15TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: THE PRODIGAL SOWER

sower

Jesus taught mainly through parables. Parables are stories or analogies drawn from everyday life. The parable of the sower is one of the greatest parables of Jesus.

From a farmer’s point of view, however, there is something wrong with the parable of the sower. Not that I am a farmer but I’ve seen many times, especially during my exposure to farmers during my seminary days, how a farmer would meticulously prepare the field before sowing the seeds. He would plow and rake through the soil to remove the grass and stones until it becomes clean and clear so that all the seeds will fall on good soil. Once these are done, there is no way a seed could fall on thorny soil, rocky soil, not to mention, a pathway, as told in the parable by Jesus. From all indications, the sower in the parable is not our typical farmer; he is either a foolish or wasteful farmer. In Tagalog, we call this kind of farmer, “waldas na magsasaka”.

What could explain for the different types of soil where the seeds fell? It’s either that agriculture was so crude during Jesus’ time or this is deliberate on the part of Jesus. I think the latter is more appropriate as Jesus wanted to emphasize the utter generosity, even to the point of extravagance, of the sower.  After all, the very purpose of the parables is to show a God who is utterly benevolent.  God’s benevolence overturns our greed stricken world, forces us to re-examine our mindset and offers us a fresh perspective in life.

The parable has strong links with today’s First Reading from Isaiah. God’s word is compared to rain and snow falling on the earth and not returning until it has made the soil “fertile and fruitful, giving seed to the one who sows and bread to the one who eats”. “So,” says the Lord in Isaiah, “my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.” We all know now that the Word of God is Jesus. The abundant goodwill of Jesus the Word of God will bear fruit no matter what and will serve the purpose of his coming—the plentiful redemption of God’s creation.

The extravagance of the sower is highlighted by the fact that the sower never discriminate in his act of sowing. Whether the soil was pathway soil, rocky soil, thorny soil, or good soil, the sower generously sowed his seed equally on all types of soil. Jesus himself explained that these different types of soil symbolizes the different dispositions which hearers receive the word of God. Jesus elaborates,

“The seed sown on the path is the one
who hears the word of the kingdom without understanding it,
and the evil one comes and steals away
what was sown in his heart.
The seed sown on rocky ground
is the one who hears the word and receives it at once with joy.
But he has no root and lasts only for a time.
When some tribulation or persecution comes because of the word,
he immediately falls away.
The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word,
but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word
and it bears no fruit.
But the seed sown on rich soil
is the one who hears the word and understands it,
who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.”

The question we always ask ourselves in this parable is “What kind of soil am I?” Honestly, I think I have been all the four types of soil. There were times in my life that I was the rocky soil during those times when some tribulation made me to fall away from the word. At other times I was the thorny soil when  worldly anxiety and the lure of worldly honor and comfort choke the word in me and I became unproductive. Sometimes I was the pathway soil when I heard the word of the kingdom without understanding it. These weaknesses and failures, however, have taught me to become the good soil. Sometimes it can be said that the different types of soil represents stages in a process of our truly becoming the good soil.

The good news is despite all our shortcomings and infidelity, God will continue to sow generously his  word upon us. He will not give up sowing his seeds on each one of us. This is clearly a message of hope for all of us which may at times be discouraged by our and of our fellow believer’s failures and limitations.

Having experienced God’s generous lavish sowing upon ourselves, we now are also called to be prodigal sowers of the abundant love of the word of God. This is doubly challenging given today’s inhospitable environment.  We are not to keep the word of God, however, in our own privatized religion. We are called to proclaim the good news of Jesus to our brothers and sisters.

May we all continue to become the good soil hearing and making the word of God fruitful in our lives. At the same time, may we share in the generous sowing of the word of God by the prodigal sower even to those who fail and refuse to hear it.

14TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: RESTING IN JESUS

Ron-resting

For many of us, our idea of rest and recreation is taking few days off from work, chilling out, having fun, hanging out and enjoying the company of friends and family.  It can also involve longer days for holidays going to other places or enjoying nature, swimming in the sea, lake or rivers or hiking into mountains and forests. After a well spent rest, we feel rejuvenated and refreshed, become more inspired and ready to once again face and continue our work and projects.

That is why rest and recreation are essentially connected. A truly good rest results in a recreation. After a good rest, we become a new creation. A good rest helps us to review our lives in order that we may know where we are going to next. Thus, rest can sometimes result in a new idea, an inspiration that can bring life-changing event, a new lifestyle. It may also call for going back, a return to our roots, a return to nature.  In other words, rest is being attentive to our body, emotions and soul.

What is the most profound thing that your body and soul is telling you now?

Unfortunately, many people in our country today are deprived of this idea of rest. Many people has to work even up to Sundays to just barely get by.  Because of the lack of local work opportunities, many parents go overseas to work leaving behind their children. This distorts the experience of rest as how can one enjoy the company of family when one’s parents are not here. The urban environment generates lots of  situation which affect the quality of rest – air pollution, traffic and noise, let alone, the chaos, trash and hustle and bustle of city life. Technology has also made it harder for genuine rest. As we get wrapped up more and more in mobile phones, texting, email, Facebook, and the internet, we are constantly distracted by texts, emails, phone messages which rob us of the simple capacity to stop, shut off the machines, and rest.

Perhaps, this is the reason why for many people the idea of rest is just to escape from the daily humdrum, pains and problems of our daily life like drinking with friends all day Sunday. We “thank God it’s Friday” so we can go out ‘gimmicking’—partying and bar hopping until early Saturday morning.  Many times, this kind of rest leave us more tired than before, not to mention, the hangover. No wonder, the rest we do sometimes makes us feel more tired that after our ‘rest’ we want to take a rest again.

If rest is essential to our well-being, restlessness is a constant itch of our human existence.  We are essentially restless, even if we have taken a good rest. In Tagalog, we call this existential restless itch, “Hindi mapakali”. We long for a more profound and complete rest.  Restlessness is not just physical and emotional but also spiritual. It involves our soul. All throughout our lives we look for that thing that will ultimately give us true rest.

As Christians we believe that we cannot truly rest until we can rest in Jesus and learn from him about the fundamental meaning of life. As St. Augustine said in his Confessions: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”[1]

In the Gospel today, Jesus comforts us:

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.”

And how can we have rest in Jesus, Jesus tells us:

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

Wait a minute, I thought Jesus will give us rest but why is he giving us his yoke? Is it not that yoke and rest are contradiction in terms?

Jesus’ yoke is to learn from him for as he says, “I am gentle and humble of heart.” Jesus’ yoke is the yoke of humility and service. It praises God for contradicting the wisdom of the world: “for what you have hidden from the learned and the clever you have revealed to the merest children.”

Jesus also challenges us that perhaps we should learn from the meek and humble, the little people, the sick and dying, the poor and hungry. For it is among them that we find Jesus and learn to become humble and meek of heart.

Jesus wants to address a more profound and fundamental rest—the ultimate rest. Most of our rest only involves pleasure and enjoyment. Rest without wholeness of being and spiritual rest is not enough. True rest involves rest for the soul.  Jesus’ rest gives us rest for our souls but it does not exclude the element of joy. As Pope Francis has said, “The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus.”[2]


[1] Lib 1,1-2,2.5,5: CSEL 33, 1-5

[2] Evangelii Gaudium, 1.

13TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: CHRISTIANITY AS DISCIPLESHIP

 Christianity is much more than religion. It is a discipleship, an apprenticeship if you like–an apprenticeship with Jesus. What kind of apprenticeship does Jesus leads us to?

In the Gospel Reading today, Jesus said to his apostles:

“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me,
and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me;
and whoever does not take up his cross
and follow after me is not worthy of me.
Whoever finds his life will lose it,
and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

This is shocking! Jesus is asking us to leave behind the greatest resource of our lives—our family—in order to follow him. Not just our family, Jesus asks us to lose our own lives so we can gain our lives in him. And what kind of life is he offering—the way of the cross. St. Paul in his letter to the Romans in the second reading calls this life, baptism into Christ’s death.

This is too much for us to accept, let alone, understand. No wonder, many of us have turned to religion. Christianity as a religion is easier to understand and to practice: Going to mass, receiving the sacraments, following the 10 commandments, and many other religious things. It also became a lot easier for the church to preach about religious matters like observing correct rubrics and moral issues like contraception, abortion, etc.

Jesus certainly did talk about religion. But he did so to challenge and critique the religious ways of his time which have actually alienated human beings from God and one another. Jesus instead talked more about God and how God’s kingdom is breaking out into the world.

To enter into God’s kingdom, Jesus called us to join a new family, a family beyond blood, race, culture, gender and yes, even religion. When we are members of this family, God is our Father and we are all brothers and sisters with Jesus our older brother. To enter into God’s kingdom, Jesus ushered us into an apprenticeship that not only taught us new values, ways of doing and living but sought the purpose of why we live. It is an apprenticeship fulfilling the meaning of life. In seeking the purpose of life, however, Jesus proposes an apprenticeship that goes against the popular routes that the world gives. Jesus’ apprenticeship is to trek the road less travelled. Unfortunately, it also implies going beyond what many people hold dear about their religion.

For Jesus the most important things are greater than matters of religion. Sometimes we talk more about religious liberty, catechism and the code of canon law than about Jesus’ gospel. It’s time once again to talk about Christ and his gospel values not just about a list of do’s and don’ts, doctrines, commandments, canon law, and obligation. We need to recover Jesus’ way of talking about faith—that faith is a change of thinking (metanoia) in accordance with God’s  ways and thoughts.

This calls us to repropose the message of Jesus in our times today. Our world today is hostile and cold to the Christian message especially in secularized countries. This is worsened by the scandals in the church like child abuse and dubious lifestyle of some of the hierarchy. This should not deter us to proclaim the gospel of Jesus. As St. Paul said, “Woe to me, if I do not preach the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:16). We need to proclaim the gospel in the way Jesus proclaimed it more than 2,000 years ago, bold and daring but also compassionate and hopeful. In word and in deed, we need to proclaim, what Pope Francis has proposed, the joy of the Gospel.

The purpose of the church is more than just calling people to the church to attend mass, liturgy and the sacraments. The church’s main purpose is to support and encourage people in their apprenticeship with Jesus. After all, the church is the members of the one body of Christ following, and many times stumbling, in their journey of apprenticeship with Jesus.

12TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: FEAR OF THE LORD

no-fear

Every day our world is becoming a fear-driven society. Anxiety has become the new normal. As we open the newspapers and watch TV, we read and hear news of the worsening pandemic. We are terrified by news of impending disasters–earthquake, typhoons, flood, climate change. We are afraid of continuous criminality in our neighborhood despite the government’s tough stance. We continue to be anxious of the economy, we are uncertain about the future, we worry about our personal problems.

It’s perfectly normal to be afraid. Fear is a natural and primitive human emotion. Fear alerts us to the presence of danger or the threat of harm, whether that danger is physical or psychological. Sometimes fear stems from real threats, but it can also originate from imagined dangers.

Unfortunately, fear is also a very powerful weapon to cow the people to submission. Fear is after all the main goal of terrorists, dictators and autoritarian leaders who want to remain in power permanently. Autoritarian leaders takes advantage of the uncertainty of the situation combined with the perception of an escalating threat. In this age of existential anxiety, many embrace a cultural worldview that provides an artificial semblance of order and toughness. This is perhaps one of the reasons for the popularity of Duterte and Trump who for many people represents order and stability in a fear-driven world. Unfortunately, we hand over our responsibilty to their authority because of our own failure and laziness to confront our chaotic and messy situation.

There’s also a lot of power and money involved in perpetuating the fears of ordinary citizens. For mass media, insurance companies, Big Pharma, advocacy groups, lawyers, politicians and so many more, fear can be worth billions. And fortunately for them, our fears are very easy to manipulate.

In the midst of the most fearmongering time in human history, we hear comforting words of Jesus in the gospel today:

“Fear no one. Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known.”

In this age of fake news and alternative facts, truth will prevail no matter how much people will try to bury it. In this fear-driven and manipulative society, Jesus calls us to continue his mission of truth, justice and love. Like the disciples we are sent out on mission. We are to proclaim in the marketplace or from the “housetops” the gospel.

“What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.”

We can expect rejection and humiliation but these should not deter us from our mission. We are not to give up the struggle or capitulate in the face of persecution. If Jesus and the Holy Spirit is with us, Jesus’ mission will prevail in spite of our weaknesses. They may kill our bodies but they cannot kill our spirit and soul.

“And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body.”

This kind of fear that Jesus tells us to practice more, is the fear of the Lord. This type of fear does not necessarily mean to be afraid of something. Rather, it is a reverential awe of God, a reverence for His power and glory. However, it is also a proper respect for His wrath and anger. In other words, the fear of the Lord is a total acknowledgement of all that God is, which comes through knowing Him and His attributes.

Fear of the Lord brings with it many blessings and benefits. It is the beginning of wisdom and leads to good understanding (Psalm 111:10). Only fools despise wisdom and discipline (Proverbs 1:7). Furthermore, fear of the Lord leads to life, rest, peace, and contentment (Proverbs 19:23). It is the fountain and life (Proverbs 14:27) and provides a security and a place of safety for us (Proverbs 14:26). It is this fear that leads us to acknowledge the power of God just as Jeremiah proclaimed in the first reading today:

Sing to the LORD,
praise the LORD,
for he has rescued the life of the poor
from the power of the wicked!”

7TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: LOVE YOUR ENEMIES

love-your-enemies

The Gospel reading in today’s 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time continues the Sermon on the Mount from last week. In the gospel today we come to the most difficult instruction that Jesus ever uttered: “Love your enemies.”

In Proverbs 24:17 we’re told not to gloat when our enemy falls. In Proverbs 25:21 we’re told to feed our enemy when he’s hungry. But the blatant instruction to love our enemies came from Jesus in His sermon on the mount.

Much has been said, written and commented on this difficult words of Jesus. I would just like to highlight three things.

First, these words of Jesus is, indeed, radical. It represents a revolutionary new teaching from Jesus.

“You have heard that it was said,
You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.
But I say to you, love your enemies
and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be children of your heavenly Father,
for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good,
and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.

Ulrich Luz says that  “Love thy enemies” is what separates Christianity from all earlier religions. Ron Rolheiser said that to love one’s enemy is the acid-test of who’s a Christian and who isn’t. In a (2001) issue of America magazine, John Donahue makes this comment:

“Virtually no Christian group has adopted Jesus’ teaching on love of enemy as the critical test of orthodoxy. Yet Jesus issues four ringing commands: love your enemies; do good to those who hate you; bless those who curse you; pray for those who mistreat you.”

Second, we all cringe at these words of Jesus. It is unnatural, counter-intuitive and illogical. Therefore, we all struggle to follow Jesus’ words. On the other hand, Jesus’ words seemed to be hitting the core of the reality of many conflicts that continue to plague our world. We continue to live in times where is deep division and polarization between countries and religions, between individuals and groups, between political ideologies from both the left and the right, each party trying to impose on others their own view of what is right or wrong.

Third, it is very important that we don’t take Jesus’ words out of context. Many of the confusion and misconceptions that arose out of these text were the result of interpreting Jesus’ words literally without any consideration of the socio-cultural context upon which Jesus uttered these words.

Finally, Jesus’ words are based on his final command to “Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Jesus challenges us to go beyond our average and expected attitudes and behaviors as Christians.

For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?
Do not the tax collectors do the same?
And if you greet your brothers only,
what is unusual about that?
Do not the pagans do the same?

To “Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” is also expressed in the first reading today from the book of Leviticus.

“Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy.

“You shall not bear hatred for your brother or sister in your heart.
Though you may have to reprove your fellow citizen,
do not incur sin because of him.
Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against any of your people.
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
I am the LORD.”

We should not, however, take the word perfect out of context. When Jesus said that we need to “be perfect” he is not speaking of some kind of impossible flawlessness. The word perfect in the original Greek means complete. It comes from a primary word meaning to set out for a definite point or goal. Jesus is saying for us to make it our goal to love like our Heavenly Father loves.

The love of our Heavenly Father evokes completeness and inclusiveness demonstrated in the universality of the gifts of sun­shine and rain. The “heavenly Father,” gives Life (“sun rise” and “rain”) to “the just and the unjust” alike. It is precisely that quality of God’s universal love that we are to imitate.

 

6TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: FULFILLING GOD’S LAW

fulfilling-the-law

Today’s readings of the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time talk about fulfilling God’s law. The readings present us with a deeper and wholistic understanding of the fulfillment God’s law. The readings urge us not just to follow the ‘outside’ of the law but more importantly the ‘inside’ of the law.

The first reading from Sirach highlights for us that fulfilling God’s law is a radical choice between life and death, good and evil. Sadly, our desires and our thoughts  most often deviate from God’s will.

Before man are life and death, good and evil,
whichever he chooses shall be given him.
Immense is the wisdom of the Lord;
he is mighty in power, and all-seeing.
The eyes of God are on those who fear him;
he understands man’s every deed.

Thus, the second reading, from the letter of Paul to the Corinthians, tells us that to fulfill the law is not to seek the wisdom of this age but the wisdom of God.

We speak a wisdom to those who are mature,
not a wisdom of this age,
nor of the rulers of this age who are passing away.
Rather, we speak God’s wisdom, mysterious, hidden,
which God predetermined before the ages for our glory,

To Paul, the revelation of Jesus represents a vision that human eyes have never seen, a voice that human ears have never heard. It is beyond our wildest imaginings, “Nor has it so much as dawned on man what God has prepared for those who love him.”

In today’s gospel, Jesus shows us that to completely fulfill the law is not just following the externals of the law but more importantly fulfilling the spirit of the law.

We continue in the gospel with the Sermon on the Mount. This is a long Gospel where we move into the part of the Sermon that scholars call the six antitheses. Six times in a row, the words of Jesus follow a pattern that goes, “You have heard that it was said … But I say to you … ” Here we see Jesus asserting an authority even greater than that of Moses.

In the Gospel, Jesus says that he has not come to do away with the law but to fulfill the law. In fact, no one will get into heaven unless his righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the law-observing scribes and the Pharisees. Jesus is critical of the Pharisees’ type of righteousness, which focuses on externals. They make sure everyone sees them when they fast, pray on street corners, wash hands, etc.

This whole sermon, at the beginning of Jesus’ preaching about the Kingdom of Heaven, is not meant for exact execution, but for our interiorizing the heart and mind of Jesus. It is not about doing this or not doing that. It is about the “why” of our doing anything.

In reinterpreting the law, Jesus is not spinning the Law and the traditions passed on through the prophets. He is applying a proper spirit to what had become too legalistic. The spirit of Jesus is to form the heart as well as the mind. Jesus does not make new laws; for living the law, he brings a new vision and a new help—a refreshed covenant relationship with God.

Let us now examine Jesus’ applying the spirit of fulfilling the law into six example of laws from the Torah.

You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.

The inside of that law is, do not even act out of anger for your brother or sister. Jesus forbids anger and insults that could escalate to murder. He forbids calling another “fool,” though he hurls the word at the scribes and Pharisees in Mt 23:17. For Jesus, squelching the feud even takes precedence over Temple worship!

You shall not commit adultery.

When adultery is committed, the Torah called for the death of both parties. But more often than not, the man escaped while the woman’s father and brothers would kill her for shaming their family. If the aggrieved husband took no action against his wife, he was often regarded as an object of derision. If he took no action against the man, his own manhood was further questioned. Jesus says forget adultery as a means of challenging other men. The consequences are too devastating.

The rigid and strictly enforced separation of men and women in this society made adultery almost impossible to conceal when it happened. Actually, adultery was less a result of passion than a deliberate attempt by one man to shame another.

The inside of that law demands further to be pure enough to not even glance lustfully at a woman.

Whoever divorces his wife must give her a bill of divorce.

Divorce is disruptive to a tight-knit community like that of Jesus’ followers. Since the ideal marriage partners were first cousins (Peter’s mother-in-law was also his aunt), divorce could tear apart the villages in which these families lived and tried to make a living. Jesus is trying to say: “Forget divorce. Learn to live with your difficulty for the sake of family unity.”

The interior law is, stay faithful and loving within your marriage relationship, not just do not separate.

Do not take a false oath, but make good to the Lord all that you vow.

The context here is selling. There was no food and drug commission to insure honesty. A seller would indirectly call God to witness his claim for his wares. Never mentioning God by name, the seller would swear “by my head, by my beard, on my life, by Jerusalem, etc.” When he refused to make God explicit, conflict erupted. Jesus advised his followers to be honest and direct with one another at the market: yes or no.

Today people do use oaths, such as, “ … in the name of God, … ” or “OMG,” (which stands for O, MY GOD!), or e.g., “By God, I will never let you. … ” We hear such slang everywhere, movies, television, high schools, grade schools. Jesus diagnoses these usages simply: we are trying to make up for our weakness by putting almighty power behind our words. He tells us he has a better way. Just say yes or no, and mean it. Or, to say it another way, be real.

God’s “command of perfect love” obliges us to go beyond the letter of the law. It is not good enough to stay out of trouble; we must work at setting things right in the world. It is not good enough to give food to the hungry; we must work at making ours a society in which people do not go hungry.

Jesus sees in the law the means to the fulfillment of time (“until all things have taken place”), when the law will be replaced by righteous relationships within the kingdom of heaven. The fundamental law is gift of self to others. When self-giving is lacking in any act of keeping the law, the law in fact is not fulfilled.

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.

 

 

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

evacuation-kitchen
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.

33RD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: THE END IS NEAR

Yolanda Tacloban 2013-30
Photo courtesy of Bro. Jun Santiago, CSsR

The news in most TV and newspapers throughout the week reads, earthquakes in the Philippines, flood in Venice, catasthropic bush fires in NSW, Australia, volcanic eruptions in Russia, melting glaciers in Iceland, deforestation in the Amazon, haze in Indonesia …

Jesus, in the gospel of today’s 33rd Sunday in ordinary time, also depicts the future events from one catastrophe to another, both human-made and natural:

Then he said to them,
“Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.
There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues
from place to place;
and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky.”

Today, the world is faced with crises every bit as bad as apocalyptic literature might suggest. Real threats of unrecoverable climate changes, economic crises that more than wreck people’s lives, war and violence that continue to kill thousands of people. A fifth of the world’s population lives in absolute poverty. About three billion people lack adequate nutrition. There are somewhere between one billion and two billion unemployed adults in the world. More than half of the countries of the world have used violence against their own citizens in the form of torture, brutality, and summary executions.

In the midst of all these crises and tribulations, those with power, wealth and position continue to reign. Their power and influence continued to grow stronger, while the vast majority of the common tao remain poorer and powerless every day.

This will be reversed at the end of times. In the first reading, the prophet Malachi warns that the day of the Lord is coming which will spell doom for all the arrogant and evildoers. But for those who fear the name of God, that day will mean vindication and salvation, beautifully described as the rising of the sun of righteousness with healing in its wings.

But before this glorious salvation and vindication from the Lord, there will be hardships even persecution for Jesus’ disciples.

“Before all this happens, however,
they will seize and persecute you,
they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons,
and they will have you led before kings and governors
because of my name.
You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends,
and they will put some of you to death.”

The Lord, however, will give us the strenght and the courage to  pass through these trials and difficulties. We only need to hold on to God’s power and guidance.

It will lead to your giving testimony.
Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand,
for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking
that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.
You will be hated by all because of my name,
but not a hair on your head will be destroyed.
By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”

Each generation has witnessed the signs of the end times. Instead of obsessing about the end, however, the message of the readings today calls us to turn our attention to the present. We need to heed the message the biblical prophets in the scriptures has unceasingly proclaimed:  “Repent!” It is a message that is very present-oriented; it is God’s will for the here and now.

The Swiss Reformed theologian Karl Barth once protested that for many Christians the last judgment had become a dire expectation of doom, whereas the New Testament Christians looked forward to “that day” with joy, waiting for and earnestly desiring the coming of the day of the Lord (2 Pet 3:12).

Being attentive to the present means that we cannot just remain idle and passively wait for eternity.  There is no need to stop fulfilling our daily duties, which is what some Christians in Thessalonica, in the second reading, were doing.  They had stopped working, waiting for the end of the world, and preaching the same to others, confusing them and causing a lot of disturbance. Paul had to intervene and warn them in very strong words:

We hear that some are conducting themselves among you in a
disorderly way,
by not keeping busy but minding the business of others.
Such people we instruct and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to work quietly
and to eat their own food.

The final days of the world are always right in front of us. The end is always near. This means that we must always be ready, be present to the signs and challenges of the times. There is never any time to waste. If we need to repent, now is the time. If we want to thank God, now is the time. If we need to forgive, now is the time.

Scriptures tell us, now is the day of salvation. Now is the time when the Lord is with us, bringing compassion and love. Every Sunday, in the Eucharist, we celebrate, the coming of the future fulfillment of the kingdom of God now.

32ND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: IMAGINE THERE’S HEAVEN

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Photo by Mathew Thomas from Pexels

The opening lines to one of the most popular songs of John Lennon, Imagine, says, “Imagine there’s no heaven.”

Lennon invites us to imagine a world without a heaven or hell wherein he suggests that we make the best world we can here and now, since this is all this is or will be.

Indeed, many people in the ordinariness and busyness of everyday living, rarely think about either the end times or the existence of another world beyond death. For many, this is the only world and everything about life ends in the grave.

We Christians, however, imagine there is heaven which is a radically different world from which we live in. God will rise us all from the dead at the end of times to live in heaven. This is most profoundly the basis of our Christian hope and what gives purpose to our lives here on earth.

All categories and standards of this world will not apply in heaven as only God’s standards and values will apply in heaven. In the Gospel of today’s 32nd Sunday in ordinary time, Jesus describes the radical difference between life in this world and in heaven:

The children of this age marry and remarry;
but those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age
and to the resurrection of the dead
neither marry nor are given in marriage.
They can no longer die,
for they are like angels;
and they are the children of God
because they are the ones who will rise.

Jesus is saying that heaven is not a prolongation of our present earthly life but an entirely new mode of existence, in which marriage and giving in marriage are unknown. Since in the new life there is no more death, there is no need for provision to perpetuate the human race.

In a profound way, Jesus invites the people of his time and all people of all times to imagine heaven which is the world that God has prepared and destined each one of us. It is a world where we shall all live again after death, in fact, there will no longer death, for we shall have eternal life. This is what we proclaim in our creed every Sunday:

I believe in …
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

We recite these words every Sunday but do we truly understand what these words mean?

I must confess that I don’t exactly and fully understand what these words mean. But Jesus’ call here is not so much to understand heaven and eternal life exactly and fully but more to hope and imagine. Jesus calls us to trust, hope and imagine a whole new world where all creation will be reunited with God. This calling is expressed beautifully in the penultimate chapter of the last book of the Bible, the book of revelation, chapter 21:

“Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people,
and he will dwell with them.
They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.
‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes.
There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain,
for the old order of things has passed away.”

Despite all the pains and suffering, despite all the sadness and despair, despite all the wars and conflicts, despite all the evils in our world today, God invites us to imagine and hope of a place and time where and when there will be true peace, joy and prosperity for all forever.

Heaven is God’s pure gift; it will only come through the power and grace of God. Thus, heaven cannot come through our human efforts and abilities. Despite all the advances in science and technology, we cannot bring about heaven. We can, however, prepare ourselves to live in heaven by our life, our behaviours, our actions and attitudes here on earth. We can also prepare the world for the ultimate arrival of heaven by making the world a better place to reflect the values in heaven. As the song goes, “to make a little heaven down here”.

In other words, our readings today, calls us to re-imagine our lives with heaven on our minds. Imagine our lives that there is heaven. This calls for radical changes in our outlook, attitude and lifestyle. We cannot bring wealth, power and fame in heaven. We can, however, bring love, peace, gratitude, humility and joy in heaven. This also implies that we need to change our mindset that we are just pilgrims on earth, we are not permanent residents here on earth, we are just passing through. All of our lives is a preparation for eternal life.