To Bear Fruit

Mark 4: 1-20
Heb 10: 11-18 / Psa 110:1-4

Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown.
(Mark 4:15)

The ministry of God’s Kingdom
Has been sown in hearts that believed;
A mystery which time has come;
Make known God’s Word we have received.

As Jesus began to teach by the lake, the crowd that gathered around Him was so large that He got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge. “Listen!” He said. “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, multiplying thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times.” Then Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” When He was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that, ‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’ ” Then Jesus said to them, “Do you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable? The farmer sows the word. Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown.” (Mark 4: 1-20)

Reflection

Let the beautiful words of our Lord Jesus sink deep as we reflect on them, and may they take root so that our minds and hearts may be transformed, and the fruits of the Holy Spirit be ours to enjoy, and share with others. We cannot afford to ignore the teachings of Christ as they have come to us through Scriptures and the teachings of our Catholic Church, lest we risk our souls being snatched away by the evil one because we have wandered into the paths of the worldly and unholy. St. Peter warns us in his letter, “Be sober and vigilant. Your adversary, the devil, is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour” (1 Pet.5:8).

Satan too is planting his own seeds in this world to keep us from receiving the Word of God. These are the weeds of pride, self-indulgence, complacency, disobedience, disillusion, persecution, boredom, impatience, hatred, lust, and all the other sins alongside of which the Word of God can never take root, much less bear fruit. Those who pride themselves in their self-sufficiency because of their wealth or influence find no time to meditate on the gospel values of Jesus Christ. Too preoccupied with the business of making money and indulging their carnal passions, the teachings of Christ and His Church bear no relevance to their lifestyle. At the other end of the scale are the people who have lost hope because of the world’s persecution. They are disillusioned by the perceived failures of the Church, the government, or their own families or businesses. Driven by hatred, they no longer read or hear God’s call, and they abandon their faith altogether. Some of them even resort to crime. But the most subtle weed that we must guard against is complacency. We cannot be comfortable about “being saved” just because we believe that Jesus is our Lord, and we are “not hurting anybody”. Jesus wants us to grow and be fruitful. This means understanding the Word of God, letting it live in our hearts, and proclaiming it to others so that they too may live God’s Word in their lives.

Lord God, You nourish our spirits with Your lessons and decrees in the Gospel of Your Beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. With the guidance and inspiration of Your Holy Spirit, and the fellowship of your Church, grant that we may grow more fruitful for the sake of Your kingdom. Amen.

Temporal and Spiritual Families

Mark 3:31-35
Heb 10:1-10 / Psa 40

‘Who are My mother and My brothers?’ …whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother.’
(Mark 3:33,35)

If we want to be Christ’s brother,
What do our words and acts reveal?
Do we show love for one another,
As He has taught us to be God’s will?

Then the mother of Jesus and His ‘brothers’ arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call Him. A crowd was sitting around Him, and they told Him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.” He replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” Then He looked at those seated in a circle around Him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:31-35)

Reflection

Our Lord was not ignoring His own mother and relatives when they came to see him, but only took this opportunity to convey an important lesson about the kingdom of God. On this occasion He was not taking His blood relationships for granted, but was simply emphasizing a higher, more lasting spiritual kinship, which is the family of God. And His message then as it is now is: we can only enter into this relationship if we do the will of the Father.

Today’s Gospel reading makes us pause to reflect on two other lessons that our Lord may be imparting to us. First is about belonging to a group of believers that we consider as our ‘larger family’ here on earth (apart from our own natural family). This ‘family’ is more representative of the Father’s divine family in heaven. This spiritual family, which is also called a renewal community, may be a charismatic prayer group, or a brotherhood of Christians who are bound together by the Gospel values of Jesus Christ. The other more important lesson is that all our intimate relationships in this life are nothing compared to our relationship with God. We must therefore never grow too fond or attached to anyone or anything in this world. Instead, let’s just be thankful that we have holy relationships that will last forever! Why bind ourselves to one another with a tie that we know one day will be broken?

I recall the first time we joined our spiritual family, the BCBP. At first it felt awkward being addressed as “brother” or “sister” by people whom we had just met. But later, it felt great feeling a sense of belonging, being part of a larger family that we had chosen to join. We discovered the essence of God’s family in the fellowship of those who bared not only their souls to one another, but treated each other generously in Christ. In many instances we witnessed this — in the financial assistance to a brother or his wife who was hospitalized; in the generous “abuloy” to another whose poor brother suddenly died from a stroke; in the prayer petitions through text messages from members in need of divine intervention, and many other acts of charity. Jesus said, “This is My commandment, that you love one another.” (Jn. 15:17) Doing God’s will simply means loving one another. In this larger family, we came to realize that we all need a support group, without which most of us would be no match against the forces of evil. No soul can stand alone. How fortunate are all those who are now in one of God’s spiritual families: as we draw closer to our brothers and sisters in community, we draw nearer to Christ and our Father in heaven.

Father, You have blessed us with both our natural and spiritual families. Help us to love them unconditionally in good times and in bad, as it is Your will for us to follow the example of our Lord Jesus Christ in all our relationships. Amen.

A Sin Unforgiven

Mark 3: 22-30
2 Tim 1:1-8 / Psa 96:1-3,7-8,10

…whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin.
(Mark 3:29)

Those who see only evil in good
Trap themselves forever in their sin;
Like the scribes who never understood
‘Twas the Holy Spirit they blasphemed.

The teachers of the law, who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebub! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.” So Jesus called them and spoke to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can rob his house. I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin.” He said this because they were saying, “He has an evil spirit.” (Mark 3:22-30)

Reflection

Is there really a sin that can never be forgiven? Yes, there is, but this does not contradict the doctrine we believe in that God is all-forgiving. Jesus Himself said, “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son (to die on the cross for the remission of our sins) so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. Whoever believes in Him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the Name of the only Son of God (John 3:16-18). Only those who willfully deny the divinity of Jesus, our Lord and Savior, condemn themselves to eternal perdition. God cannot save a soul who refuses to be saved. In the Gospel version of Matthew, the author added these words of Jesus: “Whoever is not with Me is against Me, and whoever does not gather with Me scatters” (Mat.12:30). And He further said, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will render an account for every careless word they speak. By your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned” (Mat.12:36-37).

Our Lord Jesus was not condemning those who had attributed His divine power (to cast out evil spirits) to Satan; He was in fact warning them that if they continued to persist in their unbelief, then they would be blaspheming against the Holy Spirit, and would inevitably condemn themselves, as what had happened to Satan and his minions, whose willful opposition to God’s love had hardened their hearts forever.

The most difficult spiritual problem that I continue to struggle with concerns a close relative. He no longer believes in the salvation offered by Jesus Christ. In fact he even doubts the existence of a loving God Who is Father to us all. I fear for the eternal fate of his soul because he no longer cares about his faith. But I still hold on in trust to the power of combined prayers. I therefore plead with you, dear reader, to please pray for Oscar, that our Lord God in His goodness, will manifest a miracle in his life leading to his conversion. Thank you, and God bless you for this favor.

Father God, our Lord Jesus said, ‘no one can enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man’ when He rescued the captives of Satan. Please tie up the hands of Satan, the strong man, so that the souls that he has taken possession of may escape eternal damnation. Amen.

Going Insane in God’s Work

Mark 3: 20-21
Heb 9:2-3,11-14 / Ps 47

When His relatives heard of this they set out to seize Him, for they said, ‘He is out of His mind.’
(Mark 3:21)

At times it’s hard to comprehend
Or grasp the message of God’s Word,
We must have faith, that God will send
The wisdom which is our reward.

Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” (Mark 3: 20-21)

Reflection

The Gospel reading for today is one of the shortest in the Bible, but it gives us a clear picture about the difficulties that our Lord had to face in His ministry. Being omniscient, He knew that His words would be read by Christians of all generations, and would be understood as they are related to the scriptures of the Old Testament as well as to the teachings of the Church in modern times. The problem was that His words could hardly be understood by the Jews of His own generation. The scribes even said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul” (Mk.3:22). It didn’t help that He always taught the crowds in parables, which to the undiscerning mind must have sounded like words of an insane man. Worst of all, He was going around with a ragtag band of followers (like Simon, a known rebel, Judas Iscariot, a man of dubious origins, a tax collector, and some fishermen) who would surely get Him into trouble, if not with the religious leaders, then with the Roman military authorities. His relatives had become concerned when the scribes and Pharisees questioned the new teachings that He was proclaiming, especially about the observance of the Sabbath and other traditional forms of worship. He kept ministering to hordes of people, even if this was preventing Him from taking care of His own needs, going hungry in the process of giving service to the sick. They then decided that He had to be taken care of.
We can see how difficult it is to follow the footsteps of our Lord in the ministry of the Word. He was rejected by His own hometown when He went home to preach and to heal the sick. He was, after all, only the son of a poor carpenter. Where did He get the authority to stand up in the synagogues and teach? Despite all the miracles that He performed early on, His own relatives were the first to doubt His sanity.

We too will experience the doubts, or even ridicule of our own friends and relatives when we speak out for the Lord, especially if we are new members or converts into the renewal. They may question our sincerity or sanity, incredulous about what we are saying when they first hear us proclaim the Word of God.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus sets the example for us not to allow hunger, fear, doubts or ridicule to get in the way of serving His kingdom. The work before us is so important that the judgment of others about our behavior bears little significance in the light of God’s approval.

Lord Jesus, in today’s Gospel You teach us with a few words the big mission that is laid out for us to accomplish. Help us, dear Savior, in times of our anxieties, doubts and fear of shame, to stand up for Your Word, even if it will make us appear ridiculous in front of our peers. Make us bold in the Spirit, Lord, that we may fearlessly proclaim Your Word. Amen.

Being Chosen for a Mission

Mark 3: 13-19
Heb 8:6-13 / Psa 85:8,10,11-14

Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to Him those He wanted, and they came to Him.
(Mark 3:13)

Chant His praise across the nation!
Let His Good News be heard by all!
We’ve been chosen for salvation,
All you faithful who hear His call.

Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to Him those He wanted, and they came to Him. He appointed twelve—designating them apostles — that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons. These are the twelve He appointed: Simon (to whom He gave the name Peter, James, son of Zebedee and his brother John, (to them He gave the name Boanerges, which means Sons of Thunder); Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Him. (Mark 3: 13-19)

Reflection

Jesus had already called a number of the disciples to follow Him before the formal appointment of the twelve. First to be called were Simon Peter and his brother Andrew, then James and his brother John, all of them fishermen. He told them, “Come after me and I will make you fishers of men” (1:17). According to the account in John’s Gospel, the following day Jesus went to Galilee and found Philip, who in turn told Nathaniel (Bartholomew), “We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the prophets, Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth” (Jn.1:43-45). Then Jesus called Matthew, the tax collector. Mark named him Levi in Mk.2:14. Could the word “levy” as in tax collection have come from his name?

Except for the first four, the other apostles all came from different backgrounds. None of them seemed to be men of distinction, power, wisdom or wealth. In fact, throughout the Gospel accounts, we read about their character flaws that seem to make them such poor choices as Christ’s core group. As their leader, Peter appeared to be weak and indecisive, even cowardly. James and John were too impulsive and ambitious. Andrew was the meek type, preferring to stay in the background. Then there’s Nathaniel the cynic (“Can anything good come from Nazareth?”) in Jn.1:46. And who can forget the doubting Thomas? And last and least of them all, Judas, the betrayer. From the Gospel accounts, little is known about the other apostles’ lives.

It was only after Jesus had resurrected from the dead and ascended into heaven, and the Holy Spirit’s power came down upon the apostles on Pentecost that their lives and personalities were completely transformed. Only John, the favored apostle did not die a martyr’s death, but he was nonetheless exiled in Patmos, where it is believed he wrote the last book of the Bible. Reflecting on the call of the apostles, we can see that they were not chosen because of any particular talents or abilities, but by their willingness to follow and obey the Son of God. They were not even sure about their future with this “Prophet from Nazareth”, and even turned cold feet at a critical time. But in the end, they came together again in faith and trust, albeit in great fear. God knows our weaknesses, our anxieties and fears. But He calls us nonetheless, because even if our faith were the size of a mustard seed, He knows He can make it increase a hundredfold, and employ us for the purpose for which we were born.

Dear God, we have heard Your call, and we follow Your will for our life. Use us as You deem it proper, for we put our complete trust in You, believing that all things work out for the good for those who are called to serve Your kingdom here on earth. We can only praise and thank You, Lord, for this special privilege. Amen.

Transforming the Multitudes

Mark 3:7-12
Heb 7:25—8:6 / Psa 40

All who were afflicted with diseases pressed toward him in order that they could touch him. And whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God!”
(Mark 3:10-12)

Of all the things in my concern
Where does my priority lie?
To follow Christ I must first learn:
What kind of a Christian am I?

Jesus withdrew toward the sea with His disciples. A large crowd followed Him from Galilee and from Judea. A great number of people also came from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, Transjordan, and from the region of Tyre and Sidon, for they had heard of all that He was doing. Because of the crowd, Jesus told His disciples to have a boat ready for Him, to prevent the people from crushing Him. He had healed so many that all who were afflicted with diseases pressed toward Him in order that they could touch Him. And whenever the unclean spirits saw Him, they fell down before Him, and cried out, “You are the Son of God!” But He warned them sternly not to make Him known. (Mark 3:7-12)

Reflection

The popularity of Jesus as a great healer and teacher had attracted multitudes of people coming from all over Galilee. Aware of the opposition from the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, and their plot to kill Him, He withdrew toward the sea with His disciples. Still the crowds came, and had become so thick that Jesus had to have a boat ready, in case He needed room to address the crowds pressing upon Him. All who were afflicted with various ailments wanted to touch Him, while those possessed by evil spirits proclaimed His divinity, but were silenced.

Why were such large crowds coming to Jesus? Was it to listen to his teachings? Many of them came to be healed of their diseases or to be freed from evil spirits. Most others were curiosity-seekers and speculators who were hoping that Jesus would be their savior against the Roman conquerors of Israel. But Jesus was not the kind of Messiah they had been waiting for. He was in fact far more than any political leader who could give them temporal freedom here on earth. His kind of deliverance was from damnation to a life eternal in the kingdom of God in heaven.

In the Christian world today, we find that there are many followers of Jesus. Sadly, it seems most of them have the wrong motives for following Him. They look upon God to fill their needs, for long-term security, or merely to belong to His Church. When they pray, it is only to ask for favors. When they give tithes, it is only because they expect a tenfold return on their offerings. A true Christian is one who gives his life to the Lord because of love. He obeys all of God’s decrees because he believes in all the teachings of Jesus Christ. Of the thousands who followed Jesus when He walked the earth, only a little over a hundred was left when He ascended to heaven. Most of them had gone on to continue with their temporal pursuits.

A similar situation happened here in our country recently when Pope Francis came for a five-day visit. Thousands were inspired and moved by his words and deeds. For sure, many lives were transformed. But how long will the influence of Pope Francis last? How committed are those thousands to continue and become true followers of Christ? I wonder how many of our government leaders will now turn a new leaf.

Thank You Lord God, for sending us Your beloved shepherd, Pope Francis. May his coming to our country lead to a great transformation of our leaders. Amen.