Thursday, June 23, 2016

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle C

Welcome to read homilies for the Sundays of the year. These are sample homilies which you can read with devotion. You may use them in your own homilies without asking my permission. You may also change or edit these to fit them to your audience. A unique quality of these homilies is that they are Christ-filled. From beginning to end they present to us some aspect of Jesus so that beholding his glory we “are being transformed from glory to glory into his very image” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NAB).

The Royal Vagabond

There are some statements of Jesus that he did not want us to take literally. The most noted of these is his statement that if your eye is causing you to sin then you "gouge it out and throw it away" (Matthew 5:29 NAB). Fortunately no one in history has followed this command of Jesus literally, although we have the case of the very learned priest in the third century, Origen, who, according to the historian Eusebius, castrated himself to avoid temptations related to sex.

In our Gospel reading today you heard another statement of Jesus that he did not mean literally. It is this: In reply to a man who expressed a desire to follow him wherever he would go, Jesus answered him, "Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head." (Luke 9:58). He did have a place to rest his head, either in a house as in Bethany or in a boat as in the Lake of Galilee.  
Such an expression is an example of what is termed Semitic hyperbole to emphasize a particular truth. "Semitic" means that the expression is part of the Semitic language, the language of Semites or the descendants of Sem, one of Noah's sons. The Jews belong to one of the Semitic tribes.

In English we also have such expressions that are not to be taken literally. When we say that it is raining cats and dogs, we do not mean that cats and dogs are falling from the sky. We mean that the rain is very heavy.

What Jesus meant was that he was always on the move, unlike foxes who return to their dens and birds who find shelter in their nests. Humanly speaking he had no idea where he would sleep during the night, whether it would be in a house that would welcome him or under a tree or in the open space of a desert. He was always on the go.

He was always traveling. Note what Luke the writer said in the beginning of chapter 8 of his Gospel. He said that Jesus journeyed through towns and villages preaching and proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of God. There is a preposition in the original Greek which gives us a better picture of Jesus' journey in these towns and villages. This preposition is "kata". We have this preposition as a prefix in English words like "catalog". The basic meaning of catalog is that it is a complete list. Luke wrote that Jesus went kata towns and villages, meaning town after town and village after village in a thorough manner without omitting some on the way.

This is the picture we have of Jesus. He went to town after town, village after village, until he covered all of them. Then if time permitted he repeated the process thoroughly. He did this systematically. In Luke chapter 10 we are told that Jesus sent seventy two of his disciples in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit. This meant 36 pairs and of course 36 towns and villages. This alone would take much of Jesus' time traveling to these places. Since Jesus only walked and he had to stop traveling during the Sabbath days, going to the places where his disciples went ahead could have taken a good part of the year.

No wonder he said he had nowhere to lay his head, because every night he rested in a different place.

Jesus did not stay in one place most of the time, except at the beginning of his ministry when he stayed in Capernaum, a town by the lake of Galilee and towards the end of his ministry when he slept in Bethany but during the day he would be in Jerusalem. Besides these two very brief periods he was always on the go.

And in his journeys Jesus walked. He only rode on an ass when he entered Jerusalem for the last time.

What a contrast we have here of Jesus' way of ministering and of those of our church leaders. Jesus was always on the go. Our church leaders are stationary, they have a fine place to rest their heads. Even our so called missionaries do stay in a particular place for some time, a so called mission station or mission parish. In comparison to our church leaders Jesus was a vagabond, but one with a purpose and direction.

Some time ago a picture of Jesus went around in the Internet with a message. The message said that Jesus was visiting your house. You were then encouraged to pass this picture to other users of the Internet. The lesson was that you were supposed to welcome Jesus in your home and let him stay there.

But that was only a picture of Jesus. He is now in the right hand of God managing his affairs throughout the world. He sees all of us in an instant. But he is still looking here and there for hearts that would welcome him.

The image in Revelation 3:20 has been used or over used already. But that is the truth, not only for the Christians in Laodicea where this particular letter was addressed to but for all Christians. Here are the words of Jesus: "Here I stand, knocking at the door. If anyone hears me calling and opens the door, I will enter his house and have supper with him, and he with me."

Jesus still goes around seeking a place where he can lay his head. Where this be your heart?

Let us bow down our heads to pray. Lord Jesus, you were the king who went around proclaiming your kingdom. Let your kingdom truly come in my heart. There have a place to rest your head. Amen.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle C

Welcome to read homilies for the Sundays of the year. These are sample homilies which you can read with devotion. You may use them in your own homilies without asking my permission. You may also change or edit these to fit them to your audience. A unique quality of these homilies is that they are Christ-filled. From beginning to end they present to us some aspect of Jesus so that beholding his glory we “are being transformed from glory to glory into his very image” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NAB).

The Angry Savior

If you listened carefully to our Gospel reading today you might have noticed something strange. Here is that passage which was read and may cause surprise to an observant listener. "Then he (Jesus) said to them, 'But who do you say that I am?' Peter said in reply, 'The Christ of God.' He scolded them and directed them not to tell this to anyone."

You heard it correctly, Jesus scolded his disciples after Peter told him that for them he was the Christ of God. In a parallel passage in Matthew Peter was praised after his confession that Jesus was the Christ of God. There Jesus told Peter, "Blest are you, Simon, son of Jonah!" Then Jesus declared that Peter was rock on which he would build his church.

So you ask this question? Did Jesus scold his disciples or did he praise Peter? The answer is both. He praised Peter and then he scolded his disciples. In the harmonization or combination of the Gospel passages by Johnston M. Cheney in his book entitled THE LIFE OF CHRIST IN STEREO it is shown that Peter was praised first and then the disciples were scolded.

But why were the disciples scolded? The original Greek word used here for "scolded" is "epitimeysas". This Greek word can mean to censure, rebuke, admonish. In the New American Bible Revised Edition which we use for our Gospel reading it is translated as "scolded". In the preceding edition of the New American Bible, that is, before the revision this was translated "strictly forbade them". In the Authorized Version it is translated as "straitly charged them". In the Revised Standard Version it is translated as "sternly ordered". Not one of these translations give us the first meaning of "epitimeysas" which is "honoring, praising". The root word "timein" basically means to set a value or price, to honor.

Here we have again that strange character of some Greek words which can mean two things at the same time, depending on the context. The most famous of these Greek words is "anothen" which can mean "from above" or "again". Thus Jesus said, Unless a man be born anothen he cannot see the kingdom of God (John 3:3). Some translated anothen here as "again". So unless a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God. Our New American Bible translates anothen here as "from above". Both are correct translations.

As we can now see tradition has considered this word "epitimeysas" to mean scolding, reprimanding, strictly forbidding. Jesus is portrayed here as giving strict instruction to his disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ of God, the anointed leader of God whom the Israelites had been expecting for more than 400 years.

Our Gospel reading tells us that Jesus scolded his disciples. This is one meaning of the word "epitimeysas". And we know that the meaning of "to scold" is "to find fault angrily".

Jesus had the right to be angry with those whom he told not to reveal who he really was. Before this passage in the Gospel according to Luke it is recorded that Jesus told several persons not to tell anyone what he did or who he was.

The first is in chapter 2 where he rebuked demons and did not allow them to speak that he was the Christ or Messiah. The second is in chapter 5 where he told a leper not to tell anyone about Jesus but the result was that, as Luke tells us, his reputation spread more and more. Probably the leper did not follow Jesus' instruction and so his reputation as a healer spread. Luke then adds that Jesus retired to desert places and prayed. It seemed that Jesus was forced to do this because so many people knew about him and were coming to him. The third is in chapter 8 where Jesus told the people who witnessed his raising of Jairus' daughter to life not to tell anyone what had happened. Besides these three recorded instances there might have been other occasions when Jesus told his disciples not to tell anyone what he was doing or who he was but instead they published it anyway. That is why now he was angry at people who did not follow his instruction to keep his real identity a secret.

Jesus did become angry several times. The most obvious of these was when he drove out the merchants and money changers in the temple precincts (John 2:13-17). Sometimes his anger drove him to tears. As he began to see Jerusalem from a distance he wept over it because of its unbelief (Luke 19:41).

Jesus exemplified the injunction of Paul the Apostle to be angry and sin not (Ephesians 4:26). In the book of Revelation he is portrayed as a man with a sharp, two-edged sword coming out of his mouth (1:16). This sight terrified John the writer of this book even though he had known Jesus as the most loving of all persons he ever met.

Jesus is still the same today. He is angry at what is happening to us, to his beloved church, to his faithful followers. He is angry at us who insist on sinning, on not believing in him, on keeping a pretense of a good life but deep inside are rebels against God. Time and again through his saints he has warned us of the impending danger the world is facing. But we have turned a deaf ear. The wars in the middle ages and into the modern times testify to our disobedience of his command to love one another as he has loved us. The two world wars were begun and waged by people who externally professed they were Christians.

Jesus is moved to tears at the inhumanity we experience today, women and children sold into prostitution, women raped and murdered, men thrown to live in dehumanizing environment where their labors are not given wages enough to live a dignified life.

But Jesus also gives hope. He is angry because he wants us to turn to him and live the way he wants us to live. He wants us to go to him and embrace his cross. The invitation is still there for us to listen to and obey: "Come to me, all you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will refresh you. Take my yoke upon your shoulders and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart. Your souls will find rest, for my yoke is easy and my burden light" Matthew 11:28-29).

Let us pray as we bow our heads. Lord Jesus, you are an angry God, angry at our foolishness and unbelief and disobedience. We come to you in repentance. Have mercy on us. Amen.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle C

Welcome to read homilies for the Sundays of the year. These are sample homilies which you can read with devotion. You may use them in your own homilies without asking my permission. You may also change or edit these to fit them to your audience. A unique quality of these homilies is that they are Christ-filled. From beginning to end they present to us some aspect of Jesus so that beholding his glory we “are being transformed from glory to glory into his very image” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NAB).

Prostitutes Are Safe with Him

Have you ever wondered why Jesus was close to prostitutes? He was so close to this class of women that he said they that they were entering the kingdom of God ahead of the religious leaders of Israel. In the genealogy of Jesus or list of his ancestors, the Holy Spirit through Matthew the writer points out specifically the women who acted as prostitutes: Tamar is first mentioned who acted as a prostitute before her father-in-law Judah so that she could have a son; Rahab is next, the famous prostitute in Jericho who welcomed the spies of the Israelites; next is the wife of Uriah who succumbed to the wealth, power and authority of David.

Jesus was close to prostitutes and our Gospel reading today tells us an incident when Jesus was physically close to a prostitute. In fact this prostitute washed his feet with her tears, wiped them with her hair, anointed them with ointment and kept on kissing them. All the while Jesus did not complain, he let the prostitute do what she wanted. Jesus did not feel ill at ease that a prostitute was beside him, touching him. He did not follow the injunction of Moses in Leviticus (chapter 5) not to touch an unclean person or thing.

We are not told by Luke or by the other Evangelists the name of this prostitute. Later tradition has identified her with Mary of Magdala or Mary Magdalene, but there is no solid proof that indeed she was Mary Magdalene. Most Bible scholars today say she was not Mary Magdalene. And they also say that Mary Magdalene was not necessarily a prostitute, despite having seven demons cast out of her by Jesus.

Today data from the Internet tell us that there are 42 million prostitutes around the world producing an income of 100 billion dollars, a great proportion of them children. In India according to these data 1.2 million prostitutes are children. Today some feminist advocates do not want them to be called prostitutes but sex workers. In a very true sense they are the most exploited and oppressed class of women in the world. They perform a work which they do not want deep in their heart. Studies of this trade, some say the oldest profession in the world, indicate that in general women become prostitutes for the sake of money, easy money to appear good before society or the only source they can think of to support themselves and their family.

I know of a young mother who was forced into prostitution to support her child. She only finished grade school, had a husband but this man could not produce enough income to support his wife and child. Fortunately when their financial circumstances improved she abandoned this work.

These are the women Jesus had a special affection for, the prostitutes. And today he still has this special affection for them. His church has tried various means throughout history to improve their situation. But the church leaders have not done enough to eliminate this vicious practice of selling bodies for pleasure and cash. In the late middle ages there was a movement of making these prostitutes into brides of Christ but this movement did not gain any momentum.

There was something in Jesus the prostitutes saw that attracted them to him. In him they saw a man who would never abuse them but would always respect and love them. And so they gravitated to him.

Today Jesus is still this man who respects and loves prostitutes. The problem is that these prostitutes no longer see him. And those who profess they are followers of Jesus do not introduce Jesus to them.

If Christian men only behave like Jesus they would make these prostitutes see even just a glimpse of their Master. And seeing this Master they would, like the prostitute in our gospel reading, come to Jesus, touch him and be saved by their faith in Jesus. This is what Jesus said to her, the last part in the story, Your faith has been your salvation, go in peace.

In the movie the Gospel according to Luke the movie director had the woman in this story cast a glance at the audience as she left the dining hall. The glance expressed relief and freedom from the exploitative trade she had fallen into. This is what Jesus gives us, relief and freedom from anything that exploits us. Let us pray for prostitutes all over the world.    

Let us bow our heads in prayer. Heavenly Father, we know that you care about the prostitutes all over the world. You sent your son Jesus to save them. The attempts of governments to legalize their trade or to punish them or their clients have not availed much to improve their condition. Help us to live like Jesus so that as people see Jesus in us even these prostitutes will be drawn to your son, their sins be forgiven, and they be saved completely from this sinful way of living. In his mighty name, we pray. Amen.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle C

Welcome to read homilies for the Sundays of the year. These are sample homilies which you can read with devotion. You may use them in your own homilies without asking my permission. You may also change or edit these to fit them to your audience. A unique quality of these homilies is that they are Christ-filled. From beginning to end they present to us some aspect of Jesus so that beholding his glory we “are being transformed from glory to glory into his very image” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NAB).

No Need to Ask

Every Christian knows that Jesus performed miracles. What most Christians are not aware of is that there were times when Jesus performed them on his own initiative. During these times nobody asked him a favor but he gave it anyway. The story in our Gospel reading today tells us of this instance when Jesus performed a miracle without being asked for it.

Of course, many of Jesus' miracles were requested by people, directly or indirectly. His first miracle was indirectly asked by his mother. She told Jesus that the diners in the banquet had no more wine. This was an indirect request by Mary in effect saying, "Please, provide wine." In Mark chapter 8 it is related that some people brought a blind man and they begged Jesus to touch him (22-26). This was a direct request by the people.

But there were cases when Jesus worked a miracle without being requested to do so. One such case is related in John chapter 5. As Jesus was walking by the Sheep Pool he noticed a man who had been sick for a long time, thirty eight years. He took the initiative of asking this man a question and healed him there and then.

In our Gospel reading today there was this case again of Jesus taking the initiative of working a miracle and this is no ordinary miracle. It was a very special miracle, raising a dead man to life. Ostensibly Jesus was going to the city of Nain, about 8 kilometers from Nazareth, Jesus' hometown. There was a large crowd accompanying him and his disciples. As he approached the gate of that city a dead man was being carried out for burial. Luke the writer says that Jesus was moved with pity for the dead man's mother and that he told her, Do not weep. Then he touched the bier where the dead man was laid and Jesus addressed the dead man, Young man, I tell you, arise. The dead man sat up and spoke something, indications that he had life again. Then Jesus finished this miracle by giving the risen man to his mother.

Raising the dead to life was not performed by Jesus only. Elijah did it with a widow's son (1 Kings 17). Elisha, Elijah's successor, did it with the Shunammite's son (2 Kings 4). Peter and Paul also performed such miracle, Peter in the case of Tabitha (Acts 9) and Paul in the case of Eutychus (Acts 20). It is interesting to note that in all these instances they were not requested to raise the dead. Even the other two instances of raising of the dead by Jesus were not requested of him, the raising of Jairus' daughter (Mark 5) and the more sensational raising of Lazarus back to life.

For most of us we think that death is the end of life. Scriptures tell us it is not the end. Life can  be restored even after it is taken away. In all the instances of raising the dead, compassion had a principal part to play, especially in the case of Jesus.

These resurrections of a physical  body are signs of a more important resurrection, the resurrection of the soul from death, from a life separated from God. Paul reminded the Christians, "But God is rich in mercy; because of his great love for us he brought us to life with Christ when we were dead in sin. By this favor you were saved. Both with and in Christ Jesus he raised us up and gave us a place in the heavens." (Ephesians 2:4-6)

Now some of us may say, Would that Jesus would raise some of our dear departed ones today. We do not realize that Jesus continues to raise the dead today. He is the same compassionate Jesus. During his physical lifetime he raised the dead but these persons with their lives given back to them merely continued the life that they had started, lived and left. It is as if they just paused their life by dying, then resumed life as usual after they were brought to life again. But now Jesus raises us from death in sin to a completely new life, a life with God himself. Paul says, with Christ and in Christ God raises us up and gives us a place in the heavens so that now we live a heavenly life. Because of this heavenly life in us now Paul tells us, "Since you have been raised up in company with Christ, set your heart on what pertains to higher realms where Christ is seated at God's right hand" (Colossians 3:1).

We were dead in sin. We could not take the initiative. But Jesus had compassion on us. He raised us up from death on his own initiative, just like what he did to the son of that widow in Nain. Our baptism reflects this process of Jesus raising us up from sin. We were raised to a completely new life, a heavenly life, life with God in the heavens. So great is God's mercy and compassion for us.

Let us say one of the shortest and most effective prayers in all of history as we bow down our heads.

O God, be merciful to me, a sinner. Amen.