Thursday, July 19, 2018

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

Readings: Jeremiah 23:1-6; Ephesians 2:13-18; Mark 6:30-34

Like sheep without a shepherd; without leadership, disoriented and without direction; the Lord appointing new shepherds for them. The readings this Sunday focus our attention on Christ the Shepherd, who fulfils the prophecy of Jeremiah: a Messiah who is compassionate, who is truly concerned about the life and wellbeing of his flock; who gathers the scattered, feeds the hungry, provides their needs and leads them to the Father. The first reading makes us aware of a serious lack of good compassionate shepherds during the time of the Prophet Jeremiah. In the absence of such leadership and service, people become quickly misled and disorient­ed, without direction or purpose. In the days of Jeremiah, the nation of Judah had just faced defeat and deportation because its leaders had failed to care for the people. Jeremiah's prophecy is that God will someday raise a good and compassionate shepherd to care for his flock. The shepherd will be like the one depicted in the popular Psalm 23: a shepherd who guides the flock to “still waters” where the sheep drink without fear; a shepherd who risks his life to secure the flock.

The Gospel message offers a sharp contrast to the image of the shepherds in the First Reading. While these shepherds have scattered and neglected the sheep, Jesus in the Gospel passage gathers and cares for them by nourishing them. On seeing the crowd Jesus “took pity on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he set himself to teach them many things". Jesus draws our attention to the reality of today’s pastoral ministry where so many people in every parish today, hunger for instruction; good people looking for direction; parents concerned about a troubled child; a man stripped of dignity due to unemployment; a woman facing pregnancy alone; a couple facing a relationship gone wrong, and children suddenly discovering that a parent is terminally ill. There are also people looking for answers and meaning in life. All these are like sheep without a shepherd, and Jesus invites us to respond to these needs in our ministry. The seriousness of the matter is that parishioners come seeking nourishment, care, compassion and answers but go back home empty. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) We are challenged to imitate the compassion of Jesus as well as the preparedness to listen to the issues parishioners are dealing with in order to respond to their struggles; 2) Jesus teaches us the value of being able to pause and reflect on our ministry; to go away to a deserted place alone with Him to pray, but also be prepared to accept the possibility of our rest and privacy being invaded by the needs of those we must serve. 3) We are challenged through our compassion to care for neglected and gather the scattered back to the fold listening to their concerns and helping them to feel welcome and wanted in the community of believers.

©2018 John S. Mbinda

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

Readings: Amos 7:12-15; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:7-13

In him we were… chosen; gifted and sent by God; sent two by two, commissioned with authority to participate in the ministry of Jesus. The readings this Sunday invite us to reflect on the missionary vocation of the Church and our ministry received through baptism. The Church is called not only to proclaim the Good News of salvation realized in Jesus Christ and offered to all, but also to boldly confront the evil forces of this world. In the first reading, the prophet Amos is sent by the Lord to Bethel to preach against the evil lifestyle of the priests and leaders because they misled the people by worshipping a golden calf. In this reading the Lord told Amos, “Go, prophesy to my people Israel.” He is called upon to speak the word of God as a prophet. People of the time were aware of the role of a prophet. A prophet is one who speaks for God and at times like Amos speaks against the evil forces and values of the world. There is a sharp contrast between the message of Amaziah the false prophet of Bethel who praises the king, and prophet Amos who tells the priests that it is God who called him from nowhere and God will protect him. God has asked him to speak God’s word; the word of truth and that he is bound to speak. In brief, Amos is chosen and sent by God, while Amaziah is a hired figure paid and controlled by the king. Paul reminds us in the second reading that to be a Christian is to belong to God. "Before the world was made, he chose us, chose us in Christ, to be holy and spotless...". Yes, but also to be his instruments; his ministers; engaged in working for the kingdom. If we belong to God in Christ, we cannot serve other masters. We must make a choice and remain faithful.

In the Gospel episode Jesus commissions and sends the twelve with authority over unclean spirits. He sends them to proclaim a message of repentance. Repentance is sorrow for our sins; the recognition that my sins have hurt me, other people and God. Repentance opens up the doors of God's loving mercy and forgiveness. When people listened and repented, the Apostles could then drive out demons and cure illnesses by anointing the sick with oil. When we repent and pray, wonderful things can happen in our families, our parish and our world. This message of repentance is urgent. To underscore the urgency, Jesus “instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick - no food, no sack, no money” in their wallets, with sandals and without a spare tunic. In other words, they are to be totally dependent on God. What is the message? 1) Just Amos is chosen and sent to confront the idolatry of the people of his time, the you and I are chosen and sent to confront today’s worship of false gods. 2) Just as Jesus sends his apostles to proclaim repentance and to heal the sick, Jesus sends us into our communities to proclaim God’s message of mercy, compassion and healing. 3) Material possessions should never become an obstacle to proclaiming the Gospel because Christ who sends us will provide. In other words as disciples of Christ and minister in various services in the life of the Church, we need to “travel light” without material or spiritual baggage!

©2018 John M. Mbinda

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

Readings: Ezekiel 2:2-5; 2 Corinthians 12:7-10; Mark 6:1-6

Prophetic witness, ministry with challenges, a thorn in the flesh; for “when I am weak, then I am strong.” The readings of this Sunday invite us to reflect on our calling to ministry; our calling to prophetic witness. While St. Paul compares his calling and ministry to a thorn in the flesh, the Gospel gives us a concrete example of Jesus who is rejected in his own hometown. We are reminded that the exercise of ministry is not always respected in the world. You and I are called to stand for the truth, but that too involves the risk being ridiculed, rejected, hated or persecuted. St. Paul in the second reading speaks about having a thorn in his flesh. We don't know what the thorn was, but perhaps it was some physical weakness. Paul sees an advantage in that weakness and refers to it as "a thorn in the flesh". It reminds him of dependence on Christ. He of course never quits struggling to overcome his weakness, but he knows that the victory belongs not to him, but to Christ. Because of Christ he can say, "When I am weak, then I am strong." Like St. Paul, all of us have weaknesses and needs, but in Christ we can together do great things. Along with our weaknesses, God has given each of us gifts to help one another. With St. Paul we too can say, "When I am weak, then I am strong." In Christ, together in ministry, we will do great things. In the First reading, the prophet Ezekiel too has a thorn in the flesh. He is sent by God to proclaim a severe message to the people of Israel. This was the time of rebellion by the people of Israel against God. God had punished them by sending them into exile. Jerusalem was destroyed and the Temple pulled down. Ezekiel the prophet also offers them hope, telling them that if they are faithful to God in exile, Israel would be restored.

In the Gospel, Jesus is rejected in his own home town of Nazareth. There are many situations around the world where the Church's prophetic witness before certain regimes and dictatorships, has become a thorn in the flesh. We have many cases in which Church leaders have refused to compromise the principles of the Gospel and spoken the truth clearly, going as far as to suggest alternative ways of civil society for the benefit of all citizens, only to be ridiculed in the public media. Such is the "thorn in the flesh" of many of our pastors and the faithful today in some parts of the world. Some have in the past been imprisoned and others threatened with death because of their uncomfortable witness. There is always the temptation, as in the case of St. Paul, to beg the Lord that such suffering be removed, so that we may work in peace. But the Lord will not remove these challenges. Instead, Christ promises his grace and his presence as we carry out his purpose and mission in ministry. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) Like St. Paul, we too have our weakness, but if we unite in Christ we will have extraordinary power of witness. 2) The readings challenge us to rely on God's grace in our daily life, as we offer our witness in our own life situations. 3) We must never quit our witness nor be intimidated by threats.

©2018 John S. Mbinda

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

Readings: Wis 1:13-15; 2:23-24; 2 Cor 8:7, 9, 13-15; Mk 5:21-43
The readings of this Sunday focus our attention on the power of Jesus in response to our fears: fear of death, fear of sickness and fear of poverty. Such fears can only be overcome by our faith in Christ, who was sought out by individuals and crowds because of that power; power to feed the hungry, power to restore sight and hearing, power to cure the crippled, to set the demon-possessed free, power over wind and sea, power to forgive sin, and power to raise the dead. Jesus had power to set us free from the two realities which we humans most fear - suffering and death. Today again the Gospel shows how crowds sought out Jesus and pressed closely round him, each eager to get close enough to secure some blessing from Him. A synagogue official is desperate for his daughter’s welfare and a woman suffering a haemorrhage succeeds in coming close enough to touch his cloak. These two represent each one of us while the crowds represent the whole of poor, struggling, helpless humanity. The first read­ing from the Book of Wisdom responds to our questions regarding death, suffering and misfortune: “Why does Death exist?” and “Did God make death?”  The Book of Wisdom says that God did not create death, nor is God happy about it.  All that God created was meant to be wholesome, not containing destructive forces. Why then does death exist?  Some people respond to that question in terms of fatalism, because we are victims of forces beyond our control. 

The Book of Wisdom however tells us that we do have control over our fate:  if we follow God we will be raised up to new life by Him.  If we turn away from Him, we turn to death. Because of the Original Sin, we live in fear and insecurity, afraid of suffering, sickness and death. As St. Paul infers in the Second Reading, we are even afraid of giving alms to those in need, afraid that if we give in charity to others or even to the Church, we may not have enough for the future. The two dramatic miracles in the Gospel are driven not only by fear but also by selfish need. But it becomes clear that God will not allow fear, sickness and death to have the last word. The words of Jesus to Jairus are most reassuring: "Do not be afraid; only have faith". Through faith, fear in the woman with haemorrhage for twelve years, is transformed into courage. Her sickness is transformed into spiritual and physical health. The death of the little girl raised by Jesus to life, becomes our hope of eternal life in Christ who is risen and is alive. Coping with misfortune is a major preoccupation for many families that face terminal illness of a loved one, death and even poverty due to lack of employment today. The readings of this Sunday however lead us to discover Christ, the source and solution to our search for security and wholeness. In his resurrection Christ enables us to overcome suffering, poverty and death. What message do we take home? 1) God in Christ, will not allow fear, sickness and death to have the last word; 2) Jesus is the answer and solution to our searching and yearning for wholeness, security and assurance; 3) The readings invite us to trust and hope in Christ, who is the Lord of all life, and who controls our destiny every moment of our life.

©2018 John M. Mbinda

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Solemnity of the Nativity of John the Baptist

Readings: Is 49:1-6; Acts 13:22-26; Lk 1:57-66,80

“A man sent from God, whose name was John (Jn 1:6); who “came to testify to the light” (Lk 1:17). These phrases from the Entrance Antiphon lead us into the solemnity we celebrate this Sunday, - the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. The solemnity is one of the ancient liturgical feasts listed already in the beginning of the 6th century (506 AD). With the exception of the Mother of God, no other saint plays a central role in the history of salvation like John the Baptist. This feast falls on June 24, 6 months before and after Christmas, and therefore forms what is liturgically known as the ‘Christmas Cycle’ with the Annunciation on March 25 each year. There are striking similarities between the birth of John the Baptist and that of Jesus. Both are announced by the Angel Gabriel and a mystery surrounds their birth. The first reading from the prophet Isaiah is a pointer to what John is going to be – one called by the Lord from birth; given a name before he was born and formed as the Lord’s servant from the womb. John is indeed chosen and sent by God. Jesus called John the greatest of those who had preceded him: I tell you, among those born of woman, no one is greater than John. John is the last of the Old Testament prophets. He is the one who baptizes and announces the Messiah, “Behold the lamb of God.”

The Gospel reading is like a drama that unfolds with a mysterious birth, and leads to a naming ceremony on the eighth day by relatives not knowing that the child has already been named from above. His name is John, which means “the Lord is gracious.” The mysterious birth of John reveals the mercy and favor of God in preparing his chosen people for the coming of the Messiah, the Christ. The Gospel gives us a lead into the mystery of this child, John the Baptist. “What will this child turn out to be”, relatives wonder. John’s life was fueled by one burning passion to point others to Jesus Christ and the coming kingdom. It was his task to awaken the interest of people on the immanent coming of the kingdom, and therefore the importance of receiving a baptism of repentance. John’s mission was one of leading his listeners to Jesus, the Messiah. So what do we learn from this solemnity? What is the significance of John’s message for our lives today? 1) John the Baptist challenges us to embrace his message of true repentance in preparation for receiving Christ when he comes; 2) Like John the Baptist, we too are given the mission of pointing others to Christ by our life of witness, pointing others the way to Jesus Christ; 3) Let us pray for the gift of true repentance and the grace to be true witnesses of Christ as John the Baptist was, to the point of martyrdom.

©2018 John S. Mbinda