The Things We Take for Granted

Mark 9: 41-50
Sir 5: 1-8 / Psa 1: 1-6

I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.
(Mark 9: 41)

Do not drive away from your door
The poor, the sick and unwanted;
Might be Christ we chose to ignore,
What if He takes us for granted?

Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward. And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’ Everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other.” (Mark 9: 41-50)

Reflection

In his homily at a noon mass we attended, a Nigerian priest asked the parishioners if they were aware that a miracle had happened that day. Answering his own question, he said simply, “You woke up this morning. That’s the miracle.” His point was if not for the grace of God in our lives, we could just as well be one of those lives snuffed out by a typhoon, an earthquake, a tsunami, a terrorist’s bomb, or by the number one killer in the world today, a heart attack. But we were all safe and healthy in that peaceful house of God, witnessing and partaking of another miracle, the transformation of an ordinary bread into the living Body of our Savior. And we never gave it a thought; we just took it all for granted.

We are thankful for a glass of cold water offered on a hot afternoon, but just as easily take the favor for granted afterwards. But Jesus said He will not forget — that person “will certainly not lose his reward.” In the same manner, we may not give pause to the kind of example we show to the “little ones” – the insignificant people in our lives, like our servants in the house, the office janitor or lowly clerk, the fruit vendor at the corner street, the beggar knocking on our car window, or even our own children. But it is our very attitude towards these “little people” – whether we build up their hope in a loving God, or tear it down by our prejudice and indifference – that will determine our standing with God. We can never take their presence in our lives for granted, because Jesus is in every one of them.

As Christian leaders, we have a grave responsibility to build up the faith of subordinates or people over whom we have influence, directing them towards the kingdom of God. We can do this by having a forgiving spirit, by honest business dealings (Be Honest Even if Others are Not!), by kind and encouraging words we speak, by being generous to those who seek our help, and by sharing the Word of God to the spiritually famished. These are the little things that matter, that we must never take for granted, because God can use them to make miracles in other peoples’ lives.

Last, but certainly not the least, we must never take the danger of sin lightly. In fact, Jesus tells us to treat it ruthlessly. Better to be maimed and blind in life, than be whole and end up in hell. Thus we must cut off all worldly practices in our life: what we do, where we go, and what we see (pornography?). How unfortunate for many, that these are the things they just take for granted.

Instill in us the fear of hell and the hope of heaven, dear God, so that we may see each day in our life as a miracle of Your loving grace, and strive to live according to the Gospel values of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

The Divine Appointment

Matthew 16: 13-19
1 Pt 5:1-4 / Ps 23

I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.
(Matthew 16:19)

May the Lord grant us the wisdom
To ensure our soul’s salvation --
To use the keys of His kingdom
For love and reconciliation.

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ (Mt.16:13-19)

Reflection

St. Peter’s declaration of the messiahship and divinity of Jesus was the defining moment of his own destiny as the first head of the Church. But as Jesus pointed out to all present, it was God the Father Himself Who revealed this to Peter, thus appointing him as the “Rock” of His Church, and the icon of the faith. This divine appointment and grave responsibility to “carry Christ’s Church” as its foundation was emphasized when Jesus changed his name from Simon to Peter, in the same way that God anointed Abraham (from Abram) and Israel (from Jacob) when they were sent out in God’s mission. After assuring him that the Church would always stand firm against “the gates of Hades”, Jesus promised to give him the “keys of heaven” – the power and privilege to bind or loosen – whatever needed to be bound by God’s laws, or released from man-made ones. The first time St. Peter used these “keys” was after Pentecost, when he stood up to speak about Jesus and repentance, and about three thousand Jews were converted and baptized (Acts 2:41).

Through the centuries, the legacy of St. Peter has been handed down to successions of Bishops of Rome, and the keys of the kingdom have opened heaven’s door of salvation to countless millions all over the world. And yet they had also closed the door on those who opposed the Church of Rome on matters of doctrine. We are all bound by God’s laws to obey the teachings of our Church according to our conscience. During this time of year, let us reflect on how we can participate in the Church’s mission of spreading the faith by practicing the Gospel values taught by our Lord. We can share in this divine appointment by acts of charity, especially almsgiving to those who are in dire straits; by proclaiming the Good News of the Gospel to the lukewarm of faith; by forgiving those who have done us some wrong; and by receiving the sacraments more than once a week. We too can use St. Peter’s keys to unlock the door of love and reconciliation to others.

In preparation for the coming season of Lent, help us, Lord Jesus, to be more patient, tolerant, forgiving, understanding, generous and kind, as our way of atoning for past sins. Amen.

Who is the Greatest?

Mark 9: 30-37
Sir 2: 1-11/ Psalm 37

‘Whoever wants to be first must be last and servant of all.’ Then He took a little child and placed him in their midst. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the One who sent me.’
(Mark 9:35-37)

Blessed are the small and the meek,
Unlike the proud, God hears their call.
Those who serve the poor and the weak
Are for Christ the greatest of all!

Jesus and His disciples began a journey through Galilee, but Jesus did not want anyone to know about it. He was teaching His disciples, and telling them, ‘The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.’ They did not understand yet they were afraid to ask Him. Instead, they argued with one another who was the greatest. When they reached Capernaum, Jesus asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ But they were silent. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’ Then, taking a little child in His arms, He said to them, ‘Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives not me but the One Who sent me.’ (Mark 9:30-37)

Reflection

In a subtle way our Lord employed the example of a little child to chastise and teach His apostles. They were behaving like little children, quarreling among themselves about who was the greatest in their ranks. Jesus had just told them that “The Son of Man will be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” (Mk.9:32) The significance of His words could not sink into their consciousness because they were more preoccupied with status and influence as the ‘chosen disciples’ of the Messiah. In the eyes of the Lord, they were all being childish.

The apostles could not accept the idea that persecution, and not liberation was what awaited their Master in Jerusalem. Earlier, Jesus had already told them about this (Mk.8:31), but His foremost apostle, Peter, had strongly objected. They were, to say the least, bewildered. After all that their Messiah had accomplished – building up a following in the thousands, with unimaginable power at His command (even the forces of hell and nature obeyed Him) – here was Jesus talking about His downfall and ignominious death! How could He be talking like this just when greatness was almost at their fingertips? But they were innocent of the true meaning of greatness.

Wrapping His arms around the child, Jesus proclaimed that true greatness lies in our willingness to serve those who are most vulnerable and most powerless, the little ones in our midst. And this is how we welcome Him and the Father (v.37). The child Jesus embraced represents the sick, the hungry, the poor and all disadvantaged people deserving of our care and mercy.

Greatness we have witnessed in times of tragedies and crises. The response from many people all over the world to the environmental disasters happening regularly in many countries bears witness to the greatness in the hearts of many who are willing to help in times of emergencies. All of these heroes will be greatly rewarded, for as our Lord said, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did it for me” (Mt.25:40).

Remind me Lord Jesus, whenever the little ones come to me in times of need, that it is You Who is coming to me to give me the opportunity for true greatness. Amen.

Prayers for a Stronger Faith

Mark 9: 14-29
Sir 1:1-10 / Psa 93

“I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
(Mark 9:24)

Should evil keep my soul in chains,
Where else to turn to for relief?
In You alone my hope remains,
Lord, help me with my unbelief.

When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the scribes arguing with them. As soon as the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet Him. “What are you arguing with them about?” he asked. A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought my son so you could heal him. He is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.” Jesus replied, “You unbelieving generation, how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.” So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth. Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?” He answered, “From childhood. It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” Jesus replied, “What do you mean, ‘If you can’? Everything is possible for one who believes.” Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” He said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up. After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.” (Mark 9:14-29)

Reflection

The apostles had been successful in exorcizing evil spirits before, when Jesus sent them out in pairs to preach repentance and heal the sick (Mk.6:7). So why couldn’t they drive out the dumb demon this time? It was simply because the father of the possessed boy did not believe that they had the power to do it. The apostles had been empowered to cast out evil spirits before, so in their self-assurance, they probably forgot to pray to God to give them that power again. True faith is the humility of recognizing our lack of it, and believing that only God can increase its fervor in our heart. It is only when we turn to God in prayer, and acknowledge to Him our weakness that the healing power of His Holy Spirit comes to bear.

Jesus shows us once again that having faith is more important than being healed. And possessing a gift from the Holy Spirit (like healing) does not necessarily mean that we have a strong faith either. In all instances, we must turn to God in prayer, whether to ask for somebody’s healing or to be exorcised of an evil influence. When a brother in our community sent a text message asking for help to secure blood platelets for their son who was stricken with dengue fever, I prayed for the Lord’s help, and sent out requests for prayers to many other members of our community. I was afraid that the Red Cross blood center might be out of stock of platelets as often happens whenever incidents of dengue fever are on the rise. The batting average of answered prayers by a community of believers praying as one is high. Our prayers were immediately answered, as the father of the boy stricken with dengue fever was able to secure the needed three units of platelets that morning. We praised and thanked the Lord!

Father God, you know our hearts, though we are always besieged by the spirit of doubt; please cure us of our unbelief, so that our faith may grow, and we may become closer to You. Amen.

Empowerment from the Father

Mark 9: 2-13
Heb 11:1-7 / Ps 145

This is My Beloved Son. Listen to Him.
(Mark 9:7)

Lead me Lord to Your heights sublime,
And there behold Your radiant face;
In Your presence bide for a time
To be empowered by Your grace.

After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.) Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what “rising from the dead” meant. And they asked him, “Why do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?” Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah does come first, and restores all things. Why then is it written that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected? But I tell you, Elijah has come, and they have done to him everything they wished, just as it is written about him.” (Mark 9:2-13)

Reflection

What a terrifying moment it must have been for Sts. Peter, James and John when they heard the voice of God thundering from the clouds atop Mt. Hebron. And yet, how good it must have felt to be so near to heaven. So much so that Peter wanted to stay there longer, as he urged the Master to allow them to build three tents for Him, Moses and Elijah. But Jesus had not brought them to this peaceful place to escape, or to take a short vacation from the madding crowd below. He had come here to be recharged, as the time of His mission’s culmination drew near. He needed this transfiguration before His crucifixion. He needed to hear His Father’s voice for reassurance, that He was pleased with Him, and that He loved Him. Coming down from the mountain, our Lord was ready to face His tormentors and the jaws of death in another mountain. Moses and Elijah, God’s greatest prophet and greatest leader had been sent to reassure Him of the glory that awaited Him upon the completion of His mission. But the best reassurance and empowerment had come from the loving voice of the Father Himself, Who was pleased with His Son. Now He was ready.

As a young boy, there was nothing more fulfilling for me than doing what I believed was pleasing to my father. As a war veteran and former chief of police, he was a disciplinarian his eleven children regarded with great fear and reverence. His word was law, and most of the things he taught us have remained indelible in our lives. My trust in his word was so absolute that I could set out to accomplish whatever he ordered or even merely suggested. As a 13-year old weakling, stricken with asthma, sinusitis and migraine, my father told me I needed to build up muscles to support my weak physical structure. In just a few days, I was able to build my own backyard gym, consisting of a chinning pole, parallel bars, abdominal board, and a crude barbell made out of tin cans with poured cement. After a few months of working out in my personal gym, I had built up enough muscles to scare the neighborhood bully.

We all need to spend quiet moments of meditation with our heavenly Father for our inspiration and spiritual development. We need to hear His voice in our prayer time and in His Word, the Holy Bible. Nothing is impossible when we believe that what we are doing is according to His will. As the Book of Wisdom assures us: Those who trust in God shall understand truth, and shall abide with Him in love: because grace and mercy are with His holy ones, and His care is with His elect (Wis.3:9). We also have complete trust in the words of Psalm 91: You have the Lord for your refuge; you have made the Most High your stronghold. No evil shall befall you, no affliction come near your tent. Whoever clings to Me I will deliver; whoever knows My Name I will set on high. I will satisfy them and show them My saving power (Ps.91:9-16).

Father God, grant that I may hear Your voice in quiet moments with You, reassuring me of Your love, so that nothing will be impossible for me to do for Your glory. Amen.

An Agreement Made in Heaven

Mark 8:34-– 9:1
Gen 11:1-9 / Psa 33

. . . whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.
(Mark 8:35)

The values on which we now depend
Will determine life’s final goal.
What profit is there to gain, my friend,
If in the end I lose my soul?

Jesus called to Himself the multitude with His disciples, and said to them, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man, if he gains the whole world but loses his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of man also be ashamed, when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”

And He said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.” (Mark 8:34-– 9:1)

Reflection

Jim Elliot, an American missionary martyr, once wrote, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” In his memory, poet Scott Wesley Brown wrote:

“Obedience and servanthood are traits I’ve rarely shown

And the fellowship of His sufferings is a joy I’ve barely known

There are riches in surrendering that can’t be gained for free

God will share all heaven’s wonders but the price He asks is me.”

Think about it. This is a contract stacked in our favor. What is the value of my life among the billions of individuals living in this planet? Almost nothing, mathematically speaking. And yet, if I surrender its value to Jesus, what do I get in return? Something more precious than gaining the whole world, according to Him Who never lied, the Word of God Who walked His talk, and showed us the way through His cross. For this broken, wounded, sinful self, God offers His perfect kingdom for all eternity.

Unfortunately, so many do not realize that this is the most important investment that they can ever make in their life. They deny the truth of His Word and refuse to take up their cross, taking instead the wide and easy road that eventually leads to ruin. Yes, the road that leads to eternal life is not easy, and only a few find it (Mt.7:14). But just as the riches of this world are won by only a few who are willing to work hard and endure many sacrifices, so also must the treasure of heaven be only for those who are willing to persevere, take up their cross, and surrender everything for the sake of that Pearl of great prize.

What did Jesus mean when He said, “whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation”? He was directing these words to those who would not get involved in the mission of proclaiming His Good News of salvation to others for fear of being shamed, ostracized or persecuted. We can never claim His fellowship if we do not do our share in bringing others to the life of Jesus Christ.

Lord, what value are these material things to me if they do not help me find my way to Your kingdom? Help me to unburden myself of all worldly attachments and be willing to take up my cross instead to follow my Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.