October 31, 2009


All Saints
Matthew 5:1-12a

We Become Saints Together

Matthew gives the setting of the Sermon on the Mount in this way, "[Jesus'] disciples came to him. He began to teach them."

Throughout the four Gospels, Jesus hardly ever teaches one person individually. And it's no difference here as Matthew presents the core of Jesus' teaching.[1]

This simple sentence , therefore, is an appropriate reminder for all followers of Christ as the Church celebrates the Solemnity of All Saints. None of us will become a saint alone. It is to the community of believers that God chooses to reveal the truth of salvation. It is in the community that we find the support and inspiration we need to live God's way. This community of saints begins in our families. It then extends to all believers, both in heaven and on earth, and even those who come after us. Together, we build God's Reign.

[1] "For Christians, next to the Ten Commandments as an expression of God's will, the eight beatitudes have been revered for expressing succinctly the values on which Jesus placed priority." Raymond Brown. An Introduction to the New Testament. New York: Doubleday, 1997; p. 178.
- Reference: Catechism of the Catholic Church, # 1965 and 2764.

October 24, 2009


30th Sunday - B
Mark 10:46-52

Obstacles in Being Followers of Jesus

From previous passages in Mark's Gospel, we learn what prevents the disciples from being authentic followers (disciples) of Jesus. Their own idea of the Messiah, their self-importance, and their ambition are probably their three biggest obstacles. And in today's passage, these elements come up again. This time, they prevent the disciples from truly understanding and following Jesus. Moreover, they even cause the disciples' attempt to stop the blind man Bartimaeus coming to Jesus.

The disciples have witnessed Jesus moved with pity for the crowd who had no shepherd or were hungry (6:31; 8:2), and reaching out to those in need (for example, the blind man at Bethsaida in 8:22) [1] . Yet, they still have not understood Jesus nor acquired his attitude. As a result, they "rebuke" Bartimaeus and tell him to be silent. They want Jesus and others to operate by their standards.

The disciples see only their own importance. They fight over who is the greatest. They try to secure the best position for themselves. And they become "indignant" when they learn that others were trying to outdo them. Bartimaeus, who is blind, on the contrary, sees his desperate situation and knows his need for Jesus. So he cries out, "Jesus, son of David, have pity on me." And nobody can stop his act of total faith in Jesus.

The disciples' ambition is evident at the various incidents mentioned above. Unlike them, Bartimaeus is humble. When Jesus calls him, he throws aside his cloak, "the only vestige of dignity," [2] springs up, and comes to Jesus. He addresses Jesus as "Master" and makes his request.

The disciples carry their baggage of their own ideas about the Messiah, their pride and ambition. As a result, though they journey with Jesus, they have not yet followed him. Bartimaeus, on the other hands, sees past his blindness and accepts the Messiah as he is. Acknowledging his needs, with humility, he ask the Messiah to have pity on him. He then "receives his sight" and "follows Jesus on the way" - the way to Jerusalem.

[1] Francis J. Moloney. The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2002; p. 209-210.
[2] Ibid.

October 17, 2009


29th Sunday - B
Mark 10:35-45

What a Teacher We're So Lucky to Have!

This passage in Mark is significant on a number of levels. First, this is the last conversation Jesus has with his disciples before he enters Jerusalem to accomplish his mission. Secondly, this conversation takes place after the third time Jesus tells his disciples of his passion and death (The verses between what we heard last Sunday and today - Mark 10:31-34 - reports this prediction). Thirdly, this is another time the disciples fail to understand Jesus.[1] In the case of John, it's the second time he shows his lack of understanding.

It is quite upsetting, on the human level, to hear that the disciples who seem to have the hardest time to understand the teaching of Jesus and to accept God's way are those who are closest to Jesus. After all, Peter, James and John are the privileged disciples. Besides witnessing with other disciples Jesus's power at different healings and his teaching authority, they are the only three who Jesus would select to be at special events in his life and ministry, such as the cure of Peter's mother-in-law (1:29-31), the raising of Jairus's daughter (5:35-43), and the transfiguration (9:2-8). Moreover, the three of them, together with Andrew, have been with Jesus the longest, since they were the first of the disciples whom Jesus called (1:16-20). And yet, they are the ones who fail to understand Jesus over and over again. As a result, though Jesus has just told them - for the third time - that he would be condemned to death, James and John still tell Jesus, "We want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." The other ten are not much better, since "they become indignant at James and John" when they hear of their request.

Yet, Jesus would not fail them. Patiently, over and over again, he teaches them, explains God's way to them, and forewarns them of what will happen to them. Most consolingly, Jesus does not give up on them. By the fact that he keeps inviting them to live his way, he shows his trust in them. In addition, he prepares them to become true leaders in the community of his followers. [2] Ultimately, he inspires them to live as he does. "Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man comes to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."
[1] After the first time Jesus tells his disciples of his passion, Peter tries to talk him out of it (Mark 8:31-33). After Jesus' second attempt to warn them of what will happen to him, the disciples turn around and argue among themselves who is the greatest (9:30-37). John then complains to Jesus that some person is driving out demons in Jesus' name, but the man does not follow the disciples (9:38).

[2] Francis J. Moloney. The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2002; p. 206-7.

October 10, 2009


28th Sunday - B
Mark 10:17-30

Thank God, it's not up to us!

"What must I do to inherit eternal life?" the man asked Jesus. From the very beginning of the conversation, he has already asked the wrong question. For him, it's all about what he has done and wants to do. "What must I do?"

With that approach, God's commandments become a list of obstacles to overcome, or a list of items to check off. The man now feels that he has accomplished all that, then what's next.

The man has lost sight of God's loving intention when God gave the commandments to Moses. The Lord God brought the children of Israel out of Egypt, the place of slavery (Deuteronomy 5:6). God then gave them the commandments so they "may live and prosper, and may have long life" (Deuteronomy 5:33). In fact, God's commandments were given as the way to life and liberty, not as obstacles to overcome, or things to check off.

The man has been treating God's commandments as obstacles not as gift. Consequently, he feels a false sense of accomplishment. "All of these I have observed."

Coupled with that false sense of accomplishment is his wealth, which seems to have created in him a tendency toward self-reliance and self-determination. Together, his negative approach toward God's commandments, his false sense of accomplishment, and his tendency of self-determination become obstacles for him to follow Jesus. He only wants to follow Jesus in his own way - "What must I do," not in Jesus' way.

The disciples, in contrast, put their question in the passive voice, "Then, who can be saved?" This suggests that they have a better understanding that the Kingdom of God is not something humans can acchieve. [1] God alone can save. Moreover, for those who do not rely on their own wealth, possessions, and connections; those who follow Jesus in God's way are rewarded "a hundred times more now in this present age,... with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come."

Today, we must ask ourselves, "What or Who do I rely on?"

[1] Francis J. Moloney. The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2002; p. 202.

October 2, 2009


27th Sunday - B (October 4, 2009)
Mark 10:2-16

Can It BePossible?

Many of us probably have had the experience of dealing with loopholes, being either the ones who tried to look for and took advantage of loopholes, or the ones who suffered when somebody else did that to us.

And when that happens in any human relationship, it is impossible for it to be authentic.

That seems to be the attitude of the Pharisees who test Jesus in this passage in Mark's Gospel. They want to find loopholes for their selfish gains.

And in response, Jesus gives the plan that God has for human relationships "from the beginning of creation." Such relationships existed before selfishness and sins destroyed the fullness of God's love in us.

Then, taken in the context of the entire Gospel according to Mark, this passage of 10:2-16 forms a part of Jesus' teaching on God's Kingdom as he journeys towards Jerusalem (beginning at 8:31). There, he will restore the original goodness of God's plan of love with the ultimate sacrifice of his life on the cross. With his gift of self, Jesus enables human relationships to be authentic again.

On our part, authentic relationships are possible if we accept Jesus' gift of himself like a child, who totally depends on the love and care of a mother or a father. Once we accept ourselves, and all we have and are as God's generous and gratuitous gift, then we can give ourselves to others generously.

27th Sunday - B (October 4, 2009)