17th Sunday O T Year B

17th Sunday O T Year B

2Kings 4:42-44/ Eph.4:1-6/ Jn.6:1-15

A young man saw an elderly couple sitting down to lunch at McDonald’s. He noticed that they had ordered one meal, and an extra drink cup.

As he watched, the gentleman carefully divided the hamburger in half, counted out the fries, one for him, one for her, until each had half of them. Then he poured half of the soft drink into the extra cup and set that in front of his wife.

The old man then began to eat, and his wife sat watching, with her hands folded in her lap. The young man decided to ask if they would allow him to purchase another meal for them so that they didn’t have to split theirs.

The old gentleman said, “Oh No. We’ve been married 50 years, and everything has always been and will always be shared, 50/50.”

The last part of it is the interesting one. Then the young man asked the wife if she was not going to eat, and she replied, “It’s his turn with the teeth.”

For whatever occasion it might be, there must be this one essential and important element, and that is none other than food. Yes, for whatever occasion it might be, the presence of food will make things look good.

For example, at weddings, besides the bride and the groom looking very good, there will also be the wedding reception where there will be at least some catered food, or better still a 10-course sumptuous dinner.

For birthday celebrations, there will at least be a sweet rich birthday cake. Even for funeral wakes, there will be at least some simple food. But the presence of food is not just to make the occasion look good.

Food is for our good. Because food is the first necessity of life. We eat to live (and not the other way round). In fact, the first human activity in the Bible is eating!

In the book of Genesis, after God created man, He told him that he may eat of all the fruit trees in the garden, except the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

So even God is concerned about our need for food, and what we are eating. So the basic question in life, and for life, is this – What do we really need? And do we have it?

That was the question that Jesus asked when He saw the crowds – “Where can we buy some bread for these people to eat?” The need was for food – bread for the people to eat.

And from the small boy’s five barley loaves and two fish, a miracle happened and the crowd of five thousand ate as much as they wanted.

Yes, it was a miracle, a sign and a wonder, all pointing to divine providence. Yes, God cares for His people. He is concerned about their need for food and He provides.

Yes, food is good, because it points to the Lord who is good. And hence eating must also be an act of thanksgiving. That’s why we say Grace before meals, to give thanks to God for the food.

Yes, give thanks to the Lord for He is good, for He provides us with food. Yet, we see something strange happening in the gospel.

The people seeing this sign, this wonderful miracle that Jesus had given, were having ideas of taking Him by force and making Him king. And so Jesus had to make a quick exit to the hills by Himself.

It was strange, because instead of giving thanks to God, the people’s need turned into greed. Jesus had healed the sick; now He had provided bread for the hungry.

For the crowds, they could only see in Jesus the one who could give them food and health, and hence their problems in life are going to be solved.

So they wanted to make Him their king, so that He will have to provide for them always. For the crowd, they thought that they had found the man who would take care of all their physical wants and needs.

They thought that they had found the one who would make everything right again – there will be no more hunger, no more sickness, no more problems, no more worries.

Yes, it began with a need, but it turned into greed. The crowd was not able to see that the miracle of the multiplication of loaves was a sign of the goodness of the Lord’s providence.

When a need turns into greed, thanksgiving will be forgotten, and there will only be selfish desires and agendas.

As we come to Mass, we have come to the Eucharist which means “thanksgiving”. So we have come here to thank God. But are we aware of what to thank God for?

Oh yes, the first thing that comes to mind is that we thank God for giving Jesus to us in Holy Communion.

But the consecrated host is a small piece of wafer that hardly satisfies us if we are really physically hungry. Yet, as we receive Jesus in Holy Communion, we also open our eyes in thanksgiving.

And certainly, one of the things we must thank God for is the food that is so easily available in our country, and that we can eat as much as we want.

Do we see any miracle there? Yes it is a miracle in that for a country like United States which hardly produces what it consumes, we have so much of fresh food.

And the food that we consume has certainly gone through the labors of many hands and many people before it appears as delicious warm food for our enjoyment.

So right before our eyes, a miracle has happened! And when we see it as a miracle, we would certainly give thanks to God for that.

Yet at the same time, we can also simply take it for granted, that there will always be food on demand, and that we can even waste food. If that is the case, then our need has become a greed.

We will cease to see miracles and cease to give thanks. And then like the crowd, we would begin to put our selfish desires and agendas on demand, and expect Jesus to fulfill it.

The other day I read an article about a man who worked at a highway tollgate. He was a very cheerful person, and he loved to spread his cheer to others.

And so, whenever someone passed through the gate, he always smiled and greeted them. He also had a very good memory.

One day, remembering that a certain driver who always wore glasses had none, he asked him: “Where is your glasses”? To another, a truck driver with a load of big logs, he said, “Wow that looks really heavy!”

After a few weeks, an interesting thing happened. The cars at this man’s tollgate formed a longer line than at all the other tollgates. People liked this man very much, and they wanted to see his smile and be greeted by him.

When we think about it, the man working at the tollgate did not do anything spectacular. He simply smiled at all those who passed through the gate and greeted them in a friendly way.

But that simple gesture and those few words of encouragement were very important. It made a deep impression on people and gave them a boost.

We see something very similar in today’s gospel story. First, it is significant, I think, that all of four gospel writers tell us about this event.

It is also important that, although the account of each one differs a little, they all mention two basic facts: there were five loaves of bread and two fish. And with that small amount of food, Jesus was able to feed at least five thousand people.

This means that Jesus performed a very great miracle with very little resources. Although there were only a few loaves of bread and two fish, He fed a very large crowd of people until they were satisfied.

Each one of us is very powerful. We can change the lives of a whole community simply by a cheerful attitude.

If we add faith to our cheerfulness, there is no limit to what we can do. At first, the disciples lacked faith. They felt that there was not enough food for so many people. But then Jesus taught them that if they had faith, they could do anything.

This, I believe, is what Jesus wants to tell us in today’s gospel. When we have faith, we become extremely powerful. Why? Because when we act with faith, we are allowing God Himself to work in and through us.

Jesus wants to do great things though us. Let us open ourselves to His grace so that he can accomplish whatever he wishes through us.

Let us also remember to always say the “Grace before meals”. And with thankful and grateful hearts, we will be able to see the wonders and miracles that the Lord works for us always.

Be Blessed and Be a Blessing. Amen.

16th Sunday O T Year B – 18

16th Sunday, O T, Year B

Jer.23:1-6/ Eph.2:13-18/ Mk.6:30-34

I am sure we know what the initials “RIP” stand for. We see these initials on tombstones and on niches – and of course we know it stands for “Rest in Peace”. (Not Rise if Possible!)

It seems that only for those who have passed, those who have died, only they are entitled to “rest in peace”.

But for the living (and that means us!), we can go around wearing T-shirts with the big letters RIP – and they would stand for “Rest if Possible”.

Well, in a modern society like America, we are plagued with nothing less than busyness. In fact, we can be so busy that RIP can also mean “ripped into pieces”.

Maybe that is why we like to go overseas or out of states for holidays. We want to get away from it all, to have some rest and some peace. (As if it is possible!)

Even when we are in the restroom, we still cannot rest in peace. Because someone will come along and knock on the door and say things like: You are still in there? Can you hurry up?

And we can also forget about Sunday being a day of rest. Sundays can be so filled with busyness, that we need to recuperate from Monday to Saturday.

But whatever day it might be, we are always busy, we are always “on the go”. But where are we going?

We heard in the gospel that Jesus had sent his disciples “on the go”, to go on the mission of preaching repentance and deliverance and healing.

They had been busy, and no doubt they liked it because they saw how the authority of Jesus worked in them – people repented, evil spirits were cast out, the sick were cured.

And also, there was so much more to do that the disciples didn’t even have time to eat. But they were high, and they wanted to go on for more.

And that’s when Jesus jammed the brakes and told them to come away to a lonely place and rest.

Yet, the irony was that it was Jesus Himself who ended up “on the go” – He set Himself to teach the crowds. In other words, Jesus ended up being busy.

And the so-called “rest” that He wanted for His disciples was certainly short-lived, if ever there was any at all. So, what is it that Jesus is teaching us in the Gospel today?

Is it that, there will be no rest and peace all the days of our lives, until we are over and done with life? Come to think of it, rest and peace is so elusive, isn’t it?

For example, parents will never rest from their responsibilities and they will always worry about their grown-up children. Married couples would long for some peace between each other.

Those who are sick would long for a good night’s rest without pain. Those who have done something wrong would long for peace and reconciliation.

So, we may be longing for a good rest, but we better not say we are dying to rest. (Because we might just end up in eternal rest!)

But just like that short amount of respite that Jesus and His disciples had in the boat before they reached the other side, God will also give us just enough of rest so that our hearts will have just enough of peace.

Because our God who gives us rest is also restless. Because He cares for those who are like sheep without a shepherd.

As we heard in the gospel, when Jesus stepped ashore, He saw a large crowd, and He took pity on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and He set Himself to teach them at some length.

In doing so, Jesus taught His disciples a profound lesson.

The happiest people in the world are not those who have no problems, but those who learn to live with things that are less than perfect, and to have compassion on others.

There is a story of group of graduates, highly established in their careers, who got together to visit their old university professor.

Conversation soon turned into complaints about stress in work and life.

Offering his guests coffee, the professor went to the kitchen and returned with a large pot of coffee and an assortment of cups – porcelain, plastic, glass, crystal, some plain looking, some expensive, some exquisite – telling them to help themselves to the coffee.

When all the students had a cup of coffee, the professor said: “If you noticed, all the nice looking expensive cups were taken up, leaving behind the simple and cheap ones.

While it is normal for you to want only the best for yourselves, that is the source of your problems and stress. Be assured that the cup itself adds no quality to the coffee.

In most cases, it is just the quality of the cup and in some cases even hides what we drink.

What all of you really wanted was coffee, not the cup, but you consciously went for the best cups. Then you began eyeing each other’s cups.”

The point of the story is that Life is like the coffee; the jobs, money and position in society are the cups.

They are just tools to hold and contain Life, and the type of cup we have does not define, nor change the quality of Life we live.

Sometimes, by concentrating on the cup, we fail to enjoy the coffee.

The happiest people don’t have the best of everything. They just make the best of everything.

Compassion is like good coffee. We are like the earthenware cups that contain the good coffee of God’s compassion.

Those who are tired and wearied by the troubles of life would long for the aroma and thirst for a drink of the coffee of God’s compassion.

No matter what kind of cup we think we are, we can always offer others a drink of God’s compassion.

God’s compassion will offer rest to the weary and peace to the troubled.

May we be the cups that will contain God’s compassion and may we ourselves find rest and peace in God.

Be Blessed and Be a Blessing.Amen.

16th Sunday O T Year B

16th Sunday O T Year B

Jer.23:1-6, Eph.2:13-18, Mk.6:30-34

A pastor is called to attend to his dying parishioner, a notorious criminal who couldn’t care less about the things of God or his spiritual life.

The pastor arrives and is surprised to see the dying man frantically turning the pages of a big Bible. Supposing he could be of help, he asked, “What are you searching for?” And the dying man coldly replies, “Loopholes.”

Today’s gospel is a good one for those who read the Bible looking for loopholes. It gives us two apparently contradictory images of Jesus.

First we have the image of Jesus as a man of firm, uncompromising, and even insensitive personality who turns his back on a needy and helpless crowd of people who need his help and takes off on a break once it was time for a break.

Then we have the image of Jesus as a caring, empathetic and compassionate Jesus who calls off his well-deserved rest to attend to a noisy crowd of clients when they should not.

The average reader of the Bible faced with this dilemma is likely to see in Jesus the character that best suits his or her own personality.

Today’s readings explain how God, like a good shepherd, redeems His people and provides for them.

They also challenge us to use our God-given authority in the family, in the Church and in society, with fidelity and responsibility.

In the first reading, the prophet Jeremiah, thunders against Israel’s careless leaders – the king, some priests and some court prophets because they have shown no concern for the poor.

The prophet also foretells the rise of a good, new shepherd in the family line of David. Today’s Good Shepherd Psalm (Ps.23) affirms David’s faith and trust in God, the “Good Shepherd.”

The second reading introduces Jesus as the shepherd of both the Jews and the Gentiles and explains how Jesus, the good shepherd, reconciled all of us with His Father by offering himself on the cross.

Paul also speaks about another reconciliation between the Jews and the Gentiles, brought about by Jesus who has accepted both into the same Christian brotherhood.

Today’s Gospel passage presents the sympathetic and merciful heart of Jesus who lovingly invites his apostles to a desolate place for some rest.

Jesus had sent his apostles on their first mission, which was one of healing, teaching and preaching. When they returned, they were no doubt excited by the experience. They had witnessed at first hand, the power of God’s Word.

Nonetheless, they were hungry, exhausted, and in need of rest, both physical and spiritual. In fact, Jesus was eager to hear about their missionary adventures as they proudly shared their experiences.

But Jesus, too, was in need of a break from the crowds who were constantly pressing on him, demanding his attention and healing. Hence, he led the Apostles by boat to a “deserted place” on the other side of the Lake for a period of rest and sharing.

Now what does it mean: “Sheep without shepherd.” When Jesus and the apostles came ashore there was a large crowd waiting for them.

Jesus’ heart was moved with pity for those people who were “sheep without a shepherd.” Here the reference to the shepherd was probably to religious leaders, because at this time the Jews were an occupied people and the real political power was in the hands of the Romans.

This brief description, “sheep without a shepherd,” is also dense with Biblical allusions. Like the people of Israel, the crowds were in the desert where they would receive not only miraculous food (next Sunday’s Gospel), but guidance and instruction, just as the Torah had been given in the desert of Sinai.

“Sheep without shepherd” will perish because: First, they cannot find their way and will probably end up eaten by a wolf or other carnivores.

Second, they cannot find pasture and food and the third, they have no defense against the dangers which threaten them. Jesus’ first acts with this shepherd-less sheep was to teach them. [v.34]

And then to feed them [vv.35-40] and finally to protect his closest disciples who were also His sheep from the storm [vv. 45-52].

This text affirms Jesus’ extraordinary availability and his compassion for the needy. It teaches us that a Christian should be ready to sacrifice his time and even his rest in the service of the Gospel.

A story from the life of Mother Teresa shows her love for lonely and unwanted people, the “sheep without a shepherd,” who, while materially well-off, are sometimes “the poorest of the poor.”

On one occasion, she visited a well-run nursing home where good food, medical care and other facilities were offered to the elderly.

As she moved among the old people, she noticed that none of them smiled unless she touched them and smiled at them first. She also noticed that many of them kept glancing expectantly towards the door while listening to her.

When she asked one of the nurses why this was so, she was told: “They are looking for a visit from someone related to them.

But, except for an occasional visit, birthday gift or a get-well card, this never happens.” Jesus invites us, in today’s Gospel, to show concern, mercy and compassion for such sheep without a shepherd.

We, Christians must be people of prayer and action. The Christian life is a continuous passage from the presence of God to the presence of people and back again.

Prayer is essentially listening to God and talking to Him. One of our main problems is that we do not truly allow God the opportunity to speak to us. We also do not know how to “be still and to listen.”

Hence, we are often in danger of refusing to allow God to recharge us with spiritual energy and strength. In addition, we do not set aside enough time for Him to speak to us and for us to speak to God.

How can we shoulder life’s burdens if we have no contact with the Lord of Life? How can we do God’s work unless we rely on God’s strength?

And how can we receive that strength unless we pray to him individually, in the family and as a parish community in the Church and receive His grace by participating in the Holy Mass and through the reception of the Sacraments?

However, we must never seek God’s fellowship in order to avoid the fellowship of men but always in order to prepare for it.

From our reflection on today’s Gospel, let us remind ourselves that the Christian life consists of meeting with God in the secret place so that we may serve people more effectively in the market place.

The Church has the double responsibility of teaching and feeding. People today find it difficult to balance those two aspects of the Christian life.

Some apparently believe that the social ministry of the Church is all that is needed to make Christ present in the world. Others seem to believe that the Church’s major concern should be preaching the Gospel, rather than feeding the hungry and healing the sick.

The Church’s duty, so the argument goes, is to spread the Gospel and provide for public worship. Both views are one-sided. There can be no true Christianity without the proclamation of the Gospel.

Teaching the Word of God is essential to a Christian community. But that is only half of the story. So let us be good Christian in the secret place and in the market place.

Be Blessed and Be a Blessing. Amen.

14th Sunday, O T Year B

14th Sunday, O T Year B

Eze.2:2-5/ 2Cor.12: 7-10/ Mk.6:1-6

There was a feud between the Pastor and the Choir Director of a Church. The first hint of trouble came when the Pastor preached on Dedicating oneself to service and the Choir Director chose to sing: “I Shall Not Be Moved”. Trying to believe it was a coincidence, the Pastor put the incident behind him.

The next Sunday he preached on Giving. Afterwards, the choir sang as the director led them in the hymn: “Jesus Paid It All” By this time, the Pastor was losing his temper. Sunday morning attendance swelled as the tension between the two began public. A large crowd showed up the next week to hear his sermon on the Sin of Gossiping.

Would you believe the Choir Director selected: “I Love To Tell the Story”? There was no turning back. The following Sunday the Pastor told the congregation that unless something changed he was considering resignation.

The entire church gasped when the Choir Director led them in: “Why Not Tonight?” Truthfully, no one was surprised when the Pastor resigned a week later, explaining that Jesus had led him there and Jesus was leading him away. The Choir Director could not resist singing: “What a Friend We Have In Jesus.”

Today’s readings introduce Jesus as a prophet and explain how prophets and other messengers from God inevitably suffer rejection. The readings challenge us to face rejection and hardship with prophetic courage.

The first reading, taken from the book of the prophet Ezekiel, tells us about his call from God to be a prophet. Yahweh warns Ezekiel that he is being sent to obstinate and rebellious Israelites in exile in Babylon. Hence, as God’s prophet, he will have to face rejection and persecution for giving God’s message.

The reading gives us the warning that as Christians who accept the call of Jesus and seek to follow him, we also may face indifference and hostility, contempt and scorn, weakness, hardship and persecution, insults and rejection.

In the second reading, St. Paul gives us the same warning from his experience that not only the prophets, but the apostles and missionaries also will have to encounter hardships and rejection in their preaching mission.

Paul confesses that God has given him a share in Christ’s suffering – a chronic illness which gave him pain, a “thorn in the flesh,” so that he might rely on God’s grace and might glory in the power of a strengthening God.

The apostle invites us to rise above our own weakness and disability, cooperate with the grace of God and preach the word of God by word and example as Paul did.

Today’s Gospel passage shows us that many people of Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth did not accept him as a prophet because they knew him and his family too well. They knew that he was a carpenter with no schooling in Mosaic Law.

In the gospel, we heard that Jesus went back to His hometown of Nazareth. He already had a reputation: that He taught with authority and He worked miracles. With such a reputation, we would expect the people of His hometown to cheer and clap for Him. Yet they questioned His wisdom and His miracles.

So what is the problem? Or where is the problem? Or who is the problem? Well, Jesus pointed out the problem. Yes, He made a name for Himself. But that name is not winner, not hero, or champion. That name is prophet! And Jesus pointed out a prophet is only despised in his own country, among his own relations, and in his own house.

Yes, Jesus went back to His hometown as a prophet but He did not bring any profits for the people. Anyway, prophets and profits do not mix! So, when the people saw that there was nothing to gain from Jesus, that there was nothing they would benefit from Him, they just rejected Him.

If Jesus had multiplied their food, their crops, their livestock, their wealth, and then perhaps they would have welcomed Him. But in their minds, carpenters are not supposed to preach. And certainly, Jesus had preached about things that they didn’t want to hear.

Things like faithfulness to God, forgiving enemies, praying for those who wrong them, helping the poor and needy, honesty and humility.

Even we ourselves would not be very excited about hearing those kinds of things. Yet, these are divine truths, and divine truths are also the truths of life. Jesus preached to His people those divine truths but He was like a thorn in the flesh for them.

And those truths He taught only increased the pain for them. So, the most convenient thing to do was to label Him a carpenter and reject Him. Case closed.

Jesus would have certainly felt the pain of their rejection, so much so that He could work no miracle there. To say that He was amazed by their lack of faith may be an understatement.

The rejection was painful and it was like a thorn in the flesh for Him. We also heard in the 2nd reading of St Paul complaining about his “thorn in the flesh”.

What was it? we are not told, but like Jesus, St Paul also faced rejection in his ministry. He even pleaded with the Lord, three times, to remove this “thorn in the flesh”, but he was told:

“My grace is enough for you; my power is at its best in weakness”. And with that, St Paul continued to face the insults, hardships, persecutions and agonies for the sake of Christ.

Year ago, there was an article on the late Archbishop Fulton Sheen. It was about his beatification. He is recognized for his heroic Christian virtues. In fact, he was the forerunner of TV evangelization back in the 1950s and his talks are very inspiring and his books are still widely read.

Yet, there is something we must know about Fulton Sheen. When he was in college, he was told by his college debate coach: You are the worst speaker I ever heard. That must have been a deep thorn in his flesh and caused him much pain.

How he managed to overcome that pain and rejection, nobody knows but he certainly believed in those words: “My grace is enough for you, my power is at its best in weakness”.

In life, we will be hurt with many painful thorns of rejection and criticism. Some may think that we are of no use or of no benefit to them.

And then there are the thorns of failure, defeat, humiliation, and also the thorns of pride and sin. But as St Paul had taught us and this indeed is a divine truth: those thorns in the flesh are to stop us from getting too proud.

Yet at the same time, Jesus tells us: My grace is enough for you, my power is at its best in weakness. Yes, it is when we are weak that we are strong.

Let us deepen our faith in Jesus, our healer and Savior. Even with the thorns in our flesh, we can still be His prophets, powerfully proclaiming the wonders that God works in us.

Be Blessed and Be a Blessing. Amen.