First Sunday of Lent – Year B
First Reading (Gen 9: 8-15). God establishes an agreement (covenant) with Noah’s descendants after the flood.
Second Reading (1 Pet 3: 18-22). The waters of the flood of Noah’s time are a type of the waters of baptism by which we are saved.
Gospel (Mk 1: 12-15). Jesus spent 40 days in the desert after his baptism. He is tempted by Satan.
On this first Sunday of Lent, the Church reminds us of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness after his baptism. We are going to be tempted too during our forty days of lent. How do we resist temptation is what matters most but are to be aware of the object of temptation.
Insects and flies are lured by the scent of the sweet. Very often as they follow the scent of the sweet, they end up being imprisoned. We might think this could not happen with us human beings. The sad part is that we do allow it to happen to us. Like insects we are lured by the scent of the sweet. Many people think that temptation is caused by wrong things. When we think of temptation, we directly think of wrong things. It is not only wrong things or evil which can lead us astray. Good can also do so just as effectively. In fact, all temptation comes under the guise of good.
We can find some examples in the Gospels:
When Jesus invited a rich young man to become his disciple, the young man refused. It wasn’t evil which caused the young man to refuse. It was something which was good by its nature – wealth. When Jesus visited the house of Martha and Mary, the sisters to Lazarus, Martha was too busy to listen to Jesus. It wasn’t something bad which kept her to listen to Jesus but rather good – kitchen work – cooking – hospitality. In another story, Jesus speaks about the king who organized a banquet and invited people. On the day of the banquet, those who were invited, one said, I just bought a piece of land, I have to go see it. The other one wanted to try out some oxen he had bought. And a third one was newly married. Their reasons to stay away from the banquet were good.
What are we to deduce from all this? We have as much to fear from the good as from the bad. When we see something bad, we are likely to be repelled than attracted by it. But when we see something which is manifestly good, we are likely to be attracted by it. Hence, it poses more danger. The things that cause us to abandon our Lenten resolutions are not always bad. Let me take one example; if you take a resolution to cut on eating ice creams during lent and help the poor with the ice creams saved money, and you find yourself in the section of ice creams in the super market. A voice tells you to buy a smaller box of it rather than a big one you’re used to. Is the object of your temptation good or bad? I guess good as ice cream is not bad after all. More often, the object of our temptation is always good and that what makes it hard for us to resist temptation.
The devil does not appear as a repulsive character. He appears as an attractive and charming character or even as a friend. He will show you that he has your interest at heart just like he appeared to Jesus to give him bread and the kingdoms of the world. In order for us to resist temptation that comes under the guise of good during lent and beyond, we need wisdom and strength. Let us pray for the gifts of wisdom and strength on this first Sunday of Lent.
6th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Year B
First Reading (Lev 13: 1-2.45-46) leprosy, a disease considered to be a curse. Therefore those who suffered from it were considered unclean.
Second Reading (1 Cor 10: 31. 11:1) Saint Paul urges the people to never offend anyone but rather to do everything for the glory of God.
Gospel (Mk 1: 40-45) Jesus cures a man who suffers from leprosy.
Acceptance and Rejection: we live today in a world which uses almost on a daily basis these two words, acceptance and rejection. We are accepted by those who love us and want to see us prosper and have a good health. We are rejected by those who hate us and want to see us fail and being sick. One of the worse things that can happen to a human being is to be rejected. The feelings of rejection hurt more than any other feelings. Rejection damages one’s self-esteem. It makes a person feels useless and unworthy of life. Rejection can also lead one to become a rebel. A child who experiences rejection is likely to have a failed adulthood life. An elderly who is rejected by his or her family is likely to die sooner than expected. Many of our African elderly die earlier than expected simply because the family or the village find them being witches and therefore rejected them.
Wounds of rejection are stronger than any other physical or mental wounds. The truth is that each of us has felt to some extent the pain of rejection. There are many ways of insulating ourselves from rejection such as risking little, needing nothing, avoiding relationships and speaking little, etc. we build walls around us to avoid rejection.
The man who approached Jesus in today’s Gospel was a rejected man. As a person suffering of leprosy, he was forced against his will to live outside of the community. Nobody dared to touch him because leprosy was considered to be a disease of shame, punishment and sin against God. Hence, the painful thing of the person suffering of leprosy was not a disease per say, but rather the pain of being rejected by those who yesterday were your friends.
When today we ourselves reject people, we are indeed treating them as ‘lepers’, even though we may not be aware or conscious of this. We reject people in very small ways by the tone of our voice or even by a look. This can accumulate with serious long effects to the point that it affects our relationships.
The interesting part of today’s Gospel is not that Jesus cured a leper, but the manner in which He cured him. The man was excluded and rejected by everybody in the community. Nobody wanted to come near a leper for fear of being contaminated and being declared unclean. But Jesus defiled all this, He was moved by compassion on seeing the leper. He allowed the leper to approach him. He reached out to the leper and touched him. Jesus in fact repaired him and gave him a sense of belonging and a sense of being human again. After giving him hope that all is not lost, Jesus only then healed him.
Jesus accepted the leper as he was. Acceptance is an answer to rejection. One of the loveliest thing that can happen to a human being is the feeling/emotion of acceptance. Being accepted in the community is of great value than gold. When people accept us they give us a feeling that we are worthwhile. We all long to be accepted for what we are. We cannot be accepted for work we do or what we produce, then we are not unique, because others can do the same work perhaps even better than we can. But when we are accepted for who we are, then we become unique. This is how Jesus accepted the leper and how He still continues to accept us. And how in our turn we can learn to accept others and mostly to reach out to those who are sick, the marginalized, the elderly and those who are suffering the pain of rejection. Our mission as Christians is to rekindle hope, bring back the zest for living in someone else. We are the mirror of the infinite compassion of our God.
FOURTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR B
First Reading (Deut 18: 15-20) Moses foretells the coming of a prophet who will preach the word of God to the people.
Second Reading (1 Cor 7: 32-35) Paul urges everyone to give special and undivided attention to the Lord especially those among us who are celibate.
Gospel (Mk 1: 21-28) The prophecy of Moses is fulfilled in Jesus.
When someone speaks from the bottom of his or her heart, it is easy to see it and notice how passionate and truthful the person is. That person will have the confidence to continue speaking even when the allocated time given to him/her are lapsed. That’s what we call “speaking with authority”. Jesus spoke and taught with authority and people could see it in Him. That’s why His words could and can change people’s lives if we act on them.
Most of our African ‘freedom and independence fighters’ had the charisma and a profound rhetoric to persuade people, even their oppressors, when they stood in public to deliver a message. they did so because they were convinced of what they stood for. they experienced oppression and understood the meaning of their fight. Very often people speak from without as spectators or as acquainted with facts they collect from the third party or read on the media. It is no use to speak from without because it is less convincing. Jesus spoke from within or from experience. He had facts of what He spoke about and He lived it.
In Today’s Gospel, we read that the teaching of Jesus made a deep impression on the people because, unlike the teaching of the scribes, Jesus taught people with authority. The question we can ask ourselves is: why did Jesus make such an impact on His listeners? The answer is: it is because he spoke always from within. He knew pretty well what he had to speak, it came from his heart and he had experienced it. That is what it means speaking with authority. On the other hand, scribes and Pharisees had only influence on the people but did not have authority on them. They had influence because they held positions of power. In their speech, they liked quoting their masters and other great thinkers of their time. Whatever word came from their mouth was not fully or 100% theirs.
Here comes the notion of authority and influence. We must distinguish between these two concepts which one Jesus had and the scribes. Jesus had both authority and influence. Scribes on the other hand only had influence and power and control over the people. That’s why Jesus could easily capture his audience without struggle or intimidation because he had authority that came from his word.
Some of our political leaders have no authority and influence over the people because they do not live their word. They do not respect written word (constitution) of their countries. Whatever they speak do not come from their hearts. These kind of leaders only have power and control over the people but not authority and influence.
Every child of God, every Christian should have this kind of authority and influence Jesus had. The authority to speak from our heart, the authority to speak the truth with transparent integrity. The teaching of the scribes failed to nourish the people because it came not from them. The teaching of Jesus nourished the people because it came from him and had authority to capture the heart and mind, body and soul of the people. When the evangelist Mark says that “Jesus’ teaching made a deep impression on the people”, it means, Jesus himself was the sermon. He lived his word. Therefore there is nourishment for our lives in the word of Jesus. But it is not enough to listen to them. We have to do them – act on them.
5th Sunday in Ordinary time – Year B
“Everybody is looking for you” (Mk 1:29-39):
Being busy - restless or engaged?
The contemporary culture forces us to be busy. The more you are urbanised, the more you are likely to be busy. We keep inventing machines to save time, and yet we keep complaining all the time: there is no time! Whether our time is spent productively or not, we are simply busy. We are busy checking emails. We are busy talking on the phone. We are busy twittering. When we are not busy, actually we are busy planning how to be busy. Are you a busy person? How do you feel about your busy-ness? Do you feel restless? Or, do you feel engaged?
The gospel passage of today describes the busy schedule of Jesus as his public ministry gathers momentum. The story picks up from where we left him in the gospel text of last Sunday – it was a Sabbath and Jesus was in a synagogue where “he taught them with authority” and cured a man possessed by an unclean spirit. So here is what follows: Jesus leaves the synagogue; enters Peter’s house, cures Simon’s mother-in-law; has a meal there (implied in Mk 1:31: that she served them). Then in the evening he is busy engaging with those who were sick and those who were possessed and the whole town that came to him. This must have happened after sunset, because it was a Sabbath day. It is not clear at what time he went to bed, but he did go to bed. But “long before dawn, he got up and left the house and went off to a lonely place and prayed there.” Simon and his companions go in search of him, when they find him Jesus decides to move on to other towns. Busy? He was indeed. Restless? It doesn’t seem so!
In the first reading of today we hear the lamentations of Job. Poor guy! He is restless. It is not just the loss of his wealth, the loss of his friends and family, not even the sickness that has afflicted him, but his inner condition that really pains him. The reading of today describes his inner turmoil. Job mourns: “Lying in bed I wonder, ‘When will it be day?’ Risen I think, ‘How slowly evening comes?’ (Job 7:4). The words of Job seem to suggest that he actually has all the time in the world. The sands of time seem to run so slow. Yet, internally he is restless.
So are you a busy person? Your busy-ness in itself may not be a problem, but it is your restlessness that you will have to be careful about. That restlessness can deprive us of meaning and hope: “Swifter than a weaver’s shuttle my days have passed, and vanished, leaving no hope behind” (Job 7:6).
How can we give meaning to our busy-ness? How does Jesus handle his busy schedule – even in the gospel story of today? Jesus is busy, alright. But he does not create a picture of being restless, but engaged.
This is what Jesus is busy with. He is busy enhancing the lives of people around him. This becomes the sign of the messianic times. This is how he assures in the Kingdom of God. This is the Good News (Mk 1:14).
In some professions more than others, work itself might involve direct interaction with people. But, may be you are working in a garage eight hours a day turning nuts of cars! May be you are busy with numbers in your accounting department? May be you are on a driving wheel most of your working hours? But are there not people at the receiving end of most of these activities? Besides the ‘clients’, there is perhaps your own family and dear ones.
Why do I do what I do the whole day? One motivation could be that we want to be recognised, to be praised, and to be acclaimed. We want to become popular. But for Jesus, popularity was not on his agenda. In fact, the gospel text of today tells us that after all that he had done by way of curing people and casting out devils, “he would not allow them to speak…” (Mk 1:34). On several occasions in the Gospel of Mark Jesus tells the people he cures not to speak about it. Scripture scholars have called this: “Messianic Secrecy”. But in the light of the theme that we are developing here, we could also say that Jesus did not want a ‘celebrity cult’ around him.
“In the morning, long before dawn, he got up and left the house, and went off to a lonely place and prayed there.” Jesus spends quality me-time with God. It is time to relive his Abba-experience (Mk 1:11).
We too need this me-time with God. It is time to re-energise our batteries. Actually, that time of silence and prayer is also a time to enjoy the inner fruits of our work. It is time to purify our intentions. It is time to remind ourselves why we do what we do. Yes, it is for our family, for people around us. But it is actually even more than that.
In the 2nd reading of today, St Paul tells us why he is busy preaching the Good News: “I do not boast of preaching the gospel, since it is a duty which has been laid on me” (1Cor 9:16). He preaches not for praise of others, not for any pay, but the reward is internal – it is “to have a share in the blessings of the gospel” (1Cor 9:23). That is it.
THIRD SUNDAY OF THE YEAR – B
First Reading (Jon 3: 1-5.10) Jonas preached to the people of Nineveh and they repented from their sins.
Second Reading (1 Cor 7: 29-31) Knowing that the return of the Lord was eminent, Paul advises people to have an attitude of detachment from the things of this world.
Gospel (Mk 1: 14-20) Jesus begins his ministry of preaching the word of God and calls his first disciples.
The three readings of this third Sunday of the year have one theme: Repentance. We see how the prophet Jonas preached repentance to the pagan city of Nineveh and people responded positively with immediate effect to change their ways. Saint Paul in the second reading urges people to detach themselves from things of this world as the return of Jesus is eminent. Jesus in the gospel begins his ministry with the call to repentance and belief in the Good News.
Many of us find the idea to repent/change as a very disturbing idea. To repent means to change one’s outlook on life and to adjust one’s actions accordingly. In our case as Christians, to adjust our actions according to the word of God. To repent can also mean in our context as Christians, to reverse completely our life, to change our hearts and do things that are completely positive and good compare to our old self. To do this is not easy, it can be painful. That’s why people are slow to embrace repentance or change. Here comes the work of the Holy Spirit to help us change.
Turning away from things that are naturally evil such as drunkenness, dishonesty, adultery, theft, and the likes are indeed true examples of conversion or repentance. But this is only one kind of conversion. There are many others such as: a selfish person can change her life into a loving and caring person. This kind of change can also hurt. But with the help of God and fellow believers, it is possible. The first step to repentance is to admit that all is not well in my life. The second step is to discover something wonderful about oneself, meaning to discover potentialities in oneself which one did not know he or she had. This what it means acquiring a new vision in life, taking a new direction with new goals in life.
A new life, with new goals and purposes cannot be achieved quickly and without pain. It is a journey of struggle of which victory can’t be achieved automatically. We are called to conversion every single day of our lives until we depart from this world. Repentance opens way to rebirth unlike regret and stubbornness. Repentance will and shall always lead us to joy because after hearing the word of God, we embrace it and make it ours.