Jakarta, 23 July 2017
A Christian Pilgrim
LET BOTH GROW TOGETHER UNTIL THE HARVEST
(A biblical reflection on THE 16th ORDINARY SUNDAY [YEAR A], 23 July 2017)
Gospel Reading: Matthew 13:24-30 (long version: Matthew 13:24-43)
First Reading: Wisdom 12:13,16-19; Psalms: Psalm 86:5-6,9-10,15-16; Second Reading: Romans 8:26-27
The Scripture Text
Another parable He put before them, saying, “The Kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the householder came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then has it weeds? He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?” But he said, ‘No; lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’” (Matthew 13:24-30 RSV)
In a fifth-grade class there were two boys by the name of Fred. One Fred, the smaller one, bothered the teacher with his undisciplined antics and his refusal to study. Because of him, she frequently questioned the wisdom of becoming a teacher.
At the first P.T.A. meeting a polite lady entered her classroom and introduced herself as Fred’s mother. Assuming that she was the mother of the other Fred, who was one of her favorite students, the teacher lavishly praised him and said that he was a fine boy and a real joy to have in class.
The following morning, little Fred came dashing into the classroom before the other students and threw his arms around his teacher. “Thank you,” he half sobbed, “for telling my mother I was one of your favorite students and a joy to have in class.” Shocked by his words but remaining prudently silent, the teacher realized the mistaken identity. “I haven’t been good – but I will be.” She softly patted his down-cast head and turned away in tears. She never revealed that she had thought the nice lady was the mother of the other Fred. Little Fred was changed from that moment. He did become one of her favorite students and a joy to have in class.
The story of the two Freds in a way illustrates the parable of the Weeds and the Wheat in today’s Gospel. In real life, weeds don’t become wheat but ugliness can be changed into beauty. We are naturally proud of the “wheat” people and often irritated with the “weed” people. Like the servants in the story, we might want to pull up the weeds and throw them out. Many good citizens might have grown up to become criminals, had not someone convinced them that they could do better and had encouraged them to try.
Not only children but all people need the affirmation and encouragement of others. The good and the bad are never isolated but live side by side through the years. No one becomes a saint or sinner in an instant. The seed grows slowly, but God is patient.
Every small deed of kindness is like the mustard seed in the Gospel which can lead to great and glorious results, multiplying itself thousands of times. Many giant organizations are the lengthened results of one little idea. Many lifelong friendships have started with one tiny smile. On the other hand, bitter fights and even wars have begun from small misunderstandings the size of a mustard seed.
If we could eliminate the tiny hurts, the giant troubles would not have to be solved. They would not exist. Little seeds of kindness and love, carefully planted by each of us, can make this world a paradise where we could peacefully live and grow together.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, forgive me for having written some people off as beyond help. Knowing Your love and patience toward me, I am compelled to pray that every “hopeless case” will make it into Your Kingdom. I pray for an abundant harvest of the finest wheat. Amen.
Jakarta, 21 July 2017
A Christian Pilgrim
A BEAUTIFUL PARABLE OF JESUS IN THE FIELD OF FARMING
(A biblical reflection on the 15th Ordinary Sunday [Year A] – 16 July 2017)
Gospel Reading: Matthew 13:1-9 (longer version: Matthew 13:1-23)
First Reading: Isaiah 55:10-11; Psalms: Psalm 65:10-14, Second Reading: Romans 8:18-23
The Scripture Text
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. And great crowds gathered about Him, so that He got into a boat and sat there; and the whole crowd stood on the beach. And He told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they had not much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched; and since they had no root they withered away. Other seeds fell upon thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.” (Matthew 13:1-9 RSV)
Methods of farming in Jesus’ day were very different from the methods modern farmers use. Today’s farmer plows the field before scattering the seed, but in biblical times farmers reversed the process. The first-century farmer scattered the seed on the ground first and then turned over the soil. We must keep this in mind when reading today’s Gospel.
Because the seed rested on top of the ground for a while before the farmer plowed the soil, the wind sometimes blew it to an area the farmer did not intend it to be. This explains how some of the seed landed on the foot path and how some of it ended up on the rocky ground or among the thorns.
In the analogy in today’s Gospel, the seed represents the word of God and the different places where the seed landed represent different kinds of people and their response to the Gospel message. The rocky soil stands for the person who hears God’s word but does not allow it to take root. Letting the seed take root means letting the Gospel message make a difference in a person’s life. It means living out one’s commitment to Jesus by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and visiting the sick or lonely.
Some of the seed landed among thorns which represent worldly cares like fame, power, and money. When these become the center of a person’s life, there isn’t much time or energy left for prayer and spiritual matters.
Some seed landed on the footpath. This symbolizes the person who hears God’s word but doesn’t take time to study Scripture and, therefore, doesn’t understand it. As a result, the Gospel message cannot make much of a difference in this person’s life.
Finally some of the seed fell on good soil where it produced a yield of thirty, sixty, or a hundred-fold. The good soil represents people who are spiritually fruitful because they not only hear God’s word but also understand it and live it. Since a farmer in Jesus’ day would have been extremely proud of such a large harvest, we can assume Jesus is proud of us when His word takes root and grows in our lives.
Prayer: Holy Spirit, God, open my heart to the power of God’s word in the Scripture. Help me to learn God’s ways. Make me into good soil that receives the seed of Your precious word and bears in me the fruit of your love.
Jakarta, 13 July 2017
A Christian Pilgrim
I AM THE DOOR OF THE SHEEP
(A biblical reflection on THE FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER (Year A], 7 May 2017)
Gospel Reading: John 10:1-10
First Reading: Acts 2:14a,36-41; Psalms: Psalm 23:1-6; Second Reading: 1 Peter 2:20b-25
The Scripture Text
“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber; but he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens; the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of the strangers.” This figure Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what He was saying to them.
So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before Me are thieves and robbers; but the sheep did not heed them. I am the door, if any one enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:1-10 RSV)
Jesus was a successful preacher because He always talked about topics familiar to people in His audience. Knowing that the most common occupations in His time were fishing, farming, and herding, Jesus told parables about casting nets into the sea, sowing seeds, and taking care of sheep or goats. When Jesus spoke about these subjects, He was sure many of the people listening would relate to what He said.
Today’s Gospel reading contains a parable of interest to herders, a parable in which Jesus compares Himself to a shepherd who has a very close relationship to his flock. The shepherd leads is sheep to green pastures and cool water and he protects them from wild beasts that may attack them. The sheep depend so much on the shepherd that when one of them is lost, it lies motionless and frightened on the ground until the shepherd finds it. Because a shepherd gives names to each of his sheep, he knows exactly which one is missing and begins calling out its name.
Sometimes, several shepherds brought their flocks to the same pasture and let them graze together so they could take turns watching the combined flocks. When it was time to return home, each shepherd called his sheep and they came running to him because they recognize his voice. They would not respond to the voice of a shepherd they did not know.
We are like sheep and Jesus is our shepherd. Just as the shepherd has a very close relationship with each of his sheep, Jesus wants to have a very close relationship with each of us. Just as the shepherd protects the sheep and provides for their needs, Jesus protect us and provides for all our needs. Without Jesus we could not survive.
Prayer: The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. In verdant pastures He gives me repose. Beside restful waters He leads me; He refreshes my soul. He guides me in right paths for His name’s sake. Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for You are at my side. With Your rod and Your staff that give me courage. You spread the table before me in the sight of my foes; You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Only goodness and kindness follow me all the days of my life. And I shall dwell in the house of the LORD for years to come (Psalm 23 NAB). Amen.
Jakarta, 6 May 2017
A Christian Pilgrim
Gospel Reading: Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to Him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come, when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and they will fast in that day. No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; if he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; if he does, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but new wine is for fresh skins. (Mark 2:18-22 RSV)
Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, I want to receive Your new wine. Come and fill me to overflowing, dear Lord, and let me taste and see Your goodness. Amen.
Jakarta, 16 January 2017
A Christian Pilgrim
GOD, BE MERCIFUL TO ME A SINNER!
(Biblical reflection on the 30th Ordinary Sunday [Year C] – 23 October 2016)
Gospel Reading: Luke 18:9-14
First Reading: Sirach 35:12-14,16-18; Psalms: Psalm 34:2-3,17-19,23; Second Reading: 2 Timothy 4:6-8,16-18
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank Thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breath, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14 RSV)
Jesus meant this parable, says Luke, for those “who trusted in themselves”, those who thought they were “just, and despised others”. An how many of us can say “He didn’t mean me?”
The Pharisee goes to the temple at the hour of prayer. Perhaps he even went twice a day to pray. Nine o’clock in the morning and 3 o’clock in the afternoon were the traditional hours of prayer. He was not an outright liar: he did give ten per cent of his income to the temple, he did fast twice a week, and it was a very strict fast on Mondays and Thursdays, no food and even no water.
With all his fasting and prayer, why doesn’t the Pharisee deserve the Lord’s praise? Because he despises his neighbor. He is so important in his own eyes that he rejects the thought that anyone not of his clique might also be pleasing to God. In the parable’s “prayer” of Pharisee, Jesus has captured the man’s spirit: “God needs me because of my excellent observance of the law, but who needs these sinners, these thieves, cheaters, adulterers, this scum of society?” He has broken the greatest law of all. He has entirely misread his Bible, ignoring God’s real message of love.
Far back, behind the proud Pharisee, stands a sinner, an outcast, a “lawbreaker”. But this man knows who needs whom. He is not proud of his accomplishments. His head is bowed in shame. But he knows where to turn for justice and mercy and forgiveness. “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”
This man is acceptable to God, says Jesus, because he knows the truth about himself and he faces it with a sincere heart. He also knows God well – the God of love and mercy who forgives honest sinners, sinners who know themselves. He knows, “I need God, I need Him totally to cleanse my life, and I trust in Him.”
Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living and loving God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Lord, I need You. I see my sin and want to be done with it forever. Cleanse me, Lord, that I might do Your will. I love You. Amen.
Jakarta, 21 October 2016
A Christian Pilgrim