4th Sunday of Lent (B)

The Gospel of John is often considered the most difficult of the Gospels – highly symbolic in its expression and deeply theological in its content.  John likes to use terms with more than one meaning and thus invite us to a deeper level of reflection. The core of Christianity is the experience of the love of God in the person of Jesus.  Unlike the other religions in Christianity it is God who takes the initiative and all that we need to do is to respond to it with love and submission. This is the experience of our salvation. Jesus is the visible manifestation of God and believing in Him is being open to the possibility that we can experience God in the person of Jesus.

The Gospel of today makes a comparison with Moses, who was also an agent of God and a savior of God’s people. In this Biblical passage, Jesus was referring to an event that occurred in the days of the Old Testament. The Israelites in the desert had been complaining bitterly about their conditions and were punished by God who sent a plague of serpents among the people and many died. At God’s command, Moses raised up a bronze serpent on a pole “and whenever anyone who had been bitten by a serpent looked at the bronze serpent, he recovered”. John tells us that Jesus too will be lifted up. For John Jesus’ being “lifted up” includes both his being raised up on a cross and being raised up to be with his Father in glory at the resurrection.

B) Believing in Jesus: This includes three elements: 1) the belief that God is our loving Father, 2) the belief that Jesus is the Son of God and, therefore, tells us the truth about God and life, and 3) the belief that we must give unquestioning obedience to Jesus. “I believe in ” means I put my trust in Jesus and I seek to obey Him. The Faith of which our Lord speaks is not just intellectual acceptance of the truths He has taught: it involves recognizing Him as Son of God (cf. 1 John 5:1), sharing His very life (cf. John 1:12) and surrendering ourselves to Him out of love, thereby becoming like Him (cf. John 10:27; 1 John 3:2).

The Gospel of the Gospels: John 3:16 is probably the best loved verse in the Bible and it has been called “everybody’s text” and the “Gospel of the Gospels.”  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” This is the summary of the Gospel message of salvation through Christ Jesus. This text is the very essence of the Gospel. It tells us that the God takes the initiative in all salvation because of His love for man.

God’s love for us is personal as St. Augustine puts it: “God loves each one of us as if there were only one of us to love.” It also explains to us the universality of the love of God. God’s motive is love and God’s objective is salvation. Those who actually receive eternal life must believe in the Son.

Gospel reveals that the depth of God’s love is sacrificial. God gave us the only Son, allowed the only Son to be “lifted up” on a cross, and now remains patient with us while we struggle with choosing between darkness and light, evil and truth. Moreover, in the very midst of our ongoing struggle, it is God who brings us to greater belief and leads us to eternal life. Such is the depth of love God has for us. God here sacrifices something most precious to him, his own son so that we may have life in and through him.

God’s love is forgiving: God is love and forgiveness is the essence of this great love God has for us. The parable of the prodigal son is a very powerful example of God’s forgiving attitude. He forgave the sinners and reconciled them to God. “It is mercy that I desire and not sacrifice.” The culmination of it is from the cross “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”

Love of darkness and God’s judgment:  When we walk according to the teachings of Christ, we are walking in the Light. If we oppose these teachings, we oppose Christ himself; hence, we are walking in darkness. In today’s text, we are told, Light has come into the world, but people loved the darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. There are many dark corners in our world.  Addiction to alcohol, drugs, gambling and pornography, sexual immorality, environmental irresponsibility, and a lack of purpose among so many of us, especially among young people are a few of these dark corners.  It is very easy to pretend that these dark corners don’t exist.   Our lives matter to God, and He knows all about the dark corners in our lives. He wants us to stop hiding our sin in the dark and demands that we expose every dark corner to His Light of life. He is giving to us the Light that not only shows up the dirt in our lives but cleanse it away. He died so that we could be made new and clean. Freely, the light of His forgiveness shines into our lives, brightening up every corner, forgiving every sin, restoring our relationship with God, renewing our lives.

We need to love the cross, the symbol of God’s forgiving and merciful love: The crucifix – the symbol of the “lifted up” Jesus – holds a central place in our Churches because it is a forceful reminder not only of God’s love and mercy, but also of the price of our salvation.  Hence, no Christian home should be without this symbol of God’s love.  The crucifix invites us to respond with more than compassion; it inspires us to remove the suffering of other people’s misery.  It encourages us not only to feel deep sorrow for another’s suffering, but also to try our best to remove that suffering. Hence, let us love the cross, wear its image and carry our own daily cross with joy.

Let us be bearers of Jesus’ light and carry it to other people. When we allow the Light of God’s forgiveness to shine in our lives, it brightens up every corner, forgives every sin, restores our relationship with God and renews our lives. Whoever follows Jesus will not walk in darkness. We will experience the joy and peace of sins forgiven, of new attitudes and of new relationships with family and friends. Jesus’ Light of truth, justice, holiness and charity shining in our lives ought to bring blessing to others. We are to let this Light of Christ shine through us into the lives of the people around us.  The Light we give to others can dispel the darkness of their lives and bring them to a completely new outlook. Let us not underestimate what the Light of Christ can do through us. As Jesus said: “You are the light of the world…. your light must shine before people so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in Heaven” (Matthew 5:14, 16).

3rd Sunday in Lent (B)

The Gospel of today focuses on cleansing of the Temple by Jesus. In the Synoptic Gospels, this scene takes place at the end of the “Palm Sunday Procession” into the holy city. With the people shouting out in triumph, Jesus entered into the temple area, not to do homage but to challenge the temple and its leaders. He overturned the tables of the moneychangers and upset the stalls of those selling birds and animals for the sacrifice. What a teaching moment this was! Jesus quoted from the Scriptures: “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations … but you have made it a den of robbers” (Mark 11:17, Isaiah 56:6-7, Jeremiah 7:11).

What saddens Jesus is to see the degeneration of a religious place caused by a logic of merchandising the sacred as if God could be bought. It is indeed a petty reduction of God. Instead of worshiping God, gratuitous love, with offerings that show a gratitude for this providential love, it becomes a serious impoverishment of the face of God, who is gratuitous Love. God the Father is not an officer to be bribed or a salesperson appease with a big donation. In short, we cannot bargain with God. He stopped the temple service that had outlived its aim and was no longer relevant existence.

In the Fourth Gospel, the cleansing of the temple takes place at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and not at the beginning of the events of the last days of Jesus’ life. The startling words and actions of Jesus in the temple, whether they are from the Synoptic accounts or John’s account, took on new meaning for later generations of Christians. “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house into a market place!” The temple was not a commercial center or shopping mall but rather a holy place of the Father. Like the prophets before him, Jesus tried to awaken the hearts of his people.

Jesus’ disciples recall him saying in the temple the words of Psalm 68:10: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” When the magnificent Temple of Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Romans, and both Jews and Christians grieved at its loss, the followers of Jesus recalled this incident in the temple. Now they could see new meaning in it; it was a sign that the old temple was finished but a new temple was to be built. This new temple would not be of stone and wood and gold. It would be a living temple of holy people (I Peter 2:4-6; Ephesians 2:19-22).

Extreme Jesus: One intriguing aspect of today’s Gospel story is the portrait of an angry Jesus in the temple-cleansing scene that gives way to two extremes in our own image of the Lord. Some people wish to transform an otherwise passive Christ into a whip-cracking revolutionary. Others would like to excise any human qualities of Jesus and paint a very meek, bland character, who smiled, kept silent and never rocked the boat. The errors of the old extreme, however, do not justify a new extremism.

Jesus was not exclusively, not even primarily, concerned with social reform. Rather, he was filled with a deep devotion and burning love for his Father and the things of his Father. He wanted to form new people, created in God’s image, who are sustained by his love, and bring that love to others. Jesus’ disciples and apostles recognized him as a passionate figure; one who was committed to life and to losing it for the sake of truth and fidelity.

The Prophets have spoken in the name of God about the kind of worship they ought to do. It is mercy that I desire and not sacrifice. The Lord says: Do you think I like the sacrifices you keep offering to me? Who asked you to do all these when you come to worship me? Who asked you to do all the tramping about in my temple? He continues to say what is right to do. Wash yourselves clean. Stop all evil that I see you doing. Yes, stop evil, and learn to do right. See that justice is done. Help those who are oppressed. Give orphans their right and defend the widows.

After this event Pharisees quizzed Jesus whether he could show any sign to them. Jesus answers that He could rebuild the temple within three days. Jesus was talking about his own body as temple. There is a message for every one of us. Jesus body is a temple. The old temple service is stopped by him and the new temple has been announced. The one in which God is with the orphans and the widows, with the marginalized of the society, with the sinners and the sick. St. Paul reminds us that even our body is the temple of God. Then we should not make it a den of robbers. If my body is the temple of God, our neighbors also are temples of God. This should prompt us to respect and revere them. As temple is kept neat and tidy, we should keep the temple premises, our environment neat and clean.

Message of the cross: In St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians (1:18, 22-25), we hear about “the message of the cross that is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.” For St. Paul, the cross represents the center of his theology: To say cross means to say salvation as grace given to every creature. It was the will of God through the foolishness of the proclamation to save those who have faith. For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. The “scandal” and the “foolishness” of the cross are precisely in the fact that where there seems to be only failure, sorrow and defeat, precisely there, is all the power of the boundless love of God. The cross is the expression of love and love is the true power that is revealed precisely in this seeming weakness.

St. Paul has experienced this even in his own flesh, and he gives us testimony of this in various passages of his spiritual journey, which have become important points of departure for every disciple of Jesus: “He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness’” (2 Corinthians 12:9); and even “God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something” (1 Corinthians 1:28).

2nd Sunday of Lent(B)

The event of the transfiguration of Jesus gives us a glimpse of the glorious fulfillment of Christ’s paschal journey through rejection, humiliation, suffering and resurrection. The primary purpose of Jesus’ Transfiguration was to make Jesus’ chosen disciples aware of Jesus’ Divine glory so that they might discard their worldly ambitions and dreams of a conquering political Messiah and might be strengthened in their time of trial.  The Transfiguration also established Jesus’ glorious identity as the beloved Son of God and placed his Divine Sonship in the context of Jewish expectations about the kingdom and the resurrection of the dead.

While Jesus was praying his face changed and his clothing became radiant white. It wasn’t that Jesus reflected light, it wasn’t light shining on Jesus, but it was light coming from Jesus. Now Jesus’ divinity shone forth through his humanity. When Jesus is in prayer with his Father we see his true self; his divinity is revealed like never before, as he shares in the radiance of his Father. In the Nicene Creed we profess that Jesus is truly divine, begotten of the Father, consubstantial with the Father, “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God.” When Jesus was transfigured, the Father and Son, Light and Light, are in prayerful union. When we pray, light doesn’t shine through us but we ask God to shine his light on us. When Moses came down Mount Sinai his face shone because he had been talking with God (Ex 34:29) and he had to put a veil on his face (Ex 34:34-35). When we pray, we enter the presence of God, God’s light. Our faces do not shine, but we ask to be enlightened in prayer. Peter said to Jesus, “it is good that we are here” and when we pray, we are our truest self because our longing for God is now being fulfilled.

God the Father’s Voice from the cloud: The book of Exodus describes how God spoke to Moses at Mount Sinai from the cloud.  God often made appearances in a cloud (Ex 24:15-17; 13:21 -22; 34:5; 40:34; 1 Kings 8:10-11).   We are told how God revealed His presence in the Temple of Jerusalem on the day the Ark of the Covenant was placed under the cherubim, and the Temple was dedicated: “When the priests left the Holy place, the Cloud filled the entire Temple, so that the priests could no longer minister, because of the Cloud, since the Lord’ Glory had filled the Temple of the Lord” (1 Kgs 8:10-11). The Jews generally believed that the phenomenon of the cloud would be repeated when the Messiah arrived.  God’s words from the cloud, “This is My Beloved Son; listen to him,” are similar to the words used by God at Jesus’ baptism: “You are My beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” Mk 1:11). At the moment of Jesus’ death, a Roman centurion would declare, “Truly, this man was the Son of God” (15:39).  These words summarize the meaning of the Transfiguration, that on this mountain, God revealed Jesus as His Son — His beloved — the One in whom He is always well pleased and the One to whom we must listen.

The three transformations in our lives in our journey towards eternity: The first change 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.

The transubstantiation in the Holy Mass is the source of our strength: In each Holy Mass, the bread and wine we offer on the altar are changed into the crucified and risen, living body and blood of Jesus.  Just as Jesus’ Transfiguration strengthened the apostles in their time of trial, each holy Mass should be our source of heavenly strength against temptations, and our renewal during Lent.  In addition, our holy Communion with the living Jesus should be the source of our daily “transfiguration,” transforming our minds and hearts so that we may do more good by humble and selfless service to others.

Each time we receive one of the Sacraments, we are transformed: For example, Baptism transforms us into sons and daughters of God and heirs of Heaven. Confirmation makes us temples of the Holy Spirit and warriors of God.  By the Sacrament of Reconciliation, God brings back the sinner to the path of holiness.

We need “mountain-top experiences” in our lives: We share the “mountain-top experience” of Peter, James and John when we spend extra time in prayer during Lent.  Fasting for one day will help the body to store up spiritual energy.  This spiritual energy can help us have thoughts that are far higher and nobler than our usual mundane thinking.  The hunger we experience puts us more closely in touch with God and makes us more willing to help the hungry.  The crosses of our daily lives also can lead us to the glory of transfiguration and resurrection.

We need transformation in our Christian lives so that we may seek reconciliation instead of revenge, love our enemies, pray for those who hate us, give to the needy without expecting a reward, refuse to judge others and make friends with those we don’t naturally like. This transformation will also enable us to hold back on harsh words and let love rule so that we may seek reconciliation rather than revenge, pray for those who give us a hard time, avoid bad-mouthing those we don’t agree with, forgive those who hurt us, and love those who hate us.

1st Sunday of Lent (B)

“Repent and believe in the Good News of God’s Kingdom.”

Lent is a time of repentance and conversion through self-examination, self-discipline and self-commitment. It is the time to return, renew and reconcile our relationship with God. It is an invitation to respond positively for a purposeful reflection on one’s need for encountering God. During lent we spend six weeks preparing to celebrate the high point of our faith: the Paschal Mystery, the suffering, death and resurrection of the Incarnate God. Formerly it was a time of severe penance as a way of purifying ourselves from our sinful habits and preparing ready to celebrate the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ with a renewed commitment to follow him.

In the Gospel of today, mark tells us that after his baptism, Jesus goes into the desert for forty days. And, during that time, he is tested by the evil one. Mark does not say how he was tested or tempted but Matthew and Luke do. These tests are really examples of the kind of tests that Jesus was to face in the course of his public life and how we are going to be tempted in our life. There is the temptation to change stones to bread so that Jesus satisfies the hunger, to jump down the pinnacle of the temple and present himself as messiah, and finally to worship the Satan and receive the universe as a reward. These temptations can be summarized to say that it was an invitation to be unfaithful to the Mission of the Lord. Satan shows the easy way but the Father wants Jesus to be faithful to his mission of suffering and death to rise again. He is tested frequently by enemies from among his own people and by the Romans. His own relatives say that he is out of his mind (Mark 3: 21). The most severe temptation comes when he appears to have failed in his mission; he is misunderstood, betrayed, and abandoned by his disciples; he is arrested, undergoes the humiliation and torture associated with a criminal’s public execution; and finally he apparently has the experience of being forsaken by God while dying on a cross.

Mark here gives us the first public words of Jesus, his Messianic mission’s basic keynote speech, which has four specific messages: “The time is fulfilled. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent. Believe in the Gospel.” This message summarizes the purpose of Jesus’ ministry. In this statement Jesus is not asking his audience to do or not to do something to shape their future in Heaven.  He is concerned with the here and now. Repentance, (metanoia) is a change of mind and heart, a lifelong process of transformation. The Good News Jesus announced is that God is already working here among us, so close to us that we can reach out and touch Him in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of Man. But we will be able to experience Jesus as Son of God only if we undergo a complete change in our value system and priorities by means of true repentance. Jesus announces, “the time has come,” meaning that the long-expected “Kingdom of God” is present in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

Jesus says that the Kingdom of God is at hand. His kingdom is not a political kingdom but a spiritual one. That is why when Pilate questions Jesus says that his kingdom is not of this world. This kingdom is God’s rule in the heart of the individual. This was established with creation and man lost it through his disobedience and God wants to restore it in Jesus. This will be fully realized at the end of times when Jesus restores all things to the Father. How are we to achieve this kingdom? We can achieve this by “believing in the Gospel”. Not just believing that the Gospel is true; but believing IN the Gospel. There is a world of difference between believing something and believing in something, or, even more significantly, believing in a person. Where the Kingdom is concerned, this involves a total commitment of ourselves to the way of life presented in the Gospel and a sharing of its vision of life. This will mean a turning upside down of many of the values we take for granted and which prevail in our world.

The presence of God’s Kingdom in Jesus is revealed also by the liberation of people from the destructive forces in their lives, by the bringing back of the rejected and the outcast, by the forgiveness and reconciliation given to repentant sinners and finally by the supreme act of self-giving love of Jesus’ passion, death and Resurrection. “Believing in the Gospel” means a total commitment to the way of life presented in the Gospel and a sharing of its vision of life.

In the Second Reading taken from the First Letter of Peter, we heard the author speaking to the believers about their suffering and the sufferings of Jesus. Peter tells them that since Jesus had triumphed, they would also triumph. Their Baptism was the pledge of their triumph for it gave them a share in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He also tells the Gentile community that Jesus suffered for our sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring us to God. The sacrifice of Jesus was not just for a few, but for all of us, from the beginning of time until the end of time. He, who was sinless, took upon Himself the weight of our sins and allowed Himself to be crucified in our place so God the Father may be appeased. Christ died for us!

6th Sunday (B)

“If you wish, you can make me clean.”

The man with leprosy was facing a serious problem in three areas of life, physical, social and spiritual problems, and the kind of problems we face. The leprosy at that time was the most dreaded sickness, which was incurable. The sickness slowly eats out the body and the body deforms. Now if you are facing a physical problem today, perhaps you can identify with this man. Or perhaps you can be thankful that your problem is not nearly as bad as the physical problem this man was facing.

The man had social problem:  The leper was a social outcast. One reason for this was due to the fact that leprosy can be contagious. It can be transmitted through the air or through contact with something the leper has touched. The leper had not only to bear the physical pain of his disease; he also had to bear the anguish and the heartbreak of being banished from human society and shunned literally like the plague. The only friends they could have would be other lepers.

The man had spiritual problem. According to the law he is spiritually unclean. Today’s first reading from Leviticus narrates that the person with such disease is unclean. The priest will declare him unclean. In this condition that person was required to be separated from others. That meant that he could not participate in temple worship or many other activities. But whereas most conditions of uncleanness were only temporary, leprosy was usually a lifetime condition. The second spiritual problem this man had was the fact that he was made to feel that his leprosy was due to his sin, or perhaps the sins of his parents. The Jewish Rabbis loved to trace disease to moral causes. They would say, that the sickness is not healed, until all his sins are forgiven. Thus, leprosy was described as a chastisement from God.

Throughout the ages “lepers” of all sorts are considered a menace to the society and are alienated. Our Lord Jesus, however, does not stand at a distance fearing of contamination. He “touches” the leper and the afflicted one is made clean. In today’s Gospel reading (Mk 1:40-45), the evangelist Mark depicts one of the most beautiful pictures of Christian compassion. In this narrative, he portrays Jesus as offering a completely new and radical response to the unmitigated human suffering personified by a leper. Breaking down the barriers of hygiene and ritual purity, Jesus does the unimaginable. Responding with compassion to the leper’s faith invocation, “If you wish, you can make me clean”, Jesus stretches out his hand and touches him saying, “I do will it. Be made clean.” He touches the “untouchable” with his healing hand. He comforts the outcast with an authoritative word that would bring him wholeness. Indeed, in the Gospel accounts, the cleansing of lepers is a victorious messianic sign that the Kingdom of God has come.

The healing ministry of Jesus, moreover, is always linked with his paschal victory on the cross. The great healer restored our wholeness, totally and radically, at the moment he surrenders his life on the cross. Blessed Paul VI underlines the relationship between the passion of Christ and the healing of our infirmities: “The loving gesture of Christ, who approaches lepers comforting them and curing them, has its full and mysterious expression in the passion. Tortured and disfigured by the sweat of blood, the flagellation, the crowning with thorns, the crucifixion, the rejection by the people he had helped, he identifies himself with lepers, becomes the image and symbol of them, as the prophet Isaiah had foreseen, contemplating the mystery of the Servant of the Lord: ‘He had no form or comeliness … He was despised and rejected by men …as one from whom men hide their faces … we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted.’ But it is just from the wounds in Jesus’ tortured body and from the power of his resurrection that life and hope gushes for all men stricken by evil and infirmity.” Indeed, in his suffering and death on the cross, Jesus assumed in himself the human misery symbolized in the afflictions of a leprous victim. In his compassionate acts of healing and in his paschal victory on the cross, Jesus is truly “the fellow sufferer who understands” and strengthens us.

One of the exigencies of Christian life is to bring the healing ministry of Jesus to the many “lepers” of today, especially the millions of victims of Hansen’s disease all over the world who, more than all others, fit the description “the poorest of the poor”. Mother Teresa of Calcutta dedicated her ministry of charity in a special way to these lepers, impelled by the slogan that was a rewording of the ancient taboo. “Touch a leper with your compassion.” Mother Teresa, moreover, spoke of the “leprosy of the Western world”, which is, the leprosy of loneliness. In her ministry to the lonely, the unwanted, the marginalized, the rejected, the AIDS victim, etc. she had given witness that with the love of Christ, there is healing for the leprosy of our modern times. Indeed, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, together with St. Francis of Assisi, Blessed Damien of Molokai, and many other Christian disciples, had shown that it is possible to respond to the Christian missionary imperative: “Cure the sick … cleanse the lepers!” (Mt 10:8) and that it is necessary to replicate the healing gesture of Christ: “Touch a leper with your compassion.”

St. Paul in the second reading of the day emphasizes that the “glory of God” is the supreme object of all our actions. But in seeking the divine glory, we must always be animated by charity – like our model, Jesus Christ. St. Paul’s exhortation to imitate Christ in dealing with the weak and vulnerable reinforces the challenge of this Sunday’s Gospel reading (Mk 1:40-45) and Old Testament reading (Lv 13:1-2, 44-46). The Christians of today and in every time and space are called to imitate the compassionate stance of Jesus Christ, especially for the marginalized and the “lepers” of human society. Our loving Lord and Savior achieved the fullness of his healing and saving ministry upon the Cross – covered with sores and wounds – despised and rejected like a repulsive leper. Like Jesus Christ, we too are called to be healers for others, even and especially in our own experience of passion and suffering. The liturgical scholar Aelred Rosser remarks: “Jesus is the great healer – restoring our health at the moment he surrenders his life. The kingdom he brings is one in which all are healed and called to be healers. To be his disciple is not to be free of wounds and scars, but to be like him, a wounded healer.”