• 1

Janet D'Souza

Where are you?

There is an extraordinary truth contained in today’s passage that we often miss. It is that God searches for us. We often believe that we have to go looking for God, and while this is undoubtedly true, it should give us a sense of immense encouragement that God is also looking for us. And were it not for this fact, many of us who are looking for him might be permanently lost. Consider the sheep that got lost in today’s story. For whatever reason he wandered away from the flock and couldn’t find his way back home, but the shepherd went looking for him. And found him!

This has been the truth about God from the beginning of time. After Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating the forbidden fruit, Scripture says “they heard the sound of God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and hid themselves from his presence among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” (see Genesis 3:8-9). God went after Adam, seeking him out. And, since then, it has always been God in search of us, asking the same question: “Where are you?”

Speaking for God, the prophet Ezekiel said: “I myself will search for my sheep and look after them” (Ezekiel 34:11). This is a truth that Jesus confirmed time and time again. One instance, of course, is this parable of the lost sheep that we just looked at. He did this in the two parables that follow it as well: one, of a woman combing through her entire house searching for a lost coin (Luke 15:8-10), and the other of a father continuously scanning the horizon for the return of his lost son (Luke 15:20).

Jesus said that “the reason he came to earth was to SEEK out and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). That is all of us. Like the prophet Isaiah said, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way” (Isaiah 53:6). Many of these lost sheep include those whom we love. I hope that knowing that God loves us so much, he seeks us out even before we try to find him, will give us the comfort and hope that we need that those we love will be saved. And if we are among the lost, God is calling out to us today, asking, “Where are you?”

Let us not hide from his sight, but respond: “Here I am, Lord.”

Citizens of Heaven

Have I told you how much I love the things Jesus says? I probably have. Several times. I love them because not only are they radical, they are often paradoxical as well. They force us to think out of the box, because there is no way we will understand anything he says if we try to figure it out using normal human reasoning. Consider the things he says today. One: you have to die to live. Two, you have to hate your life to keep it. Three, to be a leader, you have to be a servant. Okay, so how do we reconcile the paradoxes?

We cannot because what Jesus is talking about is a method of living in a system that is totally different from ours. He is talking about things work in heaven while we are accustomed to how things work in the world. Now, consider this. Imagine you want to emigrate to another country because conditions are terrible where you live right now. First, we need to gain citizenship to the new country. For this we have to revoke our citizenship to the old. Then, of course, we need to obey the laws of the country we are now a citizen of and follow its leader. If we want to really integrate, we need to know the customs of the country and follow them. In many ways this is the start of a new life.

But gaining citizenship into heaven is a little more complicated, because it’s not just a new country we are moving to; it’s moving to an entirely different plane of existence. Here, we LITERALLY get a new life, but in order to get this new life, we have to die to the old. This is putting to death all our sinful ways and habits. As Paul says, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24). So, you see, in order to live, we have to die.

Once we have obtained citizenship into heaven, we need to secure it, and one of the conditions for this is that we do not make excursions back to the world. We cannot say we are citizens of heaven, but every now and then decide to visit our old home. This is, to paraphrase Peter, like a dog returning to its vomit, or a pig returning to wallow in the mud (see 2 Peter 2:22). So, you see, to keep our new life, we have to hate our life in the world. It’s gotta be as yucky as vomit! Paul said, “Hate what is evil; cling to what is good” (Romans 12:9).

And, then, of course, there’s the matter of following the leader, which means doing what he says and does. And that’s being a servant. After washing his apostles feet one day, he told them: “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.” At another time he said to them: “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve” (see Mark 10:43-45). So, you see, if we want to become leaders, we have to become servants.

And, now with these paradoxes resolved, let us know that if we truly live like citizens of heaven, we will bear much fruit. Just as Jesus says we will.

Reading 1            EZ 9:1-7, 10: 18-22

The LORD cried loud for me to hear:
Come, you scourges of the city!
With that I saw six men coming from the direction
of the upper gate which faces the north,
each with a destroying weapon in his hand.
In their midst was a man dressed in linen,
with a writer’s case at his waist.
They entered and stood beside the bronze altar.
Then he called to the man dressed in linen
with the writer’s case at his waist, saying to him:
Pass through the city, through Jerusalem,
and mark a “Thau” on the foreheads of those who moan and groan
over all the abominations that are practiced within it.
To the others I heard the LORD say:
Pass through the city after him and strike!
Do not look on them with pity nor show any mercy!
Old men, youths and maidens, women and children–wipe them out!
But do not touch any marked with the “Thau”; begin at my sanctuary.
So they began with the men, the elders, who were in front of the temple.
Defile the temple, he said to them, and fill the courts with the slain;
then go out and strike in the city.

Then the glory of the LORD left the threshold of the temple
and rested upon the cherubim.
These lifted their wings, and I saw them rise from the earth,
the wheels rising along with them.
They stood at the entrance of the eastern gate of the Lord’s house,
and the glory of the God of Israel was up above them.
Then the cherubim lifted their wings, and the wheels went along with them,
while up above them was the glory of the God of Israel.

Responsorial Psalm            PS113:1-2,3-4,5-6
R. (4b) The glory of the Lord is higher than the skies.
or:
R. Alleluia.

Praise, you servants of the LORD,
praise the name of the LORD.
Blessed be the name of the LORD
both now and forever.
R. The glory of the Lord is higher than the skies.
or:
R. Alleluia.

From the rising to the setting of the sun
is the name of the LORD to be praised.
High above all nations is the LORD;
above the heavens is his glory.
R. The glory of the Lord is higher than the skies.
or:
R. Alleluia.

Who is like the LORD, our God, who is enthroned on high,
and looks upon the heavens and the earth below?
R. The glory of the Lord is higher than the skies.
or:
R. Alleluia.

  

Alleluia            2 CORINTHIANS
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ,
and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel            MT 18: 15-20

Jesus said to his disciples:
“If your brother sins against you,
go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.
If he listens to you, you have won over your brother.
If he does not listen,
take one or two others along with you,
so that every fact may be established
on the testimony of two or three witnesses.
If he refuses to listen to them, tell the Church.
If he refuses to listen even to the Church,
then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.
Amen, I say to you,
whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven,
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
Again, amen, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth
about anything for which they are to pray,
it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.
For where two or three are gathered together in my name,
there am I in the midst of them.”

Reading 1            EZ 2:8 - 3:4

The Lord GOD said to me:
As for you, son of man, obey me when I speak to you:
be not rebellious like this house of rebellion,
but open your mouth and eat what I shall give you.

It was then I saw a hand stretched out to me,
in which was a written scroll which he unrolled before me.
It was covered with writing front and back,
and written on it was:
Lamentation and wailing and woe!

He said to me: Son of man, eat what is before you;
eat this scroll, then go, speak to the house of Israel.
So I opened my mouth and he gave me the scroll to eat.
Son of man, he then said to me,
feed your belly and fill your stomach
with this scroll I am giving you.
I ate it, and it was as sweet as honey in my mouth.
He said: Son of man, go now to the house of Israel,
and speak my words to them.

Responsorial Psalm            PS 119:14,24,72,103,111,131
R. (103a) How sweet to my taste is your promise!

In the way of your decrees I rejoice,
as much as in all riches.
R. How sweet to my taste is your promise!

Yes, your decrees are my delight;
they are my counselors.
R. How sweet to my taste is your promise!

The law of your mouth is to me more precious
than thousands of gold and silver pieces.
R. How sweet to my taste is your promise!

How sweet to my palate are your promises,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!
R. How sweet to my taste is your promise!

Your decrees are my inheritance forever;
the joy of my heart they are.
R. How sweet to my taste is your promise!

I gasp with open mouth,
in my yearning for your commands.
R. How sweet to my taste is your promise!

 

Alleluia            MT 11:29
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am meek and humble of heart.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel            MT 18:1-5,10,12-14

The disciples approached Jesus and said,
“Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven?”
He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said,
“Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children,
you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven.
Whoever becomes humble like this child
is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.
And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.

“See that you do not despise one of these little ones,
for I say to you that their angels in heaven
always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.
What is your opinion?
If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray,
will he not leave the ninety-nine in the hills
and go in search of the stray?
And if he finds it, amen, I say to you, he rejoices more over it
than over the ninety-nine that did not stray.
In just the same way, it is not the will of your heavenly Father
that one of these little ones be lost."

Reading 1            2 COR 9:6-10

Brothers and sisters:
Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly,
and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.
Each must do as already determined, without sadness or compulsion,
for God loves a cheerful giver.
Moreover, God is able to make every grace abundant for you,
so that in all things, always having all you need,
you may have an abundance for every good work.
As it is written:
He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor;
his righteousness endures forever.
The one who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food
will supply and multiply your seed
and increase the harvest of your righteousness.

Responsorial Psalm            PS 112:1-2,5-6,7-8,9
R. (5) Blessed the man who is gracious and lends to those in need.

Blessed the man who fears the LORD,
who greatly delights in his commands.
His posterity shall be mighty upon the earth;
the upright generation shall be blessed.
R. Blessed the man who is gracious and lends to those in need.

Well for the man who is gracious and lends,
who conducts his affairs with justice;
He shall never be moved;
the just one shall be in everlasting remembrance.
R. Blessed the man who is gracious and lends to those in need.

An evil report he shall not fear;
his heart is firm, trusting in the LORD.
His heart is steadfast; he shall not fear
till he looks down upon his foes.
R. Blessed the man who is gracious and lends to those in need.

Lavishly he gives to the poor,
his generosity shall endure forever;
his horn shall be exalted in glory.
R. Blessed the man who is gracious and lends to those in need.

 

Alleluia            JN 8:12

R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness
but will have the light of life, says the Lord.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel            JN 12;24-26

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies,
it remains just a grain of wheat;
but if it dies, it produces much fruit.
Whoever loves his life loses it,
and whoever hates his life in this world
will preserve it for eternal life.
Whoever serves me must follow me,
and where I am, there also will my servant be.
The Father will honor whoever serves me.”

1) Opening prayer
Almighty and ever-living God,
Your Spirit made us Your children,
confident to call You Father.
Increase Your Spirit within us
and bring us to our promised inheritance.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

2) Gospel Reading - Matthew 18:1-5, 10, 12-14
The disciples approached Jesus and said, “Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven?” He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me. “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father. What is your opinion? If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray, will he not leave the ninety-nine in the hills and go in search of the stray? And if he finds it, amen, I say to you, he rejoices more over it than over the ninety-nine that did not stray. In just the same way, it is not the will of your heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost.”

3) Reflection
• Here, in Chapter 18 of the Gospel of Matthew begins the fourth great discourse on the New Law, the discourse on the community. As has already been said before (on Monday of the 10th week of the year), the Gospel of Matthew, written for the communities of the Christian Jews of Galilee and Syria, presents Jesus as the new Moses. In the Old Testament, the Law of Moses was codified in the five books of the Pentateuch. Imitating the ancient model, Matthew represents the New Law in five great discourses: (a) The Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:1-7, 29); (b) the discourse on the mission (Mt 10:1-42); (c) The discourse on the parables (Mt 13:1-52); (d) The discourse on the community (Mt 18:1-35); (e) The discourse on the future of the Kingdom (Mt 24:1-25,46). The narrative parts which are inserted among the five discourses describe the practice of Jesus and show how He practiced and embodied the New Law in His life.
• The Gospel today gives the first part of the discourse on the community (Mt 18:1-14) which has as key word “the little ones”. The little ones are not only the children, but also the poor, those who are not important in society and in the community, and also the children. Jesus asks that these “little ones” should always be the center of the concern of the communities because “The Father in Heaven does not will that one of these little ones should be lost” (Mt 18:14).
• Matthew 18:1: The question of the disciples which provokes the teaching of Jesus. The disciples want to know who is greater in the Kingdom. The simple fact of this question reveals that they have not understood anything or very little of the message of Jesus. The whole discourse on the community is given in order to make them understand that among the followers of Jesus the spirit of service should prevail, the gift of self, of pardon, of reconciliation and of gratuitous love, without seeking one’s own interest and one’s own advancement.
• Matthew 18:2-5: The fundamental criterion: the little one and the greater one. The disciples ask for a criteria so as to be able to measure the importance of the people in the community: “Who is the greater in the Kingdom of Heaven?” Jesus answers that it is the little ones! The little ones are not socially important; they do not belong to the world of the powerful. The disciples have to become children. Instead of growing up, to the heights, they must grow down and toward the periphery, where the poor and the little ones live. In this way, they will be greater in the Kingdom! The reason is the following: “Anyone who receives one of these little ones receives Me”. Jesus identifies Himself with them. The love of Jesus for the little ones cannot be explained. Children have no merit. It is the complete gratuity of the love of God which manifests itself and asks to be imitated in the community of those who call themselves disciples of Jesus.
• Matthew 18:6-9: Do not scandalize the little ones. These four verses concerning the scandal to little ones are omitted from today’s Gospel. We give a brief commentary on them. To scandalize the little ones means this: to be the cause for them to lose their faith in God and to abandon the community. Matthew keeps a very hard saying of Jesus: “Anyone who scandalizes even one of these little ones who believe in Me, it would be better for him to have a mill stone tied around his neck and then be thrown into the sea”. It is a sign that at that time many little ones no longer identified themselves with the community and sought another refuge. And today, in Latin America, for example, every year approximately three million people abandon the historical Church and go to the Evangelical churches. This is a sign that they do not feel at home among us. What is lacking in us? What is the cause of this scandal to the little ones? In order to avoid the scandal, Jesus orders them to cut off their foot or take out their eye. This sentence cannot be taken literally. It means that we should be very firm, strict in fighting against any scandal which draws the little ones away. We cannot, in any way, allow that the little ones feel marginalized in our community, because in this case, the community would not be a sign of the Kingdom of God.
• Matthew 18:10-11: The angels of the little ones see the face of the Father. Jesus recalls Psalm 91. The little ones take Yahweh as their refuge and make the most High their fortress (Ps 91:9) and because of this, “No disaster can overtake you, no plague come near your tent; He has given angels orders about you to guard you wherever you go. They will carry you in their arms in case you trip over a stone” (Ps 91:10,12).
• Matthew 18:12-14: The parable of the one hundred sheep. According to Luke, this parable reveals the joy of God on the conversion of a sinner (Lk 15: 3-7). According to Matthew, it reveals that the Father does not want even one of the little ones to be lost. In other words, the little ones should be the pastoral priority of the community, of the Church. They should be in the center of the concern of all. Love for the little ones and the excluded should be the axis of the community of those who want to follow Jesus, because it is in this way that the community becomes the proof of the gratuitous love of God, who accepts all.

4) Personal questions
• Who are the poorest people of our neighborhood? Do they participate in our community? Do they feel at home or do they find in us a cause to withdraw?
• God the Father does not want any of the little ones to get lost. What does this mean for our community?
• Should the pastor of a community spend his time on the “little ones” in the community, the poor and neglected, or on the rich who might be able to provide for the economics of the community? Is there a balance, or is “balance” just another word for compromise – a compromise on Jesus’ instructions? Does your answer also apply to members of the community as well?
• Many who leave the Church do so because of disagreement over teachings, such as the Church’s stand on abortion or remarriage. Some believe that there is no such thing as sin. How could, or should, the community bring these “lost sheep” back, without sacrificing the truth?

5) Concluding Prayer
Your instructions are my eternal heritage,
they are the joy of my heart.
I devote myself to obeying Your statutes,
their recompense is eternal. (Ps 119:111-112)

1) Opening prayer
Almighty and ever-living God,
your Spirit made us Your children,
confident to call You Father.
Increase your Spirit within us
and bring us to our promised inheritance.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

2) Gospel Reading - John 12:24-26
Jesus said to his disciples: "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be. The Father will honor whoever serves me."

3) Reflection
• This passage contains solemn and crucial words concerning the method by which the mission of Jesus and His disciples “produces much fruit.” This solemn and central declaration of Jesus; “unless a wheat grain falls into the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a large harvest” (v. 24), is inserted in the narrative of 12:12-36 where the encounter of Jesus as Messiah with Israel and the rejection by the Jews of His messianic proposal is told. What are the principal themes that describe the messianism of Jesus? The Jews expected a messiah who would be a powerful king, who would continue with the royal style of David and would restore to Israel its glorious past. Instead, Jesus, places in the center of His messianism the gift of His life and the possibility given to humanity of accepting God’s plan for His life.

• The story of a seed. The gift of His life, as a crucial characteristic of His messianism. Jesus outlines it with a mini parable. He describes a central and decisive event of His life drawing from the agricultural environment, where He takes the images to render His parables interesting and immediate. It is the story of a seed: a small parable to communicate with the people in a simple and transparent way: a seed begins its course or journey in the dark matter of the earth, where it is suffocated and withers but in the spring it becomes a green stalk and in the summer a spike charged with grain. The focal points of the parable are both the production of much fruit and the finding of eternal life. The seed that breaks through the darkness of earth has been interpreted by the early Fathers of the Church as a symbolical reference to the Incarnation of the Son of God. In the ground it seems that the vital force of the seed is destined to get lost because the seed withers and dies. But then the surprise of nature: in the summer when the spikes turn golden, the profound secret of that death is revealed. Jesus knows that death is becoming imminent, threatens His person, even though he does not see it as a beast that devours. It is true that it has the characteristics of darkness and of being ripped, but for Jesus it contains the secret force typical of child birth, a mystery of fecundity and of life. In the light of this vision one can understand another expression used by Jesus: “Anyone who loves his life will lose it and anyone who hates his own life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.” Anyone who considers his own life as a cold property to be lived in egoism is like a seed enclosed in itself and without any hope for life. On the contrary, if one who “hates his life,” a very sharp semitic expression, it is only then that life becomes creative: it is a source of peace, of happiness and of life. It is the reality of the seed that sprouts. But the reader can also see in the mini parable of Jesus another dimension: that of the “Passover.” Jesus knows that in order to lead humanity to the threshold of divine love He has to go through the dark way of death on the cross. On the trail of this life the disciple also faces his own “hour”, that of death, with the certainty that it will lead to eternal life, that is to say, to full communion with God.

• In synthesis. The story of the seed is that of dying in order to multiply itself; its function is that of service to life. The annihilation of Jesus is comparable to the seed of life buried in the earth. In Jesus’ life, to love is to serve and to serve is to lose oneself in the life of others, to die to oneself in order to allow others to live. While His “hour” is approaching, the conclusion of His mission, Jesus assures His own with the promise of a consolation and of a joy without end, accompanied by every type of disturbance or trouble. He gives the example of the seed that has to wither and of the woman who has to endure the pangs of childbirth. Christ has chosen the cross for Himself and for His own: anyone who wants to be His disciple is called to share the same path. He always spoke to His disciples in a radical way: “Anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for My sake, will save it” (Lk 9: 24).

4) Personal questions
• Does your life express the gift of yourself? Is it a seed of love that makes love be born? Are you aware that in order to be a seed of joy, so that there will be joy in the wheat grain, the moment of sowing is necessary?
• Can you say that you have chosen the Lord if later you do not embrace the cross with Him? When the hard struggle breaks out in you between “yes” or “no,” between courage and fear, between faith and unbelief, between love and egotism, do you feel lost, thinking that such temptations are not suitable for those who follow Jesus?

5) Concluding Prayer
All goes well for one who lends generously,
who is honest in all his dealing;
for all time to come he will not stumble,
for all time to come the upright will be remembered. (Ps 112:5-6)

Page 1 of 942