Month: October 2014

Will you buy from Jesus?

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One most powerful idea I heard over the past week is this:
Advertisers don’t mean to make us happy.

True.
They offer us the coolest gadget: check.
the sleekest car: check.
the most competitive insurance premium: check.

But after having all these, one cannot simply convince oneself
that one’s truly, deeply, absolutely happy.

The human heart will ask for more.
It will demand for this
and that
and those.

And this is where advertisers enter the scene.

They are compelled to look for creative ways
to make us feel incomplete, inconsolable, unsatisfied.
Since only by then that they are able to make us consider their offer.

In this Sunday’s Gospel (Jn 6:37-40), we see Jesus dons an advertiser’s hat,
trying His level best to convince His skeptical listeners.

Let’s backtrack a bit some verses before this pericope to see that His audience had this to say:
“What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you?”

Thus, we see this Gospel passage with this question as a background–
we hear Jesus’s pitch to convince an unbelieving audience.

Yes. Advertisers promote their merchandise.
Here, Jesus is no different, for He, too, offers us something.

Unlike those advertisers who run after us because they need something from us,
Jesus cannot stomach to let us go because we need something from Him.
Something which He alone can offer.

But as with all products, Jesus’s came with a price.
But He assures us that we don’t have to pay for it.
It’s on Him: He paid it with His blood.

He embraced death so that we may live to the full.
Unlike those products which are offered us, what Jesus brings is something to stay.
For good.

What He offers is not just life that will rot, decay, become stale.
It is life eternal.

Will you buy from Him?

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The greatest commandment(s)

The Pharisees gang up on Jesus after news has reached them that He had just silenced the Sadducees, a major sect of Palestinian Judaism (Matthew 22:34-40).

The Pharisees, known for their excessive scrupulosity in observing the smallest details of the Law, gave Jesus their best shot by sending somebody who has mastered the Mosaic Law to test Him.

Unlike last week’s burning question (Is it lawful to pay tax to Caesar?), the question at hand was not meant to put Jesus in a dangerous situation, it only meant to test His aptitude of the Law. The fact that the one who issued the question is a scholar of the Law, the inquirer then must have already the answer. 

The question goes “Which commandment in the law is the greatest?”

Jesus answered “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” His answer did not just come from thin air. He knew His Scriptures quite well that His reply was illuminated by it (Deut 6:5).His answer echoes the first part of the ‘Shema’ (Hebrew word which means ‘Listen’), the monotheistic creed of Israel which is recited as part of their daily prayers.

This prayers constitutes the greatest commandment of the Torah because it details the chief obligation of every Jew: Love the Lord with one’s heart, soul, and mind.

And what does it mean to love the Lord with one’s heart, soul, and mind?

The love one accords to the Lord is not the type which is mere sentimental that springs from the heart, but a steadfast commitment which comes from the entire being of someone to keep the Lord’s covenant.

Indeed, Jesus has His values in the right place. He knows His priorities quite well.

The Pharisee who issued the question must have been quite pleased. Jesus’ answer surpassed his expectation.

But Jesus was not yet through. 

He gives another one, which is interconnected with the first. Like the first, His answer is anchored from the Scriptures (Lev 19:18). The second greatest commandment calls us to love our neighbor with the same consideration with which we busy ourselves caring for our own needs.  We cannot claim we love God if we have been bent on hating our neighbors.

The second issues from the first. Jesus can never be more explicit: To love our neighbors is a necessary consequence of our love for God.

Who bears the image and likeness of God?

Jesus lived in the time when Pharisees did not see the Herodians eye to eye. The former was against the Roman colonizers. The latter, being political supporters of the Herodian clan and are cooperative of the Roman Empire, were very much in support of it. They belong to different political persuasions, but because they needed to topple Jesus, they found in each other strange bed partners.

See this. Even in circumstances that endanger His life, Jesus manages to unite people. And this is what the context of the Gospel reading (Matthew 22:15–21) this Sunday.

Sending some representatives to Jesus, they asked Him “What is your opinion: Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?

Saying yes in agreement to pay the census to Caesar would merit the ire of the people who were against paying taxes. The Jewish nation was theocratic. For them, God was the only king. To pay tax to an earthly king was to submit to a kingship other than the Lord’s.

On the other hand, choosing the opposite will send some provocative signals to the authorities. He runs the risk of courting danger since his statement may be judged as seditious, something which invites people to revolt.

At this point, He demands that a coin which is used for the census tax be shown to Him. They handed him a Roman coin. He said to them, Whose image is this and whose inscription?” They replied, “Caesar’s.” At that he said to them, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”

The unlikely allies didn’t just want to challenge the arguments of Jesus, this time around, they wanted to topple His personhood. And in order to do it, they would have to begin from somewhere. They saw a window of opportunity in blotting out His reputation as it necessarily tears His credibility.

And such a perfect opportunity it is to execute their plans in the presence of the people!

However, since that which Jesus brings is of God’s, He is beyond these. What He brings is the Good News, and His message centers on liberating man that transcends superficial mental distinctions. Going beyond politics, He does not subscribe to any ideology. What He holds sacred is that which deals with God. Everything else is found in the peripheries.

Noting that the image inscribed on the coin is of Caesar’s, it is then logical to grant him that piece of coin. But let us not rub it in any further. By this statement, Jesus also wanted to emphasize what was implicitly stated. What is to be given to Caesar is the coin. What about God’s portion?

 To answer this, let’s ask another question, taking a cue from Jesus’ rejoinder: Who is it again who bears the image and likeness of God?

 Your guess is as good as mine.

Wholly to Him and with Him

As they say, “They come in threes.”

For two Sundays now, Jesus have used parables to preach about God’s Kingdom.

This Sunday, again through another parable (Mt 22:1-10), Jesus draws a likeness between a king who throws a wedding feast and Heaven. He sent out his servants to call the invited guests, but they refused to come. Calmly, he commissioned another servant to persuade the invited guests with this message: The calves and the cattle are killed; all is ready!

Despite the persuasive pitch, some didn’t even bother to pay attention to it; they were just downright busy. Their calendars must have been set for something else.

What is worse is this, pissed off by the insistence of the persevering servants, the other invited guests did not just register their ‘no;’ they even manhandled the hapless servants and even killed them.

Of course, upon learning this, the king was fuming mad. He sent his troops to avenge his servants.

Despite the gloom brought about by the killing, the king was still in a party mode. He then again dispatched his servants to the main roads and invite whomever they find.

The servants did exactly as told. They invited whomever they found, the good ones and even the evil ones. And finally, the hall was filled with guests.

But the mood of the party change when the king meets his guests and finds out one man was not appropriately dress. The king said to him, ‘My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?’ But the guest was speechless. Then the king said to his aides, ‘tie him, and cast him into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’ Many are invited, but few are chosen.”

Talk about a happy feast turned gloomy.

An invitation to Joy
But lest we be cynical about the message of this parable, Jesus is asking us to see and appreciate that the invitation of God is for us to join Him to a feast which is as blissful as a wedding feast. In the context of the Hebrew culture, wedding feasts are so blissful that they are expected to go on for several days.

Hence, His invitation is for us to get rid of people, habits, attachments, which, though bring us superficial satisfaction, but does leave us wanting for more.

Make no mistake about it, heaven is such a place of boundless joy.  And this is what God wants to share with us: the joy of encountering Jesus, the ecstasy of just being with the Father.

No time to pray?
This parable also tells us how despite being invited to a banquet, some willfully do not regard God’s invitation. It illustrates that those who had been invited were not able to say yes; not because they were evil through and through, it’s just that, they didn’t have the time: one went to his farm, another to his business.

It indicates how things, which, though may not be bad in themselves detach us from being able to commune with the Father. We have got plenty of excuses here: ‘I am busy.’ ‘No time.’ ‘Let me begin next time.’ How easy it is to be occupied with things of this world that we fail to track the matters which concern heaven!

Jesus tells us that the banquet is ready, and, as such, we ought to leave our worries behind in order to devote our time wholly to Him and with Him.

Because He loves

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The cornerstone. Graphics by Br Paul Dungca, SDB.

This Sunday, Jesus narrates another parable.

A landowner developed a vineyard. He took great care of it: He put a border around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a tower. Since he would be travelling to another country, he had it leased to some tenants. It happened that the harvest season drew near; he sent his servants to the tenants to get his harvest. Instead, the tenants beat one of his servants, killed another, and stoned another.

The landowner, though utterly disappointed, did not lose heart; he sent more servants the next time around. But they were also treated similar with those who went there the first time.

Thinking that the tenants would respect his son since he is his, he finally sent him.

When the tenants saw the son, they said to one another, “This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and acquire his inheritance.” Hence, the son also suffered the same fate. He was also killed.  

Jesus must have paused here to inquire from his audience: “What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?”

They answered him, “He will put those wretched men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the proper times.”

The Gospel pericope this Sunday (Mt. 21:33-43) showcases a contrast of epic proportions: We have on one hand the goodness of the landowner who epitomizes God, and on the other hand, the evil  which finds its embodiment in the wicked tenants.

The landowner’s goodness is highlighted in giving his tenants considerable chance to shape up as illustrated by the two groups of messengers he sent them to pass on this message: honor the contract, give me the yield of the vineyard. 

But the tenants were deaf to the message of the landowner. Or better yet, they decided not to  listen anymore. Worse, they killed the son of the landowner to transmit an unmistakeable message: They didn’t anymore care.

Betrayal is such one message which the whole of humanity is naturally allergic to. Aware of this,  Jesus used this element in his parable in order to drive home His point: Deep is a wound that is caused by betrayal.   

The landowner showed he was willing to trust his tenants despite their failing him twice. His sending his son over to them indicated that he willed to be vulnerable to them.

The chest is a dog’s most vulnerable part, my spirital director told me once. As such, a dog only exposes this to those whom he considered his masters, to few friends he could exposed his vulnerability. Once exposed, they could either tickle him there, or God forbid, he could be kicked right on that spot.

This parable exemplifies how an all-powerful God could be reduced into someone who is limited, not because He wished to be tickled.
But because  first and foremost, He loves.

We are challenged to do likewise.