Saturday, January 20, 2018

3rd Ordinary Sunday, Year B, 21.01.2018

Jonah 3:1-5, 10 / 1 Cor 7:29-31 / Mark 1:14-20

As we sit down to listen to the homily, some of us may habitually or instinctively glance at our watches. It is not that we want to time the homily to see how long it is going to take. (Anyway I have already timed it – it’s going to take about 7 minutes)

Since most of us wear a watch or have some kind of timepiece, it only goes to show how important time is to us.

More than just wanting to know the time of the day, we also want to know how much time we have for the next appointment, whether we will be on time or not, and just how much time we have for the things that we have planned.

But we also understand time in a much broader sense. There is the “first time” that marks a new experience or a new encounter. 
There is the “next time” where we will be more prepared from what we have learnt before. There is the “last time” which can mean how we have always done things in the past, or when we want to put an end to something.

And of course there is the famous “no time” to mean how busy we are. But actually it is just another way of saying that it’s not our priority so we have no time for it. Or that we just don’t want to do it, so we say we have no time.

If we noticed in the 1st reading, it begins with “The word of the Lord was addressed a second time to Jonah”. So it was the second time that God called Jonah. So what happened at the first time?

Putting it simply, at the first time, Jonah had no time because he didn’t want to do what God wanted of him, because it was not to his liking.

God told him to go east to Nineveh, and he went west to go sailing. God told him to preach, but he went to the beach. In other words, God said “go” but he said “no”.

We might have heard of the story of Jonah, how he sailed off to escape from God, but a storm blew up and he had to be thrown overboard to quell the storm, and got swallowed up by a big fish, often-known-as, a whale.

But even the big fish can’t stand him because after three days in its belly, it threw him up on the shore. It was probably the first time and the last time that Jonah would want to be in the belly of a big fish.

But those three days in the belly of the big fish has a spiritual meaning. Because it was a time for Jonah to think about things. The point of all this is that Jonah was taken into the depths so that he could rise again. It was as if that for Jonah to move onwards, he must pass inwards.

Something in Jonah must give in before he can give up. Enlightenment can only come about after an experience of purification. And Jonah’s experience indeed has a lesson for us.

Like Jonah, we may not have paid attention at the first time; we may not have responded to God’s direction for us. But God still calls out to us the second time, or even the next time.

But the 2nd reading also tells us that our time is growing short, and that our time in this world is passing on, slowly but surely.

And Jesus, in the gospel, would announce it even more urgently: The time has come, and the kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent and believe in the Good News.

In whatever time of our life that we are in, there is an appointed time when God calls out to us and waits for our response.

When the appointed time came for Jonah, he had to respond. When the appointed time came for Simon and Andrew, for James and John, they too responded and did what God wanted of them.

They left their nets and their boats and followed Jesus, and they can only trust Him that He knows the plans He has for them, plans for their good and not for disaster, plans to give them hope and a future. (cf Jeremiah 29:11)

Doing what they did would certainly leave us feeling insecure. And at times we might feel that we are like being swallowed up by a big fish and left tumbling and swirling around in the darkness of the belly of the world.

Here is where a reflection of time can be helpful and it is put in just four words – First, Next, Then, Last.

First: God brought me to this. The will of God will never take me to where the grace of God will not protect me. In that I will be at peace.

Next: God will keep me in His love to behave as His child in this trial. God will never give us more than we can take. He will let us bend, but He will never let us break.

Then: He will turn the trial into a blessing and will teach me lessons that He wants me to learn. God doesn’t just want us to go through it; He wants us to grow through it.

Last: In God’s good time, He will bring me out and let me rise and shine. Then we realize that in order for the light to shine brightly, the darkness must be present.

So just four words connected with time – First, Next, Then, Last. May we know that time after time, whether it is First, Next, Then or Last, it is all in God’s appointed time.

We end off with a short prayer to the statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus that stands at the entrance of the Church:
O Jesus, You stand there, generation after generation
Receiving our prayer and petition
Stretching out Your hands in love and mercy
Touching ours that are so unworthy
Healing our sins and sorrow
Giving us hope for tomorrow. Amen. 

Friday, January 19, 2018

2nd Week, Ordinary Time, Saturday, 20-01-18

2 Sam 1:1-4, 11-12, 17, 19, 23-27 / Mark 3:20-21

We are called Christians. There are many words that can be used to describe who we are and what we do as Christians.

For e.g. we are to be loving and forgiving, generous and kind, merciful and compassionate, etc.

One simple expression could be to say that we are "big-hearted" people.

Big-hearted people also express love in a big-hearted way.

We not only love our friends and those who are good to us.

We also must rise above our selfishness that tends to make us hate those who hate us and to ignore those who ignore us.

In the 1st reading we could see how David showed he was such a big-hearted person.

He forgave Saul who had persecuted him for so many years.

Not only did he lamented in grief over the death of Saul, he also remembered Saul's good qualities and he also remembered the goodness and love that Johnathan had for him.

Jesus Himself preached and showed the bigness and greatness of love.

But such bigness and greatness of love is not easily understood and accepted by others because they may have become numbed to the selfishness and evil they see so often around them.

Even the relatives of Jesus thought He was out of His mind.

But what is foolishness and madness for the world is indeed the bigness and the greatness of love.

That bigness and greatness is shown on the cross. It is in the cross we encounter the unfathomable bigness and greatness of God's love.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

2nd Week, Ordinary Time, Friday, 19-01-18

1 Sam 24:3-21 / Mark 3:13-19

To cut a loaf of bread into slices, all that is needed is a sharp knife that is just long enough.

We don't need a surgical knife for that, nor would we use a chain-saw. It would be ridiculous to do that - one is a wrong knife and the other would be an overkill.

But when the mind is distorted with crazy reasoning, then the result would be actions that are wrong or useless.

So for king Saul to pick 3000 elite troops just to hunt down David and his rag-tag rebel group was really an overkill.

But with his mind distorted and obsessed with killing David, king Saul just couldn't see how ridiculous and crazy his actions were.

But for David and his few good men, they did what is right and just - they did not raise their hand against the Lord's anointed, although they could have done so.

In the gospel, Jesus appointed the Twelve, and they were to be His companions and to be sent out to preach, with power to cast out devils.

All Jesus needed was twelve men who were willing to do as they were told.

All Jesus needs is for us to be willing to do as He tells us. And when we do as Jesus tells us, then our minds won't be distorted with crazy reasoning, and we will only want to do what is right and just.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

2nd Week, Ordinary Time, Thursday, 18-01-18

1 Sam 18:6-9; 19:1-7 / Mark 3:7-12

To be happy for another person's achievements would certainly mean that we have a big and humble heart.

But it is not that easy to cheer and rejoice with someone for what they have achieved.

Not only have we to keep our envy and jealousy under control, if that person is our junior or subordinate, and yet that person performs better than us, then that can be really challenging.

We might just give in to making snide remarks to even more malicious actions like sabotage just to discredit that person or putting him down, even though it won't benefit us at all.

That was the situation with king Saul and what he thought of David, and jealousy turned into a desire to kill David.

Certainly, envy and jealousy are hungry evil twins that eat up our hearts and turn us into destroyers and killers. Such was the case with king Saul.

That makes us reflect on the times when we have been envious and jealous of others for their success and achievements.

When we are aware that we have such feelings, then we must realise that it is an evil thing within that is destroying us and also making us destroy others.

And Jesus will help us to control those evil feelings. In the gospel, the unclean spirits, whenever they saw Jesus, would fall down and be tormented.

When we are aware of the feelings of envy and jealousy gripping our hearts, let us turn to Jesus and let Him cast them out.

Let us ask Jesus to make our hearts clean so that we can rejoice with the success of others and be happy for those who have made achievements.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

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

1 Sam 17:32-33, 37, 40-51 / Mark 3:1-6

Does size really matter? On the one hand, of course size matters. Who wants a small cup of coffee? Yes, in those kind of things, size matters.

On the other hand, if size really mattered, then the elephant would be the king of the jungle, not the lion.

In the 1st reading, we hear of Goliath, the champion of the Philistines, a huge man, much bigger and taller than the ordinary man, maybe about 9 feet tall. 

Regardless of his precise height, he was a formidable opponent. He was not only tall, he was also strong. His bronze armour alone weighed 125 pounds (1 Samuel 17:5), and he carried a giant-sized spear (verse 7).

But with a sling and a stone, David brought down the mighty Goliath. Maybe it was David's courage, maybe his skill with the sling, but it was certainly "in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel".

So as much as size matters, in the case of David and Goliath, it was the size of the heart that mattered. and, of course who was directing the heart.

In the gospel, there were no giants with spears and swords to deal with. But Jesus had to deal with something more malicious - there were people watching Him to see if He would cure on the sabbath.

Jesus didn't give in to their small minds and small hearts, because their small minds and small hearts just have no space for the greatness and the goodness of Jesus.

So let us look into our hearts to see if our hearts can be opened to the greatness and goodness of God.

Let us keep our hearts big for God and for others. And when small minds and small hearts confront us, let us call up the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of heaven, so that we can bear witness to how great and good God is.

Monday, January 15, 2018

2nd Week, Ordinary Time, Tuesday, 16-01-18

1 Sam 16:1:13 / Mark 2:23-28

If we were to think of an example of a dilemma, then we need look no further than in the 1st reading.

The prophet Samuel was in a dilemma. A dilemma can be described as a difficult or perplexing situation or problem.

He was told by God to anoint someone that He had chosen to be king. Yet Samuel was well aware that he was under the watchful eyes of king Saul.

Though he was faced with such a dilemma, God was the one who showed him the way out of that situation.

The solution is none other than that of a religious one - to offer sacrifice. Well, what other solutions would one expect from God other than a religious one.

Certainly, with God it is always a religious solution.

What we heard about in the gospel was a religious problem - the picking of corn on the Sabbath, which was something forbidden, though we are not sure where was it stated that it was forbidden.

We too have our religious problems in our day, e.g. "Is it ok to work on Sundays?"; "Can priests be involved in politics?" ; "Why can't women become priests?"

These questions may sound simple but the answers are certainly difficult.

These and such other questions indeed put us into a dilemma for answers.

But like in the case of Samuel, God is always offering us the religious solution rather than a logical rational answer.

When we turn to God to show us the way out of a dilemma, God's solution far surpasses our human logical rational thinking. Though it will certainly entail some sacrifice.

For God's ways are far above our ways, His thoughts far surpasses our thoughts.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

2nd Week, Ordinary Time, Monday, 15-01-18

1 Sam 15:16-23 / Mark 2:18-22

Nowadays the word "obedience" seems to be used only in a limited way.

It is often used on children when they are told to obey their parents, as if they had a choice.

Even in the military, obedience is not a choice, and it is propagated under threat of punishment.

As we look at the 1st reading, we may wonder why Samuel was harping on the disobedience of king Saul to the extent that he was going to be disposed of as king.

We may think that what king Saul did was rather pragmatic, and that the best sheep and oxen from the booty was sacrificed to God.

But we must remember that the battles in the Old Testament were religious wars. It was not just one nation against another, but also one god against another.

Hence, the customary battle procedure of the "ban" was a primitive religious practice in which everything captured in battle was destroyed because it was considered as religiously profane and contaminated.

So king Saul not only made a defiled and unclean offering to God, he also did not make the sacrifice from what was his own.

When this is understood, then we will realize the seriousness of the extent of the disobedience of king Saul and why he was later disposed of as king.

In the gospel, the topic of discussion seems to be fasting. But the teaching of Jesus can be summarized in the last phrase of the gospel - New wine, fresh skins.

When applied to the spiritual observances of our faith like fasting and doing penance and observing the precepts of the church, we need to ask ourselves if we know the reason and purpose of such observances.

Because if we are unclear about why we are doing what we are doing, and especially when we find it burdensome or troublesome, we will rationalize it away and we will want to be pragmatic and practical.

We may think that we are smarter and more practical than the laws and the teachings of the Church.

But pride comes before the fall. King Saul succumbed to it. May we be wise and subject ourselves in obedience to God, least we fall.