13th Sunday O T Year C – 16

13th Sunday O T Year C – 16

1 Kgs.19:16,19-21 / Gal.5:1,13-18 / Lk.9:51-62

A guard in charge of a lighthouse along a dangerous coast was given enough oil for one month and told to keep the light burning every night. One day a woman asked for oil so that her children could stay warm. Then a farmer came. His son needed oil for a lamp so he could read.

Another needed some for an engine. The guard saw each as a worthy request and gave some oil to satisfy all. By the end of the month, the tank in the lighthouse was dry. That night the beacon was dark and three ships crashed on the rocks. More than one hundred lives were lost.

The lighthouse attendant explained what he had done and why. But the prosecutor replied, “You were given only one task: to keep the light burning. Every other thing was secondary. You have no excuse.”

Temptation is a choice between good and evil. But perhaps more insidious than temptation is conflict where one must choose between two good options. The lighthouse keeper in our story found himself in such a conflict situation.

With that in mind let me repeat a key part of today’s Gospel account: And to another Jesus said, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.” But he answered him, “Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God. “

And another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say farewell to my family at home.” To him Jesus said, “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Now let’s go back to today’s first reading. There we find the prophet Elijah commissioning Elisha to take on the God given role of being Elijah’s successor, a prophet of God.

In that context we hear Elisha saying: “Please, let me kiss my father and mother goodbye, and I will follow you” whereupon in the most radical act of faith he cut all ties with his past and rid himself of all his possessions and then followed Elijah.

It’s all about decisions, isn’t it? Decisions… how decisive am I in following Jesus? That’s the big question not only today but in each and every day of our lives. The readings today present us with the reality of decisions; we are called by God to be decisive.

But while we want to be decisive and have the freedom to make our own decisions, decisions bring with them consequences.  In the first reading we find the need for security being challenged by the decision to move into an unknown future.

In the second reading we’re presented with a false freedom, the freedom of license and anything goes vs. the true freedom of loving for the sake of others, particularly the Other that is God. Finally, in the Gospel we find the challenge to move beyond the ties of family loyalty and affection.

These are all hard, tough decisions. It’s not easy to definitively leave one’s childhood family in order to cling to a spouse in marriage and start a new family. Many of us never come to the full realization that sacrifice is not merely a nice ideal; it’s a fact of life.

We don’t have a choice in the matter. The question is not whether we are willing to sacrifice. Life is filled with sacrifices. It’s always a question of how much are we willing to sacrifice… and for what are we sacrificing?

We cannot have things of value and at the same time live foot-loose and carefree lives. All commitments involve sacrifice. To be sure, there are those who try to live free and unfettered lives, but what becomes of them?

To say “yes” to anything requires saying “no” to a whole lot of other things. For instance, one cannot be “a little bit religious” for very long. You either commit or you end up saying: “I don’t go to Mass very often anymore because of this, that or the other thing.

To say “yes” to everything means we can’t say “yes” to anything in particular. One cannot both commit and keep all of one’s options open at the same time. “No man can serve two masters…,” Jesus said. Keeping all of one’s options open is just another way of avoiding full commitment.

It’s another form of denial. That’s true in our close and intimate relationships with others. And that’s true in our relationship with Jesus Christ. Commitment, love, marriage and friendships all impose things upon us. They require an uncluttered “yes.”

Today’s gospel is a sequence of four incidents and encounters with people who could have become followers of Jesus but who were held back by ulterior concerns and motives. Each encounter highlights a different concern.

The first incident is the encounter between the messengers of Jesus and the Samaritan villagers. The concern that holds the Samaritans back from accepting and following Jesus is patriotism. Samaritans and Jews were bitter enemies.

The Samaritan villagers had probably heard about Jesus and what he was doing and were interested. But as soon as they learnt that Jesus and his disciples were Jews and were heading for Jerusalem, their admiration turned into opposition.

Patriotism and devotion to the national cause is, of course, a good thing. But when national interest becomes the spectacle through which one sees all reality, including spiritual and eternal reality, then one is in danger of losing perspective.

The second incident involves a man who says to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replies, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Luke (9:57-58). Why did Jesus say that?

Probably because he perceived that here was a man who valued financial independence and security. It is a good thing to have high economic goals so that one could provide adequately for oneself and for those under one’s care. Yet when this stands in the way of wholehearted following and service of God, then something is wrong.

The third incident is that of the man who wanted first to go bury his father before following Jesus. Burying one’s parents is part of the command to “Honor your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12). So this a man with high moral principles, a man who keeps the law and is highly concerned for his religious duties.

Again this is a very good virtue. Yet Jesus is saying that we should not allow religious observance to immobilize us and keep us from following Christ who is always on the move into new territories and new challenges.

Finally, there is the man who wants to go and say farewell to his family before following Jesus. He wants to follow the example of Elisha (1st reading) who bid his family farewell before becoming Elijah’s disciple. This man has high social and family values.

One could only wish that all men could be this sensitive to let their families know their whereabouts at all times! Yet before the urgent call of the kingdom of God, social and family concerns take a back seat. “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).

These stories show that to follow Christ is to follow him unconditionally. Can you complete the sentence: “I will follow Christ on the condition that…”? If you can complete the sentence, then you are in the same situation as any of these well-meaning but mistaken disciples.

Jesus will not accept a second place in our lives. He will be first or nothing. It is all for Jesus or nothing at all. God created you and me with an inner nature that is centered on your free will.

You and I are created to decide, to be decisive, to freely choose to love Him and respond to His callings, callings to bring His way, His truth, and His life into your inner world and into the world around you.

Therefore, you and I are constantly called to decide and to decide to act not on emotions and feelings but rather on our convictions. Amen.

 

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12th Sunday O T Year C – 16

12th Sunday O T Year C – 16

Zechariah-11 / Gal.3:26-29 / Luke 9:18-24

Whenever we talk about history, it may seem to be like a burden to the mind especially when it comes to dates, events, places and names that are difficult to pronounce. But this where we need to remember that history is formed by people, regardless of whether they are famous or not.

The word “history” is from Greek “historia” and it means a learning or knowing by inquiry, or an investigation. So it can be said that history makes an inquiry or investigation of the lives of the famous people in the past and gives us an account of their lives.

With regards to that, let us look at these two questions:

Question 1: If you knew a woman who was pregnant, who had 8 kids already, three who were deaf, two who were blind, one mentally retarded, and she had syphilis; would you recommend that she have an abortion?

And as we think about the answer to that question, let us look at the second question. It is time to elect a new world leader, and your vote counts. Here are the facts about the three leading candidates:

Candidate A: He associates with crooked politicians, and consults with astrologists. He’s had two mistresses. He also chains smokes and drinks 8 to 10 martinis a day.

Candidate B: He was kicked out of office twice, sleeps until noon, used opium in college and drinks a quart of whisky every evening.

Candidate C: He is a decorated war hero. He’s a vegetarian, doesn’t smoke, drinks an occasional beer and hasn’t had any extramarital affairs.

Which of these candidates would be your choice? Here are the identities of the three candidates – Candidate A is Franklin D. Roosevelt (served as the President of the United States from 1933 to 1945), Candidate B is Winston Churchill (who was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1945 and again from 1951 to 1955), Candidate C is Adolf Hitler (leader of Nazi Germany from 1934 to 1945).

And by the way, back to the first question: the answer to the abortion question is that if we said yes, then we just killed Beethoven (one of the most famous and influential of all composers).

So history has a way of making an inquiry or investigation into the lives of famous people and giving an account of their lives. In the gospel, Jesus asked two questions – who do the crowds say He is, and who do the disciples say He is.

The first question was relatively easy as the disciples gave Him the opinion of the crowds – John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the ancient prophets come back to life. The second question was rather difficult as they had to give their own opinion of who Jesus is. While the other disciples were thinking of what kind of answer to give, it was Peter who spoke up and said that Jesus was the Christ of God. But whether he knew what he was saying is another matter.

And here is where Jesus gave two teachings – one about Himself and the other about us. He said that He was destined to suffer grievously, to be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes and to be put to death, and to be raised up on the third day.

And then to all He said, “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross every day and follow me. For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake, that man will save it.”

The first was fulfilled, as we know, on the cross, that Jesus suffered and died, and rose again. The second is for us to understand and believe and by which we will give an account of our lives. There is a story of a wise man who had an opponent who criticized him for everything he said and did.

Then one day someone came up to the wise man and said excitedly, “Master, do you know what I just heard about your opponent?” The wise man replied, “Before you tell me I’d like you to pass a little test first. It’s called the Triple Filter Test. Let us take a moment to filter what you are going to say.

The first filter is Truth. Have you made absolutely sure that what you are about to tell me is true?” The man said “No, actually I just heard about it.”   The wise man said, “So you don’t really know if it’s true or not.

Now let’s try the second filter, the filter of Goodness. Is what you are about to tell me about my opponent something good?” The man replied, “No, on the contrary…” “So,” the wise man continued, “You want to tell me something about my opponent that may be bad, even though you’re not certain if it’s true?” The man shrugged, and felt a little embarrassed.

The wise man continued, “You may still pass the test though, because there is a third filter, the filter of Usefulness. Is what you want to tell me about my opponent going to be useful to me?” The man replied, “No, not really.”

“Well,” the wise man concluded, “If what you want to tell me is neither True nor Good nor even Useful, then why tell it to me or to anyone at all?” So what we want to hear is what is true, what is good and what is useful to us.

In the gospel, Jesus told us the Truth about Himself – that He will suffer and die on the cross so as to save us. He also told us what is good and what is useful to us – that we must take up our cross and follow Him.

In order for Jesus to save us, we too must live by the truth and speak the truth. Like Jesus, we pour out our lives to do good and speak what is good so that it will do good to others and be useful for them. Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. History has given us an account of His life and proved that He is the Savior.

May we too live by His Truth, and do what is good and help others to be saved. Then we would be able to give an account of our lives before Jesus and before others.

11th Sunday O T Year C – 16

11th Sunday O T Year C – 16

2Sam.12:7-10, 13/ Gal.2:16, 19-21/ Lk.7:36-50

A good number of us present here should be going for yearly medical checkups or yearly health screening. The obvious reason is that as we get older, it would be good and necessary for us to maintain our health, or whatever that is left of it.

But as much as it is good for us, and even necessary, we tend to delay it and even try to avoid it. Because we like to think that as long as there is no severe pain and that we can eat and sleep and do everything else in between, then there is nothing really seriously wrong with us.

And our cars seem to get a better treatment. We send our cars for regular servicing, car wash, car polishing, etc. Actually a medical checkup is not that troublesome, nor is it that painful. It just requires a bit of fasting and that is for the blood test.

Well, there is this joke about a boy who went for his first medical checkup. As he was waiting for his turn to see the doctor, he met his classmate, who seemed to be crying and clutching his finger in pain. When he asked what happened, his classmate told him that he just had his blood test.

The doctor took a big needle and poked it into his finger and drew out a lot of blood. And it was so painful. When the boy heard this, his eyes grew big and then he jumped up and ran out. But the nurse caught hold of him and asked him where he was going.

With a frightened voice, the boy said: If the doctor poked the finger for the blood test, then where will he poke for the urine test? Well, pain is real, although some other kinds of pain may just be imaginary.

But painful or otherwise, a blood test and a urine test will show us what is really happening inside of us and also the state of our health. Whatever it is, a test is necessary in order to get some results that will tell us the truth.

Today’s gospel began with Simon the Pharisee inviting Jesus to a meal at his house. Simon the Pharisee had some respect for Jesus as a prophet, so maybe that was why he invited Him. And then when they were at table, a woman with a reputation, came in with an alabaster jar of ointment, and we heard what she did to Jesus.

Simon the Pharisee began thinking. “What’s happening?!?! That woman is touching Jesus like that!!! If Jesus were a prophet, then He should know what kind of woman she is. Jesus cannot be a prophet then. Maybe both of them are the same kind.”

So in the mind of Simon the Pharisee, he had made a judgement on Jesus and on the woman. Just that he was not saying it. But what Simon didn’t know was that he was in the presence of the Divine Doctor who knows what is in the heart of a man.

And Jesus, the Divine Doctor, was about to give Simon a spiritual checkup. Jesus told Simon a parable of two men in debt, one owing a much larger sum than the other. Both of them were unable to pay, but they were pardoned. So which of the two would be more grateful and thankful?

The answer was obvious and Simon got it right. So the test was conducted and the results were out and put before Simon. It was quite clear to Simon that he had judged the woman as well as Jesus. And now, from his own mouth, he had proclaimed a judgement on himself. Can he still deny it?

How Simon reacted or responded to Jesus, we were not told. But reading between the lines of the gospel, comes a lingering question: Are we like Simon the Pharisee? We scrutinize others to see what they are thinking and what they are doing, and yet we don’t examine our own conscience.

In the gospel the Pharisee thinks he is the righteous one who is worthy to be in the company of Jesus and that the woman was the sinful one, unworthy to be seen with Jesus.

In the end Jesus showed each of them where they really belonged and the woman was seen as the one who was righteous and more deserving of the company of Jesus than the self-righteous Pharisee. Why do things like this happen?

Well, because it is easier to hear the other person than it is to hear yourself snoring. It is easy to notice the fault of other people while being blind to our own faults. Great men and women of God have been, all without exception, people who are so aware of their own inadequacies that they are hardly surprised at other people’s shortcomings.

People who delight in criticizing others betray their lack of self-awareness. But what was the mistake of the Pharisee? If the woman was indeed a prostitute where then did he err? After all, what he said about the woman was true, wasn’t it? Of course the woman was a sinner.

Jesus did not say that the woman was not a sinner. Jesus only said that the man was a sinner too, and in fact a worse sinner than the woman.

“I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.

Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love” (Luke 7:44-47).

The problem of the Pharisee was his notion of sin and holiness. For him the woman was an “occasion of sin” to be avoided by godly people. Jesus corrects him: it is not what you avoid that counts, it is what you do.

The Pharisee might indeed have avoided occasions of sin, but he did nothing for Jesus in need. The woman, on the other hand, attended to the practical needs of Jesus. Jesus accepts the woman’s external show of love as a clear manifestation of inner faith: “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

This practical engagement is the crucial difference between her and the Pharisee. How do we employ our faith in practical service of the needy? Today’s gospel is good news indeed to all who have been humiliated by the “good people” of this world, humiliated in a supposed concern to maintain the standard of holiness in the household of God.

We seemed to be concerned about what others are doing and the wrong they had done, but we don’t examine ourselves and the wrong that is in us.

But Jesus our Divine Doctor and Healer wants us to go through a spiritual checkup and to be healed of our sinfulness. Jesus wants to forgive all our sins, and heal us with His love, so that we can love God, love others, and love ourselves.

What is the key to forgiveness? Like King David and the woman in the Gospel, it’s taking responsibility for our evil and being sorry for it. We need to see and understand our situation before we can change.

If we’ve observed the law to an extent that we’ve become smug like Simon the Pharisee, we need to recognize that when the Pharisee inside us suppresses the sinner who also lurks there, we need to throw ourselves at the feet of Jesus, wash them with the tears of our responsibility, and beg forgiveness.

Finally, when Jesus says “your sins are forgiven,” he means every bit of it, and we must accept it in faith because: “He is not man that he should lie”. All he wants us to do is live a better life, and to resolve not sin again. “Happy the man whose offences are forgiven.”

Let us ask for this forgiveness and healing, for ourselves, as well as for others. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

10th Sunday O T Year C – 16

10th Sunday O T Year C – 16

I Kgs.17:17-24; Gal.1:11-19; Lk.7: 11-17

The boss asked one of the employees whether he believed in life after death. “Yes, Sir, the employee replied. “Well, then that makes everything fine,” the boss said “After you left yesterday to go to your grandmother’s funeral, she stopped in here in the office to see you.”

After the Season of Lent and the great festivities that followed we are now resuming the Ordinary Time of the Year. We resume from where we had left just before the Ash Wednesday, hence, this Sunday is the 10th Sunday in Cycle C.

We will go on in this sequence, listening to the Gospel of Luke, until the Feast of Christ the King.

The first reading and the gospel text of today narrate to us two stories of raising young men from the dead – one by Prophet Elijah and the other by Jesus. There is a similarity between the two stories, namely, both the dead men were young sons of widows.

But there are also dissimilarities between the stories. It is important to notice one basic difference that highlights the uniqueness of Jesus. In the first story, Elijah raises the dead boy through the power of the Lord God.

Elijah “stretched himself on the child three times and cried out to Yahweh, ‘Yahweh my God, may the soul of this child, I beg you, come into him again!’ Yahweh heard Elijah’s prayer and the child’s soul came back into his body and he revived.”

On the other hand, in the gospel story, Jesus “went up and touched the coffin and the bearers stood still, and he said, ‘Young man, I tell you: get up.’ And the dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him to his mother.” Jesus could directly command the dead man to get up.

The underlying difference is that one is a prophet – a great one at that; and the other, the Son of God! Let us focus on a few more details in the gospel story of today so that we may really appreciate what Jesus brings to us, and in so doing we may be drawn to the person of Jesus.

Luke portrays a very dramatic scene at the gate of the town of Nain. There were two processions crisscrossing each other. One entering the city, led by Jesus, and “accompanied by his disciples and a great number of people.”

The great number of the people had witnessed Jesus’ miracles that Luke has already enumerated, and they were rallying behind Jesus. “Now when [this procession was] near the gate of the town there was a dead man being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow.

And a considerable number of the townspeople was with her.” So the second procession was a funeral procession leaving the town, and this too had a great crowd given the tragic death of a young man who was the only son of a widow.

The two processions of life and death meet at the gate. The Lord of life cannot let death overtake him. The principal aim of Jesus’ ministry was to proclaim the triumph and life over death. So the Lord had to act at this instant. He was moved with a great compassion.

Now why did Jesus move with compassion, because the man who had died was the only son of a widow. “When the Lord saw the widow he felt sorry for her and said to her, ‘Don’t cry.’” Jesus was moved with compassion. In the gospels, there are three stories of Jesus raising the dead.

In all the three he was moved with compassion (also translated as feeling sorry, or pity, or mercy, or loving kindness). In one story, Jesus is moved by the pleading of Jairus; in the raising of Lazarus, Jesus is moved by the crying sisters and the crowd and he himself weeps.

And in the story of today he is moved by the scene of the weeping widow who had lost her only son. After all, as it is implied in the gospels, Jesus also was the only son of a widow. Perhaps, Jesus understands the implications of the loss of the only son of a widow.

She has no one in her immediate family to rely on. Moreover, Jesus wants to reiterate that “the Lord hears the cry of the poor” (Lk 22:24). In the Hebrew Scriptures the poor would include the orphans, widows and strangers (Dt.10:18; Ps 146:9; Jer.22:3).

Yes, the widow of Nain is in a desperate situation and she needs to be reached out. Jesus reaches out to her in compassion. Jesus’ purpose of public ministry was not simply to solve all the problems of humankind through his miracles.

His aim was to proclaim and demonstrate the existence of God, the Father, who is full of compassion. And Jesus’ miracles, including the one in today’s gospel, simply demonstrate the presence of the Compassionate God – even in the person of Jesus.

The final focus of our reflection is on the fact that the son of the widow was a “young man”. He had died before time. He had died before having lived his life to the full. All the three gospel stories of Jesus raising people from the dead, suggest that the three individuals had experienced untimely death.

They had died before their time. Jesus offers a second chance to live – to live to the full! Reading these stories, and one of today’s gospel in particular, I cannot but think of the thousands and thousands of young people in the world today who die before their time.

In most of our cities, a lot of young people die on their motor bikes on the road; others die out of a back-street abortion that went wrong; still others take their own life, out of extreme frustration.  These are physical deaths.

There are also a lot of young people who are morally dead. They have killed their conscience.  They say, everything is alright – the loss of sense of sin. There are others who lack clear purpose in life. The absence of clear goal in life could also be contributed by the lack of opportunities.

There are also hundreds and thousands of other young people, across the continents, who are spiritually dead. They are really dead men walking! Witnessing these scenes, I see Jesus filled with compassion. He hears the cry of the parents of these young people. He is moved with pity.

He wants to reach out to those young people who don’t live their life to the full. He wants to reach out to them through the church. He wants this believing community to raise dead young men to life – new life, fullness of life.  He challenges you and me to reach out to them!

So the central theme of today’s readings is that, in a world of broken hearts, God sees and cares for us in our grief. He shows compassion on our miseries and gives us His healing touch.

We need to become channels of God’s compassionate and healing love as Jesus was. Our deeds of love will transform the broken-hearted and help them to experience God as the Father who has come among His people. We need to ask God for the grace to become like Christ in our daily lives.

We need to be spiritually alive. This story should help us to look at our own situation and see, first of all, how alive we really are. When we live in mortal sin, we are physically alive and spiritually dead. We receive spiritual revival in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Let all of us bring our deepest hurts and broken relationships to Jesus and experience how he reaches out to us and grants us his loving reconciliation. Amen.