I SUNDAY OF LENT: 26 February 2023

Genesis 2:7-9, 3:1-7; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11

In a Calvin and Hobbes comic strip, Calvin tells his dad: “So long, Pop! I’m off to check my tiger trap! I rigged a tuna fish sandwich yesterday, so I’m sure to have a tiger by now!”
His dad replies: “They like tuna fish, huh?”
Calvin says: “Tigers will do anything for a tuna fish sandwich!”
The final frame shows Hobbes, hanging by his foot from a tree, munching a tuna fish sandwich and saying: “We’re kind of stupid that way.”

Adam and Eve were kind of stupid that way! They wanted to be like God and made a foolish decision: instead of enjoying all that was “very good”, they chose the forbidden.
Temptation came to them at three levels: physical (“good for food”); emotional (“a delight to the eyes”); and intellectual (“desired to make one wise”). But the foundation of the temptation was the doubt about God’s word: “Did God say…?” and the blatant denial of God’s word “You will not die.”

Like Adam in the garden, Jesus is subject to three tests in the wilderness. But unlike Adam, Jesus does not succumb. After his baptism, Jesus is clear about his identity as the Son of God and does not make stupid choices which prevent him from living his identity.
The three temptations in Matthew’s account reflect the three tests Israel faced. Israel, called “son” by God, failed each test; Jesus, the obedient Son, rejects the devil’s short-cuts and remains steadfast to God. Jesus

  • refuses to mistrust God; refuses to exploit his power to provide himself with bread instead of waiting for bread from heaven; manifests his total dependence on God.
  • refuses to seek proof of God’s presence with him.
  • affirms his uncompromising and undivided loyalty to God.

Our needs and desires – physical, emotional, intellectual – could become channels for temptation. And we will fall if we fail to nourish ourselves with God’s word, which comes to us in the scriptures, in the teachings of the Church, in the advice of parents and elders, and in the innocence of children.

What is my tuna-fish sandwich? How/when do my legitimate needs become channels for temptation? What prevents me from living as God’s son/daughter?

By: Fr Dr Mascarenhas Vinod SDB

VII SUNDAY OF THE YEAR: 19 February 2023

Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18; 1 Corinthians 3:16-23; Matthew 5:38-48

If there were one crime in human history that most agree cannot be forgiven, it would have to be the Holocaust. Some survivors think otherwise. Eva Kor is one of them. Her parents and two older sisters were killed at Birkenau; with her twin Miriam, she was part of the infamous “Holocaust Twin Experiments” at Auschwitz. As a result of her ordeals at Auschwitz, she suffered miscarriages, developed cancer and tuberculosis.
Kor realized that for her to heal, she must forgive the people who harmed her terribly. She writes: “I discovered that I had the power to forgive… it was all mine to use any way I wished.” Not everyone has agreed with her decision to forgive but she felt it was best for her and the right thing to do.

When someone insults/hurts/harms us, our natural inclination is to get even. Eva Kor gave up this natural urge and reached out to those who harmed her.

This what the readings challenge us to do: reconciliation, not retaliation.
In the gospel, Jesus calls his disciples to non-violence and love of enemies. He quotes the eye-for-an-eye rule of the Mosaic law (which was not a law of revenge but was meant to control the instinct for unbridled retaliation) and rules out retaliation and revenge.
However, he is not advocating that we become wimps and doormats! The examples he gives are instances of non­violent responses to dishonour and oppression… to inspire similar forms of creative nonviolence. Plausible? Yes! Remember Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr did just this.

Why ought we to behave thus?
Because it helps us and them! Because it is the way God acts. We are made in his image and likeness, and we are called to imitate him: “Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy” (first reading); and “Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (gospel). Jesus does not call his disciples to impossible flawlessness but to imitate God’s inclusive and universal love (some translations use the word “compassionate”).
Further, love (here) is not affection; it is willing the good of the other, praying for our persecutors, and doing good to them.

When someone insults/hurts/harms me, what will I toss back—insults or love, retaliation or reconciliation?
Do I need to be reconciled with someone? If yes, how will I reach out to him/her? How will I strive to imitate God in holiness and compassion?

By: Fr Dr Mascarenhas Vinod SDB

VI SUNDAY OF THE YEAR: 12 February 2023

Sirach 15:15-20; 1 Corinthians 2:6-10; Matthew 5:17-37

There were two junior executives in a company. Both were diligent workers. One always went by the book and never erred. The other went beyond the book and therefore made mistakes. When there was an opening for a senior executive position, the managing director promoted the second exec. Mr By-the-Book was enraged and questioned a director about the decision! He had a better record; he never made mistakes; he always followed the book. The director replied: “Yes! But what will you do when something comes up that isn’t in the book? You know the rules. He knows our rationale; he knows the mind of the directors.”

It’s not enough to go by the book. Often in life—and always in the Christian life—we need to go beyond the book. That’s the bottom line of today’s scripture!

The first reading from Sirach presents the people with a choice: life and death. We will have life if we keep the commandments. We have the capacity to do so; it’s a matter of choice.

In the gospel, Jesus challenges his disciples to go beyond the book, to surpass the righteousness of the scribes/Pharisees. In the Jewish perspective, one was righteous if one kept the law. For Jesus, it’s not enough to tick the commandment boxes!
Jesus identifies the causes of sin and calls his disciples to also avoid the causes of sin. He does this through six illustrations (four in today’s text) which have the form “it was said… but I say to you.” The first part of the statement recalls the Law of Moses; the second part is the challenge to “go beyond”.
Disciples must not only
a) avoid murder but also avoid attitudes/behaviour that inappropriately express anger;
b) avoid adultery but also have hearts free of lust;
c) avoid divorce but also remain faithful to the marriage covenant;
d) avoid false oaths but also avoid oaths (an oath calls on God to witness to the truth of one’s statement).

It’s not enough to know and keep the rules. We need to know the rationale for the rules and keep their spirit. We need to know why we are disciples and who we should be… by knowing Jesus, putting on his mind, and living his values.

Am I ready to go beyond “the book”? Am I ready to imitate the One who came to “fulfil the law”? It is a tough ask… and so we pray for the grace to go beyond the book.

By: Fr Dr Mascarenhas Vinod SDB

V SUNDAY OF THE YEAR: 05 February 2023

Isaiah 58:7-10; 1 Corinthians 2:1-5; Matthew 5:13-16

A little girl was visiting her grandparents, who held that Sunday should be a day of quiet and that the Bible was the only book to be read. The girl could neither play nor prance about. One Sunday, she asked for and was given permission to walk to the gate. There she saw the old mule standing with his head bowed and his eyes closed. She patted him, and said: “Poor old fellow, have you got religion, too?”

Isn’t that how many view religion: a set of do’s and don’ts, practices and prayers? And many are completely turned off by the rules and rituals and rhetoric that we think comprise religion.

This Sunday’s readings paint a very different picture of religion!

The context of the first reading is a critique of ritualistic fasting. Isaiah insists that true religion consists in being just and in removing need and oppression. The consequence of such religion: “Then shall your light break forth like the dawn… then shall your light rise in the darkness.”

In the second reading, Paul critiques preaching which is nothing more than empty rhetoric.

For Jesus, discipleship is being “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world”. Salt and light function in three ways: by associating with the things they want to change; by being different from them; and by making a difference.
Also, women in Israel placed salt at the base of ovens and then a salt-dung mixture on it; the salt acted as a catalyst and caused the dung to burn. To be the salt of the earth is to be a catalyst to start fires. When Jesus’ disciples do this, they will also be “light of the earth”. In much of the rest of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus will spell out how to be salt and light, he will articulate this very different and radical way of looking at religion… which is living in love.

Will I live true religion—sharing with the needy, being just, removing oppression? Or will I be satisfied with rules, rituals, rhetoric which lead to bowed heads, closed eyes, heavy hearts? How will I be the salt of the earth, a catalyst to light fires in people’s lives?

By: Fr Dr Mascarenhas Vinod SDB