Monday, June 29, 2020

Thirteenth Sunday Ordinary Time Year A

Readings: 2Kg 4:8-11, 14-16; Rm 6:3-4, 8-11; Mt 10:37-42

Hospitality, the first pillar of stewardship is the key to unlocking the message of this Sunday. In the first reading, we find a remarkable example of hospitality given by the Shunamite woman. Her hospitality to the prophet Elisha is rewarded by God. She will get a baby boy, though her husband is advanced in age. The point of the story is that making space to welcome strangers can indeed unlock God’s blessings and favors.

Jesus in the gospel passage underlines the importance of hospitality in the life of his disciples. He tells his disciples that “whoever receives” them receives him and the Father who sent him. Those who offer hospitality to them will receive an appropriate reward.

In the Joy of the Gospel #114, Pope Francis has said that “The Church must be a place of mercy freely given, where everyone can feel welcomed, loved, forgiven and encouraged to live the good life of the Gospel.”

My dear parishioners, as I prepare to retire from St. John’s, it is my hope that you have found this parish to be a place of welcome, forgiveness and spiritual nourishment.  We have intentionally put the word of St. Peter into practice when he tells us: “Be hospitable to one another without complaining.” (1 Peter 4:9) We have also taken to heart the words of St. Paul who says: Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels.” (Heb 13:2)

I remember that in 2011 9 years ago you gave me hospitality, and that has remained in my heart. You became family to me, my sons and daughters; my brothers and sisters. I leave St. John’s with great satisfaction for what we have accomplished together, mainly because of your trusted in the vision and mission of our parish as the Spirit guided us. Thank you for trusting in my leadership.

I want to thank in particular all the leaders who have worked with me these 9 years. Even in times of darkness, you stood with me. I want to thank all parishioners in the various ministries for their dedication and especially these days of uncertainty. I want to thank you parents for supporting your children in ministry. My closest collaborators have been the staff and I want to thank them all from the bottom of my heart for all the full support they have given me. They cared for me like their brother.

Dear parishioners, as I go on retirement, I have no doubt that you will be in good hands with Fr. Drexel and eventually with Fr. Nicholas whom some of you know. Please do not forget to pray for me. God bless you all. Ke Akua pu.

©2020 John S. Mbinda

Monday, April 6, 2020

Palm Sunday Year A

Readings: Is 50:4-7; Phil 2:6-11; Matt 26:14-27.66

Joyful entry into Jerusalem; dramatic passion and death on the Cross; pointing to the resurrection. These phrases sum up the message of Palm Sunday. It is the prelude to the Holy Triduum –Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Vigil. There are two parts in today’s celebration that highlight what we celebrate on Palm Sunday: First of all is the blessing of the palms at the beginning, followed by the solemn procession. This part highlights the Joyful Mysteries of Christ. The blessing ritual simply makes sacred the natural symbols of palms to assume a religious significance. The celebrant prays, “bless these branches and make them holy.” The procession and triumphal entry into Jerusalem is a prophetic event. The Gospel proclaimed after the procession reminds us of the prophecy. We hear that "This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: ‘Say to the Daughter of Zion, 'See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey.'" The event therefore was not just by chance; it is also highly symbolic. The Gospel of Matthew refers to the prophecies of Isaiah 62:11 and Zechariah 9:9.
Jesus chooses to enter the city 4 days before the Passover. In this first part of today’s liturgy, Jesus communicates the fulfillment of a prophecy: that he is the promised peace-loving and gentle king, who has now come as prophesied. He is greeted with a well known pilgrim psalm 118 “Hosanna son of David. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” That was an acclamation to the one who comes to bring salvation from the hands of the Romans rulers, pointing to salvation from everything that oppresses human beings – above all sin. We therefore celebrate prophetically the triumph of Jesus over sin through his death and resurrection that becomes a reality in the Paschal Mystery of Christ.

The second part of Palm Sunday, the Liturgy of the Word, plunges us into the Sorrowful Mysteries of Christ in his Passion and Death. The Passion of Our Lord that we hear today is already prophesied in the first reading from the prophet Isaiah where he gives us a glimpse of what the messenger of the Lord will undergo. He will pay a heavy price and suffer both physical and personal insults. He will be beaten, his beard plucked and spat upon. Psalm 22 blends well with the theme of the passion of the Lord, unfolding the drama of Christ’s suffering. The psalmist uses graphic metaphors to describe the bystanders in terms of ravenous thieves ready to strip him of his clothes, but neither mockery nor suffering will undermine his purpose and hope. All three readings today clearly points to the Good Friday events through which we enter into a drama of cosmic proportions. This drama has an interesting cast of characters with Christ in the center stage. Whether we like or not, you and I are much part of this drama of human sinfulness that condemns Jesus to a violent death on the cross. We are part of the crowd that cries loudly, “His blood be upon us and upon our children.” So what message do we take home on Palm Sunday? On this final Sunday of Lent, as we enter into the Sacred time of Holy Week, we are invited to reflect on what Jesus means in our lives. Yes, we recognize him as our Savior, but we need to look at him more closely this time to discover just what kind of a Savior He is. Jesus takes the form of a slave, yet glorified with a name above all other names; He is an example of humility and self-offering, particularly suffering for others especially those who identify with his suffering: the poor, the humiliated, those stripped of their clothes and food taken off their tables; those disposed and marginalized; the abused and the ridiculed for no other reason except their creed and skin color. The core of the message of Palm Sunday is the following: 1) if you and I are to be saved, we must go where salvation takes place, on our streets and homes and where violence rages at 2 a.m. in the dark corners of society, where despair and apathy hold sway daily; where the innocent are abused and the needy neglected; we must go where there is misunderstanding, fear and jealousy; we must touch the untouchable and do the unthinkable. In brief, we must go where Christ emptied himself for our sake; we must go to the Cross to encounter Christ in the suffering of many. 2) The passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ must touch us deeply; it must move us to repentance, and prepares us to follow the path that Jesus takes as He completely humbles himself to the point of “assuming the condition of a slave, even accepting death, death on the Cross” for our salvation. 3) Palm Sunday points beyond Good Friday to the resurrection, and reminds us that there can be no resurrection without Good Friday, without entering through the Passion and death of Our Lord, in order to rise with Him into the newness of life.

©2020 John S. Mbinda

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Fifth Sunday of Lent Year A

Readings: Ez 37: 12-14; Rom 8:8-11; Jn 11:1-45

Life and death; hope and despair are the key phrases that sum up the message of this Sunday. All three readings this Sunday lead us to meet Jesus who is not only the water of life and the light of the world, but also the resurrection and the life. It is around this central theme of our faith in Jesus as the resurrection and life that the Church celebrates the third Scrutiny with those preparing for Baptism at Easter. In the prayer over the candidates this Sunday the celebrant says these words: "Free from the grasp of death those who await your life-giving sacraments and deliver them from the spirit of corruption." The purpose of the third scrutiny is to help the elect candidates to deepen their faith in Christ who is the life and the resurrection. The readings therefore provide a sharp contrast between life and death; hope and despair. They also remind us of real life experiences of the destructive effects of death in real families. We are reminded of the pain of death of loved ones faced by millions of people all over the world daily. The prophet Ezekiel in the first reading urges the devastated nation of Israel to look beyond the destruction of Jerusalem to a new future, when God’s Spirit will restore Israel. If you are facing grief or conflict in the family, there is good news for you. The prophet Ezekiel offers hope for those who believe in the God of life. You and I have many times encountered the shattering effects of death in the family as I did just one year before my ordination when I lost my dad in a tragic automobile accident in which 3 others died with him in 1966.

The Gospel opens with the announcement that Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary, is ill. Jesus’ immediate response is that this illness will not result in the death of Lazarus but that it will be an occasion for God’s glory to be revealed to all and that the Son may also be glorified. Even though Jesus had a deep love for Lazarus and his sisters, he remains in the same place for another two days. By the time Jesus arrives, Lazarus is already dead for four days. The dramatic episode of the raising Lazarus to life is a reminder that Jesus is the source of life; he is the resurrection and the life. Just as in any funeral we have attended, there are tears the eyes of Mary and Martha as they tell Jesus, that if he had been there, their brother would not have died. The whole account is a beautiful catechesis that Jesus offers as the episode develops. On meeting Jesus Martha says: “If you had been here, Lord, my brother would not have died.” “Your brother will rise to life,” says Jesus. “Yes, I know that he will rise again on the last day,” replies Martha, reflecting on Jewish belief of life after death. Jesus uses the occasion to lead the two women through a gradual revelation of who he is: "I am the resurrection and the life. If anyone believes in me, even though he dies he will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die". The passage is a powerful revelation of who Jesus is from his absolute control over life and death. In other words, Jesus has the power to transform death into life; to bring hope in the midst of despair; and joy out of grief. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) The good news is that Jesus is the resurrection and source of life that he promises to anyone who believes in him. 2) We are led to strengthen our faith in the life after death. 3) Our faith in Christ who transforms death into life has been strengthened in the liturgy. We are sent to share this good news with others who may be in grief or in despair and care for them.
©2020 John S. Mbinda

Friday, March 20, 2020

Fourth Sunday of Lent Year A

Readings: 1 Sam 16:1,6-7,10-13; Eph. 5:8-14; Jn 9:1-41

Light and darkness, sight and blindness are the contrasting images in the readings of this Sunday, also called Laetare Sunday which means Rejoice Sunday. On this Sunday, we pause to rejoice and celebrate the good news that Christ heals our spiritual blindness in our Baptism, and makes us witnesses of the truth. That is the meaning of the second Scrutiny celebrated this Sunday for those preparing for Baptism at Easter. The celebrant prays over the Candidates and anoints them with Holy Oil in a rite of exorcism, that symbolically restores their spiritual sight so that they begin to see Jesus and to follow him like the man born blind in the Gospel. For those already Baptized, Christ renews our vision as it were from 10/10 to 20/20 vision. Such a spiritual vision leads us to rejoice because we can now almost see as God sees (cf. 1 Sam 16:7). The entire liturgy this Sunday anticipates Easter Vigil in that it celebrates the mystery of Christ - the light of the world; the light that dispels the darkness of our minds and our hearts. We celebrate Christ who heals our spiritual blindness. The three readings draw a sharp contrast between light and darkness; spiritual sight and spiritual blindness.

The story of the man born blind in the Gospel is not so much about the man being healed, but about seeing as God sees. Here we meet a blind man with sight, as compared to the learned Pharisees who are spiritually blind. The Gospel reminds us that our Baptism illuminates us to see and embrace God’s vision, life, goodness and truth. Our Baptism commits us to be bearers of the truth and to confront the relativism and spiritual blindness of the world with the truth. The passage clearly contrasts light and darkness, faith and the rejection of the truth. These contrasts emerge from the controversy with the Pharisees. Because they are in the darkness of their own prejudice, they refuse to recognize Jesus as the messiah; they refuse to acknowledge that Jesus has the power to heal the blind man. The healing of the blind man gives Jesus the opportunity to show forth once again his own true divine identity for all to see and believe. In the story, Jesus not only gives the blind man his physical sight, but he also gives him the light of faith. When Jesus asks the blind man if he knows the Son of Man, he says, “Who is he sir that I may believe in him?” Jesus says to him, “You have seen him, the one speaking with you is he.” The man then makes his profession of faith, “I do believe, Lord.” On the other hand, the Pharisees are stubbornly blind to Christ and even attribute his miracle to Satan. The story is not simply about the healing of the man born blind and the Pharisee refusing to accept the power of Christ to perform such a miracle. Rather, the story is about you and me in moments of our own spiritual blindness and darkness. However, we need to focus on the Joy of the Gospel this Sunday, namely that in baptism, Christ has healed our blindness and given us the light of faith, so that, like the healed blind man, we may proclaim Him boldly despite the opposition from those still in darkness. The message we take home is threefold. 1) Jesus heals our spiritual blindness so we can see our brothers and sisters as God sees them. 2) Like the blind man, we have been healed. We have become fearless disciples, ready to give our time, talent and treasure in witness to Jesus Christ. 3) As faithful disciples, we must not allow relativism, dishonesty and the distortion of the truth to dim our light, because Christ is our Light.
©2020 John S. Mbinda

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Third Sunday of Lent Year A

Readings: Exodus 17:3-7; Romans 5:1-2,5-8; John 4:5-42

Transforming people one at a time is at the heart of God’s plan for the world. The story of the Samaritan woman in the Gospel is a concrete example of how God transforms people one at a time. Lent is a season when we encounter God who not only thirsts to transform us, but also God who satisfies our spiritual thirst. This is evident in the Gospel from John which very effectively uses the symbolism of water and thirst, leading us to scrutinize our own spiritual thirst. Let me first tell you a true story.  One morning in 1888, a man was shocked to read about his own death in the obituary. It was an error. However, he was even more shocked to read in the newspaper about himself as someone who had found new ways to kill people and became rich from doing so. It was true; he had invented dynamite. That morning he decided to change and devote his energies in a new direction, to work for world peace. He left most of his estate after his death to fund the Nobel Peace Prize. That man was the Swedish Alfred Nobel.
I tell this story because Nobel, on reading a shocking story about himself, decided to change. Similarly, the Samaritan woman in the Gospel was shocked to discover that Jesus knew about her private life and her brokenness. That led to her own self-scrutiny. When she confessed that she knew the Messiah, Jesus then reveals his true identity to her. “I who am speaking to you... I am he”. On hearing this, she accepts the water of life that Jesus is offering to quench her spiritual thirst.
The Samaritan woman in the Gospel becomes aware of her own brokenness; her spiritual thirst and accepts the water of life that Jesus offers to quench her spiritual thirst. This woman who first came for a jar of water, now leaves the jar at the well and becomes a disciple and a messenger sent to her village where she tells her people: “Come and see”, come and see the person who has changed my life! This story was so convincing that the entire village came and saw and invited Jesus who stayed with them for two days!
You and I like the Samaritan woman have come to the well and encountered Jesus, who has told us everything about us. He has offered us life-giving water; he now challenges us to accept his offer and change our lives. As we celebrate the first of three Scrutinies with the candidates for Baptism, the readings invite us along with the candidates to reflect on our lives and so discover our need for conversion.
The message we take home is threefold. 1) Like the Samaritan woman, this too is our day to encounter Jesus at the well, leading us through our self-scrutiny, conversion and transformation. 2) We too have discovered our thirst and need for the Water of Life. 3) At the end of the Mass today, like the Samaritan woman let’s go out and announce the good news that Jesus whom we have encountered at the well today has transformed our lives.
©2020 John S. Mbinda