2nd Sunday of Advent Year C – 18

2nd Sunday of Advent Year C – 18

Bar.5:1-9, Phil.1:4-6, 8-11, Lk.3:1-6

Once upon a time, there was a king who ruled a prosperous country. One day, he went for a trip to some distance areas of his country.

When he came back to his Palace, he complained that his feet were very sore, because it was the first time that he went for such a long trip, and the road that he went through was very rough and stony.

He then ordered his people to cover every road of the entire country with leather. Definitely, this would need skins of thousands of animals, and would cost a huge amount of money. Then one of his wise advisors dared to tell the king,

“Why do you have to spend unnecessary amount of money? Why don’t you just cut a little piece of leather to cover your feet?

The king was surprised, but he later agreed to his suggestion to make a “shoe” for himself. We are aware of how bad this world has become.

We don’t feel safe anymore. We don’t know whom to trust. There are crimes and killings everywhere. We could only wish people would change so that this world would become a better place to live in.

But we forget that these problems are just reflections of what is in our hearts. If we say, “I wish people would change so that this world would change” is like covering the roads with animals’ skin so that we can walk smoothly.

But if we say, “I will change myself so that this world could change” is like putting shoes on our feet – more practical, more realistic, and more attainable. We have heard wise people saying: “Change your thinking and change your world.

Why do we have to change our thinking? Because, we are victims of our thinking. When we change our thinking, we change our lives. Look at the progression this sets in motion.

When you change your thinking, you change your beliefs; when you change your beliefs, you change your expectations; When you change your expectations, you change your attitude;

when you change your attitude, you change your behavior; when you change your behavior, you change your performance; when you change your performance, you change your life!

When you control your thinking, you can have greater control over your lives.

So how do you change your beliefs? The answer is by thinking and praying about your thoughts.

You have already chosen your beliefs. The question is, will you choose to evaluate them in the light of prayer and change them if necessary? It is up to you.

Audrey Vines is the author of the book: “Change your Thinking, Change Your World.”

She says, “Where there is hope there is change. I hope, and I can change. My greatest power is changing the way I think. I will open my mind to clear thinking.

I will not allow dark thoughts to rule my life. I will change my thinking and I will change my world. We need to realize that whatever situations we are in we have in some way contributed to them.

Albert Einstein says, “The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.

Only when we change our thoughts about a situation will our behavior and results change.” This advent let us open up ourselves to getting out of our defeatist thinking.

Let us rise to conquer our fears and rediscover how we can enjoy our life. Success and happiness are not accidents; they are the end result of the person’s ability to think positively.

No one can make us change, but we can have a profound influence on our own choices. John the Baptist is crying out: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight His path.”

Definitely, it is not the Lord’s paths that need to be straightened out, but it is our paths to be straightened.

A soap manufacturer and a pastor were walking together down a street in a large city. The soap manufacturer casually said, “The Gospel you preach hasn’t done much good, has it? Just observe. There is still a lot of wickedness in the world, and a lot of wicked people, too!”

The pastor made no reply until they passed a dirty little child making mud pies in the gutter. Seizing the opportunity, the pastor said, “I see that soap hasn’t done much good in the world either; for there is much dirt still here, and many dirty people are still around.”

The soap man said, “Oh, well, soap only works when it is applied.” And the pastor said, “Exactly! So, it is with the Gospel.” What are the things that need to be straightened in our lives? Each individual only can answer that question.

Perhaps one area could be our twisted and tangled relationships. We let misunderstandings run on from year to year, meaning to clear them up some day.

We keep quarrels alive because we cannot make up our minds to sacrifice our pride and end them. We pass people sullenly, not speaking to them out of some silly spite. We let our dear ones starve for love and understanding.

So, if there is some crooked attitude, or some crooked way of behaving, or some crooked relationship that needs to be straightened out, let us straighten it out.

Let us be the first to hold out the hand of reconciliation even though it gets slapped or rejected. Make friends with someone you are at odds with. Pick up the phone and talk to somebody you have not talked to in months or years.

Be willing to put some possessions on the line. Give, not out of your excess, but out of your substance. Great opportunities to help others seldom come but small ones surround us every day.

It talks only a minute to be kind, but the prophet reminds us the end result can remain forever.

Willingness is the key to religion. It’s a matter of the will. It’s an act of choice. It’s like love. Love is something you choose to do.

Affection is something you feel. Religion and seeking the Lord are something that you choose to do. Religious sentiment is something that you feel.

Repentance and conversion are conscious acts of our wills. They are free choices made with deliberation. They are not religious feelings or moods. They are not nice, warm, glowing, mystical feelings which come upon us before flickering candles in our churches.

Repentance and conversion are conscious will-acts made in the cold light of reality and in the hard choices of our everyday lives.

To separate religion and religious choices and values from our day to day choices is to remove religion from reality.

Repentance and conversion are made out in the open, not in private. It is, after all, a question of vision. Are we willing to take a look? To acquire that vision? It’s all a matter of choosing.

It’s never just a matter of feeling like it. It’s all a matter of conversion and repentance. It’s not up to God, it’s up to us. Let us change our thinking, let us change our world.

Be Blessed and Be a Blessing. Amen.

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1st Sunday of Advent Year C – 18

1st Sunday of Advent, Year C – 18

Jer.33:14-16 / 1 Thess.3:12 – 4:3 / Lk.21:25-28, 34-36

Typical of last-minute Christmas shoppers, a mother was running furiously from store to store. Suddenly she became aware that the pudgy little hand of her three-year-old son was no longer clutched in hers.

In panic she retraced her steps and found him standing with his little nose pressed flat against a frosty window. He was gazing at a manger scene.

Hearing his mother’s near hysterical call, he turned and shouted with innocent glee: “Look Mommy! It’s Jesus – Baby Jesus in the hay!” With obvious indifference to his joy and wonder, she impatiently jerked him away saying, “We don’t have time for that!”

If there is one word to describe the month of December, it is this word – holiday.

Although there is only one public holiday in the month of Dec, a number of families are going or have gone for holidays overseas, primarily because of the school holidays.

Even the church seems to be decorated for a festive holiday mood. We should have noticed that within the church as well as outside the church.

Oh yes, we see these decorations year after year, and we expect them to be there. Just like shopping malls and Orchard Road are decorated and in fact, much earlier, even before December, we too want our church to be decorated.

But there is one big difference – those that are at the shopping malls and the nearby Orchard Road can be termed as commercial decorations, nice and pretty to look at, and that’s all to it.

But church decorations are more than just nice and pretty. Church decorations are signs and symbols that point to a spiritual reality.

That spiritual reality is the celebration of the birth of our Saviour, as well as the waiting in joyful hope of the 2nd coming of Jesus.

So every piece of decoration in church is a sign or a symbol that points to a reality, a spiritual reality, a reality that we can understand, a reality that we are a part of.

In today’s gospel, when Jesus talked about the signs, it is understandable that we don’t see anything more in those signs other than signs of distress and turmoil, signs of the end-times.

What other interpretations can we give of the words Jesus used: agony, clamour, dying of fear?

Certainly, those kinds of signs are far from pleasant and we would wish that we will never see those signs. And we wonder why such a passage is chosen for the First Sunday of Advent.

But when we look at our world today, and in every age and time, we have those signs of distress and turmoil – nuclear war threat, ecological dangers, plagues, famines, natural disasters.

These are signs that made us fear what is to come and thoughts of the end-time prophecies flash through our mind.

But just as Christmas decorations can be categorized as commercial decorations and spiritual decorations, so are the signs.

The world may see those signs as disturbing signs of distress and turmoil, signs of agony and fear of the future, signs of the end of the world.

But we cannot see as how the world sees, we cannot think as how the world thinks. Because our faith tells us that what others see as the end, we see as the beginning. We see tribulation giving way to celebration, we see distress giving way to success, we see adversity as an opportunity and we see darkness giving way to light.

And that’s what our Christmas decorations should be all about. Our Christmas decorations are not just to be nice-looking or impressive. They must point to two things – 1. The celebration of the birth of our Saviour. 2. The preparation of the 2nd coming as He promised.

So, for example, the Advent candles and the Advent wreath. It tells us that the four weeks of preparation is to let the light of Christ shine slowly into our hearts and dispel whatever darkness that is blocking our hearts from receiving Jesus.

The Advent wreath is round and with evergreen and it symbolizes the eternal and everlasting love of God for us, a love that is expressed in the birth of Jesus.

The Christmas tree symbolizes what we heard in the 1st reading, when the Lord said this: See the days are coming when I am going to fulfil the promise I made to the House of Israel and the House of Judah.

Because from the stump of Jesse (the Christmas tree is also known as the Jesse Tree), a shoot will grow and become a great and mighty tree, again pointing to Jesus.

And of course the Nativity scene with the big star of Bethlehem, to point to us the reason for the season, and whether in celebration of the birth of Jesus or in preparation of His 2nd coming, we do it in joyful hope for a promised fulfilled and a promise that will be fulfilled.

So, as we begin this season of Advent, let us come away from the hustle bustle, let us come away to the Divine, let us come away to pray with the lights, the lights that point to Jesus the true Light.

Yes, come and pray, bring a friend along, or even a non-Catholic friend along. Who doesn’t like to admire Christmas decorations in a quiet setting, and we have that quiet setting in this church!

Yes, come away and pray and may we feel how God has fulfilled His promises in our lives as we wait in joyful hope for His abundant blessings to come.

Be Blessed And Be A Blessing. Amen.

The Solemnity of Christ the King

The Solemnity of Christ The King

Dan.7:13-14, Rev.1:5-8, Jn.18:33-37

There is an old Indian tale about a King who wished to groom a young man to be his successor, because he had no sons of his own.

So, he called out his ministers to invite all the young man in his kingdom to gather at a particular day. The King devised a test.

He invited all of the young men of the kingdom to the palace and to each of them he gave a clay pot filled with dirt and a single seed.

He said to the young men, “This seed will determine your future. You are to take it home and plant it, water it, and care for it. In one year bring your pot back to show me the fruits of your labor.”

Now among the young men, who came that day was a young boy by the name of Raja. He took his pot home and planted the seed. He carefully watered it and placed it where it could receive the sun.

But nothing happened. Even after months of care, his pot remained barren. So, when the time came to return to the palace, Raja did not want to go.

But his mother said, “Raja, you have nothing to be ashamed of. You did exactly what you were told. Go and show the emperor your pot.”

So, Raja went. When he came to the palace he was amazed at the beautiful flowers and plants that filled the pots of all the other young men.

When the emperor came in, he surveyed the entire scene and his eye landed on Raja’s barren pot. “What is your name young man?” the emperor said. “Raja sir.”

Then the emperor bowed to Raja. He addressed the other young men, “A year ago I gave to each one of you a pot and a seed which had been boiled so there was no way it would ever grow.

Yet, when I come here today, I see pots filled with all the plants of my kingdom. Master Raja alone among all of you was the only one who had the integrity and the honesty to bring back the barren pot, even though by doing so he risked ridicule and rejection.

Living with honesty and truth is difficult; but it is also a sign of greatness. Therefore, let us now all bow to Master Raja, the next emperor of our kingdom.”

Living in the truth is not easy. It requires courage to face what is real in our lives and to respond to that reality wisely. More importantly living in the truth is not primarily about refusing to lie to others.

It is chiefly about refusing to lie to ourselves. Those who live in the truth refuse to live a lie. Because living a lie can not only hurt us; but can, in time, destroy us.

All of us are aware how strong emotions can upset and disturb us, so sometimes we choose to live the life of serenity, even as deep forces churn within us.

Upright persons, however, face the emotions that are present in their lives and admit: I am angry, I am fearful, I am unhappy.

The honesty in facing those emotions can lead us to discover what is causing such strong feelings and perhaps resolve them.

But living in silence, keeping our emotions quiet is living a lie. It is not living in the truth.

All of us want to live in peaceful and happy families with good relations with everyone. So sometimes we choose to ignore the real problems that are present in our families and in our relationships.

If we experience abuse, whether it be verbal or physical, if there is someone who is manipulating us with shame or fear, if there are resentments in our relationships that push us apart, we can choose to ignore those problems.

We provide excuses, saying “That’s just the way things are. There is nothing wrong. There is nothing that I need to face.”

But in making that choice, we are letting those problems in our life strangle us. We are not living in the truth.

All of us want to be independent, want to be in control of our lives. So sometimes we choose to live a lie, ignoring that there are forces controlling us.

We can be addicted to food, or alcohol, or drugs, or pornography, and all the time say to ourselves, “I can stop whenever I choose. I am still in control.”

But we are not in control. We cannot stop, because we are living a lie. We are not living in the truth.

Perhaps the reason that it is so tempting to live a lie is because we cannot really imagine facing the truth.

Perhaps we surround ourselves with so many false illusions, because we cannot see how we could ever have the courage to face the reality that is present in our lives.

If that’s the case, then today’s feast is good news for us. Today we celebrate the feast of Christ the King.

This feast tells us that the authority of Christ is supreme, that the power of Christ is real and active in our midst.

The Church consciously chooses to place this feast at the end of the liturgical year to make the point that if our faith means anything, it means that whatever forces control us, whatever problems attack us, whatever truth we have to face, Christ’s power is greater.

If we turn to Christ as our King, we can find the courage to face the truth and then move on to greater life.

In today’s gospel, Jesus tells Pilate, “All those who belong to the truth, hear my voice.”

Today we are called to belong to the truth, to claim what is real in our lives and to follow the teaching of Christ. If your pot is barren, admit it.

If there are problems in your family, own them. If there are addictions that control you, admit that you are helpless before them. That step into the truth will lead to other steps that will lead to life.

But the first step is to claim what is real and to live in what is true.

Christ is our King. Christ is our Truth. Today, let us claim his kingship. Today let us belong to the Truth and hear his voice.

Be Blessed And Be A Blessing. Amen.

33rd Sunday O T Year – B -18

33rd Sunday O T Year B – 18

Dan.12:1-3, Heb.10:11-14, 18, Mk.13:24-32

A Sunday school teacher asked his class, “If I sold my house and my car, had a big garage sale and gave all my money to the Church, would that get me into Heaven?

“NO!” the children all answered. “If I cleaned the Church every day, mowed the yard, and kept everything neat and tidy, would that get me into Heaven?”

Again, the answer was, “NO!” Again the teacher asked, “Well, then, if I were kind to animals and gave candy to all the children, and loved my spouse, would that get me into Heaven?”

Again, they all answered, “NO!” “Well then how can I get into Heaven?” A five-year-old boy shouted out, “YOU GOTTA BE DEAD!” Good insight for a five-year old!

Next Sunday is the Thirty-fourth and last Sunday in our liturgical year when we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King, and the following Sunday marks the beginning of the Advent season with a new Liturgical Cycle.

Each year at this time, the Church invites us to mediate on the “last things” – Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell — as they apply to us.

How long do you have to live? The truth is, none of us know. But when our final day comes it is unlikely that we can negotiate an extension.

That is why each year as Advent draws near the church puts before us images of the end of the world.

They are frightening images: the sun will be darkened, the stars will fall from the heavens. Although these images are not comforting, it is important for us to consider them.

They remind us that an end will come, an end of the world and more immediately and end to our own lives. Why is it important for us to consider this?

Not to frighten us, but to motivate us. Not to tell us how we should die, but rather to show us how to live. Life looks very different when you view it from the end. From that perspective it is much easier to recognize what is really important.

The truth is this: most of us spend an immense amount of time and energy on things that are truly insignificant. We worry and fret about things that will not make a difference one way or the other.

We give hours and sometimes days of our lives to matters that really do not amount to a hill of beans. This week, thousands of people will camp out on sidewalks sleeping overnight so that they could be the first to buy Playstation3 or a big TV ……

Now was that important? As we lie on our deathbeds will we say, “I’m so glad I did that!”

Millions of people in the world spend energy and time licking their wounds, nurturing their grudges against people who hurt them or ignored them last month or even twenty years ago.

Will we say, “I’m so glad I invested so much of my time in that resentment and anger.”

All of us get wrapped up in our agendas, in our schedules, in the things that we want to accomplish: making money, shopping at the mall, shaping our resumes.

When we take our last breath, will those things be significant? Will we say, “I’m so grateful that I spent all that time in the office.”

Or, “I’m so happy that I was able to buy that coat at Macy’s.” Or, “I’m so lucky that I made more money than other people did.”

Or, “What a wise decision it was for me to spend most of my free time in front of a television or computer screen.”

Are those the things that are going to give us satisfaction and peace when we take our last breath? I’ don’t think so.

This is what today’s gospel is about. It calls us to consider what questions are the important questions?

Not what questions seem important today, but what questions will be important on the last day?

I believe that there are only three questions that will matter as we face eternity.

All three questions are about love: 1. Did I let love in?

2. Did I give love away?

3. Did I choose love even when it was difficult?

1. Did I let love in? Was I able to see the beauty of the world around me and the goodness of the people in it? Was I able to appreciate and respond to the people who loved me?

For all that is wrong in the world, was I able to find that ‘sweet spot’, that place where I knew that things were good; that place that allowed me to laugh, to be thankful, and to know that I was blessed.

And when I found that joy, did I savor it and celebrate it?

Did I let love in? Did I use the time and talents that were given to me to pass love on?

Can I find some piece of goodness in my child, in my spouse, in my friend, that I know I was able to nurture? Can I identify a member of my family or even a stranger, who is better because of me?

Is the world somehow wiser or healthier or more just because I was in it?

2. Did I give love away? Was I able to forgive someone who hurt me?

Did I speak the truth even when I knew that probably no one would listen? Did I honor the commitments which I made at work and at home or at Church?

Did I choose to side with the good, taking the risk to do something even though I knew it might not be successful? Did I choose to respect other people even when they didn’t deserve it?

Did I work for peace even when revenge and violence were more tempting? These questions perhaps more than the others will be the ones which will give us peace and satisfaction on the last day.

3. Did I choose love even when it was difficult?

We all spend so much of our time on things that are insignificant. But in the end there are only three questions we need to be able to answer positively:

Did I let love in? Did I give love away?

Did I choose love even when it was difficult?

If we can answer to these three questions positively, we can close our eyes in peace and satisfaction.

We can also have the confidence that we have found the door to eternity. That is why it is a foolish thing to postpone dealing with these questions until we reach our deathbed.

That is why it is essential to begin answering and living these questions today and every day.

Be Blessed and Be a Blessing. Amen.

32nd Sunday OT Year B

32nd Sunday O T Year B 

1Kg.17:10-16; Heb.9:24-28; Mk.12:38-44

One night years ago, in a small town, a stormy rain stranded a newlywed couple on a remote country road. Unable to go any farther, they got out of their car and walked towards a dimly lit farmhouse. When they reached the house, an elderly couple, carrying a kerosene lamp, met them at the door. 

Explaining their predicament, the young man asked: “Could we spend the night with you? A place on the floor or a few easy chairs will do.” The elderly couple saw the newly wedded couple and understood their predicament. “Why surely, children,” said the elderly woman. 

“We just happen to have a spare bedroom. You get your things from the car while my husband and I freshen it up a bit.” Then they led them up to the room. The next morning the newlywedsgot up early and prepared to leave without disturbing their host. 

They dressed quietly, put a hundred dollar bill on the dresser, and tiptoed down the stairs. When they opened the door to the living room, they were aghast at what they saw. The old couple were asleep in the chairs. They’d given the newlyweds their only bedroom.

The heartwarming story is a modern illustration of the poor widow in the gospel of this 32nd Sunday of the year. Like the poor widow, the elderly couple gave not from their surplus but from the only resource they had.

Today’s readings invite us to live out a total commitment toGod’s service with a humble and generous heart, free from pride and prejudice. The first reading and the Gospel today present poor widows who sacrificially gave their whole lives and means of livelihood to God, symbolizing the supreme sacrifice Jesus would offer by giving His life for others.

In the gospel, Christ praises the poor widow who drops only two small copper coins in the temple treasury, unlike the others who “put in their surplus money”. Although she was very poor, she put her last money – “all she had to live on.”

The first lesson we can learn from the gospel is you don’t have to be wealthy in order to give to charity or help people. The example of the poor widow poignantly illustrates this. There are those who say, “I’ll give when I become rich or win the lottery” or “when I receive my retirement pension.”

The question is, what if you won’t become rich at all or win the lottery? Does it mean you won’t do acts of charity anymore?Our work of love, which is the basic requirement of a true Christian, ought to be unconditional. Rich or poor, we’re called to practice charity.

The second lesson the Lord teaches is that our giving is more meaningful and meritorious when it is accompanied by some pain or sacrifice. The rich in the gospel did not have this. They gave away only what was extra or disposable. When we donate money for charity, what’s our real motive?

Is it because we want our names, our families or company’s names publicized? Do we donate to charity only because it is “tax deductible?” Do we give gifts to our boss because we want something in return like a salary raise or promotion?

If such be our motive, then our giving is self-serving; it has strings attached. Christ teaches, “When you give something to a needy person, do not make a big show of it as the hypocrites do” (Mt 6:2). It’s said that there are three kinds of givers: GRUDGE givers, DUTY givers, and LOVE givers.

Grudge givers give but do it grudgingly or reluctantly. Duty givers give with a sense of obligation. Love givers give because they want to. They do it freely and joyfully motivated by love or compassion. What kind of giver are we?

The story is told about a politician who sent a check of 1 milliondollars to a charitable institution to the delight of the nuns running it. Their joy was short-lived when they saw that the check was not signed by the donor. You know, why? The donor wanted to remain anonymous!

The question you and I face is this: “Do we give God what’s left over after we’ve taken care of everything else?” Or do we give God what we’re living for? We have much, and we can give God much. We can give God our trust, our reliance upon Him, our dependence upon Him. 

Take our daily efforts, for instance. Are they to accomplish our purposes or God’s purposes? They can be the same, you know. We can make our purposes God’s purposes and we can make God’s purposes our purposes. Caring for the ones you love, caring for your wife, your husband, and your children is giving your life to God. 

Providing for the happiness of others is giving your life to God. Working for peace, working for justice and fairness in our world, and many other efforts is, in fact, giving your life over into God’s care. Let’s be clear about it. God isn’t interested in your money. 

He has all of the riches He will ever need. No, God wants more than your money. God wants YOU. He wants your daily life. He wants to be what you depend on each day. He wants to be what you live on. Our giving to God is only giving Him back what’s already His in the first place. 

But can we giving God our hearts? Ah, that’s quite something else! The gift of our heart is what He’s looking for. It’s our gift to Him each time we’re at Mass. And when we gift Him with our love, when we give Him our hearts and our lives, our interests and desires, what He will give back to us cannot be measured.

Christian sharing involves pain. There is pain in giving, so to say. On the part of the widow, we know it was painful for her to share the two small coins because she needed them very much. As the gospel says, the coins represent her whole livelihood. But still she let go of it. 

Christian sharing is all about that. If we give, we give something that we also need, but then we decide to let go of it because we find that others are more in need of it. Consequently, we feel the pain. There is also joy in sharing. 

To let go of something which one needs can be painful, but there is also a concomitant joy it gives us. In giving, we experience joy and fulfillment. 

Often this joy cannot be fully described and explained. “The more you give, the more you receive.” But I think the joy is more caused by the fact that through giving, we have helped and we become part of the lives of these people who are recipients of our generosity. 

This can be a source of our joy and fulfillment. It simply shows that indeed we are a brother and a sister to each other. A generous person is never selfish. A selfish person cannot be generous because he or she merely thinks of his/her self and his/ her needs. 

A generous person goes out from the “world of the self” and he enters into the “world of others.” The poor widow demonstrates and exemplifies a true Christian sharing: pain-filled and joy-filled. Can we, like the poor widow, find the courage to share the wealth and talents we hold? 

Be Blessed and be a Blessing. Amen.

31st Sunday OT Year B

31st Sunday in O T Year B – 18

Deut.6:2-6; Heb.7:23-28; Mk.12:28-34

There is a Bible scholar who said: “The message of the Scripture from the first page to the very last is love.”

A penitent went to a confession and started his confession before the priest. “Father, forgive me for I have sinned.” “Two months since my last confession,” “And following are my sins?”

He continued, “Father I love a woman dearly. To prove this love, I work hard to provide for her and our children. Whenever she wrongs me, I keep quiet and do no answer back,” said the penitent. “I cannot see any sin in such a heroic love,” the priest replied. “You maybe even be a model of a very Christian husband.”

“I don’t think so, Father,” said the penitent. “Why?” the priest asked. “The woman is my neighbor’s wife.” It’s like confessing, I stole a rope father but at the end of the rope there was a cow.

In our gospel today, one of the scribes asked Jesus, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” Jesus replied, “You shall love the Lord your God…. And the second is you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus didn’t say love your neighbor’s wife as your wife.

Why did the scribe ask this kind of question to Jesus? It is because during that time, the scholars of the law multiplied the Ten Commandments into 613 commandments.

Out of which 365 are prohibitions (which is equivalent to the number of days in a year) and 248 are positive precepts (which is equivalent to the number of bones, as they believe, in the human body). For them, these 613 commandments symbolize man’s structure.

So, the central message of today’s readings is the most fundamental principle of all religions, especially Christianity. We are to love God in loving others and to love others in loving God. The prayers, Sacraments, sacrifices and all other religious practices are meant to help us grow in this relationship of love.

Jesus gave a straightforward answer, quoting directly from the Law itself and starling them with his profound simplicity and mastery of the law of God and its purpose.

He cited the first sentence of the Jewish Shema prayer: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is Lord alone! Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Deut.6:4).

Then He added its complementary law: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”(Lev.19:18). Jesus’ contribution combined the originally separate commandments and presented them as the essence of true religion.

True religion, Jesus says, is loving God and loving our fellow human beings at the same time, which means the only way a person can demonstrate real love for God is by showing genuine, active love for neighbor.

The “great commandment in the Law” is really threefold: We are commanded (1) to love God, (2) to love our neighbor, and (3) to love ourselves. We are to love God, for it is in loving Him that we are brought to the perfection of His image in us.

We are to love our neighbor and ourselves as well, because both of us bear God’s image, and to honor God’s image is to honor Him who made it. We are to love our neighbor and our self as a way to love God: God gives us our neighbors to love so that we may learn to love Him.

The two commandments that are given are actually two components of one great commandment. Neither of those two commandments can function independently. Both are necessary. Each is one side of the same coin, together forming the one great commandment that is most important of all.

Since this is Jesus’ central teaching, it would serve us well to reflect why we need both of these commandments, why neither can stand on its own. Or to put this in other terms, why we cannot love our neighbor without loving God, and why we cannot love God without loving our neighbor.

Let us take the easier question first. Why is it impossible to love God without loving our neighbor? The answer is simple. Unless we are willing to love our neighbor, unless we’re willing to give ourselves in service to those in need, unless we’re willing to reach out in generosity and sacrifice, our love of God is hypocrisy.

If we are unable to love those around us, our prayer to God and our love of God is empty. If we are unwilling to give of ourselves to others, then our love of God is merely a matter of words or pious practices. It might make us feel good, but it has no substance. It is not based in reality.

The first letter of John tells us that those who say they love God but hate their brothers and sisters are liars. Because how could they say that they love God who they cannot see and at the same time refuse to love their brothers and sisters who they do see?

Love of God without love of neighbor is empty. It is hypocrisy.

How about the other way around? Why is love of neighbor without love of God deficient? Why do we need to love God if we are truly going to love our neighbor? This is a more difficult question, isn’t it?

But the answer is this: love of God gives us the freedom to love others even when it is difficult, even when it is not all that practical. It is easy to love those who love us in return, but how can we love those who hurt us? How can we love our enemies?

We cannot love them for their sake, but we can love them for God’s sake. We can love them because we love God. Why would you go to visit your grandmother with Alzheimer? She does not even know who you are. You do not go to visit her for her sake; you visit her for God’s sake.

It is your love of God that motivates you to visit even when she cannot realize you are there. Why might you choose to recycle or conserve energy? It does not make that much difference. The love of God gives us the ability to love others and to love the earth, even when that love is not reciprocated, even when it produces few results.

Jesus gives us a great commandment, but that great commandment has two essential parts: love of God and love of neighbor. Both are required. Love of God without love of neighbor is empty. Love of neighbor without love of God is limited to only love which is convenient and practical.

But these two loves together form one great commandment. They sit at the very pinnacle of the triangle of life. They are the most important thing. They are our entry into the kingdom of God.

Be Blessed and Be a Blessing. Amen.

29th Sunday O T Year B

29th Sunday O T Year B

Is.53:10-11; Heb.4:14-16; Mk.10: 35-45

A priest went into a Washington, D. C. barber shop for a haircut. When the barber finished, the priest asked him what the charge was and the barber responded, “No charge, Father, you are serving the Lord and I consider my service rendered to you as a service to the Lord.”

The next morning when the barber arrived at his shop he found at his front door a stack of usable Christmas cards and a note of thanks from the priest. A few days later, a police officer went to the same barber for a haircut. When he went to pay, the barber said, “No charge, officer.

I consider it a service to our community because you serve our community.” The next morning when the barber arrived at his shop there were a dozen donuts at the front door and a note of thanks from the policeman.

A few days after this an influential senator came in for a haircut.

“No charge, Senator, I consider it a service to my country.”

The next morning when the barber arrived at his shop there were two congressmen waiting for their chance for the barber’s free service, carrying a note of thanks from the Senator!

Today’s readings describe leadership as the sacrificial service done to others and offer Jesus as the best example. They also explain the servant leadership of Jesus, pinpointing service and sacrifice as the criteria of greatness in Christ’s kingdom.

The gospel teaches us that true happiness comes from surrendering ourselves completely in humble service to God through Christ. And all we need is a servant’s heart, mind, eyes and touch.

Our Gospel reading for today is another classic text on the question of ambition. For the third time, (Mark 8:31, 9:31, 10:32), Jesus predicts his own death.

In spite of Jesus’ two previous predictions, James and John still thought of him as a revolutionary freedom-fighter and shared the Jewish belief that the Messiah would be a political king, sitting on David’s throne and ruling over a re-united Israel.

They thought that they were sure that the purpose of Jesus’ final trip to Jerusalem was to overthrow the Roman rulers. Hence, they wanted an assurance from Jesus that he would make them his first- and second-in- command in his messianic kingdom.

James and John picked a bad moment. St John Chrysostom said, “Their timing was precisely wrong for this was not the right time for crowns or prizes.

It was the time for struggles, contests, toils, sweat, wrestling rings and battles.” Jesus is going deliberately towards suffering and death.

It is easy to imagine that procession: Jesus striding ahead, the disciples following in a daze, and the crowd bewildered. Normal prudence would urge us to avoid suffering and death – to go in the other direction.

But this scene is telling us something about the wisdom of the cross. The request of James and John revealed their lack of understanding of true leadership.

They were looking for positions of power and prestige. They thought that leadership came from where you sat rather than how you served.

Jesus gave them a sharp rebuke when he said, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”

Without fully understanding what Jesus meant, James and John quickly affirmed that they could share in their master’s cup and baptism.

They had no understanding of the personal cost that lay behind these two images. To drink the cup is to accept the reality of suffering and to do God’s will in the midst of it, as Jesus did in Gethsemane.

Those who follow the way of Jesus and seek to imitate his example of servant leadership must be willing even to suffer for others.

Naturally, the request of James and John angered the other disciples. They were upset that James and John had tried to gain some advantage over them.

So Jesus called them all together to give them yet another lecture on real leadership in the kingdom of God.

Jesus told his disciples plainly what his mission was, how he was going to accomplish it and what should be the criteria of greatness among his disciples.

He summarized his mission in one sentence, “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Here, he challenged his apostles to share not only his power, but his service, by sacrificing themselves for others as he had done.

According to Jesus, greatness consists not in what we have, nor in what we can get from others but in what we give to others.

The CEO in Jesus’ kingdom is the one who serves the needs of all the others. Very often, people in authority act as if others exist only to serve them.

We forget the fact that authority is different from power. Power is something a person has and forces on people. Authority is something a person gains – it’s given to one by the people one leads. One can gain authority from those one leads only through service and sacrifice.

When people see that a person has their best interests at heart and is willing to sacrifice and serve them, they will be willing to follow. That’s real leadership and authority.

Jesus saw authority as an opportunity to serve others rather than to promote his own honor and glory.

He connected authority with selfless service. He considered authority without sacrificial love as merely self-serving. We are challenged to give our lives in loving service to others.

To become an authentic disciple of Jesus means to put ourselves in the humble, demanding role of servant to others, to intentionally seek the happiness and fulfillment of those we love regardless of the cost to ourselves.

Let me end with the words of Rabindranath Tagore an Indian Poet. “I discovered that Service is Joy.” It may sound unbelievable, but it is true that Asia’s first Nobel Prize winner in Literature (1913), Rabindranath Tagore, was behind the three great national anthems of three nations.

The nations are Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka. He was also the first non-westerner to win the Nobel Prize in literature. He did so in 1913. He wrote this short poem:

I slept and dreamt that life was Joy;

Then I awoke and realized that life was Service.

And then I went to work – and, lo and behold,

I discovered that Service is Joy.

We are challenged to give our lives in loving service to others. As Christians, we are all invited to serve others – and to serve with a smile!

Be Blessed And Be A Blessing. Amen.