Gospel Reflections for Life-Promotion

BIBLICAL APOSTOLATE OF THE PROVINCE

Introducing Fr. Freddie's Gospel Reflections for Multi-purpose

1. These reflections are not written like an essay, but in six precise steps. Choose what you like.

2. They are not meant only for preaching homilies, but for a multi-purpose: for teaching, prayer (either personal or common), reflections and socio-pastoral guidance.

3. They can be used outside the liturgical celebrations also on any other occasions for preaching (by using the same text), private and common prayers, Bible Vigil, Adoration, Prayer Service, Gospel Sharing, conferences, talks, etc.

4. Only the Gospel text prescribed for the Sunday Liturgy in the Catholic Church is used for these reflections, and not the First and Second Readings. The latter are quoted only for reference. Those who want to include them, have to find their own applications.

5. These reflections are written from a pastoral and spiritual perspective, and not from academic or exegetical.

6. The preachers have an option to develop only the focus-statements given in Step 2 on their own into a full-fledged homily. If they want to make their homily shorter, they need not include all the points/thoughts written by the author; instead can select what they like, and (if they want) add their own stories/ anecdotes/ examples.

7. The title, “Gospel Reflections for Life-Promotion” indicates the author’s intention to highlight the life-sustaining or life-saving issues in our world and society in the midst of anti-life forces.

8. Though much of the material presented in these reflections is author's, no claim is made for the originality of all the thoughts and ideas. They are adopted from various authors.

9. Reproduction of these reflections in any form needs prior permission.

Friday, 26 August 2016

22nd Ordinary Sunday (C)

Twenty-second Ordinary Sunday (C) [Lk 14:1.7-14]
28 August 2016
  Humility and Hospitality towards the Poor
Readings: (1) Sir 3:17-18.20.28-29 (2) Heb 12:18-19.22-24
&   Theme in brief
Humility of heart and disinterested service
&   Focus Statement
God’s invitation to the ‘banquet’ of his Kingdom should be responded with humility of heart and supernatural motive to serve the poor and the marginalized without hankering for any reward or repayment from their side.
&   Explanation of the text
According to today’s gospel passage, when a leader of the Pharisees hosted a dinner party for Jesus on the Sabbath people were watching him closely whether he would take the first place of honour as was the custom of eminent persons in their society (14:1). If he did, they would get a point to denigrate him. In their minds Jesus was already a sort of ‘celebrity’ because of the miracles he performed. But they never thought that Jesus too was observing closely how the invited guests were vying for places of honour among themselves (14:7). They thought if they could the best seats nearer to the host they could show off their superior status. 
Jesus used his observation to tell them a parable (14:8-10) about the right conduct of those who are invited by God through him to another ‘banquet,’ that is, the banquet of the Kingdom of God. Since it is only a parable, it is not to be taken in a literal sense as a code of conduct or protocol for today’s social functions or dinner parties. In it Jesus hints at the Pharisees for their hankering for the first and the best seat on such occasions. He points out their tendency to seek honour and attract attention from the public. On the other hand, the conduct or attitude of those who welcome the Kingdom of God should be just the opposite. They must be willing to “go and sit down at the lowest place” (14:9), that is, be humble enough to admit their unworthiness and smallness before God. Thus, the essential condition to be admitted into the ‘wedding banquet’ of God’s Kingdom is humility to acknowledge one’s nothingness and last place before God and renounce all self-reliance.
Further, Jesus tells his host (leader of the Pharisees), when he hosts a banquet, not to invite four groups of people (“friends, brothers, relatives and rich neighbours”) whose company he will enjoy the most (14:12).  Instead, he should invite the other four types of people (“the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind”) whose company he will not enjoy (14:13). The reason is obvious: the first category of people may return the favour done to them because they have the resources to do that, whereas the poor and the differently-abled persons are totally incapable to repay any service or act of charity done to them (14:14). Therefore, it should be done with the supernatural motive of love for such people without expecting anything in return. Jesus’ idea of radical inclusion goes against social expectations of repayment of honours and favours done to others. He wants that this social norm should not govern life in his new society called the Kingdom of God. He declares those who do so “blessed” because God himself will repay such generosity at the "resurrection of the righteous" (14:14).
Hence, ‘the righteous’ who will be aptly rewarded are those who share their food and goods with the socially disadvantaged and the disabled by inviting them for table-fellowship. This reward is hinted earlier also in this parable, where the Host (= God) takes the initiative to invite the one who sits at the lowest place (= one who is humble) with the words: “Friend, move up higher” (14:10). It is God who lifts up the lowly by honouring, exalting and rewarding the humble of heart (14:11). Mary’s Song of Praise called ‘Magnificat’ also echoes this nature of God: He humbles and scatters the proud and brings down the powerful from their throne (cf.1:51-52),
&   Application to life
Today’s gospel is a good antidote to all forms of pride and self-glory that is in our human nature. It also goes quite contrary to “higher-middle-lower class or caste” mentality in our society. Through this teaching Jesus calls on us to act contrary to the "payback" mentality prevalent in the world – that is, doing good and showing generosity only towards those who are able to return the same favour to us. Our human society quite often rewards the ‘haves’ with name, fame, honour and favours, whereas the ‘have-nots’ are further deprived. It is also a common practice to give great honour to the most eminent and distinguished guests in social functions and banquets. Normally ordinary people are ignored on these occasions. Seating arrangements are also made according to higher and lower status. There are also persons who demand such honour and preferential treatment from others. Today’s gospel reminds religious leaders, if ever or whenever they do this, there are people who watch them closely, just as they watched Jesus closely (14:1). All church leaders should be aware that they live in a sort of ‘glass houses’ and all eyes are on them because of their position.
In today’s gospel Jesus tells us to go counter to the prevailing culture in our society by putting the last ones first, and live our life of discipleship with a difference, instead of blindly copying the ways of the world. Thus, he invites us to build up counter-cultural communities that go against the normal social pattern by giving the marginalized people also first place. The joy of living in this type of communities is the joy of the Kingdom of God, which is compared to the taste of a wedding banquet in all the synoptic gospels. In today’s gospel also, by using the symbolism of a wedding banquet Jesus alludes to the type of conduct expected of those who are invited by God through him to the banquet of the Kingdom of God.  
Thus, Jesus advocates humility as a characteristic mark of God’s Kingdom. What is humility? Humility is an attitude of the mind because of which we admit that we are all sinners or forgiven sinners; admit our human limitations and weakness before God and others;  rely not on our strength alone, but on God’s; and recognize that we are continually in need of his mercy and forgiveness. Humility is nothing but an awareness that all that we are and all that we have is God’s gift. St. Paul tells us, “What do you have that you didn’t receive?” Humility is neither underestimation of our talents, gifts or powers nor is it their overestimation. As Fulton Sheen says, it is the recognition of gifts as gifts, faults as faults. Our gifts are not meant for self-glorification and sidetracking the poor and the powerless but are to be used for their service also besides our own welfare. Humility is an attempt to see ourselves as God sees us. It is a realization that spiritually we too belong to the four categories mentioned by Jesus in today’s gospel: poor, crippled, lame and blind (14:13). We need to realize how poor we are spiritually (if not materially), how crippled and lame we are to walk on God’s ways unless helped by him, and how blind we are unless the he gives us the light of faith. St. Paul speaks about the striking example of humility set by Jesus in six steps when he became a human person (Phil 2:7-8): (1) He emptied himself; (2) took the form of a slave; (3) was born in human likeness; (4) was found human in appearance; (5) humbled himself; and (6) became obedient to death, even death on a cross.
Humility advocated by Jesus is a virtue that has social overtones. He advocates a form of humility which should lead us to reach out to the needy, the disadvantaged, the powerless and the marginalized people of our society with works of mercy. We need a great deal of humility to serve the lowliest, the poor, the outcasts and the least of our brothers and sisters freely without expecting anything in return, let alone looking for any reward. Our humility should lead us to associate with those whom our society considers low class/ low caste or outcast people and give them honour and dignity instead of honouring only the distinguished people and the dignitaries. He tells us to honour and give preference to those whom our society tends to ignore or disregard. If God goes out in reaching to the least ones through Jesus, his disciples too must reach out to such people without seeking any special honour for themselves.
In order to promote God’s Kingdom on earth, Jesus asks us to renounce any kind of self-reliance and pride and be willing to take the lowest or last place, i.e. to be humble. Symptoms of pride in humans are: arrogance, self-importance, aggressiveness, self-righteousness, domination, ostentation (showy or pompous behaviour) and assertion at the expense of others. Think of the competition among neighbours and relatives to show-off by throwing costliest parties or dinner for the birthday, First Communion and wedding of their children! Think of the amount of food wasted during some of those parties/celebrations when so many poor people go hungry! An arrogant person thinks: “What I say is the right thing; all must agree.” We come across some religious leaders who become ‘unteachable’ because they think they know everything or have heard this before. A proud person’s behaviour and attitude give this impression: “Glory to God in the highest heaven and glory to me here on earth!” While praying the hymn ‘Gloria’ during the Holy Mass such a person says, “You alone are the Lord,” but later in behaviour and action that person shows, “I alone am the Lord!” We have to be constantly on our guard and wage a war against these aspects of our ‘animal instinct’.
The modern world considers humility as foolishness – accepting defeat, giving up the fight, running away from confrontation, allowing the opponents to have an upper hand, etc. On the contrary, it tells us to prove that we are worth something or we are also not less than anybody else. In a world of cut-throat competition, aggressive marketing and self-assertion, Jesus’ teaching on humble service for non-influential and marginalized people also seems to be equally foolish if it is not done with a supernatural motive. The poor in our neighbourhood or area are not in a position to repay many of the services which we render in our personal capacity (as a charitable deed) or through social work projects. We need to examine ourselves whether our service to the poor has ulterior motives such as collecting money or getting a social work project passed in the name of the poor only to misappropriate the funds for ourselves, or to gain a name, fame, honour, prestige and reward for ourselves.
Since we cannot repay the goodness of the Lord towards us, we also should not expect the poor people to repay us when we invite them to “taste the banquet of love.” Jesus wants us to serve the poor without any hope of reward and leave the recompense to God. The Master will come and tell us to move up higher (14:10) when ‘award giving ceremony’ comes at the “resurrection of the righteous” (14:14). The blessed reward promised by Jesus sounds almost like an additional beatitude to the ones given in Mt 5:3-10: “Blessed are those who serve the poor and the socially disadvantaged without expecting anything in return, for they shall get their reward at the resurrection of the righteous.”
&   Response to God's Word
Are there symptoms of arrogance, self-importance, domination, ostentation (showiness or pomp) and self-assertion at the cost of others in us? Do we think humility is not possible in modern competitive and aggressive society and just dismiss this idea? Are we victims of showy and ostentatious or grandiose behaviour during social gatherings? Were there moments in our life (especially in the life of those who are called to assume leadership roles in the Church and society) when we felt offended, hurt, slighted and sidetracked because we were not given a prominent place, not offered a front seat, or our name was not mentioned…. How did we react to those situations? Do we consider our service/charity to the poor is our way of repaying the Lord’s goodness and kindness to us? Is there a hidden agenda in our social work projects that result in misappropriation of funds?
A Prayer

Jesus, you emptied yourself by taking the form of a slave and humbled yourself to the point of death on a cross.  We humbly admit how poor we are spiritually, how lame and crippled we are to walk on God’s ways, and how blind we are unless you gives us the light of faith. We repent for the times we were arrogant, aggressive, showy, and assertive at the expense of others. Give us the generosity to render service to the lowliest, the poor and the least of our brothers and sisters freely without expecting anything in return. You alone are our greatest reward. Amen. 

Friday, 19 August 2016

21st Ordinary Sunday (C)

Twenty-first Ordinary Sunday (C) [Lk 13:22-30]
21 August 2016
Entering through the Narrow Door
Readings: (1) Is 66:18-21 (2) Heb 12:5-7.11-13
&   Theme in brief
To strive for one’s salvation
&   Focus Statement
Only those who strive to walk through the narrow door of sacrifice and suffering and seize the present opportunity given by God will be saved.
&   Explanation of the text
According to today’s gospel, as Jesus was heading towards Jerusalem, someone on the way asked him whether only a few would be saved ultimately (13:23). Instead of answering that question directly, Jesus made use of the occasion to teach three great lessons about the requirements to attain salvation: (1) striving hard or making serious efforts to attain it because of the narrowness of the door (13:24); (2) the urgent attention to be paid to attain it because of the shortness of time left for the door to be shut (13:25); and (3) and careful examination of our hearts to see whether we really live by the values of the gospel, because once the door is shut it will be shut for ever (13:28-30).
May be the question asked by a certain follower was a wrong question. He should have asked not how many will be saved, but how can one save oneself. Jesus said that salvation required an earnest ‘striving.’ The Greek word used for striving implies the great efforts, struggles and agonizing exercises done by athletes to win their medals. This sort of rigid exercise is needed to attain salvation because the door is narrow and exclusive, and not wide enough to include everybody. Here Jesus might have referred to himself as the one and the only door through which one could reach the Father. This corresponds to what he says in John’s gospel that he is the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through him (Jn 14:6). Or, in another place he says: “I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved” (Jn 10:9).
By asking his followers to enter through the narrow door or gate, Jesus also might have referred to the sacrifices, suffering and trials involved in following his way that led to salvation. The very fact that Luke placed this saying of Jesus as he was heading towards Jerusalem to suffer and die a sacrificial death on the cross (13:22), indicates that a disciple should be willing to walk through the same narrow path. Here Jesus might have referred to what he had said in another place: Attainment of salvation does not depend on calling him ‘Lord, Lord,’ but striving to do what he tells his followers to do (Lk 6:46). It involves not only coming to him and hearing his words but also acting on them (Lk 6:47). It also involves walking with him to Jerusalem (as he himself was heading towards it at the moment) to face suffering. He said that salvation required hard efforts because many would try to enter but would not succeed (23:24). Why? The reason was that Jesus did not know them really though they ate and drank with him (23:25-26). They knew him only casually, but were not so intimate with him. They did not take the gospel to heart and never bothered to be constantly converted to its values.
Though the door to salvation is very narrow, it is always open and there is a possibility of entry for everybody because of the ample opportunities given by God. But when all opportunities are exhausted, finally it will be closed. Once the door is shut, any amount of pleading that one was physically close to Jesus, ate and drank with him ( probably refers to Eucharistic meal) and belonged to a particular race would not work (13:25-27). In spite of all these privileges, the Lord would not remember even where the knocker at the door came from (23:25). Here Jesus might have referred to his second or final coming to judge the world at the end of time. In God’s heavenly Kingdom there would be the great patriarchs – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – and all the prophets (13:28), not because of their status as patriarchs and prophets of Israel but because of their faith-commitment. Besides, there would be people from east and west, north and south (13:29). These late-comers from all nations were the Gentiles with whom the Church’s mission was very effective (in Luke’s community). But many among the first-comers who thought their ethnic origin or lineage or religious traditions would guarantee a seat for them would lose it. Instead, the people whom they despised and rejected – tax-collectors, sinners and Gentiles – would gain their seats because they entered through the narrow door that led to Truth and Life (Jn 14:6). Thus, some of those who were considered last would become first to enter God’s Kingdom and some of those who were called to be the first would become the last ones (23:30).
&   Application to life 
Jesus tells us in today’s gospel that we should not be very casual about our salvation so as to give it a half-hearted attention. Instead, we should feel the pinch of struggles and sacrifices involved in attaining it. It is like the efforts involved in entering through a narrow door. As I write this, the great international event of Olympic Games 2016 is going on in Rio de Janeiro. If you ask the athletes who won a gold medal in these Games about the secret of their success, I am sure, none of them will say: “I took it easy. It was a great fun like eating a piece of cake.” All of them must have kept the gold medal as the focus of their life and gone through rigorous and ‘agonizing’ exercise to achieve this goal. The word used in Greek language in today’s gospel for ‘striving’ to win salvation also means ‘agonizing’ efforts like striving after this Gold Medal.
Though the Kingdom of God or salvation is a free gift of God offered to all, including the worst of sinners, we have to respond to it by repentance and sacrifices. Living out our faith in Jesus often involves a struggle and walking the narrow way of the cross, sacrifices and trials even up to Calvary. We must make ourselves worthy of the gift of salvation by struggling to overcome evil with good all throughout our lives. We have to strive or struggle at all moments to make a decision in favour of Jesus. When we decide to stand by Christ’s values at any cost, sometimes we have to enter through the narrow door of opposition, ridicule, sacrifices, loneliness and lack of support. To resist secular values such as materialism, consumerism, power-mongering, money-mindedness, status, etc., we need to everyday strive to say ‘no’ to these values, be willing to swim against the general current and walk through the narrow door of sacrifices or suffering. It is going to be a fight – a painful strife or struggle against all the anti-Christ or anti-gospel forces in the world. We have to combat against not only all the worldly or secular forces outside us but also our own sinful nature (or to use St. Paul’s language, the forces of the “flesh” inside us). There are friends, companions and ‘well-meaning’ neighbours and relatives who tell us: “There is nothing called sin. Nowadays, who bothers that ‘religious stuff.’ All are doing that thing you call sin.” Jesus asks us to strike at the root of our indifferent attitudes and tendencies towards making compromises with the worldly standards.
It is not enough to have a causal acquaintance with Jesus. Nor is it enough to say that we are regular church-goers and pay your dues to the church unfailingly. That does not earn for us a free pass to enjoy eternal salvation. We need to enter into more and more, deeper and deeper intimacy with him and grow day by day in holiness. Instead of trusting in our own merits of church-attendance and saying “Lord, Lord” mechanically, we are called to trust in Jesus who is the only ‘Door of Salvation.’ This will surely involve a daily ‘striving’ or struggle against all the anti-gospel or worldly forces. More than making efforts to know about Jesus we need to know Jesus by trying hard to practice his gospel-values. Till the end of our days on earth, each day we should strive to enter through that narrow door, the door of unshakable faith in God and service to humanity as taught and lived by Jesus. This is the sure way of earning a ‘seat’ in God’s Kingdom to sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and all the prophets (13:28).
Our struggle to attain salvation also involves a regular approach to Jesus as broken-hearted sinners and begging for his mercy by repentance. We should keep our struggle alive and active till the Lord will one day shut the door of our life as he comes to judge us. Salvation is not a light matter; it requires hard efforts and an urgent attention! Therefore, instead of asking about other people, “Will they be saved?” each one of us must ask whether I will be saved. Today’s gospel invites us not to remain a Christian for name’s sake and superficially attend church out of routine or for social respectability, but to be converted to the way of the gospel so that we shall not be shut out at the end. Therefore, today Jesus warns us not to falsely assume that we shall automatically become members in the kingdom of God just because we are baptized and claim to be Christians. Heaven is not guaranteed to us just because our name is written in the baptismal register, or we proclaim Christ’s name in preaching and worship or participate in the Eucharist (or to use the gospel words, eat and drink with him, 13:26). If we spend one or two hours with Jesus on Sundays and stay far from him rest of the days, we will not be easily recognized by him because of lack of familiarity./.
The Jews in Jesus’ days wrongly assumed that they would automatically be included in the Kingdom of God just because they were descendants of Abraham. Many of the Jewish rabbis held the view that all Israelites would be saved except a few who were deliberately breaking God’s laws. Jesus tells his listeners in clear terms that their position as chosen people does not automatically guarantee their entry into the Kingdom of God. Secondly, he states that that many Gentiles “from east and west, north and south” (that is, from all nations) would gain membership in God's Kingdom. But the chosen people could be excluded if they refused to strive to enter by the narrow door or the only door, that is, himself. 
If that is the case, will it be different for religious leaders of our times? Just as Jesus said that the Jews were wrong in their assumption, he tells us also the same. The same thing may happen to us if we do not make efforts or sacrifices to live the gospel seriously. Finally, when the door will be shut, any amount of knocking at the door saying, “Lord, open to us,” will get the only reply: “I do not know where you come from” (13:27). So now is the best opportunity for us to grow in holiness and move from casual acquaintance with Jesus to a personal and intimate relationship with him, to move from negligence to careful attention to our spiritual growth. The stakes are so high and irreversible. Another danger for us – especially for those among us who have gone through long years of religious training in the fields of theology and spirituality – is to relegate religion to academic and theoretical discussions only, or to take it rationally on head-level only. It is not enough to listen to spiritual talks and homilies to get new ideas to preach to others, but we must apply its contents first to our own lives.
We are often tempted to avoid this narrow door and prefer to walk through a broad way of pleasure, worldliness, opportunism, comfort and convenience. It is something like the pleasure of driving on the ‘Four-lane Highway’ and avoiding the narrow lanes. All of us are so much attracted to the modern ‘comfort culture’ that we cannot suffer even the little inconveniences, discomforts and hardships which our ancestors were used to. Our comfort culture leads to the following highway as opposed to the narrow way of Christ: avoidance of all hardships and sacrifices to realize our life’s mission; unwillingness to take even smaller risks or to suffer for a cause; a desire for seeking guarantees and securities before venturing into any new field of activity; refusal to go to places where all the modern comforts and facilities are lacking; and compromises with corrupt ways of the world in order to avoid personal inconveniences and troubles.
&   Response to God's Word
Do we experience the struggle or fight in our minds, families and workplaces when we have to resist secular values in order to be faithful Christian disciples? Is there a tendency in us to avoid or evade all crosses (sacrifices) and selectively follow only those teachings of Christ that suit us or are convenient to us? Have we become victims of modern ‘comfort culture’ in such a way that we always look for personal comforts and conveniences at the cost of others? Are we ready to sacrifice some of our comforts for the sake of a noble cause, social service, promoting gospel values and opposing evil forces?
&   A Prayer

God of salvation, you want that we become worthy of your gift of salvation by struggling to overcome evil with good throughout our lives. Give us the strength to uphold Christ’s values in the midst of secular values.  Give us the courage to enter through the narrow door of opposition, sacrifices, suffering and lack of support in order to live out our faith in Christ. Grant that we may take the present moment seriously as another opportunity given by you to be converted  to the gospel values before ‘the door is shut’. We make this prayer through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Friday, 12 August 2016

20th Ordinary Sunday (C)

Twentieth Ordinary Sunday (C) [Lk 12:49-53]
14 August 2016
Jesus’ Message Brings Fire and Causes Division
Readings: (1) Jer 38:4-6.8-10 (2) Heb 12:1-4
&   Theme in brief
     To be fired with zeal for God’s Kingdom and its consequences
&   Focus Statement
When our ardent desire for God’s Kingdom burns like a fire in our hearts, we shall be ready to make any sacrifices including facing division within our own families for its sake.  
&   Explanation of the text
In today’s gospel Jesus speaks about three aspects of his mission: (1) The purpose of his coming into the world or his mission was to bring fire to the earth (12:49). (2) The means to achieve this mission was his sacrificial death on the cross which he called a sort ot ‘baptism’ – of course, not by water but by blood (12:50). (3) The consequence of that fire would be a division within one’s own family (12:51-53).
If taken literally, Jesus’ statement in today’s gospel that he came to cast fire on the earth and cause division in families rather than peace and unity is shocking because it contradicts all that he stands for. The symbolism of fire has various meanings in the Bible, such as the presence and the glory of God. In the context of today’s gospel text, probably it signifies the purifying and destructive aspects of Christ’s gospel message. His message is meant to purify human mind from evil and burn or destroy all the evil that goes against God’s will and God’s way of thinking. Secondly, it also may symbolize Jesus’ burning zeal to see to the realization of his Big Dream or Great Project, that is, to establish God’s Kingdom here on earth. This desire was burning like a fire in him and he wished to enkindle the world with its glow (12:49). Finally, fire also signifies God’s judgement associated with the coming of the Messiah. Jesus’ saying about casting fire on the earth could also imply that with his coming, God’s Kingdom had come on earth. He called people to respond to this message which was also a message of salvation. Thus, basically he came to save people and not to judge or condemn them. But at the end of time, he would come to judge those who rejected his salvation.
The burning desire in Jesus to establish God’s Kingdom on earth motivated him to undergo a ‘baptism’ – literally, a plunge or immersion in water. But in this context Jesus must be referring to his immersion in blood, that is, his suffering and crucifixion in obedience to God’s will. In other words, he was willing to pay the price of his blood through his sacrificial death on the cross to accomplish his mission of saving humankind. This was his ‘baptism with fire’ about which John the Baptist predicted when he baptized Jesus in Jordan (Lk 3:16). It is clear, though Christ came as the Prince of Peace, this peace would be established by going through a painful ‘baptism,’ not of water but of blood. Jesus also spoke about the stress that he was under, until his baptism of blood was completed (12:49). Though this thought caused him great mental agony, still he longed to go through this painful path because it would lead to his resurrection and our salvation.
Jesus’ message did create in his time and continues to do so in our times a division even within the family (12:51-53). Though he is the greatest messenger of peace, he may become the source of division even within families – where the union based on blood-relationships and mutual bonds is so strong – if the rest of the family members reject him and his values. His peace cannot be achieved by compromising with evil or evildoers. Evil forces normally do not submit to Jesus or get converted to his values quietly without posing a challenge to the good forces; hence some sort of unrest or conflict is sure to emerge even within family relations such as father-son, mother-daughter, mother-in-law-daughter-in-law, etc. In other words, a struggle can ensue within one’s own family leading to a division or breaking up of human relations as members decide either for or against Christ and his values. 
Jesus wanted his disciples to consider loyalty to him and to the cause of God’s Kingdom above all other loyalties or relationships, including family or kinship relationships. As the prophet Micah said long ago, Jesus also insisted, when the question of loyalty to his teachings came, one’s enemies could be members of one’s own household (Micah 7:6). He also spoke of a type of polarization that might take place among people of the same household because of him or his message of the Kingdom. It is not “one against one,” or “one against four,” but “two against three” and “three against two” (12:52). This expression seems to suggest that those who would come to faith in him would find a new bond to join together because of their common faith; and equally those who would reject him would also join together to oppose those who would accept him. Their common opposition to Christ would become the basis of their unity to oppose Christ.  
&   Application to life 
Fire, baptism and division are the three main issues in today’s gospel. Jesus called his vision for a new society the Kingdom of God. He was fired with zeal, a burning desire or enthusiasm for the realization of that vision. He was burning with a passion of love for humans, especially for the poor and the sinners. The desire to save humankind was burning within him so strongly that he was longing to take baptism of blood (i.e. willing to undergo crucifixion). He longed to set the world on fire with love and destroy evil, hatred and lovelessness. Today’s gospel invites us to examine ourselves whether this fire has caught our hearts. Unfortunately we (his followers) tend to reduce religion to religiosity, that is, only pious practices, rituals, novenas and traditions, without showing public zeal, passion and commitment for his values. Jesus is still longing to see when his disciples will be fired with the same fire of love, and when the world will be set on fire by them. Once this passion for loving others as Jesus loved us is taken away, Christianity loses its sting and becomes merely sugar-coated piety and religiosity.
Today’s gospel message disturbs us if we live a life without a definite purpose influenced by Jesus’ vision. If we have a cause or dream to be realized like that of Jesus, we will do our best or go to any extent to realize it. We may have to undergo several ‘baptisms’ (= trials, suffering and sacrifices) to realize this dream. Once we have SOMETHING or SOMEONE to live for and die for, and are fired with enthusiasm for that cause, we can bear any hardship. A person without enthusiasm is without any vitality and merely exists instead of really living. According to Robin Sharma, such a person dies at twenty and is buried at eighty. He further says, “The saddest part of life lies not in the act of dying, but in failing to truly live while we are alive.” He further says: “We must live our life by choice rather than by chance. As Christians, we must choose to live with a passion for Christ and his cause. Otherwise where is that fire burning in us? We have to ask ourselves whether we use our dormant energies for service, reconciliation, seeking out the lost, showing mercy towards sinners, caring for the poor and the neglected, etc. The studies conducted by psychologists show that many of us keep most of our potentialities buried inside us and do not use them to the fullest extent. Sadly enough, this is true not only of lay people but also of priests and religious, because of sufficient number of loopholes in their diocesan and congregational structures and systems that make them less accountable. Only those who are determined to live their life with a difference against all institutional odds are able to swim against the general current and make an impact on others. This kind of impact naturally builds up God’s Kingdom and is a contribution to the fulfilment of Jesus’ dream.
In another sense, Jesus’ message is like a fire which can destroy evil (sin) by a change of heart, and can cause division between good and evil, godly and ungodly ways, truth and untruth, love and selfishness. Like Jesus, if we want to bring about reform, renewal and transformation in society, we have to condemn evil and unjust social structures. If we do so, we are sure to cause divisions and conflict. Some will support, some will oppose us. As described above, normally those who are opposed to Christ and his values will club together because of the common enemy they find in us. Thus, living a life of faith may disturb the status quo, vested interests and may go against the prevailing social current and customs or traditions. When we are confronted with values that conflict with the gospel, then all come to know who or what is our first choice from the sides we take. These sides are sharp: either for Christ and his gospel-values or against him and his values. There is nothing in between.
This conflict or disturbance takes place in several areas: first of all in our hearts, families, society and nation. In this struggle, we take sides. Since Jesus highlights the division within our own families in today’s gospel, let us take it first. Though strange, it is true: the Gospel of Christ can divide men and women, husbands and wives, parents and children. Even within the same family father takes the side of truth and the son takes the side  of untruth or vice versa; mother-in-law takes the side of good and daughter-in-law takes the side of evil or vice versa. Truth often causes division even within four walls of the family! For instance, take the case of a young girl who gets pregnant before marriage and wants to abort the foetus in her womb to save her honour in her society (as is the case in traditional societies in many parts of the world). But her mother wants to save the foetus because she believes that destroying a life in the womb is a grave sin.  Naturally this causes a rift or division between mother and daughter, and other members of the family also may take one of the sides. If the father supports his daughter and favours an abortion, and two more daughters support their mother, it will be exactly “two against three,” as Jesus said. In another case, if a father tells his son to attend church on Sundays but the son thinks that God is in his heart and not in the church alone, both father and son will be divided against each other. Today Jesus tells us that loyalty to him and his values or an ardent following of him must take precedence over loyalty even to family ties.
Even our service to the poor and the downtrodden may create a division in society. When our social services are not beneficial to the rich and the powerful but only empower the poor and the weaker sections of our society, the former may turn against us. We notice that within our families, neithbourhood and village communities also there are divisions between those who live by Christ’s values and those who do not; those who practice their faith fervently and those who do not. Though religious or consecrated life in the Church is a way of living the gospel in a radical manner, even among the religious, there can be conflicts among those who really live the gospel radically and those who would like to dilute their religious consecration by aping the secular values. It is natural that tensions and conflict can take place in such cases even within the family – all because of Christ!
The division mentioned by Jesus takes place not only in the line of blood-relationships, but also in the line of authority of parents over their children and mother-in-law over her daughter-in-law. Normally, Christians are supposed to obey all legitimate authority, especially of their parents. But, if parents/ religious superiors command anything that goes against the values of the gospel or moral principles, then allegiance to Christ should take a precedence over these authorities. Again this decision may lead to a division in the family or religious community. Actually speaking, in biblical sense, to give prominence to anybody or anything higher than God or above God is a form of idolatry.  In today’s gospel Jesus challenges us to examine who we love and are loyal to above everything else – God, or our family and kinship relationships.  As disciples, Jesus invites us to give a higher loyalty to him than our own family or kith and kin. In the bargain, we may incur the wrath of our own family members. We should not knowingly offend our family members by our bad and unacceptable behaviour. If our family members are offended by the values of the gospel we want to practice, then we must be prepared to face opposition or hostility from those family members who do not care about those values.
&   Response to God's Word
Are we fired with the same zeal and enthusiasm of Jesus for service and transformation of our society? What is our passion and commitment for eradication of social evils and transformation of human society? Are there sparks of Jesus’ passion for his vision and mission or His fire in our behaviour and actions? Are we ready and willing to face a division and conflict even within our families and friendship circles for upholding the gospel-values and moral principles such as respect for the sacredness of life, honesty in private and public life, upholding the integrity of God’s creation, or allow the fire of the Gospel to extinguish? Do we purposely try to extinguish this fire since it disturbs us so much? Does loyalty to family ties take precedence over loyalty to Christ in our behaviour?
&   A Prayer

Jesus, you were fired with zeal and a burning desire for the realization of your vision of God’s Kingdom. You were longing to undergo a baptism of blood to realize it. May your love consume us and transform our lives that we may truly desire you and your gospel-values more than anything or anybody.  We are so sorry for allowing the fire for your love to extinguish in our behaviour and actions. We repent for the times we allowed loyalty to our family ties to take precedence over loyalty to you and your values. Fill us with the fire of your Spirit so that we may show the same zeal and enthusiasm for service and transformation of our society, and be willing to make sacrifices for your cause. Amen.

Friday, 5 August 2016

19th Ordinary Sunday (C)

Nineteenth Ordinary Sunday (C) [Lk 12:32-48]
07 August 2016
The Watchful, Faithful and Unfaithful Slaves
Readings: (1) Wis 18:6-9 (2) Heb 11:1-2.8-19
&   Theme in brief
      Vigilance to meet the Lord and faithfulness to our duties
&   Focus Statement
As disciples of Christ, we must live out our faith vibrantly by sharing our earthly wealth with the needy; by constant vigilance and alertness to meet our Master when he comes unexpectedly; and by remaining faithful to the duties and responsibilities entrusted by him.
&   Explanation of the text
In today’s gospel text, we hear Jesus tenderly calling his disciples “little flock” and instilling in them the courage they require to overcome their fears (12:32). When he says these words, he has in mind the struggles or persecutions which his fragile “little flock” (that is, the early Christian community) would go through after his resurrection in a hostile world. Just as he had instructed them not to be over-anxious about their daily bread (12:22, 29), so also now he instructs them not to be over-anxious about inheritance of the Kingdom, because the Father has already decided to give it to them out of his pleasure (12:32).
Jesus urges his disciples to live out their faith vibrantly in three ways by: (1) sharing what they possess; (2) being constantly prepared to meet the Master when he returns at the end of time; and (3) remaining faithful to the duties entrusted tot them. Just as he had told them earlier, now he says that another way of becoming "rich toward God" (12:21) is to share their earthly wealth with the needy and fix their hearts on unfailing treasures in heaven ((12:33-34). The examples of almsgiving and selling of one’s possessions are given as examples of this attitude of sharing. This virtue is a wonderful antidote for greed for material possessions mentioned in last Sunday’s gospel. The earthly treasures are not lasting; hence the disciples’ heart should be more fixed on heavenly treasures, because where their treasure is, there their heart will be also (12:34).
Jesus instructs his disciples to be constantly ready and prepared to meet their Master when he “returns from the wedding banquet” (12:36). Returning is a clear reference to the ‘Parousia’ or the Final Coming of Christ in glory and wedding banquet seems to be a reference to his coming from his heavenly abode. Their preparedness involves alertness on their part to open the door for their Master whenever he knocks, even at an unexpected time such as midnight or dawn (12:36-38). It also involves being dressed for action at any time and keeping their lamps – that are well-maintained for any emergency – burning (12:35). Thus, Jesus mentions about the three characteristics of those who wait for their master to return from the wedding banquet (12:36): (1) a good preparation by staying dressed up for action; (2) a proper maintenance of their lamps that are kept lit; and (3) constant expectation to receive the master by opening the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks (12:35-36).
After giving the illustration of waiting servants, Jesus compares his Second Coming to the coming of a thief who suddenly breaks into the house at an unexpected hour without any knowledge of the owner. In the first example of the waiting servants, the coming of the Master is certain, but the exact time is not. In the second example of the thief, his coming itself is not certain – a reference to total unexpectedness of the Master’s coming (12:39). When the Master arrives unexpectedly like a thief, this unfaithful steward will have to pay heavily for his irresponsible behaviour (12:47). While the master-servant image is an encouragement to those who would wait, the owner-thief image is given as a warning to those who do not expectantly await the Lord’s return. In the former image, the Master (Jesus) comes with a reward of “blessedness” given to those whom the Mater finds alert (12:37, 43).

Finally, by telling the parable of the faithful and unfaithful steward, Jesus illustrates the contrast between disciples who are faithful to the duties entrusted to them by their Master and those who are unfaithful. Their faithfulness to the stewardship entrusted to them proves their alertness or watchfulness. The faithful servant to whom the Master has entrusted with definite duties and put in charge of his slaves, is so prudent that the Master finds him doing his duties faithfully on his arrival (12:43). On the other hand the unfaithful manager is irresponsible towards his duties. Taking advantage of the long delay in the Master’s return, he indulges in beating other slaves mercilessly and behaves like the Rich Fool (12:19) mentioned in last Sunday’s gospel by living a dissipated life of eating, drinking and getting drunk (12:45). In this parable, the disciples are called the servants of the Master ready to do his will. Jesus concludes by saying that God demands a higher standard and greater responsibility from everyone who is granted special privileges like the apostles (12:48).
&   Application to life 
If we put our heart and soul only in earthly treasures, there are hundreds of ways how they can perish and be lost for ever. Nowadays besides thieves and moths, there are fluctuations in stock market, fall in currency rates, inflations, natural and man-made disasters. These things remind us how corruptible our earthly possessions are. If we consider God and the poor and the needy as our treasures, then as Jesus says, our heart will follow them and their concerns. Otherwise it will be concerned about worshipping the three most common ‘idols’: "I,” “My” and “Mine”. Therefore, he advocates the habit of more sharing of whatever little things we have with the needy.
In our Christian life in general as well as in our particular state of life, we are entrusted with particular duties and responsibilities. Today’s gospel challenges us to examine whether we are faithful to these duties and carry them out in a responsible manner or not. We are stewards or managers of our Master’s goods. He has entrusted us his Kingdom and wants us to be responsible and faithful in spreading it. Today Jesus invites the believers in married state of life to be faithful to their matrimonial promises; students to their studies; employees to their duties; friends to the trust they pledged to their friends; children to their duty to love and respect their parents; leaders to the tasks and responsibilities entrusted to them either in the civil society or the Church; etc. Are we faithful to this commitment and cause?
What is faithfulness or fidelity?  In the Bible fidelity means holding fast to a person or a party to which one is bound. Faithfulness (fidelity) to God means making conscious choices for him and standing up for his cause, come what may. From the Bible, we come to know that God is always faithful to his promises. Jesus, our supreme model for faithfulness to God, was faithful to his Father’s will unto the last drop of his blood. He said, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work” (Jn 4:34). When he died on the cross he said that he accomplished (Jn 19:36) the mission entrusted to Him by his Father faithfully to the point of laying down his life. Any deeper crisis either in marriage, priesthood or religious life is mainly a crisis of unfaithfulness to our promises/ commitment, or to our call and mission, which is ultimately unfaithfulness to God himself. Hence, fidelity in these states of life demands a conscious choice or decision to be made every day to forgive, heal, care, make adjustments and renounce our self-interests; thus holding fast to the cause for which God has called us. We are often tempted not to be faithful to this commitment and cause by succumbing to the forces of secularization and social pressure. We need to be constantly alert and vigilant by fortifying ourselves with the spiritual power that comes from prayer/ sacraments and the Word of God.
We are always inclined to make the two great mistakes which the unfaithful steward makes (12:45): (1) doing what he liked with his master’s gifts and possessions by behaving in an irresponsible manner; and (2) taking it easy thinking that the master is absent and there is plenty of time for his return. However, our God is a God of surprises and unexpectedness. He comes at an unexpected time and without prior warning like a thief to find us either faithfully doing our duties, or unfaithfully. He warns us about the tendency towards negligence and postponement of our duties, and behaving in an irresponsible manner. We need to be vigilant and prepared to meet the Lord when he comes unexpectedly by exhibiting greater responsibility. Readiness or preparedness to face any emergency or eventuality is gaining much more momentum today than olden days due to the possibilities of terrorist attacks, shocking accidents, sudden heart attacks, unprecedented natural calamities caused by environmental changes. Military personnel, commandos, firefighters, medical teams, bomb disposal squads, etc., are to be ever ready to get into action immediately. Any delay on their part may result in the loss of so many precious lives. But, do we feel the same type of urgency to prepare for Christ’s coming? Watchfulness means living in such a way that at any time we would be ready to give an account of our lives.
Jesus emphasizes very much the role of his disciples as servants of their Master who do his will and remain totally faithful to the duties or responsibilities entrusted to them by their Master. Our world today considers service, especially that which is lowly, as demeaning. Jesus speaks of service as a great privilege and honour. He himself came not to be served but to serve (Mk 10:45). He spoke of leadership as a noble service rendered to human society (Mk10:42-45). We, as disciples of Christ, cannot think of being faithful to him if we fail to serve the needy or the less fortunate. Readiness consists in remaining faithful in our Christian duties.
There is a further warning to those of us who are blessed with better talents, knowledge, opportunities and privileges. They have no excuse for not doing their best. The Lord expects from them more than others or better results. Those of us who have undergone higher education and longer years of spiritual formation or secular training, or have enjoyed plenty of opportunities, or are talented better than others are more accountable, says the Lord. Do we heed to this warning?
&   Response to God's Word
Are there instances when we failed in marital/priestly/religious fidelity? Do we persevere in our good works and stick to our responsibilities even if we do not see any immediate result, and people do not cooperate with us, or do we easily give up? All of us are endowed with spiritual and temporal gifts. Do we use them responsibly according to God’s designs, or irresponsibly? In our roles as leaders, managers, employees, parents, teachers, students, priests, religious, etc., do we succumb to the temptation of easy-going mentality, lethargy, neglect of duties, postponement of tasks/decisions and sleeping over our responsibilities? Will we be called ‘blessed’ when the Master arrives (12:43)? In comparison with the blessings with which the Lord has blessed us and the gifts he has bestowed on us, do we try our level best to use them fully for the service of our family and community? Do we keep our energies and talents buried or underutilized?
&   A Prayer

O God, you are always faithful to your promises. In our Christian life as well as in our particular state of life, you have entrusted us with particular duties and responsibilities. You want us to be faithful stewards of these duties and thus be responsible for spreading your Kingdom. We realize that there are moments when we are unfaithful to our vocation and mission and to the tasks and responsibilities entrusted to us. Thus we have betrayed the trust you have placed in us and have become obstacles for the spread of your Kingdom. We are sorry for our irresponsible behaviour, negligence and postponement of duties. Grant that we may remain vigilant and prepared to meet the Lord Jesus when he comes unexpectedly at the end of our life or at the end of time. Amen.