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!”

25TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: OPPORTUNISTS FOR THE KINGDOM OF GOD

baclaran-jpic

Last Friday, we saw the biggest planetary gathering for climate change. Millions of mostly young people flooded the streets around the world Friday to take part in the Global Climate Strike and pressure world leaders to confront the ecological crisis. According to 350.org, over 4 million people took part in the collective demonstrations worldwide. In Australia alone, an estimated 400,000 gathered last Friday.

Children carried placards that read “There Is No Planet B” and “Make The Earth Great Again,” a twist on President Donald Trump’s rallying cry of “Make America Great Again.” Many of the young demonstrators expressed extreme urgency for taking drastic action to mitigate the effects of climate change.  Taking no action now will endanger if not destroy the future of the next generation.  But not just immediate action, they demanded wise solutions in finding a way out of this mess that we humans had created. Indeed, this alarming situation can be transformed into a productive one.

In today’s gospel of the 25th Sunday in ordinary time, Jesus through a parable, called his disciples to be cunning in order to find way out of any mess they find themselves in and to prepare for their ultimate future–a future in eternity with God.

The parable is known as “The Unjust Steward” which has puzzled many readers of the parables of Jesus. A way out of the puzzle, however, is to understand the economic system which forms the background behind the parable.

The background of the parable is an economic practice in Jesus’ times where a manager enjoying considerable autonomy lets out items of his master’s property for a commission or interest which includes some proportion for himself. As far as the master is concerned there is nothing particularly dishonest in this; he gets his interest. If the manager gets a cut as well, so be it. In the story as told by Jesus, it would seem that what the manager does after receiving notice about his dismissal is to strip away the portion of the interest accruing to himself. He cancels his own cut because he reckons that it will be more advantageous when he is out of work – and too weak to dig and too ashamed to beg – to have the goodwill of people who may be able to help him, welcoming him into their homes. He “buys” their goodwill in this way and the master wryly praises him for what he has done. By incurring some immediate loss to secure long-term interest, he has acted “sensibly”. He has not clung to his wealth but used it to win goodwill that will serve him in the hour of need that is coming his way.

The master is not condoning his dishonesty but praising his ability to figure his way out of a mess that he had created. The steward showed an ability to accurately assess his situation and turn it to his advantage.

Being astute about wealth is a particular theme in the gospel of Luke. We need to be clever opportunists, by using wealth in the ways that Jesus elsewhere advocates the use of resources—feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, lending but asking nothing in return. Luke sums this up with Jesus’ saying that the only really useful thing about accumulating wealth is to give it away so that it will store up “treasure in heaven” (12:33).  With so much more at stake (eternal life), the wealthy would be well advised to strip themselves of their wealth now in order to win friends among the poor. When the poor have their privileged places in the kingdom, these same poor will welcome these benefactors into “eternal dwellings”.

The opposite of the example of the dishonest but cunning steward is articulated by Amos in the First Reading (Amos 8:4-7). The prophet Amos attacks the hypocrisy of rich land-owners who observed the law against trade on the new moon but secretly longed for the feast to be over so that they could resume their defrauding of the poor. In any case, the law (Lev 19:9-10) enjoined them to leave the “sweepings of the wheat” for the poor to harvest.

What about us? How able are we to figure out the spiritual life and to work towards its goals? How can we make use of our failures, mistakes and sins to our advantage.

The readings today challenges us to put transitory affairs in proper perspective. Christians should handle the affairs of temporal life with an eye toward eternal life. In the everyday humdrum of life, we rarely think about the ultimate future. Life itself pressures us into shortsighted choices for living. Discipleship, on the other hand, calls us to live in such a way that our daily choices form patterns of behavior that move us toward God’s promise of life eternal.

Our challenging times today demands that we become cunning and resourceful. We need to think of the fate of our future generation. Our present lifestyle is no longer sustainable. Drastic actions needs to be done. We can find innovative solutions that can turn this critical situation to our advantage.

But more than temporal wisdom, we need Christian astuteness. We need to do something more lasting: to use of the wealth to build something more lasting – friendships. This is the blessing that the dishonest steward showed us. He uses the present wealth to invest on future relationships.

Jesus calls us to take advantage of the mess, faults and failures we have made out of our selves and the world toward a future that is beyond this world. This is particularly true about money, as Jesus concludes,

“And so I tell you this:
use money,
tainted as it is,
to win you friends,
and thus make sure that when it fails you,
they will welcome you into eternal dwellings”

Jesus calls us today to be opportunists for the Kingdom of God.