Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

Readings: Lv 19:1-2,17-18; 1 Cor 3:16-23; Mt 5:38-48

This Sunday in the Gospel Jesus continues his Sermon on the Mountain. The Gospel message challenges us to do the impossible by turning the other cheek by loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us. In other words, we are called to use the secret weapon of kindness to disarm the enemy. In the First Reading, the Lord asks Moses to tell the people: “Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.” The instruction then goes on to tell the people some practical ways of being holy: avoiding hatred and not taking revenge. All that is summed up in the Levitical Law as, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This is not just a law, but a relationship that is grounded on God’s love for all without exception. This understanding leads us to imitate our God; it leads us to be holy, just as our God is holy; it leads us to be “kind and merciful” just as “The Lord is kind and merciful,” the response to Psalm 103 used in the readings this Sunday.

Once again like last Sunday in the Gospel Jesus teaches about forgiveness, challenging us further to do the impossible by going beyond the law of love and revenge. In a world so marked by a culture of violence and revenge, we are called to be compassionate and forgiving. As followers of Christ, we must never revenge. Instead, Jesus tells us, “When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one as well.” Let me try to unpack this Gospel text in order to help understand what Jesus means by turning the other cheek. At the time of Jesus in Palestine, the law forbad anyone in authority from striking anybody with the back of the right hand, or with the left hand. Therefore, if you turned the other cheek, the enemy would first be surprised and stop to think! That technique of Jesus may be called disarming the enemy because it is a game changer. It transforms behavior and defuses a situation that would have otherwise ended up in violence or revenge. I once heard the story of a person who broke into a home on one winter night. The owner, a woman who lived alone, woke up on hearing some noise in her living room. On opening her bedroom door, she saw a man standing there and was so frightened. She stood at the door in panic, not knowing what to do next. The man had opened one of the back windows to get in. For a long time, it was tense as they remained in silence. Suddenly, she broke the silence and asked him, what time is it? He responded as he looked at his watch. Only then did the man say how sorry he was to have broken into her home. He was homeless; he was hungry. She then gave him some food and prepared the cough in the living room for him to sleep. With her kindness, she had disarmed the man. The example of turning the other cheek may seem by world standards to be  weakness or even as taking a risk, but that is what gives us a unique identify when we react to the enemy in a non-violent way rather than violently. That is what is unusual and different from a world culture of violence. Our apparent weakness and cowardice is a powerful witness and leads to holiness. That is why Jesus concludes the passage with, “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” What message do we take home this Sunday? 1) In a world so marked by a culture of violence and revenge, we are called to be compassionate and forgiving. 2) Jesus challenges us further to be transforming agents in this violent world by disarming the enemy, rather than by revenge. 3) Our compassion and apparent weakness before the enemy is a powerful witness and leads to holiness.

©2017 John S. Mbinda

Monday, February 13, 2017

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

Readings: Sir 15:15-20; I Cor. 2:6-10; Mt. 5:17-37

Choosing wisely and living by the values of the kingdom are the key phrases that help to focus on the message of this Sunday. The first reading from the Book of Sirach uses the word “choice” three times, and once the phrase “the wisdom of the Lord.” The opening verse of the passage says, “If you choose, you can keep the commandments, they will save you.” The point seems to be that the wisdom of the Lord calls us to choose life, reminding us that life and death are set before us. The choice therefore is up to us. God gives us both freedom and responsibility. The wise choose life, not death; they choose love, peace and forgiveness not hate and revenge. Choice is always before us: choosing to relate with others wisely by respecting boundaries. Paul in the second reading describes this choice in terms of either human wisdom or God’s wisdom. If we choose God’s wisdom, we become the best version of ourselves; we live by the values of the kingdom. When we choose human wisdom we end up being foolish and blaming ourselves. We end up by being the worst versions of ourselves.

In the Gospel, Jesus continues his teaching on the mountain. He addresses several moral issues. I will concentrate on two: murder and marital relations. On the issue of murder, Jesus calls us to choose to be persons of peace and compassion or to be persons of violence. We are told that murder is like an eruption of a volcano that begins with anger in the heart. Violence begins within a person who is hurting. To be a person of peace and compassion means being a person of forgiveness. Unless one forgives, anger continues to build up until it erupts. It may take years or months, but some day it will blow up, burning anyone near that person. That is why it is so important to fight every tendency that results in murder, namely our anger, our hatred, our grudges, our hurts of the past, because they destroy the life of Christ within us. We have to teach our children that there is no room for hatred in the world.  They may be very upset with a teacher, a playmate or a family member, but we must never allow being upset to turn into hatred. If we do that, we destroy ourselves and our ability to be the best version of ourselves.  When we make the choice to forgive, we already live the values of the kingdom. The second issues that Jesus addresses is the new law of marital relations. He calls us to make a choice to live our married relationship in fidelity. When we choose to do that, we live a radical way of life, setting an example for others and becoming the best version of our married life. That choice starts in the heart by choosing to be the best version of yourself. For Jesus, marriage was part of God’s plan, reflecting God’s fidelity to the chosen people. Married relationship is therefore a place of safety, nurture and honor; not a place of violence, dishonesty and destructiveness. By forbidding divorce, Jesus calls for a reconciled relationship between husband and wife, instead of living in a situation of sub-marine warfare! So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) The readings challenge us to choose the values of forgiveness, fidelity and honesty at all times; 2) In choosing such values we choose God’s wisdom which, though may appear foolishness, in fact transforms us into the best version of ourselves. 3) This week, choose to forgive someone who has hurt you, live faithfully and honestly. That is the best version of yourself. You will see the difference in your life; in your family; in the work place. The choice is yours.

©2017 John S. Mbinda

Friday, February 3, 2017

Fifth Sunday Ordinary Time Year A

Readings: Is 58:7-10; 1 Cor 2:1-5; Mt 5:13-16

Salt of the earth and light of the world are the phrases that focus on the central message of this Sunday. In the gospel this Sunday Jesus uses two metaphors in his teaching: the salt of the earth and the light of the world. We have heard that Gospel before, and it is very easy to miss the deeper meaning of the two metaphors. Let us first look at the example of the salt. Why does Jesus call his disciples salt of the earth? 1) The first obvious reason is that Jesus wants to describe the power of influence his disciples have in the situations they find themselves. 2) the second reason is that historically, salt has always been valuable in human society, much more than it is today. 3) It may be interesting to note that the English word "salary" comes from Latin salarium, "salary", "stipend", originally a Roman soldier's pay which was in salt. The English saying, "worth one's salt" means that someone is worth his or her wages. 4) The hearers of Jesus understood the expression salt of the earth to represent a valuable commodity. Thus the followers of Jesus were to have an extremely important role in the world, much comparable to the function of salt. Because of the preservative nature of salt, an covenant sealed with salt in Jewish society was deemed to last forever. In saying to his disciples “you are the salt of the earth,” Jesus could have used the metaphor to underline a several disciple qualities. One of the best meaning for the metaphor of salt is its preservative quality. So just as salt is used to preserve food from decay and keep it fresh, so too Christians by their life of witness, can make a difference by preserving their situations from moral decay. That preservative quality of salt implies our being mixed with the affairs of this world, in order to change its flavor. We must maintain our saltiness in order to sustain our influence.

The expression light of the world, perhaps comes from Isaiah, who described Israel as “light of the nations” (Is 42:6). In calling his disciples “the light of the world” Jesus refers to their radical way of life that must be distinctive and thus become witnesses for the world to see, like a city set on a mountain. Christians become the light of the world through their visible good deeds. But just as light does not draw attention to itself, but to what is in the room, so too a disciple, to be truly light of the world draws attention to the source of the light, Jesus Christ.  The message for this Sunday may be summed up in three points. 1) Just as salt fulfils its function of saltiness by being mixed with food, we too mix with the affairs of daily life and so give the flavor and taste of Christ to such situations. 2) We become the light of the world by our exemplary life of witness that makes others see the possibility of living as Christ teaches. 3) Both salt and light are most effective, when they draw attention, not to themselves, but to something beyond themselves. Similarly, disciples are more effective and faithful when they point to the source of saltiness and light, Jesus Christ.

©2017 John S. Mbinda

Friday, January 27, 2017

Fourth Sunday Ordinary Time Year A

Readings: Zep 2:3; 3:12-13; 1 Cor 1:26-31; Mt. 5:1-12

The beatitudes, a radical way of life and total dependence on God, help us to focus on the central theme of this Sunday. In 1985, Mother Teresa went to the UN on the occasion of its 40th anniversary. Before addressing the Assembly she gave a prayer card with the Prayer of St. Francis for peace. She then took the podium and the UN delegates prayed aloud with her before giving her address. She made no apologies and nobody protested, because Mother Teresa was a wonderful visible witness in her own life. Her simplicity and love was seen in her actions for the poor, the destitute, the lonely, the abandoned infants and children. She was an authentic disciple of Jesus Christ who lived a radical way of life. This story illustrates the central theme of the readings that offer us two challenges 1) a challenge to live a radical way of life that appears to the world as weakness and foolishness; and 2) a challenge to live in total dependence on God.
In the Gospel, Jesus offers the Good News that those who embrace these challenges as a way of life, will find a path to the kingdom. The readings reveal a God who loves the poor, the lowly, the oppressed and those who are nothing in the eyes of the world. In the first reading from the Book of Zephaniah, we are told that the Lord protects the simple, the humble and the righteous. The key to understanding that reading is found in the word “remnant” which comes from the Hebrew word anawim. The word describes the “poor ones” who remained faithful to God in the most difficult times. These humble people became known as the anawim or the poor lowly ones, marginalized because of their faithfulness. We are told that the Lord is faithful to such people, because they totally depend on God. Similarly, Paul in the second reading argues that God chooses the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and chooses the weak of the world to shame the strong. God chooses the lowly and the despised of the world, those who count for nothing.

The Gospel draws our attention to the Beatitudes in which Jesus teaches about the blessedness of those who are nothing in the eyes of the world. Here Jesus outlines the spiritual values that lead to the kingdom. The term “beatitude” means happiness, blessedness, good fortune, not in terms having, but in terms of being. The Beatitudes are a call to live a radical way of life that appears to the world to be weakness and foolishness; they invite us to dare to be different and not simply entering the rat race of this world or doing things the way others do; the beatitudes offer us a spirituality of deep awareness, that all we have and are belong to God; that we are all called to be the remnant that remains faithful and humble; a remnant that is merciful and forgives always; a remnant of the peacemakers in a violent world; a remnant of those who stand for and protect human life. The beatitudes point out that God's love and blessing does not follow human standards of wisdom and judgment. In the face of what may seem to be a bleak picture in the media, there is always good news; in the face of sadness, there is happiness and in the face of despair, there is hope for those who totally depend on God; in the face of the moral minority there is truth. To those followers who were disheartened by negative attitudes to their way of life, Jesus spoke words of comfort and consolation. Jesus still gives that message to us today. That message touching on peoples’ actual situation was truly Good News and most encouraging. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) The beatitudes are not a program, but a way of life; a radical way of life that appears to be weakness and foolishness to the world. 2) That radical way of life, is a spirituality of total dependence on God and a sure path to the kingdom. 3) The choice to live a radical way of life sets our faith on fire, leading us to a deeper relationship with God. That choice is yours.

©2017 John S. Mbinda

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

Readings: Is 8:23-9:3; 1 Cor 1:10-13,17; Matt 4:12-23

Christ the Light of the world and source of unity is the overarching theme for the readings of this Sunday. The readings draw our attention to two central themes that are closely related: Christ revealed as the light of the world; and Christ in whose name we are baptized and united.  Both these themes are interwoven. The first reading gives an example of the kingdom established by David which was torn apart by divisions soon after Solomon’s death. Consequently, foreigners invaded the Northern Kingdom in 733-32 BC and occupied it, and further threatened the Southern Kingdom of Judah. For centuries thereafter, darkness reigned all over Israel. But today’s first reading prophesies a great light in time to come. Great joy and happiness would be restored. A king of peace would come to establish freedom and unify Israel forever. The second reading gives another example of divisions in the Christian community of Corinth. Paul reminds the Christians there that they belong to Christ, and not to any particular apostle who may have baptized them. It is the death and resurrection of Christ symbolized in their baptism, which binds them together as a Christian community.

In the Gospel, Matthew uses a passage from the First Reading to show that Jesus is the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy. “The people that walked in darkness has seen a great light; on those who live in a land of deep shadow a light has shone.” Jesus Christ is therefore our light and source of unity in a world that is very much in need of enlightenment and unity in the midst of fragmentation. Ideological differences, regional and civil wars, ethnic conflicts and Christian divisions continue to cast a deep shadow over the world. Our Christian faith and hope, however, tell us that someday a great light will indeed shine and unity will be restored. The source of that light and unity is Jesus Christ. As Jesus begins his ministry, He proclaims a message of repentance. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” That message is a wakeup call for all disciples of Christ to be transformed into God’s authentic witnesses in a world overshadowed by the darkness of disunity due to human pride, greed and selfishness. Our witness will only be effective if we are first transformed into the light of Christ and signs of the unity; if we shed off our pride in realizing how much we need to be enriched by Jesus Christ, and by one another’s traditions. If we are credible witnesses, others will want to become Christian. Mahatma Gandhi was once asked by a Western journalist why he did not want to become Christian. He said: “I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ." He found Christians in India so divided and fighting among themselves that he preferred to remain a Hindu. The central message could be summed up in three points. 1) The readings remind us that as Christians we are called to unity that requires true conversion of heart and mind towards God and other fellow Christians. 2) As long as Christians remain divided, their witness will continue to be conter-witness, weak, a scandal and unconvincing. 3) Unity between Christians can be a powerful instrument for ending divisions no matter how deep, and conflicts no matter how vicious, and help lead to peace, unity and reconciliation in the Church and in the world. Think about it.

©2017 John S. Mbinda