Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

Readings: 1 Kings 19:4-8; Ephesians 4:30-5:2; John 6:41-51

Jesus the bread of life who strengthens us on our journey to eternal life. This Sunday we continue our reflection on the bread of life discourse in Chapter Six of John’s Gospel. The First reading from the Book of Kings is an account of Israel when it was ruled by king Ahab, who had married a Canaanite woman, named Jezebel. The king then converted to her religion, which was basically a Canaanite fertility cult. In this passage, the prophet Elijah challenges the king’s behaviour and becomes an enemy of the queen. When she threatens to kill him, Elijah is afraid and flees to Mount Horeb, to ask God for help. Along the way, he gives up and prays for his death. Then God sends a messenger with bread and water. This gives Elijah the strength to walk to the mountain. The bread given to Elijah seems to foreshadow the Eucharist and its power to keep us faithful on our personal journey to God. Just as the Lord drew Elijah to the holy Mount, we too are drawn to the mountain of the Lord (the Church) where the Lord strengthens us with the living bread from heaven, namely, the Body and Blood of Christ. Thus in the Gospel passage we are invited to a new level of awareness; a deeper spiritual relationship with Jesus, who is our bread from heaven, on our journey of faith towards the Father. In other words, Jesus walks with us on this pilgrimage, which can be rough as in the case of Elijah in the wilderness.

In the Gospel of last Sunday, the crowds asked for a sign that would show that Jesus came from God. Jesus replied by saying that He is the sign and the bread of life sent by God from heaven. This Sunday's Gospel begins by saying that the Jews complained about Jesus' claims regarding his identity. They knew his family: that he was born of Mary and that he was the son of Joseph. How could he then have come down from heaven? Jesus responds to their complaints by saying that those who listen to God will recognize that Jesus is the one sent from God. Those who believe will have eternal life. Jesus concludes with the central teaching on the Eucharist. He promises that the bread of life will bring eternal life to those who partake of it. Jesus tells us that the bread of life will be his own flesh, given for the life of the world. In today's Gospel, we hear Jesus repeat the words of last Sunday Gospel, that he is the bread of life. We also hear Jesus add that he is the living bread. Both of these statements help us understand better the gift that Jesus gives us in the Eucharist. We celebrate this gift of Jesus each time we gather for Mass – the Eucharist. We take Jesus with us when we are sent to live and proclaim what we have eaten – Jesus Christ. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) Just as the Lord nourished the prophet Elijah with bread and water for his journey to the holy mountain, so too Jesus nourishes us with his Body and his Blood for our spiritual pilgrimage; 2) By being nourished with the Body and Blood of Christ, we get strength to walk to everlasting life; 3) Our communion with Jesus in the Eucharist is indeed a gathering that sends us out at the end of Mass, to live and proclaim what we have received, Jesus Christ, who accompanies us always in our witness.

©2018 John S. Mbinda

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

Readings: Ex 16:2-4, 12-15; Eph 4:17, 20-24; Jn 6:24-35

Seeking for physical food, but encountering Jesus, “the bread of life” that lasts forever. This Sunday Gospel narrative takes place the day after the miracle of the multiplication of loaves that we heard last Sunday. The people go in search for Jesus, not because they really want Him, but because they want free lunch.  When they find Jesus, He uses the opportunity to teach the crowds about the food that really matters, the Bread of Life that God provides.  He tells them that unlike the manna given in the desert during the time of Moses, this bread would last forever.  In other words, the food that Jesus provides would not leave them hungry. Jesus then surprises the crowds by proclaiming himself to be the bread of life. "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never hunger; he who believes in me will never thirst". Last Sunday we focused on Jesus feeding the crowds with five loaves and two fish. Everyone had their physical needs met. We become deeply aware of the importance of paying attention to the physical needs of others by sharing what God in his providence has given us. This Sunday, we are invited to go beyond the physical needs; to focus our attention on Christ, who is the bread of life. Our concern for the physical needs must never overshadow our desire for the bread of life. In the Gospel we are told that the crowds were coming to Jesus because they had their fill of earthly bread. They were following him because they knew for sure they would be hungry again and that Jesus would feed them.

Jesus in the Gospel passage challenges us to move to a new level of awareness, namely that he is everything that matters most to us. He is the bread of life. He is the one who satisfies our spiritual hunger and thirst. Let us for a moment listen to those challenging words. "Do not work for food that cannot last, but work for food that endures to eternal life, the kind of food the Son of Man is offering you". We must go beyond our superficial, selfish encounters with Christ, to a deeper spiritual encounter, a genuine intimacy with him. He challenges us to get out of our own desert, where spiritual hunger and thirst could starve us to death. Jesus reveals a secret path that leads us to tropical lush highlands, where rain is plentiful and food is superabundant; a secret path that leads to his own life. St. Paul helps us to discover that secret, urging us to acquire a new way of thinking, a spiritual revolution and a new humanity, enabling us to see the signs of a new creation in Christ through the working of the Holy Spirit. So what is the take away message this Sunday? 1) The Gospel challenges us to go beyond our superficial, selfish encounters with Christ, to a deeper spiritual encounter, a genuine intimacy with him. 2) Jesus challenges us to get out of our own desert, where spiritual hunger and thirst could starve us to death. 3) We are therefore invited to discover the secret path that leads us beyond our physical needs to yearn for Christ, who is the true bread of life that satisfies our spiritual hunger.

©2018 John S. Mbinda

Monday, July 30, 2018

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B
Readings: 2 Kings 4:42-44; Ephesians 4: 1-6; John 6:1-15

A few talents and gifts to nourish a multitude! Five loaves and two fish feeding five thousand. This Sunday we celebrate Christ who nourishes both our physical and spiritual hunger. In the first reading the prophet Elisha prophesies the providential nourishment of God’s people, reminding them of what the Lord had said. “They will eat and have some left over”. God’s providential care for the whole creation is underlined in the Responsorial Psalm 145. “The eyes of all creatures look to you and you give them their food in due time”. The story of Elisha miraculously feeding a hundred people with only twenty loaves of bread foreshadows Christ who, in the Gospel this Sunday performs even a far greater miracle, feeding a crowd of five thousand with five loaves and two fish.

There is a great lesson we learn from the Gospel story of the little boy who gives away his lunch. That gift was so insignificant to God the creator of the universe, yet the Son of God takes it and multiplies to feed five thousand. One lesson that Jesus wants to teach us this Sunday is that material needs are relevant to the work of evangelisation. Jesus' own example of sensitivity to the immediate situation of human need is an important pastoral approach. He takes human need seriously. What does the story of the multiplication of loaves and fish mean in the context of our parish where we are currently focusing on ecclesial lay ministries? The story of the boy giving away his lunch may be compared to our smallest gifts, talents and treasure. We all have many small but beautiful gifts we can offer. Who in our parish cannot afford to offer a few minutes of prayer to God each day? Some possess talents for services like reading during Mass on Sunday, some are cantors, others play the piano, we have catechists, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, altar servers, lectors and ushers, to name just a few. The time you give for these ministries may look insignificant, but the Lord takes your small gift and multiplies it to nourish us all daily and on Sundays. Your free will donation in the collection basket is another example of your offering to the Lord. When the Lord takes your gift, He multiplies it to nourish our spiritual hunger in many ways. The prophecy of Elisha and the multiplication of loaves by Jesus is fulfilled right in our eyes. We all get enough and some left over! I would like to imagine that probably the little boy was given some of the left over to take home. What a blessing when we give our small gifts! So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) We must never underestimate the gifts and talents that the Lord has given us. 2) Those gifts and talents including our time are meant to be shared with others in our parish community. 3) The Lord takes those small gifts and multiplies them to nourish us all in the parish. You are a gift to the parish; you have gifts to share; your gifts and treasure are precious to the parish. Offer them with joy to the Lord.

©2018 John S. Mbinda

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