Tuesday, August 25, 2015

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B


Readings: Dt 4:1-12,6-8; Jas 1:7-18,21-22,27; Mk 7:1-8,14-15, 21-23

Genuine holiness is transformative leading us to become the best version of ourselves. That sentence sums up the central message of this Sunday – the Twenty Second Sunday in Ordinary Time. All 3 readings focus attention on the essentials of the law, namely the relation between personal holiness and observance of the Law, not the details. At the end of the day what matters most is inner personal holiness, rather than the scrupulous external ob­servance of the law. The readings therefore remind us that it is not a matter of knowing or doing the small details of the law, but rather it is a question of entering into an authentic relationship with God that leads to the service of others. The readings give a balanced approach to the law. In the first reading from Deuteronomy, Moses presents the statutes and decrees of the Lord in a positive way. He teaches the people that by observing the decrees of the Lord, they will live and occupy the land the Lord is giving them. He also warns the people that they must not add nor subtract from God’s law and teaching. The best criterion of every law however is the greatest commandment: love of God and love of neighbour. The second reading from the letter of James neatly summarises this point in terms of relating personal holiness to the care of the needy. There is no genuine holiness of life that does not overflow into the service of others.

In the Gospel passage from Mark, Jesus takes issue with the legalism and hypocrisy of the Scribes and Pharisees. Instead of focusing on the essentials, they focus on the details of the law. When asked by the Scribes and Pharisee why He and his disciples did not observe the law of washing their hands before eating, Jesus contradicts their notion that external rituals such as washing hands and abstaining from certain foods have anything to help change the human heart for better. On the contrary, inner moral pollution comes from within the human heart. The first reading from Deuteronomy helps us capture this truth when it says “the human heart is devious from youth” (Deut 6:5). The gospel therefore invites us to develop a radical self-honesty, necessary for recognizing the enemy within each of us namely, the tendencies that come from our hearts, and thus in need of God’s grace to fight the war within ourselves. It is this self-knowledge that helps us to name, to claim and to tame the wild streak within us that prevents our openness to God’s gift of life and love. The readings proclaim the good news of living joyfully what Jesus teaches us through the Church, not with legalism but out of a deep intimate relationship with God, so that we may find life and salvation, in Jesus Christ. The message from the readings this Sunday is threefold: 1) At the end of the day what matters most is inner personal holiness, rather than the scrupulous external ob­servance of the law. 2) The best criterion of every law is the Greatest Commandment: love of God and love of neighbour, expressed in terms of relating personal holiness to the care of the needy. 3) Genuine holiness is transformative. It makes us to be the best version of ourselves, and overflows into the service of others, particularly the less fortunate, leading them beyond their physical needs to discover the best way to live.

©2015 John S. Mbinda

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Twenty First Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

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Readings: Jos 24:1-2, 15-17, 18; Eph 5:21-32; Jn 6:60-69

“As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” On this Twenty First Sunday of Ordinary Time, Jesus’ Bread of Life Discourse reaches a climax and presents the audience a choice. But first a true story. The story is told about a woman who lived alone. Her life was literally saved because she decided to go to Church one Sunday morning. The Sunday was just like any other Sunday when she woke up, but she was not very enthusiastic about going to Mass that Sunday. However, she finally took the courage and went. On reaching the door of the Church she started having chest pains, but walked to find a place in the pews. Upon sitting down she still felt bad and started walking out of the Church but collapsed before reaching the door in front of some parishioners who immediately started CPR on the woman while another frantically dialled 911. The long story short is that the woman’s life was saved that day because she made a choice to go to Church that morning. I tell this story because the readings draw our attention to making choices. Our life is on a path with many choices as we go. Some choices are critical to survival and others not so serious. Our faith too is a matter of choice. The problem is that because we have been brought up in a society that believes in freedom of choice, we tend to consider even what the Church teaches in terms of choice. What the Church teaches about the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist is not a matter of choice. It is a teaching to be accepted in faith.

In the first reading, the people challenge Joshua on questions of faith and Joshua places a clear option before them. “If it does not please you to serve the Lord, decide today whom you will serve, the gods your fathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites…As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord”. After Joshua reminded the people of all that the Lord had done for them, the people made a choice and said, “we also will serve the Lord”. In the second reading, Paul presents a more familiar form of choice making. He speaks of the decision made by engaged couples preparing for marriage. They must choose one partner, and that choice is sealed at the marriage covenant in the Church. Paul uses this image to describe the loving relationship between Christ and the Church, in order to underline the choice we make at Baptism to serve Christ. In the Gospel, at the end of a lengthy discourse on the bread of life, some followers of Jesus find the teaching difficult and choose not to follow him. Jesus then turns to the Twelve and says, "Do you also want to leave?" Obviously Jesus loves them so much that he wants to respect their freedom of choice. They in turn respond in love and freedom through Peter. "Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God". We live in a world full of life choices and a plurality of options. But when we come to matters of faith, God loves us so much that He wants us to choose in freedom to be the best version of ourselves. The message we take home is threefold: 1) Like the woman in the story, the choices we make can lead to saving our life or losing it. 2) We are challenged to affirm our choice like Joshua to serve the Lord. 3) Like the disciples of Jesus, the options for us are narrowed down to either accepting his teaching in faith or going away. Our choice is to affirm our faith with Peter, “Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”  

©2015 John S. Mbinda

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

 

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

Readings: Proverbs 9:1-6; Ephesians 5:15-20; John 6:51-58

The good news this Sunday is that Jesus is the living bread that gives eternal life. The readings focus on the Eucharist as the bread of life in terms of wisdom. The Book of Proverbs foreshadows Jesus as the wisdom who prepares a banquet and invites guests to the feast. “Come, eat of my food and drink of my wine I have mixed!” This is certainly a prelude to the Johannine high point on the bread of life discourse. In the Gospel this Sunday, Jesus repeats his teaching of last Sunday: “I am the living bread that came from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” This was one of Jesus' most difficult teaching. While Jesus was speaking on the level of spiritual realities, the crowds were still on the physical level, and could not get the point. That is why they complained and asked: "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?"  Was this wisdom or madness? Was it pure nonsense or truth? Our faith takes us to the spiritual level, leading us to realize that Jesus’ teaching is profound wisdom and the absolute truth.

In the Gospel, Jesus uses several arguments to convince his audience: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.... Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.” The bread of life discourse has to be seen in the light of the resurrection. Therefore, we find here the essential relationship between Eucharistic faith and resurrection faith. How clearer could Jesus be in his teaching? What Jesus says is NOT a figure of speech but direct language of flesh and blood. The bread that He gives us is indeed his flesh. The blood that he gives us is indeed his blood. At the end of the Gospel of today Jesus show us that we enter into communion with him when we eat his flesh and drink his blood. By eating the flesh of Jesus and drinking his blood, we become totally identified with his very person, his vision of life, his mission, and with his purpose of building the Kingdom of God. Here again Jesus brings in the concept of the total identity with his self-sacrifice on the Cross, where he totally surrenders his flesh and blood to the Father. This is what Paul calls the foolishness of the Cross, but we must let the wisdom of faith guide our hearts and minds this Sunday. Similarly, guided by the Spirit of wisdom, we are led to recognize the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist and we express our thanksgiving for so great a gift. What more can we ask the Lord for such an intimate act of love for us? So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) The readings invite us to let the wisdom of faith guide our hearts and minds, leading us to deepen our faith in the real and enduring presence of Jesus in the Eucharist; 2) We believe that by eating the flesh of Jesus and by drinking his blood, we become totally identified with and in communion with his very person, vision and mission; we become what we eat. 3) We believe that through this communion we share in the Trinitarian life of communion with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

©2015 John S. Mbinda

Monday, August 3, 2015

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

Readings: 1 Kgs 19:4-8; Eph 4:30-5:2; Jn 6:41-51

Jesus the bread of life that satisfies our spiritual hunger on our journey to eternal life is the good news from the gospel this Sunday. But, let me first tell you a true story about Blessed Alexandrina Maria da Costa of Portugal who dies in 1955. She is one of the great mystics of modern times. Alexandrina was paralyzed and bed-ridden after jumping through the window of her home to escape from someone who wanted to rape her. She was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2004. The amazing part of her life is that for the last thirteen years of her life, she miraculously lived on the Holy Eucharist alone, a medically confirmed fact. I tell this story because the readings this Sunday speak about the Lord who nourished the prophet Elijah with bread and water for his long journey of forty days and forty nights to the holy mountain. Jesus promises to nourish us with the bread of life that sustains to eternal life. The prophet Elijah in the first reading challenges the king’s idolatry and then the queen threatens to kill him. Elijah is afraid and flees to Mount Horeb to ask God for help. Along the way, he gives up and prays for his death. Then God sends a messenger with bread and water. This gives Elijah the strength to walk for forty days and forty nights to the mountain. The bread given to Elijah seems to foreshadow the Holy Eucharist and its power to sustain us not just for forty days but for eternity. Just as the Lord drew Elijah to the holy Mount, we too are drawn to the mountain of the Lord (the Church) where the Lord nourishes us with the living bread from heaven, namely, the Body and Blood of Christ.

In the Gospel of last Sunday, the crowds asked for a sign that would show that Jesus indeed came from God. Jesus replied by saying that He is the sign and the bread of life sent by God from heaven. This Sunday's Gospel begins by saying that the Jews complained about Jesus' claims of having come from heaven. They knew his family: that he was born of Mary and that he was the son of Joseph. How could he then have come down from heaven? Jesus responds to their complaints by saying that those who listen to God will recognize that He is the one sent from God. Those who believe in Him will have eternal life. Jesus concludes with the central teaching on the Eucharist. He promises that the bread of life will bring eternal life to those who partake of it. Here Jesus teaches that the bread of life will be his own flesh, given for the life of the world. In today's Gospel, we hear Jesus repeat the words of last Sunday Gospel, that he is the bread of life. This time Jesus adds that He is the living bread. Both these statements help us understand better the gift that Jesus gives us in the Holy Eucharist. We celebrate this gift of Jesus each time we gather for the Holy Mass – the Eucharist. We take Jesus with us at the end of Mass when we are sent to live and proclaim what we have eaten – Jesus Christ. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) Just as the Lord nourished the prophet Elijah with bread for his journey to the holy mountain, so too Jesus nourishes us with his Body and his Blood to sustain us on out pilgrimage. 2) By being nourished with the Body of Christ like Blessed Alexandrina, we get strength to walk to eternal life. 3) At the Eucharistic gathering we are sent out at the end of Mass, to live and to proclaim what we have received, Jesus Christ, who accompanies us always in our witness.


©2015 John S. Mbinda

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