Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Twenty Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

Readings: Wis 7:7-11; Heb 4:12-13; Mk 10:17-30

The best way to live, the wisdom of the gospel, detachment from wealth and simplicity of life are the key words that help to capture the central message of this Sunday. In October 2014, Pope Francis suspended a bishop in Europe over the cost of his home renovation, highlighting the need for church leaders to live a simple life. The bishop had spent some $40 million to improve his private residence, including installing a $20,000 bathtub. Such a display was not the best way to live and he would not obviously smell like the sheep. I cite this example because in the gospel Jesus shows a rich man the best way to live by giving up his wealth. The rich man saw the price tag of following Jesus which meant going all the way to the Cross where one gives up everything. He had kept God’s commands since his youth, and Jesus looked at him with love. An ideal person, you would think, to receive the gospel. Yet Jesus wanted to show him something about himself of which he was totally unaware. He was no longer free because his wealth had come to possess him rather than he owning it. Jesus invited him to free himself, but the cost seemed just too high. In other words following Jesus is more than just keeping the Commandments; it means embracing the sacrifice it entails.
There is nothing wrong with money as such, or even with being wealthy. Some of the world’s greatest people who did most for the welfare of humanity, have been wealthy people. But at a deeper level, at the end of the day I own absolutely nothing. All is a generous gift from God. My hold on things is provisional, temporary. A sudden stroke or a heart attack, and I am separated forever from all my worldly possessions. How hard it is for people who are weighed down by possessions to enter the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom belongs to the childlike who have nothing to worry about. It belongs to the poor in spirit; not so much economically poor, but detached from riches in their inmost spirit.

Then there are some who give up everything to follow Jesus. He doesn’t call everybody to do this. He didn’t ask Lazarus or his sisters to leave home and follow him. But being a follower of Jesus does mean having to leave something. It involves a change of priorities, a new way of valuing things, an interest in the riches that are stored up in heaven, “where moth cannot consume, nor rust corrode.” Those who leave everything to follow Jesus are among the most blessed of people, dedicated souls like Francis of Assisi, Mother Teresa of Calcutta and many other unsung heroes. Such people are blessed with the riches of God’s grace, and bring much blessing to the lives of others. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) Jesus shows the rich man the best way to be transformed so that he can let go and find eternal life. 2) Jesus invites us to free ourselves from attachment to material possessions so that they do not possess us. 3) Possessions in themselves are not an obstacle to following Jesus. The bottom line is whether we are willing to let go a mediocre way of life by choosing the best way to live.

©2015 John S. Mbinda

Thursday, October 1, 2015

27th Sunday Ordinary Time Year B

Readings: Gen 2:18-24; Heb 2:9-11; Mk 10:2-16
Marriage as a permanent union sum up best the message of this Sunday readings. But first a story. There is a story about a couple who had just gone through a marriage ceremony in the Church after a long process of legal annulment for their previous marriages. The following day the wife went and took out the marriage license and sat in the living room examining it very carefully back and forth. So the husband finally said to his wife, "Honey, why do you keep reading our marriage license?" The wife responded,” I'm looking for a loophole!" I tell this funny story because today we face a serious crisis in marriages. Being Respect Life Sunday today, it is important that we pose and think about the bigger picture of what is at stake. Divorce rates in the world are around 40% while in the US divorce among Catholics is around 20%. These statistics speak volumes on the factors that have led marriage to be a fragile institution. The rapture of humanity’s conscience due to the Original Sin gave birth to a battle between two cultures: a culture of life and a culture of death. In July 1968, Pope Paul VI issued the Encyclical Humanae Viate (On Human Life), whose prediction on marriage and family life have been vindicated. There were four predictions in that Encyclical, and I just want to cite one of them. The Encyclical noted that the widespread use of contraception would "lead to conjugal infidelity and the general lowering of morality." Today we face the very destruction of marriage as a permanent union; and still shocking is the attempt to redefine of marriage.
In the Gospel of today, the Pharisees test Jesus by asking whether it is lawful for a husband to divorce his wife. Jesus responds by asking them what the law said, and they quote Deuteronomy 4:1, which allowed a husband to divorce his wife by simply writing a bill of divorce. Then Jesus quotes two verses from two creation accounts of Genesis: “male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27), and “the two of them become one flesh” (in today’s first reading). In this passage, the first century Jewish law seems to have favoured divorce, but in actual practice divorce was not that common. The point Jesus makes in the Gospel is an affirmation of the permanent nature of marriage as God intended it. Jesus teaches that under the new Law of love, divorce destroys the original purpose of God in creation: “the two become one flesh”. Marriage as a permanent union is founded on the value of unity that continually offers support to its permanence. This teaching on the permanent character of Christian marriage is an inspiration to some, while painful for others in today’s society. There is no marriage without moments of tears. At the end of the day what preserves the permanence of marriage is the determination to stay together, “for better for worse” – no matter what happens. The very fact that some marriages manage to weather the storms of marriage rough seas is a miracle only brought about by prayer and the willingness to forgive and to be forgiven. The message is threefold. 1) Jesus teaches that marriage is a permanent union in God's original purpose. 2) The permanent character of marriage is founded on the value of unity: “the two become one flesh”. 3) In rocky moments of married life, what saves marriage is prayer, mutual self-giving, forgiveness and reconciliation. I am Msgr. John Mbinda. God bless you.

©2015 John S. Mbinda

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Twenty Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

Readings: Nm11:25-29; Jas 5:1-6; Mk 9:38-42,45,47-48

Accepting the gifts of others and inclusiveness are the key words that help to focus on the central message of this Sunday. But first a story. There is a story of two eagles. One could out fly the other eagle, and the other was so envious that he didn't like it. The latter saw a sportsman with bows and arrows one day, and said to him: "I wish you would bring down that eagle." The sportsman replied that he would if he only had some feathers to put into the arrow. So the eagle pulled one feather out of his wing. The arrow was shot, but didn't quite reach the rival eagle; it was flying too high. The envious eagle pulled out more feathers, and kept pulling them out until he lost so many that he could not fly, and then the sportsman turned around and killed him. I tell this story because both the first reading and the gospel challenge us to cultivate the virtues of inclusion and tolerance by recognizing the work of the Spirit in others. In the gospel, the disciples think they have exclusive power by themselves and so try to stop someone who was driving out demons just like them. You and I can easily become obstacles to the Lord’s work. We can become a stumbling block without realizing it. The disciples in today’s gospel had to learn that they were being exclusive. Those they judged to be ‘not one of us’, Jesus regarded as being ‘for us.’ In contrast to his disciples, Jesus being inclusive was able to recognize and encourage goodness wherever he found it. He knew that the Spirit blows where it wills. He was alert to the presence of the Spirit in anyone. In the same way, Moses in the first reading recognizes and rejoices in the movement of the Spirit in the lives of Eldad and Medad, even though Joshua wants Moses to stop them prophesying.

We all have a role to play in recognizing and supporting the work of the Spirit in each other. Towards the end of his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul says, “Do not quench the Spirit.” (Thess 5:19) To quench the Holy Spirit in others is to become a stumbling block, an obstacle, to God’s work in their lives. We can quench the Spirit in others and hinder the good work that God is doing through them for a whole variety of very human reasons. We can be motivated by envy as Moses suggests Joshua was in today’s first reading. Like the disciples, we can refuse to acknowledge God’s good work in the lives of others because they are not ‘one of us’; because they belong to a different church, religion or race. The eagle in the story motivated by envy refused to accept the gift of the other eagle to fly higher but lost his life. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) The mark of a true disciple and steward of Jesus Christ is an attitude of acceptance of the gifts of others. 2) God's Spirit is not limited to those of our company or to a chosen elite group. The Holy Spirit is not even limited to this or that Church. 3) Rather than quenching the Spirit in others and hindering the good work that God is doing through them, we are urged to recognize, encourage and affirm others their achievements.

©2015 John S. Mbinda

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Twenty Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

Readings: Wis 2:12, 17-20; Jas 3:16-4:3; Mk 9:30-37

Ambition, envy and the spirituality of the cross are the key word that sum up the message of this Sunday. Last Sunday readings focused our attention on the mystery of the Cross in order to understand who Jesus is. This Sunday, Mark in the Gospel takes us back to the mystery of the Cross. We notice how ambition and envy get in the way of the disciples, leading them to miss the point of what Jesus is teaching on his passion, death and resurrection. Rather than giving us any privileged positions, discipleship and stewardship make us powerless and vulnerable in the perspective of the cross. The Gospel passage starts with Jesus teaching about his suffering, death and resurrection. He tells them that “the Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise.” But all that went over their heads. Ambition and envy blinds them so much that they do not understand. Moreover, “they were afraid to question him.” Why did they fail to understand? Mark reveals that “They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest.” They still see their association with Jesus as a possibility for high positions in the earthly kingdom. In other words, they were discussing about power positions; about would be the Secretary of State and the Vice President in that kingdom. Jesus takes the opportunity to teach them that he is not a conquering but a “Serving Messiah.” If we wish to be first, we must be prepared to be last; if we wish to be great, we must be prepared to be like little children; if we want to be leaders, we must be prepared to be servants of all. Jesus used the example of little children because they were symbols of powerlessness and vulnerability. Jesus reminds us today that, we should be more concerned about those without power and the most vulnerable in our midst.

I once heard a story about young boy in a certain parish who asked how one becomes the Pope in the Catholic Church. The boy was told that one has to become a priest first. The boy fumed and would not take any of that. He said no, I would like to be a Pope! What an ambitious kid! Not only do we want to have the top positions, but we are even capable of destroying others psychologically in order to get to the top!  As in today’s Christian community, ambition and envy were also among the close followers of Jesus Christ, making it difficult to understand his call to a life of service and sacrifice. Jesus offers a clear catechesis on Christian leadership as humble service that includes the cross. “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all”. As Christians, we are called to a humble service that involves a spirituality of service; a spirituality of powerlessness and vulnerability. So what message do we take home?  1) Our discipleship and stewardship to follow Jesus Christ is a call to powerlessness and vulnerability and not to a position of power and authority. 2) We are called to a leadership of humble service that involves a spirituality of the cross, powerlessness and vulnerability. 3) We must be very concerned when discussions at any level of church life are about power positions rather than caring for those without power and the most vulnerable in our midst.

©2015 John S. Mbinda

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Twenty Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

Readings: Is 50:4-9; Jas 2:14-18; Mk 8:27-35

 “Who do people say that I am?” Who is Jesus for me? Knowing Jesus is quite radical. Let me first tell you a true story. On March 24, 1980, while celebrating the Eucharist, Blessed Oscar Romero was shot and killed at the altar by a death squad assassin, paying the highest price for his commitment about which he spoke so often and so eloquently in defense of the people of El Salvador. He knew who Jesus was for him, and that is why he was not afraid to give witness and to die as Jesus did. I tell this story because the readings this Sunday focus on the identity of Jesus. Genuine understanding of who Jesus is leads to identifying with his vision, mission and purpose. In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah calls our attention to the fact that persecution and suffering were the destiny of the Servant of God. “I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard….” In the second reading, James speaks clearly on what genuine faith in Christ entails. He underlines the necessity of corporal works of mercy to the poor, as the best expression of true faith. In other words, action speaks louder than words. It is not enough to tell a hungry person “Go in peace…and eat well.” A parish that has no social ministry service is not fully responding to the gospel of Jesus Christ. It lacks the compassion and love of Christ as he hangs on the cross.

 In the Gospel reading, Peter, like many of us thought that he knew who Jesus was, only to be shocked by Jesus' prediction of his own suffering, death and resurrection. Our call by Christ must involve the Cross. “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” Like Peter, we want to live our faith on our own terms, without the mystery of the cross; without being involved in the suffering of those in need. Certainly this is not easy, for it means denying ourselves of our own comfort so that others may have a little. The readings remind us that the cross is the path to our extraordinary mission. There is no short-cut. It means being prepared to risk dying for others like Blessed Oscar Romero of El Salvador. He knew who Jesus was for him, and that is why he was not afraid to die as Jesus did. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) As disciples and stewards of Jesus, our commitment to Him must lead to a deeper understanding of the Cross as part of His identity and ours too. 2) Jesus reminds us that following him implies suffering and dying with him so that we may raise with him to eternal life. 3) Like Blessed Oscar Romero and so many other holy people, our extraordinary mission is accomplished through the Cross with Jesus in order to enter with Him to eternal life. Think about it.

 ©2015 John S. Mbinda