26th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B
Believing and Belonging: "We saw someone who is not part of us..."
(Mk 9:38, and Num 11:27)
Many people believe in God without belonging to a particular institution or religion. Others belong to a particular religion but still don't believe in what the church teaches.
This invites us to ask ourselves – the believers who belong to the Catholic Church - several questions: Why do we belong to this church? How do we look at someone who does not belong – someone who is not one of us? What if this someone-who-is-not-one-of-us believes, shows a greater commitment to Christian values, and even has some visible gifts of the Holy Spirit? Do we exaggerate our psycho-social need to belong by inventing an in-group/out-group rhetoric even in the name of religion and salvation? Do we want to capture the God of the Universe in our little enclosures (both physical and social) and not allow the Spirit to blow as it wills? (see Jn 3:8)
The Liturgy of the Word on this 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time offers us two stories of the struggle between believing and belonging: one from the time of Moses and the other from the time of Jesus. The first story (Num 11:25-29) tells us of two men who had stayed back in the camp while the Lord God descended in the form of cloud on the Tent of Meeting: one was called Eldad and the other Medad. Even though they were not among the seventy elders initially chosen by Moses, the Spirit descended on these two men and they began to prophesy. Moses is magnanimous enough to discern the Will of God here, and add the two to the seventy to make the total number of elders to 72 (six elders each for the 12 tribes of Israel; Jesus in the Gospel of Luke would appoint 72 disciples – Lk 10:1). Through this event Moses is able to recognise the universality of the action of the Spirit. When Joshua wants to see the action of God within the institution headed by Moses, Moses himself has a broader perspective: “Moses replied, 'Are you jealous on my account? If only all Yahweh's people were prophets, and Yahweh had given them his spirit!'” (Num 11:29).
In a similar situation presented in the gospel story of today, when John (an apostle who was close to the heart of Jesus as Joshua was to Moses) says, “Master, we saw someone who is not one of us driving out devils in your name, and because he was not one of us we tried to stop him” (Mk 9:38). Jesus emphatically tells him, “You must not stop him; no one who works a miracle in my name could soon afterwards speak evil of me” (Mk 9:39). Jesus reminds us that his Kingdom is not about territories, it is not about institutions, it is not even about the in-group (the churched) and out-group (the unchurched), but it is about hearts of people. And God has the possibility to work within hearts of people, as He desires. Let us Allow God to be God – even outside the Church we belong to.
In conclusion to our reflection, we could ask ourselves a basic question: what is our attitude towards people who are outside the visible confines of the Church? These people could include those we so pejoratively refer to as “the pagans, the irreligious, the Protestants, and even the un-churched”.
In a sense, who are we humans even daring to say who is saved and who is not saved? What we can meaningfully do is only to keep sharing our own experience of God with others, as we also take time to wonder how marvellously God works even in their lives. Yes, “God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears him and does what is right, is welcome to him” (Acts 10: 34-35).
Second Sunday after Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday)
First Reading (Acts 4: 32-35). The first reading gives us a picture of how the first Christians lived community life by sharing not only the word of God but also what they had as materials.
Second Reading (1 Jn 5: 1-6). As children of God and Christians, we show our love of God by keeping his commandments.
Gospel (Jn 20: 19-31). Thomas’ doubt turned into faith as soon as he touched the wounds of Christ.
Faith in the risen Lord is the most precious thing in the world. But it is exposed to this modern world, a world full of doubt and uncertainty. Unless I see, I wouldn’t believe. This is actually the slogan of the modern world. Forgetting that what is essential in life is mostly invisible.
“Unless I see, unless I touch, I will not believe” so said Thomas. It is quite reasonable and logical of him to say so. That is the rational approach so much in vogue in our world today. We can explain everything rationally. There is nothing wrong with that as we need and must listen to the voice of the reason, but we must also listen to the heart. There are some aspects of our lives which cannot be explained by purely rational means. Science is not everything. If we adopt Thomas approach of seeing things, we will be condemning ourselves to living in a purely material world.
The visible world is only part of a greater world which includes invisible realities from which the visible world draws its significance. If we rely too much in seeing and hearing, we might be prevented from thinking, feeling and imagining. When a person really knows something, he or she doesn’t have to argue about it or prove it. Today, we are no longer sufficiently aware of the importance of what we cannot know intellectually, and which we must know in other ways. And this leads to a loss of faith in the Lord. At this present age, can we really think of atheists? I don’t think so. The so called atheists have the knowledge and the understanding of notion of God but because they live so much in a material world, the notion of the heart and the spirit is lost. Shall we really call them atheists or half atheist.
Nevertheless, we can sympathise with Thomas and our brothers and sisters who have lost their faith in the risen Lord or who even don’t have faith in God. Thomas (and also our modern brethren) was merely echoing the human cry for certainty. We cannot have as human beings an absolute certainty about God and spiritual realities. Faith in the Lord takes us where our senses cannot go.
My reflection in today’s readings sounds more philosophical than spiritual. Why? It is to show the divine mercy and generosity of our Lord towards us. It’s to demonstrate that faith and reason are not enemies rather sisters and friends who walk side by side and complement each other. We cannot have faith and lose reason vice versa. Let no one do unreasonable things in the name of faith or do ungodly things in the name of reason. Jesus strengthened Thomas’ faith without condemning his reason.
Fifth Sunday of Lent – Year B
First Reading (Jer 31: 31-34). The prophet Jeremiah reassures people that God has not abandon them, but that God will soon make a new covenant with them with laws written in their hearts.
Second Reading (Heb 5: 7-9). Christ became the source of eternal life for us through his suffering.
Gospel (Jn 12: 20-33). To those who follow Jesus, his death brings them life.
Unless a grain of wheat dies, it cannot bear fruit. This is the key sentence in today’s Gospel. I would like to paraphrase it this way: unless we swallow our pride and ego, we cannot bear fruits for God. We are called to die to ourselves if we want to produce good results in all areas of our lives. If Jesus did not die to himself, we would not have life eternal. We must be willing to trust God and put ourselves in his fatherly hands. This means, we must admit our guilt and seek God’s divine help.
We believe in a God of life, love and peace. God promises a new covenant through prophet Jeremiah after the old covenant was broken by the people. This time God says, “Deep within them I will plant my law, writing it on their hearts”. This reminds us of the use of heart as the engine of the body. Once the heart stops to function, the whole body stops too. This helps us to realize that God’s covenant is for the whole person, body, mind, heart and soul.
The second reading taken from the book of Hebrews presents us with the relationship of suffering and love. Christ is about to give his life up for us to be saved-sacrifice driven by the love of humankind. He (Jesus) learnt to obey through suffering. So we too must learn to obey through suffering.
In the Gospel, Christ tells us that a grain of wheat must fall and die in order to bear fruits. Jesus himself did practice what he preached and so we too are to follow in his footsteps to produce fruits. We all have the mandate through baptism to evangelise and win souls for Christ. Unless we proclaim high that Jesus is the Lord, our faith in Him is dead.
Passion (Palm) Sunday
Gospel for Procession (Mk 11: 1-10). Jesus enters Jerusalem as a humble king and he is greeted joyfully by his disciples.
First Reading (Is 50: 4-7). As we listen to this reading, we think of Jesus. The prophet Isaiah suffers as he carries out his mission.
Second Reading (Phil 2: 6-11). By taking our human condition and accepting to die on the cross, God the father raised Jesus up and made him Lord of heaven and earth.
Gospel (Mk 14: 1-15:47). Jesus experiences a crude trial and suffers immensely before being crucified.
Today and this week that has just begun, the whole world will be celebrating the great mystery of Christ’s love for us. A greater love indeed as he himself will say: “the great love is to lay down his life for his friends”. Christ has taken upon himself our sins and the sins of the whole world.
What did the passion mean for Jesus? And for us today. For three year, Jesus went from village to village to preach the good news, doing good, healing and raising up the dead. Everywhere He went He never hid as He was surrounded by crowds of people who listened to Him and went back fulfilled. Jesus’ three years of active ministry were incredibly full, rewarding but also disappointing as His own did not recognize the divinity in Him.
The turning point in Jesus’ ministry was when he was handed over to his enemies in the garden of Gethsemane by Judas, one of his disciples. From this moment, Jesus began to undergo suffering. It is here that his passion began. He lost control of things. People were now doing things to him rather than by him. Thus he was arrested, led before the authorities of the law of that time such as Caiaphas, Herod and Pilate, questioned and interrogated, scourged and beaten, crowned with thorns, given a cross to carry, stripped of his clothes, mocked and nailed to the cross and He finally died.
When we ourselves are healthy, working, earning good salaries, everybody is and becomes our friend. Life is smooth and everyone smiles at us and we smile back. Such is life. But when suffering, illness or misfortune strikes, friends become few and we suffer alone in our own corner. Friends of yesterday become our enemies, they spread curse upon us. We need to befriend first of all the God of life through Jesus his son whom he sent for our salvation. Friends in Christ, I mean true friends in Christ will never abandon us in our time of suffering. When we feel abandon, we must not lose hope. The moment of suffering is our passion. Jesus never lost hope during his passion. As we move through life, there will be moments of illness, bad-luck, betrayal, loss of friendships and broken relationships, disappointments, death of loved ones, etc. there will be also moments of joys too. All these are part of our life being humans. We do however have a choice in how we respond to all these sorrowful and joyful moments. Jesus survived the passion and he came out of it strong because he responded with an open mind and heart to all the violence. He did not return violence with violence, rather he returned with love and forgiveness. This is the victory of love over destruction.
Let the passion of Christ, the love and the forgiveness he made into it help us to think about it when we find ourselves going through hard times.
Fourth Sunday of Lent Year-B
First Reading (2 Chron 36: 14-16.19-23). The sins of God’s people led them to be exiled in Babylon. Being a God of mercy, He welcomed them back home.
Second Reading (Eph 2: 4-10). We are saved through God’s love and mercy not by our own efforts.
Gospel (Jn 3: 14-21). In his love for us, God sent Jesus his son not to condemn us but to save us.
A man called Nicodemus is at the centre of Today’s Gospel. Who is this man called Nicodemus? The name of Nicodemus appears three times only in the Gospel story and all three times, he appears in the Gospel according to John. He is a very interesting character. Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a member of the supreme court of the Jews called Sanhedrin.
Nicodemus appears in the first time in the Gospel passage we just read today. He was impressed by the teachings of Jesus and believed that the hand of God was with Jesus. So he came to see Jesus but undercover, in the dark at night. Why did he go to see Jesus at night? It is clear that he did not want to be seen. But let us not be hard on him given the fact that he was a Pharisee and a member of the Supreme Court. It was a wonder he came at all.
The second appearance of Nicodemus in the Gospel is when opposition to Jesus hardened and Pharisees wanted to kill him at all cost. Nicodemus was the one who intervened and declared that Jesus should at least be given a fair hearing as the Jewish law demanded (Jn 7: 51). At least this time, Nicodemus showed publicly his leniency with Jesus and this shows that he was a fair-minded man.
The third and last appearance of Nicodemus was at the burial of Jesus. He appears to donate an expensive perfume (Jn 19: 39). This shows how generous and compassionate he was.
All these qualities we admire in him and we can copy for ourselves: his fair-mindedness, generosity and compassion. But there is one thing Nicodemus seems to have been unable to do: That’s to come out straight and make a full and public act of faith in Jesus. He did not have the courage to come out of darkness and choose the light, Jesus. We are only left with a picture of a decent man, who could have been a great man if he only professed openly his faith in Jesus. He is therefore a mediocre, he is neither a great saint nor a great sinner.
We see so many Nicodemus in our society today. Let me take one example from the political sphere. Africa has the highest record in numbers of authoritarian (dictators) leaders. These dictators do not lead their countries alone, they have governments. Some if not many of these government ministers are not happy with the style of leadership provided by these tyrants. But they lack the courage to come out openly to confess their allegiance with the people. Hence they snick in the dark and they go leaking information to the opposition of decisions taken by governments to oppress the people. These are Nicodemus of our time. They side with the people at night but they lack the courage to openly show it daylight for fear of being imprisoned. We live with so many Nicodemus(es) in our communities besides those in politics. Examples are countless. Take courage and choose the light, choose life.
Reflecting on Nicodemus should challenge us to come out from the shadows, and not to be afraid or ashamed to profess the truth openly, profess our faith in Jesus, and of course to be ready to pay any price for standing for the truth. We are called to believe in the truth but not only believing also living the truth.