Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Twenty First Sunday Ordinary Time Year A

Twenty First Sunday Ordinary Time Year A
Readings: Is 22:19-23; Rom 11:33-36; Mt 16:13-20

Three metaphors: a Father, a key and a tent peg help us to focus on the message of this Sunday. The readings highlight the person of Jesus Christ prefigured in the account of Eliakim in the first reading. Isaiah’s prophecy in this passage presents a ritual giving of power to Eliakim that uses symbols that point to fulfilment in the Gospel of today. Isaiah uses these metaphors that characterize Eliakim’s authority: a father of the people who is given jurisdiction over the people of the Southern kingdom; a key to the household which symbolize full authority to control who comes in and goes out; and a tent peg that holds the structure in place and thus guarantees stability of the household. That prophecy seems to promise a person who would provide the order and stability needed by the kingdom of Judah. Eliakim is chosen because of his integrity. He is a person who understands his role of service in the royal palace, for he is not the king. Keys are given to Eliakim prefiguring the keys that Jesus would give to Peter in the Gospel.  

In the Gospel passage, Jesus focuses our attention on the relation between our understanding of who he is, and our discipleship. If one understands who he is, then one certainly understands ones call to discipleship and stewardship. Jesus is standing near the pagan temples of Caesarea Philippi to make a sharp contrast between himself and the pagan false gods. In this place considered by religious Jews a red district, Jesus asks “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” Then realizing how easy it is for the disciples to say what others say about him, Jesus changes the question and makes it much more personal. “But you, who do you say that I am?” It is Peter who responds first. For a moment there is a very profound dialogue between the two. Then Simon Peter spoke up, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”. Jesus replied, “Simon son of Jonah, you are a happy man! …You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church…” and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.” Standing right at the cave considered by Jews to be gate of the nether world and hearing this exchange, the disciples must have been terrified by the very thought of being able to confront these demons of evil. The important point of the gospel passage is that Jesus is asking us as individuals, as family and parish community: “who do you say that I am.” He is posing that question as we stand surrounded by the demons of this world; demons you and I are expected to confront. Jesus expects us to respond by proclaiming to the world who He is. He wants us not just to proclaim but to live out that message too in a very hostile world. We know that the Catholic Church defenses are under attack from all corners. But as Jesus assured his disciples, he assures us of today too that the defenses of the Church built upon Peter the Rock and his successors are secure. The attacks never succeed. Yes, some scared by these attacks may be leaving the Church, but the majority who trust in the promise of Christ remain as stewards and guards. The good news is that just as Peter’s confession is from above, so too our faith and proclamation is Spirit-led from above. Be not afraid. Christ is with us each moment of our life as we give our witness.  So hat message do we take home this Sunday? 1) The same question posed to the disciples is still posed to us disciples and stewards of Christ today: “Who do you say that I am?” With Peter let us confess Christ as the Messiah, the Savior of the world, who founded the Church on Peter. 2) Let us pray for Peter’s successor, so that his faith in Christ may be continually sustained. 3) The good news is that just as Peter’s confession is from above, so too our faith and proclamation is Spirit-led from above. Be not afraid.


©2014 John S. Mbinda 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A
Readings: Is 56:1,6-7; Rom 11:13-15,29-32;  Mt 15:21-28

Inclusiveness of God’s salvation, Great faith, boldness and determination are the key words that help to capture the central message proclaimed this Sunday. The readings invite us to celebrate God whose mercy includes all humanity in his plan of salvation. Our God is a God who brings foreigners to his holy mountain, as we hear from the First Reading. Our God is a God of the whole cosmos, of Christians, Jews and Gentiles alike; a God who invites them all to love him, to serve him and to keep his Covenant faithfully. The Lord will sanctify and accept the prayers and offerings of all. This universal offer of salvation to all peoples is proclaimed in the responsorial psalm 67 that portrays God being praised and worshipped by all the nations to the ends of the earth. “O God, let all the nations praise you.”  In the Second Reading, Paul develops a rather complex argument to underline the same good news of universal salvation. His main point is that God’s message of salvation was first offered to Israel, but since they did not accept Jesus Christ, that rejection resulted in turning to the Gentiles.  Paul argues that the Gentiles must not feel superior because they too started in disobedience. However, their very disobedience became an occasion for them to receive God's mercy.  Both Jews and Gentiles have sinned, but God’s mercy is greater than their sins, an insight often used by Pope Francis.

Against the backdrop of God’s inclusive mercy and salvation, in the Gospel passage, we meet a woman of great faith; a woman who does not take no for an answer. She is a Canaanite and a woman who is de facto excluded from salvation because of her race and religion. Jesus does not even think he is called to help her as a foreigner, but the woman will not take no for an answer. The lesson she teaches us is that perseverance and humility will pay in the end. She takes a risk to cross the conventional boundaries of race, religion and gender to make her petition. Her reply takes Jesus by surprise. Amazingly her insistence changes Jesus’ mind. This story reminds us that even people of other faiths can have genuine faith in God, who will listen to their prayer too. "Then Jesus said to her: O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish." In other words, Jesus recognizes genuine faith in this woman, who even calls him “Son of David.” Jesus uses this occasion to teach us that God's love and mercy extends to all without exception. His merciful healing love knows no boundaries and particularly for the poor and the vulnerable who cry to him in faith and trust. Jesus was incredibly amazed by the Canaanite woman's faith since she was not even a Jew. She knew that her boldness was out of order, yet she also knew that the source of life was right in her presence. Her deep faith in Jesus led her to beg just for the crumbs under the table, which were not denied even to the dogs. Touched by such faith, Jesus healed her daughter. The central message may be summed up in three points. 1) The good news is that God's love and mercy is inclusive; it extends to all peoples without exception. 2) Jesus will heal us, our loved ones and our friends too if we have the boldness, great faith and the determination of the Canaanite woman. 3) The secret of that boldness and faith is unlocked by an intimate relationship with Christ, by aligning our vision, mission and purpose to that of Jesus Christ.

©2014 John S. Mbinda



Thursday, August 7, 2014

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A
Readings: 1 Kg 19:9,11-13; Rom 9:1-5;  Mt 14:22-33

The storms of life and the Lord who calms our fears are the phrases that sum up the central message of this Sunday. The readings this Sunday proclaim the good news of the Lord who saves us in the storms of our life’s journey. In the first reading from the First Book of Kings, Elijah threatened to death by Queen Jezebel flees to the mountain and hides in a cave, afraid for his life. He is so depressed and dejected that he wants to die! The Lord however calls him to come out so that the Lord may reveal himself to Elijah. Then God reveals himself in the gentle mountain breeze, perceptible only to the attentive listener. Only after being calmed by the presence of the Lord does Elijah come out of the cave without fear, but hides his face because the Lord is present. In the gospel, it was in the early hours of the morning. The lake was rough as the disciples battled with the storm. Meanwhile, Jesus approached them and appeared through the mist walking on the lake towards them. The disciples could not recognize him and thought it was a ghost. They were frightened. Jesus took the initiative to reassure them: "Courage! It is I! Do not be afraid!" Peter, still in doubt replied: "If it is you, tell me to come to you across the waters". Jesus then invites Peter who begins walking towards him on the water, but when he feels the force of the storm, he is afraid and begins to sink. Jesus had to rescue a drowning Peter.

The gospel passage reveals a sharp contrast between God’s control over natural elements and human powerlessness; God’s trustworthiness and human doubt; God’s courage and human fear. Instead of focusing on Jesus who calls him to walk on the rough waters, Peter thinks first of his own safety, and even doubts that Jesus will indeed save him. “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” There are three powerful moments in this passage. First Jesus reassures the apostles. “Courage! It is I! Do not be afraid”. Then we find Jesus grabbing the hand of a drowning Peter. Finally Jesus restores the rough sea back to normal. Once he gets into the boat, the winds drop and all is calm again. When you and I are immersed in the seas of our own fears, we need a moment of quiet; we need to be in prayer to regain our sense of direction, our focus and strength. When caught in the storms of political turmoil and in danger of death, the prophet Elijah flees to the mountain. There he regained his relationship with God. It was on the mountain retreats of Subiaco and Assisi that St. Benedict and St. Francis found their bearings and calmness in God. In that calmness of prayer they responded to God’s call to discipleship and stewardship of self-giving. Like them, faith in Christ will enable us to keep that vital inner strength and focus, so we can calmly walk with Jesus through the turmoil and confusion of this world. In that calmness we too will hear the Lord’s comforting words: “take courage it is I! Do not be afraid.” We will then respond to his call to discipleship and stewardship of time, talent and treasure. What message do we take home this Sunday? 1) The good news is that in the storms of our daily life the Lord is there to grab our hand and save us as he did for Peter in the storm. 2) As disciples and stewards, we need to faith in Christ and focus on him; Peter sunk because he looked away from Jesus! 3) When immersed in the storms of our own life, we need contemplation; we need to be in prayer in order to regain our sense of direction, our focus on Jesus who calls us to go forward even in the midst of danger or crisis.

©2014 John S. Mbinda



Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A
Readings: Is 55:1-3; Rom 8:35, 37-39; Mt 14:13-21

Spiritual thirsty and hungering for God are that key phrases that help to focus on the central message. The story is told about four sailors whose ship had sunk and were now adrift on a lifeboat on the Atlantic Ocean. They were near the equator and were so thirsty that they were squeezing moisture from pieces of canvas on their small lifeboat. When rescuers finally responded to the SOS and arrived, the sailors were almost dying from dehydration. After reviving them, the rescuers informed the sailors that: while they were fighting over a few drops of moisture, they had actually been floating on drinkable water! They were near the Amazon River - a river so huge that it pushes fresh water far out into the ocean. They could have dipped a bucket off the side of their boat and drawn out drinkable water. I tell this story because at times we resemble the sailors on that lifeboat - thirsty, but unaware of a readily available source of fresh water – Jesus Christ. We are hard-wired to hunger and thirst for God. At times like the sailors on the lifeboat we get disoriented and begin to drink dirty water and to eat junk food while the lord is offering us a banquet. In the first reading the Israelites are in exile. They have become disoriented and abandoned their God. That is why the Lord through the prophet Isaiah invites all people to “come to the water… eat and drink for free.” Nowhere does such a world of free lunch exist except what God offers us.

In the gospel reading Jesus multiplies five loaves and two fish to feed a crowd of about 5,000 who have followed him in a deserted place. Jesus has been teaching the crowds with God’s word all day. When evening comes, the disciples plead with Jesus to dismiss the crowds, but Jesus out of compassion asks the disciples to feed the people. All they have is five loaves and two fish. Then Jesus asks them to bring the loaves and the fish to him. You can imagine what was going on in the minds of the disciples. What next! They had forgotten that Jesus can multiply these loaves and the fish to feed a multitude. Then, he took the loaves, blessed and broke them and gave them to the disciples to give to the people. We hear that “All ate and were satisfied.” The feeding of the 5,000 teaches about God's providential care for our basic needs but it also points to how God cares for our spiritual hunger. We are hard-wired for hungering and thirsting for God. Hunger and thirst for God is at the very root of our being. It’s the way God made us. As saint Augustine said “Because God has made us for Himself, our hearts are restless until they rest in Him.” (Lib 1,1-2,2.5,5) We yearn for God; we hunger for God. When there is no hunger for the presence of God, it is an indicator that something is wrong spiritually. Because that hunger is so basic to human nature, it often finds fulfilment in other areas rather than in seeking God. When one loses appetite for God one will soon die of spiritual hunger. Both the first reading and the Gospel call us back to the source of water and to the one who feeds us. For disciples and stewards, when we have more and more thirst and hunger for God that is a good sign of spiritual health. So what message do we take home this Sunday?  1) We are hard-wired for hungering and thirsting for God. Hunger and thirst for God is at the very root of our being. It’s the way God made us. 2) When one loses appetite for God one will soon die of spiritual hunger. 3) The source of fresh waters (Jesus Christ) is right here inviting us to come and eat and drink at every Eucharistic celebration. “Come to the water!” Come and eat; come and drink.

©2014 John S. Mbinda

 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A
Readings: 1 Kings 3:5,7-12; Rom 8:28-30; Matt 13:44-52

The kingdom, treasure of great value and sacrifice are the key words that help to understand the central message of this Sunday. Sacrifice is perhaps the overarching theme. The best definition of sacrifice from the American Heritage Dictionary is the following: “To forfeit something for something else considered to have greater value.” We normally interpret this parable in terms of us discovering Jesus Christ - the treasure of great value, and therefore our need to sell all we have in order to possess that treasure. While that is true, we need to look at this parable from the flip side. In the parable, Jesus is speaking about himself. He is the one who finds the treasure of great value - you and I. He loves us so much that He goes all the way to die on the Cross to purchase us with his blood. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16) Understanding the parable in this way constitutes an even greater challenge. Suppose someone saves you from a gun man, and while saving you is fatally wounded, would you simply ignore that person, move on and forget? That is precisely the point. “But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) His death takes away our sinfulness and infuses God’s grace in us to live with Him in eternal life. He gives us the wisdom to choose his values and live them. All Jesus asks of us is to return the gifts God has given us by offering our time, talent and treasure so that others may become His disciples. He proposes to us like a lover to move closer so he may possess us fully; to be transformed into his mission, vision and purpose, leading us to be the best version of ourselves. It was not Paul who found Jesus but Jesus found Paul - a treasure of great value. St. Paul was so transformed into a disciple of Jesus Christ that he wrote to the Philippians: “For His sake I have accepted the loss of all things…that I may gain Christ.” (Phil. 3:8)

In the first parable Jesus uses the metaphor of the treasure buried in a field. A person finds it and then hides it and goes and sells everything he has in order to buy that field to secure the treasure. The idea obviously is that when Jesus finds each of us, he transforms us into his disciples so we may assume his mission, vision and purpose. Jesus makes all efforts to save us. He goes all the way to the Cross to seal the deal with his own blood. The bottom line question is: how far are you prepared to go for Jesus? The message we take home this Sunday may be summed in three points. 1) Jesus Christ is the person in the parable who finds the treasure of great value - you and I, and loves us so much that He goes all the way to the die on the Cross to save us. 2) Jesus asks us that in gratitude we return to God the gifts we have received by offering our time, talent and treasure so that others too may become his disciples. He proposes to us like a lover to move closer so he may possess us fully. 3) Finally as stewards we are challenged by St. Paul’s conviction, “For His sake I have accepted the loss of all things…that I may gain Christ”; (Phil. 3:8) to sacrifice worldly values for the values of Christ. How far are you willing to go for Jesus? The choice is your? Think about it.


©2014 John S. Mbinda