Sunday, September 29, 2013

Homily - 27th Ordinary Sunday (Year C)

27th Ordinary Sunday (Year C)

First Reading: Habakkuk 1:2-3, 2:2-4      Second Reading: 2 Timothy 1:6-8, 13-14     Gospel Reading: Luke 17:5-10


Was it Archimedes, the ancient Greek scientist, who said, “Give me a lever, long enough, and a place to put it on, and I will move the world?” What a claim! Surprising of course.
Theoretically, the claim of Archimedes is perfectly sound. But evidently, in the physical world, it may seem an impossibility. However, in the spiritual realm, it is definitely possible. For, there IS such a lever, and it is called 'FAITH'; there is a place to put it on, and it is called 'GOD'; and there is a power that can swing that lever, and it is called 'MAN'.
Another claim we also find in the Gospel Reading of today from St. Luke: “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it would obey you.” Is it really true? Can it really happen? ...........?

Today is the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time; and the Scripture Readings focus on the virtue of faith. Faith is a cardinal virtue and is the most basic of all. It is that virtue which makes us hold on to God's hand. It is about belief, and it is about trust and loyalty. Do we really have faith in God? Today we are called to be faithful servants of God.

Habakkuk is one of the lesser known prophets. From indications in his short, three-chapter book, we glean that he ministered in the years immediately before the fall of the Southern Kingdom of Judah when Babylon was at the apex of it’s imperial powers. He was witnessing the overwhelming destructive power of that pagan empire.
In the First Reading of today we see Habakkuk is in a situation of distress and he cries out to the Lord in his distress. He laments the mistreatment of the chosen people by the invaders. His view is that evil and destruction are without sense, without justifiable reason. Even God's faithful ones have been trampled on by their enemies. He pleads with God for an explanation. Why doesn't God help them? He perceives that his outcry to God remains unheeded. God then speaks to the prophet, telling him to write down a vision that reveals how God will intervene in the future. The violent ones will, by their sinfulness, bring about their own defeat. The just ones, by their fidelity to God, will enjoy lasting happiness.
Sometimes we may have the same feelings as the prophet in today’s First Reading. Why is there so much injustice and tyranny and oppression everywhere? Why so much outrage and violence? Often, in these situations, people are reduced to a sense of helplessness and hopelessness. One might begin to ask, 'Where is God in all this?' Why does he not protect his children, especially the most defenseless? And the answer is, if we are a just person and act justly to others with integrity, our faith will be strengthened as a result of our living, and even though the rewards are delayed, we can be sure they will come.

In today's Gospel Reading from St. Luke, we hear Jesus teach about faith and service to God. The context is a continuing dialogue between Jesus and his followers about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. The two sayings of Jesus in today's gospel make us wonder about the other side of the story. When the apostles ask, "Lord, increase our faith," are they secretly quite satisfied with their record of faithfulness? Jesus tells them that if they really have faith they can tell a tree what to do, and it will do it! The story about the faithful servant tells us that Jesus' disciples should be grateful to God. When we do God's will, we should not expect to receive a gold medal. We have, after all, done no more than "what we were obliged to do."
a) “Lord, increase our faith!”
Certainly being a disciple of Jesus requires faith, and the apostles were discovering that. They must have been impressed by the assurance that Jesus had, by the way he spoke of God as Father‚ with a conviction and an intimacy that they had not met before. And understandably they wanted to have the same conviction and intimacy; they wanted to see things the way Jesus did and share his outlook. It is often said that 'faith is caught, not taught,' and they must certainly have caught it from his assurance and conviction. But they realized that their faith was still weak and fumbling. They had a long way to go before they could know the Father as he did, know His will and purposes. And so they said, “Lord, increase our faith!”
Rather disconcertingly, Jesus does not answer their question, at least not directly. Instead, he seems to give a mild reproach, “If you had faith the size of a mustard could say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea, and it would obey you.'It's not the 'quantity' of faith, but the 'kind' of faith, that matters. Even a tiny speck of a faith that is sincere and wholehearted, that totally trusts God, can achieve amazing and seemingly impossible things.
But why does he give this bizarre example of the mulberry tree, which has an extensive root system, and it would be difficult to uproot, let alone plant in deep water? And what would be the point anyway? To impress people by showing miraculous powers? So it is not a saying which should be taken quite literally. Instead it is surely one of Jesus' typically Hebraic exaggerations to emphasize his point. He is saying that by faith you can do the difficult, the unexpected, the unlikely‚ if this chimes in with God's purposes. With his metaphor of the mustard seed, a very tiny seed, Jesus tells them that even with a small amount of faith, God will hear them and answer their needs, even if it was something that needed a miracle. But Jesus also tells them that their faith at this point is very weak. He doesn’t mean this as a put down. Jesus explains that the Apostles do have faith and that with the amount of faith they already have, they can do impossible things.
Perhaps our faith may be smaller than the already small mustard seed; i.e. it is not big enough to move mountains. But it should be big enough to enable us to reach out to God's hand so that He will help us walk up the mountains of problems confronting us. To have faith is to acknowledge our inadequacies as we place ourselves entirely in God's hands.
b) “What we were obliged to do”:
The next part of the Gospel Reading of today presents 'the parable of the dutiful servant,' who is expected to go about his ordinary tasks in a responsible, devoted and self-giving way. Luke often uses the roles of the master and the servant or slave to talk about discipleship, faith and faithfulness. Here the point is that you can't expect a reward if all you are doing is your duty. The bottom line is that obedience is not a means to some reward. It is simply what being an apostle and a disciple is about. Christ, in the Gospel, reminds his followers that they are 'the faithful servants of God' and that their humble submission is necessary to grow in faith. Therefore, the quality of our relationship with God must accord with what the Gospel says at the end, “We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.”

In the Second Reading of today St Paul exhorts Timothy to remain firm in his vocation, to preach the truth without being inhibited by human respect. To preach the Christian faith at a time of terrible persecution requires great courage. 'Loyalty to the gospel' always involves a certain amount of hardship for any disciple. Anyone who teaches or preaches the faith must also be true to the tradition handed down by Jesus through the apostles. St. Paul encourages Timothy to place his faith in the Holy Spirit, which will enable him to be a courageous witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. While it is true that we are merely servants, the Holy Spirit can do wonders with those who place their faith and trust in him.
The 2nd Timothy text is a powerful reminder of what Gospel faith is and what it is not. It is not passive, disengaged, groveling and diminishing. It is, rather, the fruit of God’s Holy Spirit, the Spirit of power, love and self-control. Power here connotes strength to engage and to do something; love is that profound compassion which is larger than all other emotions; and self-control is that prudent self-discipline which allows one the best of responsible freedom and integrity; in a word, wisdom.
Faith is not faith if kept in reserve for emergencies. Faith is lived daily and shapes the way we think and behave. It is about receptivity to God's presence in our daily lives and it is seen in our faithful behavior. Someone has said, 'Charity means pardoning what is unpardonable, or it is no virtue at all. Hope means hoping when things are hopeless, or it is no virtue at all. And faith means believing the incredible, or it is no virtue at all.'
It is easy to say that we have faith in Jesus when everything is going fine. But when there are big problems, crises, calamities, well.... But Jesus wants us to have faith in him, even and especially in moments of crisis so that we can triumph over them. Today’s message is an invitation to many of us who have found life to be unbearable because God seemed to have abandoned us or God seemed to be silent. Faith is trust, not certainty. Our commitment to God’s sovereign Will will enable Him to forge for us a solution beyond our expectation.
In conclusion, sometimes people say that, in response to the tragedy they have encountered, they have lost faith, as if they have lost their house keys or their wallets. The truth is, we can never lose our faith. We may be struggling to allow faith to shape our lives according to God’s sovereign Will. In the light of the apostles asking the Lord to increase their faith, we ask that He will grant us the grace of insight on how to allow our lives to be more and more shaped by our trust in Him. Let us then today humbly pray to God and say, “LORD, I BELIEVE; HELP MY UNBELIEF; INCREASE MY FAITH!” And this is the Good News of today.


Monday, September 23, 2013

Homily - 26th Ordinary Sunday (Year C)

26th Ordinary Sunday (Year C)

First Reading: Amos 6:1a, 4-7       Second Reading: 1 Timothy 6:11-16       Gospel Reading: Luke 16:19-31


The story is told of a Franciscan monk in Australia assigned to be the guide and 'gofer' to Mother Teresa when she visited New South Wales. Thrilled and excited at the prospect of being so close to this great woman, he dreamed of how much he would learn from her and what they would talk about. But during her visit, he became frustrated. Although he was constantly near her, the friar never had the opportunity to say one word to Mother Teresa. There were always other people for her to meet.
Finally, her tour was over, and she was due to fly to New Guinea. In desperation, the Franciscan friar spoke to Mother Teresa:
“If I pay my own fare to New Guinea, can I sit next to you on the plane so I can talk to you and learn from you?” Mother Teresa looked at him. "You have enough money to pay airfare to New Guinea?" she asked.
Yes,” he replied eagerly. "Then give that money to the poor," she said. "You'll learn more from that than anything I can tell you." Mother Teresa understood that Jesus' ministry was to the poor and she made it hers as well.

Today is the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time. This Sunday’s Scripture lessons comprise an exhortation to those who have been greatly blessed with much by way of comfort and enjoying a life of luxury, but who’s response to blessedness has been a serious social blindness and insensitivity to both the needs of the poor and suffering around them and to genuine justice.

Today's First Reading from the Book of Amos is the last of three woes that the Lord God promised to inflict upon Judah and Israel because of their evil deeds. These nations had rulers who were idle, insensitive to the needs of the poor and lived in luxury. They believed that they were the chosen ones, living in God's chosen cities. They abandoned and despised outsiders, the poor and especially those who lived with integrity. Amos vehemently condemns the wanton revelry and godlessness of the Israelite people of his time. He predicts the fall of the Northern Kingdom of Israel and tells that these people who trust in their wealth will be the first to be exiled by the Assyrians, sent off penniless to a distant corner of a foreign land to work for others.
The role of a prophet is to highlight where things are going wrong. It is not to provide all the answers or solutions. What is remarkable about Amos is that he would not be silenced and speaks out aloud in spite of the opposition he meets. His words will always be a reminder of the call from God for social justice and social inclusion, for, “God takes the side of the poor and needy.”

The Gospel Reading has a similarity. Again we hear of luxury and insensitivity. The rich man lived like a king and was totally insensitive to the needs of Lazarus. The difference in the Gospel of Luke versus the Book of Amos is that in the former reading, we heard of the outcome of such behavior. While the rich man may have been blessed with great luxury, he was only successful for a time. When he died, he could not take his luxury with him in the afterlife. None of his luxury could defend him against the judgment that awaited him. In fact, his luxury condemned him.
To those loving money:
In the context of St. Luke's Gospel, the parable of 'The Rich Man and Lazarus,' delivered in the presence of a crowd of listeners, is part of Jesus' response to some Pharisees. When Jesus related this story, his intent was to spiritually awaken the Pharisees who were fond of money. These Pharisees are described in Luke's Gospel as 'loving money.' They felt secure in their wealth, saw it as a sign of their virtue and scorned the poor. Jesus observed that the actions of those Pharisees betrayed misplaced priorities: they spoke one way, but acted in another. So a very sharply pointed parable with quite a contrast.
The rich man and Lazarus:
The parable of 'The Rich Man and Lazarus,' demonstrates the importance of the care of the poor and is a reminder to those who would follow Jesus of the unimportance of wealth in the eyes of God. Let’s look at the parable a little more closely. In this story Jesus paints a dramatic scene of contrasts - riches and poverty, heaven and hell, compassion and indifference, inclusion and exclusion. He starts off with a vivid, colorful description of the two main and contrasting characters:
The rich man, sometimes called Dives, which is the Latin word for rich man, is obviously wealthy and as expected can afford to be generous, but unfortunately he is not. Significantly he is nameless. He is dressed in purple and fine linen (an outfit similar to that worn by the high priest), lives in luxury, and sumptuously feasts every day.
On the other hand, there is the poor man named Lazarus, whose home is the rich man's gate and whose survival depended on the food that fell from his table. He is pitiful. Unlike that of the rich man's, his body is 'dressed' with sores which are licked by the dogs. Dogs in the ancient world symbolized contempt. Enduring the torment of these savage dogs only added to the poor man’s miseries and sufferings. Hebrews would have called the man impure and believed that he was being punished by God for some sin.
Now, parties are very much double-edged. They can welcome and they can exclude. The ornate gateway of the rich man's house welcomes his five brothers to his party, but keeps out the poor man Lazarus. It prevents the rich man using his wealth as it should be used for the poor. Lazarus lies day after day in the gateway, which is the outward sign of the sumptuous interior of the house. Lazarus doesn't even get an occasional doggie-bag of goodies to alleviate his hunger. He longs for even the leftovers. Indeed he is so weak that he is unable to fend off the feral doggies, who lick his ulcerating sores.
Reversal of fortunes:
In the next scene, we jump to the sudden deaths of both the poor man and the rich man. The poor man dies. Soon after, the rich man also dies. We also see an abrupt and dramatic reversal of fortunes. Death plays no favorites. The rich man doubtless received an elaborate burial but ... finds himself in Hades... The poor man dies - no one even cares for his body - that is left to the angels, who carry him to Abraham's bosom. Nothing was said about the moral goodness of Lazarus that made him deserve heaven. Nor was it mentioned that the rich man was wicked.
This reversal is not simply because Lazarus was poor and the rich man was rich. It is because the rich man neglected Lazarus day after day. The rich man despised Lazarus, excluded him and did not treat him as a human being of equal dignity. He treated the beggar with contempt and indifference. He might not have done something really evil but he did not do the good that needed to be done. He was guilty of the sin of omission. In God's economy, those who hold on possessively to what they have, lose it all in the end, while those who share generously receive back many times more than they gave away.
The name 'Lazarus' means 'God is my help.' Despite a life of misfortune and suffering, Lazarus did not lose hope in God. His eyes were set on a treasure stored up for him in heaven. The rich man, however, could not see beyond his material wealth and possessions. He not only had every thing he needed, he selfishly spent all he had on himself. He was too absorbed in what he possessed to notice the needs of those around him. He lost sight of God and the treasure of heaven because he was preoccupied with seeking happiness in material things. He served wealth rather than God.
Excuses too late:
One day, the rich man lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus in his bosom. What followed was the rich man's request to Abraham, that Lazarus be sent to him so he could dip the tip of his finger in water and cool his tongue, because he was in agony from the flames. In the end the rich man himself became a beggar! Abraham confronts the rich man with the reality of the situation he prepared for himself by his selfish life. His earthly life has resulted in his present state. Also that there is a great chasm between them which no one could cross.
It was his tongue the rich man had so sated with sumptuous food. Now it burns. But he has learned nothing - he thinks of Lazarus as of no account, fit only to be sent on the errand of bringing him - the formerly rich man - some water as relief.
Trying another tack, he asked Abraham to send Lazarus to his father's house to warn his five brothers so as to spare them from his fate, lest they also come into this place of torment. But Abraham refused again saying, “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.” The rich man made the excuse when it was too late that he did not realize what was going on.

The Second Reading of today is the conclusion of the First Letter to Timothy, a leader of the early Christian community. The writer, St. Paul, exhorts Timothy to lead a life of piety and integrity, and urges him to serve others by practicing all the virtues, that is, strengths we see in Jesus. Timothy must "fight the good fight of faith" and be committed to the truth until the Lord comes again. He must be proactive and “Lay hold of eternal life” by engaging life fully. Passive religious faith, whether among leaders or general members, amounts to irresponsible thoughtlessness and lazy complacency. There is always something more to do by way of engaging the Gospel.
Now, when St. Paul tells Timothy to “fight the good fight of the faith,” he is stating two things. First of all, he is comparing the Christian faith to a race and exhorting to persevere to the end. Secondly, he is reminding Timothy that at his baptism, he has made a profession of faith before many witnesses. Before God, the Church and the faithful, Timothy has an obligation to persevere in his faith to the end of the race. Timothy is charged to keep the commandments without spot or blame. In other words, he is charged to protect the complete deposit, all the truths of the Catholic faith that had been entrusted to him. Towards the end of his life, St. Paul would himself say, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith."

To conclude, it is to us in our own generation that Amos preaches! It is to us that Jesus’ parallel of the Rich Man and Lazarus is addressed. The Gospel obligation to care for the poor and needy is absolute and unavoidable, and is an important virtue in the life of discipleship. Even the needy are expected to share among themselves. But, the moral of the story in both Amos’ text and in Jesus’ parable is that there will be profound and dire consequences for neglecting our needy neighbors. It is a warning to all of us not to turn a blind eye to the plight of the poor and needy who are just outside our gate. For “God takes the side of the poor and needy.” And helping those who are poor and in need is the 'way' to come closer to God, a 'bridge' for crossing to the Lord. Otherwise, we will be faulted with the sin of omission - as was the rich man - to our eternal damnation. And this is the Good News of today.


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Homily - 25th Ordinary Sunday (Year C)

25th Ordinary Sunday (Year C)

First Reading: Amos 8:4-7            Second Reading: 1 Timothy 2:1-8           Gospel Reading: Luke 16:1-13


Some of us are good stewards – or may be just tight.
Stumpy and his wife Martha went to a state fair every year and every year when Stumpy saw the antique bi-plane he would say, “Martha, I'd like to ride in that airplane.” And Martha always replied, “I know Stumpy, but that airplane ride costs 10 dollars, and 10 dollars is 10 dollars.”
One year Stumpy and Martha went to the fair and Stumpy said, “Martha, I'm 81 years old. If I don't ride that airplane I might never get another chance.” And again Martha replied, “Stumpy, that airplane ride costs 10 dollars, and 10 dollars is 10 dollars.”
The pilot overheard them and said, “Folks, I'll make you a deal. I'll take you both up for a ride. If you can stay quiet for the entire ride and not say a word, I won't charge you; but if you say one word it's 10 dollars.”
Stumpy and Martha agreed and up they went. The pilot did all kinds of twists and turns, rolls and dives, but not one word was heard. He did all his tricks over again, but still not a word.
When they landed, the pilot turned to Stumpy and said, “By golly, I did everything I could think of to get you to yell out, but you didn't.”
Stumpy replied, “Well, I was gonna say something when Martha fell out, but 10 dollars is 10 dollars.”
And our dollars are God's dollars!

Today is the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Each of the Scripture Readings of today makes a separate, but related, point: In the First Reading from the prophet Amos, we are reminded that God is a God of justice who remembers the poor who have been taken advantage of and mistreated. In the Second Reading St. Paul writing to Timothy speaks of the prayers and petitions we must make to God so that his justice and truth prevail in the world. God is not indifferent to this world, but judges us on the basis of our behavior here and now. The Gospel Reading emphasizes that we must be efficient in our use of this world´s goods and dedicated to the life of the spirit if we are going to prevail and persevere.

Prophet Amos is known as 'the prophet of social justice.' During the 8th century BC, he arrived in the prosperous northern kingdom of Israel. Behind the glitter of political and religious life, he saw a world of injustice and exploitation of the poor and wrote his denunciations. When he observed that the wealthier citizens of Israel treated the poor and the needy abusively, disrespectfully and arrogantly, then he aimed at them the harshest of criticism. In the First Reading of today, the prophet Amos thunders at the greedy rich who take advantage of the poor by lessening the content of a sack, tampering weighing scales, raising prices and even selling the sweepings with the wheat and sends a stern warning to them on swindling and cheating in business. They are so focused on money that they cannot wait for the Sabbath or holy days to be over. They are not fair with the poor, even when it comes to selling them wheat for bread. But their greed is no secret from God. He calls on dishonest people who cheat others to take a good look at themselves. Speaking for God’s sense of justice, he promised that deeds of uncharitableness and injustice would not be forgotten, "Never will I forget a thing they have done!"
Does this not remind us of some unscrupulous businessmen today? There appears to be no difference between the greedy rich in the prophet's time and their counterparts in today's world. To what extent people would go for money! Social justice is a ubiquitous obligation to cultivate a social reality and personal consciences of justice, peace and security. We all have, therefore, an obligation to care for all in society, from the greatest to the least. Of course, the poor, the needy, the sick, the homeless, the orphaned and the widowed, the stranger and the alien, and all those disenfranchised from privilege were then and are still today the greater consumers of the charitable effort. Justice is not a Gospel option; it is a Gospel obligation!

In today's Second Reading from the First Letter of St. Paul to Timothy, we are reminded of our spiritual obligations in accordance with the universal salvation that the Heavenly Father planned for mankind. In today's passage, St. Paul exhorts us to pray for those in high positions.
Now, people generally perceive government authorities as dishonest, as corrupt. The basis for this is their experience in transacting business with some government offices where hardly any thing moves unless money changes hands. This is true from top to bottom, the only difference being the amount. When a corrupt official is caught, he is blamed by his fellows not for the evil he did but for being caught. After all, he was supposed to live up to the eleventh commandment, namely, 'Thou shalt not be caught.'
However, those in authority do need our prayers that the power entrusted to them is used for the well-being of every person in the community. When consideration is given to praying for someone in authority, rather that refusing to do so because of one's dislike for an authority figure or a politician, a different attitude should be embraced. It is by the power of prayer that the heart of a disliked person is changed. If everyone was to pray for those in authority, consequently there would be better persons in power and a better service to the public.
It is the Divine Will of God that all Christians pray for all men so that all men may be saved. God takes no pleasure in the eternal loss of a soul. Jesus gave Himself as a ransom for all. God wishes that all men/women be saved. God's Divine Plan is universal. In the hope that all men may share in our eternal glory, we are called to pray for all men, our enemies, those in authority, the politicians, etc... Such is in accordance with the Divine Will of God.

Today’s Gospel Reading from St. Luke is composed of 'the parable of the dishonest steward' and several of Jesus’ sayings about the right use of money. The parable speaks about stewardship, while each of the sayings is about money or faithfulness, but don’t really come near to interpreting the parable itself. But each does stand alone in making a comment or truth. The lesson intended by Jesus is simply that we should be as enterprising about our future in the Kingdom as was the shrewd steward about his future.
The parable of the dishonest steward:
Today’s section of St. Luke – the story of the dishonest steward – is one of the most difficult of Jesus’ parables to interpret. It certainly brings up the question: How can a servant this dishonest be praised? It appears as if Jesus is suggesting that he approves of those who gain dishonest wealth.
Today’s Gospel parable about stewardship reveals the wide breadth of trust which God has bestowed upon each of us by trusting us with life and free will. In the parable “the master commended the dishonest servant for acting prudently.” The rich man did not praise the steward for being dishonest. He praised him for having taken the proper steps at a time of crisis. He praised the slave for 'fixing things' so that he would find favor in the eyes of his master and those who had borrowed from him. Prudent behavior was more important than even the selfish servant’s dishonesty. The servant had been entrusted by the master with great power and evidently had been caught abusing that power. But, in one final attempt to secure some future security, he technically abused power still further. Jesus obviously told this story not to encourage dishonesty but to draw attention to the foresight of the steward.

Up to this point it makes a lot of sense if Jesus is just trying to show that Christians need to think about the future and build up a case for themselves for the afterlife, but then we have the four sayings that seem to have been added to the parable to try to create meaning. Jesus’ sayings have vital implications for us in this world and in God’s kingdom.
1) “For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.”
Jesus concludes the parable with the saying, “For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.” Obviously, the dishonest steward is not presented to us as a model for integrity. But his shrewdness and tenacity are worthy of imitation in our service of God's Kingdom. For as Jesus had observed, while the manager was shrewd and tenacious in assuring his future, 'the children of light' were not so in the pursuit of their heavenly security. Jesus is thus challenging his followers to be as shrewd in carrying out God's work. We need to have our wits about us, and think clearly.
2) “Make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth.”
Now here comes the difficult passage, "And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes." Through these words, Jesus is saying that we are to convert material wealth into heavenly capital by sharing them with the poor and needy. Indeed, there is only one honest and prudent way of using material goods: helping the poor. To make friends by means of worldly wealth requires one to perform acts of charity by helping the needy with physical items such as food, clothing and furniture. Those who have been helped will remember their donors and welcome them into their eternal homes.
3) "If you are not trustworthy with dishonest wealth, who will trust you with true wealth?”
Next, Jesus wants us to be trustworthy, beginning with small things, “He who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones....” Trustworthiness in small things leads to a greater trust in the realm of physical stewardship as well as spiritual realities. Jesus further says, "If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?" An enterprising kingdom stewardship entails prudent use of wealth, day-to-day fidelity and trustworthiness in the management of earthly goods, and putting absolute priority on the spiritual reality over material goods. Thus the absolute need to develop the habit of honesty.
4) “No servant can serve two masters. You cannot serve both God and mammon.”
A fourth saying of the Lord is a challenge, “No man can serve two masters. You cannot serve both God and mammon.” This is one of the better known quotes from the Bible. God and money do not go together. We have to have our priorities right. Making money takes second place to pleasing God. We have to acquire wealth through moral and legal means, not through cheating or oppressing others. If the means by which we acquire wealth is displeasing to God, then we are making money more important than God. We know of some people who have made money their god. No question about it, money is important. Moreover, money in itself is not evil. It is our attitude towards it and how we use it that can lead to evil. Thus Jesus is asking us to set our priorities right, namely, that God and not money should occupy first place in our lives. In short, one must choose: God or the god Money. It is impossible to serve both at once. No compromise may be made between them. One is faced with unavoidable choice.

Today's Scripture Readings speak of our being good stewards and we are challenged to give an account of our stewardship. How can we be accountable for the wealth that the Lord has entrusted us with? Life on this earth is temporary, but as long as we are here, let our actions serve the Kingdom. We must use money in an intelligent and responsible way. Jesus advises us to prove ourselves trustworthy in dealing with material wealth. Then we will be more trustworthy in spiritual matters as well. God will judge us on our stewardship of the world around us: have we administered justice to all fairly and equitably? Have we loved others with true charity? Have we used the occasions and opportunities life presents us to do good, to alleviate suffering, to help others in need?
God is supremely merciful, but at the same time He is giving us graces now in order to live the way He has commanded us. We should not presume on His mercy on the Judgment Day if we are not taking advantage of the graces He is showering on us now in order to live upright lives and love as He wants us to love others. We should take stock of those graces every day. We must keep in mind we are mere stewards here and not the masters of this world. The only money we have is the Master's money. It is entrusted to us for management and we are responsible to Him on the Judgment Day. And this is the Good News of today.


Sunday, September 8, 2013

Homily - 24th Ordinary Sunday (Year C)

24th Ordinary Sunday (Year C)

First Reading: Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14      Second Reading: 1 Timothy 1:12-17      Gospel Reading: Luke 15:1-32


In the timber mountains of the Northwest of USA a five-year-old boy was lost. Night came. The citizens and rangers searched frantically every cave and mountainside. Snow began to fall. Blanket upon blanket covered the forest floor, but no Bobby could be found. The next morning the father, fatigued from an all-night search, kicked against what seemed to be a log in the path but when the snow fell loose, a small boy sat up, stretched, yawned, and exclaimed: “Oh, Daddy! I've found you at last!”
When we commit sin, we also wander away from God and are lost to Him. But God out of His abounding love and bountiful mercy goes out in search of us until He finds us. He is 'the Father who is ever eager to receive us back.'

Today is the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time; and the three Scripture Readings this Sunday underline God's unmerited love and mercy for the repentant sinner. This is a God who forgives readily and takes great delight in the conversion of a sinner. He is 'the Father who is ever eager to receive us back.'

In the First Reading of today from the Book of Exodus we see the hardness of heart of the people of Israel whom God has freed from the slavery in Egypt under the leadership of Moses. When Moses led them to Mount Sinai, he explained that God wanted to sign a Covenant with them. He then climbed the mountain to receive the terms of the covenant. A month passed with no word from the prophet. The Israelite people grew restless and eventually abandoned their God. They demanded that Moses' brother Aaron create a statue of Hathor, the Egyptian goddess of fertility. She was often pictured as a calf. So, while the Covenant is being given to Moses on the mountain, the people make for themselves a golden calf, a false god to worship. This makes God very angry and He is bent on taking vengeance on His idolatrous, treacherous and stiff-necked people. Yet God relents in His anger and forgives the people when Moses intercedes on their behalf and pleads for His mercy.
The key scene in this story is that of Moses pleading to God for the forgiveness of the people. We may wonder how it was possible for the Israelite people to be so blatant in their rejection of God and their forgetfulness of His saving power in leading them out of slavery that they could construct a false idol even as Moses was receiving the terms of the covenant. But it is really just the pattern of our own willfulness and ignorance of God in the face of His goodness to us. We are really the same as them, having been blessed so much by Him.

In the Second Reading of today from St. Paul's First Letter to Timothy, St. Paul describes himself as a repentant sinner who had wandered far, yet God's mercy was shown him through Jesus Christ. He eloquently acknowledges that he was a sinner, 'the greatest of them,' in doing all he could to wipe out the followers of Christ. He accuses himself of blasphemy, violence and persecution. And, indeed, the early Christians had difficulty with Paul because of his reputation as a persecutor of the Church. Although Paul was once a proud and sinful person, Jesus chose him to be the apostle to the Gentiles. He says God bestowed forgiveness and grace upon him: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners of whom I am the foremost.” St. Paul never forgot the great mercy bestowed on him in spite of his own most serious sinfulness. And finally, he says that God has made him an example of someone he had patience with, and waited for, and rejoiced at his conversion, giving him the gift of eternal life – the party in heaven.
We too must never forget the reality of sin, never calling it by another name, but face it honestly and squarely, like St. Paul. The worst thing we can do is lose the sense of sin, to consider ourselves justified before God when we are truly in need of his mercy. St. Paul was clear about himself, and we must have a similar humility about our situation. Otherwise, we will not pray for his mercy. We should be assured that even the greatest sinner was not beyond God's reach.

Today's Gospel Reading from St. Luke begins with a stinging criticism of Jesus. He is being accused by the Pharisees and the Scribes of having table fellowship and consorting with ‘sinners.’ What upset the Pharisees and the Scribes, however, was not so much that Jesus had meals with these people, even though there were some purity issues involved with that, but that Jesus had the gall to ‘forgive sinners’ and allow them to accompany him, without the traditional demands called for by the Jewish Law.
In his unique way Jesus answers these accusations by telling three parables about losing, finding and rejoicing – the parable of the lost sheep, the parable of the lost coin and the parable of the lost son. While each story emphasizes something different from the other, all three depict a seeker in search of something or someone lost. But they all hammer home the same central theme: 'God is willing to do just about anything to bring back someone who is lost!'
In these parables, Luke champions the theme that God’s mercy breaks through all human restrictions of how God should act towards sinners. God’s mercy, indeed, is as foolish as a shepherd who abandons ninety-nine sheep to save one, as a woman who turns her house upside down to recover a paltry sum, and as a Jewish father who joyfully welcomes home his wastrel son who has become a Gentile. Inevitably, all the three parables have a joyous and happy ending. There is great rejoicing over the lost ones having been found.
a)   The parable of the lost sheep:
The first parable gives us a glimpse of the heart of a true shepherd, and the joy of a community reunited with its lost members. There is a sheep, perhaps a rebellious maverick, which has wandered far from the flock. The shepherd searches until what he has lost is found. The shepherd's grief and anxiety is turned to joy when he finds the lost sheep and restores it to the fold. In the same way, God rejoices more over one sinner who repents—like the outcasts who have come to hear Jesus—than over the ninety-nine righteous like the Pharisees and Scribes.
This is the picture Jesus draws of God – that, says Jesus, is what God is like. God is as glad when a lost sinner is found as a shepherd is when a strayed sheep is brought home. As some one has said, 'God, too, knows the joy of finding things that have gone lost.'
b)   The parable of the lost coin:
The second parable is remarkably short but its meaning is clearly communicated:
In the first instance, we may presume the woman to be poor; therefore, when she lost a silver coin, she faced something of an economic disaster, since the value of the coin would be equivalent to her husband's daily wage. They were poor and would suffer greatly because of the loss. Her grief and anxiety turn to joy when she finds the coin.
However, there is a much more romantic reason. The 10 coins or pieces of silver weren't worth very much monetarily, but were of great sentimental value. These pieces of silver were a gift from her husband's family, the mark of a married woman, which she put in her hair on very special occasions. She might wear them while her husband was away to remind her of his love. These pieces were to be worn with five pieces on each side of her head, fastened with little hooks. To lose one piece would be shameful and devastating.
It was believed that the loss of this precious coin represented the withdrawal of God's favor from the family. It was also a cause of great grief for the husband, so much so that he might actually expel his wife from their home because of the disgrace she had brought to him. This is why she lit the lamps, diligently swept and carefully searched. She wouldn't give up until she found it. When she did, she would invite her friends and neighbors in to rejoice with her. They would all understand the significance of finding the coin and her relief.
The lost coin could be likened to a person within the household who is lost. The parable of the lost coin also gives us a glimpse of that in which God delights. When a sinner is restored to fellowship with God, it is a cause of great rejoicing.
c)   The parable of the lost son:
The third parable is probably the most memorable one and is commonly known as 'The Parable of the Prodigal Son,' for obvious reasons. The younger son is prodigal by senselessly spending all his inherited wealth. But it is a misnomer, for the popular name fails to indicate that the father has two lost sons, not one. The resentful elder son, however, did not know that he was lost. Though physically near, he was just as lost as the one who had set off for a distant country squandering his inheritance in a dissolute life.
There are others who feel it more appropriate to call this story, 'The Parable of the Prodigal Father.' For them the point made in the story is not how bad the boys are, but rather how good the father is. It is the father who is excessive and extravagant and immoderate, anything but frugal with his forgiveness and mercy. It is the father who squanders love and reconciliation on his two sons. The father is the true spendthrift here, sparing no cost of labor to celebrate the homecoming of the wayward younger son. Also, with similar prodigality, his offering of everything to the older son, who is reluctant to forgive his younger brother, makes the father all the more generous.
In the parable, actually, we are given a most beautiful description of our heavenly Father. The father is outside of the house waiting for the younger son to return; and when the son returns, he runs to him, clasps him in his arms, kisses him, brings him in and throws a party for him. There is no negotiation, condition or fine print - just pure acceptance and total forgiveness. Similarly, when we return to God, He does the same to us and throws a party for us.
Perhaps the saddest part of the story, even more pitiable than the prodigal son, is the resentful and arrogant older brother who refused to enter into the joy of the occasion. Because the bulk of the narrative is centered on the younger son, the fact that the story is actually a double-edged parable has sometimes been overlooked. In the father’s treatment of the younger son, the lesson of divine mercy offered reassurance to sinners. In the interchange between the older brother and the father, a stern warning was issued to the self-righteous whose resentment hardened them against the joy of God’s magnanimous goodness. This son who never left, just like the Pharisees and scribes who feel they are righteous, refuses to enter his father's house to join in the rejoicing. He has served his father. He has obeyed him. Perhaps it was not out of love. The father's response teaches us that God's care and compassion extend to the righteous and sinner alike. When we are lost, God doesn't wait for our return. He actively seeks us out. And when the lost are found, how could He not celebrate and rejoice?

All three Scripture Readings of today reveal the drama of human sin which is so deceptive. How often do we worship the golden calves of today's society? How often do we run away from home? The image of God presented to us by Jesus in these parables is one who seeks us in love so that He can forgive us. He is the merciful Father, who receives us back and restores us to our place as a son with all the rights and dignity. He knows that we are lost because we have sinned against Him by disregarding His will. But He is willing to overlook that and extend the hand of forgiveness if we only repent. This is the heart of God toward us. He does not look to punish or to make us suffer, but to celebrate our homecoming with us. He does not hold our sins over us, but rather rejoices that we are back safe with him. He does not make us suffer any more than our sins have already made us suffer because he no longer considers us slaves, but sons.
There are many areas in our lives that need forgiveness and therefore repentance. A good place to start is ourselves. We often say to ourselves, 'I can never forgive myself for doing that stupid thing.' Because we have not forgiven ourselves, we feel bitter and angry - with ourselves, with others, with the world, and even with God. When we forgive and are forgiven, a great healing takes place in us. We learn to be humble. We also develop a positive outlook not only about God but also about ourselves, others, and society. We then think and speak well of them and do them good. This transformation in ourselves is certainly cause for great rejoicing in heaven.
God does not rejoice in the loss of anyone, but desires that we be saved and restored to friendship with Him. He seeks us out and like the father in the parable He runs to meet us. He is 'THE FATHER WHO IS EVER EAGER TO RECEIVE US BACK.' Let us humbly repent our sins and hastily run to meet him. And this is the Good News of today.