Friday, October 21, 2016

Thirtieth Sunday Ordinary Time Year C

Thirtieth Sunday Ordinary Time Year C
Readings: Sir 35:12-14, 16-19; 2 Tim 4:6-8, 16-18; Lk 18: 9-14

Humility, total dependence and our need for God’s mercy are the words that help to focus on the central message of this Sunday.  As we begin preparation for our annual stewardship commitment renewal today, the Sunday readings set the tone for every disciple and steward of Jesus Christ. We are invited to have an attitude of humility and our need for God’s mercy. The responsorial psalm highlights that point. “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; those who are crushed in spirit he saves”. I once heard the story of a priest who shortly before Mass, noticed that the front pews were empty (very Catholic) and so the priest urged those at the back to come forward. All moved forward except one woman who remained alone at the back throughout the Mass. After Mass, as the priest was greeting parishioners on their way out, that woman told the priest: “Father, I just recently returned to the church after 40 years away. Today I’ve made the big step to walk through the door. So you’ve got to let me ease my way up into the middle of the congregation. I have a lot of things that the Lord and I need to talk about first.”

That story leads us to the Gospel in which Jesus confronts us with the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. The parable is like a mirror that enables us to see clearly the truth about our double life of self-righteousness and sinfulness. The central message of the parable is that God listens and favors those who humble themselves, and rejects the hypocrite; those who refuse to face the truth about their sinfulness and their need for God’s mercy. In the parable, Jesus urges us to imitate the attitude of the tax collector, who in humility accepts his sinfulness, and asks for God’s forgiveness. The tax collector is repentant.  That’s why he was at the back of the temple. He had made the big step to enter the temple door. He didn’t feel that it was right for him to come any closer because of his unworthiness. He and God had things to work out. He needed God’s mercy; God’s forgiveness. For that reason the tax collector is favored by God, and goes away more justified; more transformed than the Pharisee. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) As we begin our preparation for this year’s stewardship commitment renewal, the readings draw our attention to the need for humility before God for all we are and all we have is from God. 2) Jesus in the parable invites us to open our hearts in all humility to sharing God’s gifts of time, talent and treasure for God’s work. 3) Only in our total dependence on God will God’s grace transform us like the tax collector who goes home transformed by God’s grace. The bottom line question is: am I going to return home today transformed by God’s grace or am I going back just as I came - simply unchanged? The choice is mine. The choice is yours.

©2016 John S. Mbinda

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Twenty Ninth Sunday Ordinary Time Year C

Readings: Ex 17:8-13; 2 Tim 3:14-4:2; Lk 18: 1-8

Persistence, determination and fighting Amalek, are some of the phrases that sum up the message of this Sunday. The readings focus on the power of persistent prayer. Such persistence is the determination to continue in prayer particularly the highest form prayer of thanksgiving – the Eucharist, every Sunday and even every day. Being at Mass Sunday after Sunday or even daily may be compared to Moses keeping his arms upraised - a gesture of prayer, in order to assure the Lord’s continuous protection and help as we hear in the first reading. “As long as Moses kept his arms raised, Israel had the advantage” in battle against one of the most feared fighters Israel ever confronted. No nation on earth could ever defeat the Amalekites. But with Moses’ arms raised in prayer to the God of Israel, with Aaron and Hur holding Moses’ hands up high in a posture of prayer, with the forces of God on the side of Israel, not only was Amalek defeated, this fierce nation was totally destroyed. Paul’s second letter to Timothy also sees the apostolic ministry in terms of persistence. “Be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient...through all patience and teaching.”

In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells “his disciples a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary.” Jesus is aware that his disciples and us tend to give up too soon, and therefore tells them the parable of a widow who kept going to a judge until he finally accepted to intervene for her. The point of the parable is clear: There is nothing impossible with God just as there were no enemies too strong for the forces of Israel with God on their side. When God fights with us against the forces of evil, we will win the battle. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) Just as Israel had fierce battles with Amalek, you and I have our own Amalek to fight – our vices and weaknesses. Whether we fight our sinful habits: explosive temper, anger or whatever vice like alcoholism or drug addiction, don’t ever give up. 2) The power of persistent prayer is exemplified best by going to Mass Sunday after Sunday or even daily and in all humility believing that in the end, being on God’s side, you will win the battle. 3) The readings remind us of our own fierce battles with our own Amalek of anger and sloth and gossip. We must never to give up, because with the persistent power of prayer, even the fiercest enemy – the devil will fall. Think about your own Amalek today and be determined to go into battle fighting on God’s side.

©2016 John S. Mbinda

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Twenty Eighth Sunday Ordinary Time Year C

Readings: 2 Kings 5:14-17; 2 Tim 2:8-13; Lk 17: 11-19

Being cured, being healed and thanksgiving to the Lord are the key phrases that sum up the message of this Sunday. The readings draw our attention to the mystery of being cured and being healed. While being cured affects only the physical, being both cured and healed implies being touched so deeply at the spiritual levels of emotions that one is led to conversion and being grateful to God for such a favor. In the first reading, Naaman, a military general of the Syrian army goes to the prophet Elisha to be healed. He is not only a Gentile but also a pagan. Besides, he has leprosy. However, his efforts are rewarded with being cured and healed. In the reading, we notice how Naaman returns to the prophet Elisha totally converted to thank God for having been totally healed of his leprosy. But since the prophet does not accept his gift of gratitude, Naaman carries soil from Israel and builds a sanctuary on it in Syria where he would continually worship God and offer gratitude for what God had done for him.

In the Gospel, Luke presents a similar story of the ten lepers who were cured by Jesus on their way to see their priests. But only one of them returns to thank God for being cured and healed. Luke tells us that he was a Samaritan – a Gentile! The point of the passage is to teach us not only about the obligation of thanking God for what he does for us so generously, but once again to draw our attention the difference between being cured and being healed. We can be physically cured, but not healed spiritually."Were not all ten made clean? The other nine, where are they?" Just think for a moment on the many blessings and favors we have received from the Lord even at times when do not deserve. The list is long. I have often heard people speak of how lucky they were that they did not get killed or they survived from a bad sickness. Luck has nothing to do with all that. It is God who cares for us and protects us always. In the Gospel, the leper who returns to thank Jesus is both cured and healed. He shows both a physical cure and an emotional healing that prompts him to express gratitude. That is also a sign of conversion; a sign that Jesus touched him deeply to the extent of wanting to tell Jesus “thank you”. The message of this Sunday may be summed up in three points. 1) Like Naaman, the Syrian and like the one leper in the gospel, may we be blessed with a spiritual healing that overflows into thanksgiving to God for His blessings and favors in our life. 2) Every Eucharist is a prayer of thanksgiving for God’s saving action in Christ. 3) Remembering to say thank you to God is always a sign of having been deeply touched by what God does for us and for our loved ones.

©2016 John S. Mbinda

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Twenty Seventh Sunday Ordinary Time Year C

Readings: Hb 1:2-3,2:2-4; 2 Tim 1:6-8,13-14; Lk 17:5-10

The incredible power of faith, trust and patience are words that capture best the theme of this Sunday as we celebrate Respect Life Sunday. The first reading from the prophet Habakkuk serves as the key that unlocks the full message of the Gospel in which Jesus challenges us to have faith as small as the size of a mustard seed. In the first reading, Habakkuk struggles to understand God’s apparent silence in the face of ruin, misery and destruction. He therefore cries out to God for a solution to the evil in his society, but it seems that God is not listening. Today we join the prophet Habakkuk in asking God to intervene in facing our own civil society that denies the sanctity of human life while promoting a culture of death. We are just like Habakkuk asking God “how long Lord.” We need strong faith because God will eventually intervene. Habakkuk is told not to despair. God will ultimately 'transform evil into good. "The vision has its time; it will happen." We must never give up.

The Gospel reading starts with a genuine prayer of the apostles - Lord "increase our faith". The apostles realized that faith was a gift from God, for no one can earn or buy it. Without directly responding to the request of the apostles, Jesus uses the image of uprooting a tree through the incredible power of faith. The tree is an image of the status quo of violence and destruction of human life. With the smallest amount of faith – the size of a mustard seed - one can uproot a large tree like the mulberry tree (with long roots). Jesus exaggerates to make the point that genuine faith has incredible power. If we are faithfully united to Christ, we can be transformed into more effective instruments of the Lord for transforming the culture of death into a culture of life. We face what might seem to be an up-hill battle for human life, but we must be on the side of the Lord. As faithful disciples, we are challenged to make our choice: to serve Jesus Christ or to remain indifferent. So what is the message? If you have just been bereaved, in grief or deeply hurt and the wound is still raw; If your world seems to have been unraveled and turned upside down; If you have been praying for days and months and the Lord does not seem to listen; the message of today’s readings is for you! Soon and very soon the Lord will answer you. The response of the Lord to Habakkuk is your response. “the vision still has its time - it will not disappoint”. Be patient, help is on the way! Do not give up “If today you hear his voice, harden not your heart.” Faith has incredible power of transforming situations in amazing ways.

©2016 John S. Mbinda

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Twenty Sixth Sunday Ordinary Time Year C

Readings: Amos 6:1,4-7; 1 Tim 6:11-16; Luke 16:19-31

Last Sunday the readings focused on the wise use of material goods and challenged us to make use of the skills we have to win friendship with God while there is time. This Sunday, the readings draw a sharp contrast between those who are rich and those who are poor - between those who have lots of power and control and those who have little power and control. The prophet Amos in the first reading warns the leaders of Israel that they will be the first to be deported into exile, because they dine like kings while the nation of Israel collapses. Amos lived in Judah around the middle of the eighth century B.C., at a time when there was a great social gap between the rich and the poor, in times when the wealthy had many possibilities of greater profit, and the poor could only grow poorer. Against this Old Testament background, Jesus tells another the parable in response to the criticism of the scribes and the Pharisee regarding welcoming sinners and eating with them.

The parable of the rich man and Lazarus is a perfect response by Jesus to the Pharisees who categorized the poor as sinners. The story of the rich man dressed in royal purple and Lazarus "dressed in sores", sets the stage for a dramatic reversal of fortunes. Lazarus was not only poor, but sick and handicapped. He was laid at the gates of the rich man's house daily to eat the scraps from his table. Dogs licked the sores of Lazarus as it were, feasting on him. The rich man who dinned lavishly daily could have opened the gate and helped Lazarus, but he did not. In the parable, Jesus paints a dramatic scene of contrasts: riches and poverty, heaven and hell, compassion and indifference, inclusion and exclusion. There is also an abrupt and dramatic reversal of fortunes. We are told that the poor man died and carried by angels to Abraham's bosom. The rich man also died and was buried! The contrast continues with the rich man being tormented hell, while Lazarus is happy in heaven. The rich man is now a beggar, while Lazarus is rich in God's life. Just as there was a gap between the rich man and Lazarus on earth, now there is a great chasm between the two. The rich man was condemned not because of his possessions, but because he failed to notice Lazarus who was at his door longing only for scraps from his table.

The lesson that Jesus intends to convey could be outlined in several points. 1) To appreciate more fully this parable, one needs to keep in mind the contrasts outlined by Jesus in the beatitudes (Lk 6) - the poor are blest, but woe to the rich; the hungry are blest, but woe to those who have food. 2) The parable challenges us to be more compassionate towards the poor, and to be more involved in parish social ministries that give attention to the poor and the less fortunate. 3) Jesus wants us discover that true riches are to be found in sharing what we have with the poor. Lazarus is still at our doors today. Think about it.

©2016 John S. Mbinda