Jakarta, 17 June 2018
A Christian Pilgrim
THE KINGDOM OF GOD
(A biblical refection on THE ELEVENTH ORDINARY SUNDAY [Year B] – June 17, 2018)
Gospel Reading: Mark 4:26-34
First Reading: Ezekiel 17:22-24; Psalms: Psalm 92:2-3,13-16; Second Reading: 2Corinthians 5:6-10
The Scripture Text
And He said, “The Kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed upon the ground, and should sleep and rise night and day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he knows not how. The earth produces of itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.’’
And He said, “With what can we compare the Kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
With many such parables He spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to His own disciples He explained everything. (Mark 4:26-34 RSV)
People are naturally reluctant to change their minds about traditional beliefs and the Jewish people in Jesus’ day were no different from anyone else. They, too, were set in their ways and were reluctant to abandon their long held conviction, especially religious doctrine pertaining to the Messiah.
Some Jewish people in first-century Palestine believed the Messiah would conquer the world and, through Him, God would then restore the world to what it was like before man and woman sinned. This is what the Jews called the reign or Kingdom of God.
Some Jews believed the reign of God would come quickly once the Messiah appeared and that it would be only for Jewish people. Jesus challenges these ideas with the parables in today’s Gospel.
Jesus compares the reign of God to a seed and in the first parable, He stresses how slowly a seed grows. First there’s the blade, then the ear, and finally the ripe wheat in the ear. Just as this process takes time and doesn’t occur overnight, the reign of God will also take time and will not happen all at once.
In the second parable, Jesus says that the reign of God is like a mustard seed that grows into a huge plant in which the birds of the air builds their nests. Notice that Jesus does not say the birds were only sparrows, or only robins, or only blue jays. Just as all birds build their nests in the tree, the reign of God will be for all people, not only for the Jews.
Knowing the people in His audience were likely to cling stubbornly to their cherished belief, Jesus usually chose not to come right out and tell them they were wrong. That method wouldn’t succeed. Instead, Jesus used parables because He knew people were more likely to remember them and share them with family and friends, discussing the meaning of each parable as they did so. In this way Jesus got them to re-examine their traditional beliefs and challenged them to think in a new direction without threatening them.
Each time we pray the “Our Father”, we pray for God’s Kingdom to come. We pray for the day when God will conquer the devil and restore the world to what it was like before man and woman sinned. In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us to be patient. He will defeat the devil, but it will take time.
Source: Jerome J. Sabatowich, Cycling Through the Gospels – Gospel Commentaries for Cycles A, B, and C, pages 178-179.)
Short Prayer: Lord Jesus, we understand that Christian hope implies uncertainty and requires patience. You prophet Ezekiel told his people this when he referred to a Hebrew Kingdom of God to come. Saint Mark told his readers the same lesson. God’s word is like a seed in us. Through You, Lord Jesus, our heavenly Father scattered it on the ground. We sincerely want this seed to bear bountiful fruit in the Church today. Thank You, Lord Jesus. Amen.
Jakarta, 13 June 2018 [Feast of St. Anthony of Padua, Priest & Doctor of the Church]
A Christian Pilgrim
THE GOOD SHEPHERD
(A biblical refection on THE FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER [Year B] – 22 April 2018)
Gospel Reading: John 10:11-18
First Reading: Acts 4:8-12; Psalms: Psalm 118:1,8-9,21-23,26,28-29; Second Reading: 1John 3:1-2
The Scripture Text
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hireling and not a shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hireling and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd; I know My own and My own know Me, as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed My voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life, that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord. I have power to take it again; this charge I have received from My Father. (John 10:11-18 RSV)
Those of us who grew up in a city and have never seen a sheep and even less a shepherd may have a hard time to understand the richness of the picture of sheep and shepherd, shown to us in the Bible. There is but one way of understanding: to learn the facts of shepherd life and at the same time the spiritual meaning for us from Scripture.
Sheep herding was one of the three main occupations in Jesus’ time because sheep provided so many useful items, including milk, meat, hides (for making clothing and tent coverings), and wool. Ancient people even used the horns as musical instruments and as containers for oil.
Sheep were totally dependent on the shepherd and a very close relationship developed between them and him. The shepherd even gave each of the sheep a name and they responded when he called because they recognized his voice. Since sheep often wandered from the flock, the shepherd had to count his sheep several times a day and, if he discovered one missing, he left the rest of the sheep with another shepherd and went to look for the stray. The shepherd also took care of pregnant ewes that went into labor and nursed sick sheep back to health.
Shepherding not only lacked glamour, but it also didn’t pay very well. Many people often stereotyped shepherds as thieves because, they reasoned, the shepherds had to steal in order to survive on their pay. The shepherd’s working conditions were also terrible because when the sheep were grazing far away from home the shepherd had to sleep out in the open, fully exposed to the elements of nature.
A shepherd’s job was also dangerous because he had to be constantly on the lookout for wild animals and thieves who threatened the flock. The shepherd defended his sheep and was even willing to give his life for them if that became necessary.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus calls Himself the Good Shepherd and He says we are His sheep (John 10:11,14). Like a shepherd, Jesus leads us and protects us, giving extra attention to the week and to those who have special needs. When Jesus notices one of His sheep has strayed, He searches until He finds it and returns home rejoicing with the errant sheep on His shoulders. Like a good shepherd, Jesus even gave His life in defense of His flock (John 10:15).
Perhaps what is even more important is the loving relationship between the shepherd and his sheep. Nothing else could possibly explain the shepherd’s willingness to expose himself to such harsh conditions and extreme danger. Being our Good Shepherd, Jesus wants to have that same kind of close and loving relationship with each of us.
Prayer: God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, though Your people walk in the valley of darkness, no evil should they fear; for they follow in faith the call of the Shepherd whom You have sent for their hope and strength. Attune our minds to the sound of His voice, lead our steps in the path He has shown, that we may know the strength of His outstretched arm and enjoy the light of Your presence for ever. Amen.
Jakarta, 19 April 2018
A Christian Pilgrim
Today’s Gospel Reading: Luke 18:9-14 -THIRD WEEK OF LENT: Saturday, 10 March 2018
Neither of the two men in the parable were evil. The Pharisee kept the law he was instructed to observe. The exact fulfillment of the regulations blinded him to the need we all have of God and further growth in the Lord. He saw no further distance he had yet to travel. He was complete, finished, fulfilled. He had reached the end of his spiritual trail. The publican, or tax agent may or may not have kept all the legal prescriptions. His profession was one that made him personally hated and ritually unclean. He realized his need of God. The Lord points to him as the one who left the Temple that day enriched spiritually and closer to the Kingdom of God.
Lent is less a time for us to focus on all the evil of which we have been capable and perhaps guilty than it is a time for us to search out ways we can improve and draw ourselves more closely to the Lord. It is a time not only for avoidance of sin but for entering into a deeper and more fulfilling spiritual life.
We seldom grow spiritually by only looking backward. We should look forward to what we can be in the Lord more than to what might have been.
Jakarta, 10 March 2018
A Christian Pilgrim
Today’s Gospel Reading: Luke 15:1-3,11-32 – SECOND WEEK OF LENT: Saturday, 3 March 2018
In one of the most moving parables of Luke’s Gospel, we are given a story of human sin, divine forgiveness and restoration and human resentment. The spendthrift son is welcomed back gladly and fully. The father runs out to greet him and to restore him to the place he deserves without recrimination or revenge. The elder son resents the benign treatment the younger son receives and the seeming obliviousness of the father to the enormity of the spendthrift’s sins.
On one level, this is a parable of the Gentiles and tax collectors welcomed by Christ into the circle of God’s love in a way resented by official Judaism. On a more personal level, we can place ourselves into the place of any of the parable’s characters. At times, we have been the wasteful son. We also have been the forgiving father who overlooks many wrongs. We also play the part of the elder son resentful of the ease with which some people are forgiven without seeming to suffer any hardship for their sins. These three figures capture important moments of salvation history. We have all played each of these roles.
The Lord uses this parable to teach us that forgiveness, and not revenge, is alone capable of making people whole again. Forgiveness heals.
Jakarta, 3 March 2018
A Christian Pilgrim
Today’s Gospel Reading: Matthew 21:33-43,45-46 – SECOND WEEK OF LENT: Friday, 2 March 2018
This carefully constructed parable fits the facts of biblical history. In Jesus’ time absentee landlords were common. They rented their land to tenants who repaid them in crops rather than cash. When harvest time came, the landlord sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his share of the crops. Hostility between tenants and landlords frequently ran high.
The vineyard in the parable stands for the people of Israel. The vineyard owner stands for God.
The tenants are the leaders of Israel. The slaves are the prophets. The owner’s son is Jesus. The new tenants are the apostles of Jesus.
The parable reveals 3 (three) important points.
First, it reveals God’s patience. God gave the tenant farmers three chances, even in the face of violence.
Second, it reveals Jesus’ uniqueness. Jesus is not just another prophet, like the other prophets (slaves). He represents something totally new . He is the owner’s (God’s) own Son.
Third, it reveals our accountability. It shows that sooner or later we will be held accountable to God for our actions, just as the tenant farmers (religious leaders) were held accountable for their actions.
In what ways had God exercised great patience with us, just as He did with the tenant farmers?
Jakarta, 2 March 2018
A Christian Pilgrim
Today’s Gospel Reading: Luke 16:19-31 – SECOND WEEK OF LENT: Thursday, 1 March 2018
The Lord’s parable of the rich man and the poor Lazarus makes the point that wealth and poverty is not an automatic index of spiritual strength or emptiness. The point is that financial success does not imply spiritual success. Academic achievement does not imply spiritual insight. The accumulation of property does not imply that a person has developed powerful inner resources. The rich man is condemned not because he was rich but because his wealth had made him indifferent to the plight of others.
Lent is a time to become realistic about our our relationship with the Lord. Otherwise, when the things on which we rely fail and are taken from our life, we will discover too late that we have nothing deeper upon which to rely. We will have fooled ourselves. Lent is a time to make an experiment and put aside a number of ordinary diversions in our life to explore where we stand with the Lord.
What are we doing to help the needy in our midst? How sensitive are we to the pain that many people are suffering in the world? What are we doing about it?
Jakarta, 1 March 2018
A Christian Pilgrim