Fruitful, Fearless, and Faith-full

Mark 11: 11-26
1Ptr 4:7-13 / Psa 96

Have faith in God… whoever… does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it shall be done for him.
(Mark 11:22-23)

Lord Jesus, free me from any doubt,
Give me courage for faith to stand out;
Unless my life is fruitful for Thee,
My faith will be like a withered tree.

On His way from Bethany with the disciples, Jesus felt hungry, and seeing a fig tree in the distance, he went to see if he could find a fruit on it. Since it was not in season, he found nothing but leaves. And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it. Arriving in Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple and began to drive out those buying and selling in the temple. He overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. And he taught them, saying, “Is it not written, `My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of thieves.” The chief priests and the scribes heard about it and sought a way to kill him; for they feared him, because all the multitude was astonished at his teaching. The next day, passing by the fig tree, they saw it withered to its roots. Peter remembered and said to Him, “Master, look! The fig tree which you cursed has withered.” And Jesus said to them, “Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, `Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it shall be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against any one; so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”

Reflection

Everything that our Lord Jesus did served a purpose for the enlightenment of His followers. Even a fig tree that was fruitless because figs were not yet in season had to be sacrificed for the benefit of the apostles. His message was: it would be better In the same way, one must be willing to die to fight for the truth and the principle of his faith. And Jesus showed this by singlehandedly overpowering the merchants who were desecrating the temple of God with their commerce, and thereby antagonizing the chief priests and scribes who had allowed their activities.

Like Jesus, our spiritual leaders have shown boldness in defense of the teachings of the Catholic Church, especially when it concerns the dignity of human life and the sanctity and integrity of marriage and the family. On the part of the laity, we must also do our share in defending our priests and bishops, especially when they are being maligned by those in power. We are all in this spiritual warfare together.

Jesus was never afraid of His enemies. On the contrary, it was they who feared Him, because He stood for the truth and the multitudes followed Him. But He did not rely on His divine powers to influence His followers, even though a fig tree could wither to its roots at His very command. Instead, He taught them to have faith, because it is in one’s total trust in God where true power lies. He taught them (and us) that it is in constant communication with the Father in prayer that we can develop our faith. And our line of communication with Him will always be clear and invigorating if we bear no ill will against anyone, sustained by a forgiving heart.

Grant me, dear God, a heart full of faith in Your love; with courage to drive out of my life what is evil and unjust; with enthusiasm to be fruitful in spreading the Good News of Christ; and forgiveness, to be worthy of His great sacrifice. Amen.

Faith and Persistence

Mark 10: 46-52
1Pet 2:2-5,9-12 / Psa 100

Go your way; your faith has saved you.
(Mark 10:52)

Grant us the grace to see, O Lord
What once was hidden deep within,
The wisdom to discern Your Word,
And the will to cast away sin.

They came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus, the Son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus. “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.” Jesus told him, “Go your way, your faith has saved you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus on the road. (Mark 10: 46-52)

Reflection

The crowd of people who tried to silence Bartimaeus were more blind than this beggar. Though limited by his handicap from performing many things, he “saw” the opportunity for the restoration of his sight passing by, and mustered all his strength to cry out for help. The people following Jesus, however, were all blind to the need of this suffering man, because in their minds he counted for nothing. (Blind beggars, after all, were at the bottom rung of the social ladder.) It was only when the Lord stopped and took notice of Bartimaeus that they encouraged him to get up and made way for him to reach Jesus. In yesterday’s Gospel, Jesus also asked the same question to His apostles, James and John: “What do you want me to do for you?” They too were blind to the true mission of our Lord, and so their request to be given special places in “His glory” was denied.

We ourselves were once blind to the things of the spirit until we joined a community of renewed Christians and became followers of Jesus Christ. We began to see many things by the grace of God and by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and by the words of Jesus Christ in the Bible. We learned that when we ask God in prayer for discernment and wisdom, He will not refuse our request. “Lord, I want to see.” And in time we began to understand many of life’s mysteries which were once hidden because of our doubts and moral failures.

In one of our group’s bible sharing sessions, a former politician confided that he had decided to give up his law practice “for God’s sake”, and for the first time in his life found true peace and enlightenment. Another brother shared that ever since he surrendered his will to the Lord, he has never failed to receive what his family needed, always “in the nick of time”. We all agreed that it was God’s gift of faith that restored our vision of living in the right direction (following Jesus). But like Bartimaeus, it was also necessary for us to cry out to God with persistence. One who is blind, whether physically or spiritually, could not let the opportunity to be healed pass us by. God immediately gave us what we needed in order to follow Him. Like the conversion of St. Paul in Damascus, “things like scales fell from (our) eyes, and (we) regained (our) sight” (Acts 9:18). And in the words of the Lord’s foremost apostle, now we have seen that we are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of His own, so that we may announce the praises of Him who called us out of darkness into His wonderful light” (1 Pet 2:9).

We praise and thank You, Father God, for making us see that it is the things of this world that blind us and keep us from following Your will, and it is in complete faith and trust in Your will that our proper perspective in life has been restored. Amen.

Misplaced Ambitions

Mark 10: 32-45
1 Pt 1: 18-25 / Ps 147: 12-15, 19-20

Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be the slave of all.
(Mark 10: 43-44)

The self-important are misled
To think that power leads to greatness,
If only they can see instead,
That to be great means to be selfless.

They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way; they were amazed, while those who followed were afraid. Again He took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to Him. “We are going up to Jerusalem,” He said, “and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn Him to death and will hand Him over to the Gentiles, who will mock Him and spit on Him, flog Him and kill Him. Three days later He will rise.” Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” He asked them, “What do you want me to do for you?” They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.” When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. But it will not be so among you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be the slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:32-45)

Reflection

Three times our Lord foretold His death to His disciples. The first time was when He rebuked Peter (Mk.8:31). The second time was when they were arguing among themselves who was the greatest (Mk.9:31-35). And finally, before He instructed them (again) about the meaning of true greatness in reaction to the misplaced ambitions of James and John (Mk.10:33,43-45). And yet in all these times it seemed they were hardly listening, because they were too preoccupied with how they could advance their own self-interests.

First it was the impetuous Peter, the leader of the band who thought he was doing Jesus a favor by arguing against the divine plan (Mk.8:32). Then James and John, who were even more audacious with their request to corner the plum seats “in His glory”. These apostles had become too presumptuous about their exalted position, perhaps because they were the first three who were called to follow Jesus, and were given the special privilege of seeing Him transfigured, and hearing the voice of God on the mountain. These had made them feel

True greatness as Jesus teaches us can only be attained through the cross and through genuine service. Being a servant and rejecting the values of this world may seem impractical or outmoded in today’s highly advanced and materialistic society, but (contrary to the opinion of our presumptive, presumptuous president), the Word of God will never lose its power, but will always remain relevant for all generations: to be first and greatest, we must be the last and the least. The way to greatness can only be through servanthood and the rejection of all attachments to this world. The way to greatness is through the little sacrifices we perform, like tithing to support our missions, almsgiving, donating to a worthy cause, visiting the sick or imprisoned, comforting the bereaved, helping build homes for the homeless, doing without to support a scholarship – the list can go on. It’s all about selflessness, the opposite of the world’s view of greatness.

We seek to be Your leaders, Lord God, by serving others in our community. Grant that we may never be overcome by self-importance whenever we accomplish the mission You set out for us to do, for we are merely servants doing what is expected of us to do. Amen.

No Compromise

Mark 10: 28-31
1Pet 1: 10-16 / Psa 98

…no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time… with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.
(Mark 10:29,30)

To those who serve unselfishly,
God's blessings flow abundantly;
With grateful hearts let’s strive to be
His channels of generosity.

Then Peter began to say to Jesus, “Lord, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus replied, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many that are first will be last, and the last first.” (Mark 10:28-31)

Reflection

As usual, it is Simon Peter, the ever brash and spontaneous one who had to speak out what was probably in the minds of the apostles: “What’s in this for us?” But instead of chastising Peter for being too forward and demanding, our Lord gave him and the others His personal assurance that they would all receive a hundred times more what they had bargained for. But with a caveat: “with persecutions”, followed by eternal reward in God’s kingdom. And then Jesus added these strange words for them (and us) to ponder: “But many that are first will be last, and the last first.”

Those of us who have made a commitment to follow our Lord Jesus (whether clergy or laity) know that there was a considerable cost in making that decision. First of all, we no longer lived for ourselves alone (nor even for our loved ones), but have put Jesus and the Gospel up front and in the center of our lives. We’ve had to sacrifice much of our quality time with our children or grandchildren. More so, we had to discard certain activities or practices that are not consonant with our renewed life in the Spirit (boys’ night out, adult movie pictures or videos, gambling, to name a few). We could no longer keep company with certain friends who feel uncomfortable mixing with members of our community. And hardest of all, we had to make critical adjustments in the way we used to conduct our business or professional affairs. In all our dealings, (especially in money matters) honesty and integrity must prevail.

We have the assurance of Jesus, however, that He would not give us hardships or responsibilities that are beyond our capabilities. He said in another Gospel passage, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me… For my yoke is easy, and my burden light” (Mt.11:28-30). Jesus knows our hearts, and appreciates that the sacrifices we are willingly undergoing are borne out of love for Him, for our blessings and for what we have become because of His teachings and the wonders He has wrought in our lives.

Not everyone, however, responds to the call of Jesus. It is a rare privilege to be His disciple. It’s a ‘leap in the dark,’ and hardly a walk in the park. Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. . . For the Son of Man is going to come in His Father’s glory with His angels, and then He will reward each person according to what he has done.” (Mt.16:24-25,27). We can never outdo God in His generosity. But He expects us to outdo ourselves in being generous as well. I believe that was what He meant when He said, “Many that are first will be last, and the last first.” If we humble ourselves by “being last” in giving our all, then God will welcome us among the first into His kingdom.

We thank you, Father, for the little miracles that You manifest in our lives, as well as the persecutions that develop our character in the pattern of our Lord Jesus. They increase our faith in Your Providence, and draw us closer to You and Your Son. Amen.

The Poor Rich

Mark 10: 17-27
1 Pt 1: 3-9 / Ps 111: 1-2, 5-6, 9, 10

It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God.
(Mark 10:25)

What worth are all the world’s treasure
If in the end I lose my soul?
Strive for the prize beyond measure:
God’s kingdom, our eternal goal.

As Jesus was starting out on his way again, a man ran up, knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus replied, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; you shall not defraud; honor your father and your mother.’ ” The man said, “Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth.” Jesus looked straight at him with love and said, “You need only one thing. Go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven; then come and follow me.” When the man heard this, his face fell, and he went away sad, because he was very rich. Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God!” The disciples were amazed at His words, so Jesus went on to say, “My children, how hard it is to enter the Kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God.” At this the disciples were completely amazed and asked one another, “Who, then, can be saved?” Jesus looked straight at them and answered, “This is impossible for human beings but not for God; all things are possible for God.” (Mark 10:17-27)

Reflection

A young man we knew whose family’s estate must be worth over a billion Pesos committed suicide quite recently. “Why would anyone who practically has everything do such a tragic thing?” I asked a close friend. He replied, “Mong, sometimes those who have everything are really the ones who have nothing.” How wise those words are. Having so much wealth can reduce the value of everything else, until there is nothing left worth appreciating, or being grateful for. In the end it might be one’s great wealth that will cause him to lose the most important thing of all – the pearl of great price, eternal life in God’s kingdom. “For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?” (Mt.16:26).

In today’s Gospel of Mark, Jesus was not against wealth per se. What He was condemning was one’s attachment to his wealth. Too much preoccupation with our possessions distracts us from what is most essential: our right relationship with God and neighbor. It’s not money but our love of money that is the root of evil. As Jesus said, “You cannot serve both God and mammon” (Mt.6:24). One will inevitably displace the other. And the man who puts his trust in his money can never be happier than a poorer man who puts his trust in God. “Sleep is sweet to the laboring man, whether he eats little or much, but the rich man’s abundance allows him no sleep” (Eccl.5:11).

There is an exception, however, for some very wealthy people who live happy and fulfilled lives. They are those who are not obsessed with their fortunes, but with the mission that their fortunes entail. They know that they are merely God’s stewards, and they have a grave responsibility to use their resources for the benefit of many. Philanthropists find joy in giving because they see the good that their wealth can do. Proverbs says, ”Honor the Lord with your wealth… then will your barns be filled with grain, with new wine your vats will overflow” (Prov.3:9-10). Depending on our attitude towards our wealth, it can either be a blessing or a curse. Out of His love for him, Jesus was offering that man a rare chance to gain His eternal blessing. But out of his love for money, the man walked away, a lost soul.

May we never be presumptuous like that man to think that we can “inherit” Your kingdom, Lord God; instead, we pray daily for Your kingdom to come, and Your will be done in our life, so that we may grow in Your grace, and be free from all earthly desires. Amen.

Children of a Loving God

Mark 10: 13-16
Jas 5: 13-20 / Psa 141

Those who will not receive God’s kingdom like a child will never enter it.
(Mark 10:15)

Our children make us realize
The wonder of God’s creation;
Let’s look at life thru children’s eyes,
We may have a clearer vision.

People were bringing little children to Jesus to have Him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, He was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And He took the children in His arms, put His hands on them and blessed them. (Mark 10:13-16)

Reflection

This short narrative of St. Mark’s Gospel presents a poignant scene where Jesus showed how He felt for the little children. It is not only their innocence that endears the little ones to God. It is their total trust and dependence, and their capacity to believe that they have nothing to fear even in their vulnerability. In an atmosphere of love, children have an innate sense of trust that everything will be alright, and there is nothing to be afraid or be worried about. Unless their parents’ marriage breaks up in divorce. It is only when they experience an abnormal event contravening God’s plan that they begin to learn the meaning of fear, mistrust, doubt and deception.

We have much to learn from children if we want to be assured of peace in this life, and hope in heaven. Jesus said the kingdom of heaven belongs to them. So what are the qualities of children that we need to learn again? The first is to have a trusting heart. Children have no anxieties or fears when their parents are near. As children of a loving Father, we should never entertain any fear, but must trust that He is always in our midst to protect us and provide for all our needs. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will direct your paths.” (Prov.3:5-6)

Another endearing quality that we can observe in most children is their desire to please their parents. The sweetest thing for a child to hear are the words: “I’m so proud of you.” In order to be pleasing to our Father in heaven, it is not enough that we avoid wrongdoing; we must also show our sincere love for others, most especially the poor and underprivileged by works of charity and mercy. Only then can we also hear those cherished words, “Well done, My good and faithful servant.” (Mt.25:21)

Finally, we also learn from the little guys the importance of a creative spirit, or the desire to discover and appreciate the wonders of creation. Children have a natural craving to learn new things every day, the reason why they are perpetually asking questions about many things. Parents who are wise and loving never tire to explain things and patiently answer the questions of their children. They know this is the way to develop their intelligence and quest for knowledge. God, our Father also wants us to attain wisdom in order to deepen our understanding of our faith. He does not want us to be like zombies, blindly following Church doctrines without grasping their biblical significance. The reason why our Brotherhood urges us to read the Bible and meditate on its passages every day. We are also encouraged to pray to God at least 15 minutes each day, to ask for His grace of wisdom and discernment, so that we may always appreciate everything in our life.

Jesus has shown us how precious the little ones are in life, needing our care and protection. Their innocence reflects the purity of God’s love, and their helplessness reminds us of our own need for God’s constant care and provision. We are mere children, so we must put our complete trust and faith in our loving Father. May we never cease to marvel at the beautiful little children, brimming with hope, full of life, reminding us of God’s goodness and compassion. And like them may we always be grateful for the wonders of His creation.

Lord God, keep our hearts full of trust in Your love and mercy, that we may also be loving and merciful. May all our words and works be pleasing to You, and may we never lose the gift of curiosity and wonder for all the miracles in our lives. Amen.