Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Twenty Sixth Sunday Ordinary Time Year C

Readings: Amos 6:1,4-7; 1 Tim 6:11-16; Luke 16:19-31

Last Sunday the readings focused on the wise use of material goods and challenged us to make use of the skills we have to win friendship with God while there is time. This Sunday, the readings draw a sharp contrast between those who are rich and those who are poor - between those who have lots of power and control and those who have little power and control. The prophet Amos in the first reading warns the leaders of Israel that they will be the first to be deported into exile, because they dine like kings while the nation of Israel collapses. Amos lived in Judah around the middle of the eighth century B.C., at a time when there was a great social gap between the rich and the poor, in times when the wealthy had many possibilities of greater profit, and the poor could only grow poorer. Against this Old Testament background, Jesus tells another the parable in response to the criticism of the scribes and the Pharisee regarding welcoming sinners and eating with them.

The parable of the rich man and Lazarus is a perfect response by Jesus to the Pharisees who categorized the poor as sinners. The story of the rich man dressed in royal purple and Lazarus "dressed in sores", sets the stage for a dramatic reversal of fortunes. Lazarus was not only poor, but sick and handicapped. He was laid at the gates of the rich man's house daily to eat the scraps from his table. Dogs licked the sores of Lazarus as it were, feasting on him. The rich man who dinned lavishly daily could have opened the gate and helped Lazarus, but he did not. In the parable, Jesus paints a dramatic scene of contrasts: riches and poverty, heaven and hell, compassion and indifference, inclusion and exclusion. There is also an abrupt and dramatic reversal of fortunes. We are told that the poor man died and carried by angels to Abraham's bosom. The rich man also died and was buried! The contrast continues with the rich man being tormented hell, while Lazarus is happy in heaven. The rich man is now a beggar, while Lazarus is rich in God's life. Just as there was a gap between the rich man and Lazarus on earth, now there is a great chasm between the two. The rich man was condemned not because of his possessions, but because he failed to notice Lazarus who was at his door longing only for scraps from his table.

The lesson that Jesus intends to convey could be outlined in several points. 1) To appreciate more fully this parable, one needs to keep in mind the contrasts outlined by Jesus in the beatitudes (Lk 6) - the poor are blest, but woe to the rich; the hungry are blest, but woe to those who have food. 2) The parable challenges us to be more compassionate towards the poor, and to be more involved in parish social ministries that give attention to the poor and the less fortunate. 3) Jesus wants us discover that true riches are to be found in sharing what we have with the poor. Lazarus is still at our doors today. Think about it.

©2016 John S. Mbinda

Monday, September 12, 2016

Twenty Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

Reading: Am 8:4-7; 1 Tim 2:1-8; Lk 16:1-13

Investing wisely in what matters most sums up the message of this Sunday. In the parable of the dishonest steward this Sunday, Jesus challenges us to make good use of our ingenuity to invest in what matters most: eternal salvation; to secure our spiritual future. We must also be aware of the dangers of separating God from our faith practice and of serving two masters. The readings underline the wise use of material goods that God has entrusted to us. We are told that material goods are meant to be shared, rather than used to exploit the poor by tempering with measuring devices, price fixing or by causing speculative shortages in order to gain from buyers. The first reading from Amos gives a good example of the separation between religious faith and practice. Imagine in the temple worship some plotting in their hearts how they are going to cheat the poor clients! That is a good example of how the children of this world mentioned in the Gospel are well able to manipulate economic and political situations in order to secure a better future for themselves and their families. We must admire such intelligence, which enables modem business persons to speculate the financial stock market through sophisticated technology, in buying and selling their stocks on time to make money. Financial institutions are able to invest what we place in their trust and be able to make an interest both for themselves and for their clients. It takes the children of this world to speculate and invest wisely.

The business manager in the parable acts nearly in the same way. He dishonestly falsifies the debtors' records in order to win friendship with those who would provide for him when he is fired from his job. Jesus does not admire the steward's lack of conscience in his act, but admires his wisdom and ability to foresee his future. The point Jesus makes is that his followers apply the same astuteness to the one area that really matters: eternal salvation. If we were to observe the kind of ingenuity, planning and resourcefulness that goes into political campaigns, we would understand why the business manager in the parable is admired. In a daring way, Jesus suggests that perhaps there is some lesson his followers can learn from the resourcefulness, talents and wisdom put in financial deals and political campaigns. Being a good steward may mean looking for ways to earn more money through employment, business opportunities and investments, so as to give more for the cause of God’s work. Let me try to sum up in three points. 1) The point of the parable is that the business manager uses his position to care and plan for his future. 2) The parable argues against the separation between God and everyday life; between faith and its application in life. 3) Jesus challenges us to be as resourceful and dedicated in the ways of God as we are in the ways of this world, and secure our spiritual future while there is time by wisely investing in Him. 

©2016 John S. Mbinda

Friday, September 9, 2016

Twenty Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

Readings: Ex 32:7-11,13-14; 1 Tim 1:12-17; Lk 15:1-32

Last Sunday Jesus told us in the Gospel that the key to the narrow gate of heaven cost everything we are and own through self-surrender and detachment. This Sunday He tells us that to surrender our lives totally to Him takes a decision to go back home where our compassionate God awaits us. To take such a decision, we need to come to our senses. All three readings this Sunday underline God's unmerited love and mercy for the repentant sinner. In the first reading from Exodus, the Israelites have left God's ways to worship a golden calf. Moses pleads for God's mercy, and so the Lord listens and forgives. In the Second Reading, Paul describes himself as a repentant sinner who had wondered far, yet God's mercy was shown him through Jesus Christ. Before such a merciful God, how could David not sing of God's mercy as we find in the responsorial psalm? "Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness. In your compassion wipe away my offense ... " Three times the Gospel speaks of the great joy one has in finding something that had been lost: a shepherd finds his sheep; a woman finds her valuable coin; and a father finds his son who had gone away. Jesus underlines this aspect of great joy in response to the accusations of the Scribes and Pharisees that he welcomes sinners and eats with them. The parable of the Lost son, perhaps one of the most familiar biblical stories, leads us to meet our God who is prodigally merciful and compassionate. The Pharisees and the Scribes complain that Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them and therefore Jesus tells them this story. The story touches deep cords in the fiber of Christians today because it reminds them of real stories of family members who left home and headed for the big cities and disappeared there, and later returned home after many years completely broke, sick and destroyed by many types of addiction. Rembrandt, the famous Dutch artist (1606-1669) was inspired by this parable when he painted the “Return of the Prodigal Son.” The story in the Gospel is addressed to us of today, and since we know it so well, we could easily miss the real message. At the center of the story is the father.

One way of understanding the parable is through the elder son's inability to understand his father's undeserved forgiveness and generosity towards the younger son who turns up after squandering all his inheritance. The elder son could not understand how this comeback looser could now be rewarded with a banquet. Jesus tells the story in such a way that leaves us utterly surprised. The Younger son is received fully into the family at the surprise of everybody especially the elder son. That is the way our prodigal God deals with us when we go stray and come back home. God is so lavish with His mercy and compassion. The Pharisees and scribes understood they were being compared to the elder son who is resentful and rejects even his own brother "this son of yours" language, as compared to the father's welcoming language "this brother of yours". On the one hand we have a language of resentment and rejection, and on the other, a language of welcome and tremendous compassion. Three points sum up the message of this Sunday: 1) All three readings reveal the drama of human sin which is so deceptive. How often do we worship the golden calves to today's society? How often to we run away from home? Yet our God in the image of the father in the Gospel surprises us with unexpected and unmerited love and compassion when we return home; 2) The Gospel challenges us like the lost son to come to our senses and take a decision to return home; 3) We must never give up when we find ourselves away from home, because God seeks us and leads us to freely surrender and allow Him to lead us back home into the fullness of grace. God never abandons us; never gives up on us. If today you hear his voice, harden not your heart. Allow God to guide you back home. The choice is yours.

©2016 John S. Mbinda

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Twenty Third Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

Readings: Wis 9:13-18; Phlm 9-10, 12-17; Lk 14:25-33

Two weeks ago, Jesus told us in the Gospel that we can enter heaven only by the narrow gate of discipline. Last Sunday, Jesus offered us the key to that gate: the virtue of humility – the preparedness to acknowledge our unworthiness. This Sunday, Jesus tells us what the key to the gate costs: "Any of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple." In the first reading we hear that true wisdom comes only from God, who enables the wise person to be guided by spiritual values rather than those of the body; in other words being guided by the Spirit of Christ. In the Gospel, Jesus uses different images to explain what the key to being faithful disciples will cost. Being faithful Christians does not come at a cheap price. Jesus makes it clear that being his faithful followers can lead to hating closest family members; it can lead to a radical following of Christ that may put us at odds with family members. When Jesus compares our following him to building a new house calculating the cost, he is touching on a very important point. Our radical following of Jesus is like a rebuilding of one's life, but in our self-giving we let Jesus do the re-building at a very high cost. Once we have surrendered fully to Jesus, He will work on us until we are completely re¬made into new persons. To do that Jesus may destroy the old person and we will feel the pain of that destruction. That is what is implied by the two phrases -renouncing all possessions and carrying one’s cross. When we detach ourselves from baggage and stuff that weigh us down and attach ourselves completely to Christ, we will then pay for then key to heaven by taking upon us our own cross.

This is what Christ is saying: ‘give me all of yourself not just part of you’. Christ does not want to cut a branch here and another there, but wants to cut down the whole tree in order to plant a new one. He does not want to crown our tooth but to take it out completely. Christ does not want to re-build a broken wall or to repair the plumbing, but to re-build the whole structure. The problem you and I have is to hold onto ourselves, keeping our personal happiness as the goal of life and trying to be "good". Being good is not enough for Jesus. He wants us to be perfect, and that can only happen if we let Christ fully into our lives. Then we will be on the way to perfection, because Christ will be acting in us and guiding us on the right path. That is the cost of the key we must pay to remain faithful Christians. That is the cost many women and men had to pay while on their way to holiness. That cost is not just to some. The Second Vatican Council reminds us that we are all called to holiness (LG, 39). There is a cost to be paid. Where do we start to buy the key to heaven? Start right where you are: in your own family, your own neighborhood, your own community. The readings challenge us to reflect on what we need to sell and then go sell every obstacle to our spiritual progress. We need to sell - all those things we think make us happy and embrace our cross, to purchase the key to heaven. This Sunday Jesus tells us what the key to heaven's narrow gate costs – everything: the self, questionable relationships, negative behavior, vices, bad company, etc. The image of selling possessions also implies placing upon Jesus all our struggles: family difficulties, strained marriage relationships, sickness of a loved one, broken families. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) Jesus tells us what the key to heaven costs: "Any of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple." 2) Christ gave up everything for our sake, and he wants us to do the same for his sake, namely surrender ourselves to Him; that self surrender will cost us; there is no cheap salvation. 3) If we surrender to ourselves to Christ, He will certainly take possession of us and in his tender compassion transform us. St. Athanasius says that Christ “became like us in order to make us like God, and lead us on the way of perfection”. May we be prepared to pay the cost of that key to heaven no matter what the cost.

©2016 John S. Mbinda

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Twenty Second Sunday Ordinary Time YearC

Readings: Sir 3:17-18,20,28-29; Heb 12:18-19,22-24; Lk 14:1,7-14

Last Sunday, the readings focused on the image of the “narrow gate” of discipline. This Sunday, the readings return to the same theme, this time underlining the importance of the virtue humility for the follower of Christ. The first reading from Sirach urges us to conduct our “affairs with humility” and we “will be more loved than a giver of gifts”. In other words, the humble person is more appreciated than a lavish giver. A humble person is wise and always content, while proud persons obsess themselves with foolish and dishonest schemes for success. The readings challenge us to be like Jesus who was totally humble and could see right through every disguise of the Ego, even the most subtle ones. Jesus never needed evidence about anyone - he knew what a person had and noticed how each acted - either according to humility or pride. Jesus was humble, a true servant. “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mk 10:43-45). Jesus did only the works his Father gave him to do and he spoke only the words his Father wanted him to speak. We too, should be like that – humbly speaking only the words we hear Christ speak through the Church. So the humble person will be exalted in the kingdom of heaven. Here on earth he or she does not have to be jealous. A humble person lets others have their gifts and does not have to hold grudges. Humble people can forgive easily because they know who they are; they are not afraid to confess their sins; they can not only love their enemies, but also praying for them.

Jesus in the Gospel challenges us to seek the lowest place at a banquet; to be humble. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not recline at table in the place of honor.” This spirituality of the lowest place is not just about table etiquette. It is an essential spirituality that leads us to salvation. The parable Jesus tells is a lesson about membership in the Kingdom. Such membership does not depend on one’s merits, social standing or economic status. We do not save ourselves by these means. Salvation is God’s work in the first place. Hence, those who consider themselves worthy of high places in the Kingdom, like the Pharisees who expected the best seats as reward for their meticulous observance of the law (holier than thou attitude), will find themselves humbled to take the lowest places. Moreover, when God is King, membership in His Kingdom is open for all. In other words, salvation is a free unmerited gift to those whom God in Jesus calls. When God is King, He invites the uninvited, the unexpected and those who are nothing in the eyes of society. “When you hold a lunch or dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or wealthy neighbors, in case they may invite you back… Rather, when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, …” God invites those who acknowledge their unworthiness before him. The Gospel therefore underlines Jesus' teaching that one enters the Kingdom of God by living a humble life, living a spirituality of the last place. "For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted". Such a message obviously contradicts the expectations of today’s society based on competition and social-economic status. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) One enters the Kingdom of God by living a humble life, living a spirituality of the last place; 2) Membership in the Kingdom is God’s free gift to those who deserve it, namely, those who truly humble themselves. 3) When God is King, He invites the uninvited, the unexpected and those who are nothing in the eyes of society. They all symbolize those who acknowledge their unworthiness.

©2016 John S. Mbinda