Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Fifth Sunday of Lent Year A

Readings: Ez 37: 12-14; Rom 8:8-11; Jn 11:1-45

Life and death; hope and despair are the key phrases that sum up the message of this Sunday. All three readings this Sunday lead us to meet Jesus who is not only the water of life and the light of the world, but also the resurrection and the life. It is around this central theme of our faith in Jesus as the resurrection and life that the Church celebrates the third Scrutiny with those preparing for Baptism at Easter. In the prayer over the candidates this Sunday the celebrant says these words: "Free from the grasp of death those who await your life-giving sacraments and deliver them from the spirit of corruption." The purpose of the third scrutiny is to help the elect candidates to deepen their faith in Christ who is the life and the resurrection. The readings therefore provide a sharp contrast between life and death; hope and despair. They also remind us of real life experiences of the destructive effects of death in real families. We are reminded of the pain of death of loved ones faced by millions of people all over the world daily. The prophet Ezekiel in the first reading urges the devastated nation of Israel to look beyond the destruction of Jerusalem to a new future, when God’s Spirit will restore Israel. If you are facing grief or conflict in the family, there is good news for you. The prophet Ezekiel offers hope for those who believe in the God of life. You and I have many times encountered the shattering effects of death in the family as I did just one year before my ordination when I lost my dad in a tragic automobile accident in which 3 others died with him in 1966.

The Gospel opens with the announcement that Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary, is ill. Jesus’ immediate response is that this illness will not result in the death of Lazarus but that it will be an occasion for God’s glory to be revealed to all and that the Son may also be glorified. Even though Jesus had a deep love for Lazarus and his sisters, he remains in the same place for another two days. By the time Jesus arrives, Lazarus is already dead for four days. The dramatic episode of the raising Lazarus to life is a reminder that Jesus is the source of life; he is the resurrection and the life. Just as in any funeral we have attended, there are tears the eyes of Mary and Martha as they tell Jesus, that if he had been there, their brother would not have died. The whole account is a beautiful catechesis that Jesus offers as the episode develops. On meeting Jesus Martha says: “If you had been here, Lord, my brother would not have died.” “Your brother will rise to life,” says Jesus. “Yes, I know that he will rise again on the last day,” replies Martha, reflecting on Jewish belief of life after death. Jesus uses the occasion to lead the two women through a gradual revelation of who he is: "I am the resurrection and the life. If anyone believes in me, even though he dies he will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die". The passage is a powerful revelation of who Jesus is from his absolute control over life and death. In other words, Jesus has the power to transform death into life; to bring hope in the midst of despair; and joy out of grief. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) The good news is that Jesus is the resurrection and source of life that he promises to anyone who believes in him. 2) We are led to strengthen our faith in the life after death. 3) Our faith in Christ who transforms death into life has been strengthened in the liturgy. We are sent to share this good news with others who may be in grief or in despair and care for them.
©2020 John S. Mbinda

Friday, March 20, 2020

Fourth Sunday of Lent Year A

Readings: 1 Sam 16:1,6-7,10-13; Eph. 5:8-14; Jn 9:1-41

Light and darkness, sight and blindness are the contrasting images in the readings of this Sunday, also called Laetare Sunday which means Rejoice Sunday. On this Sunday, we pause to rejoice and celebrate the good news that Christ heals our spiritual blindness in our Baptism, and makes us witnesses of the truth. That is the meaning of the second Scrutiny celebrated this Sunday for those preparing for Baptism at Easter. The celebrant prays over the Candidates and anoints them with Holy Oil in a rite of exorcism, that symbolically restores their spiritual sight so that they begin to see Jesus and to follow him like the man born blind in the Gospel. For those already Baptized, Christ renews our vision as it were from 10/10 to 20/20 vision. Such a spiritual vision leads us to rejoice because we can now almost see as God sees (cf. 1 Sam 16:7). The entire liturgy this Sunday anticipates Easter Vigil in that it celebrates the mystery of Christ - the light of the world; the light that dispels the darkness of our minds and our hearts. We celebrate Christ who heals our spiritual blindness. The three readings draw a sharp contrast between light and darkness; spiritual sight and spiritual blindness.

The story of the man born blind in the Gospel is not so much about the man being healed, but about seeing as God sees. Here we meet a blind man with sight, as compared to the learned Pharisees who are spiritually blind. The Gospel reminds us that our Baptism illuminates us to see and embrace God’s vision, life, goodness and truth. Our Baptism commits us to be bearers of the truth and to confront the relativism and spiritual blindness of the world with the truth. The passage clearly contrasts light and darkness, faith and the rejection of the truth. These contrasts emerge from the controversy with the Pharisees. Because they are in the darkness of their own prejudice, they refuse to recognize Jesus as the messiah; they refuse to acknowledge that Jesus has the power to heal the blind man. The healing of the blind man gives Jesus the opportunity to show forth once again his own true divine identity for all to see and believe. In the story, Jesus not only gives the blind man his physical sight, but he also gives him the light of faith. When Jesus asks the blind man if he knows the Son of Man, he says, “Who is he sir that I may believe in him?” Jesus says to him, “You have seen him, the one speaking with you is he.” The man then makes his profession of faith, “I do believe, Lord.” On the other hand, the Pharisees are stubbornly blind to Christ and even attribute his miracle to Satan. The story is not simply about the healing of the man born blind and the Pharisee refusing to accept the power of Christ to perform such a miracle. Rather, the story is about you and me in moments of our own spiritual blindness and darkness. However, we need to focus on the Joy of the Gospel this Sunday, namely that in baptism, Christ has healed our blindness and given us the light of faith, so that, like the healed blind man, we may proclaim Him boldly despite the opposition from those still in darkness. The message we take home is threefold. 1) Jesus heals our spiritual blindness so we can see our brothers and sisters as God sees them. 2) Like the blind man, we have been healed. We have become fearless disciples, ready to give our time, talent and treasure in witness to Jesus Christ. 3) As faithful disciples, we must not allow relativism, dishonesty and the distortion of the truth to dim our light, because Christ is our Light.
©2020 John S. Mbinda

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Third Sunday of Lent Year A

Readings: Exodus 17:3-7; Romans 5:1-2,5-8; John 4:5-42

Transforming people one at a time is at the heart of God’s plan for the world. The story of the Samaritan woman in the Gospel is a concrete example of how God transforms people one at a time. Lent is a season when we encounter God who not only thirsts to transform us, but also God who satisfies our spiritual thirst. This is evident in the Gospel from John which very effectively uses the symbolism of water and thirst, leading us to scrutinize our own spiritual thirst. Let me first tell you a true story.  One morning in 1888, a man was shocked to read about his own death in the obituary. It was an error. However, he was even more shocked to read in the newspaper about himself as someone who had found new ways to kill people and became rich from doing so. It was true; he had invented dynamite. That morning he decided to change and devote his energies in a new direction, to work for world peace. He left most of his estate after his death to fund the Nobel Peace Prize. That man was the Swedish Alfred Nobel.
I tell this story because Nobel, on reading a shocking story about himself, decided to change. Similarly, the Samaritan woman in the Gospel was shocked to discover that Jesus knew about her private life and her brokenness. That led to her own self-scrutiny. When she confessed that she knew the Messiah, Jesus then reveals his true identity to her. “I who am speaking to you... I am he”. On hearing this, she accepts the water of life that Jesus is offering to quench her spiritual thirst.
The Samaritan woman in the Gospel becomes aware of her own brokenness; her spiritual thirst and accepts the water of life that Jesus offers to quench her spiritual thirst. This woman who first came for a jar of water, now leaves the jar at the well and becomes a disciple and a messenger sent to her village where she tells her people: “Come and see”, come and see the person who has changed my life! This story was so convincing that the entire village came and saw and invited Jesus who stayed with them for two days!
You and I like the Samaritan woman have come to the well and encountered Jesus, who has told us everything about us. He has offered us life-giving water; he now challenges us to accept his offer and change our lives. As we celebrate the first of three Scrutinies with the candidates for Baptism, the readings invite us along with the candidates to reflect on our lives and so discover our need for conversion.
The message we take home is threefold. 1) Like the Samaritan woman, this too is our day to encounter Jesus at the well, leading us through our self-scrutiny, conversion and transformation. 2) We too have discovered our thirst and need for the Water of Life. 3) At the end of the Mass today, like the Samaritan woman let’s go out and announce the good news that Jesus whom we have encountered at the well today has transformed our lives.
©2020 John S. Mbinda

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Second Sunday of Lent Year A

Readings: Gen 12:1-4; 2 Tim 1:8-10; Matt 17:1-9

Call of Abraham, journey of faith, undeserved blessings, new beginning, choosing Christ,the ultimate blessing, hardships for the sake of the Gospel: these phrases help us to focus more deeply on the readings of this Sunday. The first reading from Genesis leads us into the most significant event for God’s people in the Old Testament, namely the call of Abraham. To understand the call of Abraham we need to know the context out of which he was called. That call reveals God’s plan for the chosen people. Abraham is called to a journey of conversion; into a land the Lord would show him; from a land he knew best into the unknown. The city of Ur (in present day Iraq) was a large city with spacious streets and large markets. It was a prosperous city with dazzling technology of the day. For the majority of the people in Ur the only thing that seemed to matter most was prosperity. The people’s ancient religion centered on a life-force or fertility gods. Their rites involved orgies complete with temple prostitutes – male and female. They also had human sacrifices including infants. Their gods demanded more and more blood of children. That was evidently a culture of death. It was those terrible gods Abraham was told to leave. The gods of our culture today are remarkably similar to those Abraham was asked to leave and go to a land the Lord would show him. Through the media we are daily sucked into a culture of consumerism, a culture of violence and of death. Like Abraham we are challenged to take a journey of conversion to leave our comfort zone, to let go so that the Lord may lead us into a journey of conversion. We are challenged to trust Abraham, who left everything behind.

In the Gospel, Jesus takes his closes disciples apart on the mountain where his glory is revealed. As in the call of Abraham in the first reading, Jesus calls each of us to a journey of conversion, to leave behind the pagan gods of our culture and consumerism. The way to avoid being sucked into a terrible culture of death is to go to the mountain with Jesus. The mountain in scripture always signifies God’s presence. The Gospel of today gives us the experience of such a presence in the Transfiguration. Jesus is transfigured before the three disciples and they see the mystery of his glory. The Sunday experience in a certain sense takes us to Mount Tabor, the Mountain of the Transfiguration. There we are lifted up high and see the glory of the Lord in his Liturgy of the Word and the Eucharistic celebration. Here we are purified, sanctified and experience in a profound the glory of God shown in Jesus Christ. We do not want to leave. It is so beautiful. We want to stay. As we continue our journey of faith this Lenten Season, you are one of the privileged disciples to be invited to the mountain. You are transformed. You experience the glory of Christ. You are deeply touched. You cannot be the same again. Three points to take away: 1) As disciples and stewards of Jesus Christ, we will have many uplifting moments. Many times we will encounter the Lord in profound ways. Take advantage of those moments for the Lord is working of you then. 2) We will have the temptation to want to stay there in the warmth of the glory. That is a transitional moment and we may be even confused like Peter wanting to build three tents and settle down there. As stewards, we are disciples on pilgrimage with the Lord, who has a vision, a purpose and a mission. 3) At the end of today’s Mass you are sent to go back energized to tell what we have experienced: seen with our eyes and heard with our ears to the world. It is our moment to evangelize those we meet. Share your joy of this Sunday celebration.
©2020 John S. Mbinda

Thursday, February 27, 2020

First Sunday of Lent Year A

Readings: Gen 2:7-9, 3:1-7; Rom 5:12-19; Matt 4:1-11

The Lenten Season leads us along with Jesus towards Jerusalem and to the Cross. We are called to prepare for that journey by imitating Jesus who spends 40 days in the wilderness where he faces temptations. The Lenten journey will be a challenge as we face one temptation after another just like Jesus. In our case these temptations may be around food, drink, alcohol, drugs, lustful thoughts, and by possessions (money). The Devil will want us to take short-cuts on our spiritual life or even giving us the excuse for not saying our prayers or fasting. It all starts by skipping prayer or going to church. The Devil too will tempt us to use all 24 hours a day and 7 days a week for ourselves because we own them! Well, we do not own our time. That is a gift from God. In the Gospel Jesus faces temptations by the devil three times. He resists, because He not only knows the Scriptures, but He also remains faithful: "Be off Satan! For Scripture says: You must worship the Lord your God, and serve him alone". It is not enough for us to know God's Word or his Commandments. We must be doers of the word. In the first temptation, the devil knows that Jesus is hungry after 40 days of fasting and so tempts him to turn stones into bread - (self-satisfaction with food). Next the devil takes Jesus to the highest point of the Temple and asks him to throw himself down, which would immediately convince the people of Israel that He is truly the Son of God (shortcut to success). Finally, the devil tempts Jesus with the illusions of power and glory by taking him to a high mountain and showing him all the kingdoms of the world which the devil pretends he owns and will give them to Jesus if he only worships the devil! Jesus overcomes all these temptations one after another because he is focused on his mission. As human beings, temptations are bound to come our way. The three temptations of Jesus remind us that any shortcut without sacrifice does not last. The temptations call us to the same faithfulness that Jesus had in overcoming his temptations. During this season of Lent, we have opportunities of prayer, almsgiving and fasting to help us. Prayer in particular is a great weapon in moments of temptations. We also need to know the scriptures and live what they say. That can help us remain focused in following Jesus Christ.

The central message of this Sunday may be summed up in four points. 1) We will be tempted by food, drink and other material desires. What satisfies our hunger is not physical food but God’s word and every teaching that nourishes our faith. 2) We will be tempted to take shortcuts to achieve success; to give ourselves without sacrifice. The alms and the offertory you give must have an element of sacrifice. The temptation is always to try tip God who owns everything! God cannot be tipped! 3) We will be tempted to embrace the idolatry of power and control, rather than focusing on our baptismal faith journey that has one purpose and mission for which God created us: to be the best version of ourselves by seeking closer relationship with Christ. We do this through the Lenten disciplines of prayer, almsgiving and fasting. 4) Finally, we will be tempted to use all the 24 hours God gives us daily for ourselves and for some, only the Sunday time at Mass. To give no time to God is very selfish and even very arrogant! God gives you 24 hours a day. That is 1,440 minutes a day. This Lent commit yourself to giving at least 10 minutes a day to God. If you do not come to daily Mass, consider visiting the church near you on your way to work or after work, and pray for 10 minutes a day. At home, commit another 10 minutes to scripture reading. I guarantee you will see a change in your life, your work and family life. May God give us the grace to deepen our baptismal faith journey this Lenten Season. 
©2017 John S. Mbinda