8/04/2018

EIGHTEENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR, B

Exod 16:2-4, 12-15;
Eph 4:17, 20-24;
John 6:24-35

 Christ– the Bread Life!

The readings of these past Sundays centered on Christ feeding the multitude. Today, in the Book of Exodus, Ephesians and in John 6:24-35, our Lord, who is yesterday, today and forever, is not backing down. He speaks to us again, physically and spiritually, and perhaps in symbols familiar to us. He is the bread of life–the source of new life, the giver of love and everything we need– spiritually and materially: peace, good health, jobs, vocations, clothing, housing, family life, – name them! He is our “Bread winner.” History proves this, as well.

 In the first reading, when the Israelites journeyed through the desert and were physically hungry, tired, discouraged, disillusioned, tempted, shaken in faith– they complained against Moses; “would that we had died at the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt….but you had to lead us into this desert to make the whole community die of famine!”. This is human. This is who we are– easily shaken in our faith traditions, tired and thirsty on our life journeys, deserted of  the teachings of the Church, short memory, fail to see through beyond our narrow eye glasses, and short cuts;  prone to complaint,

SEVENTEENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR, B


2 kings 4:42-44;
Eph 4:1-6;
John 6:1-15.

Trusting in God for our Needs!

Last Sunday we were told that our Lord upon seeing the devastated crowd who came in search of him, set out immediately to share the word of God with them and he did this at length because he taught them many things (Mark 6:34). The gospel today from John (6:1-5) is actually a continuation of the event of last Sunday where we were told that our Lord upon seeing the devastated crowd who came in search of him, set out immediately to share the word of God with them and he did this at length because he taught them many things (Mark 6:34). At the end of his sermon, it was late and the people were clearly famished from the long trek in search of him as well as the long but interesting sermon on many things. The session over, the apostles were eager to send the people away so that they could actually get that rest the Lord recommended. Remember they were still to get rest after their apostolic work of last Sunday. They were not done yet with work; Jesus asked Philip where they could buy bread to feed the multitude.

After sharing the Word of God, Jesus is now extending his care from the soul to the body. This tells us that God has comprehensive care over us. The Psalmist asked "what is man that you have thought for him, mortal man that take care of him?" (Psalm 8:4). Psalm (27:10) says: "My father and my

SIXTEENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR, B

Jer 23.1-6; 
2 Eph 2.13-18; 
Mk 6.30-34)

My dear friends,

The readings this Sunday are a source of consolation and encouragement to all of us, especially those who feel that their lives have lost direction, and who feel let down by those whose task it is to give leadership and inspiration. The gospel is particularly relevant to those who are pressed for time with tons of work to do. The passage contains the counsel of Jesus, who knowing our human nature too well, counselled his first recruits who had a whole world to save to take a break for a little while. Jesus wants us back on the high road to heaven so he calls us in the gospel reading to break with our past, to break with the earthly things that have kept us from him.

It is a call to you and me particularly if, like sheep without a shepherd, we have wandered half-lost through life.  Jesus is calling us as always to come to him so that he will lead us to safe pastures. It is a great pity that we Christians who know how Christ has put us on the right path, on the road to heaven have often allowed ourselves to get caught up in the briars and brambles of earthly attractions.

I have often compared our lives to that of a poor man who had a great desire to go to the Holy Land. He was given a free ticket with all expenses paid.  He set out joyfully, say from a remote area here in Plateau State.  His first stop was Lagos.  Here he became enchanted with the hustle and bustle of Lagos city life.  He visited many movie pictures and stage productions and spent so much time that he missed the pilgrim place for which he was booked.  He soon discovered that he had not enough money to pay for a ticket to Europe on another plane and so missed seeing the Holy Land.  He ended his day in misery in Lagos, no longer enchanted by its attraction but driven to despair by the utter emptiness of what it had to offer.  That man's fate was but a shadow of the irreparable loss of the christian who lets the attractions of this world keep him from heaven.

We may find our days, our mind and our hands full of interesting worldly affairs, but we should realize that every time the clock strikes we are an hour nearer to our earthly end.  In our modern societies marked by hurry and worry, therefore, we must take some time off and be with God so that he may recharge us with spiritual energy and strength.  Otherwise, what explanation shall we offer when we arrive empty handed and totally unprepared at the judgement seat of God?  Will you plead ignorance or lack of time or what?  Jesus in his mercy and compassion is calling us ever ready to pardon us as he did the Galileans.  These Galileans we may want to know were not saints.  They were ordinary people like you and me, who were not over religious.  They cheated one another, they were often uncharitable to one another, they were not always chaste and pure, they prayed vey little and perhaps only when they wanted some material benefits.  Yet our Lord had compassion on them.

I was at the Diocesan Secretariat a few days ago.  A poster on the door of the Secretary to the Laity caught my attention.  It reads: 

"HELL EXISTS AND WE MIGHT GO THERE
  Preach to save souls not to please, be a stepping 
  stone for others to meet Christ by your life style"

It can happen to us unless we frequently take a good look at our way of living and honestly and sincerely measure our daily doings by the standard of the Gospel. The standard put before us today is one of God as a good shepherd creating new relationships between people, gathering as one people those who had previously been divided by enmity, gathering people across the divides which cause hurt or create fear.  All of us are called upon to be shepherds one of another.

In the first reading God was angry with the leaders he had appointed to look after his people.  The religious and civic leaders had brought afflictions and misfortunes on the people.  God intervened by casting them off and providing in Jesus one who will care for his people and changed our world.  Now that Jesus has come, heaven is our destination, our only purpose in life.  Now everything is secondary and only of transitory importance.  But how many of us have let these transitory things of secondary importance get such a hold on us so much so that we forget or ignore our one and only purpose in life?

In the second reading we find Jesus inaugurating a new humanity in which the differences between Jews and Gentiles are wiped out and through his death on the cross and his gift of the Spirit peace is made between God and human kind.  In the Gospel we see Jesus in a concrete situation showing his care and compassion to the members of his flock.  Jesus and his disciples whom he had sent out last Sunday were worn out and sought to get away from the crowds.  But the people, desperate for what Jesus had to give them, ran after him.  When Jesus sees the situation his primary concern was no longer his own need for rest but the needs of the people who are "like sheep without a shepherd." Although their plans for rest was frustrated by the impatient crowd, the story clearly exemplifies the necessity to take time off from the constant routine of duties.

We must realize that our Lord's invitation to rest is not just a pious gesture given only to a chosen few, but an indispensable call to all of us to find some needed time to rest. Unless we take off some time to rest as Christ and his disciples did, our activity will be without direction, our work will become a hardship and our life will lose its meaning.  Work six  days and rest one day is the advice given in the first chapter of Genesis. We all know that the body demands for sleep and how sluggish we feel after a restless night. In Rome the siesta time is religiously observed each day between 2 and 4 p.m. Mondays are days of rest with most stores and shops closed. We might think these people are unbusiness-like or lazy, but they reply "we work to live, not live to work". And this extends to many other things. An occasional dinner out for husband and wife can produce a continual bonding of their union. Obviously they would have food at home, which they could eat and save money, but that's not the point. There are greater things to save than money.

Today, it is very easy for us to blame our young people for their abuses.  But are they really to blame?  Young people may not like the older generation to force their opinions down their throats, and yet they are looking for direction.  I read recently of some young people in a major archdiocese. They pleaded for a counselling Center where they could go to discuss their problems and difficulties.  They went so far as to volunteer to raise the funds to provide the facilities, provided the archdiocese supplied the counsellors but up to the time they wrote nothing had been done about it. "Priests, religious, school authorities, parents are all too busy when we go to them. Who will help us face and live with our problems?" they ask.

The readings this morning, I believe give us a pointer as to the way forward. In the first reading, the prophet Jeremiah thunders in God's name, "doom for the shepherds who allow the flock to be destroyed and scattered...it is the Lord who speaks". This message of doom applies to all of us. As members of the body of Christ, we are all co-responsible for one another; we are our brothers' keepers and have to be shepherds to one another, as elders in this Church today - priests, religious, parents and parishioners, each in his own sphere of life and with his own contribution to make. All of us are called to be shepherds of the sheep .. of the young, of the students. Like Jesus in the Gospel reading today, we are expected to take pity on our young people who are looking on us to lead them, on the students who look on us to help them carry the burdens of life.

I feel so helpless when a mother comes with tears requesting for prayers for her son who is now a drug addict; I feel frustrated when parents come all hot and bothered because their children are carrying on with non-christians or indulging in liberties permitted only to the married. I feel lost when I am faced with young people who are complaining about lecturers and teachers harassing them and ensuring them of failures for non-compliance to their demands.

Many parents are also so busy doing a hundred and one things, and not having time for the only thing that matters - shepherding the flock in their own homes. The result is that the flock strays into forbidden pastures and the tears of the shepherd come too late. President of the United States, though he was, we are told that John F. Kennedy, whenever in the Whitehouse, made time to spend at least an hour in play with his young children. Are we more important or busier than the president of the United States?  Parents where are your children, now? Hove you bothered to know what is happening to them wherever they are?  It is a pity that some of our families are so selfish that they think that they are the reason for which God has not destroyed our world.  Some of our families are living in total self deception that we think that our family is the best and in fact that it is next to the holy family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.  Some of such families have some members of their family steep in secret cult and are in fact a curse to themselves because of the havoc their members are causing to other families.  Some of you have secured places in the higher institutions of learning for your children but you have not bothered to know about their association in these institutions.  Some of your children spend late nights in meetings of secret cults planning how to maim and destroy others whom God has equally placed here by right simply because they must eliminate others.  They have been deceived to believe that belonging to secret cults will get them connected, assure them of beautiful girls, who are other peoples daughters and automatic success in exams.  My dear friends, it is only a highly mischievous, untrained and morally deficient student that would subscribe to such lies.  What manner of student are you that membership of a secret cult will enable you to short-circuit studies?  The fact is that there is no student without studies.    

Like Jesus in the Gospel, we are called upon by our less fortunate brothers and sisters who are enduring injustice and miseries to stand up and speak for them. I am reminded here of three stories in the Bible where the intervention of others in the face of injustice saved some would be victims. I recall in the first place the story of the beautiful woman Sussanna, the wife of Joachim in the Book of Daniel Chapter 13. Two lustful and wicked old men were selected as judges but they decided to abuse such office. They tried to blackmail Susanna because she refused to co-operate and yield to their adulterous desires. They concocted their plans and hell bound to destroy her. Susanna, as the poor always do chose to put her trust in God. The elders gave false evidence against her, and she was condemned to death, without hearing her side of the story.

Thank God for the spirit of Daniel, the wisdom of his judgement brought freedom to the poor woman and condemnation for the lustful old men. How many Daniels can we find today? If Daniel had not cried out in the face of injustice there would not have been a retrial, which exposed those treacherous old men.

The second story is that of Joseph, the dreamer, also in the Old Testament. The truth sometimes appears to remain hidden. Someday, however, it will come out. Joseph, as you very well know, was jailed on the false allegation of Portiphar's wife. She wanted to seduce him, but he would not allow himself to be dragged into sin. Joseph was willing to suffer so as to keep the high trust of his master. At God's time, however, Joseph was vindicated and his position elevated.

Remember also the story of the woman who was caught in adultery who was dragged before our Lord, Himself. As he wrote on the sand, Jesus asked a simple question that those without sin should cast the first stone. We are told that her accusers all disappeared one by one. I often thank God for this daughter of Eve as I often wonder what sentence she would have received if she were brought to us in today's Nigeria to give the sentence. Even with our Lord's example, would we not have been asking the accusers how dead they wanted the woman to be rather than trying to see justice done?. Would many of us not have proceeded and aimed stones at the places where deadly wounds would be inflicted on the woman, instead of asking for God's mercy for our own sins?. The accusers had an opportunity to haul stones on a sinner but they forgot that they too were guilty of even those public sins other people know about.  What happened to the man?

My dear friends, it is a great pity that many of us do not only keep quiet in the face of pervasive injustice but we also think that keeping sealed lips means charity to those in authority or those in power while speaking up is lack of appreciation of the positive points in leadership. When we look at the matter seriously however, keeping sealed lips is in reality a disservice to those in authority, it is a deliberate attempt to hide from them the truth until their consciences become further scared and worse tactics adopted. To speak the truth in the face of injustice is a service to humanity and helps to protect against an impending danger. 

Speaking in the face of injustice reminds me of the saying of one great philosopher Dante who once said that the hottest place in hell was reserved for those who, in the face of injustice, remain neutral. How many of us are always preparing hell for ourselves? Each and every one of us is challenged to react to injustice wherever it is found. We should not applaud or oppose what we do not know, simply because it is the majority opinion. Rather, we should make every effort to understand the issues at hand before we support or oppose them. Some of us mortgage our consciences and follow other people without knowing the details or reasons for the coloured picture one has of another person. Watch out when someone comes with gossips against another.

Let us not forget the immortal experience of one Rev Martin Noller during the Nazi era. This was the time when there was a great massacre of the Jews in Germany. Rev Noller said that the Germans came for the communists so I did not speak up because I was not a communist. They came for trade unionists, and I did not speak up because I was not a trade unionist. They came for Jews, and I did not speak up, because I was not a Jew. Then they came for Catholics, and I did not speak up because I was a Protestant. Finally they came for me, and there was no body to speak for me.  

FIFTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, B

Shaking Off the Dust of Failure
Amos 7:12-15
Ephesians 1:3-14
Mark 6:7-13

Since the creation of the world, God has never ceased to make Himself present among His people. He always used the Patriarchs, Kings, Prophets, Apostles, Priests and other ministers to make His presence felt in the world. In a special way, He is also making Himself present in the world through each and every one of us whom He has sent into the world.

In the first reading, we are presented with the verbal attack on Amos by the priest at Bethel called Amaziah. Amos’ oracle indicated an impending disaster that will befall the King and the people in the form of exile due to their dissociation from God. Amaziah who was more of a political priest accosted the prophet Amos and asked him to leave the land of Israel to Judah and earn his bread as a prophet there.

From the scenario, it is clear that religion at that moment was a commercial and political enterprise. Amaziah’s position as the (chief) priest at Bethel could have been at the instance of the political scheme of king Jeroboam who must have brought in people who will tell him what he wanted to hear. One can then imagine what the prophecy of Amos portends. From Amaziah we understand that Bethel (house of God; the site of Jacob’s dream (Gen.28:18-19)) was now seen as a royal sanctuary and national temple. The people at the time were seeing the worship of God as a mere religious observance not as a spiritual activity.

There is then a difference between religious observance and spiritual practice. It is in this sense that one can be religious without being spiritual. Religious observance includes, though not restricted to conventions like strict attention to time, context, rubrics, and other religious rituals that are external to the religion in question. On the other hand worship as a spiritual activity has to do with an inner disposition which connects the worshipper with the object of worship (Jn. 4:24). In spiritual worship of God we talk about faith, hope and love (1 Cor. 13:13).

In the gospel reading (Mk. 6:7-13), Jesus made himself more present among the people by sending his twelve apostles to them. Today, he has also sent you to the world as he did to the twelve. Your mandate remains the same with that of the twelve to evangelize the people and make things better for them but through various approaches as medical doctors, engineers, teachers, lawyers, priests, etc. He has given you the authority over every obstacle and has charged you with the responsibility of making the world a better place.
So how do you fulfill your mission to the world? How have you made the presence of Christ who has sent you into the world felt among His people? How have you contributed to the alleviation of people’s problems and made the world a better place to live? Do you work in a manner that depicts your collaboration to work for the good of humanity after the mind of Christ who went about doing good? Have you preached the Good News through your life style?

As a student, farmer, health worker, trader, priest, religious, seminarian, etc, what motivates your mission among the people of God? Are you like Amaziah in the first reading (Amos 7:12-15) who thinks that our mission or vocation is solely to earn money? Be disposed like Amos to see your work or vocation as a calling from God and so be disposed to co-operate with His divine will for humanity.

Beloved friends, no matter how difficult your calling or work may be or how despondent you may be, the second reading (Eph 1:3-14) assures you that God chose you to do that even before the world was made. For this reason, He chose us in Christ as His adopted sons and daughters. He gave us the free gift of His beloved through whom we receive forgiveness of sins and the riches of God’s graces. So be assured that you can always find help and grace from God through Jesus Christ when you are in need instead of taking undue advantage of your work/vocation.

The second reading reminds us of God’s graces available for us. Through these graces we all have been redeemed and we have to collaborate with these graces in helping our people appreciate and live out the Good News of salvation. The gospel reading reminds us of the missionary nature of our work. Do not expect the whole world to welcome us, let us be disposed for obstacles on the way which we shall surmount with the grace of God. Therefore, let us not be afraid. Let us not entertain the people but preach repentance. Let us also remember to keep behind all useless anxieties, worries and possessions that would distract us so that at the end, we come back with success stories.

What message do we take home this Sunday? 1) Just like Amos is chosen and sent to confront the idolatry of the people of Israel, you and I are chosen and sent to confront today’s worship of false gods. 2) Just as Jesus sends his apostles to proclaim repentance and to heal the sick, Jesus sends us into our communities to proclaim God’s  message of mercy, compassion and healing. 3) Material possessions should never become an obstacle to proclaiming the Gospel, because Christ who sends us will provide. In other words as disciples of Christ and minister in various services in the Church, we need to “travel light”; without material or spiritual baggage!

We must also realize that those who are being sent by Jesus today to preach are no longer the Twelve because they were gone already and have their mission accomplished. You know, it is the mission of the Church to preach. All of us are baptized as Catholic Christians and became members of this Church. Some are ordained to preach like us, priests, and others are not, but all of us, baptized Christians, are called to preach the gospel. And none of us is excused. Each one of us is commissioned to a ministry of love and justice by virtue of our baptism. Let us listen to these words of Vatican II’s Decree on the Laity: “Incorporated into Christ’s Mystical Body through baptism and strengthened by the power of the Holy through confirmation, the laity are assigned to the apostolate by the Lord Himself,” (no. 3). So what ever the kind of life, or profession or occupation you have now, you are sent out “to preach, teach, heal and witness to the Good news,” in short, you are sent to evangelize.

Today God is looking for Christians who are quiet enough to get the message from Him, brave enough to spread it and honest enough to live it. Please let us not hide ourselves because God, no matter how we hide ourselves from Him, sees us and finds us. Let us not play hide and seek. It is our vocation to preach, that is, to know Christ and to be like Him; to love Him and to love those who do not know Him and offer them the fruits of redemption.

Today we are called upon to receive the word of truth in our lives and not to replicate Amaziah. We are called upon to worship God in spirit and not like a mere religious obligation. We are called upon to reflect the missionary script given by our Lord Jesus to the apostles. Among other things we should know that if God has called, chosen and sent us, He will also provide for us. Thus there will be no need for struggling over material remunerations; they are distractions from the main purpose of our ministry and vocation as Christians.

There is also need to fight the Amaziah in us. This Amaziah comes in various shapes and shades. It stands for jealousy which is one of the viral attacks we face in our vocation. We should be able to accept the fact that we are differently gifted and should also appreciate and encourage one another. Amaziah also stands for materialism that is rocking the foundation of our ministry. Many are today more conscious of what will come to them than what will be gainful in the life of the people they minister to. This is the trend of our day and age where men of God live in mansions and drive exotic cars while the members of the church may not afford one modest meal. Yet they are persuaded to donate their last saving with the promise that God will make them suddenly rich. There is need for us to exterminate those destructive Amaziahs of selfishness and materialism in the ministry and incorporate the Amos that represents true mission as set out by our Lord Jesus Christ.

Fourteenth Sunday of the Year B



Ezekiel 2:2-5;
2 Cor 12:7-10
Mark 6:1-6

Mission and Challenges of a Prophet

 The Bible readings of today speak of the challenges that face a true prophet. First of  all a true prophet does not send himself. He is sent by God. He does not speak on his behalf but on behalf of the one who sent.  He or she is brave, courageous, truthful, and remains the conscience of his or her society, people and next door neighbor. Secondly, a prophet is human, and could even be weak in eloquence and stature.  Besides human weaknesses, he could be rejected by those he, or she is sent to evangelize. Thirdly, there may be many other forms of hardships and sufferings, a prophet must have to endure in the course of fulfilling his or her ministry.

In the case Ezekiel’s ministry captured in today’s first reading, he was sent as a human prophet to preach to the rebellious Israelites.  His prophetic humanity is made clear repeatedly in the entire book of Ezekiel where he is constantly addressed by God, as ‘the son of man” or “mortal,” about 93 times. That Ezekiel knew that he was human, mortal, son of man, imperfect helped him relied totally on the grace of God in his prophecy of hope and change of heart to the exiled community of Israel in Babylon.

In the Gospel reading (Mark 6:1-6) , Jesus also called himself a prophet. Having been insulted and rejected in his home town of Nazareth, Jesus said to himself, “a prophet is not without honor except in his native place among his own kin and his own house.” By calling himself a prophet Jesus recognizes his father who sent him to do his will: baptize the unbaptized, forgive sinners, teach courageously in the synagogue and healed the sick without charge. By calling himself a prophet,  in the likes of Jeremiah, Ezekiel and other Israel’s prophet, Jesus recognizes that human honor was immaterial to the mission that his father had sent him. In spite of his  hardships that span through the garden of Gethsameni and via delorosa and even to the cross(which we relived this afternoon in the Holy Land),  the spirit of the Lord was upon him (Luke 4:18), as he walked his way heroically to the calvary!

Saint Paul  in his mission to the Church in Corinth understood these challenges. In the 2nd reading Paul says, “a thorn in the flesh was given to me, to keep me from been too elated. Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” Throughout his missionary journeys, Paul, like Ezekiel, and Christ endured insults, hardships, rejections, persecutions, constraints and dishonor, for the sake of Christ.

How many of us today in our various places of ministries first of all would be humble to recognize that we are human,  weak and vunerable? How many realize that they are mere messengers, mortals, sons and daughters of men, like the prophet Ezekiel, or instruments in God’s hands?  Do dishonors, insults, persecutions and hardships, challenges stop us from doing  the good that must be done (love our neighbors,  be charitable and forgiving), or from  preaching the gospel that needs be preached?

Taking Ezekiel, Saint Paul and Christ our prophets, as our prophetic models of depature, may we recognize that there is that hidden divine strength in every seeming human weakness and dishonor we may face in the course of doing good,  evangelizing, or in the course of being faithfully and truly prophetic to our neighbors.

Jesus came to Nazareth no longer as a mere citizen of the town, but as the messiah with power and authority. He came to the familiar ground with quite unfamiliar arsenals. He came not as a wood carpenter, but as a spiritual carpenter; he did not come to repair broken tables, chairs and farm implements, he rather came to repair the lives of the people. He came as a fulfilment of the prophecy of Ezekiel in the First Reading (2:2-5) which promises the sending of a prophet among the rebels who turned against God. He came not only as Jesus (a common name at the time), but also as the Christ (the anointed one, a name that is peculiar). Our Lord Jesus Christ visited not as a member of the community but as its master, teacher and Lord. The rejection of Jesus today at his home town shows us the tension between familiarity and our faith practice. The rejection of Jesus has continued in our day and age though occurring in different ways and through various “Nazareths”.

Some have grown too familiar with the House of God that we often fail to remember the value and sacredness the House of God. Some of us have grown so familiar with our churches that we don’t mind making noise and engaging in gossips while the liturgy is going on. We have become so conversant with our churches that we don’t mind making and receiving calls, sending and receiving text messages while worship is going on.

Furthermore, some questions need to be answered: “Do we go to Church as a faith practice or as a mere familiar practice?” “Do we approach the sacraments as a faith practice of as a conventionally familiar practice?” Do we connect to the word of God in faith or as a familiar routine?”  We need to understand and underline the fact that our Lord was unable to do more works in Nazareth because of their lack of faith. The same experience is valid in our day and age. Jesus is ready to do more for you but the quality of your faith can make him do less or none at all. There is need for us to move away from Nazareth.

Nazareth here stands for doubt and faithlessness in God which gives rise to rejection of Jesus Christ. Nazareth here also stands for our inattention to God’s unlimited power in any circumstance in our lives. In Nazareth we will fail to see beyond the physical familiar grounds, in Nazareth we can only see Jesus as the mere carpenter of woods and not the spiritual carpenter of our souls.  The Nazareth in your life may be as mind boggling and as weakening as the cross St. Paul spoke about in the Second Reading of today (2 Cor.12:7-10). Often God may allows us like St. Paul to go through some crucibles (some thorns in the flesh) to make us not to get too familiar with and lose sight of God’s graces. Like unto St. Paul God is also telling us that His grace will be sufficient to lead us out of that Nazareth.










7/01/2018

THIRTEENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR, B

Wis 1:13-15; 2:23-34;
2 Cor 8: 7,9,13-15;
Mark 5:21-43
The gospel this Sunday, begins with the information that Jesus Christ crossed
over to the other side with his disciples. “Crossing over to the other side” is
reflected in several places in the gospels. Wherever we see it occurring there is
always an indication that something very important will be taking place. Our Lord
would always cross over to the other side to save a situation, to heal, to teach a
historic lesson or to show forth the active power of God. We saw him last Sunday
crossing over to the other side with his disciples when they encountered a storm
at the middle of the sea.
Life is generally filled with constant crossing over to the other side. Those who
refuse or fail to cross over to the other side often experience failure. Abraham
had to cross over to the other side before God fulfilled His promises to him
(Genesis 12:1). Joseph had to cross over to the other side to attain the height
God planned for him (Genesis 37:28) Moses and the people of Israel had to
cross over to the other side to get to the Promised Land (Exodus 14:21-22).
There are indeed many instances.
As Jesus our Lord crossed over, he healed a woman who suffered from a chronic
bleeding disease and returned the dead daughter of Jairus to life. These healings
teach us that Jesus willed life, and willed full life for all God’s children. The two
healings also reveal Jesus as a generous, kind and compassionate
God Who wills that men should live their wholesome lives fully. They also give
us further proof of the Divine power and the Infinite mercy of our Savior. These
miracles were worked by Jesus as reward for the trusting Faith of a synagogue
ruler and of a woman with a hemorrhage. Although the Faith of the ruler might
have been defective, and the woman’s Faith might have been a bit superstitious,
Jesus amply rewarded the Faith they had by granting them health and life.
As Christians, we believe that Jesus continues to heal us through his instruments
in the medical profession like doctors, nurses and medical technicians. Hence,
when we go to a doctor, we need to offer a prayer to Christ The Divine Healer,
that we may choose the right doctor, and that he or she will make the correct
diagnosis, prescribe the correct treatment and give us the right medicine. Let us
not forget the truth, that Christ still works wonders of healing. Let us also thank
God for the great gift of health and use it for helping those who are sick. As
members of the Church, we are not excused from our vocation to be healers.
We do our share of Christ’s healing mission by visiting the sick, by praying for
their healing, and by boosting their morale with our loving presence, words of
encouragement and inspiration. Thus, we may enable them to experience the
compassion of Jesus the healer.
When we look critically at the Gospel reading, we see that the stories have
several common features. One, Jairus daughter is 12 years old, and the other
woman is said to have been suffering for 12 years. Both of them are called
“daughter,” and both are in need of physical healing. The girl’s father is
encouraged to have Faith, and the older woman is praised for her Faith. The two
stories illustrate Jesus’ power over both chronic illness and death. In each
healing, Jesus shows his marvelous generosity by giving the recipients life and
salvation in addition to physical healing.
When we look at Jairus, he was the ruler of the synagogue, a well-respected
man in the local Jewish community. He was the administrative head of the
synagogue, the president of the board of elders and the one responsible for the
conduct of the services. He probably shared in the Pharisees’ prejudice that
Jesus was a heretic and a wandering preacher to be avoided. If so, the urgency
of his need and the helplessness of the situation prompted him to forget his
position, to swallow his pride and prejudice and to seek help from Jesus the
wandering wonder-worker. As for the woman, it seems she came to Jesus as a
last resort, after trying every other cure known in her day. The Mosaic Law (Lv
15:25-27) declared her unclean and shut her off from the worship of God and the
fellowship of her friends. That may be why she decided to try to touch the
tassels of Jesus' garment secretly. Jesus, like every other Jew, wore an outer
robe with four tassels on it, one at each corner--the badge of a devout Jew as
prescribed (Nm15:38-40).
The woman had been unclean and “unclean” actually became her name. She
was not supposed to touch or be touched because that would make a clean
person ceremonially unclean for the rest of the day. This woman heard that
Jesus was passing by. She reasoned that this same man who changed water
into wine, who cured the famous demoniac the other side of the sea could as well
make her clean. She marched out with faith to Jesus. But unlike Jairus she had
no easy access. However she was not discouraged. She struggled through the
crowd meaning to touch the helm of the garment of Jesus Christ. She believed
that she will be healed by doing so. We can imagine her plight, she was evidently
weak and frail, she could have been pushed down several times in the bid to
touch our Lord, she could have been insulted, scolded, antagonized, but she did
not relent until she touched the helm of the garment of our Lord. When she finally
did she was instantly healed!
The touch Jesus received was significantly different from the ones he had been
receiving so he stopped and asked who touched me! This might have appeared
to be a senseless question as the disciples established. This was because the
crowd was so much and many people were pressing round him. But Jesus was
right; someone actually touched him in a way that was different from others.
Among all in the crowd only one person purposefully made a touch of faith on
Jesus Christ. The woman who was known as “Mrs Unclean” or “Madam with the

issue of blood” was the only one who made a touch of faith on our Lord Jesus
Christ. Upon this faith motivated touch, the woman in question instantly received
her healing. The pain of twelve years turned into pay, the challenge of twelve
years became a chance, the stumbling block of twelve years became a stepping
stone, and the problem of twelve years became a prospect.
Today, we are presented with so many lessons. Firstly there is need for us to
undertake the crossing over to the other side. Jairus left his house and crossed
over to meet Jesus. The woman with the issue of blood had to cross over the
teeming crowd in order to reach and touch Jesus. You may have been at this
side of hopelessness, you may have been at this side of despair, and you may
have also been at this side of fear, doubt and pride. This is the time for you to
cross over to the other side of faith and trust in God. Secondly you are crossing
over to the other side not like the crowd who went to make familiar and
accidental touch. You are crossing over to the other side so that you can make
the touch of faith. Jairus made a touch of faith and the daughter was healed. The
woman with the issue of blood made the touch of faith and she was healed.
Using the woman with the issue of blood as an instance, she had faith and was
ready to make a touch of faith, but she did not have easy access to Jesus. In our
time we have free and easy access to Jesus Christ especially in the Most
Blessed Sacrament, but how many of us touch (receive) with faith? Today we
have allowed the crowd of sin, the crowd of godlessness, the crowd of
worldliness to stand between us and our Lord Jesus Christ, the author of our
faith. Often we allow the crowd in form of tribulations to render us faithless and
thus unpleasing to God (Heb.11:6). It is always at the most trying times that our
faith can be gauged rightly.
As members of the Church, we are not excused from our vocation to be healers.
When a friend of ours is terminally ill, the skill of the doctors and their advanced
medical tools often become powerless. What the patient needs in such a
situation is our care, concern and prayerful presence, enabling them to
experience through us the love, compassion and mercy of Jesus. We do our
share of Christ’s healing mission by visiting the sick, by praying for their healing
and by boosting their morale through our loving presence, encouragement and
inspiration.
It’s true, Jesus does not expect us to raise someone from a physical death but
does He expect that we follow His example? He went out of his way and made a
trip to the official’s home to make sure this little girl was saved. Will we do that?
As we consider a situation where we have been separated from someone, will
we take the first step, as Jesus did? Do we say, “Well, that’s a different story. I
might have to swallow my pride because I wasn’t at fault. The other party was
unreasonable or made a hasty judgement and that caused the
misunderstanding?” Even if that is true, those are the situations in which Jesus
asks us to “follow His lead”. His example today is meant to guide us in our “real

life situations”. Everyone here is not in that situation but most of us occasionally
do make hasty decisions that adversely effect others around us…. a daughter or
a son, a parent, a spouse or a friend.
Yes, as He went out of His way to help the young girl, He is asking us to take the
first step! He is asking us to pick up the phone or to write a letter and try to “bring
to life a relationship that has died”. These are times when we can follow His
example but our pride often prevents us from TAKING that first step. We fear
rejection but fail to remember that Jesus experienced, for our sake, the most
ignominious rejection in the history of the world. His dying for us should give us
strength to analyze personal situations and realize Jesus will give us the strength
to find the courage we need to forget our pride and follow in His footsteps.
We must also analyze our relations with our God. We can become complacent
regarding our life as it relates to our real goal … eternity in Heaven. It is wise to
review that situation also. Does our faith life need to be “resurrected”?
Jesus’ miracle restored human life to a dead young girl. Should we go through
periodic checkups to determine if our spiritual life is dying? Our faith relation to
God should not be taken for granted. Our presence here this morning indicates
we believe what the Bible teaches us but is this relation as strong as it could be?
It’s not difficult to find out. There are not that many benchmarks. We heard, this
morning, from the book of Wisdom where it is written, “By the envy of the devil,
death entered the world, and they who belong to his world experience it.” We
don’t hear much talk about the devil any more but we certainly see the result of
his presence in our modern society. As an example, being involved in excessive
use of drugs and alcohol or involved in sex outside of marriage can place us in
jeopardy of being a “walking spiritual time bomb”. Jesus was a compassionate
man but He was also told us, “If you love Me you will keep My commandments.”
Also, our prayer life must be important to us to be sure our faith is a “living
reality”. How many minutes each day do we spend in prayer? There are 1440
minutes in a day. Can we spend 30 of those minutes saying a rosary, reading the
bible, attending a Mass? Those 30 minutes only represent 2% of each day.
Others in our society might scoff at such an idea but remember that in today’s
gospel Jesus extended Himself on a mission of mercy. He asked for no reward.
And what was the response He received? The crowd ridiculed Him when He
said, “The child is not dead but asleep.” That did not deter Him from His mission.
As He was concerned about the young girl’s life so, too, is He concerned about
our spiritual “life”. As we come to receive His body and blood, today, ask Him to
guide us and to give us the strength to improve our “spiritual life”. When the little
girl rose and walked, the crowd was utterly astounded. We, too, may be utterly
astounded at how much we can accomplish when we call upon Him for
assistance.

Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, B

 
Ezekiel 2:2-5;
2 Cor 12:7-10
Mission and Challenges of a Prophet
Mark 6:1-6
 The Bible readings of today speak of the challenges that face a true prophet. First of  all a true prophet does not send himself. He is sent by God. He does not speak on his behalf but on behalf of the one who sent.  He or she is brave, courageous, truthful, and remains the conscience of his or her society, people and next door neighbor. Secondly, a prophet is human, and could even be weak in eloquence and stature.  Besides human weaknesses, he could be rejected by those he, or she is sent to evangelize. Thirdly, there may be many other forms of hardships and sufferings, a prophet must have to endure in the course of fulfilling his or her ministry.
In the case Ezekiel’s ministry captured in today’s first reading, he was sent as a human prophet to preach to the rebellious Israelites.  His prophetic humanity is made clear repeatedly in the entire book of Ezekiel where he is constantly addressed by God, as ‘the son of man” or “mortal,” about 93 times. That Ezekiel knew that he was human, mortal, son of man, imperfect helped him relied totally on the grace of God in his prophecy of hope and change of heart to the exiled community of Israel in Babylon.
In the Gospel reading (Mark 6:1-6) , Jesus also called himself a prophet. Having been insulted and rejected in his home town of Nazareth, Jesus said to himself, “a prophet is not without honor except in his native place among his own kin and his own house.” By calling himself a prophet Jesus recognizes his father who sent him to do his will: baptize the unbaptized, forgive sinners, teach courageously in the synagogue and healed the sick without charge. By calling himself a prophet,  in the likes of Jeremiah, Ezekiel and other Israel’s prophet, Jesus recognizes that human honor was immaterial to the mission that his father had sent him. In spite of his  hardships that span through the garden of Gethsameni and via delorosa and even to the cross(which we relived this afternoon in the Holy Land),  the spirit of the Lord was upon him (Luke 4:18), as he walked his way heroically to the calvary!
Saint Paul  in his mission to the Church in Corinth understood these challenges. In the 2nd reading Paul says, “a thorn in the flesh was given to me, to keep me from been too elated. Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” Throughout his missionary journeys, Paul, like Ezekiel, and Christ endured insults, hardships, rejections, persecutions, constraints and dishonor, for the sake of Christ. How many of us today in our various places of ministries first of all would be humble to recognize that we are human,  weak and vunerable? How many realize that they are mere messengers, mortals, sons and daughters of men, like the prophet Ezekiel, or instruments in God’s hands?  Do dishonors, insults, persecutions and hardships, challenges stop us from doing  the good that must be done (love our neighbors,  be charitable and forgiving), or from  preaching the gospel that needs be preached? Taking Ezekiel, Saint Paul and Christ our prophets, as our prophetic models of depature, may we recognize that there is that hidden divine strength in every seeming human weakness and dishonor we may face in the course of doing good,  evangelizing, or in the course of being faithfully and truly prophetic to our neighbors.
Furthermore, some questions need to be answered: “Do we go to Church as a faith practice or as a mere familiar practice?” “Do we approach the sacraments as a faith practice of as a conventionally familiar practice?” Do we connect to the word of God in faith or as a familiar routine?” We need to understand and underline the fact that our Lord was unable to do more works in Nazareth because of their lack of faith. The same experience is valid in our day and age. Jesus is ready to do more for you but the quality of your faith can make him do less or none at all. There is need for us to move away from Nazareth.
Jesus came to Nazareth no longer as a mere citizen of the town, but as the messiah with power and authority. He came to the familiar ground with quite unfamiliar arsenals. He came not as a wood carpenter, but as a spiritual carpenter; he did not come to repair broken tables, chairs and farm implements, he rather came to repair the lives of the people. He came as a fulfilment of the prophecy of Ezekiel in the First Reading (2:2-5) which promises the sending of a prophet among the rebels who turned against God. He came not only as Jesus (a common name at the time), but also as the Christ (the anointed one, a name that is peculiar). Our Lord Jesus Christ visited not as a member of the community but as its master, teacher and Lord. The rejection of Jesus today at his home town shows us the tension between familiarity and our faith practice. The rejection of Jesus has continued in our day and age though occurring in different ways and through various “Nazareths”. Some have grown too familiar with the House of God that we often fail to remember the value and sacredness the House of God. Some of us have grown so familiar with our churches that we don’t mind making noise and engaging in gossips while the liturgy is going on. We have become so conversant with our churches that we don’t mind making and receiving calls, sending and receiving text messages while worship is going on.
Nazareth here stands for doubt and faithlessness in God which gives rise to rejection of Jesus Christ. Nazareth here also stands for our inattention to God’s unlimited power in any circumstance in our lives. In Nazareth we will fail to see beyond the physical familiar grounds, in Nazareth we can only see Jesus as the mere carpenter of woods and not the spiritual carpenter of our souls. The Nazareth in your life may be as mind boggling and as weakening as the cross St. Paul spoke about in the Second Reading of today (2 Cor.12:7-10). Often God may allows us like St. Paul to go through some crucibles (some thorns in the flesh) to make us not to get too familiar with and lose sight of God’s graces. Like unto St. Paul God is also telling us that His grace will be sufficient to lead us out of that Nazareth.

6/24/2018

SOLEMNITY OF THE NATIVITY OF JOHN THE BAPTIST

Isa 49:1-6;
Acts 13;22-26
Luke 1:57-66,80

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Birth of John the Baptist, the last but not the least of the prophets in the OT. As a rule, the church celebrates the feast of a saint once a year, on the anniversary of the saint’s death. In the case of John the Baptist, we celebrate his death as well as his birth. John is therefore, the only saint after Christ and the Virgin Mother  whose birth we celebrate with a solemn feast. The feast is celebrated on a Sunday only once every seven years. This is no doubt a special celebration and that is why the Church could still celebrate it on a Sunday and why today’s readings replace the regular Sunday readings- the Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time. John the Baptist occupies a very expedient position in the history of salvation being the forerunner of our Lord Jesus Christ. Our Lord himself made it clear that John the Baptist occupies a very important position in the entire framework of his salvific mission. A solemnity is therefore, the Church’s way of saying with Jesus that "among those born of women no one is greater than John." 

The gospel story focuses and shows interest in the naming of the child and should help us meditate on the function of names. It is quite in order here to recall that in biblical times, and still today in many African cultures, personal names function the way business names do, that is, they aim to convey what the bearer of the names stand for. When Simon showed that he could be relied on as a leader of the apostles, he got the name "Rock." When the sons of Zebedee, James and John, petitioned Jesus to call down lightning from heaven to burn up the inhabitants of a Samarian village who did not welcome Jesus, they get a new name "Sons of Thunder." Names therefore, reveal an essential character or destiny of the bearer.

“The name, “John,” in Hebrew is “Yehohanan.” It means “The Lord is gracious,” or maybe better, “The Lord shows favor.” His birth signals the beginning of a new era in God-human relationship, an era to be characterized by grace and not by law. God himself gave John that name and it was revealed to his father Zachary in a vision (Luke 1:13). That this name was given the child already before his birth shows that God had a purpose and plan for the child. The words of Isaiah in the first reading apply equally to John: "The Lord called me before I was born, while I was in my mother’s womb he named me...he formed me in the womb to be his servant" (Isaiah 49: 1, 5). In the birth of John we see that the philosophy that holds that people come into the world without a purpose, and that it is by exercising their freedom that they create a purpose for their lives is wrong. In John we see that God already has a purpose for His children before they come into this world, and so the challenge of life is for them to discover this purpose and to be faithful to its demands.
The purpose for which God created you and me may require that we walk to a different drumbeat than other people. For John it required that he lived in the desert far from normal human contact and civilization. God’s purpose for his life dictated even the minutest details of how he would dress and eat, since he had to dress in rough animal skin and eat the vegetarian food of locusts and wild honey. He adopted a lifestyle that would enhance his calling in life.
To discern what God is calling us to be we need to cultivate some sort of desert in our lives where we can listen to God. We need to make Samuel’s words to the Lord, "Speak, your servant is listening" (1 Samuel 3:10) part of our daily prayer. And, to be faithful to the call of God, we need the courage and discipline to keep away from any choice of association or lifestyle that does not help us along the path to which God has called us. John is great today not just because God called him to a special vocation but because he walked faithfully in the path that leads to the goal that God had set for him.
The neighborhood in which John was born did not help him to realize his divine calling. In fact they wanted to prevent John from receiving his God-given name and identity. They wanted to give him his father’s name "Zachary." They objected to his being named John because "None of your relatives has this name" (Luke 1:61). For them what a child can be is determined by what his family and lineage has been. Their dream of a wonderful future for the child is limited by his family background. But God’s dream for us far exceeds anything that has been in our family background.
We are also part of God's plan. We have a function, a responsibility to the Kingdom. What exactly is your role? What is my role? We know in general, but the specifics become more evident as life progresses. In general, I am a priest, and therefore I have a role as an intermediary for God's people. You may be married. Therefore, in general, your role is to find God in your spouse and allow him or her to find God in you. You may be a parent. Therefore, in general, your role is to lead your children to God. You may be single. Therefore, in general, your role is to give witness to the world as a dedicated Christian and moral single. You may be a Teen. Therefore you have a role to prepare for your future so you can assume your responsibilities as a leader in the faith. These are our general roles in God's plan, but how about our specific roles?
As we celebrate the birth of John the Baptist and read the marvelous story of how he got his God-given name, let us ask ourselves: If I am now to receive a new name, a name that represents my God-given identity and calling in life, what would that name be? If you do not know your God-given name, the name which represents all that God sent you into the world to be and to accomplish, then it is time to find out by listening in prayer. This is because our greatness as children of God, like the greatness of John the Baptist, consists in discovering what God had created us to be and living out the demands of that call without compromise.
We have a lot to learn today from the birth John the Baptist.  In the first place his life and ministry was totally under divine will and direction. He cued into this divine plan and direction till he died in active service. We have been called individually for specific missions. God has a plan for each and every one of us (Jer. 29:11). We are blessed and greatly too if we discover and work in accordance with God’s plan. Do not work in another person’s plan. Work with the plan God has set for you. Most people have abandoned the life they should live and are living the lives of others. You are special the way you are and God loves you that way.

We see in the life of John the Baptist humility at its best. He never arrogated to himself anything that did not pertain to him. For those who were confusing him with the messiah he said: “I am not the messiah!” (John 1:20). He went further to state that the messiah is greater than him. On the day of Christ’s baptism he also displayed a heart touching humility by asking Christ to rather baptize him. (Matt. 3:14). We are called upon to reflect humility always in our lives. One of the best ways to achieve this is to know our positions and maintain them.

Truth was the hallmark of John’s ministry. We all know that he came to bear witness to the truth. Of course our Lord is the Truth itself (Jn. 14:6). His martyrdom was entirely on account of the truth (Matt. 14:1-12). Our advertence to the truth must be in season and out of season. Truth must always be told because it exalts God.

We can with confidence say that John the Baptist was the last of the Old Testament Prophets. In his manner and speech he clearly has something of Jeremiah or Elijah about him. But you could certainly also say that John the Baptist was the first of the New Testament Prophets, the very first of the witnesses to Christ. There is always a need for prophets in the Church and God has not been neglectful in providing them. There are people in our own day who speak up for Christ. In recent times we can think of Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul, Oscar Romero, Josephine Bakhita and so on. We may not consider ourselves saints but each of us can make a spiritual impression on the world in our own way.

Mother Teresa relates this incident from her life. Once a man came to the home for the dying in Kalighat, and just walked straight into the ward. Mother Teresa was sitting there. A while later the man came to Mother and said to her, “I came here with so much hate in my heart; hate for God and hate for man. I came here empty and embittered, and I saw a Sister giving her wholehearted attention to that patient there and realized that God still lives. Now I go out a different man. I believe there is a God and he loves us still.” That sister paved the way for God in that embittered man’s life. John the Baptist, as foretold by the prophet Isaiah was the voice that was making the way straight for the Lord. He facilitated the coming of Jesus. He paved the way for Christ’s coming by his austere life, preaching and death.

Each of us is capable of being a Prophet of the New Testament. Each of us can make an impact for Christ on our neighbours. As we have seen the name John means God will show him favour. But as we recognise this favour is shown not only to John, it is shown to all of us. Paul was invited to say a few words in the synagogue of Antioch he stood up and gave the beautiful account of the history of salvation that we heard in the second reading today. And he concluded it by saying to his Jewish brothers: this message of salvation is meant for you. He speaks to the Jews of Antioch but he also speaks to us. This message of salvation is meant for us too. We receive the salvation Christ won for us but we are also, like John, its heralds. We too proclaim a Baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. We too reject sin and proclaim our belief in God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

6/16/2018

Eleventh Sunday of the Year, B


ELEVENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR B

Ez 17.22-24; 2 Cor 5.6-10; Mk 4.26-34

We walk by Faith Not by Sight

When we turn to the readings proposed for our meditation this Sunday for some instructions for life, our Lord puts before us in the Gospel passage two “growing” parables.  The first reading and the Gospel passage speak about seeds, the root of all great things, which germinate and grow into great trees with accommodative branches for birds of the air. All that a seed requires is a fertile soil to germinate and to produce abundantly.  A good seed would thus need a good soil; if either is deficient the outcome will be a depreciated harvest. In the parable it is as if man simply sleeps and wakes, day after day and the seeds we sow just sprout and grow of course with God being in control.  

In the first reading, Ezekiel tells us how the Lord God of Israel will send a descendant of King David as His Messiah and the Savior of the world. The Messiah is originating in a royal family (lofty Cedar, David). In the second reading, St. Paul teaches the Corinthian Christians that they are to advance the growth of God’s Kingdom and His rule in their lives by doing His will so that they may be amply rewarded in the final judgment. In the Gospel passage, Jesus compares the growth of the Kingdom of God to the germination of a wheat seed and that of a tiny mustard seed. Both have very small beginnings. The wheat seeds, by gradual but steady growth, give the farmer a bumper crop. In the same way, the life principle in a tiny mustard seed enables it to grow into a large bush. The reign of God in human hearts and the growth of the Church in the world also have small beginnings. But the Source of all life, God the Holy Spirit, gives to both a steady, persistent and gigantic growth, provided we cooperate with His grace.

The first parable on the seed growing secretly and invisibly is about many of us who have not been able to rise to the average level of livelihood because they do not appreciate the fact that great things begin small. Many have the intention of becoming successful men and women but wish to start big.  Often such people experience great setbacks before the first anniversary of their enterprise.  This is not the experience even from the Bible:

Abraham to whom God made the promise of being the father of a great nation came from the then small insignificant city of Ur of the Chaldeans (Gen. 11:28, 15).

Joseph who became a prime minister in the palace of Pharaoh was a prime suspect awaiting death sentence. (Gen. 39.20; 40.41-45).

Moses who later became the instrument of liberation for the people of Israel from Egypt was salvaged from the riverside by the daughter of pharaoh. (Ex. 2.5).

David the youngest of the sons of Jesse was finally chosen and anointed the king of Israel ( I King 16.11-13).  The smallest became the greatest.

Most of the judges and Prophets were men and women of little worth, but the little in them became great and helpful for the entire nation.
Our Lord Jesus Christ came from the small and insignificant town of Nazareth to become the Saviour of the world.  Of course we are familiar with the saying: Can anything good come from Nazareth?”. (Jn 1.46). 

These are not the only biblical examples of individuals  who made it in life starting small.  All these challenge those of us who, because of the setbacks, problems and obstacles in life, think that God is doing nothing in the world to look more closely.   God is still very much active in our world and He is still in control, leading the world to its appointed purpose, the time of harvest.

The Lord likened the Kingdom to a mustard seed which, though small, grows to become a great tree with comfort rooms for the birds of the air.  From the first reading and the Gospel passage we discover that the seed and the twig are at first small, tender and vulnerable. They could at most be neglected.  The power is not actually physical, hence it lies within them and they begin to manifest their potentials when they are planted on a receptive soil. In the prophecy of Ezekiel in the first reading, God promised that He will take a twig from the cedar tree and plant it on the mountain and it shall grow, bear fruits and be a place of comfort for the birds of the air.

The parable also challenges those of us who expect God to intervene in our lives with immediate flashes of lightning and thunder to realize that God does not often act in such sensational ways.  People who want God to act with visible immediacy are like Elijah on Mount Horeb, who expected to experience God in a hurricane, in an earthquake and in fire (I Kg 19.11-12), only to be disappointed.  He was finally able to experience God in the still small voice – God is not sensational.

The passage is a call to us all to be patient, even in an apparent lack of progress. Very often we wonder how, despite all efforts we are putting into life, we are not yet saints; we wonder how in spite of all the effort we still are far from being “as perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect (Mt 5.48). The passage assures us that so long as we abide in God, the seed of faith sown in us will continue to grow and bear abundant fruits for the Harvest. 

In the second parable of the Mustard seed, Jesus compares the reign of God in this world to “a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its branches.” (Mk 26.31-36).

In a sense we are connected with this parabolic seed.  Left alone we are nothing; we are small, fragile, vulnerable and even powerless.  But through Baptism we are united with Christ and it is through this union, as is being planted on a good soil that we grow, mature and become big solid trees.  It is not surprising then for St Paul to say that he can do all things through Christ who gives him strength (Phil 4.13).

This should be a challenge to us who are reluctant to believe and discount the little things we do for God and are negligent in doing the little everyday things we do for the Kingdom of God to grow in the world and through us. As Christians we are expected to bear fruits, we are expected to be charitable and accommodating.  If God has given us increase, we are expected to give others increase.  Some of us are however, unfortunately so sure of failure more than we trust in the power of God to lead us to the next level in life.

It is true that we cannot stop wars, but we can sow seeds of compassion, justice and forgiveness in order to make this world a better place to live in.  We cannot abolish prejudice, but we can be courteous and kind and have genuine respect toward those around us who are “different” from us.  We cannot end crime and political corruption, but we can be honest in all our dealings with fellow human beings. We cannot wipe out poverty, but we can help those in need. If we have patience and hope, eventually the harvest of what we have planted will take its appearance:  Nations will be reconciled; human rights restored; the vulnerable innocent will be protected, the unwanted cared for and the hungry given food. We may not necessarily even see these results in our life time, but the next generation will.

All of these are mustard seeds, little things that God turns into very significant things, small things that in the divine economy become big things. We should stop selling ourselves short, selling ourselves cheaply, and considering ourselves to be of little worth in the big scheme of things.

As we continue with the liturgy of this Sunday, let us continue to model our lives after the mustard seed or more appropriately adopt the mustard seed mentality by our humility, patience, obedience, and love. May we remember and sustain the fact that great things start small.