Saturday, November 17, 2018

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

Readings: Daniel 12:1-3; Hebrews 10:11-14,18; Mark 13:24-32

As the Liturgical Year approaches the end, the Church directs out attention to the end times and the need for preparedness. In 2009, film makers released a new movie “2012”. This apocalyptic movie was based on the prophecies of Nostradamus (1503-1566) who prophesied that a comet would destroy the world in 2012. What is so amazing about all these doomsday stories circulating is that some Catholics seem to interpret the prophecy in terms of the Third Secret of Fatima by linking that prophecy to the Mayan prophecy that is said to coincide with that of Nostradamus. The doomsday prophets therefore give a specific date for the end: December 21 2012, the date of the Winter Solstice.  In the first place, the Third Secret of Fatima was already made public in 1960 and again by the Cardinal Secretary of State on May 13 2000. In the first reading from the Book of Daniel we are given a preview of the final scene of human history- the end times. We are told that the dead will be raised to life and that each will face the final judgement. The good will be rewarded with eternal life, and the bad with eternal punishment. In today’s world, it is very easy to be confused by ideas from all sorts of preachers about the end of the world. Some even give an exact date and time, and to make it even more exciting, they indicate a place where their followers should gather, for the Lord to take them up – the so-called rapture!

In the Gospel, Jesus first speaks about the apocalyptic events that will cause the sun to be darkened and the moon dimmed; with stars falling from the sky. Then speaks about the Son of Man “coming in the clouds with great power and glory”. This statement obviously echoes the words in the First Reading, but here the Son of Man is even more victorious. All these catastrophic events are not the end but a preparation for the coming of the Lord. They are signs, that the end in near. That is why we must not interpret the so-called doomsday of 2012 as the end of time. If there is a galactic alignment in the heavenly bodies on December 21 2012, the message is that God is still in control of all He has created; for those who believe in God, God through the Church still proclaims a message of conversion and repentance in readiness of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. We must not be afraid or panic. In March 2000, about 1000 people followers of the “doomsday cult” in Uganda were murdered by their leaders under the pretext of the end of the world. Such apocalyptic preachers obviously forget the final sentence of the Sunday Gospel reading from Mark. "But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father".  All we are told is that the end of this world as we know it will surely come. Jesus in the Gospel therefore helps us to read the signs that indicate the coming of the end. After that Christ will appear and send his angels to gather the just. So what is the message? 1) The readings challenge us to take note of the signs to the times and to be always prepared because the end is hidden from all of us. 2) What is sure is that in the end the Lord of all history will finally triumph over sin and the powers of evil in all their manifesta­tions in the world. 3) As followers of Christ therefore, we must heed the message of conversion and repentance in readiness for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
©2018 John S. Mbinda

Saturday, November 10, 2018

052Thirty Second Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

Readings: 1 Kgs 17:10-16; Heb 9:24-28; Mk 12:38-44
The Lord provides to the generous; to those who give from their poverty. The readings of this Sunday reveal to us the Lord who provides to the generous; to those who give from their poverty. In the readings we encounter two widows who give generously out of their poverty. Both have great trust in God who cares for them. In the first reading from the Book of Kings, the widow of Zarephath seems to hesitate, but when reassured by prophet Elijah, she trusts and hopes in God. “She left and did as Elijah had said. She was able to eat for a year, and he and her son as well; the jar of flour did not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry”. Therefore, the story ends with God multiplying the meal flour and the oil in the jug, “as the Lord had foretold through Elijah.” The widow receives far much more than she gave. The major insight of the message is that the poor tend to be more generous than the rich and thus more blessed by God. Because the widow trusts in God, God miraculously feeds her because of her faith and trust. Even though she only had a little bit of food left in a time of famine, she completely trusts in the words of the prophet. The poor evangelize us so much.

Again in the Gospel we meet another widow at the temple. Jesus challenges us to imitate her and the poor because of their deep faith and trust in God. There are four striking contrasts between the widow’s simple piety and the scribes and Pharisees. First we note that some of these religious leaders tended to be arrogant in their behavior. Second, unlike the rich who were putting a lot of money in the Temple treasury out of their surplus, the poor widow offers everything she possesses “her whole livelihood”(life). Third, this widow is not only honest with God, but she also deeply trusts in God’s providence. That is the kind of generosity God expects from us. Four, the simple piety of the widow is contrasted to the dishonesty and hypocrisy of the religious leaders. Such behavior is contrary to our Christian calling. Jesus draws our attention to the times we tend to misuse external symbols to draw attention to ourselves or to remind people of how much we have contributed. The point that Jesus makes is that the value of what we offer is not necessarily judged by its quantity. Rather, the spiritual disposition of the giver moved by the spirit of self-sacrifice is more important. Any parading of our contributions before others or demanding recognition, renders such gifts just a show. There is a striking common thread linking the two widows and Jesus in our reading. Both widows give everything they have to live on, risking their own lives. Similarly, Jesus sacrifices Himself on the Cross, giving up his life for others, that we may live. So what is the message? 1) Like the widows, our gifts must come from the poverty of our hearts in deep love and trust in God; 2) The Lord provides to the generous; to those who give from their poverty; 3) What we give depends on our spiritual disposition of risk-taking and self-sacrifice like the two widows. There is no better example of such risk-taking and self-sacrifice than what our Veterans have done and continue to do. May God bless all our Veterans.

©2018 John S. Mbinda

Saturday, November 3, 2018

31st Sunday Ordinary Time Year B

Readings:  Deut 6:2-6; Heb 7:23-28; Mk 12:28-34

Love of God is inseparable from our love of neighbor. The readings of this Sunday focus our attention on our duty to love God and our neighbor as ourselves. Our Christian vocation is compared to Israel’s response to God’s covenant of love in the first reading. God loves Israel and in return God demands that his people too give their undivided love and commitment to God. The reading is a reminder that our love of God is not about going to Mass on Sunday, nor is it about saying our prayers. It is about being faithful to God in everything we do. In a sense we are called to daily faithfulness to the Lord our God. In return God will bless us with long life and prosperity according to his promises. The only condition is that we love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our strength. In the Gospel Jesus quotes from Leviticus to reminds us that our love of God is inseparable from our love of neighbor. God makes us participants in his divine life on condition that we love our neighbor. When we live the two commandments, then like the scribe in the Gospel we are not far from the kingdom of God. In other words, in loving others as we love ourselves, we clearly show that we love God whom we see in our neighbor.

The gospel passage follows upon the theme of commitment and obedience introduced in the first reading. Here a learned scribe asks Jesus to identify the first commandment of the law. The reason for the question was that not all 613 laws had the same weight and importance. Thus the scribe genuinely wanted some clarity from Jesus. His answer was very faithful to the Jewish faith. Jesus does not offer one commandment, but two: 1) the affirmation of faith found in the first reading (Deuteronomy 6:5); and 2) “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (quoted from Leviticus 19:18). Jesus in this passage teaches us that our communion with God is achieved through the two commandments love: love of God and love our neighbor. These are the two Commandments that summarize all the other Commandments of God. Jesus tells us in the Gospel that there are no other Commandments greater than these, for they are more important than any offerings or sacrifices. The failure in love of neighbor is dramatic in many parts of the world. We can say without doubt that, apart from selfish economic reasons, the failure to love neighbors in many countries is clearly one of the major causes of conflict. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) We are reminded that failure in love of neighbor is incompatible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 2) Our love of God is inseparable from our love of neighbor. 3) We are challenged to see the image and likeness of God in the faces of those different us, no matter who they are. Think about it.

©2018 John S. Mbinda

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

30th Sunday Ordinary Time Year B

Readings: Jeremiah 31:7-9; Hebrew 5:1-6; Mark 10: 46-52

“Master, I want to see!” This beautiful prayer sums up the message of this Sunday which proclaims the good news of God’s special attention and compassion for those on the margins of society. In the first reading, the prophet Jeremiah foresee the coming deliverance of the Israelites from their Babylonian exile and proclaims that good news with joy and praise to the Lord who has delivered his people. The passage is a hymn of praise and rejoicing because of what God is about to do for his people. The people sing aloud with gladness, displaying endless echoes of thanksgiving to God who has delivered the weak, the lame, those with children and those in labor. These were the people who had received spiritual sight; the ones enabled to know and understand the righteousness of the Lord who saves. It is not by chance therefore that Jeremiah speaks of the Lord gathering from the ends of the world the lame, the blind, women with children and those in labor. These are persons who are not only afflicted, but often ignored and even silenced in society. The prophecy serves as the context for the Gospel passage of this Sunday.

The Gospel passage is about the healing of the blind man – Bartimaeus (son of Timaeus) near Jericho, as Jesus takes the final journey to Jerusalem. Mark uses this story to highlight a sharp contrast between the disciples who so far have failed to understand Jesus, and Bartimaeus, a poor beggar who knows and believes in Jesus and begs for healing, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.” The disciples on the other hand try to silence him twice when he calls upon Jesus to be healed. The story draws a sharp contrast between sight and blindness; light and darkness. While the disciples too are blind, Bartimaeus can see. St. Mark places the restoration of sight to Bartimaeus by Jesus in this context. Mark also wishes to underline the dimension of faith in Jesus’ final words, “Go your way, your faith has saved you”. Healing can lead to a powerful response. After regaining his sight the blind man becomes a disciple of Jesus and follows him on the way to Jerusalem. We too like Bartimaeus need to beg the Lord to heal our blindness. The Lord is always there asking us the same question, “What do you want me to do for you?” If we are honest about our own blindness, the Lord will certainly heal us. Like the blind man, our prayer this coming week should be, “Master, I want to see”. If we wish to see Jesus, we have to draw closer and ask him in faith to help us, that we may be able to see him clearly; that we may regain our lost vision and purpose in our calling to be best version of ourselves. When we receive that new sight, we will be able, like Bartimaeus, to choose the best way to live by faithfully following Jesus Christ, who is the way the truth and the light. So what message do we take home? 1) The readings proclaim the good news of God’s special attention and compassion for those on the margins of society. 2) The Gospel reading sets an example in the healing of Bartimaeus as a model for social ministry, namely caring for the less fortunate. 3) During the coming Year of Mercy, we are challenged to go to the fringes of society. Pope Francis too challenges us to bring hope to those by the way side, waiting for someone to restore their spiritual sight and vision in life, and so become the best version of themselves.

©2018 John S. Mbinda

Saturday, October 6, 2018

27th Sunday Ordinary Time Year B

Readings: Genesis 2:18-24; Hebrew 2:9-11; Mark 10:2-16
This Sunday, the readings help us to understand why Jesus teaches about marriage as a lifelong commitment. The readings focus on Christian marriage as a permanent union in God's original purpose. That sounds contradictory to the popular view of society. Marriage today is described as a fragile institution in our society. Divorce rates today are around 40% with divorce among Catholics reaching around 20%. In the Gospel, the Pharisees test Jesus by asking whether it is lawful for a husband to divorce his wife (“send her away”). Jesus responds by asking them about what the law said, and they quote Deuteronomy 4:1), which allowed a husband to divorce his wife by simply writing a bill of divorce. (cf Matt. 1:19). Then Jesus responds by quoting two sayings from two creation accounts of Genesis: “male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27), and “the two of them become one flesh” (in today’s first reading). In this passage, the first century Jewish law seems to have favored divorce, but in actual practice divorce was not that common. Therefore, the point of Jesus in the Gospel is not so much an attack on a widespread practice, but an affirmation of the life-long nature of marriage as well as a prophetic challenge that refers to God’s creative purpose.

The first reading shows that God established marriage at the beginning of creation for two essential purposes: unity of the married couple (the two shall become one flesh) and their mutual interdependence. In other words, neither man alone nor woman alone contains the fullness of God’s creative design, but man and woman in union with each other. Jesus therefore views marriage, in which man and woman are no longer two but one, living in unity and interdependence, as a symbol of restored creation. Therefore there is an integral connection between mutual love and procreation in marriage. Under the new Law of love divorce destroys the original purpose of God in creation: “the two become one flesh”. Marriage as a permanent union is founded on the value of unity that continually offers support to its permanence. This teaching on the permanent character of Christian marriage is inspiring to some, while painful for others in today’s society. There is no marriage without moments of tears. Differences, conflict and misunderstanding will always be there. In a lasting marriage there are always moments of self sacrifice for the other. At times there is frustration and disappointment. At the end of the day what preserves the permanence of marriage is the determination to stay together, “for better for worse.” The very fact that some marriages manage to survive so many difficulties and rough seas is a miracle only brought about by prayer and the willingness to forgive and to be forgiven. What message do we take home? 1) Jesus teaches that marriage is a permanent union in God's original purpose. 2) Marriage has a character of permanent union precisely because it is founded on the value of unity: “the two become one flesh”. 3) In the rocky moments married life what saves it is the desire to nourish married life through prayer, mutual self-giving, forgiveness and reconciliation. May we also remain close in prayer and support for members of our parish who experience the pain of broken marriages and family life.

©2018 John S. Mbinda