Thursday, September 25, 2014

Twenty Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

Readings: Ez 18:25-28; Phil 2:1-11; Mt 21:28-32

Transformation from wrong doing to faithfulness; from saying “no” to saying “yes”; from complacency to doing God’s will. Those phrases sum up best the message of this Sunday. The readings this Sunday underline the true meaning of doing God's will. It means taking full responsibility when we are wrong, complacent or lazy, by asking for God's mercy and working for the Kingdom. In the first reading, the prophet Ezekiel tells the Jews in exile that a virtuous person remains obedient and always faithful. Likewise a wicked person always has the opportunity to turn back and receive forgiveness. If the righteous person sins he or she will be punished and if the wicked person repents will be rewarded. In today’s Second Reading, we have one of the most beautiful passages about the mystery of God’s love through Christ in the entire Bible. St. Paul begins by telling the people to be kind, loving, and merciful to each other.  The Philippians and us of today are to put the interests of others first as Christ did.  That is why Paul exhorts us to have the same attitude Jesus had.  Jesus was God, but he did not regard his divinity as something to cling to.  Instead He emptied Himself of his divinity. He became a human being.  More than this, he became a slave for all of us.  Jesus obeyed His Father for our sakes, even when this obedience led to His death on the Cross. Thus obedience to God means becoming like Christ who was divine, but did not consider himself to be equal to God. Rather out of obedience He humbled himself to the point of dying on the cross.
In the Gospel, Jesus speaks to the Chief priests and Elders. In his address to them, Jesus tells the parable of the two sons. The central point of the story is that we tend to share the attitude of the second son, who says "yes" and then does nothing. Jesus calls our attention to the danger of living a double life of disobedience, while giving the impression of being the best. In the gospel, Jesus challenges us to be transformed like the second son who says “no” and then undergoes conversion that leads him to say “yes.” Faithfulness to Christ can only be expressed through a change of heart that leads to being the best version of ourselves. The chief priests and the elders spoke much about God and the observance of the Law, but only paid lip service. Tax collectors and prostitutes on the other hand, were not keeping God’s Law. They had said “no” to God’s commandments, yet some were touched by Christ’s message and transformed. We are called to be the best version of ourselves by embracing the message of Jesus so He may transform us. We are challenged to avoid cursing the darkness of injustice around us. We are invited rather to light candles of hope for so many voiceless poor people, who see no solution to their desperate economic situation. In other words, we must not simply lament about the economy, unemployment, broken government systems or electoral mechanisms. We must say no at the ballot box this November to change the situation. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) We are called as disciples and stewards to be the best version of ourselves by saying yes to Jesus Christ; by listening to his word and doing God’s will. 2) Doing God's will might mean giving Christian witness in the ethical, social and civil field, in our proper roles as Christian citizens called by Christ to make a difference in civil society. 3) We must never pay lip service to our Constitutional right to vote; not to exercise that right is like cursing the darkness, instead of lighting a candle.

©2014 John S.Mbinda

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Twenty Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

Readings: Is 55:6-9; Phil 1:20-24,27; Mt 20:1-16 

All welcome to God’s Kingdom; when God is King there is a reversal of fortunes: when God is King new comers belong; when God is King the last are first and the first last; because God’s thoughts not our thoughts. The Gospel reading of this Sunday invites us to reflect on God’s generous love, mercy and justice for all people without exception. As human beings, we find it extremely difficult to understand the mystery of such generous love. Our God is a God of surprises, at times contradicting our human wisdom and expectations. Throughout the Old and New Testaments justice is a very central theme. But what do we understand by justice and what do the Scriptures tells us about it? In the First Reading from Isaiah we discover a surprising difference between our human understanding of justice and God’s justice. We hear that God offers salvation and forgiveness entirely out of generosity.  Indeed the prophet Isaiah calls us to make some adjustment in our ways of thinking, because God’s thoughts are not our thoughts nor are God’s ways our ways. Psalm 145 highlights God’s justice. “The Lord is just in all his ways.” By human standards, it appears strange and foolish that God loves all human beings equally, no matter what their social status may be.

In the Gospel, Jesus tells a parable that compares the kingdom of heaven to a generous landowner who hires workers at different hours of the day for his vineyard.  At the end of the day the landowner pays them all a day’s wage as agreed. Jesus cleverly puts this twist in the parable in order to show a sharp contrast between God’s justice and human justice; between God’s ways and our ways. The parable is not about fair compensation. What matters at the end of the day is whether one gets into the vineyard or not. When God is King, God rewards all equally in the end. We are the workers who arrive at God’s vineyard (the Church) at different times. Thus before God faithful disciples, stewards and the repentant sinner who confesses and receives the Last Rites before death are rewarded equally with God’s compassion, love and mercy. Yes, this is quite unusual, but that is the way it works when God is King. Therefore we should not resent anyone who turns to God and repents at the last moment of life like the Good Thief on the Cross. The parable also contains an urgent question about the unemployed outside the vineyard, asking them the question: “why do you stand here idle all day?” That question applies to many of our alienated Catholics and particularly many youth and young adults whom the Lord is inviting back to his vineyard at 5 P.M. The Church is ready to embrace them with unconditional mercy and forgiveness. The bottom line is that the parable underlines God’s generous love in welcoming all to his kingdom. No matter how many times we may have failed; no matter how late in life we come to find Jesus, we are always assured of God’s warm welcome. So what good news do we take away this Sunday? 1) God rewards equally all who respond to his call because God is profoundly generous. 2) The Gospel parable cautions those who might feel superior because they have been Catholic all their life and so have spent more time with Jesus! 3) When God is King new comers (the last to arrive) are rewarded equally with the first in the kingdom. Hence, “the last will be first, and the first will be last.” Think about it.

©2014 John S. Mbinda

Friday, September 12, 2014

Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross
Readings: Numbers 21:4-9; Phil 2:6-11; Jn 3:13-17

Humiliation, exaltation and triumph on the Cross are the key words that help to focus on the message of this Sunday. The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross celebrates two events: 1) the finding of the True Cross in 326 A.D. by Saint Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine; and 2) the dedication of churches built by Constantine on the site of the Holy Sepulchre and on Mount Calvary. But in a deeper sense, the feast celebrates the Holy Cross as the instrument of triumph and salvation. There is another fascinating story behind the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. It all began with a battle for the conquest of Rome in 312 A.D. On the eve of that battle, Constantine had a vision of a Cross in the sky and heard a voice tell him, “By this Sign, you shall conquer.” The following day, Constantine using the image of the Cross he had seen, won the battle over Rome and become the Emperor. This miraculous victory led to Constantine’s conversion to Christianity. He then declared Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire.

In today's Gospel, Jesus predicts his own humiliation and triumph on the Cross. “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” Jesus is lifted up in order to save us all from sin and death. “For God so loved the world…” (Jn 3:16) In the first reading we hear that many died in the desert. Therefore God instructed Moses to fashion a bronze serpent and place it on a pole. Those who looked at it with faith were healed. It is interesting that a similar symbol of serpents on a pole, today represents the medical profession. That bronze serpent on a pole prefigures the great instrument of healing - the Cross. The Israelites were dying because of snake bites, but an even more terrible viper has bitten you and I. We cannot heal ourselves. No medicine can heal that bite. Only the Cross can heal us. The Cross stands at the center of creation - and the center of human history which makes no sense apart from the Cross. St. Paul says it the best in the second reading. “Christ Jesus, though he was …God… he emptied himself." He took the form a slave. He humbled himself even more, accepting death; death on the Cross. Because of such humility - the humility of the cross - the Father exalted Jesus. At his name every knee should bend. For that reason, we genuflect or bow when we come into the presence of Jesus in our church.  What good news do we take away this Sunday? 1) The Cross expresses God’s profound love for us, to the extent that God allowed his Son to die on the Cross for our sins (Jn 3:16); 2) The symbol of death, defeat and weakness becomes for us the symbol of life, triumph and strength. The Cross is the Banner that we carry ahead of every liturgical celebration to symbolize the victory of Jesus Christ. 3) The Cross is the most powerful symbol of our Christian faith by which we recall Christ’s passion, death and resurrection at each Eucharistic celebration. At the end of each Holy Mass, Jesus sends us as disciples and stewards to go and live the mystery of faith we have celebrated – the good news that the Cross is a symbol of life and victory. 

©2014 John S. Mbinda

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Twenty Third Sunday Ordinary Time Year A
Readings: Ezekiel 33:7-9; Romans 13:8-10; Matthew 18:15-20

Fraternal correction and painful responsibility are the key words that help to focus on the message of this Sunday. There is a story told about a man who went into a restaurant and the waitress placed him at a table next to three girls. They were talking loud and swearing in the worst words. It sometimes seems like women's equality means imitating the worst in men. The man wanted to say something, but he held his tongue. When his breakfast arrived, he bowed his head and made of the sign of the cross. The swearing stopped immediately. Was that a miracle? No! I tell this story because the readings this Sunday focus on the painful responsibility of fraternal correction. In the first reading, the Lord sends his messenger as “watchman for the house of Israel” as a spokesperson of the Lord, to warn God’s people. The messenger of the Lord is sent to persuade the wicked from wrongdoing. If not, the Lord will hold the messenger responsible. The underlying message is that we are all responsible for one another in helping each other to remain faithful disciples of the Lord. Calling others to account when they do wrong or persist in wrongdoing is not easy. A man once approached St. Francis of Assisi and said, "Brother Francis, I am in a difficult situation. The Bible says we should rebuke sinners, but I see people sinning all the time. I don't feel like I should go around rebuking everybody." St. Francis thought and then said, "What you must do is live in such a way that your life rebukes the sinner - how you act will call others to repentance." You might be thinking, that's easy enough for St. Francis, but I am not saint. I am just an ordinary lay person. It is possible to correct without judging as you heard in the story. We ourselves must be living faithfully before we can call others to change their lives. The bottom line is that when we as disciples and stewards live the best version of our ourselves, that in itself like in the story persuades the wicked from wrongdoing.

In the Gospel of this Sunday, Jesus challenges us to point out the faults of others privately first, but publicly if necessary. Paul in the Second reminds us that we correct others out of love and concern for their spiritual wellbeing. Elsewhere Paul urges us to “Be kind and tender to one another. Forgive each other, just as God forgave you because of what Christ has done" (Ephesians 4:32). Then we are better able to "speak the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15). If as stewards of Jesus Christ we are living the best version of ourselves in our relationship with Christ, the zeal to invite others to such a relationship will drive us to speak up before others, inviting them to God’s mercy and forgiveness. In the words of St. Paul, true Christian love enables us to help each other become the best version of ourselves, without an attitude of superiority. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) As disciples and stewards, you and I have the painful responsibility of fraternal correction which entails “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). 2) This responsibility also involves our own personal conversion to Christ and a deeper relationship with God. 3) The response of St. Francis regarding fraternal correct is our best way of action - living in such a way that our life rebukes the sinner. In other words, being the best version of ourselves will invite others to change their wrongdoing and become the best version of themselves.

©2014 John S. Mbinda

Friday, August 29, 2014

Twenty Second Sunday Ordinary Time Year A

Twenty Second Sunday Ordinary Time Year A
Readings: Jeremiah 20:7-9; Romans 12:1-2; Matthew 16:21-27

Enticed, seduced and overpowered by the Lord’s call are the phrases that sum up best the message of this Sunday. The readings focus our attention on the cost of discipleship. Human beings tend to avoid any suffering. It is easier to be comfortable. In the first reading therefore, it is no surprise that the prophet Jeremiah is reluctant to let himself be mocked and insulted as part of doing God’s will. Indeed Jeremiah is actually prophesying the inevitable suffering of those who choose to follow Jesus Christ. Paul in the second reading exhorts us saying, “Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind…” In other words we must reject the standards of our secular world. That is where our discipleship is tested and becomes a true cross that we carry after Christ. That is what Paul describes as offering our bodies as a living sacrifice. Both readings therefore form a beautiful introduction to the Gospel passage on the cost of discipleship and stewardship. You will recall that in last Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus commended Peter as being led by the Holy Spirit.  Peter had proclaimed that Jesus was the Messiah and Son of God.  In today’s Gospel, Jesus rebukes Peter who tries to dissuade him from carrying out the Father’s plan of salvation through the Cross. That’s why Jesus called him Satan, someone who is fighting against the will of God. Peter went from recognizing Jesus as the Christ, to being controlled by human fears, and therefore opposing the very purpose Christ’s mission. Peter had a long way to go before he could look at the cross prepared for him and peacefully accept the challenge of his imminent martyrdom.  Indeed Peter reacts violently to the very thought of a suffering Messiah. How could the one who fed the crowds; who walked on water and performed miracle also suffer greatly and be put to death? That is why Jesus takes the opportunity to offer a catechesis on what it means to be his follower. "If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me". These are familiar words, but what do they mean concretely?

Let us first focus on the image of carrying one's cross. Jesus himself carries his own cross to Calvary, He is crucified, He dies for our sins and rises in order to give us life. Discipleship and stewardship to Christ means doing what Jesus did. Carrying one’s cross therefore means dying to self, subduing our selfish desires, passions, self-esteem, and pride. It means putting ourselves last, choosing to die for others, so that others may be and live. Looking at the world today especially the Middle East, there is so much turmoil partly because of human greed that explains the fact of dictatorship in that region. The Gospel values challenge us to place ourselves last, letting others enjoy the fruits of freedom. The idea of costly discipleship is a reminder that gaining power and control over others could lead us to ruin. Renouncing self for the sake of Christ will certainly make us like Christ, who dies that we may have life. What message do we take home this Sunday? 1) Like Jeremiah, you and I have been enticed and overpowered by the Lord’s call through our baptism to follow Christ. 2) Following Jesus is about taking up our cross; it involves the way of that Cross along with Jesus Christ; it involves standing for our faith even if we are insulted, mocked or threatened with death; it involved inconvenience, sacrifice and letting go so that others may be first. 3) In the words of Saint Paul, our discipleship and stewardship means a commitment to live values that are contrary to those of this world, and thus being ridiculed for our faith. Think about it.

©2014 John S. Mbinda