17th Sunday, O T Year A – 17

17th Sunday, O T Year A – 17

1 Kgs.3:5, 7-12/ Rom.8:28-30/ Matt.13:44-52

Little Mary listened intently in Sunday school while the teacher explained the parable of the “treasure” and “pearl” and gave a detailed description of eternal bliss in Heaven. She concluded her class asking the question, “All those who are ready to go to Heaven, raise your hands.”

Every hand went up except one. “Why, don’t you want to go to Heaven, Mary?” asked the teacher. “Well,” Mary replied, “Mom was baking apple pie when I left home!”

Every now and then we may wonder what life is all about. If we have to answer that question again today, what will our answer be? What is life all about actually?

If we had seen the movie “Forrest Gump” (1994), in the beginning scenes, we may remember what he said to the lady when they were both sitting on the bench at the bus-stop.

“My mama always said: Life is like a box of chocolates; you’ll never know what you’re goanna get”. That is so simple an illustration and yet so true, isn’t it?

Indeed, life is like a box of chocolates and you’ll never know what you are going to get. You hope that it’s sweet but it may turn out to be bitter. Sometimes it melts in your hand before it could melt in your mouth.

And some chocolates are like fruitcakes – they have some nuts in them. There is this joke about a tour bus driver who was driving a bus load of senior citizens. After a while a little old lady came up and offered him a small bag of peanuts, which he gladly munched up.

After a while, she came up again with another bag of peanuts, and after a while yet another bag. Then the bus driver asked: Why don’t you eat the peanuts yourself? She replied: We can’t chew them because we have no teeth.

The puzzled driver asked: Then why do you buy them? She replied: We just love the chocolate coating on them, and we think that you might like the peanuts.

Well, life might be like a box of chocolates but you may not know where the peanuts came from. But if we can enjoy the chocolate and also chew on the peanuts, then we are indeed happy.

So actually, life is all about happiness. And yet life is also all about the search for happiness. Some search for it in trying to strike the lottery or 4D. Some look for it in fast cars and living on the fast lane.

And in today’s gospel parables, happiness is in finding a hidden treasure and in a pearl of great value. But the images of the parables point to a deeper reality and a deeper mystery, and that is the kingdom of heaven.

But the kingdom of heaven is not somewhere out there that is hidden and that we have to search for it. The kingdom of heaven is here, and in fact it is within us, and happy are we when we realize it.

Yes, the kingdom of heaven is happening around us and even in us. And the 2nd reading tells us that whatever is happening is turned to our good, turned to our happiness when we have love for God.

When I was a pastor in India I had a car. One day there was an emergency call to go and anoint a person then I was in a hurry to go and something happened to my car and I wasn’t too pleased about it.

I was taking the car out of a small tent that I made for the car to go to the hospital and in a moment of distraction, I scratched the side of the car against an iron pipe. It was not a serious dent but it is quite unsightly and I intended to get it fixed.

Then I came upon this story that made me think about what happened in a different light. The story is about a young and successful executive who was driving along a neighborhood street in his new flashy sports car.

As he passed a side lane, he heard something smash into the car’s side door. He immediately stopped the car and angrily got out and saw that it was a brick and it had caused a deep dent on the car door.

He looked around and saw a boy standing nearby and went up to him and grabbed his collar and shouted: What did you do that for? That’s a new car and that brick you threw is going to cost you a lot of money!

The boy was quivering and said: Sorry sir, sorry. But I didn’t know what else to do. I threw the brick because no one would stop to help.

With tears streaming down his face, he pointed to the side lane and said: It’s my brother. He rolled off the curb and fell out of his wheelchair and I can’t lift him up.

Now sobbing, the boy asked the stunned executive: Would you please help me get him back on the wheelchair? He’s hurt and he’s too heavy for me.

Moved beyond words, the young executive tried to swallow the lump that is welling up in his throat. He lifted the handicapped boy to his wheelchair and a quick look told him that everything was okay.

The grateful boy then told the young executive: Thank you very much sir, and God bless you. Too shook up for words, the young man simply watched the boy push his wheelchair bound brother down the lane and back home.

It was a long slow walk back to his sports car. The damage was quite obvious, but the young man never bothered to repair the dented car door. He kept the dent there to remind him of this: Don’t go through life so fast that someone has to throw a brick at you to get your attention.

And neither I fixed that scratch on my car till I left to USA for my ministry, because it taught me a lesson: Not to be in a hurry, take time and then do not be too fast in life.

Well, God won’t throw bricks at us or scratch our cars. Rather He whispers to our souls and speaks to our hearts to tell us what life is all about and what happiness is all about. Life can be like a box of chocolates and you will never know what you are going to get.

But when we love God, then all things will happen for our good. And we will enjoy the chocolate, as well as the peanuts. We should live every moment in view of our precious goal.

Most of the time, we are chasing false treasures such as money, social status or worldly pleasures. Thus, the really valuable pearl of sharing in God’s life through Jesus here on earth and later in Heaven, is never found.

Let us always remember that Heaven is within the reach of all of us who try to do the will of God following the ordinary vocations of life and enjoying this world’s joys and pleasures within the framework of God’s Commandments.

When we do so, we are already living in the Kingdom of Heaven while we are still on earth. Amen.


16th, Sunday, O T Year A – 17

16th, Sunday, O T Year A – 17

Wis.12:13, 16-19, Rom.8:26-27, Matt.13:24-43

A man was suffering from a serious attack of appendicitis. He hated going to the doctor, but his wife would not let him suffer. Finally, she got him to a doctor who arranged for an operation.

Still in pain and still protesting the idea of an operation, he said to the doctor, “When God gave people an appendix, there must have been a reason for putting it in our bodies.” “Oh, there was,” said the doctor. “God gave you that appendix so I could put my children through college.”

People of faith tend to believe that God has a reason for everything, even if that reason is not obvious. Sometimes people can’t figure out God’s plans.

They give up trying to understand and decide either God doesn’t have any plans or God doesn’t have any control or simply they decide there is no God. Most atheists have come to belief that there is no God because of the problem of evil in the world.

Their argument is if there is a good God, then God would not allow all the evil we see. He would stop it, but since there is so much evil, there must not be a good God. Their argument ignores all the good things we see in our world, which far outweigh the evil.

Our first reading from the book of Wisdom and Jesus’s parable of the wheat and the weeds gives us one way to help us understand the problem of evil. It is that God is patient while waiting and urging the evil doers to change their ways.

We’ve all gotten impatient with God at times, thinking God is too patient. In the end, aren’t we grateful that God is patient for we’re all sinners and we have failed at times. We all try to be the good element (the wheat) in God’s kingdom. Otherwise we wouldn’t be here today.

In the course of our lives, if we’re honest, we know we haven’t been perfect all the time. Thankfully, God is patient and God is merciful. God wishes none to perish as he tells us in the parable of the lost sheep.

Jesus’ parable last week, the three today, and the three-next week are about one of his favorite topics – the kingdom of Heaven. The kingdom is the “good news” that Jesus preached.

In today’s gospel, Jesus tells a parable that also dwells on the mystery of evil. Good seeds were sown in the field. Then an enemy came and sowed weeds in the field.

So, the cause of evil is zeroed in on this “enemy”. But who is this enemy? And where is this enemy? It would be convenient to assume that the enemy is somewhere out there lurking in the dark.

Or better still, we can even identify the enemy as the devil, and for the evil that is happening, we can blame it on him. In a way that is quite true. Even the gospel parable seems to put it like that.

Yet there is another enemy – the enemy that is within! The following story may illustrate what is meant by the enemy within.

The Great Wall of China was and still is a massive structure. It was also built at a massive cost, especially in terms of human lives. (It has been estimated that more than a million Chinese died over the centuries that it took to build the Wall)

It was built to keep out and to prevent the barbarians from invading the country. When it was completed, it was thought to be impregnable. Until one day it was broken into, and broken into quite easily.

Along the walls, there are also many gates for the troops to move in and out. The enemy simply bribed one of the gate-keepers, and when everyone was asleep, he opened the gates for the enemy.

The irony was that the Great Wall which was built at the cost of many lives, was breached not by the enemy from without but by the enemy from within.

And that brings up the point about the enemy in today’s gospel. The enemy that sowed the weeds may not be from without or from somewhere out there. The enemy may be from within. In other words, there is no greater enemy than ourselves.

In fact, if the enemy is from without, it would make us more united. But it is the enemy from within that will cause the most extensive damage because it begins with internal damage.

And internal damage begins with evil thoughts which will lead to evil desires and evil actions. At the heart of it all is none other than the heart itself. Our hearts are created by God and created to be pure and holy.

When we choose to walk on the dark side, we shut God out of our hearts and consequently we let the devil sow his weeds of evil into our hearts. But even if we choose to walk on the dark and evil side, there is the wheat of goodness in the hearts.

All the evil cannot take away the goodness in our hearts, because it is a goodness that is sown by God Himself. So, let us come back to the light and walk in the love of the Lord and bear a harvest of goodness.

There cannot be a perfect humanity having only good people. Good and bad, like the wheat and the weeds of today’s Gospel passage, will always coexist till the end of the world.

Good and evil will always be found together among persons and in the communities. God respects both and is patient with them. He gives sunshine and showers of rain to both just and unjust, to both good and bad people.

Secondly God knows that as wheat will survive in spite of the presence of weeds, so good people can grow in God’s ways even if the people with evil intentions attack them.

Besides it is not easy to distinguish the good from the evil just as it is not easy to distinguish the wheat from the weeds. So, we need to be patient. It is God and God alone can separate the good from the evil at the end time.

One should not forget that the kingdom of God is a mixture of true and false people. God allows weeds to grow among the wheat, but at the harvest time the weeds are gathered and destroyed. Similarly, in the world and in the society, there will always be evil people as well as good people. Just as God is patient with those who are evil and gives them chances to avoid their evil ways and time to return to them, we too must be patient to the evil doers and help them to repent and be converted. It is a life-long task.

The good will have to suffer at the hands of the evil ones but Jesus had taught us how to deal with them, “Love your enemies” and “pray for those who persecute you”. Your reward will be great in heaven.

The same time every good and holy person, knowing that they are weak, ought to be watchful not to be led astray by the evil one.

Let us patiently and lovingly treat the “weeds” in our society as our brothers and sisters and do all in our power to put them back on the right road to Heaven, especially by our good example, encouragement and our fervent prayer for their conversion.

Let us remember that most of us have been “weeds” in God’s field more than once, and God has showed us mercy. God is so merciful that He allows evil to exist in order that what is good may grow.

He allows evil to exist also because He can turn it into good. Through the power of the Spirit, God can change even the ugliest thorn into a blossom of Faith. In God’s field, we have responsibilities.

Our acts of charity, kindness, mercy, encouragement, loving correction and selfless service can prompt the “weeds” in our society to reassess their lives, modify them and become useful members of society.

Let us grow in grace to share His Word and His love with others. Amen.

15th Sunday O T – Year – A – 17

15th Sunday O T – Year – A – 17

Is.55:10-11, Rom.8:18-23, Matt.13:1-23

It is often said that a picture paints a thousand words. But words can never say it all, because if words can say it all, then there is no need to paint anything at all. But as much as a picture paints a thousand words, yet a few words can also change the story of the picture.

The great Chinese philosopher, Confucius, was quoted as saying: Without knowing the power of words, it is impossible to know anything at all. And as much as words can tell a story, words can also change the story.

There is a story of an old farmer who wanted to plough his field to grow crops, but his son who would have helped him was in jail.

So, he wrote to his son to lament: I am helpless this year because you are not here to plough the field, so I can’t grow any crops. A couple of days later, the old farmer was surprised to receive a post-card from his son and it read: Papa, please don’t dig the field.

I have buried my weapons there. Then the next morning, a group of policemen can along with tractors and dug up the whole field but no weapons were found.

The old farmer was confused and wrote back to his son and told him what had happened. A couple of days later, he got a reply from his son: Papa, now you can go ahead to plant your crops.

This sounds like an incredible story. Yet as much as it sounds incredible, there is an underlying truth in it. And the truth is that words have the power to paint a picture and to create a story. Yes, words can make something happen, and cause a reaction.

The parable that Jesus told in the gospel also sounds rather incredible. Any sensible sower would sow the seeds on fertile soil. He would sow the seeds where they will produce a harvest. But the sower in the parable seemed to be a rather careless sower.

Because some seeds fells on the edge of the path and were eaten up by birds. Some fell on patches of rock and others fell among thorns. That is futile sowing, not fertile sowing. But of course, some fell on rich soil and produced their crops, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.

And Jesus ended off this astonishing parable with this statement: Listen, anyone who has ears. And even as we listen, we may be wondering if that sower was wasting his time and effort and the seeds. Why sow seeds that will end up as bird food?

Why sow seeds that won’t germinate or that will eventually die? But the lesson in life that we must keep learning is that nothing is wasted, because every action has a reaction.

The reaction may be delayed, may be obstructed by resistance and opposition, but nonetheless there will be a reaction. One profound aspect of this action and reaction is in the usage of words.

Words are not cheap, neither are they ineffective. If anything, they are packed with the power to ignite an explosion. And more so with God’s Word.

As we heard in the 1st reading, God’s Word does not return to Him empty without carrying out His will and succeeding in what it was sent to do.

Yes, God speaks and we seem to have some difficulty hearing Him. By and large, we are practicing Catholics. If practice makes perfect, then are we anywhere near perfect? We come for Mass every week, we hear three scripture readings, but is there anything happening in us?

We may resonate with this story of a man who said to his wife: I am going to stop going for Mass! I listen to the readings, I hear the priests preach, but I can’t remember anything. It is doing me no good. So, I am going to stop going for Mass.

The wife thought for a while and replied: Then I am going to stop cooking for you! Because you can’t remember what you ate yesterday, you are getting fat and it’s not doing you any good. So, I am going to stop cooking for you.

Maybe that is also the story of our lives. We don’t think that anything is happening to us, even as we try to listen. But God will not stop speaking. A picture may paint a thousand words, but a few words will change the story of the picture.

More so when it is God’s Word. It will never return to Him empty without carrying out His will and succeeding in what it was sent to do. The good spiritual yield in life depends on how much a person willingly accepts and responds to the word of the Lord.

In his parable of the sower, Jesus uses four different soil-types to represent four separate responses people can give to God’s saving word. In fact, each one of us may display all four different types of soil at various time in our personal lives.

1) The soil along the path. This soil is too hard to absorb the seed. Soon the birds eat it up or passers-by trample it under foot. Jesus explains that this soil is like the person who hears the word of God without letting it sink in.

The seed/word is then replaced by worldly concerns. This type of soil represents people whose hearts and/or minds are closed because of laziness, prejudice, fear, pride or immoral living.

2) The soil on flat circular pieces of limestone. This soil-type represents emotional people who are always looking for novelties but never take a permanent interest in anything.

Jesus explains that this kind of person is at first impressed by the message but quickly loses interest because of the effort needed to keep the word alive.

We have the example of a group of disciples who followed Jesus for a long time until the day he announced that he was the “bread of life.” They found that teaching “too hard to accept” and just drifted away.

3) The soil filled with weeds: This soil represents people addicted to evil habits and evil tendencies and those whose hearts are filled with hatred, jealousy, fear and greed. They are interested only in acquiring money by any means and in enjoying life in any way possible.

Jesus explains that these people are filled with worldly interests that undermine them. The classic example is Judas who follows Jesus for a long time, but in the end, it seems, cannot let go of his worldly interests and so exchanges his Lord for earthly silver.

4) The good soil. This soil-type represents the people who hear the word of God and diligently keep it. They have open hearts filled with holiness and humility. They are eager to hear the word and ready to put it into practice.

They are attentive to the Holy Spirit. Fortunately, the Gospel is filled with people who have accepted the Lord’s message and whose lives have been changed. Jesus’ words, in spite of obstacles and barriers, will produce the Kingdom.

Although the seed may seem scattered at random, it will nevertheless produce amazing results: thirty-fold, sixty-fold – even a hundred-fold, an enormous yield with modern farming methods, let alone with those of first century Palestine.

All we need is to keep listening, and God will change the story of our lives. It may sound incredible, but that is the truth of the power of God’s Word. We have the ears, so may we listen to God’s Word and produce a harvest. Amen.

14th Sunday O T Year – A – 17

14th Sunday O T Year – A – 17

Zec.9:9-10, Rom.8:9, 11-13, Matt.11:25-30

On July fourth, we probably heard all or part of the Emma Lazarus poem inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…. Send these, the homeless tempest-tossed to me.”

Today’s readings, especially the Gospel, give the same message in a more powerful way: Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

In the first reading, the prophet Zechariah consoles the Jews living in Palestine under Greek rule, promising them a “meek” Messianic King of peace riding on a donkey, who will give them rest and liberty.

The Responsorial Psalm (Ps 145) praises and thanks a kind and compassionate God Who “raises up those who are bowed down,” under heavy burdens. In the second reading, Paul tells the first-century Roman Christian community about two yokes, namely, the “flesh” and the “Spirit.”

He challenges them to reject the heavy and fatal yoke of the flesh and to accept the light yoke of the Spirit of Jesus. Christian spirituality, according to Paul, proceeds from the initiative of the Holy Spirit and means living in the realm of the “Spirit” as opposed to the “flesh.”

Matthew’s Gospel lists three invitations from Jesus that we his followers need to listen to attentively, since they can help to lift the air of discouragement and weariness that often pervades some parts of our communities.

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

This is the first invitation. It’s directed toward all those who live their religion as a heavy burden. Not a few Christians live beaten down by their conscience. They aren’t great sinners.

They simply have been taught to have their sin always before them and they don’t know the joy of God’s continuous forgiveness. If they meet Jesus, they will find themselves relieved. There are also Christians who are weary of living their religion as a worn-out tradition.

If they personally meet Jesus, they will learn to be alive, trusting in God as Father. They will discover an inner joy that they don’t know yet. They will follow Jesus, not out of obligation, but out of attraction.

“Shoulder my yoke… it is easy, and my burden is light.”

That is the second invitation. Living in the presence of Jesus doesn’t weigh anyone down. On the contrary, he frees up what’s best in us, since he proposes that we live our lives making them more human, worthy, whole.

It’s not easy to find a more passionate way of living. Jesus frees us from fear and pressure, he doesn’t bring them in; he makes our liberty grow, not our slavery; he awakens in us trust, never sadness; he draws us to love, not toward laws and precepts. He invites us to live by doing good.

“Learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

That is the third invitation. We need to learn from Jesus how to live like him. Jesus doesn’t complicate our life. He makes it clearer and simpler, humbler, more whole. He offers rest.

He never puts onto his followers something that he hasn’t lived himself. He invites us to follow him on the same path that he has walked. That’s why he can understand our difficulties and our struggles, he can forgive our stupidities and our faults, always encouraging us to get up again.

Jesus does not mean that the burden is easy to carry, but that it is laid on us in love. This burden is meant to be carried in love, and love makes even the heaviest burden light.

When we remember the love of God, when we know that our burden is to love, both directly and by loving men, the God Who loves us, then the burden becomes easy. Jesus is returning to the simplicity of God’s original Covenant and Law, giving people what they need to guide them on their path easily.

By following Jesus, a man will find peace, rest, and refreshment. Although we are not overburdened by the Jewish laws, we are burdened by many other things: business, concerns about jobs, marriage, money, health, children, security, old age and a thousand other things.

Jesus’ concern for our burdens is as real as his concern for the law-burdened Jews of his day. “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest.” Jesus still gives us rest!

Is Jesus calling on those who are carrying heavy loads to come and add a yoke to their burden? Doesn’t that sound like adding affliction to the afflicted? No! Jesus is asking us to cast away our burdens and take on his yoke.

This is because, unlike the burdens we bear, his yoke is easy and his burden light. The yoke of Jesus is the love of God. By telling us: “Take my yoke . . . and you will find rest” Christ is asking us to do things the Christian way.

When we center in God, when we follow God’s commandments, we have no heavy burdens. And so, we need to unload our burdens before the Lord.

One of the effects of Worship for many of us is that it gives us a time for rest and refreshment when we let the overheated radiators of our hectic lives cool down before the Lord. This is especially true when we unload the burdens of our sins and worries on the altar and offer them to God during the Holy Mass.

But whether we are in Church, alone in our quiet spot where we come before God each day, in our homes or in the homes of our friends and neighbors, we find that prayer and Christian fellowship bring us the rest and refreshment that we all need so much.

There is nothing quite like coming to the Lord and setting aside our burdens for a while – nothing quite like having our batteries recharged, our radiators cooled down and our spirits lifted.

Jesus promises rest from the burdens that we carry – rest from the burdens of sins, legalism and judgment, from the weight of anxiety and worry, from the yoke of unrewarding labor and from the endless labor for that which cannot satisfy.

The absolution and forgiveness, which we receive as repentant sinners, take away our spiritual burden and enable us to share the joy of the Holy Spirit. Amen.