Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

Readings: Ezekiel 17:22-24; 2 Cor 5:6-10; Mk 4:26-34

This Sunday the readings focus on the mysterious nature and growth of the kingdom of God. In the first reading, the prophet Ezekiel uses the metaphor of a cedar tree whose tender shoot the Lord takes and plants on a high mountain of Israel. The Lord cares for the tender shoot so that it puts forth branches and bears fruits and becomes a large cedar. Hence the Lord speaks through the prophet to describe what God will in restoring the house of David from insignificant beginnings and weakness into a noble significant tree. The shoot taken from the top of the tree will be planted on a high mountain of Israel. There it will flourish, produce branches, yield fruit, and provide shelter for every winged animal. It will be a chosen tree, a majestic cedar, known for its strength and precious wood. This metaphor has a messianic meaning. Behind the use of this image is a biblical teaching that God chooses the weak and the lowly to make them strong. These words of the Lord describe a reversal of fortunes that God is doing. What was once weak and vulnerable will become exalted. That prophecy is fulfilled in Christ.

In the Gospel, Jesus uses two short parables to show how the kingdom of God unfolds mysteriously from very insignificant humble beginnings. In the first parable, Jesus compares the growth of the kingdom to a seed that is planted by a farmer who then retires from the scene going about other duties. The growth of the seed depends on its own potential growth, not on the farmer. The mystery of that growth belongs to the seed and the soil. The only requirement for the farmer is vigilance and patience. Similarly, the seed of the kingdom planted by Jesus Christ grows hidden and mysteriously. That seed is planted in the hearts of each of us, and unrecognized as it grows. However, we need be open to the unfolding potential of the seed as it transforms each of us into something beautiful for God and for the growth of the Church. Because the growth of the seed is God’s plan and secret, that growth can happen in the most unexpected ways, times and place. Even the people that come our way in moments we never planned is part of that growth. The kingdom of God grows in the most unlikely places: in the poor, in the midst of persecution, in our sickness or that of our relatives, in our family trial moments; in times of personal struggle or in doubt. That is the good news. What seems humanly insignificant, failure or impossible is transformed by God’s power and grace into success, and a wonderful experience of God’s salvation. The bottom line is that we need to be open to God’s work; to God’s planting of the seed of his word in our hearts. We must never be discouraged by what seems to be insignificant or failure for God thrives in failure and powerlessness.

©2012 John S. Mbinda

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

Readings: Gn 3:9-15; Ps 130:1-8; 2 Cor 4:13-5:1; Mk 3:20-35

Unity, division and forgiveness are themes that themes in the gospel of this Sunday. The gospel this Sunday is partially about a strange accusation of Jesus driving out demons by the power of the devil. To that accusation by the pharisee Jesus gives an answer at once simple and profound. "How can Satan be divided against Satan? A house divided against itself cannot stand." Jesus cannot be devil-possessed and at the same time cast out devils. Still, there is something more here. Satan really is the master of division, disunity. The word devil comes from the Greek, diabollein which means to throw across or tear apart. Satan is the destroyer of unity. Jesus on the other hand came to bring a deep, substantial unity. One of the signs of being his followers is that we are constantly working for more profound unity and harmony.

The pastor in the parish has the primary responsibility for bringing all the members of the parish together as one family. But not only that. He also must be sure we are closely joined to our bishop and the Holy Father--the diocese and the universal Church. Jesus wants his Church to be one. Our unity will attract others to Jesus and his Church, while division will drive many away. Unity with Jesus is based on receiving his forgiveness and forgiving each other. Regarding that forgiveness, we hear something a little jarring in today's Gospel. "Every sin will be forgiven, except the sin against the Holy Spirit. It can never be forgiven. It is an eternal sin." This sound like an exception to what we always hear about Jesus forgiving everything.

The unforgivable sin--the sin against the Holy Spirit is the sin of those who said Jesus has an unclean spirit. Now, obviously not just uttering those words, but what they mean. It's like saying I do not believe Jesus has the power to forgive. His blood means nothing to me. His death on the cross makes no difference. When a person says that--and means it--he cannot be forgiven, because has rejected the whole basis for forgiveness. It's like the guy who falls off a ship. The sailors throw him a float boat, but he is so proud that he pushes it away. He finally drowns because he rejects the one thing which could save him. The only way we can be rescued is by clinging to Jesus, embracing Him and, his Cross.  So what is the good news? The good news may be summed up in three points. 1) Jesus came to bring us all to unity with the Father and with one another through the Holy Spirit. 2) Unity with Jesus is based on receiving his forgiveness and forgiving each other. 3) Rejecting forgiveness is clearly unforgivable. It is like refusing to catch a lifeboat at sea, the only way you can be saved.

©2018 John S, Mbinda

Saturday, June 2, 2018

The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ Year B

Readings: Exodus 24:3-8; Hebrews 9: 11-15; Mark 14:12-16, 22-26

Corpus Christi intends to underline our unity (communion) with Christ - the Body, and we - his members. Every Eucharistic celebration is a source of communion that finds its summit in the Holy Communion. While the Body and Blood of Christ nourish us spiritually, there is a tendency to forget and neglect the social justice dimension of the Eucharist. The Solemnity of Corpus Christi is an appropriate occasion to recall that aspect. On the Occasion of the Year of the Eucharist (October 2004 to October 2005), Pope John Paul II in his Apostolic Letter Mane Nobiscum Domine said: “Can we not make this Year of the Eucharist an occasion for diocesan and parish communities to commit themselves in a particular way to responding to one of the many forms of poverty present in our world?” He cautioned that “The criterion by which the authenticity of our Eucharistic celebrations is judged, will be our mutual love and in particular our concern for those in need”. The Apostle Paul says that it is “unworthy” of a Christian community to partake of the Lord’s Supper amid division and indifference towards the poor (1 Cor 11:17-22, 27-34). Our Catechism (1397) tells us: “To receive in truth the Body and Blood of Christ given up for us, we must recognize Christ in the poorest, his brethren”. The Eucharistic meal is shared equally by the faithful. There is no division. Yet we often leave from this “meal” only to condone division or discrimination against our brothers and sisters according to the social categories in which we place them. Continued injustice, discrimination and other forms of structural injustices reflect either a lack of understanding of the social dimensions of the Eucharist or a lack of willingness to act on the social imperatives of the Eucharist. Our celebration of the Eucharist cannot be divorced from the injustices around us. “The Eucharist commits us to the poor” (Catechism, 1397). The US Catholic Bishops said in 2003, the Eucharist challenges us “to seek a place at the table of life for all God’s children”.

The Scriptures offer us a deeper understanding of the close relation between the Eucharist and this universal mission of the Church. Christ, "the living bread that came down from heaven" (Jn 6: 51; cf. Gospel Acclamation), is the only one who can satisfy the hunger of human beings of every time and in every corner of the earth. The miracle of the multiplication of loaves is a symbol of God’s overabundance for al, but also a symbol of Christ’s compassion and love renewed every day at Holy Mass. As we receive the Eucharist we become living instruments of the presence of God’s compassion, love, mercy and peace. The Gospel passage from Mark on the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper not only underlines God’s covenant sealed with the Blood of His Son, but also the unity brought about by the sharing in the Eucharistic meal. The Eucharist is therefore a great sign of unity and communion with Christ and with one another. What message do we take home this Sunday? 1) The Eucharist is a real memorial of the sacrifice Christ offered for the liberation of everything that oppresses human beings, but above all liberation from sin. 2) Our Sunday celebration of the Eucharist cannot be divorced from the injustices around us because at its very heart, the Eucharist is a proclamation of social justice. 3) The Eucharist is the most powerful language Jesus has spoken to us, but the power of that language can easily be lost if we neglect its application on the social level; if it impact ends only on the personal level.

©2018 John S. Mbinda

Thursday, May 24, 2018

The Most Holy Trinity Sunday Year B

Readings: Deut 4:32-34, 39-40; Rom 8:14-17; Mat 28:16-20

"In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit". Amen. That brief familiar prayer immediately leads us into the central mystery we celebrate this Sunday - the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity. Jesus in his earthly life gradually revealed to his disciples the mystery of being totally united with his Father. One is reminded of the conversation between Jesus and Philip in St. John's Gospel, where Philip asked Jesus to show them the Father. Jesus replied to him: "You must believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me"(Jn. 14:11). We recall that at Jesus' Baptism, the Holy Spirit descended upon him. In the preface of Trinity Sunday we pray in the following words: “You have revealed your glory as the glory also of your Son and the glory of the Holy Spirit: three persons equal in majesty, undivided in splendour, yet one Lord, one God, ever to be adored in everlasting glory”. Even with such a beautiful prayer we can hardly claim to understand the profound mystery of the Holy Trinity. In the Gospel of this Sunday, Jesus instructs his disciples before his ascension into heaven to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Didache or Teachings of the Twelve – written as early as 50 A.D. - gives the same mandate of baptizing in the name of Triune God: “After the foregoing instructions, baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living [running] water. If you do not have living water, then baptize in other form of water. If you are not able to baptize in cold water, then baptize in warm. If you have neither cold nor warm water, then pour the water three times on the head, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Therefore the Trinitarian baptismal formula is not only biblical but also backed by apostolic Tradition.

The teaching on the Holy Trinity has always been problematic because we tend to look at it as a mathematical formula to be understood. Rather the Holy Trinity is a model of life to be imitated. There is a very simple way to reflect on the mystery we celebrate this Sunday. The life of the Holy Trinity is a life of intense sharing of one and the same life, in the most perfect manner possible. That is perhaps the reason why, God in creating us does not immediately take us into heaven. The explanation is simple. If God did so we would mess life up there! Thus our life on earth is meant to be a time to practice sharing life with the people God has given us, in order to gain the experience of the Trinitarian life first. We need to do this so intensely and intimately that we become totally transparent to others, with nothing of our own to hide, in complete trust and confidence in one another. In other words, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is not just a subject for theological speculation but a life of communion and sharing to be imitated and lived. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) We are challenged to try to live the Trinitarian life of communion with each other; 2) The life of the Holy Trinity is a life of communion and sharing we can live and imitate. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

 ©2018 John S. Mbinda

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Pentecost Sunday Year B

Readings: Acts 2:1-11; 1 Cor. 12:3-7,12-13; John 20:19-23

Receive the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of renewal, forgiveness, peace and reconciliation. Fifty days after Easter, we celebrate the great feast of Pentecost, when Christ filled his Church with the Holy Spirit. The feast of Pentecost completes the mysteries we have been celebrating since Holy Week: the Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension of the Lord that culminates in the sending of the Spirit of the Father and of the Son on his disciples. As we listen to the first reading, we relive the event of the first Pentecost. We are told that a noise like a strong driving wind came from the sky. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire resting on each of them. In the Second Reading, Paul deals with the issue of some members of the Corinthian community who considered themselves more important than others on account of their personal talents. Paul reminds them that God's Spirit is the source of unity as well as a wonderful diversity of gifts in the growth of the community. Therefore, there is no place for inflated egos in the community of the baptized. The Gospel from John gives a brief account of the Risen Lord Jesus offering the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles and sending them. "As the Father has sent me, so I send you…Receive the Holy Spirit", the Spirit of forgiveness, peace and reconciliation.

Pentecost is therefore the crowning of the Paschal Mystery of Christ, who now fulfils his promise of sending the Holy Spirit upon the apostles. Let us for a moment recall the words of the promise. "When the advocate comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who issues from the Father, he will be my witness. And you too will be witnesses, because you have been with me from the outset" (Jn. 15:26).  There are those who give witness today by their lives that Jesus is the Messiah and the way he taught us is the only way to live. Yet others do not witness to Jesus but engage in “the works of the flesh,” contrary to the “work of the Spirit.” In the first reading we hear that everyone in Jerusalem heard the apostles and disciples speaking in their own language. In our day there is one language that can unite all peoples, that is if we as Christians are united in love as authentic followers of Jesus Christ. The language of love and living as authentic and genuine followers of Jesus is what attracts people to the Church and helps them to follow Jesus. The fulfilment of Jesus’ promise, the coming of the Holy Spirit, inaugurates the Church, and gives the apostles power from on high (Lk. 24:49). This power would enable the apostles to bear witness starting from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. Liturgically, Pentecost is one of the most moving celebra­tions of the year. The small gathering of disciples, who had locked themselves in a room, "for fear of the Jews" (Jn. 20:19), are suddenly filled with the Holy Spirit, and begin “to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim” the mighty acts of God. Amazement and astonishment filled the listening crowds as each heard the apostles in his/her own language. The message of Pentecost may be summed up in 3 points: 1) The Holy Spirit leads us to conversion and transforms our fears into courage; our weakness into strength; our desire to grab into a spirit of sharing. 2) The Holy Spirit is the source of unity as well as a wonderful diversity of gifts for the growth of the Church at all levels; 3) On Pentecost day, Christ sends us all anew into the world to bring the gift of the Father’s compassion, peace, reconciliation and forgiveness for all.

©2012 John S. Mbinda