. Jesus is thus portrayed as a living expression of the divine mercy, a wise and kind judge, more concerned with forgiveness and rehabilitation than with punishment and death. 

We need to become forgiving people ready for reconciliation

The central figure in today’s Gospel is not the woman, or the leaders of the Jews, or those about to throw stones, but is Jesus. He sees the person who is being condemned, not just her sin or sins. He is not concerned about the ancient law he came to transform. He is not concerned about the venom of the leaders of the Jews. Nor is he afraid of the angry crowd with stones in hand. All he is concerned about is this woman who needs mercy. The Lord is not concerned about what sins we have committed. He is not concerned with which commandments we have broken. He is only concerned about what these sins are doing to us. He sees us as he saw that woman, cowering before him, expecting his judgment, needing his mercy. 

Let us learn to acknowledge our sins, ask God’s forgiveness every day and extend the same forgiveness to our erring brothers and sisters. We too should learn to hate sin and love the sinners showing them mercy and compassion, sympathy and acceptance, leading them to noble ways by our own exemplary lives. 

4th Sunday of Lent (C)

“This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

The parable of today has a particular context and in order to understand better, we should look at the whole chapter 15 of the Gospel of Luke. It begins this way (Luke 15:1-3): “The tax collectors and the sinners were all seeking the company of Jesus to hear what he had to say, and the Pharisees and scribes complained, ‘This man’, they said, ‘welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Jesus is with sinners because they sought his company; now Jesus tries to seek also the company of the Pharisees and scribes, as he tells them this parable.   Actually Jesus tells them three parables: the story of the lost sheep (Lk. 15:4-7), the story of the lost coin (Lk. 15:8-10), and the story of the lost son (Lk. 15:11-32).  Acknowledging the allegation that he mingled with the sinners, Jesus outlines the three aspects or dimensions of repentance, by presenting three characters in this parable: 1) the repentant younger son, 2) the forgiving father and 3) the self-justifying elder son.

The repenting son:He began by wanting freedom from his father. Hence he forced his father to give him his right to one-third of his father’s property (as stipulated in Deuteronomy 21:17). The son then sold his property and traveled to a far-off city where he realized all his wild dreams of a carefree life. Finally, when he became bankrupt, was abandoned by “friends,” and was faced with a local famine, he was forced to take up the job of feeding pigs – a job forbidden to the Jews. At last, awakened by his sufferings, he gathered enough courage to return to his father and confess his sin, thus becoming the model for repentant sinners.  He resolved to become a “hired servant” of his family, thereby regaining a measure of honor and independence, but with a social status matching his guilt and failure. Moreover, he would be able to take care of his father for as long as the father lived.

The Forgiving Father:The father in the story represents God the Father. He promptly gave a share of his property to his younger son, bid him a tearful farewell and waited daily for his return.  Finally, when the boy returned in rags, confessing his sins, the father promptly forgave him, kissed him on the cheeks, and healed the broken relationship between them.  He ordered a bath for his son, gave him new garments (a sign of honor) and a golden signet ring (sign of authority and trust).  By ordering sandals for the feet of his son, the father signaled his reacceptance as his son. The killing the fatted calf,specially raised for the Passover feast, meant that the entire village was invited for the grand party given in the returned son’s honor.  

When the elder brother refused to join in the party, the father goes out searching for the dutiful son(Lk 15:28), just as he went out to welcome the prodigal son (Lk. 15:20).  But the response of each son is quite different. It is comparable to the “Two men [who] went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax collector” (Lk. 18:10-14). It is similar to the parable of the story of two sons in Matthew (21:28-31): “A man had two sons. He went and said to the first, “My boy, go and work in the vineyard today.” He answered, “I will not go,” but afterwards thought better of it and went. The man then went and said the same thing to the second who answered, “Certainly, sir,” but did not go.”Thus, the father symbolizes the loving and unconditionally forgiving Heavenly Father who is excessive, extravagant and generous with His forgiveness and mercy.  

The self-justifying elder son:He represents the self-righteous Pharisees.  The elder son had no feelings of sympathy for his brother.  He played the part of a dutiful son, but his heart was not in it.  He was resentful, bitter and angry.  He was so jealous of his younger brother that he never wanted to see him again.  He leveled a series of allegations against his prodigal brother, whom he viewed as a rival.  Instead of honoring his father by joining him in accepting his brother and playing an appropriate role at the meal, the elder son publicly insulted and humiliated his father (vv. 28-30).  Jesus includes this character in the story to represent the scribes and Pharisees who began to complain, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”  We are not told how the elder son responded to his father’s plea, or to his father’s assurances of continued love, place and inheritance (“All I have is yours”).  Perhaps that is because Jesus meant the scribes and Pharisees to see that their own final response to the Father’s love in sending Jesus had yet to be made, and that they still had time to “return home” to their Father in welcoming Him.           

Paul emphasizes the uniqueness of every individualin the Corinthian community – “Whoever is in Christ is a new creation!”  Then he explains “the ministry of reconciliation,” received from Christ, as the continuation of Yahweh’s ministry, and of the reconciliation that occurred in Temple worship.  He tells the Corinthian converts that they are a new creation, made so through the blood of Christ.  It is the shedding of Christ’s blood that has reconciled them with God and made them righteous.  So they have reason to rejoice.  Paul further reminds the faithful at Corinth that the apostles are ambassadors of Christ, announcing this reconciliation, which God offers to all humanity through Jesus Christ.   Hence he appealed to the Corinthians to be reconciled to God and to one another, thus sharing in God’s plan of salvation.  The Apostle believes that God is constantly reconciling everyone to Himself.  Like the Corinthians, we have been made a new creation and we have been given many second chances.  Hence, it is also our ministry to proclaim that reconciliation by being reconciled to those around us, unconditionally, with no strings attached.

We need to acceptthe fact that we are all prodigal children who have squandered our Father’s inheritance.  There is a spiritual famine even in countries with a booming economy.  Because of this spiritual famine, we resemble the younger son who lived with pigs.  Examples of this spiritual famine are seen in drug and alcohol abuse, fraud and theft in the workplace, murders and violence, premarital sex, marital infidelity and priestly infidelity, as well as in hostility between people.  Sometimes this “spiritual famine” exists in our own families.  That is why we condemn some of our family members to “survival-level” existence, and even contribute to the death of some of them, by refusing to associate with them.  Let us accept the fact that we have been squandering God’s abundant blessings not only in our country and in our families, but also in our personal lives. 

3rd Sunday of Lent (C)

“Unless you repent, you will all die as they did.”

One of the recurrent themes throughout the Lenten season is the compassion and mercy of our God. History proves that Our God is always faithful and consistent. His love for us never changes, no matter how we behave, no matter how serious our sins may be. It is because God is fullness of love and he knows only to love.  It is God’s very nature and He cannot go against it. His love is like the sun, which gives its warmth to good and bad alike; like the gentle nurturing rain, which falls on good and bad alike.  We are called to imitate him by responding His love unconditionally. It is difficult for us as human beings to grasp the power and depth of his love. We do need to get rid of the idea of an angry, disappointed, vengeful God threatening catastrophe on a wicked world, an idea still being fostered by those who claim to have had special revelations.

Today’s Gospel reading underlines the Christian call to metanoia, which means conversion, repentance, and inner change, and heartens us with the reality of God’s unfathomable mercy. Jesus calls for decision and conversion by referring to two contemporary disasters and by narrating the parable of the barren fig tree. The first disaster was the Galilean massacre. Notorious for his harsh rule and insensitivity to Jewish religious beliefs, Pilate had caused the death of some Galileans while they were offering sacrifice, probably in the Jerusalem temple during the Passover. The other disaster involved what was probably a construction accident at the Siloam reservoir in Jerusalem. Jesus negates the popular speculations regarding the personal culpability of the victims of the Galilean massacre and the Siloam accident. At the same time he stresses the universal need for repentance. Unless all repent and respond positively to the Gospel, all will suffer the greater disaster of being alienated from God. The last section of the Gospel reading is Jesus’ parable of the barren fig tree which received a reprieve, or stay, from the impending punishment by the vineyard owner in response to the gardener’s compassionate plea. The parable reminds us of the long-suffering of God, but it is also a warning that those who persist in their sinful refusal to repent will suffer and eventually be cut down.

The parable of Divine Patience:The fig tree was planted, watered and nurtured with manure and care, but it failed to produce any fruits. A tree is judged by the fruit it bears, so too in our lives. So today’s readings are asking us to take a good look at ourselves: whetherwe are like that tree that Jesus speaks of in the parable in today’s Gospel. It is alive but it bears no fruit. If the tree does not bear the fruits intended by the ownershould be cut down. Every Lenten season is our chance to fertilize our tree and to see how it can be more fruitful.

Each one of us is able to bear fruit– each one of us is gifted by God with the ability to produce what the Scriptures call in some places “the fruit worthy of repentance” and in other places “the fruit of the Holy Spirit, the fruit that is described in the fifth chapter of the Letter to the Galatians as consisting of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control”

Sin and tragedies:We know that tragic events can occur randomly, as in the cases of the Galileans and the eighteen Jerusalemites, and have nothing to do with the guilt or innocence of the victims.  For example, a tornado that destroys a nightclub also destroys a Church. An earthquake or tsunami kills the saints as well as the sinners in the affected area. Drunk drivers kill innocent people. Ride-by shooters kill children and other innocent bystanders. Religious fanatics, terrorists and suicide bombers cause the untimely deaths of good as well as of bad people.  Violent people, with or without provocation, injure their loved ones. Only a few of us will have a burning-bushexperience, but all of us have struggled to understand why tragedy seems to befall innocent people. In all these cases, we need to trust in Divine mercy, believing that God is with us and God is on our side, even in those situations we cannot explain.  Jesus’ life is the clearest evidence that a person’s suffering is not proof of that person’s sin

In fact, every single experience we have is a sign of God’s love. If we are showered with blessings – spiritual, emotional or material – they are given that we may share them with others, so that we become a channel of God’s love to others. If we are struck down with disaster, disease, pain or failure, it is again a message for me to seek and find there the presence of a loving God. Paradoxically, it is often only through such experiences that we can grow and come closer to God and others. Good health and material prosperity can often lead to selfishness, individualism and neglect of others. Where there is love, there is God. Where there is no God, one is not likely to find much real love.

2nd Sunday of Lent(C)

“Master, It is good that we are here.”

Peter’s confession of Faith:

At Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asked his disciples: “Who do you say that I am?” None of them could give a satisfactory answer except Peter, who said, “You are the Christ, son of the Living God.” Jesus told Peter that he still needed to understand the meaning of what he has said. Today’s gospel recalls another insight into the person of Christ, by his own self-revelation of his very nature to the apostles Peter, James and John.

Transfiguration:

Jesus took them to the mountain and there in their presence he was transfigured. The heaven opened, Moses and Elijah were seen conversing with him. This experience had a Transforming and lasting impact on his followers. Peter cried out, “It is wonderful for us to be here, let us build three tents here, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” It is something like St. Paul saying, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ?” The disciples may have thought that they would remain forever in ecstatic bliss. But soon afterwards Luke tells us “Jesus was found alone” (v 36). The time would come when Jesus would suffer and they would need to recall the memory of Mount Tabor to encourage one another. The voice from the cloud addressed them, “This is my beloved son, listen to him.” We will understand transfiguration when we realize that we are all disfigured in some way. The whole healing ministry is about transfiguration, transfiguring the disfigured humanity.

He Started to Change:

Let us look this event from another perspective. People around Jesus expected that he would change their situation and living conditions; that he would change the world, which in their imaginations what the Messiah would do. That was in a way, even the devil wanted him to do: change the stones of this world into bread; reverse the law of gravity and become famous; and rule the world as no one ever ruled before. That is what his disciples also wanted him to do.

He came into this world to reconcile and transform the disfigured humanity with God, to regain the lost paradise for us, to show us the way to the Father, who loves us and to accompany us on our journey to heaven. He identified with the humanity and had all the expressions that we have, except the false ones. His face often showed weariness; think of the time he fell asleep in the boat. His face showed disappointment: when the Nazarenes rejected him. It showed anger: when he cleansed the temple. It showed gentleness: when the children. It showed compassion: when he saw that the people were like sheep without a shepherd; It showed sadness: when he cried on the way to the grave of his friend Lazarus. It showed fear and anguish: in the garden. It showed pain: on the cross. It was pale and frozen: when he was dead. The face he showed on Tabor was indeed a very special one, but it was not the only face of Christ.  Gospels tell us that behind all these faces lay the person of Christ, human like us (Except sin) but carrying within him also the splendor of his divinity.

The Pilgrimage to Tabor:

God’s mystery surrounds us though we are given glimpses of it. These glimpses are a given grace. How is that transformation or transfiguration to take place? For a transfiguration experience we need to appreciate silence, the capacity for attentive listening, of looking with reverence and of entering into the silence of God.By listening to Jesus, listening to all that he invites us to be and to do, however much it may seem to go against the conventions we were brought up on. It means especially listening to those words, which caused such difficulty and challenge for Peter and his companions and integrating them into my own vision of life. It means having a total trust in walking his Way, a total trust that only his Way brings me into full union with God, the source of all Truth, Love, Happiness and Peace. 

Our true greatness is a matter of faith. It is hidden from us. Christ gave his disciples a glimpse of his inner glory on Tabor. He was the new Moses, the lawgiver. He was the new and final prophet- the one who is the very Word of God made flesh. He is the presence of God among us- Emmanuel, God with us. He is God’s son, the visible manifestation of the invisible. All we have to do is to listen to him and follow him. One day as St. Paul says, ‘he will transfigure our lowly bodies into copies of his glorious body.’ Meanwhile, like Abraham, we have to live by faith. The faith that assures us that behind the most ordinary human faces lie a son or a daughter of God, a brother or a sister of Christ.

Christianity is the religion of light.The Word who became flesh is the light that illuminates every man and every woman. It is mystic light at Nazareth at the annunciation, light in Bethlehem with angels and the star, light at the Jordan River with the dove of the Spirit, light on Mount Tabor, light at Easter and light of eternity. Let us not make three tents, but we should be the tents for the Father son and the Holy Spirit to dwell in us, for us and with us.

The three transformations in our journey towards eternity: The first transformation in our lives begins at Baptism, which washes away original sin, transforming us into children of God and heirs of heaven. The second transformation takes place through our victory over the trials and tribulations of life.  Every challenge, every difficulty, every moment of suffering, is an opportunity for transformation and spiritual growth. The third transformation takes place at death.  Eternal life in Heaven, perhaps after a period of further transformation in Purgatory, is granted to those who have been found worthy.  The last transformation or transfiguration will be completed at the Second Coming when our glorified body is reunited with our soul.

1st Sunday of Lent(C)

The preferential and unconditional love and obedience to God

The gospel reading deals with the story of Jesus being tempted by the devil. The temptations of Jesus were surely part of his redeeming action for the world; but it was also his self-gift as a role model for us to follow in similar circumstances of our everyday life which is often beset with evils of suffering, testing and temptations. The three temptations together cover human life in all its major dimensions – economic, social and religious. Jesus, whom God the Father had declared at his baptism in the river Jordan, “ This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Mt. 3: 17), by encountering the comprehensive testing at the hands of the devil proved to the world that he was indeed the “Son of God”. God will not put us to testing or allow evils of any kind befall us beyond our capacity, if only we turn to him in humble prayer and supplication. The first reading therefore reminds us how God came down with a mighty hand to save his people from the hands of their Egyptian oppressors, the moment they turned to him in their distress.  Jesus repeats the experience of Israel in the desert and he emerges victorious over evil, until another “opportune time”. Being in possession of the Spirit of God, and his mastery of the Word, lead him to a triple victory:  victory over his own bodily needs, victory over the thirst for power, and the victory of his own awareness that he was the Son of God. 

The first temptationundergone by Jesus related to his need for food. After fasting for forty days, he felt hungry and was tempted to use his divine power to satisfy his hunger. It would have been enough to tell the stones to become bread. But he chose to put up with his hunger and refused to satisfy it miraculously. He knew that he owed his life to God, his Father, and that the Father would take care of it. He preferred to trust God than to trust in his own powers. His need for God was greater than his need for food. If we want to have God as our Father, we will need to learn from Jesus, the Son of God, to put ourselves into God’s hands and wait for him to satisfy our needs.

The second temptationexperienced by Jesus is even more relevant and more dangerous.  He was offered power over the world, if he denied his God and Father. Jesus refused absolutely: only God is deserving of exclusive service. Filial obedience is due only to the Father. Nothing is to be preferred to God, not even power so great that it would make him like God. Being able to rely on God, as Father is to enjoy the power of God. Anyone who overcomes, as Jesus did, the temptation to exercise power over others, does not render himself weak. Instead, he allows God to be his God more readily, and he becomes more securely his son. Knowing that we are servants of God frees us from serving other gods. We know ourselves: nobody is free more than the one who has only one Master to serve. Having God as our God makes us sons of one Father. How much more freedom we would enjoy, if we lived to serve God alone! Instead of living peacefully with God as our Father and only Master, we destroy ourselves by worrying about how important we are, or what we are able to do, constantly comparing ourselves with others. By not choosing to serve God alone, we lose the chance of having his almighty power at our disposal. By choosing other fathers, we deny God the possibility of being our only Father.

The third temptationJesus had to overcome was the most subtle and the most serious. He knew with certainty that he was the Son of God, and he felt that he could rely with certainty on his Father’s protection. What use is a Father that cannot save his Son? A God who did not help his own children would be of little benefit. The trust that Jesus had in his Father could lead him to temerity. It would be wrong for the Son to risk his life, just because he knew that God would protect him. It is wrong to put the Father to the test, just to prove that one is a son. The Father of Jesus wants to be our Master always, in time of need and in time of plenty, in sorrow and in joy, in small things and in big things.

In the Bible the desert or wilderness is a place of encounter with God or evil spirits. Jesus during his stay of forty days in the desert also had this twofold experience. As followers of Christ we also need to have such desert-experiences, in which we are tested and tempted.  We also need to remind ourselves that God be always present in such experiences. Another important point to keep in mind is that as long as we are in this world, temptation and tempter never leave us for good. And so the Evangelist makes the telling remark, “When the devil finished testing Jesus in every way, he left him for a while.” (4: 13, emphasis added). By doing so Luke was hinting at Jesus’ final temptation also in Jerusalem, when he would be hanging on the cross, facing three similar temptations at the hands of (1) the Jewish leaders, (2) the soldiers and (3) the criminal on the cross at his left ( cf. 23: 35-39).

As Jesus came victorious through these temptations, he stands as a brilliant example for all those who will have to wrestle with evil and suffering in the world. Lent is a time to face squarely temptations of different kinds by embracing afresh the Holy Spirit, given to us at baptism, when we were born into God’s family, the Church. As the same Spirit accompanied Jesus during his desert-experience, may he also accompany us into this Lenten season, which is in fact observed in remembrance of Jesus’ desert fasting. Once again Lent has begun for us; let us examine how the gospel message of today will help us to choose a pathway fitting for Jesus’ disciples, and how we will make the message of “fasting, penance and almsgiving” most fruitful in our everyday life.

8th Sunday (C)

“A good tree does not bear rotten fruit, nor does a rotten tree bear good fruit. For every tree is known by its own fruit.”  

The first reading from the Book of Sirach teaches that what is inside us is revealed through our conversation.  It is like the grain and husks are separated in a farmer’s sieve, as the quality of the metal is revealed in the potter’s fire, and as the size and quality of a tree’s fruit reveal the care it has received from the planter. Sirach’s teaching serves as an excellent preview for today’s Gospel. It reminds us, when we’re feeling judgmental, to think before we speak because what comes out of our mouth reveals our heart.       

The Gospel of the day is a continuation of the translation of the beatitudes, which is a program to achieve perfection in Christian life. Jesus asks his disciples the question: “Can a blind person guide a blind person?” In order to   lead a blind person, one must be sighted; in order to teach, one must be knowledgeable; otherwise the blind person and the student will be lost. The sight and the knowledge specified here are the insights that come through Faith, the Holy Spirit and the knowledge that comes from a Faith-filled relationship with the Lord. The point of this image of the blind leading the blind is that we must be careful when choosing whom to follow, lest we stumble into a pit alongside our blind guide.   

Advice for students & teachers of Scripture: The Christian disciples are called upon to be both    guides and teachers. Since a teacher cannot lead his students beyond what he himself has been taught, he must learn from the best teacher and then continue to learn Scripture from all available sources; the best being the Holy Spirit Who inspired Holy Scripture. Then, the learner must apply what he has learned to his own life before trying to teach others. Our goal in the Christian life must be to become like our Teacher, Jesus, in our thoughts, words, and actions.  

We have no right to criticize and judge others:The first reason Jesus gives us is we have no right to criticize unless we ourselves are free of faults. That simply means that we have no right to criticize at all, because “there is so much bad in the best of us and so much good in the worst of us that it ill becomes any of us to find fault with the rest of us.” Jesus clarifies his point by presenting the humorous simile of a man with a log stuck in his own eye trying to extract a speck of dust from someone else’s eye. It means that the task of fraternal correction (removing specks, etc.) should not be attempted without prior self-examination, though the disciple need not be completely without imperfections before the process can begin. 

We must be good at heart to be good at our deeds:“A good tree does not bear rotten fruit, nor does a rotten tree bear good fruit. For every tree is known by its own fruit.” One of the first principles in philosophy is “action follows the being.”  The fruitfulness of the tree depends on its nature. So it can easily be applied to our life. It is by our words, actions and the way of life, that we bear witness to Christ. There should not be any discrepancy in what we say and do.  The fruitfulness of our life entirely depends on the authenticity and credibility of our life.  No wonder, He confronted the Scribes and the Pharisees for their double standard of life. He wanted everyone to live a sincere and honest life by loving God and their neighbors. Naturally the leaders of the time could not accept His teaching because of their hypocritical life, which he condemned it right through in every aspect.  He tells the people to obey what they tell you, but do not imitate them.

"The treasure of the heart is the same as the root of the tree," St Bede explains. "A person who has a treasure of patience and of perfect charity in his heart yields excellent fruit; he loves his neighbor and has all the other qualities Jesus teaches; he loves his enemies, does good to him who hates him, blesses him who curses him, prays for him who calumniates him, does not react against him who attacks him or robs him; he gives to those who ask, does not claim what they have stolen from him, wishes not to judge and does not condemn, corrects patiently and affectionately those who err. But the person who has in his heart the treasure of evil does exactly the opposite: he hates his friends, speaks evil of him who loves him and does all the other things condemned by the Lord."

Paul teaches that the transformation to immortality has been made possible for all only because of Jesus Christ.Christ’s resurrection was not only the first example of the final resurrection but also one that will make all other resurrections of the believers, at the end possible. Paul also argues that our resurrection isan elevation to an entirely new mode of existence because the resurrected will acquire a “spiritual” body. Christ by his death on the cross and his rising alone have accomplished the victory over death. Hence, Paul concludes: “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be firm, steadfast, always fully devoted to the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”The hard work of the Christian life is not in vain, because the Christian is “in the Lord” who has already won the victory.

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.

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.