Saturday, January 21, 2017

3rd Ordinary Sunday, Year A, 22.01.2017

Isaiah 8:23 – 9:3 / 1 Cor 1:10-13, 17 / Matthew 4:12-23

Life is kind of strange and it has its absurdities. At times it sounds like a serious joke, and we can choose to laugh at it, but at times it can also make us frown and we wonder why it is like that.

For example, why does round pizza come in a square box? Why is it that people pay to go up tall buildings and then put money in binoculars to look at things on the ground?

Why do we press harder on a remote control when we know the batteries are flat? Why do banks charge a fee on 'insufficient funds' when they know that there is already not enough money?

Enough of examples to tell us that we live in a strange world that at times look rather absurd.

There is this story that one day an elephant decided to go for a nice bath in the river. No sooner had he gone into the water when a little mouse ran up and down the river bank demanding that the elephant get out of the water.

The elephant protested and asked what the problem was. The little mouse was adamant that the elephant had to get out of the water first and then he would tell him.

The elephant gave in and got out of the water. Then the little mouse said: So sorry, Mr. Elephant. I was just checking. Someone took my swimming trunks and I was just checking if it was you who was wearing it.

That sounds like an absurd joke. But the strange thing here is that sometimes it takes a joke to bring out a point, or the moral of the story. And the moral of the story is this: 
It is easier to think that an elephant can fit into the swimming trunks of a mouse than for God’s plan to enter into the human heart. 

In other words, we can accept the absurdities of life more easily than we can accept the mysteries of God’s plan for us.

In the gospel, we heard about the beginnings of the ministry of Jesus. He heard that John the Baptist had been arrested and He went back to Galilee and settled in the lakeside town of Capernaum.

As He walked by the Sea of Galilee, He called His first disciples – Peter and Andrew, and James and John – and all four of them were fishermen.

And that sounds like a joke already. Just what kind of strategy was that? If the mission was going to be anything serious and successful, then Jesus would need professionals and not amateurs. 

More so when it was about the proclamation of Good News of the Kingdom and curing all kinds of diseases and sickness among the people. He would need the media and communications people, as well as doctors and health care specialists on board.

But fishermen? Is there something that we have missed?

The gospel quoted a prophecy that was taken from the 1st reading: The people that lived in darkness has seen a great light; on those who dwell in the land and shadow of death, a light has dawned.
Yes, it was a great light, so great that it didn’t look normal; it looked strange and absurd. But for those that it beckoned and called, the light shines and reveals.

So it was for Peter and Andrew, for James and John, and for all those who follow the light that shines in a strange and absurd world.

One of those who followed the light was Vietnamese Cardinal Francois-Xavier Nguyen van Thuan (1928-2002)
detained by the Communist Government of Vietnam in 1975 in a reeducation camp for 13 years, 9 of them in solitary confinement.

To his non-Catholic fellow prisoners, who were curious to know how he could maintain his hope, he answered: "I have left everything to follow Jesus, because I love the defects (or absurdities) of Jesus."

Nguyen van Thuan said: "During his agony on the cross, when the thief asked him to remember him when he arrived in his Kingdom … had it been me, I would have replied: 'I will not forget you, but you must expiate your crimes in purgatory.' However, Jesus replied: 'Today you shall be with me in paradise.' He had forgotten that man's sins. Jesus does not have a memory, He does not remember sins, He just forgives everyone."

"Jesus does not know mathematics. This is demonstrated in the parable of the good shepherd. He had 100 sheep, one is lost and without hesitating he went to look for it, leaving the other 99 in the sheepfold. For Jesus, one is as valuable as 99, or even more so."

Jesus doesn’t know logic. Van Thuan’s evidence for this “defect” is the story of the woman who loses one of her ten silver pieces and who, upon finding it calls all her friends to celebrate with her. The celebration must have cost more than that one silver piece, perhaps even more than ten silver pieces. This, Van Thuan suggests, is completely illogical, except to the strange logic of the heart of Jesus.

He also said that Jesus is a risk-taker, a man with a publicity campaign that to human eyes is “doomed to failure.” A promise of trials and persecutions for those who follow him. No guarantee of food or lodging, only a share of His own way of life. “Jesus is the risk-taker for the love of the Father and of humanity, is a paradox from beginning to end, even for us who have become used to hearing it.”

Finally, Jesus doesn’t understand finance or economics, as evidenced by the story of the parable of the workers in the vineyard. Van Thuan points out that if Jesus were named the administrator of a community or the director of a business, the institutions would surely fail and go bankrupt. How can anyone pay someone who began working at 5:00pm the very same wages paid to the other person who has been working since early morning? Yet Jesus does.

Archbishop Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan also recalled.
"One day, one of the prison guards asked me: 'Do you love us?'" I answered: 'Yes, I love you.'
"'We have kept you shut in for so many years and you love us? I don't believe it ...'
"I then reminded him: 'I have spent many years with you. You have seen it and know it is true.' The guard asked me: 'When you are freed, will you send your faithful to burn our homes and kill our relatives?' 
'No, although you might want to kill me, I love you.' "Why?' the guard insisted. "Because Jesus has taught me to love everyone, even my enemies. If I don't do this, I am not worthy to bear the name Christian. Jesus said: 'Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.'
'This is very beautiful, but very hard to understand,' the guard replied.

Indeed Jesus is hard to understand. To some, He is strange and absurd. To others, He is a light that is too bright to look at.

To us, He calls and beckons us to follow Him and His light will guide us through this strange and absurd world. 

We may look like “crack-pots” to follow Jesus. But only when there is crack that the light can shine in.

Friday, January 20, 2017

2nd Week, Ordinary Time, Saturday, 21-01-17

Hebrews 9:2-3, 11-14 / Mark 3:20-21

If you have children of your own, then let us speculate on this scenario.

Let's say that one of your children tells you that he or she wants to go to some under-developed country to do missionary work and to help the people improve their lives and to share with them the love of Jesus.

What will be our reaction? Whatever our reactions might be, they are certainly more than mixed.

We might be asking questions like: Why can't you do something more normal like most people? What is there to gain from it? How does it help your future? What would people think?

Maybe that was why the relatives of Jesus were worried about Him and thought that He was not thinking right.

He had already done certain things that they were not prepared for and didn't know how to handle.

He threw away the security of a job and a home to become an itinerary preacher.

He hung up His safety when He took on the scribes and Pharisees. (You can't get away with that and in fact, He didn't.)

He didn't bother about what would people say regarding His company of friends.

Following Jesus involves taking risks. We may have to throw away our superficial security, hang up our flimsy safety precautions and turn a deaf ear to the criticisms and discouragement around us.

But when others think that we are out of our minds, or maybe when we wonder if we ourselves are out of our minds, then Jesus will come and take charge of us.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

2nd Week, Ordinary Time, Friday, 19-01-17

Hebrews 8:6-13 / Mark 3:13-19

To be able to put something into a container, there are two obvious requirements - the container must not be full, and there must be at least some space to put that something in.

Similarly, to write something on a piece of paper, there must be a space in the paper to write, and also that the paper cannot have too amny things written on it such that a new addition becomes lost in that overwhelming content.

If that is the case, the same could be said of the mind and heart. To put something into the mind, it must be clear enough to receive it. And for the heart to accept something, it must be open to it.

In the 1st reading, the Lord said that He will make a new covenant with the House of Israel. He will put His laws into their minds and write them in their hearts.

And that covenant is this - The Lord declared that He will be their God and they shall be His people.

That covenant is renewed everyday with us especially in the Eucharist. But we have to clear our minds in order to understand what the Lord wants of us and to cleanse our hearts in order to receive the love that He wants to fill us with.

And just as Jesus called the twelve, Jesus is also calling us to offer to Him our minds and hearts.

May our minds not be distracted, and may our hearts be pure, so that our faith in God will be strengthened and that others will see us as the people of God.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

2nd Week, Ordinary Time, Thursday, 19-01-17

Hebrews 7:25 - 8:6 / Mark 3:7-12

We often call what we see around the "the reality".

We call it "reality" because we can see it, we can touch it, we can hear it, we can smell it and maybe even taste it.

So when a person talks about things that are beyond the empirical and the sensory, things that we can't comprehend or don't understand, we would feel like it is out of this world.

Yet the letter to the Hebrews talks about a reality beyond our grasp, a reality beyond our senses.

It talks about an eternity that is beyond our grasp.

It talks about an eternal high priest, an eternal sanctuary, an eternal sacrifice.

It calls all that the reality. And it makes sense.

Because if eternity is within our grasp, if heaven is within our reach, then there is no need for Jesus.

But in Jesus is our eternal mediator who reconciles us with God.

Because Jesus is the Son of God and our Saviour.

When we can truly understand that, then we will understand what reality is.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

2nd Week, Ordinary Time, Wednesday, 18-01-17

Hebrews 7:1-2, 15-17 / Mark 3:1-6

One of the figures of the Old Testament that is shrouded with mystery is Melchizedek, who was mentioned in the 1st reading.

Melchizedek  is mentioned in two instances in the Old Testament - Genesis 14:18-20 and Psalm 110:4, but his origin still remains a mystery.

His name means "righteousness is my king" and he was king of Salem, which means that he was the king of peace.

He was described as the priest of the most high God and Abraham offered him tithes.

In Jesus was the fullness of righteousness and peace, and He is also our high priest.

Just as Melchizedek offered Abraham bread and wine, Jesus offers us Himself as our bread of life.

Just as Melchizedek symbolized righteousness and peace, Jesus gives us the faith to do good and to give life to others.

May our Eucharistic worship be expressed in our lives and may we be symbols of righteousness and peace to others.

Monday, January 16, 2017

2nd Week, Ordinary Time, Tuesday, 17-01-17

Hebrews 6:10-20 / Mark 2:23-28

Most religions have one main objective or one main goal.

That objective or goal can be stated in various ways, according to the precepts of whichever religion.

Simply stated, that objective or goal is salvation, or whatever similar word.

Christianity also has that some objective and goal.

And the beauty of Christianity is that it is God who offers salvation to mankind.

And God became man in the person of Jesus Christ to show us how far He would go just to offer us salvation.

In Jesus is our high priest who offered Himself as the sacrifice for our sins in order to save us.

So it is important to know the teachings of Jesus and what the Church tells us to do and not to do.

Yet, it is even more important to know who the Saviour is.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

2nd Week, Ordinary Time, Monday, 16-01-17

Hebrews 5:1-10 / Mark 2:18-22

To have freedom is what we as humans really cherish.

In order to be free, people are prepared to fight and even die for it.

Yet to have absolute freedom is probably just a notion and exists only in the imagination.

Because true freedom lies in obedience, which may seem to be a contradiction of terms.

Jesus is divine and hence, He had the absolute freedom to do whatever He wants.

But when He was on earth, He submitted Himself humbly in obedience to His Father.

It was an obedience that even entailed tears and suffering.

Yet, it is in obedience that Jesus showed what true freedom is all about.

Because true freedom is found in doing the Father's will.

Whatever ideas of freedom we might have, let us look at Jesus our Master who taught us that obedience brings about true freedom.

That might not correspond to our ideas or thinking.

But when we obey and follow what Jesus is teaching us, then we are like new wine in fresh skins.