Saturday, September 11, 2010

XXIVth Sunday in Ordinary time.

XXIV-Sunday EXOD 32: 7-14; I TIM 1: 12-17;Gosple: LK 15: 1-32

The parable of the prodigal son, has been called the greatest short story in the world. But, is it in fact a parable about a prodigal son? To put the younger son at the centre of the parable is already to start to misunderstand it. What is at the centre- is the father's great attachment and concern, his willingness to welcome the sinners back. This story reveals 3 amazing things about God's love for us. First, God's love is personal. God doesn't love us globally, but each of us individually in a special, personal way. Second, God's love is unconditional. God does not love us on the condition that we stay good and do not stray into sin. God loves us even when we stray--and to the point of going in search of us. Finally, God's love is a rejoicing love. God's response upon finding us is total joy--with no admixture of rebuke.
The parable of the Good shepherd shows how God is a good shepherd to us. There's an old story, about a little boy who cried out in the night. "Daddy, I'm scared!" Half awake Daddy said, "Don't be afraid, Daddy's right across the hall." There was a brief pause and the little boy called out, "I'm still scared." So Daddy pulled out the big guns, "You don't have to be afraid, God is with you. God loves you." The pause was longer but the little boy called out again, "I don't care about God, Daddy; I want someone with skin on!"

God knew we needed that assurance of someone with skin on. So God wrapped all the glory of heaven into the flesh and blood of Jesus and stepped into this world as the Good Shepherd just to show us how much we are loved. The Good Shepherd isn't satisfied until all of the sheep are safely gathered into the flock. Not even a one percent margin of loss was acceptable. He will not rest if only one sheep is missing, or one coin is lost. They show us that he cares deeply enough to go out of his way to save us when we are lost.

These parables teach us more about the heart of God than a whole library full of theological treatises. All three parables of Luke 15 end with a party or a celebration of the finding. The self-righteous Pharisees, who accused Jesus of befriending publicans and sinners, could not believe that God would be delighted at the conversion of sinners.
The elder son’s distrust, pointed out at the end of the parable, coincides with the initial malicious gossip of the Pharisees which prompted Jesus to tell them this parable. The self-righteous Pharisees who would rather see a sinner destroyed than saved. The elder son reflects the Pharisees' attitude that obedience to Mosaic Law is a duty, not a loving service. Like the Pharisees, the elder brother lacks sympathy for his sibling and levels accusations at him. As a self-righteous person, he refuses to forgive. Thus, his grudge becomes a sin in itself, resulting in his exclusion from the banquet of his father’s love. That is what we all do when we sin. We exclude ourselves from the banquet of God’s love.
The Pharisees could not understand this forgiving image of God, because they have painted their image of God in their own likeness.
Our view of God affects every decision and relationship in our life. Kathleen Chesto wrote to Catholic Digest to tell them about an incident that occurred in her family. Her five-year-old child approached her one day in the kitchen and asked, "Mom, is God a grown-up or a parent?"

Mom was a little puzzled by the question. "I'm not sure what you mean," she said. "Is there a difference between a grown-up and a parent?" "Oh yes," her five-year-old answered quickly. "Grown-ups love you when you are good and parents love you anyway." If we have never received unconditional love, we have never given it. Some of us are still trying to earn our way to heaven. And we are expecting others to earn their way as well, like the pharisees. Jesus is trying to tell us in this parable that God's love doesn't depend on our goodness; it depends on God's character. Here is this truth expressed in I John 4: 10, "This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins."
God’s love is a persistent, tenacious kind of love. By looking at just how lavish in the parable is the father's welcome for his lost son, we might well say that it is the father who is 'the prodigal', that he is prodigal of his mercy. The father heaps presents on the younger son. Throughout the Bible we are shown just how much care God lavishes on us, despite a catalogue of infidelities and betrayals and failings on our part.

The younger son didn't really know his father. He didn't know how much his father loved him and how eagerly his father wanted to bequeath him prosperity and joy. As a result, he paid his father a colossal insult by demanding his share of the inheritance while his father was still alive.
It was a way of saying that his father would be of more use to him dead than alive. The older son was no better. On the surface he seemed to do everything right, but he had no idea about how much his father cared for him, and so he resented the celebration at this brother's return. Although they had lived their entire lives under the same roof, the two brothers had never opened their hearts to their father; they had closed themselves into the petty little world of their egoism.
We can easily do the same: spend our whole lives as "practicing" Catholics, going through all the right motions and looking great on the outside, but not opening our hearts to God, not getting to know him on a personal, intimate level. That's a risky way to live our faith: we could easily end up separated from the Father for good, eating corn husks and missing out on the joyful celebration of the Father's love.

As the sheep that strayed out far from the herd, the younger son is lost from home, and this is reflected in the geographical distance he travels away from home; he ends up in a distant country. Like the coin that was lost in the house, the older brother stays put, but he risks getting lost by cutting himself off from his brother and his father. There are separations that need no great physical gap. The Pharisees “lived” in the house of God, but could not experience the forgiving love of God, the publicans and sinners were away from the so called people of God, but experienced the forgiving love of God through Jesus. This parable teaches us that it is possible to live "in the Father's house" without really getting to know the Father.

This can be for us a Sunday of self-reflection and assessment. As forgiven prodigals, we must be forgiving people. God’s forgiving attitude was shown by Jesus when he prayed for his killers saying that they did not know what they were doing (Luke 23:34). If those who killed the Son of God could be forgiven because they acted in ignorance, then every human sin could be forgiven because there is an element of ignorance that clouds our spiritual and moral insight at the moment of sin.
Nine years ago today, the United States suffered the greatest terrorist attack ever on American soil, with almost 4,000 dead. To mark that event this Sunday is observed as peace and justice Sunday. It brings us face to face with the ugly face of world terrorism on the one hand, while on the other it makes us to look up to God for the ever growing problems we find ourselves surrounded with. God created a just and peaceful society for us to live. But our sins disrupted that peace in the world. The so called terrorists act out of ignorance, blinded by wrong teachings of fanaticism. They need God’s grace to see the wrong they do and seek God’s forgiveness for their wrong. In the perspective of the terrorists, others are at wrong, not they. If there is something wrong on our side as a nation, we need self examination and see the wrong on our side to rectify and seek God’s grace to remove the speck or log, out of our eyes. As we pray for peace in the world let’s ask God to give eternal light and peace to all who died on 9/11/2001 at World Trade Centre. Christianity will be known by the fruits of love, kindness, compassion and mercy. As Christians, being led by the Holy Spirit, let’s show our identity by the forgiveness we offer who hurt us.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

XXIII-Sunday in Ordinary time

XXIII-Sunday: WIS. 9:13-18;: PHILE 9-10, 12-17;Gosple: LK 14: 25 – 33

We know the old commandment, “Honor your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12). We know the new commandment of Jesus, “Love one another; even as I have loved you” (John 13:34); also Love your enemies. And we come hear today these words of Jesus: “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). How can we reconcile these seemingly contradictory demands? How can we “hate” those we are supposed to love? And, more importantly, why?

Jesus’ words of “hating” one’s family is a Semitic hyperbole or exaggeration, spoken for effect. Matthew’s gospel makes it clear. “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” (Mt 10:37-38). When Jesus said "hate your family,” he was talking about spiritual detachment, the ability to put God first, before other relationships and before self-interest. Without such detachment, one does not have the ability to truly follow Jesus.

The paradox of hating those we love was dramatized in a most fascinating way on Saturday, September 8, 2001 in the women’s finals of the US Open tennis tournament in Flushing, New York. For the first time in the history of the tournament, the world watched a sportive and emotional roller-coaster as two sisters who love each other so much that they live in the same house and share the same hotel room fought each other. Could you imagine what was going on in the minds of Venus and Serena Williams as they battled and slugged it out against each other, suspending their love for each other and at least temporarily “hating” each other? They had to “hate” each other because the one was standing in the way of the other becoming the world champion. The one was an obstacle to the realization of the other’s dream to wear the world crown. And so they had to hate and fight each other.

Venus won. But she did not do her usual victory leap and celebratory display. Instead she ran to the net, put an arm around her defeated junior sister’s shoulder and said, “I love you.” Why did she say that? Because the game is over now and her sister is no longer an obstacle in the way of her victory. She said, in other words, “I am sorry, but I had to do it: I had to fight you so hard, I had to “hate” you because you were standing in my way. But I still love you.” That was a rare example of hating those we love, and from it we can learn much about Jesus’ injunction to “hate” our loved ones.
we are to love our parents and siblings and spouses, and indeed everyone else, except when they become obstacles in our bid to win the crown of eternal life. We should be prepared to wage an uncompromising war to see that no person or thing stands in our way to make us lose the crown. Possessions constitute a formidable obstacle in many people’s bid for the crown of salvation. That is why Jesus concludes today’s gospel with these words: “So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions” (v. 33).
Discipleship implies a lie deeper than family ties. Jesus is not just saying, “Love me more.” He is saying that it is not just a matter of degree; it is sometimes either/or. To translate every choice into a matter of degree is to avoid choice.
Today’s gospel, therefore, shows us how absolute and how radical are the demands of discipleship. Jesus' call to complete renunciation of everything that gets in the way of discipleship seems too extreme. He isn't looking for us to limit our commitment to celebrating Mass on Sunday and avoiding evil. He expects us to live the Gospel and to announce the Good News to others, and to do this, knowing there will be a great cost. Being Jesus' disciple has never been convenient. It is costly -- costly in terms of money, time, relationships, and priorities.
The radical demands of Jesus call us to center our lives on the suffering and risen Christ.

We must bear our crosses: For the early Christians, however, cross-bearing had a far more literal meaning. Just as Jesus went to the cross, some of his followers would also taste death for their devotion to the Master. Only if the disciple is firmly committed to Christ will he be able to spend his life in sacrificial service for others. Jesus only calls people to follow him along the way of the cross because he knows that our deepest yearnings can only be satisfied by friendship with him.
Andrew died on a cross
Simon was crucified
Bartholomew was flayed alive
James (son of Zebedee) was beheaded
The other James (son of Alphaeus) was beaten to death
Thomas was run through with a lance
Matthias was stoned and then beheaded
Matthew was slain by the sword
Peter was crucified upside down
Thaddeus was shot to death with arrows
Philip was hanged. And John died a living martyrs death in exile.

No human life is without suffering. No human life is without a cross.
But for those of us who know Christ, our friendship with him enables us to suffer with meaning, and even with joy.

The demands that Jesus makes upon those who would follow him are extreme. Christianity is not a Sunday morning religion. It is a hungering after God to the point of death if need be. It shakes our foundations, topples our priorities, pits us against friend and family, and makes us strangers in this world.

Soren Kierkegaard said that there are a lot of parade-ground Christians who wear the uniforms of Christianity, but few who are willing to do battle for Christ and his kingdom.
As Christians, we must walk in Christ's steps unconditionally, not just for a day or two or a couple of months, but for a whole lifetime. Now, if we are afraid of the high demands of Christ, remember that we are not left to fulfill them all alone. Jesus who called us to the steep road will walk with us every step of the way. And he promises a fruitful journey to whoever keeps going with him and giving up everything to stay with him.

Today Christ will come in Holy Communion to strengthen us once again, so that we can continue bearing our crosses with faith and hope. This week, let's share that strength with someone who needs it. Let's take a share of a neighbor's cross, just as Christ has taken a share of ours.