Sunday, March 24, 2019

Third Sunday of Lent Year C (RCIA Option A)

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

The readings this Sunday focus on Evangelization, the fourth sign of a dynamic Catholic. Thirst and water, spiritual dehydration and self-scrutiny, are the metaphors that focus on the central message of this Sunday. If you are thirsting for spiritual nourishment, there is good news for you this Sunday. The readings focus on the symbolism of thirst and water, leading us to self-scrutiny and our need for spiritual nourishment. The readings also help to connect with the first of three Scrutinies celebrated this Sunday with those elected for Baptism on the First Sunday of Lent. The Scrutinies are a time of soul-searching and repentance, during which the candidates for Baptism and us too seek to uncover all that is weak, defective or sinful in our lives. They also provide an occasion to strengthen our positive qualities. The symbolism of thirst and water is very central in all three readings. In the Exodus story, the Israelites are in the open desert. They are too thirsty and begin to complain to Moses who is instructed by God to strike a rock in order to get water for them to drink. If you have ever experienced dehydration, you know how deadly it can be. Almost 300 people in the US die annually of dehydration. 2.2 million children die of dehydration annually in the world. Body drought that causes “brain fog” is the strongest type of stress and depression. Spiritual dehydration is similarly fatal. Without spiritual nourishment we simply deteriorate from weakness to weakness until we die of sin spiritually.

In the Gospel, Jesus is at Jacob's well seated there in the mid-day sun and he is thirsty. A Samaritan woman arrives to draw water. Jesus who sees her spiritual dehydration asks the woman for some water to drink, but his intention is to use water to lead her to discover the best way to live; to discover her own spiritual thirst; her need for new life in Christ, the water of life. Jesus knows that she has quite a reputation in her village, having been married five times and living with a sixth man! In the course of an interesting dialogue, Jesus thirsts for her conversion, and gradually leads her to scrutinize herself, but goes further to tell her about her secret life. Though embarrassed at Jesus’ scrutiny and insight into her private life, she is led gradually to confess that she knows that the Messiah – the Christ is coming, and when he comes he will tell us everything. At that point, Jesus reveals his true identity to her. “I who am speaking to you... I am he”. She is first surprised and then becomes completely converted and accepts the water of life that Jesus offers to quench her spiritual thirst. This woman who first came for a jug of water, now discovers the best way to live. She puts the jug down and becomes a disciple and an apostle sent to her village where she tells her people: “Come and see”, come and see the person who showed me the best way to live! So she goes home not only transformed but also refreshed after drinking the life-giving water that only Jesus can give. As we celebrate the first of three Scrutinies with the candidates for Baptism, the readings invite us too to scrutinize ourselves and so discover our spiritual thirst for the water of life before we become spiritually dehydrated. The message we take home this Sunday is threefold: 1) Like the Samaritan woman, this too is our day of Scrutiny, conversion and change. 2) Like the Samaritan woman we are led to discover that only Christ, Water of Life satisfies our spiritual thirst. 3) At the end of the Mass today, we too like the Samaritan woman are sent to invite others to “Come and see”, to come and see someone who has shown us the best way to live so that they too may become the best version of themselves. Now, that is evangelization.

©2019 John S. Mbinda

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Second Sunday of Lent Year C

Readings: Gn 15:5-12, 17-18; Phil 3:17-4:1; Lk 9:28-36

Transformation and transfiguration into Christ’s glory are the key words that help us to focus on the central point of this Sunday readings. The readings focus on the mystery of God’s action that transforms us and gives us a glimpse of future glory. In the first reading, God reaches out to Abram and through Christ to people of all nations with a covenant of blessings and prosperity. The covenant with Abram is sealed in the context of a sacrifice while Abram is transfigured in the presence of the Lord. “Now as the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep and terror seized him”. Abram puts his faith in the Lord, and therefore God affirms his covenant of future blessings and glory. Paul in the second reading urges us to become deeply aware of the purpose of our life if we trust in God’s promises in Christ, because “Our homeland is in heaven”. We must therefore look forward to the time when Christ will transform our bodies into his own image. Paul concludes by appealing that we remain faithful in the Lord to the end. This is because God “is not finished with us” but still working on us, transforming us into the best version of ourselves.

In the Gospel, Luke links the account of the transfiguration to the paschal mystery of Christ. "Jesus took with him Peter and John and James and went up the mountain to pray. As he prayed, the aspect of his face changed..." Luke in this episode underlines the link between the passion and the transfiguration; the difficult journey towards Jerusalem and Jesus' entry into glory through his death and resurrection. Jesus is transfigured because of his intimate relationship with the Father. The transfiguration takes place as Jesus enters into prayer before the Father, to reflect on his vision and the ultimate fulfillment of his mission in the world. The Gospel reminds us that we too must not forget our extraordinary mission in this world, namely our own final transfiguration. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) Like Abraham in the first reading, God takes us aside during this Lenten Season to speak to us, so that like Abraham our faith and trust in God may be deepened as God reveals himself to us. 2) As we continue our journey through Lent, Jesus invites us to accompany him on the mountain; a place where we too will encounter a deeper experience of his glory, and so be transformed into more effective instruments of his message 3) Like Jesus, on this mountain of prayer, we reflect and refocus on our journey, training our minds to focus on heavenly things, for “our citizenship is in heaven”. In other words, during this season of Lent we are invited to walk toward our extraordinary mission of holiness so that Christ may in the end transfigure us into his own image.

©2019 John S. Mbinda

Sunday, March 10, 2019

First Sunday of Lent Year C

Readings: Dt 26:4-10; Rm 10:8-13; Lk 4:1-13

“Transforming people one at a time is at the heart of God’s plan for the world.” The Lenten Season has a real transforming power. It can be life changing for us because Lent is a call to conversion and transformation through the Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Lent is a call to be best version of ourselves. In the Gospel, Jesus is led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days where the devil tries to tempt him to lose focus on his identity as God’s Son. The three temptations by the devil and Jesus' resistance to them set an example of resolve to remain focused on his mission. A temptation is a moment during which the devil cleverly tries to confuse us by showing us the possibility of fulfilling our selfish human desires. In such moments, the devil persuades us not to delay gratification. He shows us how easy it is to get what we want. He tells us, for example, “just click the mouse and entertain your eyes and mind on the Internet”! He persuades us to step out from ourselves to enjoy for a while! Looking at the first temptation, we notice that the devil knew that Jesus was hungry. So the devil cleverly shows him that it is within his power to turn a stone into bread, in order to satisfy his hunger. However, Jesus refuses to be confused; he refuses to go ahead, for "Scripture says: man does not live on bread alone".

The three temptations give us an example on how Jesus remains firm and focused on his vision, mission and purpose by submitting himself to the will of the Father. He never relinquishes his own identity with the Father. Jesus does not let his hunger dominate him to the extent of using his divine power to change a stone into bread, nor does He give in to the possibility of a short-cut to glory and fame. It would have been quite easy to jump from the parapet of the Temple. This would have given him quick publicity for people to know immediately that he is indeed the Son of God. Jesus is able to resist because he is totally united with the Father. As we begin this Season of Lent, Jesus gives us an example on how we too could remain focused on our vision, mission and purpose. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) The Lenten Season has a real transforming power; it can be life changing for us to be the best version of ourselves. 2) The readings therefore lead us to discover the best way of arming ourselves for battle within against the devil through the Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. 3) Lent is a time to cultivate a life grounded on virtue and self-control in order to make progress on our extraordinary mission of holiness.

©2019 John S. Mbinda

Friday, March 1, 2019

Eighth Sunday Ordinary Time Year C

Readings: Sirach 27:4-7; 1 Cor. 15:54-58; Luke 6:39-45

Transforming people one at a time is at the heart of God’s plan for each of us.” With just three days to Ash Wednesday, the readings challenge us to be transformed from being destroyer to builders of relationships; from driving people away from God to leading people to God by the words we use and our good example. The first reading from the Book of Ecclesiasticus uses four concrete examples to illustrate good or bad results from our words or actions. Just as the orchard is judged by the quality of its fruit, similarly a person’s words say more about his or her character. In these days of rush judgement on the media still fresh on our minds, the readings lead us head on to meet the challenge. Let me illustrate the point with a story.

A man was flying back home with his three children and on the flight, the children were so unruly that one passenger on the other side of the isle told his own children, “never behave like those children.” When the father of the children heard this he calmly said, “Sir, my children are normally well behaved. It has been very difficult three days for them. We have just buried their mother.” These words totally transformed the man who had rush judged the three children. I tell this story because both the first reading and the Gospel caution about hypocrisy, rush judgement and negativity.

In the Gospel Jesus uses four short parables to illustrate the authentic spirituality of his disciples by words and deeds in their witness as his followers. Jesus is very harsh on hypocrisy because it is fake and counter witness. He underlines the importance of authentic leadership which stands in sharp contrast to blind leadership.  In the example of the blind guide, Jesus teaches us that a blind guide would easily lead followers to spiritual disaster and ruin. The message is clear. "A good tree does not bear rotten fruit, nor does a rotten tree bear good fruit. For every tree is known by its own fruit.” The two images of a blind guide and a rotten tree are related. Both images challenge us to be transformed so that our words may match the integrity and character in our lives. Hypocrisy will soon or later be revealed. “What goes round comes around.” A good tree cannot produce bad fruit; and a bad tree cannot produce good fruit. Judging others and gossip often tells more about ourselves than the people we are condemning or talking about. Jesus calls hypocrites, those who notice a tiny splinter in the eyes of others, but are blind to the beam in their own eye. They are unaware of their shortcomings while they decry the faults of others. These people are often negative and hostile: focusing on the bad side of other people and criticizing and finding faults even while the priest or deacon is preaching! Jesus teaches that faultfinding in others is a sign of hypocrisy and feeds self-righteousness.

The message we take home may be summed up in two points and a prayer. 1) This coming week as we approach the Season of Lent let us open our hearts to be transformed into more authentic witnesses by word and deed. 2) The readings challenge us to bear good fruit by leading others to God especially those alienated from Church by gossip or judgmental attitudes. Lord, give us your Spirit, so that our witness may bear the good fruit of reconciliation, tenderness and mercy. Amen.

©2019 John S. Mbinda

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

Readings: 1 Sam 26:2, 7-9, 12-13,22-23; 1 Cor 15:45-49; Lk 6:27-38

Love of enemies, being merciful and forgiving those who hurt us are some of the words that sum up best the message of this Sunday. The responsorial psalm highlights the theme of pardon and forgiveness ­"The Lord is kind and merciful". You may recall a moment when you were so angry and furious against someone that you tried to retaliate. Well, the story in the first reading from the First Book of Samuel is very close to our life experience. Saul and David do not get along because Saul feels threatened by David's many gifts from the Lord, having killed Goliath in his youth, and now a very popular "General Chief of Staff'”. Saul's solution is to eliminate David, and therefore puts an army of three thousand together to hunt down David. The Lord however delivers Saul in David's hands. The point of the story is to give us the example of David, who mercifully spares the life of Saul. His compassion is a reminder to love and forgive our enemies.

In the Gospel, Jesus calls us to a spirituality of loving and forgiving our enemies. "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who treat you badly". Why would Jesus ask us his followers to do the intolerable? In the first place, Jesus raises the bar of the Law of Love above the Law of retaliation common among the Jewish pagan neighbors. He urges us to love our enemies because they are created in the image and likeness of God. But the most difficult challenge is to be defenseless before the enemy.  In turning the other cheek as Christians, we distinguish ourselves from other religions that practice revenge - an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth! Moreover, Jesus urges us to practice a limitless generosity towards those in need without expecting any pay back, once again to distinguish ourselves from the pagans.

The message is clear. No matter what the other person may have done to us, even when we know their motives, we must not revenge, because we are called to be merciful as our heavenly Father is merciful. As we pray the Our Father today, let us deliberately pray for the grace to be able to forgive those who have hurt us, so that we too may be forgiven by the Lord. This call to a defenseless forgiveness; the call to loving our enemies sound foolish, but that is the mark of a Christian. It is a difficult challenge, but an imperative and a basic demand for us all as disciples of Jesus. Forgiveness dear friends in Christ, is a process that begins with letting go of anger. Only then does freedom return. We then go to the next stage of forgiveness, which is to pray for the one who hurt us and remember that this person is also a child of God.

©2019 John S. Mbinda