26th Sunday, O T Year B – 2015

26th Sunday O T Year B – 2015

Num.11:25-29; Jas.5:1-6; Mk.9:38-43, 45, 47-48

In Belfast, Ireland, a Catholic priest, a Protestant minister and a Jewish rabbi were engaged in a heated theological discussion. Suddenly an angel appeared in their midst and said to them, “God sends you His blessings. Make one wish for peace and your wish will be fulfilled by the Almighty.”

The Protestant minister said, “Let every Catholic disappear from our lovely island. Then peace will reign supreme.” The priest said, “Let there not be a single Protestant left on our sacred Irish soil. That will bring peace to this island.”

“And what about you, Rabbi?” said the angel. “Do you have no wish of your own?” “No,” said the rabbi. “Just attend to the wishes of these two gentlemen and I shall be well pleased.”

A young man approaches a good looking girl in a Mall and asked, “You know, I have lost my girlfriend here in the Mall. Can you talk to me for a couple of minutes?” “Why?” she asks. “Because, every time I talk to a beautiful girl, my girlfriend appears out of nowhere.”

Today’s readings give us a strong warning against jealousy, intolerance and scandal. Some of history’s sins can be attributed to jealousy. The first murder was committed because of jealousy. Cain was jealous that Abel’s offering was accepted by God and his was not. Jesus was crucified because of the jealousy of the religious leaders.

The Jews of Antioch in Pisidia persecuted Paul and Barnabas because of jealousy. In today’s first reading Joshua is jealous of Eldad and Medad prophesying. The Israelites were jealous of Moses’ leadership. Joshua could not tolerate these absent men prophesying in the camp without receiving God’s Spirit in the Tent of Meeting. Moses had to instruct Joshua to be tolerant.

In the gospel today the disciples were jealous of a stranger expelling demons. Remember at one point the disciples were jealous of John and James trying to get a spiritual promotion. So today’s Gospel gives us lessons in Christian tolerance and exemplary Christian living.

The apostles wanted to reserve God’s love and healing power to themselves as the “sole owners” and “authorized distributors”! We hear John complaining to Jesus that a stranger was driving out demons in Jesus’ Name, though he was not of their company.

They wanted Jesus to condemn the man. They may have been jealous of this stranger. Jesus, however, reprimanded his disciples for their jealousy and suspicion and invited them to broaden their vision and to recognize God’s power wherever it was found.

Like Moses in the first reading, Jesus challenged a rigid understanding of ministerial legitimacy.  He wanted the apostles to rejoice in the good that others did, for God was the Doer of all good. Jesus enunciates a principle for his disciples: “Anyone who is not against us is for us.”  God can and does use anyone to do His work.

Jesus’ second warning is against scandal-givers: those who cause the “little ones” to sin. The Greek word for “little ones” is micron, meaning the smallest or the least. It can mean children, those who are new to the Faith, or those who are weak in Faith.

Jesus is pointing out that the scandalous behavior of older believers can be an obstacle to those whose Faith is just beginning to develop. We hear the theme on scandal in the Second Reading too, we heard of James condemning the rich because of their unjust treatment to laborers while indulging in their riches.

It is a scandal that continues actually this day. In the Gospel, the scandal takes a new form. Jesus warns the older people about their scandalous behavior for this definitely affect the faith of the “weak” or the “little ones”. Parents’ infidelity can be a scandal to their children.

How many children now who no longer believe in the sacrament of marriage because of their parents’ neglect and inability to find solution to family and marital problems? Teachers can be a scandal to students when teachers demonstrate inappropriate behaviors, or when they teach things that are not proper to them.

Also, priests can be scandal to the faithful if they teach things which are contrary to the teachings of the Church. Thus, the readings today teach us that we have differences, in behavior, attitudes, values, and in faith, and that we must learn to respect our differences.

Perhaps we can take the lesson that we should never be jealous of, and, in fact, should team up with, people who have the same talents and gifts as we have, not see them as threats. The rest of the Gospel today is filled with exaggerations which we call hyperboles.

Hyperboles exist to make a strong point about something. For example, I tell people I got thousands of tomatoes out my garden this year. Well, I didn’t really, but I got a huge amount of tomatoes – and people understand that exaggeration. Or we say of a restless night – I didn’t sleep all night! – When we probably did fade off a little bit at least – but we get the point!

So, when Jesus says that if you do anything to threaten the faith of a child, it would be better if a great millstone were hung about your neck and be thrown into the sea – he is exaggerating – but we get the point. It would be a really, really bad thing!

Similarly, if you steal things with your hands, cut off your hand! Jesus doesn’t really want you to cut off your hand, but he wants you to treat the inclination to steal very seriously! In the same way, if you have trouble with liquor but find yourself constantly walking into bars, just cut your feet off so you can’t. I mean, Jesus can’t be serious. He is using hyperbole.

This, of course, is one of the reasons we can’t take everything we read in the Bible literally. There has to be some common sense interpretation. If we followed Jesus’ instruction here we would all be limbless, and blind. It simply means that we must take these matters seriously – probably where the Catholic Church got the concept of “mortal sin”.

The last line of the Gospel today may be difficult to understand: “…be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.” Jesus is not necessarily saying that hell is a place with fire but is actually using a metaphor here.

Hell would be better translated as Gehenna, which was the local garbage pit of Jerusalem. Maggots would be there all the time because of the food scraps, and the fire would always be burning because there was always more trash.

So hell is like the maggot-ridden, perpetually smoking garbage dump – a slightly different metaphor of hell than most of us grew up with. This brings me then to the middle reading today from James once again about how hard it will be for rich people to get to heaven.

So there is a lot packed into the readings today, but what can we take home with us? Take sin seriously and do your best to avoid it. At some point, you will be called to justify your lifestyle. Billy Graham has a fantastic way of summing up this Gospel message by concluding his Crusades with a final challenge:

“Decide!  Cut away anything that prevents you from a radical decision for Jesus Christ!  Decide for Christ!”

On the other hand, let us become good role models: a) when we support and guide others in moments of doubt, weakness, and suffering, b) when we increase other people’s self-confidence by accepting them as they are and enabling them to discover their hidden talents.

We can become good role models when we help them to grow by inspiring and correcting them, d) when we forgive them and listen to them with patience, and e) when we make ourselves examples of Christian witnessing. Amen.


25th Sunday O T Year B – 15

25th Sunday O T Year B – 15

Wis.2:12, 17-20 / Jas.3:16 – 4:3 / Mk.9:30-37

Between a discussion, a debate and an argument, there are similarities and there are also differences.A discussion is a process of talking about something, typically in order to reach a decision or to exchange ideas.

An argument is an exchange of diverging or opposite views, typically a heated or angry one, with the aim of persuading others that an action or idea is right or wrong.Whichever it might be, emotions are always involved.

A discussion can develop into a debate and then when the emotions get high it becomes an argument that can turn into a shouting match.And usually in small and petty arguments, it isn’t about who is right or wrong but who can shout louder and prevail over the other.

It’s also rather funny how after an argument is over, you begin tothink about more clever things you should have said (but a bit too late).In the gospel, Jesus asked His disciples what they were arguing about on the road.

They said nothing. Of course they said nothing because what they argued about was nothing intelligent but they argued about who was the greatest.And obviously each was trying to prove that he is the greatest by the volume of his voice, so much so that it reached the ears of Jesus.

But when they were confronted by Jesus, they became silent.But it was only when they were silent that they were ready to listen. It is interesting to note that “silent” and “listen” are made up of the same letters.

And it was when they were silent that Jesus used the occasion to put the disciples on the right direction, and explain his teaching on true greatness. This may also apply to us because greatness is everyone’s aspiration. We have the desire to be remembered as someone who is great.

For instance, fathers want to be remembered by their children as “great fathers;” mothers also want to be “great mothers.” Students, professors, office managers, national presidents, and leaders would always aspire for greatness. Indeed, we really want to be great!

Now, this is what Jesus tells us about greatness:First, we can be great in powerlessness. Powerlessness is greatness. This appears as something different because the common understanding of greatness is power. You can be great if you have the power.

This was the disciples’ understanding of a Messiah; he is a triumphant Messiah, not a suffering Messiah. So, when Jesus talked about his own passion, they never cared to listen or to understand it.

Second, to be great is to be a servant of all. This is also going against the conventional because, normally, leaders want to be served. We feel great when we just sit down while others are serving us. But for Jesus that is not greatness. True greatness can be found in service.

This may be hard to understand because in a “master-servant” relationship, each is situated on two different and opposing poles. It appears that it is impossible for a master to serve.

Third, the quality of greatness can be found in children. Children are generally humble. They are also dependent on their parents. They cannot live without their parents. Their dependence is so total. The greatness of a person can also be found in his total dependence on God.

So Jesus taught them that if anyone wants to be first, he must make himself last and the servant of all.And then He took a little child and set him in front of them and told them that anyone who welcomes one of these little ones would be welcoming Him.

In other words, anyone who would be as humble as a little child would be able to listen to the teachings of Jesus and attain greatness without having to prove it.And there is also no need to try to win an argument in order to prove that one is great.

There is this story of Mother Teresa who went around begging for food for the orphans that she was taking care of.One day Mother Teresa went to a local bakery to ask for bread for the starving children in the orphanage. The baker, outraged at people begging for bread from him, spat in her face and refused.

Mother Teresa calmly took out her handkerchief, wiped the spit from her face and said to the baker, “Okay, that was for me. Now what about the bread for the orphans?”The baker, shamed by her response, gave her the bread she wanted.

Truly it was an example of greatness in the face of insult. And there is no argument about that.As we think about it, we may realize that most of the time, we react and enter into an argument with others and may even end up fighting for nothing and over nothing.

And that’s what St. James tells us in the 2nd reading when he says this – Where do these wars and battles between yourselves first start? Isn’t it precisely in the desires fighting inside your own selves? You want something and you haven’t got it, so you are prepared to kill.

You have an ambition you cannot satisfy, so you fight to get your way by force.Yes, when we look at what is happening in the world, we can see that there are people who would resort to violence and even killing and they think that it is great to do so.

There is a story of a holy man who was threatened with death by a bandit.The holy man calmly said, “Then be good enough to fulfill my dying wish – Cut off the branch from the tree.”With one slash of the sword, and it was done. “What now?” the bandit asked.

“Put it back again,” said the holy man.The bandit laughed, “You must be crazy to think that anyone can do that.”The holy man replied, “On the contrary, it is you who are crazy to think that you are great and mighty because you can wound and destroy.

But true greatness and might would know how to create and heal.” Certainly, it is very brave to talk like that to someone who is wielding a sword.But true greatness is also having the courage and the wisdom to speak the truth with love.

Because to speak the truth with love requires the wisdom that can be attained only with the humility of a little child.As the 2nd reading puts it, it is a wisdom that comes down from above and it makes for peace and it is full of compassion and shows itself by doing good, and there is no trace of partiality or hypocrisy in it.

Yes, we need to be humble and ask for the wisdom from Jesus in any discussion or debate or even in an argument.With the wisdom from Jesus, our discussions and debates and even arguments will bear fruits of peace and even help others to grow in holiness.

Between a discussion, a debate and even in an argument, the difference lies with Jesus and in Jesus.So we must become great through loving, humble, self-giving service. Greatness, in Jesus’ view, is found in our willingness to accept,welcome and serve with love those who are considered unacceptable and undeserving by reason of class, color, religion, poverty or culture.

We must welcome people the loving way a child welcomes them before he is taught discrimination.If we are to be truly great, we must be ready to accept four challenges:  (a) to put ourselves last, (b) to be the servant of all, (c) to receive the most insignificant human beings with love, and (d) to expect nothing in return.

During the holy Mass let us pray for the true spirit of service, for an attitude of love for those around us. Amen.


24th Sunday O T Year B – 15

24th Sunday O T Year B – 15

Is.50:5-9, Jas.2:14-18, Mk.8:27-35

A pastor was visiting homes one day. He knocked at one door and after a while a little girl appeared at the door. Since he knew her from the church, he asked her, “Sweetie, do you know who I am?” The little girl looking at the kitchen area of the house called her mother saying, “Mom, there is a man at our door. He does not know who he is.

Some questions embarrass us, especially if they are personal. The confession of Peter on Jesus at Caesarea Philippi is an all-time confession of a disciple. But let it be recalled that Jesus did first ask his disciples what was the people’s assessment or view on him.

As the disciples’ answers suggest, Jesus was thought to be a prophet. Although, Jesus had an association with the prophets, it appeared that he was not satisfied with those answers because, the truth is; he is more than a prophet. Thus he asked another question,

“Who do you say that I am?” Jesus must have expected a better and deeper answer from the disciples because of their intimacy with him. It was Peter who rightly answered, “You are the Messiah!” It then appeared that Jesus must have agreed with what Peter had said, but, a different understanding of a Messiah, the Messiah who suffers.

Today, Jesus tells us “no cross, no crown.” There can be no Easter without a Good Friday. Everything that happened to Jesus had been foretold by the prophets long before. He came for a purpose, and, as his life unfolded, it became clearer to him what that purpose was.

It may seem strange to put it that way, but, for my own spiritual growth, I like to think that Jesus discovered more and more about his mission as time went on. Don’t forget, he did take on our humanity, and we would be slightly uncomfortable with someone who knew exactly every detail of life well in advance! We are not sure we could relate to that as being realistic, or being anything near what we ourselves experience.

Many of our sins of omission in life are the result of our fear to face up to something, unsure what it will cost us. We want to get to Easter, and bypass Good Friday, but this cannot be done. No cross no crown. It is the short-term pain for the long-term gain.

There is a cost in Pentecost, and living our Christian vocation involves facing up to the fact that we have to die to ourselves many times in the service of others. This prospect can cause us to hold back, to delay, to try to avoid. We put off facing up to something we should do, in the hope that it may go away by itself.

This includes patterns of behavior, addictions, compulsions, and injustice to others. We know rightly what we should do, but it seems to be too difficult, so we keep postponing doing anything about it, and then, perhaps, life is over, and we never got around to it. This is something on which to reflect today.

There were three young trees growing together in the forest. They were young, healthy, and ambitious. They compared their dreams. One wanted to be part of the structure of a castle or a palace, so it would be a spectator in the lives of the high and mighty of society.

The second wanted to end up as the mast in one of the tall ships, sailing around the world with a great- sense of adventure. The third hoped to end up as part of some public monument, where the public would stop, admire, and take photographs. Years passed by, and all three were cut down.

The first was chopped up, and parts of it were put together to form a manger for a stable in Bethlehem. The second was cut down, and the trunk was scooped out to form a boat, which was launched on the Sea of Galilee. The third was cut into sections, two of which were put together, to form a cross on Calvary.

Each had a unique and special part to play in the one great story of redemption. Today’s Gospel explains the basis of our Faith as acceptance of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God and our Lord and Savior. It also tells us that Christ Jesus became our Savior by his suffering, death and Resurrection.

Finally, it outlines the three conditions of Christian discipleship, namely, denying oneself, taking up one’s cross and following Jesus. In the middle section of the book of the prophet Isaiah, in chapters 40-55, there are four short passages which scholars have called the Songs of the Suffering Servant.

Like the servant described in today’s first reading, Jesus’ life was one of radical obedience and conformity to God’s will. Thus, the Servant passage provides background for the revelation of Jesus as the suffering Messiah.

The second reading reminds us that suffering is not only something to be accepted but also something to be alleviated. James tells us that our Faith in Jesus the Messiah should be expressed in alleviating others’ suffering through works of mercy, both corporal and spiritual.

This Sunday we begin a series of seven Sunday Gospel readings from Mark’s account of the journey of Jesus and his disciples from northern Galilee to Jerusalem. Along the way Jesus gave instructions about his identity and what it meant to follow him (discipleship).

Today’s Gospel, relating the first of Jesus’ three prophecies of his passion, death and Resurrection, consists of two sections: the Messianic confession of Peter and Jesus’ prediction of his Passion, death and Resurrection, followed by his clear teaching on discipleship.

Jesus realized that if his disciples did not know who he really was, then his entire ministry, suffering and death would be useless. Hence, he decided to ask a question in two parts. The first question is, “What is the public opinion?” and the second is, “What is your personal opinion?”

What does Jesus mean to me personally? Founder of a religion? Revolutionary Jewish reformer? One of the great teachers? Son of God and personal Savior? This can perhaps be broken down into other questions: “How do I really see Jesus? Is Jesus a living experience for me, walking with me, loving me, forgiving me, helping me and transforming my life and outlook?

What difference does Jesus make in my life?  Have I really given my life to him? Are there areas where I have excluded Him, where my life is not noticeably different from the lives of those who see Jesus as irrelevant? Who do we say that Jesus is in our daily life? Who do we say that Jesus is when we are in the presence of those who don’t know him, those who aren’t interested in him?

We are gathered here today in the name of Jesus. We have not come together to celebrate a continuing memorial for a merely good man who died long ago. We are here to celebrate the death and Resurrection of Christ, the Messiah, our Lord and personal Savior in this Eucharistic celebration in which we encounter directly the Living God.

We need to experience Jesus as our Lord and Savior and surrender our life to him. Amen.

23rd Sunday O T Year B – 2015

23rdSunday O T Year B – 2015

Is.35:4-7/ Jas.2:1-5/ Mk.7: 31-37

An old man is talking to the familydoctor. “Doctor, I think my wife’s going deaf.” The doctor answers, “Well, here’ssomething you can try on her to test her hearing. Stand some distance awayfrom her without facing her and ask her a question.

If she doesn’t answer, movea little closer and ask again. Keep repeating this until she answers. Then you’ll be able to tell just how hard of hearing she really is.” The man goes home and triesit out. He walks in the door and asks, “Honey, what’s for dinner?”

He doesn’t hearan answer, so he moves closer to her. “Honey, what’s for dinner?” Still he getsno answer. He repeats this several times, until he’s standing just one foot awayfrom her. Finally, she answers, “For the eleventh time, I said we’re having meatloaf!”

The theme of today’s readings is an invitation to usbecome humble instruments of healing in Jesus’ hands by giving voice to the voiceless and caring love to the needy and the marginalized in our society. Thereadings invite us to open our ears to hear the word of God and to let our tongues be loosened by the Holy Spirit to convey the Good News of God’s loveand salvation to others.

Thefirst reading reminds us that God’s eyes are constantly focused onthe helpless. God especially cares for “the frightened, the blind, the deaf, thelame, the mute,” and He encourages the powerless to “be strong and fearless.” This is why, in today’s second reading the apostle gives ussome basic and challenging principles of social justice.

He exhorts Christians to show no partiality based on external appearance and to practice God’s”preferential option for the poor.” He warns the faithful against scorning orshaming the poor while showing special consideration to the rich.

Today’s Gospel describes how Jesus, by healing a deaf and mute man, fulfills Isaiah’s Messianic prophecy, “The eyes of the blind shall be opened and the earsof the deaf unstopped.” The ailments listed by Isaiah are symbolic of our interiorillnesses:

Blindness to the needs of our neighbor, unwillingness to hear God’s voice and the inability to speak words of praise and gratitude. Through this miracle story, Mark also reminds us that no one can be a follower of the Lordwithout reaching out to the helpless.

The sectionselected from Mark’s Gospel begins with the healing of a deaf man and ends withthe healing of a blind man in the non-Jewish area of the Decapolis. Jesus shows his tender consideration for the weak by leading the dumb man away from the crowd so as not to embarrass him. The miracle is described in seven ritual-like steps:

  1. Jesus leads the man away from the crowd. 2. Puts his fingers into the man’s ears. 3. Spits on his own fingers. 4. Touches the man’s tongue with the spittle. 5.Looks up to heaven. 6. Sighs. 7. And speaksthe healing command: “Ephphatha” (“be opened.”)Why does Jesus carry outthis elaborate ritual, while in other miracles he simply speaks a word or touchesthe individual? It is probably because the dumb man cannot hear Jesus’ voice or express his needs.People of that day believed that the spittle of holy men had curative properties.

The early Church Fathers saw an indirect reference to Baptism in the way Jesus healed the man. In Baptism, the priest or deacon who baptized us touched our ears and mouths that we might hear the word of God and speak about Christ to others, sharing the “Good News” with the poor, the imprisoned, the fearful, and the broken-hearted.

What we see is not simply the healing of a physical defect,but a concrete sign of the transforming power of God’s Love. The power of God’sLove is working in our lives to transform sorrow into joy, sickness into health, death into new life. The dumb man who is unable to communicate also symbolizes our own communication problem vis-à-vis God.

In order to perceiveand proclaim God’s message, we need to be transformed. The miracle is not onlyabout the physical healing of person who was deaf and dumb. It also points tothe opening of a person’s ears so that he may hear the word of God, and loosening of his tongue so that he may speak his profession of faith in Jesus.

The miracle has great relevance to us, because a person can have perfecthearing, and yet not hear the word of God, have perfect speech, and yet be unable to make an act of faith.All three readings speak of a God who is partial tothe voiceless and the afflicted.

Today, however, many of us have lost the abilityto recognize the voice of God calling us for action in our modern society. We areasked to give hearing and voice to the deaf and the mute. The person healed became a witness to the power of God.

A Church that is to bear witness to theexample of Jesus’ love must not neglect “those who are bowed down.” Through its healing presence the Church must give voice to the voiceless.The story of the healing of the deaf-mute person is our story too. There is hardly any organ in our dealing with God stressed as much as our ear.

We shall hear, not so much see or speak. God has given us two ears but only one mouth. It is because we have to listen to God always. True listening will result in praising the Lord and in prayer. If we do not manage a good prayer, it’s probably because we do not listen enough.

Mark introduces the healing of the deaf man with the speech impediment by telling us that Jesus had left the district of Tyre and went by way of Sidon into the district of Decapolis. Mark does not explain the odd itinerary.

It would be like saying that Jesus went from Pittsburgh to Atlanta by way of Buffalo. Note that he had introduced the previous unit in his gospel about the Gentile woman’s faith by telling us that she lived in the district of Tyre.

The woman clearly got the better of Jesus in their sharp exchange about whether his ministry extended beyond his own Jewish people to the Gentiles. Mark makes a point of reporting that Jesus, in admiration of her faith, did drive the demon out of the woman’s daughter, and immediately went into the district peopled by Gentiles.

Jesus heard God speaking to him through the voice of the Gentile woman that the ministry of divine love is to be extended not only to the Jews, but also to the Gentiles. Now among the Gentiles Jesus hears the people who plead for the cure of the deaf man with a speech impediment.

He looks up to heaven, seeing that all his healing power comes from God, and groaning with compassion he speaks the words of love, “Be opened.” Today at our Eucharist we pray for the gift of sharing the faith and compassion of Christ—hearing, seeing, speaking with the power of his Spirit in the particular circumstances of our own lives.

Jesus desires to give us his healing touch in order to loosen our tongues so that he may speak to the spiritually hungry through us.Jesus’ compassionatetouch will help us to hear the cries of the poor and the sick.  It will teach us to show kindness, mercy and consideration to others. Amen.