Cycle (A) 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

 
EX 22:20-26; Thess 1:5-10; Mt 22:34-40

“The Sniper,” is a story about the Irish civil war, written by Liam O’Flaherty.

At nightfall in Dublin, heavy guns and small arms boomed and cracked intermittently near the River Liffey. From a rooftop near O’Connell Bridge, a Republican sniper with fanatical eyes observed the scene while eating a sandwich and swigging whiskey.

When an armoured car pulled up fifty yards ahead, he did not shoot at it, realizing that bullets would not pierce heavy armour. An old woman stopped to inform the car’s turret gunner of the position of the sniper. When the gunner emerged from his dome, the sniper killed him, then the woman.

Gunfire from the opposite roof then wounded the sniper in the arm. He dropped his rifle as blood oozed from his wound. If he tried to get off the roof, he would be an easy target for the gunman across. A plan occurred to him. Placing his hat on the muzzle of his rifle, he poked the barrel over the roof parapet. A bullet zings through the hat. The sniper tilted the weapon so that the hat fell onto the street. Then he hung his left hand limply over the roof. A moment later, he dropped the rifle to the street and slumped to the roof, dragging his hand back over the parapet.

After crawling to a new position, he peeked out and saw his enemy standing up and looking across, apparently believing he killed the IRA man. The latter brought his revolver into position, held his breath, and fired. The enemy reeled on the roof, dropped his rifle to the street, and fell to the pavement.

 On the quiet street, he was curious about the other sniper, who was a very good shot. Who was he? Could he have been a member of his own company before the army split into rival factions? He decided to have a look at the man. When he dashed across, a machine gun opened fire but missed him. He dropped to the pavement next to the body as the gunfire ceased. When he turned over the body, he saw the face of his brother.

In today’ Gospel Jesus  gives us the message, to be truly religious  is to love God and to love the man  whom God created in his own image; and to love God and man, with that total commitment which issues in devotion to God and practical service to man.

In a few words Jesus laid down the complete definition of religion. Religion consists in loving God, and man. The first verse that Jesus quoted was part of the Shema, the basic and essential creed of Judaism. This is the sentence with which every Jewish service still opens, and the first text which every Jewish child commits to memory. It means that to God we must give a total love, a love which dominates our emotions, a love which directs our thoughts, a love that determines our emotions, and a love which is the dynamic of our actions. In short a total commitment to God. The natural outcome of such a commitment will be the second commandment. “Love your neighbour.” When we love God man becomes lovable.

But the sad, fundamentally simple word that defines the majority of humanity is “if”. When comes to tolerating our siblings, our neighbours or our co-workers we put an “if”, if only he did not do that, if only he did not say that, if only he did not behave like that…..indefinitely goes on our excuses. We take comfort in the excuse “If only things had been different, and if only people had been different.” But things do not need to be different. People do not need to be different. But we need to be different. There is an old African saying: A lion gets up every day in Africa running, knowing that he must run faster than the slowest antelope he is  about to meet or he goes hungry and he dies. And every antelope gets up in the morning everyday saying, “I have to be faster than the fastest lion I am about to meet or I die.”

When we know what we need to do,  when we are able to listen our conscience, When we dare to act as our mind tell us,  we  will forget all the “If” and  the love of God and devotion to God  will issue  forth in practical service to man. But today, all the knowledge is used to annihilate man; all the resources are used for destructive purposes rather than for constructive purposes. Researches are being held as how to fight against our own blood. The sniper used great intelligence and planning to shoot down the one who was seen across. But, ultimately, all his planning was to annihilate his own blood.

In our houses we plot against our neighbours, in the presence of our children. We speak ill of our neighbours in their presence. We blame one another in their presence. They grow up seeing our wickedness and being part of our evil designs. Therefore, there is no wonder if our children lose the tenderness and sensibility to sympathize with others.

Both the commandments “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart,” and “You must love your neighbour as yourself” have great social implications. They should be made visible to others through simple acts of kindness. Eva Gregory says, “Even the simplest form of kind acts can have the most profound effects on someone in need.”

Let us keep in mind the words of Charles Haddon Spurgeon “A good character is the best tombstone. Those who loved you and were helped by you will remember when forget-me-nots have withered. Carve your name on hearts, not on marble.”

Satish

Cycle (A) 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

 Is. 45:1, 4-6; Thes. 1:1-5; Mt. 22:15-21

Eliezer "Elie" Wiesel is a Romanian-born Jewish-American writer, professor, politician activist, Nobel Laureate, and Holocaust survivor.

Auschwitz, Buchenwald, and Treblinka are just a few of the names which evoke nightmares of the Holocaust. The suffering and death at these and other concentration camps were greater than any before endured. The Holocaust created a void in the souls of many of those who survived. Wiesel was one of those people. Before the Holocaust he had been one of the most devout Jewish children. Up until the end he waited for God to intervene in Biblical fashion. When that intervention was not forthcoming, he began to doubt in God and in His mercy.

Wiesel thought of God before and during the Holocaust as both the protector and punisher of the Jewish people. Whatever had happened before, he had faith that it was for their good, or one of God's greater plans. Either way, he would accept God's will without questioning.

People around him took the evil as a punishment for some unknown crime the Jews as a people had committed before God. Others who did not feel guilty believed that God at least had a good reason for punishing the Jews. They thought it must be a test.

It was not easy for Wiesel to doubt in God, or he would not have held on to his faith with such tenacity. But sooner or later, the seeming meaninglessness of the suffering his people endured had to burst into the consciousness of his seemingly indomitable Jewish faith. All around Wiesel, the number of faithful were dropping. As hard as they tried to hold on, Wiesel's people were finding it hard to believe in God and what He was allowing to happen.

Many died challenging God. Others, like Wiesel, were given the burden of carrying the questions with them, never to be answered.

As Elijah had said: God's final victory lies in man's inability to reject Him. You think you're fighting Him; but all you do is open yourself to Him; you think you're crying out your rebellion, but all you're doing is telling Him how much you need His support. This is the message that Jesus conveyed in His wise reply to the tricky question.

The party of the Zealots preached that to pay the tax was sinful, and all the Jews should refuse to pay taxes. The Herodians declared that it was an obligation to pay. The Pharisees paid the tax quietly, while discussing its lawfulness in their theology classes.

The questions that the students put to Jesus was a cleverly set trap and seemed to leave Jesus with no escape. "Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar?" If Jesus answered "yes", he would go against the public feeling. If Jesus answered "No" he would go against the authorities.


But Jesus uses the occasion to teach them a great lesson- to be loyal to the state and to the religion.

It was na├»ve of man, to think that God would fall into a trap set by man. Many a time we too fall into this category – set trap for God. Use the Biblical quotes as we want to justify our words and actions.

What is pleasing in the site of God is only the attitude of Gratitude. God has done innumerable favours for the people of Israel. But what they gave in return was ingratitude. He called Abraham, He lead them out of Egypt and lead them to the land flowing with honey; He fed them; He sent his prophets to call them back. Finally he sent his own son; but man had only ingratitude in return.

By means of a series of parables, Jesus taught his listeners that God had been generous with men; so, man has to appreciate the gifts of God.

One young academically excellent person went to apply for a managerial position in a big company. He passed the first interview. The director did the last interview and made the decision. The director discovered from the CV that the youth's academic achievements were excellent all the way, from the secondary school until the postgraduate research, never had a year when he did not score.

The director asked, "Did you obtain any scholarships in school?"

The youth answered "None". The director asked, "Was it your father who paid for your school fees?" The youth answered, "My father passed away when I was one year old, it was my mother who paid for my school fees."


The director asked, "Where did your mother work?"

The youth answered, "My mother worked as clothes cleaner.”

The director requested the youth to show his hands.

The youth showed a pair of hands that were smooth and perfect.

The director asked, "Have you ever helped your mother wash the clothes before?"

The youth answered, "Never, my mother always wanted me to study and read more books." "Furthermore, my mother can wash clothes faster than me."

The director said, "I have a request. When you go back today, go and clean your mother's hands, and then see me tomorrow morning."

The youth felt that his chance of landing the job was high. When he went back, he happily requested his mother to let him clean her hands.

His mother felt strange but happy. With mixed feelings, she showed her hands to the kid.

The youth cleaned his mother's hands slowly. His tear fell as he did that. It was the first time he noticed that his mother's hands were so wrinkled, and there were so many bruises on her hands. Some bruises were so painful that his mother shivered when they were cleaned with water.

This was the first time the youth realized that it was this pair of hands that washed the clothes everyday to enable him to pay the school fee. The bruises on his mother's hands were the price that the mother had to pay for his graduation, academic excellence and his future.

After finishing the cleaning of his mother hands, the youth quietly washed all the remaining clothes for his mother.

That night, mother and son talked for a very long time.

Next morning, the youth went to the director's office.

The Director noticed the tears in the youth's eyes and asked:

"Can you tell me what you learnt from what you did yesterday in your house?"

The youth answered, "I cleaned my mother's hand, and also finished cleaning all the remaining clothes'

The Director asked, "What were your feelings?"

The youth said, "Number 1, I know now what appreciation is. Without my Mother, there would not be the successful me today."

"Number 2, by working together and helping my mother, I now realize how difficult and tough it is to get something done."

"Number 3, I have come to appreciate the importance and value of family relationship."

The director said, "This is what I am looking for in a person who is to be my Manager."

Instead of setting traps for God, we should be able to accept the challenges we face, and remain grateful to God for all his blessings Then Jesus will be able to tell looking at us that "This is what I am looking for in a person who is to be my disciple.

Satish

Cycle (A) 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Is. 25:6-10; Phil. 4:10-14, 19-20; Mt. 22:1-14

Once a king had invited his guests for a feast, but he did not tell them the exact date and time. He told them that they must wash, and anoint, and clothe themselves that they might be ready when the summons came. The wise prepared themselves at once, and took their places waiting at the palace door, for they believed that in a palace a feast could be prepared so quickly that there would be no warning. The foolish thought that it would take a long time to make the necessary preparations and that they would have plenty of time. So they went, the mason to his lime, the potter to his clay, smith to his furnace and went on with their work. Then suddenly the summons to the feast came without any warning. The wise were ready to sit down, and the king rejoiced over them, and they ate and drank. But those who had not arrayed themselves in their wedding garments had to stand outside, sad and hungry, and look on the joy that they had lost.

This story tells of the duty of preparedness for the summons of God, and the garments stand for the preparation that must be made. Today's readings from the Book of Isaiah, [Is. 25:5-10] the Letter of Paul to the Philippians [Phil. 4:10-14, 19-20] and the Gospel of Matthew [Mt. 22:1-14] speak of an invitation to the Great Feast.

It was Jewish custom that when the invitations were sent out for a great feast the time was not stated; and when everything was ready the servants were sent out with a final summons to tell the guests to come. So the king in the parable had long ago sent out his invitation; but it was not till everything was prepared that the final summons was issued – and insultingly refused.

This parable has many meanings. First of all, Jesus refers to the Jews who did not accept the invitation of God. Ages ago they had been invited to be the chosen people of God; yet they had time and again refused to accept the messengers sent by God. The final summons came from Jesus to leave their unjust ways and enter into the Kingdom of God. When this invitation was rejected, the invitation of God went to the highways and byways.

The parable also speaks of the consequences of rejecting the invitation. The people of Israel had experienced the tragic consequences of rejecting the ways of God. The remnants of those bitter experiences were remained with that generation too. The Northern Kingdom of Israel was conquered by the Neo-Assyrian monarchs, Tiglath-Pilser and Shalmaneser. In 722BC, nearly twenty years after the initial deportations, the ruling city of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, Samaria, was finally taken by Saragon. In about 587 BBC again they were captivated by the Babylonians. These were terrible experiences of the Israelites, and they had been passed on to the succeeding generations. Before Mathew composed his Gospel the Roman armies had destroyed Jerusalem. Even today the violent nature and man-made disasters remind us constantly about the consequences of rejecting the invitation of God.

As Jesus referred to his contemporaries. Through this parable the church today points out to its members who get drowned in the daily hustle of life, and lose priorities. The things that made men deaf to the invitation of the king were not necessarily bad in themselves. One man went to his estate; the business. They went off on the excellent task of efficiently administering their business life. It is easy for a man to be so busy with the things of time that he forgets the things of eternity, to be so preoccupied with the things which are seen that he forgets the things which are unseen. The tragedy of life is that it is so often the second bests which shut out the best, that it is things which are good in themselves which shuts out the things that are supreme.

A professor of philosophy stood before his class with some items in front of him. When the class began, wordlessly he picked up a large empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with rocks about two inches in diameter. He then asked the students if the jar was full.

They agreed that it was full.

So the professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly and watched as the pebbles rolled into the open areas between the rocks. The professor then asked the students again if the jar was full.

They chuckled and agreed that it was indeed full this time.

The professor picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. The sand filled the remaining open areas of the jar. "Now," said the professor, "I want you to recognize that this jar signifies your life. The rocks are the truly important things, such as God, family, health and relationships. If all else was lost and only the rocks remained, your life would still be meaningful. The pebbles are the other things that matter in your life, such as work. The sand signifies the remaining "small stuff" and material possessions.

If you put sand into the jar first, there is no room for the rocks or the pebbles. The same can be applied to your lives. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are truly important.

Pay attention to the things in life that are critical to your life. Take care of the rocks first – things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just pebbles and sand.

What are the priorities at our house? We are early for the game but late to the worship. We see to it that our children do their homework but never check to seek if Bible lessons are completed. We will not let them miss school even though they do not want to attend, but we cater to their whims and let them miss Bible Class. We know the names of their school teachers, but cannot call the names of the Bible Class teachers at church. We will serve as room mother or president of the PTA at school, but what about helping with a function in the Bible Class! They see us go to work even though we do not feel well but stay at home from church under the same circumstances. They see us look at and study their school work but never pay any attention at all to their handwork brought home from Bible Class. Yes, with such situations prevailing, what priorities are established in the hearts of our children! (Wendell Winkler).

The parable reminds us that in the last analysis that God's invitation is the invitation of grace. It is true that the door is open to all men, but when they come they must bring a life which seeks to fit the love which has been given to them. Grace is not only a gift; it is a grave responsibility. So, the moment we accept the invitation, we accept the inevitable responsibility and commitment to change ourselves. Hence, when we go to the house of God let us put on the garment of humble penitence, the garment of faith and the garment of reverence. So that when the king comes to see his guests we will prove ourselves worthy of the invitation extended to us.

Satish

Cycle (A) 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

 


Is. 5:1-7; Phil. 4:6-9; Mt. 21:33-43

Every detail of the parable of the vineyard and the wicked tenants was familiar to the hearers. The vineyards were surrounded with a thick-set thorn hedge, designed to keep out both the wild boars and thieves. Every vineyard had its own wine press, and a watch tower.

The actions of the owner of the vineyard were all quite normal. In the time of Jesus, Palestine was a troubled place with little luxury. Therefore, the land lords were interested only in collecting the rent at the right time.

Even the action of the cultivators was not out of the common. The country was seething with economic unrest. The working people were discontented and rebellious. Jesus uses this familiar contemporary situation very powerfully, to describe God's actions in the history of salvation. The vineyard is the nation of Israel, and its owner is God. The cultivators are the religious leaders of Israel. The messengers who were sent successively are the prophets. They were often rejected and killed by the people of Israel. Here, Jesus was prophetically addressing the chief priests and the Pharisees who were present.

One of the most important messages of the passage is "God's trust in men. The owner of the vineyard entrusted it to the cultivators. He did not even stand over them to exercise supervision. Every task we receive is a task given us by God. Along with human freedom and human privilege, it speaks of human answerability.

A king called his advisers and asked them to write down the wisdom of the ages so that he could pass it on to future generations. After a lot of deliberation, the advisers came up with several volumes of wisdom and presented them to the king. The King told them that it was too lengthy and it had to be condensed. Then they summarized it and presented to him one volume. He said it too was very long. They came back with one chapter. The king did accept that and said even one page was too long. Finally the advisers brought back one sentence that satisfied the king. That is, "There is no free lunch." We have to accept the task entrusted to us and work hard to honour the trust that God has placed on us. The cultivators in the parable wanted to kill the heir and inherit the vineyard. The owner wanted them to take ownership of the vineyard, not through easy way of annihilating the heir, but by hard and responsible work. God has entrusted us with his vineyard, and He wants us to take ownership of it. Today the church gives us ample opportunities to prove to the world that we are the real heirs of the kingdom of Jesus.

I was shocked by a news report from India. There was a protest launched by two Christian communities on certain religious issues. They were headed by Religious leaders and the clergy. Public fasting and prayers were held. All went well. But it was observed that the Beverages Corporation near the public demonstration grounds had the record sale on those days. It was noticed by our brothers of other religions and faith. So, the contradiction between the public life and private life is something that challenges the credibility of our actions. If we are ready to take the ownership of every task entrusted to us we should not be looking for the easy way.

Once there was a lark singing in the forest. A farmer came by with a box full of worms. The lark stopped him and asked, "What do you have in the box and where are you going?" The farmer replied that he had worms and that he was going to the market to trade them for some feathers. The lark said, "I have many feathers. I will pluck one and give it to you and that will save me looking for worms." The farmer gave the worms to the lark and the lark plucked a feather and gave it in return. The next day the same thing happened and the day after and so on and on until a day came that the lark had no more feathers, now it could no longer fly to go hunting for worms. It looked ugly and stopped singing.

What the lark thought was an easy way to get food turned out to be the tougher way. It spoiled its beauty, and deprived it of its beautiful song. The same thing is true with our lives too. Many times we look for easier way, which ends up in troubles. Hard work is the only means to take ownership of the responsibilities entrusted to us. The harder a person works, the better he feels. A mother completes her works at home, and when he retires to bed she experiences a sense of satisfaction and pride in her achievements of the day.

Some people think that success is gained by luck. There is a beautiful poem worth reflecting on.

 

He worked by day

And toiled by night.

He gave up play

And some delight.

Dry books he read,

New things to learn.

And forged ahead,

Success to earn.

He plodded on with

Faith and pluck;

And when he won,

Men called it luck. (Anonymous)

"Great minds have purpose, others have wishes," wrote Washington Irving.

To all men comes a day of reckoning. We are answerable for the way in which we have carried out the task God gave us to do.

Today's Gospel Reading ends with the words, "Therefore I tell you, the Kingdom of God will be... given to a people that produces the fruits of the Kingdom." [Mt. 21:43] The fruits of the Kingdom are the fruits of the Holy Spirit. They are "love, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things." [Gal. 5:22-23]

Satish

Cycle (A) 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Ezek. 18:25-8; Phil. 2:1-11; Mt. 21:28-32

Zen stories are wonderful stories with deep insight. There is Zen story about the master Bankei. His talks were attended not only by Zen students but by persons of all ranks and sects. Once a self-centred Nichiren priest came to the temple, determined to debate with Bankei.  When he saw that an audience was attracted by the Master, Anger and jealousy took over him. He went to the master and challenged him:

“Hey, teacher!" he called out. "Wait a minute. Whoever respects you will obey what you say, but a man like myself does not respect you. Can you make me obey you?”

 

The Master's peace and strength of mind and heart was least affected by any disrespect shown to them. He accepted the challenge and said:

” Come up beside me and I will show you.”

Proudly the priest pushed his way through the crowd to the teacher.

Bankei smiled. "Come over to my left side.”

The priest obeyed.

“No," said Bankei, "we may talk better if you are on the right side. Step over here.”

The priest proudly stepped over to the right.

“You see," observed Bankei, "you are obeying me and I think you are a very gentle person. Now sit down and listen."

 

During today's reading from the Gospel of Matthew, [Mt. 21:28-32] we heard Jesus tell the story of the man who had two sons. The father asked one of his sons to go and work in the vineyard. His son said that he would not go but he changed his mind and he went. The second son said that he would go but he did not go. The son who promised to go and work in the vineyard, but he did not go, he broke his promise. He was no different than God's chosen people of the Old Testament who broke the Old Covenant. He was no different than the people who listened to the words of Jesus, but ignored them.   He was no different than the people within the Church today who break the new Covenant of God by turnings away from His righteous ways.

 

This passage sets before us a picture of two very imperfect sets of people, of whom one set were none the less better than the other. Neither son in the story was the kind of son to bring full joy to his father. Both were unsatisfactory; but the one who in the end obeyed was incalculably better than the other.

 

One of the great lessons on obedience is taught in the story of Naaman. Naaman was ―captain of the host of the king of Syria, and a mighty man in valour, but he was a leper‖ (2 Kings 5:1).

One of his wife’s maidens, an Israelite who had great faith and concern for Naaman’s condition, ―said unto her mistress, Would God my lord were with the prophet that is in Samaria! For he would recover him of his leprosy. (2 Kings 5:3). When the king learned of this, he sent Naaman to the king of Israel with a letter and with gifts, requesting that the king of Israel cure Naaman of his leprosy. He had misunderstood the maiden’s comment and thought that the king of Israel was the one who could cure his ailment. The Israelite king was very upset with this request because he had no power to do such a thing. Yet, he knew if he did not do it, it could mean war with the Syrians. Elisha, the prophet, heard of the king’s distress and suggested, ―Let him come now to me, and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel. ―So Naaman came with his horses and with his chariot, and stood at the door of the house of Elisha. ―And Elisha sent a messenger unto him, saying, Go and wash in Jordan seven times, and thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be clean‖ (2 Kings 5:8–10). Naaman being a man of high position was insulted that Elisha would send a messenger and not show him the respect of coming himself. In addition, the simple nature of the message offended him.

 

 So he turned and went away in a rage.

 

And his servants came near, and spoke unto him, and said, my father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? How much rather then, when he said to thee, Wash, and be clean? Then went he down, and dipped himself seven times in Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God: and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean‖ (2 Kings 5:11–14). Naaman needed to have the faith of a child to be obedient as a child before his flesh became clean as a little child’s.

 

Today’s Gospel tells us that there are two very common classes of people in this world. First, there are the people whose profession is much better than their practice. They will promise anything. They make great protestations of piety and fidelity. They fight for the rights of the church. They collect together the down trodden to fight for their rights. But, their practices lag behind. Most of us fall into this category. Our processions; our charity; our compassion; our holy rites are only demonstrations without the element of sincerity. The one who has never entered the church stands on the street to condemn the injustices against the church and fight for the rights of the church. The one, who has never understood the spirit of Jesus tolerance, comes out with slogans for defending the church. They profess their faith but never practice.


Second, there are those whose practice is far better than their profession. They are fond of doing kind and generous things, almost in secret. But the real good man is the man in whom profession and practice meet and match.

 

Further, this parable teaches that promises can never take the place of performance, and fine words are not substitute for fine deeds. The world has many preachers, but it is still looking for performers; the world is keen to have a Florence Nightingale; a Gandhiji or a Mother Theresa.

 

An old saying goes, “When you make a choice, you also choose the consequence of that choice. Let us choose to obey God’s laws so we can enjoy the fullness of His promised blessings.

 

Satish