Feast of St Andrew – Matthew 4:18-22

St. Andrew was a native of Bethsaida in Galilee, a fisherman by trade, and a former disciple of John the Baptist. Andrew was at John’s side when Jesus, whom John had recently baptized walked by. “Look, here is the Lamb of God,” John exclaimed (Jn 1:36). Andrew, together with his more famous brother Peter, whom he introduced to Jesus, is the first to be called by Jesus to follow him. It is for this reason he is called the Protoklete or “first called” apostle. Interestingly, while  he is overshadowed by his brother Peter he continues to be the one who introduces souls to Christ. After Pentecost, Andrew took up the apostolate on a much wider scale, and is said to have been martyred at Patras in southern Greece on a cross which was in the form of an “X”. This type of cross has long been known as “St. Andrew’s cross.”

The name Andrew is related to the Greek word for “man” (Aner, or, in the genitive, Andros). It originally meant something like “manly”. It is interesting that Andrew’s name is of Greek origin, not Aramaic or Hebrew. This is indicative of a certain cultural openness in his family. The fact that their father, Jonah (or Jonas) gave his elder son Simon, an Aramaic name and his younger son Andrew, a Greek name reflects the mixed Jewish-Gentile environment of Galilee.

In today’s Gospel we hear St Matthew’s version of the calling of the first four disciples. Andrew and Peter were casting their nets into the sea while James and John were mending their nets. Both the sets of brothers “immediately” left their nets, boats and father and followed him. The word in Greek for ‘follow me’ is akoloutheo  which translates as accompany or assist. It is from this word that we get the English word acolyte. It is they who are called to assist in teaching the word with Jesus. They become the ‘minsters  of the word’ in Matthew chapter 5-7 and then  again the ‘ministers of the deed’ in chapters 8-9.

Peter, Andrew, James and John set a wonderful example of readiness; there is no “shortly”, “maybe tomorrow”, “I’m busy just now”. The disciples were apparently inspired by the mission and made radical commitments to the movement. The Roman empire relied on threat, coercion and enticements to recruit people into its military. The new kingdom, on the other hand, inspires them to participate in it. Perhaps what we need to ask ourselves is what nets do I need to leave in order to follow Jesus wholeheartedly? What obstacles, what material attachments, what comfort zones have wound themselves so tightly around me that I cannot get up and follow him?

It would do well for us to remember that the calling of Jesus is rooted in God, not in us. Jesus chose them and he chooses us. It may well happen that we can be self-absorbed; that we think that everything begins and ends with us. This calling is very significant, so much so that towards the end of their three years together, as he prepares them to go forth after his death and resurrection, he reminds them (John 15:16) “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.”. The calling of Jesus, rooted in God, originates in God,  emanates from God. It’s HIS initiative and his choice. It is also very comforting for us to know that Jesus calls simple men like these. They were not super-duper saints and that gives us hope that he may even be able to use a person like you. The important thing is for us to give ourselves to Him.

This narrative of the call of St. Andrew is quite appropriate for the beginning of Advent because Advent must be a time when Jesus calls us anew.  It must be a new beginning and a new conversion for us.  As Advent begins, we should hear Jesus’ call to us, “follow me”  We should hear Him invite us with an invitation to give ourselves completely to His divine plan and purpose.

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Matthew 25: 31-46 – Solemnity of Christ the King

A matter of the heart

We know that Jesus is REALLY PRESENT in the Eucharist, but He is also ‘really present’ in the poor. In scripture we read, “what so ever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters that you do unto me.”  So whenever we reach out to the poor, it’s not ‘as if ‘ we were doing it for the Lord; we ‘are’ doing it to Him. Jesus is really present in the hungry, naked, lonely, and sick and those  in prison. So any good we do, we do it to Jesus himself.

This passage of Matthew is taken from the last of the “great sermons” preached by Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel.  The JBC describes this passage as a master piece, the high point and grand finale of last of Matthew’s five discourses. As this sermon draws to a close we find our self stepping directly int the Passion Narrative. This is Jesus farewell message to the masses, the last sermon of his public ministry and His personal appeal to us to prepare ourselves, if we wish to enter the kingdom. The list that Jesus enumerates contains six of the seven corporal acts of mercy (the one missing is the burial of the dead) .

When you look at the life of Jesus, it is clear that he made a ‘preferential option for the poor’; a recurring theme in the Gospels. Mother Teresa often said that the Gospel can be summarized in five words; ‘you- did- it-unto- me’. These humble words, each not exceeding four letters of the alphabet, carry the strongest message not only of Christian almsgiving but love in action.

Jesus’ call to almsgiving is not a mere distribution of one’s wealth. When Jesus is criticized by the Pharisees because he did not follow their customs of ritually cleansing the cup and dishes before eating, he responded by saying that if they really wanted to be cleansed, they should give away the contents of those vessels: “Although you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, inside you are filled with plunder and evil; but as to what is within, give alms, and behold everything will be clean for you.” (Luke 11:39-41

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Appearances CORN be deceptive

It was the month of July. My girl was just a bub. My cousin’s pen pal had decided to visit and stay with her. Every day they would take her to some new part of Goa and this time she asked me if we would like to join. 

I jumped at the chance cause unlike my cousin who was brought up in Goa I was from Bombay, a city girl, and Goa was an occasional summer holiday destination. Though I always visited Goa with my parents in the summer I had only recently come to love the tranquility and beauty of Goa when all the tourists would disappear and Goa seemed to be all mine. 

Hello, monsoon!

So we all jumped into the car and I was excited that my daughter was on a little adventure with me too. As we reached one of the higher points in Goa I had barely an hour to take in amazing views on the hill before we saw the dark clouds creep in. All we had for cover was one tree. Drenched we giggled with joy. Most of us didn’t have the pleasure of being soaked since we were kids.

 As we all huddled back into the car the shower disappeared as quickly as it appeared. We decided to roll down the windows to somewhat dry ourselves off and head home. A few miles into our drive was when the smell of corn wafted through those car windows. My cousin hit the brakes. “Who wants some corn?”, she yelled. We all did of course except for our dear little visitor who was wisely cautioned not to eat off the streets of India. And as we all settled down to eat one, our American friend politely asked us if she could have a bite. Let’s face it, you can’t resist warm buttery corn when the weather is just begging you to have one. Freshly roasted over a fire, rubbed with a little lime, and chilly she was instantly converted and proceeded to eat two, spice, and all.

Now let me add here that it wasn’t like I hadn’t eaten roasted corn before but it was like the heavens came together that day to leave one perfect happy little memory in my brain. Sometimes food memories are so simple yet they bring so much joy. Just like drinking kadak chai in college from little glasses on the street, or gobbling that delicious vada pan as an adult on the way back from work. Now every winter in Dubai, I always treat my family to some butter, chilly, and lime roasted corn and it never fails to bring a smile to all our faces.

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Finally – Saturday, 34th Week in ordinary time – Luke 21:34-36

Tomorrow we begin the season of advent. This entire week we have heard the texts from chapter 21 which oscillate from apocalyptic teaching to eschatological expectations. That text ends today with words of sage advice from our Lord; be on your guard. If the enemy was at our doorstep no one would even need to remind us of being watchful; a possible immanent attack would shake us all out of our slumber. But that same watchman may throw caution to the winds in times of peace.

Jesus is the prince of peace but that does not mean the enemy is going to let his guard down when it comes to waging a war. How often has our procrastination kept us flirting on the borders of sin rather than in the safety of the pearly gates. Procrastination is rooted in the belief that nothing is going to happen today that will shake my world; that is a mistake.

So, we settle to a life laid back in the secular rather than stand ready for the hour that the Lord has ordained. We get weighed down by dissipation; there is a focus on an overindulgence in sensual pleasures. Nietzsche said that the mother of dissipation is not joy but joylessness. The scriptures highlights drunkenness as one such example. Joy and moderation go hand in hand. When our hearts are happy, our own skins are a good place to be; we do not need to be blown out of our minds by alcohol or other drugs. If not, we permit our minds to be drawn to every cause and concern that the world raises, every pleasure it offers and we make it our own. Their red flags become ours, their voice of concerns is lived in our homes, their definition of joy becomes our yardstick. And this as scripture tells us is ‘a trap’ (verse 35a).

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Rooted in His kingdom – Friday, 34th week in ordinary time – Luke 21:29-33

In Luke 21, Jesus reminds his followers that there is always more going on than meets the eye. There is more to reality than we might see at first glance. The illustration of the fig tree is often referred to as a “parable”. In the RSV translation it is more appropriately titled as the ‘ lesson of the fig tree’.

Once again Jesus draws a spiritual lesson from nature. In the scriptures of the last few days Jesus has been telling us about the passing of things and the dreadful events associated with the ending of things as we know them. Today he sums it up with the story of the fig tree. Deciduous trees sprout leaves indicating an upcoming change of seasons. When the branches of the fig tree become green and tender, you know that summer is near.

This “parable” is really more of an observation and a warning. The immediate context seems to refer to the fig tree in a natural (not symbolic) sense. While it is clear in scriptures that Israel is symbolized, at times, by the fig tree, the usage here simply seems to be that of a tree and the lessons it offers us. The imagery of the fig tree sprouting new leaves heralds the coming of the Son of Man, calling the listener to have eyes to see the signs, and the good sense to be ready. 

Jesus is telling us to notice the signs of the times for it indicates the arrival, the advent, the presence, and the power of the Kingdom of God; like new leaves  sprouting on a fig tree. This observation will help us to discern between what is of true value in the kingdom of God  and what is passing. Hence there is a need to  be watchful. The Christian must never come to think that he is living in a settled situation. He must be a man who lives in a permanent state of expectation.

This parable could also be used to illustrate what we mean today by “discernment”. The word is applied to a process of searching for God’s will and deciding how to respond to it. Through gospel contemplation we allow ourselves to absorb the attitudes and values of Jesus. These then become the criteria by which we evaluate the situation in which we find ourselves and the particular issue calling for a decision. In a way we are  all looking for “signs”. These will not be cosmic disturbances in the heavens but inner movements of spiritual consolation or desolation.

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