Gospel Reflections for Life-Promotion


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.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

30th Ordinary Sunday of C

Thirtieth Ordinary Sunday (C) [Lk 18:9-14]
23 October 2016
The Prayer of the Pharisee and the Tax-collector
Readings: (1) Sir 35:12-14.16-18 (2) 2 Tim 4:6-8.16-18
1. Theme in brief
Dangers of self-righteousness
2.  Focus Statement
Self-righteousness, trust in oneself and regarding others with contempt makes one unacceptable before God, and acknowledgement of oneself as a sinner makes one acceptable.
3.  Explanation of the text
The main theme of today’s parable of the Pharisee and the Tax-collector is given in the beginning itself: Some people trust in themselves that they are more righteous than others and regard others with contempt (18:9). This parable poses the question: Actually who is righteous (or virtuous), who is unrighteous, and who is self-righteous. This parable presents the Pharisee as highly self-righteous. At the end he turns out to be unrighteous in God’s sight, and the tax-collector whom the Pharisee considers unrighteous, goes home justified (or made righteous, 18:14). Quite a topsy-turvy situation indeed!
The Pharisee prays not to God but to himself. He boasts of his good deeds and achievements, and places his merits before God. Actually, the Pharisee does not bluff in his prayer: As he claims, he really fasts twice a week (18:12). (Biblical commentators tell us that Pharisees used to do so on all Mondays and Thursdays). Though the law requires that Israelites should offer a tenth of their income to the Temple from the produce of their fields only, this Pharisee claims that he gives a tenth of his total income (18:12). Since he is really practising all the virtues narrated by him (18:11-12), he thinks God is bound to listen to his prayers and grant all the favours he asks as a reward for his good deeds. Not only that, he uses his virtues and merits as a justification to look down or despise sinners like the tax-collector. Look at the contemptuous way he refers to others: they are all thieves, rogues and adulterers (18:11). In his way of praying, he commits two blunders: (1) he wants God to reward him by all means for a job well done; (2) he has contempt for that tax-collector who is a swindler and a traitor in his opinion.
On the other hand, the tax-collector has no achievements or merits to place before God. He is aware that his job of collecting taxes from the public puts him in a constant temptation of committing fraud. He realizes that he has succumbed to this temptation. He has nothing to repay. All he can do is to rely on God’s mercy and ask his pardon. Unlike the self-righteous Pharisee, he trusts not in his merits but solely on God’s mercy and considers himself a sinner toward God and people. His posture of gazing to the ground instead of heavenwards is a sign of humility or nothingness, and beating his breast a sign of repentance (18:13). He judges no one except himself as a sinner, and recognizes his need of God’s mercy. Whereas the Pharisee thinks God needs him to keep his laws and teach them to others, the tax-collector knows how much he needs God and his mercy to live a virtuous life. It is shocking to observe Jesus pronouncing the ‘bad guy’ a ‘good guy’ and vice versa (18:14).
4.  Application to life 
There are two main characters in today’s parable of the Pharisee and the Tax-collector; the former represents the story of self-righteousness and the latter sinfulness. In fact, it is very humiliating to admit that we have lived both these stories not only as individuals but also as a Church, community or nation.
Individually, there is a Pharisee lurking in each of us. The first main point of this Pharisee is: “I am not like other people”. His second point is: “I am not like this tax-collector’’ (18:11). The Pharisee in a priest thinks: “I’m not like other priests who create scandals and ruin the parish”; in a religious Sister who thinks, “I’m not like that Sister who disobeys  her superiors and comes regularly late for prayer”; in married couples who think, “We are not like those whose marriages are breaking up within a year; we try our best to adjust”; in parents who think, “Our children are never caught for any mischief like their children; you won’t hear any foul language from their mouth”; in students who think, “I’m not like my companion who gets often scolded and punished by teachers’’; in Catholics who think, “I’m not like so and so who attends church only on feast days and goes for communion shamelessly in the front line”; etc. Collectively, this Pharisee lurking in our Church is that Church which considers she alone is holding the keys of the Kingdom of God; that community or group which thinks its moral standards are much better than others and it is holier than others because of its regular attendance in prayers, worship, devotions and piety. Today’s message tells hose of who think this way that tthey cannot but pray as often as possible: “God, be merciful to me, an imperfect person!”
The Pharisee and the tax-collector are stereotypes of those whom we consider as ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ or good people and bad people. The Lord asks those of us who are good Christians whether we succumb to the common temptation to compare ourselves with others or present ourselves as better, and judge or condemn others (as ‘bad’ people). He cautions us against falling into the temptation of perfectionism – faithfully holding on to the dictum, “I’m ok, you are not ok.” There is a tendency among some of us who have gone through the rigours of higher education, training, long years of religious formation and strict discipline to think we are already perfect. Now our job is to correct everybody else except ourselves. Sometimes in our preaching, teaching and prayer we tend to draw the attention of people to ourselves, instead of the Lord. If so, again we cannot but pray as often as possible: “God, be merciful to me, an imperfect person!”
There is another tendency in many good Christians – to fill their subconscious mind with all sorts of negative thoughts, bitterness and complaints about others whom they consider as “tax-collectors” (= ‘bad’ people). Today we should ask ourselves whether we are throwing a lot of emotional garbage and negativity such as hatred, revenge, anger and jealousy into our subconscious mind even without being aware of it. This sort of negativism stored up in subconscious mind jumps back into conscious mind and creates impulses, urges and inordinate passions. Therefore, we need to consciously cultivate the habit of becoming positive thinkers by substituting each negative thought with a positive one whenever it crops up in the mind. We need to pray: “God, be merciful to me, a negative thinker!” Today, the Lord invites us to respect others and accept them with their differences and opinions. Another remedy to negativity is self-criticism. Have you criticized yourself any time? Learn to say: “Never to find fault in myself is my greatest fault”. We need to see ourselves as God sees us, not as we would like to see ourselves.
Another strong enemy of our spiritual growth is self-righteousness and self-trust. First of all, we have to ask ourselves if we are living a holy, righteous and virtuous life, is it because of our achievement or merits? If not for God’s grace, we all would have been like the persons whom we are despising and condemning, or worse than them. Those who think they are virtuous and righteous because of their own merits and resources, are like the Pharisee. If we (and our prayer) have to be acceptable to God we have to be convinced of God’s mercy, acknowledge our sinfulness and should not despise our neighbour.
Unless we acknowledge ourselves as sinners, weak and powerless to avoid sins, we cannot experience God’s mercy. God despises no one. If He loves all the sinners, outcasts and the scum of the earth how can we despise or label them? All of us (priests, religious, married couples, parents, jobholders, the youth, etc.) often fail to live up to our ideals, deviate from our life’s real purpose, and live a life unbecoming of our vocation and mission like the tax-collector. We have to struggle constantly to become better persons. Is it not a sign of our pride to label others as sinners and bad people and judge them severely? God accepts (justifies) those who acknowledge their sinfulness and powerlessness to avoid sins and rely solely on his mercy. Our helplessness, insufficiency and dependence on God open us to God’s grace.
No person who trusts in himself/herself and despises others can pray in the proper sense. Self-righteous people ultimately no longer need God, since they think they can manage their lives by themselves, and God will have no other choice than grant them salvation based on their ‘merit certificate’.
5.  Response to God's Word
Do we realize that excessive trust in self leads us not to trust in God and to the contempt of others? What are the symptoms of pride and self-trust in us? Do we trust in ourselves and our own achievements more than trusting in God? What are the ways in which we despise others and judge the weak people severely? As the Pharisee thought, do we think, except “us” (a limited circle of people), all others are good for nothing? What are the pharisaic traits in us for which we need to repent – pride…..self-trust….self-righteousness….perfectionism….negativism….?
6.  A Prayer

God, be merciful to us, sinners. We repent for the pharisaic traits in us such as self-trust, self-righteousness, perfectionism and negativism. Due to our pride, we quite often label others as sinners and bad people, and judge them severely. Grant that we may consciously cultivate the habit of becoming positive thinkers and self-critics. We acknowledge our powerlessness to avoid sins and rely solely on your mercy and grace. Have mercy on us and deliver us from our negative mind-set that regards others with contempt. Amen.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

29th Ordinary Sunday

Twenty-ninth Ordinary Sunday (C) [Lk 18:1-8]
16 October 2016
The Parable of the Widow and the Unjust Judge
Readings: (1) Ex 17:8-13 (2) 2 Tim 3:14 - 4:2
1. Theme in brief
Persistently praying without losing heart
2.  Focus Statement
If we pray persistently without losing heart, our God who cares for us and is so sensitive to our needs is sure to answer.
3.   Explanation of the text
The main message of today’s parable of the Widow and the Judge is clearly stated in the passage itself in two precise statements: (1) the disciples of Jesus ought to pray always without losing heart (18:1); (2) if an unjust judge who cares for nobody, finally listens to a poor widow, how much more will God do the same to those who cry to him day and night (18:6-7). In other words, as God is genuinely interested in our welfare (unlike that unjust judge), will he not care to help us in our needs when we plead with him?
This parable is given in the context of a delayed ‘Parousia’ (= Second Coming of Christ) and the doubt existing in the minds of disciples whether God’s Kingdom will come at all in spite of their ardent prayer. Due to this delay there is a tendency among the disciples to give up prayer altogether and lose faith. Jesus wants to give comfort and encouragement to his disciples so that they persist in their hopeful prayer till his Second Coming.
The main character of this parable is not the unjust judge but the widow who was seeking justice against her opponent (18:3). Actually, in this parable, God is not compared to or identified with that unscrupulous and unjust judge who neither fears God nor respects people (18:2). If it were so we will get the idea that we must argue our case with God and pressurize him or “wear him out” (18:5) to get what we want. Instead, God’s nature is contrasted with this judge. God is so gracious, caring and sensitive to our needs and pleading. If the hard heart of an unjust and arrogant judge can get melted by the persistent pleading of a poor and helpless widow, how much more a gracious God will respond to the pleading of those who cry to him day and night (18:7). We must remember that in the OT widows are symbols of powerlessness and helplessness. Here, the judge’s insensitivity to a helpless widow’s persistent pleading is contrasted with God’s sensitivity and care to quickly grant justice to his chosen ones (18:7). Therefore they should remain faithful and steadfast in prayer till he comes, and never give up hope and trust in God.
A question came to disciples’ mind in Jesus’ days and continues to come to us even today, “If there is a just God, why he doesn’t see to it that justice is done everywhere.” Jesus’ explanation implies that God will not intervene immediately but at his appointed time will definitely act. Therefore, the question is not whether God will do justice to his chosen ones because it is his work and they are to trust him.  But the real question is whether his chosen ones will remain faithful to him till the end, or better still whether he will find faith kept burning at his coming (18:8).   
4.  Application to life 
According to this parable the main question is not whether God answers all our prayers. The decisive question is whether we remain faithful to God and show our unshakable trust in him by persistently praying, especially when God’s Kingdom does not seem to come soon. He delays granting us what we ask for in prayer for reasons known to him alone.  Even after praying ceaselessly, “Thy Kingdom come,” if his Kingdom seems to be far away from us, there is a great temptation in all of us to give up prayer altogether. Or when we do not get what we ask for in prayer or when there is a delay in answering from God’s side, the same temptation can recur. Through this parable Jesus teaches us that we must persevere in prayer even though God may delay answering us, or may not give us exactly what we ask for.
In prayer, do we become achievement oriented as in business? When we do not ‘achieve’ anything by praying, it is our faith, which is under trial. The question is whether we shall give up our faith or increase it. Even our prayer of petitions is not meant only to get personal favours from God, but also to increase our dependence and trust in him. Repeated petitions like the widow’s persistent pleading with the judge, make us humble beggars of God’s mercy and increase our intimacy with him. By repeatedly approaching God for our needs, we increase our contact or relationship with him. Intimacy or communion with God is what prayer is all about.
For those who doubt whether God will come to the aid of those who cry to him day and night, this parable clearly answers it. If an unjust judge, who cares for nobody or nothing, finally relents and listens to a poor widow to do justice to her, how much more will God do the same to those who approach him with trust and confidence. If a judge who is unscrupulous and disinterested in the widow’s well-being can finally listen to her pleading, how much more will God who is genuinely interested in our welfare give his children what they need! This parable clearly brings out the contrast between the insensitivity of the judge and the sensitivity and care of God to answer our prayers. The true reason for our disappointment is our lack of faith.
That does not mean we get exactly what we ask for in prayer or we get it immediately at the press of a button. Besides lack of faith, there may be other reasons why we do not get what we ask and lose heart:
(1)  We ask what we want from God but he may give us actually what we need, since he alone knows what we need and what is best for us in the long run. Just as parents sometimes refuse what the child asks when they know it is ultimately going to hurt the child or spoil it, God also sometimes refuses our petitions.
(2)  He wants to purify our motives and intensify our desires for his gifts. Sometimes our petitions are purely selfish and narrow-minded. During novenas many of us ask only personal favours and do not bother about the needs of the world around us.
(3)  He wants that we learn the real value of the thing we are asking for, so that we can appreciate its real worth and become better disposed to receive it. Though God is always ready to help us, our insistent petitions make us well disposed to receive his gifts and favours. When we look at prayer from God’s side, he does not need our prayer since he already knows our needs; but when we look at it from our side we need prayer to make us well disposed to his gifts and show gratitude when we get them.
(4) Sometimes he wants to give us something else, which we have not thought of asking. For instance, instead of healing our illness when we pray for healing, he may give us the grace and strength to bear and accept it so that we become less irritated and complaining or rebellious.
Thus, persistence in prayer, helps us to realise the value of what we are asking, nourishes and deepens our faith, and expresses our dependence on God. Our insistent prayer is a clear indication of how powerless, supportless and defenceless we are before God like the widow in this parable. This idea goes against those teachers and preachers of religion who present prayer as the easiest way to get anything; the only thing is that we ask God again and again. They forget to mention that prayer of petitions is meant not only to get what we want but also to ensure that there will be “faith on earth” till the end of time (18:8). They fail to emphasise what Jesus says at the end of today’s parable – besides getting exactly the thing we want, prayer nourishes our faith and puts us into regular contact with God.
This parable has a good message for life-promotion issues also: Since our God is a God of justice, our faith commits us to stand and work for justice especially for whom it is denied. Like the widow who insisted on getting justice for her, we too may have to face unjust judges of this world to get justice done to the powerless and the defenceless. When God is not indifferent to our cries in prayer and does justice to us, should we be indifferent to the cries of the powerless? We can identify the poor widow of this parable with so many powerless people in the world who go on knocking at the doors of justice for themselves and those whom they love. They knock at the gates of courts to settle a case, at employment offices to get jobs, at educational institutes to get admission to their children, at hospitals to get better treatment, etc. Quite often they do not get justice done to them in spite of their persistent efforts due to their inability to meet the expenses involved. Their only power is their persistence and perseverance in knocking at these gates again and again. Those who are involved in running these institutes or justice system represent God for them, if ever they hear their cry for justice. Do they hear their cry? Are they sensitive to it, or just indifferent?
Those who work for peace in our present turbulent and violent world need to look at this poor widow as a model. Due to the growth of terrorism, religious fundamentalism and unjust social structures, many people advocate vengeance or tit-for-tat against terrorist attacks and unjust social systems. The process of peace is slow and sometimes seems to be reaching nowhere. The persistence and perseverance of this poor widow is a model to pursue our peace efforts in any conflict situation starting from family and neighbourhood or village to the highest level of political systems – even when the result is not instant.  
5.  Response to God's Word
Do we take time and make efforts to nourish our faith through constant prayer? How do we respond when we do not get what we ask for in prayer? Do we lose heart in prayer; do we lose faith and trust in God? Are we selfish in our prayer, asking only personal favours from God especially during novenas and pilgrimages? Do we pray for the realization of God’s cause (that is for His Kingdom) – that there may be peace in the world; that we may live in unity; that truth and justice may prevail…..? Do our petitions make us well disposed to receive God’s gifts and blessings? Are we indifferent to the cries of the powerless and the voiceless like that unjust judge?
6.  A Prayer

Lord, you are the refuge of the helpless and hopeless. We realize how powerless and defenceless we are before you like the widow in today’s gospel. Like her we cry to you day and night for justice and mercy for us and for the world. Grant that we may never lose heart in prayer and remain ever faithful to you with unshakable trust by persistently praying, even when you do not grant or delay in granting what we ask for. Please nourish and deepen our faith. Grant that we may not remain indifferent to the cries of the powerless and the helpless, but be sensitive to their needs. Amen.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

28th Ordinary Sunday of C

   Twenty-eighth Sunday [Lk 17:11-19]
09 October 2016
Jesus Cleanses Ten Lepers
Readings: (1) 2 King 5:14-17 (2) 2 Tim 2:8-13
1.   Theme in brief
A sense of gratitude          
2.   Focus Statement
We need to cultivate an attitude of gratitude to God for his goodness towards us in cleansing us from sins and bestowing on us salvation and wholeness.
3.   Explanation of the text
In today’s gospel text, Jesus contrasts the gratitude expressed by a Samaritan leper over his experience of getting healed from leprosy with the ingratitude of the nine Jewish lepers who failed to give thanks to him for the same. Though all the ten lepers received the gift of healing, only the Samaritan, much hated by the Jews as an outcast, returned to give thanks. This Samaritan leper was doubly an outcast, both as a leper and as a Samaritan.
First of all, in Jesus’ time the Jews believed that leprosy was such a repelling, dreadful and contagious disease that anybody could contract it even by going close to lepers. That is why today’s gospel says that the ten lepers cried to Jesus to have mercy on them by keeping their distance from him (17:12) because it was prescribed in the Law of Moses as a precaution against the risk of contagion. They had to live in tents outside the village, isolated and cut-off from family and society. They had to wear torn clothes, let their hair dishevelled and cry out “Unclean, unclean” by covering their upper lip (cf. Leviticus 13:45). Since the Jews considered leprosy as a punishment for one’s sins, their condition invited less sympathy from others because they believed that the lepers deserved their fate due to their sins. The isolation experienced by leprosy patients from their families and society was really terrible.
Secondly, this leper was a despised Samaritan. The Samaritans were a mixed race – descendant of those Jews who took pagan wives of Samarian territory after their return from exile. The Jews considered Samaritans half-breeds, heretics and called them ‘foreigners’ (17:18) in their own native place. Luke makes this hated foreigner real hero of his story and presents him as a model of gratitude for the chosen people (Israelites). This must have really shocked his Jewish listeners.
The way these ten leprosy patients cried out, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us" (17:13), indicated that they considered him more than an ordinary traveller. Otherwise, they would have begged for alms rather than mercy from him and would not have addressed him as Master – a person who had some moral and spiritual authority. We can guess that a request for healing from their dreaded disease was implied in their cry – since they were probably aware of Jesus’ healing power manifested in other miracles. Many might have ignored the lepers and probably paid no attention to their cry. But when Jesus “saw them" (17:14), he could also see their pain and plight; hence, he began the process of their total restoration to normal life in their society. Instead of healing them instantly, he asked them to follow the rule of showing themselves to the priests in order to get their certificate for social restoration (17:14). Their obedience to his command and faith in him healed them as they set out (17:14).
It is interesting to note that instead of saying all of them were healed, Luke says all of them were “made clean” (17:14). Besides healing that restored their bodily health, they needed a cleansing also to restore them to social and religious communion that enabled them to re-join their families and community and participate in religious worship. Then Luke mentions that though all the ten were cleansed, only the Samaritan “saw that he was healed” and turned back to thank Jesus (17:15-16). This is not an ordinary seeing, but a seeing (with the eyes of faith) of the presence of God’s saving love working through Jesus. He saw what others failed to see: it was God’s work done through Jesus; hence, God deserved glory and Jesus deserved to be thanked. Whereas the other nine were more concerned about re-joining their families and social life, this person felt that showing gratitude to Jesus was his first priority. He turned back praising God with a loud voice (17:15) which, according to Luke, was a natural response of those who experienced divine power and mercy (cf. 2:20; 13:13). His prostration at Jesus’ feet (17:16) shows that he believed that Jesus was endowed with divine power.
Jesus told the Samaritan leper to get up and go his way, because his faith had made him well, or as per another translation, his faith had saved him (17:19). All were healed but one, that also a foreigner, was saved. He not only received the gift of physical healing from a dreaded disease (= leprosy) but also inner cleansing from sins, that is, salvation. Quite contrary to the view held by Pharisees, this Samaritan was saved by faith alone, not by meticulous observance of Mosaic Law. The faith of the ten lepers led to their physical healing, but the gratitude of the Samaritan leper brought salvation and wholeness as well.
4.  Application to life 
Today Jesus goes in search of us or reaches out to us who are like leprosy patients, even when we are keeping our distance from him so that we may open our eyes to recognise his saving deeds. Our sins are worse than leprosy. They make us unclean and impure as leprosy patients were considered in Jesus’ times. They isolate us from God and community and break off our love-relationship with both. As forgiven sinners, we are all like lepers who are cleansed. Jesus restores our broken relationship and makes us whole. Our experience of being healed and cleansed from sins (= made well) must lead us to praise and thank God for his wonderful saving deeds.
The nine Israelites, though healed from the dreaded disease (leprosy), are not affected deeply by that experience. We can be either like the nine leprosy patients who are changed superficially or like the Samaritan leper who is touched deeply and responds with gratitude. The first surprising element in this story is that such a tremendous saving deed did not touch the nine, though they also were cleansed. Luke says that only one of them “saw that he was healed” (17:15). He ‘saw’ in his miraculous cure the mighty hand of God who intervened to save him.
The second shocking element (for Jewish listeners) is that the one who returned to give thanks was a hated and despised Samaritan. Since the Israelites were privileged to be God’s chosen people, they should have recognised his boundless mercy first and returned to give thanks. But it is the despised foreigner who saw it and showed gratitude to God. The text says that the Samaritan patient “returned” to give thanks. This shows that giving thanks is like turning back to the source or origin of all the help we received. For a person of faith, if not God who else is the source of all that we are and all that we have? Ingratitude is a kind of leprosy that isolates or cuts us off from the source of all goodness. Surely there are moments when we failed to return to God to thank him for his gifts and blessings. The nine leprosy patients were more anxious to go home and reunite with their families than thanking Jesus for such a wonderful favour. In their eagerness they forgot to thank first the source of their well-being. Suppose we were in their position what would have been our priority?
We need to cultivate an attitude of gratitude to God for his goodness towards us in cleansing us from sins and impure minds as well as restoring and healing our broken relationships. Just like the Samaritan, our sense of gratitude to God is the result of our experience of being healed from our spiritual and social leprosy. When we stretch this idea a bit further, all thanksgiving to God is a response of our faith. In faith, we acknowledge every blessing, grace and gift which God out of his love and benevolence bestows on us.  It is also recognition of God’s saving deeds or mighty works in human history and our personal lives.
The nine lepers do not obtain an inner purification; they are cleansed only externally from their physical leprosy but not from their inner leprosy. Similarly, often God’s love and his goodness do not touch us deeply and change our attitudes. Though he cleanses us from our sins and other bondages even when we are keeping our distance from him like those lepers, we are ungrateful and lack enough faith to recognise his saving deeds. The ten lepers believed that Jesus was their only hope in the midst of isolation and segregation experienced by them. They cried out to Jesus to show mercy on their terrible and miserable condition. It was faith that restored them to total health and saved them from misery.
Often we approach God when we are in trouble. Thus he becomes “an Emergency God” for our external needs. Once our needs are met or when the trouble is over we forget to thank him. Do so many devotees who flock to shrines and healing centres begging for favours from God (quite often through the intercession of Mother Mary if it is a Marian Shrine), come to love him and neighbours better once their needs are met? In fact, our whole life ought to be a continual act of thanksgiving to God. Thanksgiving is the faith-response of the receiver of divine grace that has made well or saved him/her from physical or spiritual illness (17:19). It is also a type of remembrance. It is a recalling to one’s mind what good and marvellous deeds God has done for us or remembering those deeds with a grateful heart. Another way of generating a sense of gratitude within us is to remember our past history: where and what we were once upon a time, and where we have come and what we have become now. Considering the humble origins of many of our present talents, abilities and achievements, and also our sinful past, we cannot but give thanks to God who is the source of all blessings. That is why the Psalmist says: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and do not forget all his benefits” (103:2). As constant beneficiaries of God’s favours and blessings, should we not always raise our hearts in gratitude to God?
There is a tendency in us to forget to thank not only God but also those who did so much good to us, once our needs are met. Many times God’s blessings, gifts, love and providence come to us through others, especially our parents, teachers, guides or role models. Any gesture of gratitude shown to them is also a gratitude shown to God himself, since it is He who sent these benefactors to us. The fact that a foreigner returned to thank Jesus while his own people walked away has another lesson for us. Often familiarity breeds contempt and we forget to appreciate or show gratitude to our own family members/ religious community’s members. While we are more courteous and grateful to outsiders, we take people who are close to us for granted. This attitude creates a distance between us and our own near and dear ones. Though we call them “dear ones” they become less dear than outsiders. Nowadays, there are young people who consider their aged parents as a nuisance, and do not bother to take care of them. Even in societies where care for aged parents was traditionally regarded as a sacred duty of their children, we observe some of them being ‘dumped’ in a corner of the house to live separately. Is this the way we repay our debt to those who did everything for us?
There is no dearth of ‘Samaritans’ even today. They symbolize all the people who are isolated, rejected, stigmatized, ostracized and excommunicated by society and the Church. We can think of people who are treated like ‘lepers’ in our family, neighbourhood, village, community, classroom and institutions. There are regions in the world where leprosy and AIDs patients are thrown out of their families and society even today – in some cases even highly educated and rank-holding ones. In many families and societies addicts to alcohol or drugs, differently-abled persons and crime prone children are not accepted. The Church also since ages has treated public sinners, heretics, divorcees, gays, etc., with harshness and condemnation. All these people still continue to cry out: “Have mercy on us.” Are we compassionate to their cry like Jesus?
5.   Response to God's Word
Does the realization that all that we are and have is God’s gift lead us to a deep sense of gratitude to God? Do we count our blessings? How do we express our gratitude? The very meaning of Eucharist is ‘Thanksgiving’. Do we realize that whenever we go to participate in the Eucharist we go to give thanks to God not only for our salvation through the ‘paschal event’ (passion, death and resurrection of Christ) but also for everything, A to Z? Are there signs of ingratitude in us towards God, family members (especially our parents) and our friends in need? Do we take people for granted from whom God’s blessings came (and continue to come) to us?
6.  A Prayer
O Lord, you have given to me all that I have and possess. In full response to your bountiful gifts, graces, mercy and salvation, I offer to you whatever I have and I am. Whatever I have is your gift to me, and whatever I give you freely is my gift to you. Amen.

Friday, 30 September 2016

27th Ordinary Sunday (C)

Twenty-seventh Ordinary Sunday (C) [Lk 17:5-10]
02 October 2016
Deep-rooted Faith and Disinterested Service
Readings: (1) Heb 1:2-3;2:2-4 (2) 2 Tim 1:6-8.13-14
1. Theme in brief
Power of a deep-rooted faith
2.  Focus Statement
Our faith has the power to do impossible things, but it needs to be increased and deepened always as it is assailed by trials and doubts; it has to be translated into faithful and disinterested service,
3.  Explanation of the text
In today’s gospel Jesus speaks about the power that comes from faith.  He spoke these words in the context of the hard demands he made from his disciples to offer all their repentant offenders unconditional and unlimited forgiveness to (17:3-4). The apostles must have realized that these demands required greater faith than what they had. Hence, they must have requested him to “increase” their faith at this juncture (17:5).
Jesus answered by saying that if they had faith of the ‘size of a mustard seed’ they could ‘uproot’ even a mulberry tree and get it planted in the sea (17:6). His comparison of faith to a little mustard seed did not refer to a small measure of faith, but great or firm faith, since in his culture (and in many other cultures even today) it was common to speak in opposite ( and exaggerated) terms to emphasise a point. Here Jesus seemed to refer to the quality or depth of faith than its quantity. Secondly, instead of comparing faith to a huge rock, he compared it to a seed because a rock could neither grow nor increase. On the contrary, if a seed were sown in the ground it would sprout and grow. Thus, he compared the power of faith to the power inherent in a tiny seed – a power to bring out a big tree. Thirdly, since mulberry tree was one of the trees that had very strong roots in Palestinian milieu, he compared its strength with the power of faith to tackle deep-rooted sins, habits and problems. Hence, a deep-rooted faith could solve deep-rooted problems. Jesus wanted to give this message: what seemed to be impossible could become possible when approached with faith.
In the second part of today’s gospel, Jesus described how his disciples had to put their faith into practice by rendering faithful and disinterested service. He began to explain this point by telling a parable of the “Unworthy Slave” (17:7-9) by using the same words as he used in parables of the Lost Sheep and Coin (in chapter 15): “Who among you.…” (17:7). Surely, in Palestinian culture of his time, no master would tell his slave to eat a hot meal and take rest when he returned home after a whole day’s hard work (17:7). Instead, though the slave came home tired at the end of the day, it was natural for the master to order him to prepare a meal for himself first; then wait on him while he ate and drank; then only the servant could eat at the end (17:8). Those days, nobody expected a master to congratulate or praise a slave for a job well done (17:9).
Jesus seemed to imply here that he was the master and his disciples were like those ‘slaves’ serving their master faithfully. While slaves were fully under obligation to obey their master, the master was under no obligation to show gratitude to them or shower rewards on them.  The slaves had no right to demand anything from their master, either. After doing all the duties faithfully, they could only consider themselves “worthless slaves” or “unworthy servants” who did only what they were supposed to do (17:10). In this sense, St. Paul also considered himself as a servant (‘slave’ in original Greek) of Jesus Christ (Rom 1:1). Here Jesus associated faith with unworthiness.
The Pharisees thought God was under obligation to reward them for their faithful observance of the Law and piety. On the contrary, Jesus taught that the main characteristic of faith was to approach God with a spirit of unworthiness, relying solely on his grace rather than on one’s merits. Jesus hinted at the wrong attitude of Pharisees who laid claim on God by citing the example of a slave who faithfully did what was commanded (17:7-8). The message is very clear that we must serve disinterestedly and unconditionally without looking for any reward. A disciple cannot make any claim for reward from God, in spite of his/her life-long faithfulness. Salvation is God’s free gift.
4.  Application to life 
Though our faith is God’s gift, we have to constantly pray that it may grow and be deepened.  The reason is that it can become very shaky and weak when we are assailed by temptations, doubts, trials, suffering, unfulfilled desires and expectations, unanswered prayers, unjust treatment from others, incurable illnesses, sudden accidents, calamities and death. That is why, as the disciples did, we should always pray humbly to the Lord that he may increase and deepen our little faith, so that we are able to uproot the deeply rooted doubts of faith.
Faith is the greatest force or power we posses. The problems of life which seem to be impossible to solve, the sufferings which seem to be impossible to bear, and the tasks that seem so difficult to do, become possible for a person of strong faith. It is faith that gives us patience, perseverance, determination and endurance. Yes, faith has the power to uproot even deeply rooted sins and addictions. If you doubt, just listen to testimonies of those who get converted from addictive habits such as alcohol and drugs with the power of faith and surrender to God. In your life, was there any time when you thought you would never be able to do a difficult work, or  come out of a bad habit, or face agonising situation, or live with an unbearable person, were able due to constant prayer with deep faith and trust in God? Think of many married couples who can decide to stay together in spite of unbearable differences and refuse to get separated or go for divorce; or the terminally ill persons who are able to accept their illness by sheer act of surrender to God’s will and their own will power to survive.
As I understand it pastorally (not theologically), faith has three dimensions or aspects: (1) faith-observance that includes all the religious rituals, rites, traditions, worship and devotions; (2) faith-knowledge or information that is acquired by an intellectual (theoretical) understanding of the truths of faith through personal reading, catechism classes, religious instructions, seminars and courses, homilies and conferences; and (3) faith-surrender of our life into God’s hands by allowing him to do what he wants with us and submitting ourselves to his holy will. Though the first two dimensions of faith are also important, if our faith is confined only to them, it will not be able to ‘uproot trees’, or as other evangelists put it in some other places of the gospel ‘move mountains’ (Mt 17:20; Mk 11:23). In order to move mountains, we need to move from mere rituals like lighting candles and burning incense sticks, and knowing all the answers to catechism questions, to a deeper surrender and submission to God.
A total surrender of oneself into the hands of God with the attitude of permitting him to do what he wants with us, to take us where he wants to take and to give what he wants to give, has power to move mountains and uproot trees. That is to say, it has the power to overcome fears, tensions and anxieties caused by mountainous problems and to overcome deep-rooted sins and bad habits or addictions. It has the power to drive out so many superstitions, such as deep-rooted belief in witchcraft, sorcery and black magic that exists within the Christian communities in various parts of the world. The main reason for these superstitions is that people have not learned to face the problem of evil (such as misfortunes, calamities, sickness, suffering and sudden death) and overcome fear of the unknown with the power of faith, even after centuries of Christian faith. We should be convinced that the power of faith that comes from a total surrender to God in times of these trials is the only way to cast out the imaginary ‘demons’ that torment some people in such situations.
Faith and God’s Kingdom – the main theme of Christ’s preaching – are closely related. God’s Kingdom means his total authority, lordship or rule over our lives. Faith is nothing but wholehearted submission to God’s rule of love. This sort of surrender motivates a believer to work for God’s Kingdom as a humble servant without expecting any reward – leaving rewards fully to God’s grace and mercy. The question is whether we have that much faith that draws us to Christ in such a way that we are willing to dedicate ourselves to work for his main project, i.e. the Kingdom of God. Since it is hard, should we not once again ask the Lord to increase our faith, just as the disciples asked in his days? That is why in his parable of the Unworthy Servant Jesus links faith with action – action to serve disinterestedly in God’s Kingdom without looking for rewards. Faith is the motivating force that expresses itself in loyalty and faithfulness to the Master through humble service – sometimes even thankless service. While the apostles requested to increase the quantity or amount of faith, Jesus instead in the quality of faith that flows into loyal service with a willingness to do what the Master commands.
Jesus wants to tell us that our faith is increased when we become loyal and dutiful servants of our Master. It is increased when we put it into practice by serving others selflessly without expecting any rewards/ appreciation/ recognition or a “well-done” pat on our backs. After doing a thankless or unrewarded service (not only in terms of money but also in terms of appreciation), if somebody is able to say this – "We are unworthy servants (literally, “worthless slaves”); we have done only what we ought to have done" (17:10) – surely it is a sign of greater and deeper faith. It means, we are like servants who deserve no credit at all. Today Jesus once again invites us to translate our faith into life-long service. There is neither reward nor retirement in Christian life. Actually, we never finish our service. We can never have the satisfaction of having done enough as far as service to God and humanity is concerned.
Further, Jesus tells us that we must render our service unconditionally and disinterestedly. Though often we have to serve out of compulsion (in workplaces and at home), we must set apart at least a small portion of our time to serve freely out of sheer love, and for no reward. Today’s message leads us to question whether all our services are like a business contract: help for help, visit for visit, gift for gift, etc. Are all our services to neighbours, friends, relatives and acquaintances motivated by expectation of rewards in terms of money, things, name, etc., or we do some services just out of love without expecting anything in return. After serving God and humanity all these years, we have no right to boast of our achievements or claim a name for ourselves, since we have done only our duty. We are to examine ourselves whether our social or church service is motivated by the desire to earn prestige and self-promotion. Sometimes our only reward for social or church service may be only opposition, criticism, or outright hatred by some extremist or fundamentalist groups when we side with the poor.
In Luke’s gospel we find Jesus associating faith with unworthiness in a number of instances. Faith works only when we consider ourselves unworthy of God’s grace and trust only in his mercy. Take for example, the Roman centurion’s dear slave was healed at the point of death because he confessed his unworthiness to have Jesus under his roof, though the Jewish elders considered him worthy because of his generosity towards them (7:1-10). Again, the faith of a sinful woman who anointed the feet of Jesus with perfume made her worthy to receive gifts of salvation and peace, whereas Simon the host who thought he was most worthy found himself unworthy of such a grace (7:36-50).
Finally, faith and prayer are also closely related. That is why in Luke’s gospel the request of the apostles to teach them how to pray (11:1) is related to their request to increase their faith in today’s gospel. It is impossible to pray without faith and when we pray our faith is nourished and increased.
5.  Response to God's Word
What is the quality of our faith? Do we take care to nourish it through prayer and spiritual reflections? Do we allow superstitions acquired through our culture, such as belief in witchcraft or black magic, to predominate over our faith? Are all our social services motivated by expectation of rewards in terms of money, status and promotion? Do we do voluntary and free service with some ulterior motives? Do we serve grudgingly, or lovingly?
6.  A Prayer
What thanks can we render to you, O Lord for the precious gift of faith. We humbly ask you: “Lord, increase our faith”.  When we are assailed by doubts and trials, be with us and never let us be separated from you. In deep faith we surrender our life to you and pray: “Lord, Do what you want with me. I am yours”. May our faith motivate us to render disinterested and faithful service till the end of our days without looking for reward or name and fame. Amen.