26th Sunday OT Year B

26th Sunday O T Year B

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.

Be Blessed and Be a Blessing. Amen.

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25th Sunday OT Year B

25th Sunday O T Year B

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 to think 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.

Be Blessed and Be a Blessing. Amen.

23rd Sunday OT Year B – 2018

23rd Sunday O T Year B

Isaiah 35:4-7 / James 2:1-5 / Mark 7:31-37

Being selective can have a couple of meanings.

It may mean that one is fussy and selects only what is desired and wouldn’t consider the rest.

Or it may mean that one is discerning and after careful consideration will choose only what is good and necessary.

And the word selective is also used to describe other words – selective attention, selective memory, selective observation, selective quoting, selective hearing, selective listening.

And talking about selective hearing and selective listening, there is a little difference.

Selective listening is a listening technique that filters and summarizes in order to achieve comprehension.

While the goal of listening is to fully understand what someone is saying, in practice, people don’t always fully listen.

People make choices when listening. They apply filters. So they half-listen to get a general impression of what’s said.

When it comes to selective hearing, it can be said that we have the ability to hear certain sounds and cut off the rest. But not so for those who wear a hearing aid.

It seems that the hearing aid would just take in all the sounds and it’s a matter of which sound is the loudest.

Nonetheless, the hearing aid is certainly a great help for those who have a hearing problem.

There is a story of an elderly gentleman who had serious hearing problems for a number of years.

Finally he went to the doctor and the doctor was able to have him fitted for a set of hearing aids that allowed the gentleman to hear almost 100%.

The elderly gentleman went back to the doctor after a month and the doctor said, “Your hearing is perfect. Your family must be really pleased that you can hear again.”

To which the gentleman said, “Oh, I haven’t told my family yet. I just sit around and listen to the conversations. And you know what! I’ve changed my will three times!”

It’s wonderful what the hearing aid can do, although some don’t want to use it because it can be quite irritating at times.

In the gospel, there is an account of Jesus healing a deaf man who also had a speech impediment.

And indeed, the man’s ears were opened and the ligament of his tongue was loosened and he spoke clearly.

But for those who were there, and who could hear, it seemed that they had a listening problem.

Because Jesus ordered them to tell no one about it, but the more He insisted, the more widely they published it.

Certainly their admiration was unbounded, so much so that they didn’t even want to listen to what Jesus had ordered.

As for the man who was cured of his deafness and speech impediment, it would be interesting to know what would be his direction in life.

He can now hear and he would have to choose and discern what to listen to and decide his direction in life.

There is a story of a group of frogs that set off on a hike, traveling through the woods. Then two of them fell into a deep pit.

When the other frogs saw how deep the pit was, they told the two frogs that they were as good as dead. The two frogs ignored the comments and tried to jump up, out of the pit, with all their might.

The other frogs kept shouting at them to stop, repeating that they were as good as dead. Finally, one of the frogs lost heart and gave into fear. He believed what the other frogs were saying and gave up. He fell down and died.

The other frog continued to jump as hard as he could. Once again, the crowd of frogs yelled at him to stop the pain and just die. But he jumped even harder and finally made it out!

When he got out, the other frogs were surprised and said, “Did you not hear us?”

The frog explained to them that he was rather deaf. He thought they were encouraging him the entire time.

There is power of life and death in the tongue. An encouraging word to someone who is down can lift them up and help them make it through the day.

A destructive word to someone who is down can be what it takes to kill them.

We have to be careful what we choose to listen to and what to believe. Whether we hear as well as Superman or as poorly as Beethoven, we need to be selective in our listening.

We need to listen to what comes from God and tune out the rest.

What comes from God are words that give life and fill us with faith, hope and love.

When we hear words of encouragement, words of correction, words of forgiveness and healing, words of wisdom, words of enlightenment, let us be opened to those words.

Those are words spoken by people who care for us and love us, and in and through those people, God is speaking to us.

When we listen to those words, we will in turn speak those words.

Then others will also know that God is speaking to them.

Be Blessed and Be a Blessing. Amen.