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

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The Ascension of the Lord into Heaven Year B

Readings: Acts 1:1-11; Ephesians 1:17-23; Mark 16:15-20

A time to ascend and a time to descend; a time to go to heaven and a time for a new presence among us. This Sunday we celebrate the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord into heaven. We affirm our faith in Christ who "ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father". The Ascension of Christ into heaven is to be understood within context of the Paschal mystery of Christ, which comes into completion with the Ascension. In the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, as Jesus says farewell to his disciples, He also tells them that they will be “witnesses in Jerusalem… and to the ends of the earth.” The second reading from Ephesians is one of Paul’s most powerful exhortations urging followers of Christ to live in a manner worthy the call they have received. This life worthy of the call is about living the basic virtues necessary for preserving the unity of the spirit to which they have been called: humility, gentleness and patience as they serve the body of Christ through a variety of the gifts given to them.

The Gospel from Mark makes it clear that the Ascension is about witness and proclamation of peace, unity and reconciliation. The message of Christ as He ascends promises those who accept the message of the Gospel and believe, the power to drive away the demons of division and divisiveness in order to bring unity; He promises the power to speak a new language of peace not of war; of love not of hate; of forgiveness and compassion. He promises the power to heal human brokenness in order to bring about wholeness in the world. In brief, the ministry of his followers is one peace, unity, compassion, healing and reconciliation in a world torn apart by war, divisions and hatred. While the Gospel speaks about Jesus being taken up into heaven, we hear that the apostle “went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through accompanying signs.” In the language of faith therefore, the ascension means "the entry" of Jesus into the complete and definitive communion with the Father. Jesus Christ enters into the fullness of the Father's glory, and makes it possi­ble for those who belong to his Body, the Church, to follow. Indeed Jesus' entry into the presence of the Father makes it possible for his Church to wait in prayer and discernment for the gift of the Holy Spirit who is God's continual presence with us. Even now, the risen Lord is ever active in the Church as she engages in the Church’s mission of reconciliation, forgiveness and transformation of this world under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, who "has put all things under his feet". While the Ascension is a time to ascend into heaven, it is also a time for Jesus to be present in a new way in the Church. So what message do we take home? 1) The message of the Ascension is indeed about the Church in its mission to the ends of the earth while the Lord continues to accompany its leaders; 2) The Ascension is about witness and proclamation of Christ’s message of peace, unity and reconciliation. 3) The Ascension is the fulfilment of Jesus’ promise of power to his followers to be instruments of peace, unity, compassion, healing and reconciliation in a world torn apart by war, divisions and hatred.

©2018 John S. Mbinda

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Sixth Sunday of Easter Year B

Readings: Acts 10:25-26, 30, 35, 44-48; 1John 4:7-10; John 15:9-17

With Mothers’ Day coming next weekend, the readings help us to focus attention on God's universal love, expressed in Jesus Christ as our model for loving others as God has loved us. But for a moment let us focus on what a mother has in common with God. A mother goes long ways to ensure the security of her children and in fact even to risk her own life to save her children. There is a true story of a mom who was walking with her two-year-old daughter, when she suddenly made a quick decision to cross the train tracks, even after the warning bars had descended and the lights were flashing. Suddenly, the stroller was stuck and in her panic managed to push her daughter free, but she could not free herself and was hit by the train and died instantly.

There could be no better words than those of Jesus in the Gospel that invite us to love one another. The focus is on our relationship to others in the same way that God in Christ relates to us. "As the Father loves me, so I also love you.” Just as a mother’s love is not about a feeling, but real love, so too God loves us with real love, and asks us to extend that same love to others. The mom in the story risked her life to the point of death. God in Christ does the same for us in Christ who risks His life to save us from our sins. When Jesus commands us to “love one another, as I have loved you", He challenges us to be prepared even to die for others. We are invited here to reflect on the example of Christ who has loved us to the point of suffering and death on the cross for us. The ultimate expression of Jesus' love for us is the cross - the "greater love" which emanates from the Father. "Greater love than this no one has". For a mother to love her child is natural. To love others as Jesus did is indeed a far greater challenge for us. Jesus loves all without exception, without discrimination, without preference. He loves all to the point of death, death on the cross. To love others to the point of death is to be prepared to risk one's life for others; to give up one’s comfort for the sake of others; to detach oneself, and in all humility to empty oneself of pride, so we may become totally for others. This example of Jesus leads us to die to self so that others may have life in its fullness. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) The readings challenge us to love all people without exception just as Jesus does; 2) Like the mom in the story, we too must be prepared to lay down our lives; to risk for others; to speak on behalf of the poor; on behalf of those debt burdened, even when that might mean risking our lives, out of a greater love for others. 3) The only way we know that we remain in the love of Jesus is by loving others as Jesus has loved us to the point of dying on the cross for us. Think about it!

©2018 John S. Mbinda

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Fifth Sunday of Easter Year B

Readings: Acts 9:26-31; 1 John 3:18-24; John 15:1-18

The vine, the branches, remaining in Jesus, bearing much fruit and being pruned, are some of the phrases that help us to focus on the central message of this Sunday. Last Sunday, Jesus presented himself to us as a shepherd who stretches his arms gathering the sheep into one flock under one shepherd. This Sunday in the parable of the vine and the branches Jesus describes our relationship with him using the image of a vine and its branches: we are the branches; he is the vine. This is truly an extraordinary image and very true to life. As long as we remain connected to Jesus, we will develop and produce something of great value. If we separate ourselves from Christ, we will wither and die. In the second reading, from the first Letter of John we learn three ways by which we remain in communion with God: 1) by doing what pleases God; 2) by living out our faith in Jesus Christ; 3) by loving one another just as Jesus has commanded us. Voicing our faith in Jesus particularly for those of us who are clergy and religious is not enough. Our words must be backed up by action; by the way we live and relate with our parishioners; a life that shows that we are indeed connected to Jesus Christ.

The Gospel continues the theme started in the Second reading of being in union with God. Jesus presents to us a most profound reflection on the spirituality of discipleship and stewardship in the parable of the vine and its branches. "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. Whoever remains in me, and I in him, will bear much fruit". The image of the vine and the branches is very appropriate for this theme. The message is straight forward. If we are to bear any fruit in our stewardship, we must remain intimately connected to the vine, Jesus Christ. "Whoever remains in me, and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing". John the Evangelist likens spiritual growth to the growth of a vine branch. It cannot bear fruit by itself. It must remain part of the vine. We too must remain in Christ in order to bear any fruit. We must maintain an intimate relationship with Christ. The passage also offers us some practical suggestions. "Every one that does bear fruit, he prunes so that it bears more fruit". In other words, we must let ourselves be pruned constantly, that is, shaped after the example of Christ, if we are to grow spiritually. The image of pruning is quite powerful. To let ourselves be pruned by the vine grower (the Father), car­ries with it the idea of purification, cleansing and transformation; It carries the idea of being renewed.  The biggest obstacle to our spiritual growth is basically ourselves. It is by letting go the self and in submitting our­selves to the Father to be pruned; to be shaped; to be transformed, that we become profoundly connected to Jesus Christ and thereby become spiritually more fruitful. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) Jesus wants us to remain intimately connected to him, so that we may produce much fruit; 2) Jesus also wants us to be pruned; to be transformed into his likeness so that we may produce even more fruit for his kingdom; 3) Just as a newly born baby is totally dependent on the mother, we too are like a baby are very dependent on Christ for our spiritual survival, growth and maturity.

©2018 John S. Mbinda

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Fourth Sunday of Easter Year B

Readings: Acts 4:8-12; 1 John 3:1-2; John 10:11-18

The Good Shepherd, who risks his life for the sheep; who knows each by name; who leads, cares and protects his sheep. These are some of the phrases that help to focus on the central message of this Sunday. As we continue to reflect on the meaning of the resurrection, this Sunday we celebrate the risen Lord, the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. In the first reading, the faith of the apostles in the resurrection is radically transformed by their encounter with the Risen Lord. They realize that Jesus died for others and rose so that his followers might proclaim and witness his life to others. That faith and conviction leads them to continually witness fearlessly that Jesus Christ is risen. Peter no longer focuses on himself but on Jesus, the Risen Lord. With that radical change, Peter heals a cripple near the temple, an event that attracts much attention. He therefore uses the occasion to proclaim the uniqueness of Christ in whose name and no other the cripple has been healed. "There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved", he says. In other words, Jesus is the only way to the Father. In him alone is salvation. Faith in the risen Lord means transforming death to life and sickness to health. In the name of the risen Lord, the disciples and we too of today can transform the world. Faith in the resurrection may also provoke opposition because the same forces that tried to destroy Jesus are still at work in the world today. John in the second reading gives us the reason. "The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him" (Jesus). The failure of the world to know God should come as no surprise to the Christian community since the world has failed to recognize Jesus Christ as well. There is a price to pay for giving such a witness in the secular society of today.

The passage from the Gospel of St. John on the Good Shepherd needs to be seen in the light of the resurrection, for Christ is the one who died in order to save us. The passage mainly underlines the zeal of the Good Shepherd, who is not just another leader, but one who dies for his sheep rather than seeking his own glory. In the light of the resurrection, Christ is the Good Shepherd who risks his life in order to seek and to find the lost sheep. He brings them back to the flock, into the fullness of God’s life. Not only does the shepherd give his life for his sheep, but he also establishes a mutual friendship between himself and the sheep. "I know my own and my own know me". Jesus as the shepherd shows a deep sense of commitment and responsibility towards his followers.  He is a leader who is more concerned about others, a quality needed in our Church leaders today. On this Good shepherd Sunday, we are particularly asked to pray that the Church may be provided with the committed and holy shepherds, for spreading the Gospel. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) Like the apostles, may our faith in the Risen Lord so transform us to be like Jesus who died that others may have life; 2) Like the apostles, may our faith in the resurrection lead us to imitate Christ’s example by laying down our lives too for others; 3) Through our prayers, may the Church be provided with more committed and holy pastors who are credible witnesses of the gospel message by the genuine life they lead.

©2018 John S. Mbinda