Thursday, January 16, 2020

Second Sunday Ordinary Time Year A

Readings: Is 49:3,5-6; 1 Cor 1:1-3; Jn 1:29-34

The Nativity scene is gone, the lights are down and the Christmas season is over. We are already in the Ordinary Season of the Year, and this Sunday we are at the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. There is one key phrase I would like to underline in this homily: the reference to Jesus as “the Lamb of God.” What does that phrase mean? There is a story about a German artist who, centuries ago, was working on a Catholic Church roof in Werden, Germany (in Essen). Suddenly, his safety belt snapped and he fell. The area below was filled with large rocks. As fate would have it, a lamb chose that moment to have its lunch of grass between the rocks. How it happened, nobody knows, but the artist miraculously fell on the lamb, that died at once, but the artist survived. When he recovered from shock and some bruises, he sculptured a lamb and placed it on the church roof in gratitude. That lamb still stands there to this day.

I tell this story because it leads us to reflect on the Lamb of God who was slain to save us all. The phrase “Lamb of God”, sounds simple, yet it is a metaphor for the whole saving mystery of Christ. When John the Baptist describes Jesus as “the Lamb of God”, he draws the phrase from an Old Testament “lamb of God” symbolism. The blood of the paschal lamb in the Old Testament protected and saved the Israelites from the slavery of Egypt in Exodus 12. John the Baptist in the Gospel makes a prophetic proclamation when he identifies Jesus as the “Lamb of God” whom the Prophet Isaiah also prophesied as being crushed for our sins; like a lamb led to the slaughter; the Lamb who was wounded for our sins, bruised for our iniquities. (Isaiah 53:2-3). There is no doubt that Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled in Jesus in his passion and death also prophetically in the symbols of bread and wine at the Last Supper. At that event, Jesus took the Jewish Passover ritual sacrifice and applied it on himself as he shared the Passover meal with his disciples. The symbolism of the lamb, the bread and the wine was later adopted by the Church as part of the order for the Eucharistic celebration. Therefore, when we use the phrase “Lamb of God” three times at Mass, we reflect on the mystery of the Eucharistic Sacrifice of Christ’s death and resurrection for our salvation.

The message we take home is twofold. 1) Like John the Baptist who recognizes Jesus and points him out to his disciples as the Lamb of God, we too are invited to get to know Jesus, so we can proclaim him to others. 2) At this Mass, when we hear “Behold the Lamb of God” before Holy Communion, let us look at Him in gratitude with deep faith and humility for what he has done to save us. Let us come humbly to receive Him at Holy Communion, and go out as the end of the Holy Mass to proclaim the Good News we have experienced today.

©2020 John S. Mbinda

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

The Baptism of the Lord Year A

Readings: Is 42: 1-4, 6-7; Acts 10:34-38; Matt 3:13-17

Baptized, anointed and doing good, are some of words and phrases that help us to understand the Solemnity we celebrate this Sunday - the Baptism of the Lord. But immediately we face the question of why Jesus had to be baptized since he had no sin. One reason given is that God wanted Jesus to begin his ministry by symbolically identifying himself with sinful humanity, in order to save it. Jesus therefore identified with humanity not as a sinner, but as a fellow human being. Jesus knew what it was to be human. At the same time, the divinity of Jesus is manifested through His Baptism by John in the river Jordan. As Jesus comes out of the water, the heavens open, and the Spirit of God descends upon Jesus, and the Father’s voice affirms who Jesus is: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased”. The Baptism of Jesus as recounted in the Gospel of Matthew signifies the anointing of Jesus by the Father, in the power of the Holy Spirit, and the Father’s commissioning of Jesus for his ministry that begins thereafter. That anointing and commissioning underlines the power of Baptism that we have received. By virtue of our Baptism, we share in the three-fold ministry of Jesus Christ: priest, prophet and king. We are therefore sent on mission to give witness to Jesus Christ.

Peter in the second reading captures that idea of being sent on mission, in the case of Jesus who gives us an example. After Jesus' baptism, He "went about doing good and curing all who had fallen into the power of the devil". It was for this purpose that the Father had anointed him with the Holy Spirit, and sent him on his earthly mission. In the words of the Prophet Isaiah, the Father appoints Jesus as “a covenant of the people and a light of the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to free captives from prison, and those who live in darkness from dungeon”. Thus Jesus is the one who fulfils Isaiah’s prophecy of bringing salvation to the nations. The dove that descends upon Jesus symbolizes the nature of his mission as an agent of peace and reconciliation in the world. This Sunday, as we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord, we are reminded of the power of our Baptism. The puzzling question of why Jesus had to be baptized, since he had no sin, is an important question. The answer is twofold, and helps us to further understand the power of Baptism. 1) The first reason is that when Jesus is born, He becomes one with us. In His baptism, the Son of God becomes one with us in our sinfulness that is symbolically washed away in the waters of Baptism. 2) The second reason is that like us, Jesus is alienated from the Father, in order to lead us out of that isolation through his death and resurrection back to the Father. Therefore, Christ becomes immersed in our tainted human nature, and emerges from it in the waters of Baptism through the resurrection, in order to cleanse us and to reconcile us with the Father. So what message do we take home? 1) The Baptism of the Lord celebrates the mystery Baptism as an immersion with Christ and a rising with Him into new life. 2) Just as Jesus was anointed and sent by the Father to proclaim peace and to heal, we too are anointed and sent to proclaim God’s mercy, compassion and forgiveness. 3) The secret power of our baptism is found in our union with God, that makes us powerful instruments of transforming the world by being witnesses of God’s peace and reconciliation in the world.

 ©2020 John S. Mbinda

Thursday, January 2, 2020

The Epiphany of the Lord Year A

Readings: Is 60:1-6; Eph 3:2-3,5-6; Matt 2:1-12

 This Sunday we celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord. The word ‘epiphany’ comes from the Greek language “epiphaneia’ which means ‘appearance’, ‘showing forth’ or ‘manifestation’. So we could say that we celebrate the manifestation of the Lord. The feast of the Epiphany originated in the third century to commemorate the first appearance of Christ as Savior to the entire world. The first reading from Isaiah speaks about light shining through the darkness and the clouds, a wonderful image of describing what epiphany tells us about Jesus Christ who enlightens our dark minds. Psalm 72 focuses on the nations coming to adore the Lord. “Lord, every nation on earth will adore you” and then speaks of kings from foreign lands bringing gifts to the Lord. The Psalm in a certain sense introduces the Gospel of today, that recounts the story of the three wise kings from the East, who represent all the nations. These Magi come as seekers of the source of the light. The star is only a guide for them. On finding the source, the infant king, they are overjoyed, they confess, worship him and offer him gifts. In the preface of the Epiphany, we get a sense of the mystery we celebrate. "Today you revealed in Christ your eternal plan of salvation and showed him as the light of all peoples". The mystery of Christ's birth, the mystery of the Incarnation, is therefore made known to all people all over the world without exception. St. Paul in the second reading speaks about the inclusive nature of salvation in God’s plan.

The central message of the Epiphany is that Jesus is revealed to us as a light to the nations. The Magi go in search of this light guided by a star until they find the source of the light in Bethlehem. Like the Megi, we are led to discover Christ and are therefore called to go out and share with others the Good News revealed to us. Through our daily witness, in loving others, in forgiving them, in our faith and compassion, in our courage and perseverance, may we be like the star that guides them in their journey of faith, to seek and to discover Christ in their lives. There is a story of certain woman who had a problem with the Church. For a long time she stayed away from the Church. Her problem had nothing to do with church authority, but about certain doctrines. She had a problem in understanding the resurrection. One day she met a friend who was Catholic, and as they began to discuss about their faith, she said that she did not believe in going to Church. Her friend was surprised. As they kept on talking, her friend began to realize that the woman perhaps needed to talk to a priest, and she guided her to go to talk to a priest, even though she was not comfortable about the idea. However, something mysterious moved her, and she found herself at the parish door asking to meet a priest. The way she was received by the priest with total acceptance; the way the priest took his time to listen attentively to her story and her faith concerns; the answers she received; all that moved her to tears, as she felt respected and affirmed. She began to see some light in the darkness of her journey of faith. As she rose to walk away, she said, “today I have discovered a star that will lead me to the true light.” That is mystery of the Epiphany of the Lord we celebrate today. It celebrates our discovery of a star that leads us to the source of the light, Jesus Christ. The message we take home therefore is three-fold: 1) We are invited today to recognize God's light, God's presence in our lives, and to let our hearts rejoice, throb and overflow, because we know that God is with us. 2) Like the friend of the woman in the story, you and I are challenged to lead a life of witness that becomes like the star that leads others to source of light, Jesus Christ; Like the Magi, let us follow that star until we find Jesus Christ. 3) Consequently, we are called to go out and share the Good News of Jesus Christ with others; to share the light that Christ has given us, so that others may find the way to Jesus Christ.

©2020 John S. Mbinda

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Solemnity of the Holy Family Year A

Readings: Sir 3:2-6, 12-14; Col 3:12-21; Mt 2:13-15, 19-23

Christmas as a family feast, importance of family spirituality centered on Jesus Christ, who brings healing and reconciliation to all family life. The solemnity of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, is celebrated on the Sunday after Christmas, mainly for two reasons: 1) to remind us that  Christmas is a family feast; and 2) to remind us that Jesus was born and raised in a family just like us. Paul in the second reading from his Letter to the Colossians, reminds us that Christ is the profound link for every Christian family. For Paul, the solution to the many problems parents must face today, cannot be purely human, but must be based on the message of Christ. In other words, Christ must be at the center of every Christian family. Paul speaks of the peace that reigns in the family that lives in Christ. That peace is now threatened. The greatest threat facing families today is simply that we don’t spend enough time together. We are so busy working, or socializing, or watching TV or surfing the Internet and twittering, that we have less and less time for each other. That style takes a big toll on the family today. There is a story about a young lawyer who lived quite a distance from her elderly father. Months had passed since they had been together and when her father called to ask when she might visit, the daughter detailed a list of reasons that prevented her from taking the time to see him. She had court schedule, meetings, new clients, research, etc., etc. At the end of her recitation, the father asked, “When I die, do you intend to come to my funeral?” The daughter’s response was immediate, “Dad, I can’t believe you’d ask that! Of course, I’ll come!” To which the father replied, “Good. Forget the funeral and come; I need you more now than I will then.”
The Gospel invites us to focus our attention on how Mary and Joseph faithfully accept their vocation as parents, and on their total submission to God’s will. The spirit in which Mary and Joseph lived their parental vocation, is an example to be imitated by parents. The Holy Family is put before us as a model because even though they did not have our modern day obstacles like TV and the Internet, Mary and Joseph went through many of the trials and obstacles that families today have to struggle with. The holy family had to flee to Egypt in order to escape from the threat over the life of Jesus by king Herod. Mary and Joseph were troubled when they lost their 12 year old boy only to find him in the temple doing his Father’s business. They had to struggle to survive without miracles! Joseph had to teach young Jesus carpentry so they could earn a family living. We can also imagine that Mary and Jesus suffered bereavement after Joseph’s death. Mary suffered the most agony watching her own son die on the Cross. How did the parents of Jesus cope with the difficulties they faced? One may say that Mary and Joseph lived a family spirituality centred on Jesus: they learnt to look at Jesus with eyes of faith; to listen to him with attention, and to meditate on the unfolding mystery of the Son of God in their midst. But above all, they loved each other. Just as the Holy Family survived its crises through love for each other and faith in God, let us pray that our families that they too may follow that example of love and faith in God. The message we take home is three fold: 1) The example of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph challenges us to find ways of coming together and centering our family life spirituality on Jesus. 2) We need to pray together as family, because family bonds are strengthened when Christ is in our midst. “The family that prays together stays together.” 3) We are invited to pray for our own families and those of our relatives and friends, so that, by God’s grace, they may overcome the trials and sufferings that face family life today, and find healing and reconciliation during this Christmas season. 

©2019 John S. Mbinda

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Fourth Sunday of Advent Year A

Readings: Isaiah 7:10-14; Romans 1:1-7; Mt. 1:18-24

Does doing God’s will and the messiness of life have anything in common? That is one question we need to think about seriously this Sunday. In the last two Sundays we have focused attention on John the Baptist. This Sunday, only days from Christmas, we change our focus from John the Baptist to Saint Joseph. The main reason for this shift is that Matthew writes his Gospel for the Jewish people. He wants to show that Jesus is the Messiah promised by the prophets in Sacred Scripture, and that He comes through the line of David.  Joseph is a direct descendant of David.  In the Gospel of Matthew, Joseph names the child.  He gives his own spirit and all he is to the child – the carpenter’s son.  The child is Son of God and Son of Mary, but also, through the action of naming the child by Joseph, He is Son of David. Paul, in the Second Reading argues that Jesus becomes the Son of God through the resurrection that fully manifests his divinity. The readings therefore place before us the mystery of the Incarnation foreshadowed in the Old Testament, and fulfilled in the New Testament. In the first reading, Isaiah offers a sign to king Ahaz confirming that the line of David would survive the attacks from neighboring nations. The sign is that “a maiden shall conceive and bear a son.” Very true to the prophecy, the young wife of Ahaz bears him a son, whose name would be “Emmanuel.” Matthew in the Gospel uses that story to show the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy in Jesus the Messiah, out of the line of David.

That is why the Gospel begins by saying “This is how Jesus Christ came to be born.” He will be named Emmanuel, a name that means “God-is-with us.”  Two persons are at the center of this mystery. First we have Mary who responds to God’s message through the angel with unconditional faith and trust. In so doing, Mary risks so much: her future marriage and family reputation, placing everything in the hands of God. Then we have Joseph who at first is confused and afraid. We often hear that Gospel passage, and perhaps we wonder what Joseph was afraid of. He must have thought of the messiness of his own situation.  He must have thought of a greater mess if he went ahead with the marriage. He does not know what to make of Mary’s conception before their marriage, but then divine intervention comes. An Angel of the Lord appears to Joseph in a dream and reveals the mystery of the conception. The angel advises him to proceed with the marriage, because Mary “has conceived what is in her by the Holy Spirit.” Basically, Joseph is told to celebrate this unexpected birth. When he awakes from his dream, Joseph decides to follow his faith; to do God’s will and take Mary as his wife. In so doing, Joseph saves her reputation. The Gospel tells us that Jesus is born of Mary who was betrothed to Joseph son of David. In connecting Jesus to the line of David, Matthew wants to underline the fact that Jesus is fully human and is also the fulfillment of God’s promises to David. Jesus is also “Son of God”, a point explained by Paul in the second reading. The Gospel also gives us a model to follow in Mary and Joseph. Both faced a tremendous challenge to their faith when God asked them to open their hearts to welcome Jesus into their lives. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) Just as Mary and Joseph accepted to welcome Jesus into their lives with deep faith and trust, we too are challenged to do no less; 2) As we get to Christmas in a few days, let us open our hearts so that in doing God’s will like Mary and Joseph, Christ may be born in our lives this Christmas. 3) Both Mary and Joseph remind us that doing God’s will at times may lead us into the messiness of life; into situations or even countries we never dreamed of.
 ©2019 John S. Mbinda