Following Jesus

Luke 9: 57-62
Jb 9: 1-12, 14-16 / Ps 88: 10-15

No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.
(Luke 9:62)


What matters is what we are now,
Not what we’d been or left behind.
He who “sets a hand to the plow”
Has set God’s kingdom on his mind.

As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” He said to another man, “Follow me.” But the man replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family.” Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

Reflection

Jesus’ parable in today’s Gospel presents to us a clear idea of what it means when we are called to mission, or to witness for the kingdom of God. Jesus was actually citing the prophet Elijah (1 Kings 19:19-21) when he called Elisha to service, as the latter was plowing his field. But in the case of Elijah, he allowed his protégé Elisha to tarry by slaughtering his oxen and giving a feast to his kinsmen before he followed Elijah. This is not to be so with Jesus. The conditions for following Him are absolute, and leave no room for concessions. Nothing in this world is more important than God’s call to mission. Neither a burial nor a celebration takes priority or precedence.

No ifs or buts, no fears or doubts – that’s what Commitment is all about. In our governance prayer meeting last night, one of our young leaders poured out his sentiments about the burdens of pastoral care, and he wondered when he could be just an ordinary member once again. In response to his “sharing”, I told him that he was chosen by the Lord for leadership so that he could use the talents God had given him to bring others to Christ. He was chosen as the right man for the job. And he was right in accepting the ministry that God had given him, as he has grown to become a very mature Christian shepherd of God’s flock.

God is not interested in our past, or even in our abilities, but what we are doing now to prepare ourselves for His kingdom. He had given us His Best – His Only Son – for our salvation. It’s only right that we give our all, which, in the cosmic order of things, is really not worth much in the bargain. So how can career or even family be more important? God first above everything, and He will reward all our efforts and sacrifices.

Keep always before me, Lord, so that I may never be shaken, for in You my heart is glad, my soul rejoices, my body dwells secure. Show me the right path (Psalm 16:9-11) that I may persevere in serving You until the end of this earthly journey. Amen.

Delusions of the Elite

Luke 9: 51-56
Jb 3: 1-3,11-17,20-23 / Psa 88

When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?
(Luke 9:55)


If in our search for truth, others we
Treat with prejudice or disdain,
Take heed our self-righteousness may be
Making what we believe in vain.

As the time approached for Him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. And He sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for Him; but the people there did not welcome Him, because He was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them? But Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they went to another village. (Luke 9:51-56)

Reflection

There seems to be a continuing undercurrent of anti-elitism in this chapter of Luke’s Gospel, particularly aimed at the members of Jesus’ inner circle. In yesterday’s Gospel account, St. Luke relates how the apostle John tried to stop a man from expelling evil spirits “because he is not one of us.” Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Do not stop him, for whoever is not against you is for you” (Lk.9:49-50). In today’s gospel, the same apostle and his brother brashly volunteered to “call down fire from heaven to destroy” a Samaritan village because that tribe of people refused to welcome them as they were headed for Jerusalem (Lk.9:53-54). Again, Jesus rebuked them as they decided to go to another village instead.

Earlier, the apostles argued among themselves who was the greatest, and we can presume the brothers James and John, the first batch recruited by our Lord together with Simon and Andrew must have been the most assertive. Remember the request of their mother to Jesus to sit her two sons at the right and left of the Lord in His kingdom? (Mt.20:21) Then they were jealous about their “exclusive franchise” on demonic expulsion. Now the same “Sons of Thunder” revealed their extreme prejudice against a group of people that they considered second-class citizens of Palestine. Clearly, their close association with the Messiah had made them feel that they were an elite group, a cut above the rest of the disciples, empowered to judge others outside their “sacred circle”. They were behaving exactly like the Pharisees who set themselves apart from the Jewish population, regarding themselves as righteous in the observance of Judaic laws.

Even the most respected leaders of Charismatic communities are not immune to this sense of prejudice and conflict of status. Recently, we read about a well-known founder of a poverty alleviation movement being stripped of his membership in a Catholic renewal organization by its “council of elders”. Assuming that this report is true and accurate, one can only wonder what the elders of that community hoped to accomplish by alienating many of their members who have supported and worked with this founding visionary’s crusade for the poor. Instead of taking pride in the fact that the successful self-help shelter and poverty alleviation program which has now become a global phenomenon was initiated and nurtured in their organization, its council of elders opted — perhaps in the guise of “discernment” — to set themselves apart from this noble undertaking. Was this really for the good of the organization, or were they merely exercising their power as a council because their status as the elite leaders were being threatened? Sadly, these elders may have forgotten that our Lord’s primary message in His Gospel is how we can best serve the least of His children.

Heal us, dear God when we are afflicted with prejudice and self-importance. Remind us that we are called by Christ to serve and not to judge; to be one with all your children, and not to put ourselves or anyone else apart, but to set our hearts firmly in our mission to spread our Lord’s message of love, forgiveness and unity to all men. Amen.

The Way to become Holy

Luke 9: 46-50
Job 1:6-22 / Psa 17

For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.
(Luke 9:48)


If serving God is our intention,
Let’s live our life for His glory;
For this must be our sole ambition:
To find the ways to be holy.

An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest. Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside Him. Then He said to them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the One Who sent me. For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.” Then John said, “Master, we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we forbade him, because he is not one of our company.” Jesus said to him, “Do not forbid him, for whoever is not against you is for you.” (Luke 9:46-50)

Reflection

John, the brother of Andrew, who reveled in being the “beloved apostle”, and who was probably one of the “contenders in being the greatest”, thought that he could deflect the rebuke of Jesus for their lack of humility by reporting that someone who was not of their company was casting out demons, and they had tried to stop him. For that mistake, they earned another rebuke for their “professional jealousy”. Jesus wisely advised them: “Do not forbid him, for whoever is not against you is for you.”

A former secretary of Justice who is now a senator thought that she could cover up her connections to known criminals in the national penitentiary by “dropping her own bombshell” during a senate investigation. Her arrogance, bias, and total lack of remorse even in the midst of many parties testifying against her resulted in her being removed as chair of the justice committee. She should have kept her big mouth shut. Prov. 10:9 says, “He who walks honestly walks securely, but he whose ways are crooked will fare badly.” It also says, “When pride comes, disgrace comes, but with the humble is wisdom” (Prov.11:2). No wisdom in this proud woman.

St. Paul’s humility is the example we all must follow. He wrote to the Philippians: “It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely . . . But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice” (Philip.1:15-18)

God alone knows our true motives, and He desires all of us to strive like St. Paul to take the path of humility and service to achieve holiness. In one of the masses we attended, the celebrant gave an interesting homily on the subject of holiness. He said the word “holy” may well be an acronym for the virtues of humility, obedience, listening and yielding. All of these our Lord Jesus demonstrated in His short ministry as a man. No man as powerful as He was lived more humbly, (as the son of a carpenter) obeyed completely the Father’s will, listened to the needs of people, and yielded His very life for our salvation. These qualities, by the way, we also find in the little children. The reason perhaps why our Lord regarded them as the greatest.

Help us, dear Father in our journey to become like little children, striving to be humble like our Lord Jesus, obedient to all Your commands, listening to Your Word in the Bible, and yielding to the prodding of the Holy Spirit. For as our Savior advised us, we must be holy as You are holy. Amen.

Listen Carefully

Luke 9: 43b-45
Eccl 11:9—12:8 / Psa 90

Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you: The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men.
(Luke 9:44)


Lord, help me listen and keep still
So that Your lessons I may learn
And this cup Your Spirit will fill
With grace for Your will to discern.

All were amazed at the majesty of God. While everyone was marveling at all that Jesus did, He said to His disciples, “Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you: The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men.” But they did not understand what this meant. It was hidden from them, so that they did not grasp it, and they were afraid to ask Him about it. (Luke 9:43-45)

Reflection

Jesus had just expelled a demon from a boy and restored the lad to his father (9:42). All the people there who witnessed this were naturally in total amazement, praising God for this miracle. And then suddenly, the Source of this wonder tells His disciples that He was “going to be delivered to the hands of men.” How could one so powerful who could deliver them from the devil himself be delivered into the hands of mere men? So they could not understand His words, and chose not to ask Him about it. After all, His disciples had always heard our Lord speak in parables and figures of speech. So, knowing the kind of power that Jesus possessed – over demons and the forces of nature– they could not imagine anyone, not even the whole Roman army being able to overcome Him.

Even when He was delivering people from sickness to health, or from demonic possession to freedom, Jesus was always aware of His impending passion and death in the hands of the Jewish and Roman authorities. He had to convince His disciples that His mission was not to restore the glorious past of Israel, but to restore mankind’s good relationship with God, and this could only be done through the cross. “Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you,” Jesus patiently told His disciples. It was almost an exercise in futility, because at that point, they were still groping with their faith, and not fully comprehending the true mission of their Master. They would only understand, (perhaps with the help of the Holy Spirit) when Jesus resurrected from the dead, and before their eyes, ascended into heaven.

It is most important for us to heed the words of our Savior and “listen intently” to His teachings in the Gospels. Our own deliverance depends on it. In the past, God talked to His people either directly or through His prophets. Now He talks to us through the homilies of His priests in the celebration of the Mass, and through the Holy Bible. At times we can “hear” or “see” Him in revelations manifested in answered prayers, or in the kindness of others. But we must always be attentive; we must always listen with our heart and mind, and ask Him for the grace to understand His messages.

Let me listen to Your words, my God, that I may constantly be guided in the right paths. Free me from my doubts and fears with Your consoling words in Scriptures. May I always be attentive to Your Word, Your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

How Real is Jesus to Me

Luke 9: 18-22
Eccl 3:1-11 / Psa 144

“But what about you, who do you say I am?”
(Luke 9:20)


What my life for Jesus offers
Defines what it means to be free;
What I am and do for others
Reveal how real Christ is to me.

Once when Jesus was praying in private and His disciples were with Him, He asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.” Then He said to them, “But what about you, who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Messiah of God.” Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone. And He said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” (Luke 9: 18-22)

Reflection

In yesterday’s Gospel passage of Luke, we read of the same question asked by the tetrarch Herod, “Who, then, is this I hear such things about?” And we read the exact similar response in verses 7-8: “some say, ‘John has been raised from the dead’; others say, ‘Elijah has appeared’; still others, ‘One of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.’ What was the evangelist Luke trying to convey? He was simply saying that most of the Jews, including Herod and perhaps many disciples, did not really know who Jesus was, and what His real mission was all about. That was why when Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah of God,” Jesus cautioned them not to reveal this to anyone until after His death and resurrection. Our Lord knew that the Jews would never understand His true mission if He was revealed as the Messiah, whom they understood as the promised savior who would lead them against the Romans and then restore the former glory of Israel. His mission was far greater than this: it was to save the whole mankind from sin.

The message in today’s Gospel passage is that we will never find the path to eternal salvation until we come to know Who Jesus Christ really is, and what His words and actions mean in our life. It is to develop a personal relationship with Him that Jesus is offering each one of us. Indeed we can never get to know ourselves fully until we come to know our Lord Jesus Christ in the most personal way. When we have established a deeper relationship with Him, we will discover the real purpose of our existence. By getting to know Jesus intimately, we will experience true faith. Once we have learned to know Him, love Him, and established a personal relationship with Him, we will experience the rich life that He promised when He said, “I have come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” (Jn.10:10) This is what many of us have encountered in the renewal. Since the time we acknowledged Jesus as our Way to the Father, and committed ourselves to serving Him in our community, His Holy Spirit has revealed many things which were once unknown to us. We feel that we are constantly in the process of learning more and more about God and his plans for us as we allow Him to lead us in the work of evangelization. God wants us to bring His Good News to as many people as we can reach, so that they too may come to know who Jesus Christ is. In fact, how real Jesus is to us will show in how real we are to others. St. Paul said in his letter to the Hebrews: “Jesus Christ is the same today as He was yesterday, and He will be the same until the end of time.” (Heb.13:8) If we have come to know Jesus personally, have we introduced Him to somebody lately?

Forgive me, Lord Jesus, if I have been keeping our relationship all to myself. Grant me the opportunity to bring others to Your fellowship as well. Amen.

Seeking the Face of Jesus

Luke 9: 7-9
Eccl 1:2-11 / Psa 90

Herod said, “I beheaded John. Who, then, is this I hear such things about?” And he kept trying to see Him.
(Luke 9:9)


Where can we find our Lord Jesus?
From our troubles His face we seek;
May His Word and Spirit lead us
To see Him in the poor and meek.

Herod the tetrarch heard about all that was happening, and he was greatly perplexed, because some were saying, “John has been raised from the dead”; others were saying, “Elijah has appeared”; still others, “One of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.” But Herod said, “I beheaded John. Who, then, is this I hear such things about?” And he kept trying to see Him. (Luke 9:7-9)

Reflection

Herod the tetrarch was one of the sons of King Herod the Great, the ruthless author of the massacre of the innocents in Bethlehem (Mt.2:16) when he tried to destroy the infant Jesus Who was prophesied to become the ruler of Israel (Mic 5:1), and was therefore a threat to his throne. Also known as Herod Antipas, the tetrarch was no less merciless as his father, having John the Baptist beheaded on the whim of Herodias’ daughter, Salome, who had pleased him and his guests when she danced during his birthday party (Mt.14:3-11).

Being a Jew himself, Herod Antipas believed in the resurrection of the dead, and so did not reject the possibility that John the Baptist, being a man of God, could have been raised from the dead. The Jews also believed the words of the prophet Malachi, who wrote, “I will send you Elijah, the prophet before the day of the Lord comes” (Mal.3:23). And so Herod the tetrarch was confused. For all his power, he could not see Jesus. People of power and influence fall into this sad predicament. Their worldly advantage is their spiritual disadvantage. They simply cannot see Jesus. Although some attempt to seek Him out, their pride or self-sufficiency, makes their quest half-hearted, and they fail to see the Lord in others – especially not in the faces of the poor, for whom they only hold contempt. It was never for their eyes to see, nor for their ears to hear the words of our Lord, Who said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt.5:3)

A Christian is always seeking the face of his Savior. At times our Lord comes to us in our meditation – especially when we receive Him in Holy Communion. But much of the time, we try to see Him in the wrong places – in images or statues, which are merely ‘works of human hands’. He would prefer that we see Him in the faces of the poor, the malnourished children, the lame, the blind, the sick and imprisoned, which, unfortunately, many of us choose to ignore. Like Herod, we do not try hard enough to seek the face of Jesus.

There are days when we are inspired and moved by the Spirit with joy and gratitude. But there are also days when we wake up troubled and afraid, uncertain about our faith. There are moments when we feel uplifted in having served the Lord, but there are also times when we feel that we have not been in touch with Him, when our prayers seem empty and mechanical, and we are beset with pessimism. We feel like the writer of Ecclesiastes in the First Reading, who wrote: “All things are vanity! What profit has man from all the labor which he toils at under the sun?. . . All speech is labored; there is nothing man can say. The eye is not satisfied with seeing nor is the ear filled with hearing.” (Eccl.1:2-3,8) Yes, our eyes can never be satisfied until we have learned to see Jesus in others, including those we find unsightly. Our ears and hearts cannot be “filled” until we hear and read the Word of God in Scriptures. Only then will we cease to be perplexed and depressed.

We praise You, Father, that You have made it possible for us to see our Lord Jesus in the faces of others and in the Gospel. ‘Teach us to count our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of heart. Fill us at daybreak with Your love, that all our days we may sing for joy’ (Psalm 90:12,14). Amen.