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

Saturday, September 29, 2018

26th Sunday Ordinary Time Year B

Readings: Nm 11:25-29; Jas 5:1-6; Mk 9:38-43,45 47-48

The God of compassion, tolerance and inclusiveness. The readings this Sunday challenge us to be humble, inclusive and tolerant. The message centers on God's Spirit who is poured out to all the baptized, and not limited only to those of our company. The mark of a true disciple of Christ is an attitude of tolerance, compassion and acceptance of the gifts of others. In the First Reading from the Book of Numbers, we are led to discover the temptation of showing that we are better than others. God tells Moses to bring together seventy of the elders of the people to share the burden of the people along with him. These elders would share the responsibility with him. But among the seventy elders chosen, Eldad and Medad stayed behind in the camp and prophesied. When Joshua heard this, he was upset because two men, who had been absent when God gave the gifts of the Spirit, also received the same gift as the seventy elders. Joshua was trying to put limits to God's gifts and action. The response of Moses to Joshua is important: “Would that the Lord might bestow his spirit on them all!” It points to the fact that carrying out of God’s message in the world is not the task of only a chosen few in the Church. It challenges us to be humble, inclusive and tolerant.

In the Gospel we find a similar episode. The disciples had just been given the authority to expel demons in the name of Jesus. On their way they found someone not of their company expelling demons in the name of Jesus, and had tried to stop the man. John who belonged to the inner circle tells Jesus how they tried to stop him and point out to him that they alone are the chosen ones and not he.  Jesus also had sent the disciples on a mission where they had worked the miracles and had healed the people and cast out devils.  They had received the praise for their good work.  But now they felt threatened because a person who was not of their group had cast out devils as well. And not just driving out evil spirits but doing so in the name of Jesus. So they tried to stop him. Jesus responded that the man should have been left alone, because anyone performing miracles in Jesus' name is certainly on their side. Once again, the response of Jesus is not simple, nor is it immediately evident when he declares, “Anyone who is not against us is for us.” Elsewhere Jesus says: “He who is not with me is against me.” What exactly did Jesus mean? The kingdom of God proclaimed by Jesus is not confined within the boundaries of the Catholic Church. The mission of the Church is to reveal and proclaim its presence, not to claim a monopoly over it. Looking at both the first reading and the Gospel, we discover that perhaps we tend to behave very much like Joshua and the disciples. We tend to take our belonging to Christ or even to the Catholic Church as some kind of an exclu­sive club, or even as a monopoly of Christ's gifts of the Spirit. So what message do we take home? 1) The mark of a true disciple of Christ is an attitude of inclusion, tolerance, compassion and acceptance of the gifts of others. 2) God's Spirit is not limited to those of our company or to a chosen elite group. The Holy Spirit is not even limited to this or that Church. 3) God's Spirit is at work in all those who seek him with a sincere heart as we pray in the Fourth Eucharistic Prayer.

©2018 John S. Mbinda

Friday, September 21, 2018

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

Readings: Wisdom 2:12, 17-20; James 3:16-4:3; Mark 9:30-37

Last Sunday readings focused our attention on the mystery of the Cross in order to understand who Jesus is. In the Gospel of last Sunday, the disciples misunderstood the identity of Jesus and so Jesus took the opportunity to tell them his true identity by foretelling his suffering, death and resurrection. This Sunday, Mark in the Gospel takes us back to the same theme of the Cross, but this time, in terms of discipleship that implies powerlessness and vulnerability. That is the best way to understand our discipleship. Rather than giving us any privileged positions, discipleship renders us powerless and vulnerable in the perspective of the cross. The Gospel is on the second prediction of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection. Jesus was teaching the disciples and telling them, “the Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise.” But all that went over their heads. They did not understand, and Mark adds, “they were afraid to question him.” Why did they fail to understand? Mark reveals that “They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest.” Aha! They still see Jesus as a conquering Messiah who liberates Israel and establishes an earthly kingdom. In that sense, they were discussing about who would be the Vice President in that kingdom; power positions. Jesus takes the opportunity to teach them that he is a “Serving Messiah.” If we wish to be first, we must be prepared to be last; if we wish to be great, we must be prepared to be like little children; if we want to be leaders, we must be prepared to be servants of all. Jesus used the example of little children because during his time children were symbols of “non-persons”, without any power and often unprotected. Children were therefore symbols of powerlessness and vulnerability. Jesus reminds us today that rather than being concerned about positions of power in the Church, we should be more concerned about those without power and the most vulnerable in our midst.

I recently heard a story told by a parishioner. A young boy in the parish once asked how one becomes a Pope in the Catholic Church. So he was told that one has to become a priest first. The boy would not take any of that. He said no I would like to be a Pope! Not only do we want to have the top position but we are even capable of destroying others psychologically in order to make sure we get to the top!  As in today’s Christian community, ambition and jealousy were also among the close followers of Christ, making it difficult to understand Jesus’ call to a life of service and sacrifice. Jesus offers a clear catechesis on Christian leadership as humble service. “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all”. As Christians, we are called to a humble service that involves a spirituality of service; a spirituality of powerlessness and vulnerability. So what message do we take home?  1) Our discipleship, our call to follow Christ the “Serving Messiah” is a call to powerlessness and vulnerability and not to a position of power and authority; 2) We are called to leadership of humble service that involves the possibility of the cross not comfort; 3) We must be very weary when discussions in the Church are about positions rather than caring for those without power and the most vulnerable.

©2018 John M. Mbinda

Saturday, September 15, 2018

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

Readings: Isaiah 50:4-9; James 2:14-18; Mark 8:27-35

The identity of a Messiah who will be rejected, suffer, die on the cross and rise on the third day. The reading this Sunday centers on the identity of the Messiah. In the Gospel, Jesus sets the stage by testing his disciples to find out if they really know who he is. Jesus cleverly starts by asking who other people say he is. Some say Jesus is a powerful prophet, others a great teacher, still others he is a great wonder-worker. Jesus will have none of that. He doesn't care about public opinion. He doesn't care what the "experts" say. So he asks, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter responds, "You are the Christ." Yes, that's good, but not good enough. That is not the full identity of Jesus. That is why Jesus immediately predicts his own suffering, rejection, death and resurrection. When Peter hears that, he reacts from his human perspective. How could the Christ, the Messiah suffer? That is why Peter tries to rebuke Jesus. Peter thought that Christ was a conquering Messiah; that the cross is for criminals, for evil-doers, not for Jesus. In that scene along the way, Jesus wants to remind his disciples and us too that our faith in him as a glorified Messiah is not his full identity. In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah calls our attention to the fact that persecution and suffering were the destiny of the Servant of God. “I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard….” In the second reading, James helps us to see clearly what genuine faith is about. He underlines the necessity of corporal works of mercy to the poor as the best expression of true faith. In other words, it is not enough to tell a hungry person “Go in peace…and eat well.” A parish that has no social ministry program is not fully responding to the gospel of Jesus Christ. It lacks the compassion and love of Christ as he hangs on the cross.

In the Gospel reading, Peter, like many of us thought that he knew who Jesus was, only to be shocked by Jesus' prediction of his own suffering, death and resurrection. Our call by Christ must involve the cross. “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” Like Peter, we want to live our faith on our own terms, without the mystery of the cross; without being involved in responding to the suffering in need. Certainly this is not easy, for it means denying ourselves of our own comfort. The readings remind us that the cross is the path to happiness. There is no short-cut. It means being prepared to risk dying for others like Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, who on March 24, 1980, while celebrating the Eucharist, was shot and killed at the altar by a death squad assassin, paying the highest price for the commitment about which he spoke so often and so eloquently. He knew who Jesus was for him, and that is why he was not afraid to die as Jesus did. What message do we take home? 1) The best way to understand Jesus is to see him in the perspective of the Cross; 2) That is why Jesus reminds us that following him implies taking up the cross: suffering and dying with him so that he may raise us up to eternal life; 3) The way to Jesus, to happiness, and to eternal life is the way of the cross.

©2018 John S. Mbinda

Friday, September 7, 2018

23rd Sunday Ordinary Time Year B On Clergy Scandal

Readings: Isaiah 35:4-7; James 2:1-5; Mark 7:31-37

" It is better that scandals arise than the truth be suppressed." These wise words of Pope Gregory the Great in the 6th century are still valid today as we face the most vicious scandal in the Church today. Last Sunday, as Cardinal Donald Wuerl (Archbishop of Washington, D.C.) addressed the clergy sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church, he asked parishioners to pray for Pope Francis as he deals with the problem. A man stood up and yelled “Shame on you!” and then walked out. A woman who was present at that Mass was interviewed on Fox News on Monday night, and expressed her anger on how deeply hurt she had been because of the clergy abuse scandal and cover up. At the end of the interview she was asked, “are you then going to leave the Church?” She said, “Oh no, I am a committed Catholic, and intend to remain in my Church.” 

If you do not believe that the devil exists, think twice! “Satan is dancing with great joy!” as Bishop Larry Silva says in the opening paragraph of the letter addressed to the clergy, religious and all parishioners in the Diocese of Honolulu regarding recent allegations of clergy abuse of minors. This letter of August 24, 2018 may be found on the Diocese of Honolulu website: A copy of Bishop Larry’s letter is inserted in the bulletin of this Sunday. 

Bishop Robert Barron recently called the present crisis “a diabolical mastermind.” The devil has indeed come up with a plan to destroy the Church, by misleading some clergy to sexually abuse minors 

Even as we struggle to find solutions for this crisis, the readings of this Sunday could give us some hope. The Israelite leaders, prophets and priests had misled the people into the worship of pagan gods. Consequently, God let then fall into the hands of the Babylonians who took them into exile. The First reading from the prophet Isaiah announces better times to come, when God will transform their situation symbolized by the healing of the blind, the deaf, the lame, and the dumb. This vision of Isaiah is fulfilled in Jesus who in the Gospel heals a deaf and dumb person with the power of one word in Aramaic “Ephphatha” (be opened).

I think the readings raise up our hopes in the midst of a serious scandal and breach of trust by some members of the clergy including high ranking leaders in the Church.
I am truly ashamed of my own Church, but I remain hopeful that our deafness and dumbness will eventually be healed. Thank you for being here. It gives me great hope in the midst of this crisis. It reminds me of our Lord’s promise: “Behold I am with you always till the end of the world.” (Mt 28:20) That’s why you and I are still here today; that is why I am here to give you hope and encouragement in this time of crisis and a sense of direction in time of confusion. “Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy; Lord, have mercy!”

@2018 John S. Mbinda