Thursday, September 18, 2014

Twenty Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A


Readings: Is 55:6-9; Phil 1:20-24,27; Mt 20:1-16 

All welcome to God’s Kingdom; when God is King there is a reversal of fortunes: when God is King new comers belong; when God is King the last are first and the first last; because God’s thoughts not our thoughts. The Gospel reading of this Sunday invites us to reflect on God’s generous love, mercy and justice for all people without exception. As human beings, we find it extremely difficult to understand the mystery of such generous love. Our God is a God of surprises, at times contradicting our human wisdom and expectations. Throughout the Old and New Testaments justice is a very central theme. But what do we understand by justice and what do the Scriptures tells us about it? In the First Reading from Isaiah we discover a surprising difference between our human understanding of justice and God’s justice. We hear that God offers salvation and forgiveness entirely out of generosity.  Indeed the prophet Isaiah calls us to make some adjustment in our ways of thinking, because God’s thoughts are not our thoughts nor are God’s ways our ways. Psalm 145 highlights God’s justice. “The Lord is just in all his ways.” By human standards, it appears strange and foolish that God loves all human beings equally, no matter what their social status may be.

In the Gospel, Jesus tells a parable that compares the kingdom of heaven to a generous landowner who hires workers at different hours of the day for his vineyard.  At the end of the day the landowner pays them all a day’s wage as agreed. Jesus cleverly puts this twist in the parable in order to show a sharp contrast between God’s justice and human justice; between God’s ways and our ways. The parable is not about fair compensation. What matters at the end of the day is whether one gets into the vineyard or not. When God is King, God rewards all equally in the end. We are the workers who arrive at God’s vineyard (the Church) at different times. Thus before God faithful disciples, stewards and the repentant sinner who confesses and receives the Last Rites before death are rewarded equally with God’s compassion, love and mercy. Yes, this is quite unusual, but that is the way it works when God is King. Therefore we should not resent anyone who turns to God and repents at the last moment of life like the Good Thief on the Cross. The parable also contains an urgent question about the unemployed outside the vineyard, asking them the question: “why do you stand here idle all day?” That question applies to many of our alienated Catholics and particularly many youth and young adults whom the Lord is inviting back to his vineyard at 5 P.M. The Church is ready to embrace them with unconditional mercy and forgiveness. The bottom line is that the parable underlines God’s generous love in welcoming all to his kingdom. No matter how many times we may have failed; no matter how late in life we come to find Jesus, we are always assured of God’s warm welcome. So what good news do we take away this Sunday? 1) God rewards equally all who respond to his call because God is profoundly generous. 2) The Gospel parable cautions those who might feel superior because they have been Catholic all their life and so have spent more time with Jesus! 3) When God is King new comers (the last to arrive) are rewarded equally with the first in the kingdom. Hence, “the last will be first, and the first will be last.” Think about it.

©2014 John S. Mbinda

Friday, September 12, 2014

Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross
Readings: Numbers 21:4-9; Phil 2:6-11; Jn 3:13-17

Humiliation, exaltation and triumph on the Cross are the key words that help to focus on the message of this Sunday. The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross celebrates two events: 1) the finding of the True Cross in 326 A.D. by Saint Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine; and 2) the dedication of churches built by Constantine on the site of the Holy Sepulchre and on Mount Calvary. But in a deeper sense, the feast celebrates the Holy Cross as the instrument of triumph and salvation. There is another fascinating story behind the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. It all began with a battle for the conquest of Rome in 312 A.D. On the eve of that battle, Constantine had a vision of a Cross in the sky and heard a voice tell him, “By this Sign, you shall conquer.” The following day, Constantine using the image of the Cross he had seen, won the battle over Rome and become the Emperor. This miraculous victory led to Constantine’s conversion to Christianity. He then declared Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire.


In today's Gospel, Jesus predicts his own humiliation and triumph on the Cross. “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” Jesus is lifted up in order to save us all from sin and death. “For God so loved the world…” (Jn 3:16) In the first reading we hear that many died in the desert. Therefore God instructed Moses to fashion a bronze serpent and place it on a pole. Those who looked at it with faith were healed. It is interesting that a similar symbol of serpents on a pole, today represents the medical profession. That bronze serpent on a pole prefigures the great instrument of healing - the Cross. The Israelites were dying because of snake bites, but an even more terrible viper has bitten you and I. We cannot heal ourselves. No medicine can heal that bite. Only the Cross can heal us. The Cross stands at the center of creation - and the center of human history which makes no sense apart from the Cross. St. Paul says it the best in the second reading. “Christ Jesus, though he was …God… he emptied himself." He took the form a slave. He humbled himself even more, accepting death; death on the Cross. Because of such humility - the humility of the cross - the Father exalted Jesus. At his name every knee should bend. For that reason, we genuflect or bow when we come into the presence of Jesus in our church.  What good news do we take away this Sunday? 1) The Cross expresses God’s profound love for us, to the extent that God allowed his Son to die on the Cross for our sins (Jn 3:16); 2) The symbol of death, defeat and weakness becomes for us the symbol of life, triumph and strength. The Cross is the Banner that we carry ahead of every liturgical celebration to symbolize the victory of Jesus Christ. 3) The Cross is the most powerful symbol of our Christian faith by which we recall Christ’s passion, death and resurrection at each Eucharistic celebration. At the end of each Holy Mass, Jesus sends us as disciples and stewards to go and live the mystery of faith we have celebrated – the good news that the Cross is a symbol of life and victory. 

©2014 John S. Mbinda

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Twenty Third Sunday Ordinary Time Year A
Readings: Ezekiel 33:7-9; Romans 13:8-10; Matthew 18:15-20

Fraternal correction and painful responsibility are the key words that help to focus on the message of this Sunday. There is a story told about a man who went into a restaurant and the waitress placed him at a table next to three girls. They were talking loud and swearing in the worst words. It sometimes seems like women's equality means imitating the worst in men. The man wanted to say something, but he held his tongue. When his breakfast arrived, he bowed his head and made of the sign of the cross. The swearing stopped immediately. Was that a miracle? No! I tell this story because the readings this Sunday focus on the painful responsibility of fraternal correction. In the first reading, the Lord sends his messenger as “watchman for the house of Israel” as a spokesperson of the Lord, to warn God’s people. The messenger of the Lord is sent to persuade the wicked from wrongdoing. If not, the Lord will hold the messenger responsible. The underlying message is that we are all responsible for one another in helping each other to remain faithful disciples of the Lord. Calling others to account when they do wrong or persist in wrongdoing is not easy. A man once approached St. Francis of Assisi and said, "Brother Francis, I am in a difficult situation. The Bible says we should rebuke sinners, but I see people sinning all the time. I don't feel like I should go around rebuking everybody." St. Francis thought and then said, "What you must do is live in such a way that your life rebukes the sinner - how you act will call others to repentance." You might be thinking, that's easy enough for St. Francis, but I am not saint. I am just an ordinary lay person. It is possible to correct without judging as you heard in the story. We ourselves must be living faithfully before we can call others to change their lives. The bottom line is that when we as disciples and stewards live the best version of our ourselves, that in itself like in the story persuades the wicked from wrongdoing.

In the Gospel of this Sunday, Jesus challenges us to point out the faults of others privately first, but publicly if necessary. Paul in the Second reminds us that we correct others out of love and concern for their spiritual wellbeing. Elsewhere Paul urges us to “Be kind and tender to one another. Forgive each other, just as God forgave you because of what Christ has done" (Ephesians 4:32). Then we are better able to "speak the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15). If as stewards of Jesus Christ we are living the best version of ourselves in our relationship with Christ, the zeal to invite others to such a relationship will drive us to speak up before others, inviting them to God’s mercy and forgiveness. In the words of St. Paul, true Christian love enables us to help each other become the best version of ourselves, without an attitude of superiority. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) As disciples and stewards, you and I have the painful responsibility of fraternal correction which entails “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). 2) This responsibility also involves our own personal conversion to Christ and a deeper relationship with God. 3) The response of St. Francis regarding fraternal correct is our best way of action - living in such a way that our life rebukes the sinner. In other words, being the best version of ourselves will invite others to change their wrongdoing and become the best version of themselves.


©2014 John S. Mbinda

Friday, August 29, 2014

Twenty Second Sunday Ordinary Time Year A

Twenty Second Sunday Ordinary Time Year A
Readings: Jeremiah 20:7-9; Romans 12:1-2; Matthew 16:21-27

Enticed, seduced and overpowered by the Lord’s call are the phrases that sum up best the message of this Sunday. The readings focus our attention on the cost of discipleship. Human beings tend to avoid any suffering. It is easier to be comfortable. In the first reading therefore, it is no surprise that the prophet Jeremiah is reluctant to let himself be mocked and insulted as part of doing God’s will. Indeed Jeremiah is actually prophesying the inevitable suffering of those who choose to follow Jesus Christ. Paul in the second reading exhorts us saying, “Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind…” In other words we must reject the standards of our secular world. That is where our discipleship is tested and becomes a true cross that we carry after Christ. That is what Paul describes as offering our bodies as a living sacrifice. Both readings therefore form a beautiful introduction to the Gospel passage on the cost of discipleship and stewardship. You will recall that in last Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus commended Peter as being led by the Holy Spirit.  Peter had proclaimed that Jesus was the Messiah and Son of God.  In today’s Gospel, Jesus rebukes Peter who tries to dissuade him from carrying out the Father’s plan of salvation through the Cross. That’s why Jesus called him Satan, someone who is fighting against the will of God. Peter went from recognizing Jesus as the Christ, to being controlled by human fears, and therefore opposing the very purpose Christ’s mission. Peter had a long way to go before he could look at the cross prepared for him and peacefully accept the challenge of his imminent martyrdom.  Indeed Peter reacts violently to the very thought of a suffering Messiah. How could the one who fed the crowds; who walked on water and performed miracle also suffer greatly and be put to death? That is why Jesus takes the opportunity to offer a catechesis on what it means to be his follower. "If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me". These are familiar words, but what do they mean concretely?

Let us first focus on the image of carrying one's cross. Jesus himself carries his own cross to Calvary, He is crucified, He dies for our sins and rises in order to give us life. Discipleship and stewardship to Christ means doing what Jesus did. Carrying one’s cross therefore means dying to self, subduing our selfish desires, passions, self-esteem, and pride. It means putting ourselves last, choosing to die for others, so that others may be and live. Looking at the world today especially the Middle East, there is so much turmoil partly because of human greed that explains the fact of dictatorship in that region. The Gospel values challenge us to place ourselves last, letting others enjoy the fruits of freedom. The idea of costly discipleship is a reminder that gaining power and control over others could lead us to ruin. Renouncing self for the sake of Christ will certainly make us like Christ, who dies that we may have life. What message do we take home this Sunday? 1) Like Jeremiah, you and I have been enticed and overpowered by the Lord’s call through our baptism to follow Christ. 2) Following Jesus is about taking up our cross; it involves the way of that Cross along with Jesus Christ; it involves standing for our faith even if we are insulted, mocked or threatened with death; it involved inconvenience, sacrifice and letting go so that others may be first. 3) In the words of Saint Paul, our discipleship and stewardship means a commitment to live values that are contrary to those of this world, and thus being ridiculed for our faith. Think about it.


©2014 John S. Mbinda

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