TUESDAY OF HOLY WEEK: FACING OUR BETRAYALS AND DENIALS

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Simon Ushakov’s icon of the Mystical Supper

Today’s Gospel of the Tuesday of Passion Week focuses on Jesus’ prophecies about Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial. Judas betrays him, Peter will deny him, and then the remaining ten will scatter. Indeed, the saddest moment in the life of Jesus.

From the beginning of his public ministry, the disciples have been at his side. They have learned from him, traveled with him, ministered with him, been his earthly companions, and comforted him as he walked this otherwise lonely road to Jerusalem.

But now, as Jesus’s hour comes, this burden he must bear alone. The definitive work will be no team effort. The Anointed must go forward unaccompanied, as even his friends betray him, deny him, and disperse. As Donald Macleod observes, “Had the redemption of the world depended on the diligence of the disciples (or even their staying awake) it would never have been accomplished” [1]

He knows of Judas’ plan to turn him over to the religious authorities. Jesus also knows of Peter’s weakness and how, after the arrest in the garden, that weakness will lead to his denial of even knowing Jesus. Jesus knows that most of his disciples will abandon him.

Like the disciples, God knows that many times, we will betray and deny him. And still Jesus allows the betrayal and the denial to unfold without exposure or confrontation. Why? More remarkable than the depth of our betrayal is the height of love that God has shown. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends, even when they have forsaken him.

Indeed, betrayal is the most tragic thing we can do to the people whom we love the most. Betrayal is the worst thing we can do to the things we cherished. We don’t talk of betrayal of one’s enemies. It is not one of his many enemies who will hand Jesus over. It is one of the Twelve, it is someone who has dipped his hand into the same dish with Jesus, a sign of friendship and solidarity.

Thus, when we talk about betrayal, we talk of betrayal of a husband to his wife, a wife to her husband, a parent to their children, a child to his/her parents, a lover to his/her beloved and a friend to his/her friend. We talk of betrayal of one’s own family, race, country and religion. We can also talk of betrayal within ourselves–betrayal of our own profound dignity and identity as created by God in God’s own image. We do this when we go against our own conscience–the inner voice of God within. As St. Paul says, “For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want (Romans 7: 19).  We can also talk of betrayal of God’s creation when we continue to exploit and destroy God’s creation for our own benefit. We have betrayed God’s very purpose;  God has placed us in this world to be stewards not destroyers of creation. All of these finally lead to betrayal of the love of God, his gospel and Spirit.

Today, Holy Tuesday, three days before we commemorate the passion and death of Jesus, is a most opportune time to reflect and examine our betrayals. How often have we betrayed Jesus and those around us, especially the people we love the most? How many times have we  gone to the other side–our enemies, the forces of evil, Satan’s seductions? How many times have we turned against our family, spouse, parent, children, friend?  How many times have we turned against our own race, our own people, our own country?  How many times have we turned against our truest identity. How many times have we turned against God who love us the most? 

As we approach the paschal event of Jesus passing over from death to resurrection, Jesus invites us to return to his Father, return to the people we truly love, return to the things we truly cherish, return to God’s creation, return to our truest identity as a child of God, a disciple of Jesus. Let us ask God’s mercy and pardon for our betrayals and denials. As we journey with Jesus in his passover, let us allow God’s grace to enter into the weakness of our betrayals and renew us once again. Let us surrender to God all our betrayals and once again renew our fidelity to God, to our loved ones, our friends and our true selves.

 


 

[1] Donald Macleod, The Person of Christ: Contours of Christian Theology (InterVarsity Press, 1998), 173.

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5TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: TO BE OR NOT TO BE

Hand lettering You the light of the world and the salt of the earth.

“To be, or not to be: that is the question” is the opening phrase of a monologue uttered by Prince Hamlet in  William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet. To be or not to be’ is probably the best-known line from all drama. It may also be one of the most popular one liner one can drop in any discourse.

This line, however, can represent one of the most fundamental question of our lives: What does it mean to live? In our lives, perhaps, the biggest challenge is how to live. We have a popular saying in Tagalog: Madaling maging tao, mahirap magpakatao! (Its easy to be born human, its hard to become human). This implies that it is far easier to exist in this world than to live. Many of us exist well but not truly live well. For one can easily exist and just go along with the circumstances of our lives but to live is to actively choose, even to fight for the just and noble path of life.  Indeed, “Not to be” is the easier option than “to be”.

It is tougher to live than to exist in the world today. It is easier to go with the flow than to go against it.  The world has driven us to become passive and led us to live a vicious cycle of victimhood. The political and economic situation we live, for example, makes it harder especially for the struggling poor to live a decent life than for the rich. The mass production, mass advertising and mass purchasing give us the feeling that we are worth very little in ourselves other than contributing to the market, doing and buying what it dictates. The culture of relativism and individualism makes it harder to hold on to our moral compass and live a life beyond our individualist goals. Confronting the system and defying it outright is the road less travelled. Many would rather seek to compromise first hoping that in the end they can transform the system from within. But sadly, many end up swallowed by the system.

“To be or not to be” is also a fundamental question of our Christian faith. Again in Tagalog: Madaling maging Kristiano, mahirap magpakakristiano (Its easy to be baptized as Christian, its hard to live as Christian).

In the Gospel of today’s 5th Sunday in Ordinary time, Jesus tells the disciples and the crowd to “be who they really are.” The gospel today is part of the Sermon on the Mount which follows immediately after the beautitudes. The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ declaration of the fundamental conditions of discipleship in his kingdom. Jesus brilliantly demonstrated his challenge to “be who they really are” by calling his disciples salt and light.

“You are the salt of the earth.
But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned?
It is no longer good for anything
but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
You are the light of the world.
A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden.
Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket;
it is set on a lampstand,
where it gives light to all in the house.
Just so, your light must shine before others,
that they may see your good deeds
and glorify your heavenly Father.”

The true nature and effectiveness of both salt and light is that they exist not for itself but for others. Salt does not give flavor to itself; light does not illuminate itself. Salt gives taste to food when it is sprinkled into the food. Once it is sprinkled into the food, however, it is gone; it is already within the seasoned food. We enjoy the food, not the salt. We dont eat the salt by itself. It is never pleasurable to eat the salt by itself. Salt is always for seasoning the food. Light is like this, too. We turn on a light not in order to look at the light, but in order to look at other things by means of the light. On the other hand, salt is thrown away and trampled if it becomes tasteless and light is ineffective if it is hidden.

Jesus’ calling us the salt and light of the world, just like the beatitudes is revolutionary but also an honest to goodness appraisal of our attitudes. Indeed, many times we hide our faith. We try to repress it in our public lives, presuming that it has nothing to offer the “real” world of politics and economics. Or we keep it under a basket—a “private” matter that makes no difference to society. 

If we are like salt, then don’t lose our flavor. If we are like a lamp then don’t put a basket over ourselves where no one can see our light. We can be true to our identity or hide it or compromise with the world to the detriment of our true identities. If our faith makes no difference in the “real” world, it goes flat. It has nothing special to offer the world. Having lost its special taste, it never changes culture. It just mimics it.

To be the light of the world is to enable the world to see something other than himself. A Christian is to let his light shine in such a way that the world glorifies God. If a Christian is the salt of the earth, he makes the goodness of God appeal to the taste of earthly people. Disciples season the world with God’s word and faithfully shine forth God’s Presence. 

The First Reading makes concrete the “good works” that disciples do when they are true to their identities as salt of the earth and light of the world.  The Lord through the prophet Isaiah calls God’s chosen people to

Share your bread with the hungry,
shelter the oppressed and the homeless;
clothe the naked when you see them,
and do not turn your back on your own.

If you remove from your midst
oppression, false accusation and malicious speech;
if you bestow your bread on the hungry
and satisfy the afflicted;
then light shall rise for you in the darkness,
and the gloom shall become for you like midday.

The good works of the disciples point away from themselves to the grace of God through which they were wrought. This is how we let our light shine in the darkness. It is the realization of “becoming ourselves.”

The choice is ours: to season or be discarded, to shine or be hidden. “To be or not the be” that is the question.

 

 

FEAST OF THE PRESENTATION OF OUR LORD: PRESENTING JESUS TODAY

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photo courtesy of Good Shepherd Blog, https://goodshepherdcampus.org/presentation-lord-february-2/

Today the Church celebrates the feast of the Presentation of the Lord which occurs forty days after the birth of Jesus and is also known as Candlemas day, since the blessing and procession of candles is included in today’s liturgy.

To present a firstborn child in Jesus’ days meant the purification of the mother, which in turn demanded a sacrifice. The Book of Leviticus gives the prescription for purification: killing of a year-old lamb, or another animal. Poor people such as Joseph and Mary could not afford a first-born lamb, so they were allowed to sacrifice just a pigeon or a turtledove.

The gospel of Luke does not only narrates Mary and Joseph doing what the Mosaic Law required regarding the purification of a new mother and the consecration of a newborn child  but also narrates the prayer and joy of Simeon and Anna upon seeing the baby Jesus.

The prayer that Luke puts into the mouth of Simeon is so full of poetic power that it has long been at the heart of the Church’s night prayer as the canticle called the Nunc Dimittis. The old man speaks for all Israel as he takes the child in his arms and prays to God using words from Isaiah 40:5,

“My eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all the peoples” (Luke 2:31).

Drawing on imagery from other parts of that prophetic scroll (Isa 42:6 and 49:6), he celebrates the child as

“a light for the revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel” (Lk 2:32).

Then he addresses Mary,

“Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted” (Lk 2:34),

thereby forecasting what will be elaborated in the rest of the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. When he tells Mary,

“(And you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Lk 2:35),

he is not only speaking of the personal sorrow that lies_ahead for her as mother of a rejected prophet and pilloried enemy of the empire; he is also addressing her as representative of a people that will be painfully divided in its response to this news of the fulfillment of time. At this, the prophetess Anna, representing responsive Israel, joins the shepherds of Christmas night as one of those first non-writing evangelists who, early on, emerge from among the little people.

Like Mary, Joseph, Simeon and Anna, today’s feast calls us to present Jesus worthily today.  Today’s feast invites us to reflect on our own ‘presentation of the Lord.’

How do we present Jesus Christ to others? Is the Jesus we present to others a convenient cover and justification of our misdeeds and social indifference or do we present him as our Saviour whose gospel values we live individually and collectively? Do we present Jesus to others on such a pedestal that he is so distant and alienated from our daily struggles and suffering  or is he one of us, a brother human whose love of justice and peace can and should be imitated? Is the Jesus we present to others an indictment of them, or is he God’s “saving deed displayed for all the peoples to see,” the Messiah who rescues us from our personal and social sinfulness?

Is the Jesus we present to others a support for our dealings with injustice, violence, corruption, death, wars, abortions, and death penalties, or is he “a lamb without blemish (offered) for the life of the world”? Is the Jesus we present others a special ‘god’ for the privileged, or is he “the light of all peoples,” including people who are weak and outcast?.

To be Christians today is not just going to church every Sunday but presenting Jesus worthily both in word and in deed. Christianity in recent times has gotten a bad name because of our unworthy and hypocritical presentation of Jesus.  The burning task before us now is  returning to the gospel of Jesus and witnessing to the true values that Jesus died for us–unconditional love especially for the sinners, seeking out the lost and defense of the poor and the weak, and the proclamation of God’s kingdom of justice, peace and abundance for all now and in the life to come.

 

3RD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: BECOMING GOOD NEWS IN THE MIDST OF BAD NEWS

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Mobile kitchen at Redemptorists Lipa for the evacuees of Taal eruption

Most of the news we heard and saw over the past week were bad news–the enormous suffering and gloom brought about by the eruption of Taal Volcano, bush fires in Australia, the outbreak of the deadly Wuhan coronavirus which has already spread throughout the world–to name only a few.

Behind these sad news, however, there were good news. Most of these good news represent the utter goodwill and generosity of hearts of many people in the midst of calamities–the many people who have generously given help to the evacuees most of them poor and victims themselves of the eruption, the Chinese doctor who gave his life to save others from the deadly corona virus, the three American firefighters killed in plane crash while helping battle the ferocious bush fire in Australia.

In the readings for today’s 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, we hear of the proclamation of the good news amidst the sad news that has engulfed the chosen people of God in biblical times.

In the First Reading, Isaiah proclaimed that a great light has shone upon Israel amidst its dark reality of oppression and subjugation.  

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom
a light has shone.

In the gospel, Jesus announced the good news in the midst of the bad news that John the Baptist was arrested by Herod. For many people, John the Baptist represents hope in the midst of the oppressive occupation of Israel by the Romans. John the Baptist proclaimed the coming of the messiah which would bring back their glory days under God’s rule.

Matthew’s gospel see the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy here. The beginning of the public ministry of  Jesus is the great and glorious ‘light’ that is to shine to those who walk in darkness and the shadow of death.

The Gospel goes on to give us a summary of Jesus’ message: ‘Repent, the Kingdom of Heaven is close at hand’. Repent’ for Jesus means something far more than simple sorrow for sins. The Greek word used, metanoia, literally means a ‘change of mind’ – a change not just in an intellectual sense but involving a transformation of attitude at a deep personal level.  This means looking at one’s life and one’s hopes for the future in a totally new way, open and receptive to the – usually surprising – action of God. The Kingdom of God meant this kind of radical change of heart.

It is good to note the kinds of people Jesus chose for Apostles: from the fishermen brothers Simon and Andrew to Matthew and John, they were all flawed yet graced. Leaving their family and their livelihood, they are to become his intimate companions and followers. Life with him, and association with his ministry of healing and proclaiming the Good News, will transform them from being fishers of fish to being fishers, ‘catching’ people for the Kingdom.

The inauguration of the public ministry of Jesus is an ongoing story. We are all called to participate in the inauguration of the Kingdom by Jesus by becoming the Good News, through witnessing the values of God’s kingdom in the midst of the darkness and misery of the world today, and through drawing others constantly (those who ‘live in the darkness and shadow of death’) into the freedom and light that Jesus has brought into the world.