Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

Readings: Ex 16:2-4, 12-15; Eph 4:17, 20-24; Jn 6:24-35

A new way of thinking, a spiritual revolution that transforms us to desire encountering Jesus, the bread of life. These phrases proclaim the good news that at this celebration we encounter Jesus the bread of life. Let me first share with you a brief story. It is about the situation in China and other parts of Asia in the 19th century during a period of years when there was rice shortage. Many families in the Asian region converted, were baptized and became active Christians as long as their physical needs were met by the Church. The name given to these Catholics was “Rice Christians” because as soon as the food situation improved they drifted away from Church. I share this story because in the Gospel of this Sunday, people go in search for Jesus, not because they really believe in Him, but because He gave them free lunch which was irresistible.  Jesus however takes the opportunity to proclaim himself as the bread of life. "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never hunger; he who believes in me will never thirst". Both the first reading and the Gospel this Sunday speak about God who miraculously provides for the physical needs of the people. The readings invite us to go beyond the physical needs; to focus our attention on Christ, who is the bread of life. Our concern for the physical needs must never overshadow our desire for the real bread of life that transforms us to be the best version of ourselves. In the Gospel we are told that the crowds were coming to Jesus because they had their fill of earthly bread. They were simply drawn to following Jesus because they knew they would be hungry again and that Jesus would feed them.

Jesus in the Gospel passage challenges us to be radically transformed by moving to a new level of awareness, to realize that Christ is everything that matters most to us. He is the bread of life. He is the one who satisfies our spiritual hunger and thirst. Jesus invites us to go beyond our superficial, selfish encounters, to a deeper spiritual encounter, a genuine intimacy with him. The readings invite us to assess the reasons why you and I come to Church on Sunday or even daily. Are we simply running after food that perishes? If so Jesus invites us to assume a new way of thinking, a spiritual revolution that transforms us to seek food that satisfies our deepest hunger. You and I are here because we seek to be transformed by a real encounter with Jesus whom God has sent; we want to be deeply touched by Jesus so we may assume his way of thinking his vision, mission and purpose. So what is the take away message this Sunday? 1) The readings challenge us to evaluation our motives for coming to Church. Are we like the “rice Christians” simply running after food that perishes? 2) Do we come simply to fulfil a Sunday obligation; or are we here for what we get rather than what we give? 3) We are invited to a radical way of thinking; to seek and encounter Christ, the true bread of life that radically transforms us, so we may transform others by leading them to encounter Jesus Christ who is simply irresistible.

©2015 John S. Mbinda

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

Readings: 2 Kg 4:42-44; Eph 4: 1-6; Jn 6:1-15

It is mind boggling to imagine a little boy’s lunch of five loaves and two fish feeding five thousand! I recently read an interesting review of a book by David Bach. The book showing a relationship between giving and wealth concludes: “For nearly two decades of working as a financial coach for thousands of people, I've witnessed time and time again that those who give more become rich faster. I don't think it's a coincidence. Research shows definitely that people who give of their time and money to help others live longer, happier, and wealthier lives.” I share this with you because this Sunday the first reading and the Gospel are about the multiplication of loaves. While Elisha in the first reading miraculously feeds a hundred people with only twenty loaves of bread, Christ in the Gospel performs even a far greater miracle, by feeding a crowd of five thousand with five loaves and two fish.

In the Gospel of this Sunday, there is a relationship between the story of the little boy giving away his lunch and the multiplication of the loaves and the fish. That gift was so insignificant to God the creator of the universe, yet the Son of God takes it and multiplies to feed five thousand. One lesson that Jesus wants to teach us this Sunday is that material needs are relevant to the work of evangelisation. Jesus' own example of sensitivity to immediate human needs is an important pastoral approach. What does the story of the multiplication of loaves and fish mean in the context of stewardship as a way of life? The story of the boy giving away his lunch may be compared to our smallest of time, talents and treasure. We all have many small but beautiful gifts we can offer. Who in our parish cannot afford to offer a few minutes of prayer to God each day? Some possess talents for services like reading during Mass, some are cantors, others play the piano, we have catechists, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, altar servers, lectors, greeters and ushers, to name just a few. The time you give for these ministries may look insignificant, but the Lord takes your small gifts and multiplies them to nourish us all daily and on Sundays. When the Lord takes your gift, He multiplies it to nourish our spiritual hunger in many ways. The prophecy of Elisha and the multiplication of loaves by Jesus is fulfilled right in our eyes daily and every Sunday. The little I give is multiplied so that all get enough and some left over! I would like to imagine that probably the little boy was given some of the left over to take home. St. Francis of Assisi once said that “it is in giving that we receive. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) We must never underestimate the gifts and talents that the Lord has given us. 2) Those gifts and talents including our time are meant to be shared with others in the parish community. 3) The Lord takes those small gifts and multiplies them to nourish us all in the parish. You are a gift to the parish; you have gifts to share; your gifts and treasure are precious to the parish. In gratitude to God offer your gifts with joy to the Lord.

©2015 John S. Mbinda

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

Readings: Jer 23:1-6; Eph 2:13-18; Mk 6:30-34

Like sheep without a shepherd; without leadership, disoriented and without direction. These phrases help to capture the central message of this Sunday. But first a story. There is a story about a policeman in a big city, who stops a man in a car with a sheep in the front seat. "What are you doing with that sheep?" The police man asks, "You should take it to the zoo." The following week, the same policeman sees the same man with the sheep again in the front seat, with both of them wearing sunglasses. The policeman pulls him over. "I thought you were going to take that sheep to the zoo!" The man replies, "I did. They told me there were no shepherds and I was afraid that the sheep would die without a shepherd!” I tell this story because the readings this Sunday focus our attention on a compassionate Messiah, truly concerned about the life and wellbeing of his flock; a shepherd who gathers the scattered, feeds the hungry, provides their needs and leads them to the Father. The first reading makes us deeply aware of a serious lack of compassionate shepherds during the time of the Prophet Jeremiah. In the absence of such leadership and service, people become quickly misled and disorient­ed, without direction or purpose. In the days of Jeremiah, the nation of Judah had just faced defeat and deportation because its leaders had failed to care for the people. Jeremiah's prophecy is that God will someday raise a compassionate shepherd to care for his flock. The shepherd will be like the one depicted in Psalm 23: a shepherd who guides the flock to “still waters” where the sheep drink without fear; a shepherd who risks his life to secure the flock.

The Gospel passage uses the metaphor of the shepherd to portray a sharp contrast between the shepherds of old in the first reading and Jesus. While these shepherds have scattered and neglected the sheep, Jesus in the Gospel gathers and cares for them by nourishing them. On seeing the crowd Jesus “took pity on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he set himself to teach them many things". Jesus draws our attention to the reality of today’s pastoral ministry where so many people in every parish today, just like sheep are disoriented, undernourished and defenceless. They hunger for nourishment. Many good people are looking for direction and answers to the meaning in life. All these are images of sheep without a shepherd, and Jesus invites us to respond to their needs with compassion in our ministry. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) We are challenged to imitate the compassion of Jesus as well as the preparedness to listen to the issues parishioners are dealing with in order to respond to their struggles; 2) Jesus draws our attention to the reality of today’s pastoral ministry where so many people in every parish today, just like sheep without a shepherd are without direction, undernourished and therefore defenceless. 3) We are challenged through our compassion to care for neglected and to gather the scattered back to the fold by listening to their concerns and helping them to feel welcome and wanted in the Christian community of believers.

©2015 John S. Mbinda

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

Readings: Amos 7:12-15; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:7-13

The readings this Sunday focus on the fourth sign of a dynamic Catholic, evangelization. “Transforming people one at a time is at the heart of God’s plan for the world.” Proclamation and transformation are the key words that help to capture the message of this Sunday. The readings invite us to reflect on how God through the Church continually transforms people one a time. The Church is called and sent to proclaim the Good News of salvation and to boldly confront the evil forces of this world. In the first reading, the prophet Amos is sent by the Lord to Bethel to confront the evil lifestyle of the priests and leaders, because they have misled the people by worshipping idols. In this reading the Lord told Amos, “Go, prophesy to my people Israel.” While Amos is called upon to speak the Word of God as a prophet, by contrast the false prophets of Bethel were hired and paid to praise the king. Amos is called by God to speak God’s word; the word of truth. He is therefore bound to speak. Paul reminds us in the second reading that to be a Christian is to belong to God. "Before the world was made, he chose us, chose us in Christ, to be holy and spotless..." The point is that since we belong to God in Christ, we must choose Christ and remain faithful.

In the Gospel Jesus sends the twelve with authority over unclean spirits. The purpose of their mission is twofold. He sends them first to proclaim repentance; to transform the people through repentance so that they may open up their hearts for God's loving mercy and forgiveness. The second purpose for their mission is to drive out demons and cure illnesses by anointing the sick with oil, and so offer them the best way to live. The lesson here is that inner transformation leads to the best way to live. When we repent and pray, wonderful things can happen in our families, our parish and our world. This message of transformation is urgent. To underscore the urgency, Jesus “instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick - no food, no sack, no money” in their wallets, with sandals and without a spare tunic. In other words, they need to travel light without baggage. They must be totally dependent on divine providence. Material possessions must not be an obstacle to their ministry of proclaiming the Word and transforming people. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) Just as God sent Amos with a severe message to the priests and leaders of his day, the Church through us is sent to confront today’s idol worship. 2) Just as Jesus sent his apostles to proclaim repentance and transform people by healing the sick, so too Jesus sends us to transform people by leading them to the best way to live. 3) As disciples and stewards we challenged to travel light so that worldly possessions would not be an obstacle to proclaiming the Gospel because Christ who sends us will provide.

©2015 John S. Mbinda

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

Readings: Ezekiel 2:2-5; 2 Corinthians 12:7-10; Mark 6:1-6

A pain in the neck and a thorn in the flesh are the two phrases that help to capture the central message of this Sunday. The readings lead us head on to prophetic witness that can be accompanied by obstacles and challenges. Indeed we are ordinary people charged with an extraordinary mission to give a tough message that may not be acceptable by many. That is prophetic witness. Ezekiel in the first reading and Paul in the second reading are sent on such a mission. While Paul compares the obstacles in his Corinthian community to a “thorn in the flesh”, the Gospel gives us a concrete example of Jesus Himself, being rejected in his own hometown. We ordinary people are reminded that we have the same extraordinary mission to stand for the truth in the face of risking rejection, ridicule, hatred and opposition. Perhaps there was someone who was a pain in the neck in Paul’s ministry. Whatever it was, Paul sees an advantage in that weakness and refers to it as "a thorn in the flesh". It reminds him of dependence on Christ. Because of Christ Paul can say, "For when I am weak, then I am strong." The grace of God is well able to transform weakness into strength and rejection into acceptance. Even when our weakness is real, God has an incredible possibility for each of us. I am reminded of the story of Blessed Oscar Romero, former Archbishop of San Salvador. On March 24, 1980, he was assassinated for challenging the military to stop killing their own people. He was a pain in the neck and a thorn in the flesh. He was too much for the military and the only solution was to silence him with a bullet as he celebrated Mass. His death led to the birth of a new nation.

I tell this story because in the Gospel, Jesus is rejected in his own home town of Nazareth. What happens is a story of resilience. He moves on focused on his mission that will take him all the way to the Cross. Being rejected may be discouraging, but we need to see the flip side as an opportunity. Jesus was a thorn in the flesh of the people in Nazareth and Jewish religious leaders. The Church today is a thorn in the flesh for civil authorities. When the Church dares to articulate its teaching on moral ethical issues, it will be ridiculed in the public media. Pope Francis just issued an Encyclical on the Care of our Common Home. While many have welcomed this historic document, it becomes a perfect example of prophetic witness and a thorn in the flesh for some civil authorities. As expected, the pope has been criticized by the media and some politicians. Some Catholic politicians have gone as far as to tell the pope to stay out of politics. These challenges are part the battle that must be won as part of the Church’s extraordinary mission. Christ promises his grace and his presence as we fight this war. “If God is for us, who can be against us.” So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) Like St. Paul, we must see obstacles as opportunities to overcome in order to reach our extraordinary mission by being the best version of ourselves. 2) Like Blessed Oscar Romero in the story, our faithful witness can be instrumental in transforming people. 3) As disciples and stewards we must never quit our extraordinary mission nor be intimidated by threats, even if we have to die for the truth.

©2015 John S. Mbinda