Thursday, July 24, 2014

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A
Readings: 1 Kings 3:5,7-12; Rom 8:28-30; Matt 13:44-52

The kingdom, treasure of great value and sacrifice are the key words that help to understand the central message of this Sunday. Sacrifice is perhaps the overarching theme. The best definition of sacrifice from the American Heritage Dictionary is the following: “To forfeit something for something else considered to have greater value.” We normally interpret this parable in terms of us discovering Jesus Christ - the treasure of great value, and therefore our need to sell all we have in order to possess that treasure. While that is true, we need to look at this parable from the flip side. In the parable, Jesus is speaking about himself. He is the one who finds the treasure of great value - you and I. He loves us so much that He goes all the way to die on the Cross to purchase us with his blood. “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.” (Jn 3:16) Understanding the parable in this way constitutes an even greater challenge. Suppose someone saves you from a gun man, and while saving you is fatally wounded, would you simply ignore that person, move on and forget? That is precisely the point. “But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) His death takes away our sinfulness and infuses God’s grace in us to live with Him in eternal life. He gives us the wisdom to choose his values and live them. All Jesus asks of us is to return the gifts God has given us by offering our time, talent and treasure so that others may become His disciples. He proposes to us like a lover to move closer so he may possess us fully; to be transformed into his mission, vision and purpose, leading us to be the best version of ourselves. It was not Paul who found Jesus but Jesus found Paul - a treasure of great value. St. Paul was so transformed into a disciple of Jesus Christ that he wrote to the Philippians: “For His sake I have accepted the loss of all things…that I may gain Christ.” (Phil. 3:8)

In the first parable Jesus uses the metaphor of the treasure buried in a field. A person finds it and then hides it and goes and sells everything he has in order to buy that field to secure the treasure. The idea obviously is that when Jesus finds each of us, he transforms us into his disciples so we may assume his mission, vision and purpose. Jesus makes all efforts to save us. He goes all the way to the Cross to seal the deal with his own blood. The bottom line question is: how far are you prepared to go for Jesus? The message we take home this Sunday may be summed in three points. 1) Jesus Christ is the person in the parable who finds the treasure of great value - you and I, and loves us so much that He goes all the way to the die on the Cross to save us. 2) Jesus asks us that in gratitude we return to God the gifts we have received by offering our time, talent and treasure so that others too may become his disciples. He proposes to us like a lover to move closer so he may possess us fully. 3) Finally as stewards we are challenged by St. Paul’s conviction, “For His sake I have accepted the loss of all things…that I may gain Christ”; (Phil. 3:8) to sacrifice worldly values for the values of Christ. How far are you willing to go for Jesus? The choice is your? Think about it.


©2014 John S. Mbinda

Friday, July 18, 2014

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A
Readings: Wis 12:13,16-19; Rom 8:26-27; Matt 13:24-43

The metaphor of the wheat and the weeds left to grow together till harvest is the key to understanding the message Jesus proclaims this Sunday. He proclaims a kingdom of forgiveness, compassion and tolerance. The readings help us to discover our God who is full of mercy and forgiveness. Forgiveness is one of the hardest things we can do especially to an enemy. Yet there are many examples of extraordinary courage in forgiveness. On May 13, 1981 Pope John Paul II, was shot in the abdomen and on his hand by an attempt assassin, shortly after the Wednesday General Audience on St. Peter’s Square, when the Pope’s car drove by. As he was being rushed to the hospital the Pope forgave his would be assassin. On December 27, 1983 Pope John Paul II visited Ali Agca in his prison cell in Rome, and personally forgave him as they sat face to face. In this unusual act of forgiveness, the Pope gives us a great example of forgiveness. In the First Reading from the Book of Wisdom we hear that God governs with great leniency. When we repent of our sins, God always forgives us. Psalm 86 picks up that theme in a beautiful prayer: “Lord you are good and forgiving”. In Gospel Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds, Jesus reveals to us the mystery of the Kingdom, which is compared to a person who planted wheat, and while asleep, some enemies came and sowed weeds. These weeds look very much like wheat as they grow.

What is the kingdom of Heaven that Jesus speaks about? The Kingdom Jesus reveals to us is a state of being in which God rules and God's values prevail. Jesus in many ways lived and taught about these values. In the Gospel parable, Jesus powerfully communicates the values of forgiveness, compassion, and tolerance of all human beings God has created in his image and likeness. That is why the kingdom of heaven is compared to a farmer who sowed good seed and while asleep an enemy sawed weeds. The image of the farmer leaving both the wheat and the weeds to grow up together till harvest is the key to understanding how God deals with us. Jesus challenges us to be like his Father: patient, lenient and tolerant with sinners, letting the wheat continue to grow among the weeds until the harvest. Who knows, the sinner may be touched by God's grace and repent? Who knows, between now and harvest time the non-believer might be led to the fullness of the truth in ways known to God alone. The Kingdom of God therefore is always a mixed bag of disciples and stewards in communion with God, and those who are not; those who have remained faithful and those led astray by the evil one. It is tragic that often times we deal with this ‘mixed-bag’ situation by judging others while justifying ourselves. Forgiveness requires a courageous choice. The courageous choice is whether you are willing to consent and yield to God. In Greek, forgiveness means “letting go.” Forgiveness is offered without conditions. Jesus’ life was his message. As he hung on the Cross Jesus forgave his enemies. The parable reveals the good News that our heavenly Father is always tolerant, forgiving and compassionate. We celebrate God's mercy by letting God to do the judging at the end of time. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) We celebrate the good News that our heavenly Father is always tolerant, forgiving and compassionate. The readings challenge us as good stewards and disciples to be tolerant, compassionate and forgiving. 2) Jesus as He hung on the Cross and forgiving his enemies is a model to follow. Pope John Paul II followed that model of forgiveness and excelled in holiness. 3) We pray that God may give us the grace of the courage to forgive like his Son Jesus Christ, like Saint John Paul and like Nelson Mandela. May God grant us his loving mercy and forgiveness, especially through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.


©2014 John S. Mbinda

Friday, July 11, 2014

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A
Readings: Is 55:10-11; Rom 8:18-23; Matt 13:1-23

The sower, the seed, the soil and the harvest are the metaphors that help us to capture the central message of this Sunday readings. The readings invite us to reflect on Christ the Sower of God’s Word. The Prophet Isaiah in the First Reading speaks about the effectiveness of God’s Word. Like the rain and snow, which do not return without watering the earth, so too the Word that comes from the mouth of God does not fail. Isaiah’s message in the first reading is a prelude to the Gospel of today about the parable of the Sower. Just as the rain waters the land, showing us how God’s Word brings about the desired results, similarly the parable of the Sower reveals to us the dynamic power of God’s Word. Isaiah’s message contains an important aspect of conversion, so that the Word of God, like the rain may shower upon our hardened hearts making them “fertile and fruitful, giving seed to the one who sows and bread to the one who eats.” The First Reading therefore helps to interpret the parable of the Sower in the Gospel. One interpretation is that many people who hear the Gospel simply never seem to “get it.” The message is stolen from them by the enemy before it takes root. Let me illustrate that interpretation with some statistics. There are about 50% of our Catholic kids who receive the Sacraments but disappear between age 18 to 35, only to reappear later for marriage. Why is that? Inadequate faith formation fails to equip them to take the heat and pressure of our secular culture. Then there are about 89% of lifelong, regular church goers who, according to George Gallup, have values and lifestyle identical to those of their secular neighbors. Their faith has been so neutralized by inadequate faith formation and focus on worldly preoccupation. Though they look like Catholics, their faith practice is fruitless. Then there are those who remain faithful, going regularly to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. They manage to do some good for some people, but in all produce only a mediocre harvest in life. Finally there are those who have taken their stewardship seriously and yearn to learn more about their faith so they may be better stewards. They sink their roots in Scripture, Tradition, prayer and the sacraments. These produce an abundant harvest. Jesus wants all of us, not just some to yearn for more, but to excel and be the best version of ourselves. Only then can we produce a bumper harvest.


The Gospel therefore helps us to understand that despite apparent weakness of some of the soil, in the end the Church will be successful in its evangelization. Despite the obstacles the Church faces in America and elsewhere, mysteriously it continues to grow. One good example is China particularly in Shanxi Province where the Catholic population continues to grow. A recent Catholic News Service story reported that the number of Catholics in China has risen from 3 million in 1950 to 15 million today. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) The readings inspire us to look beyond failure even in our own lives, because God’s Word will in the end bear fruit despite failure; despite obstacles. 2) The readings also challenge us to open our heart so we may be nourished by God’s Word, so that God’s transforming power may work through us and bear fruit even in our weakness. 3) Despite apparent ineffectiveness, our efforts to be the best versions of ourselves will in the end bear abundant harvest for Christ because God is in charge. 

©2011 John S. Mbinda

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A
Readings: Zach 9:9-10; Rom 8:9, 11-13; Matt 11:25-30

Living not in the flesh, but in the Spirit; living not as debtors of the flesh, but under the yoke of obedience, having a “joint account” with Jesus. The readings this Sunday help us to understand the value of living by the Spirit of Christ. Saint Paul in the Second Reading shows us the difference between living by the spirit and living by the flesh. The words that captured my imagination in Paul’s Letter to the Romans are the following: “Consequently, brothers and sisters, we are not debtors to the flesh to live according to the flesh.” Mark Twain, the great American humorist once described a banker as “a person who loans you an umbrella when the sun is shining, but wants it back the moment it starts raining!” (cf. The Quotations Page website) While Mark Twain was trying to be humorous, his description might help us to understand what Saint Paul means by being “debtors to the flesh.” One of the most foolish things we can do is to take a “loan” from the devil. Some people even try to bargain with the devil. They may only want just some gratification; just a little fun – like trying illicit drugs just once, or some forbidden pleasure just once! The devil however is a clever and cruel banker. Once a person has taken out the smallest loan, the devil demands interest and charges in terms of guilt feelings, sadness, anger, misery and eventually bitterness and despair. When the devil takes us that far, he forecloses our debt and takes over our souls. Does that sound familiar?

That is why Saint Paul warns us to owe no debt to the flesh, to devil. What exactly does Paul mean when he speaks of “the flesh” as opposed to “the spirit?” By the word “flesh” Paul refers to our weak human nature; our human desires that continually pull us down. Because of our human nature, we are either advancing towards God or sliding backwards away from God. The devil being a clever fellow, tries to manipulate our weak human nature. At times the devil gives us a loan we cannot pay back and then we are stuck; we are trapped; we are enslaved by that debt burden, like some third world countries who now seek debt cancellation from the IMF and the World Bank. However, for us Christians there is Good News regarding our debt. Thanks be to God, his Son Jesus Christ is capable of paying off our debt burden. God in his Son Jesus Christ has cancelled our debt. The best way to understand how God in Christ cancels our debt is to imagine having a “joint account” with Jesus who offers us the gift of the Holy Spirit, so that we are no longer debtors to the flesh, but living by the Spirit. That gift of the Spirit is offered only to the little ones; those who by God’s grace become better versions of themselves. That state of life comes from the Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead. It was out of this innocence and intimate relationship with the Father, that Jesus was able to overcome death and all powers of the flesh. It is in this sense that Jesus in the Gospel invites us saying: "Come to me, all who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest." In other words Jesus invites those burdened by the yoke of the flesh and disobedience to embrace the yoke of the Spirit and obedience to His Word. They will then find relief from their burden and debt. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) The readings invite us to live by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, so that we may have life in him as his faithful disciples and stewards; 2) It is only by living in Christ that Christ can cancel our debt burden and lead us to live by his Spirit; 3) We pray for God’s grace that we may live by the Spirit and resist taking any “loan from the devil.” Think about it.

©2014 John S. Mbinda

 

Friday, June 27, 2014

Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul

Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul
Readings: Acts 12:1-11; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 17-18; Matthew 16:13-19

This Sunday we celebrate the feast of Saints Peter and Paul. In front of Saint Peter’s Basilica, there are two imposing statues of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, easily recognizable by their respective attributes: the keys in the hand of Peter and the sword held by Paul. They are honoured together today because both guided the early Church just after the time of Jesus. Both died as martyrs for the faith in Rome. Peter was crucified upside down in the courtyard, just to the left of St. Peter’s Basilica. Paul was beheaded outside the walls of Rome at the Three Fountains. Peter was buried in the nearest cemetery on top of the Vatican Hill. St. Peter’s Basilica was built later on top of St. Peter’s tomb. The main altar of the Basilica is directly on top of his tomb. Paul too was buried in the nearest cemetery. The Basilica of St. Paul outside the Walls was later built on top of his tomb. Both saints are important because from them we derive our Christian faith. Peter is important because he was the first bishop of Rome and thus the first Pope of our Church. He kept the Church united during very difficult time of persecution. Paul was the Apostle to the Gentiles and his preaching among them during his missionary journeys was very successful, though not without many difficulties. Because of Paul the Gospel has therefore reached to us too.

The readings this Sunday underline the importance of each of the two Apostles. In the first reading, Peter is miraculously rescued by the Lord because he had not yet accomplished what the Lord had intended him to do for the Church in Antioch and later in Rome. The Gospel from Matthew testifies to the importance of Peter for the Apostles and for the Church. Though he had denied Christ before Pilate, he now makes the most important confession of faith on the identity of Jesus. Peter is led by the Spirit to make his confession of faith that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Because of that confession, the Lord built his Church on Peter “the Rock”, and gave him the keys. The symbol of the keys echoes the oracle of the prophet Isaiah concerning the steward Eliakim, of whom it was said: "And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open" (Is 22:22). The keys therefore represent authority over the house of David. Peter therefore became the first bishop of Rome, succeeded over the centuries by other successors who share the same authority and ministry of service of unity for the Church. Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy expresses his strong faith in the Lord, who has stood by him at very difficult times. Paul is convinced that the Lord will indeed rescue him as it were from the lion’s mouth, and will reward him with eternal life. What message do we take home this Sunday? 1) Today we pray for the successor of Peter, Pope Francis and all the bishops who share the ministry of unity in the Church. 2) Saint Paul depicted with a sword represents his entire mission of evangelization, thus inviting us all to be engaged in the ministry of evangelization. 3) Both apostles died as martyrs for the faith, giving us an example of being faithful custodians and stewards of the faith to the point of giving our lives for Christ.


©2014 John S. Mbinda