Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Twenty Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

Readings: Ex 32:7-11,13-14; 1 Tim 1:12-17; Lk 15:1-32

Last Sunday Jesus told us in the Gospel that the key to the narrow gate of heaven cost everything we are and own through self-surrender and detachment. This Sunday He tells us that to surrender our lives totally to Him takes a decision to go back home where our compassionate God awaits us. To take such a decision, we need to come to our senses. All three readings this Sunday underline God's unmerited love and mercy for the repentant sinner. In the first reading from Exodus, the Israelites have left God's ways to worship a golden calf. Moses pleads for God's mercy, and so the Lord listens and forgives. In the Second Reading, Paul describes himself as a repentant sinner who had wondered far, yet God's mercy was shown him through Jesus Christ. Before such a merciful God, how could David not sing of God's mercy as we find in the responsorial psalm? "Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness. In your compassion wipe away my offense ... " Three times the Gospel speaks of the great joy one has in finding something that had been lost: a shepherd finds his sheep; a woman finds her valuable coin; and a father finds his son who had gone away. Jesus underlines this aspect of great joy in response to the accusations of the Scribes and Pharisees that he welcomes sinners and eats with them. The parable of the Lost son, perhaps one of the most familiar biblical stories, leads us to meet our God who is prodigally merciful and compassionate. The Pharisees and the Scribes complain that Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them and therefore Jesus tells them this story. The story touches deep cords in the fiber of Christians today because it reminds them of real stories of family members who left home and headed for the big cities and disappeared there, and later returned home after many years completely broke, sick and destroyed by many types of addiction. Rembrandt, the famous Dutch artist (1606-1669) was inspired by this parable when he painted the “Return of the Prodigal Son.” The story in the Gospel is addressed to us of today, and since we know it so well, we could easily miss the real message. At the center of the story is the father.

One way of understanding the parable is through the elder son's inability to understand his father's undeserved forgiveness and generosity towards the younger son who turns up after squandering all his inheritance. The elder son could not understand how this comeback looser could now be rewarded with a banquet. Jesus tells the story in such a way that leaves us utterly surprised. The Younger son is received fully into the family at the surprise of everybody especially the elder son. That is the way our prodigal God deals with us when we go stray and come back home. God is so lavish with His mercy and compassion. The Pharisees and scribes understood they were being compared to the elder son who is resentful and rejects even his own brother "this son of yours" language, as compared to the father's welcoming language "this brother of yours". On the one hand we have a language of resentment and rejection, and on the other, a language of welcome and tremendous compassion. Three points sum up the message of this Sunday: 1) All three readings reveal the drama of human sin which is so deceptive. How often do we worship the golden calves to today's society? How often to we run away from home? Yet our God in the image of the father in the Gospel surprises us with unexpected and unmerited love and compassion when we return home; 2) The Gospel challenges us like the lost son to come to our senses and take a decision to return home; 3) We must never give up when we find ourselves away from home, because God seeks us and leads us to freely surrender and allow Him to lead us back home into the fullness of grace. God never abandons us; never gives up on us. If today you hear his voice, harden not your heart. Allow God to guide you back home. The choice is yours.
©2019 John S. Mbinda

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Twenty Third Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

Readings: Wis 9:13-18; Phlm 9-10, 12-17; Lk 14:25-33

Two weeks ago, Jesus told us in the Gospel that we can enter heaven only by the narrow gate of discipline. Last Sunday, Jesus offered us the key to that gate: the virtue of humility – the preparedness to acknowledge our unworthiness. This Sunday, Jesus tells us what the key to the gate costs: "Any of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple." In the first reading we hear that true wisdom comes only from God, who enables the wise person to be guided by spiritual values rather than those of the body; in other words being guided by the Spirit of Christ. In the Gospel, Jesus uses different images to explain what the key to being faithful disciples will cost. Being faithful Christians does not come at a cheap price. Jesus makes it clear that being his faithful followers can lead to hating closest family members; it can lead to a radical following of Christ that may put us at odds with family members. When Jesus compares our following him to building a new house calculating the cost, he is touching on a very important point. Our radical following of Jesus is like a rebuilding of one's life, but in our self-giving we let Jesus do the re-building at a very high cost. Once we have surrendered fully to Jesus, He will work on us until we are completely re¬made into new persons. To do that Jesus may destroy the old person and we will feel the pain of that destruction. That is what is implied by the two phrases -renouncing all possessions and carrying one’s cross. When we detach ourselves from baggage and stuff that weigh us down and attach ourselves completely to Christ, we will then pay for then key to heaven by taking upon us our own cross.

This is what Christ is saying: ‘give me all of yourself not just part of you’. Christ does not want to cut a branch here and another there, but wants to cut down the whole tree in order to plant a new one. He does not want to crown our tooth but to take it out completely. Christ does not want to re-build a broken wall or to repair the plumbing, but to re-build the whole structure. The problem you and I have is to hold onto ourselves, keeping our personal happiness as the goal of life and trying to be "good". Being good is not enough for Jesus. He wants us to be perfect, and that can only happen if we let Christ fully into our lives. Then we will be on the way to perfection, because Christ will be acting in us and guiding us on the right path. That is the cost of the key we must pay to remain faithful Christians. That is the cost many women and men had to pay while on their way to holiness. That cost is not just to some. The Second Vatican Council reminds us that we are all called to holiness (LG, 39). There is a cost to be paid. Where do we start to buy the key to heaven? Start right where you are: in your own family, your own neighborhood, your own community. The readings challenge us to reflect on what we need to sell and then go sell every obstacle to our spiritual progress. We need to sell - all those things we think make us happy and embrace our cross, to purchase the key to heaven. This Sunday Jesus tells us what the key to heaven's narrow gate costs – everything: the self, questionable relationships, negative behavior, vices, bad company, etc. The image of selling possessions also implies placing upon Jesus all our struggles: family difficulties, strained marriage relationships, sickness of a loved one, broken families. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) Jesus tells us what the key to heaven costs: "Any of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple." 2) Christ gave up everything for our sake, and he wants us to do the same for his sake, namely surrender ourselves to Him; that self surrender will cost us; there is no cheap salvation. 3) If we surrender to ourselves to Christ, He will certainly take possession of us and in his tender compassion transform us. St. Athanasius says that Christ “became like us in order to make us like God, and lead us on the way of perfection”. May we be prepared to pay the cost of that key to heaven no matter what the cost.
©2019 John S. Mbinda

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Twenty Second Sunday Ordinary Time Year C

Rds: Sir 3:17-18,20,28-29; Heb 12:18-19,22-24; Lk 14:1,7-14

Dinner at a Pharisee’s home; Jesus being watched; Jesus observes how guests scramble to take sits of honor at the banquet. A parable for the guests and for the Pharisees. When God is King, He chooses who enters into his Kingdom - those who acknowledge their unworthiness. Last Sunday, the readings focused on the image of the “narrow gate” of discipline. This Sunday, the readings return to the same theme, this time underlining the importance of the virtue humility for the follower of Christ. The first reading from Sirach urges us to conduct our “affairs with humility” and we “will be more loved than a giver of gifts”. In other words, the humble person is more appreciated than a lavish giver. A humble person is wise and always content, while proud persons obsess themselves with foolish and dishonest schemes for success. The readings challenge us to be like Jesus who was totally humble and could see right through every disguise of the Ego, even the most subtle ones. Jesus never needed evidence about anyone - he knew what a person had and noticed how each acted - either according to humility or pride. Jesus was humble, a true servant. “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mk 10:43-45). Jesus did only the works his Father gave him to do and he spoke only the words his Father wanted him to speak. We too, should be like that – humbly speaking only the words we hear Christ speak through the Church. So the humble person will be exalted in the kingdom of heaven. Here on earth he or she does not have to be jealous. A humble person lets others have their gifts and does not have to hold grudges. Humble people can forgive easily because they know who they are; they are not afraid to confess their sins; they can not only love their enemies, but also praying for them.
Jesus in the Gospel challenges us to seek the lowest place at a banquet; to be humble. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not recline at table in the place of honor.” This spirituality of the lowest place is not just about table etiquette. It is an essential spirituality that leads us to salvation. The parable Jesus tells is a lesson about membership in the Kingdom. Such membership does not depend on one’s merits, social standing or economic status. We do not save ourselves by these means. Salvation is God’s work in the first place. Hence, those who consider themselves worthy of high places in the Kingdom, like the Pharisees who expected the best seats as reward for their meticulous observance of the law (holier than thou attitude), will find themselves humbled to take the lowest places. Moreover, when God is King, membership in His Kingdom is open for all. In other words, salvation is a free unmerited gift to those whom God in Jesus calls. When God is King, He invites the uninvited, the unexpected and those who are nothing in the eyes of society. “When you hold a lunch or dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or wealthy neighbors, in case they may invite you back… Rather, when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, …” God invites those who acknowledge their unworthiness before him. The Gospel therefore underlines Jesus' teaching that one enters the Kingdom of God by living a humble life, living a spirituality of the last place. "For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted". Such a message obviously contradicts the expectations of today’s society based on competition and social-economic status. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) One enters the Kingdom of God by living a humble life, living a spirituality of the last place; 2) Membership in the Kingdom is God’s free gift to those who deserve it, namely, those who truly humble themselves. 3) When God is King, He invites the uninvited, the unexpected and those who are nothing in the eyes of society. They all symbolize those who acknowledge their unworthiness.

©2019 John S. Mbinda

Friday, June 28, 2019

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

Readings: 1 Kgs 19:16,19-21; Gal 5:1,13-18; Lk 9:51-62

Determination to follow God’s call to an extraordinary mission and the cost of discipleship help to focus on the central message of this Sunday. The first reading from the First Book of Kings is about the call of Elisha. The passage dramatizes the implications of responding to God’s call. Elisha does the unthinkable. What he does is madness in the eyes of the world, but a wonderful metaphor for total detachment. He slaughters the very oxen used for plowing! If you can imagine in today’s world a young man destroying all the farm machines and tools before going to the seminary that is what Elisha does by destroying the source of family livelihood.

In the Gospel, Jesus challenges some would be disciples by highlighting the excuses they give when God calls them. The Gospel applies to us too and challenges our temptation of telling Jesus “let me finish up a few things first, and I’ll follow you later when I have less responsibility”. Jesus invites us to let go everything so we may be free to follow him. Since the Proclamation of the kingdom comes first, Jesus wants us to follow him now, not tomorrow or later. Christ’s call radically implies some painful hard choices and a price to pay. "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me" (Mk. 10:34). In other words, following Jesus implies risking one's life, one's self-image, being rejected, ridiculed and despised. It means losing one's life, even by death, for the sake of Christ. Let me finish with a brief story.
A true story is told about a captain with 600 sailors who arrived by sail boats on the East Coast in the 16th century. The captain was so determined to stay that he took a risk by ordering the destruction of the sail boats by fire. Burning the boats meant that there was no turning back. With no other option, the sailors and their families were now free to forge ahead and settle in the new world. This story illustrates the risk involved in freeing oneself in order to respond to God’s call. There’s nothing like burning your boats to focus your mind on God’s call only without any other option. In God’s call there is no plan B! It means taking the risk to let go and let God take over your life. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) Our response to God’s call implies determination to burn our boats or plows in order to focus on our extraordinary mission.  When God calls there is no plan B. 2) Our response like that of Elisha means giving our time, talent and treasure to God. 3) You and I are called to let go in order to be free to follow Christ. The bottom line question is twofold: 1) Are you ready to free yourself to serve Christ? 2) What plows or boats are you prepared to burn in order to be free?

©2019 John S. Mbinda

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ Year C

Readings: Gn 14:18-20; 1 Cor 11:23-26; Lk 9:11b-17

Eucharistic communion, social justice and inclusiveness are the key words that help to focus on the central message of this Sunday. The Solemnity of Body and Blood of Christ underlines our unity with Christ - the Body, and we - his members. Christ is the source of our communion with one another and with the Father. But while the Body and Blood of Christ unites and nourishes us spiritually, we can easily forget or neglect the social justice dimension of the Eucharist. Yes, there are social imperatives of the Eucharist. On the Occasion of the Year of the Eucharist (2004 to 2005), Pope John Paul II in his Apostolic Letter Stay with us Lord proposed that diocesan and parish communities commit themselves in a particular way to responding to one of the many forms of poverty present in our world. He said that “The criterion by which the authenticity of our Eucharistic celebrations is judged, will be our mutual love and in particular our concern for those in need”. The Apostle Paul teaches that it is “unworthy” of a Christian community to partake of the Lord’s Supper amid division and indifference towards the poor (1 Cor 11:17-22, 27-34). Our Catechism (#1397) underlines this point in reminding us that “To receive in truth the Body and Blood of Christ given up for us, we must recognize Christ in the poorest, his brethren”. When the Eucharistic meal is shared equally by the faithful there is no division. The solemnity draws our attention to the continued injustice, discrimination and other forms of structural injustices that reflect either a lack of understanding of the social dimensions of the Eucharist or a lack of willingness to act on the social imperatives of the Eucharist. Our celebration of the Eucharist therefore cannot be divorced from its social implications. The US Catholic Bishops in 2003 said that, the Eucharist challenges us “to seek a place at the table of life for all God’s children” (cf. A Place at the Table).

The Gospel reading from Luke on the miracle of the multiplication of loaves underlines this social-justice dimension pointing to Christ’s compassion and love that is renewed every day at Eucharistic celebration. By eating this heavenly food, we become one Ohana in Christ, sharing in his life, his strength, his purpose and mission. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) The Eucharist is a real memorial of the sacrifice Christ offered for the liberation of everything that oppresses human beings, but above all liberation from sin. 2) Our Sunday celebration of the Eucharist cannot be divorced from the injustices around us because by its very nature, the Eucharist is a proclamation of communion and inclusiveness. 3) There is an essential relation between our sharing of the Eucharist each Sunday and the food items we bring for distribution to the poor through our parish social ministry. Our Eucharistic faith is essentially linked to feeding the hungry.
©2019 John S. Mbinda