Turkey’s Erdogan Ends Gulf Tour With No Progress Reported on Qatar Crisis

July 24, 2017

DOHA — Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan left Qatar on Monday after two days in the Gulf trying to mediate in the worst row among Arab states for years but there was no sign he had made any progress.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt severed diplomatic and travel ties with Qatar in June, accusing it of supporting Islamist militants. Doha denies that.

Turkey has been Qatar’s most powerful ally in the dispute, rushing through legislation to send more troops to its base in Doha as a sign of support.

Kuwaiti and Western efforts to end the crisis have yielded little so far. The four Arab states want Qatar to reduce ties with their arch-foe Iran, close down the Turkish military base and shut the Al Jazeera TV channel, which they view as critical of their governments.

Qatari state news agency QNA said that Qatar’s ruler, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, had “reviewed regional developments, specifically the Gulf crisis and efforts to contain it and to resolve it through diplomatic means…” in talks with Erdogan.

The agency said the talks also covered joint efforts to combat terrorism and reviewed defense and economic cooperation.

Several contingents of Turkish troops with columns of armored vehicles have arrived in Doha since the crisis erupted on June 5.

Under a 2014 agreement, Ankara could send in as many as 1,000 troops.

Turkey and Qatar have been important backers of the Muslim Brotherhood movement that has challenged entrenched Arab rulers and Erdogan has his roots in an Islamist political party.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE have designated the Brotherhood a terrorist organization.

Before he arrived in Qatar, Erdogan visited Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. In Saudi Arabia, he discussed with King Salman “efforts to combat terrorism and its sources of funding”, state news agency SPA said, without elaborating.

(Reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi; Editing by Sami Aboudi and Louise Ireland)

Turkish Parliament Debates New Bylaws; Critics Efforts To Silence Opposition

July 24, 2017

ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey’s parliament has begun debating a series of controversial changes to its bylaws that critics say aim to further curtail opposition voices.

Legislators on Monday took up 18 proposed amendments that would reduce the times allocated to legislators to speak. Two opposition parties say the move is aimed at muzzling the opposition and is an affront to democracy.

The government insists the changes will render parliament more effective. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is accused of increased authoritarianism, has long criticized the opposition for allegedly obstructing parliament.

The measures have the backing of the country’s far-right nationalist party and are expected to pass.

The amendments also change parliament’s dress code enabling the parliament speaker to wear a regular suit instead of a white tie and tailcoat.

Chinese fighter jets ‘nearly cause a collision while buzzing a US Navy spy plane over the East China Sea

July 24, 2017
  • The Chinese J-10 jets came within 300 feet of the US EP-3 plane at the weekend
  • US plane had to change direction as a result of the interference, said officials
  • Both of the China jets were armed with air-to-air missiles, authorities said 
  • The East China Sea is bordered by China’s east coast, South Korea and Japan

A US Navy surveillance plane almost collided with two Chinese fighter jets over the weekend after they attempted to buzz the aircraft.

The US EP-3 plane was flying over the East China Sea – which is bordered by China’s east coast, South Korea and Japan – when it was intercepted by the Chinese aircraft.

One of the J-10 jets came up from under the spy plane just 300 feet away, forcing it ‘to take evasive action to avoid collision,’ a US official told Fox News.

Two Chinese J-10 fighter jets (seen in file image) buzzed an American surveillance plane over the East China Sea over the weekend, almost causing a collision, US officials said

Two Chinese J-10 fighter jets (seen in file image) buzzed an American surveillance plane over the East China Sea over the weekend, almost causing a collision, US officials said

Both of the Chinese jets were armed with air-to-air missiles, the official claimed.

The incident was also confirmed to Reuters by two officials.

The near-collision occurred around 90 miles south of the Chinese port of Qingdao, officials said. That’s 250 mile north-west of Shanghai, China’s second-most populous city.

This is the third time in three months that US aircraft have been buzzed by Chinese planes in the region.

On May 25, American officials blasted ‘unsafe and unprofessional’ Chinese pilots after they flew just 100 feet from one of the Navy’s P-3 Orion surveillance aircraft.

And on May 17, a USA WC-135W Constant Phoenix ‘nuke sniffer’ plane was approached by two Chinese SU-30 jets – one of which flew upside down over the WC-135W, Top Gun-style.

China declared an air defense identification zone over a large section of the East China Sea in 2013, a move the US called illegitimate and has refused to recognize.

China has demanded foreign aircraft operating within the zone declare their intentions and follow Chinese instructions.

It is unclear whether this weekend’s incident took place within the disputed area.

The US EP-3 surveillance plane (seen in file photo) had to change its course after one of the jets flew up at it from just 300 feet away. Both jets had air-to-air missiles, officials said

The US EP-3 surveillance plane (seen in file photo) had to change its course after one of the jets flew up at it from just 300 feet away. Both jets had air-to-air missiles, officials said

The incident continues the awkward relationship between the US and China during a period of high tension in East Asia.

On Friday Admiral John Richardson called his Chinese counterpart to discuss putting pressure on North Korea to curb its nuclear weapons development.

That comes amid continuing rivalry between US and Chinese ships in the South China Sea, which the Asian country has also laid claim to.

It has built aritifical islands and constructed bases on naturally-occurring islands of disputed ownership in order to cement its claim on the waters.

The US, meanwhile, has continued Obama-era policy of sending ships through the disputed area – including within 12 miles of the islands, in water that would be considered Chinese if the islands were internationally accepted.

China has condemned the exercises, and tailed ships in waters it considers its own.

Earlier this month China sent troops to the African nation of Djibouti, establishing its first international base just four miles from a US base also in the country.

In June the USS Nimitz – the nation’s oldest aircraft carrier – was sent to the Pacific to join the USS Carl Vinson and the USS Ronald Reagan, amid concerns over North Korea.

Video shows 18 blindfolded ‘ISIS fighters’ being shot in the head in Libya

July 24, 2017
  • WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT
  • The men are understood to be ISIS fighters who were killed by the Libyan Army
  • Executioners walk up to a row of prisoners and shoot them dead with rifles
  • Killers then turn on their heels and walk back before the sequence is repeated

A shocking video has emerged showing 18 prisoners in orange jumpsuits getting shot in the back of the head from point-blank range in summary executions in Libya.

The men, understood to be ISIS fighters, are shown kneeling in four rows and facing away from their killers.

Executioners can be seen walking up slowly behind their targets before firing a spray of bullets from what look like semi-automatic assault rifles into the backs of their heads before another line of killers repeat the sequence.

It comes amid tensions between jihadists and Libyan forces in Benghazi after strongman Khalifa Haftar – a former soldier under the Gaddafi regime who has risen through the ranks to commander of the Libyan National Army – declared victory in the eastern city.

Scroll down for video 

Executioners, thought to be from the Libyan National Army, take aim at their targets - supposedly ISIS fighters in the country 

Executioners, thought to be from the Libyan National Army, take aim at their targets – supposedly ISIS fighters in the country

The killers spray their targets with bullets long after they have fallen to the ground in a heap

The killers spray their targets with bullets long after they have fallen to the ground in a heap

Eighteen blindfolded prisoners in Guantanamo Bay-style jumpsuits line up to face their deaths

Eighteen blindfolded prisoners in Guantanamo Bay-style jumpsuits line up to face their deaths

The gruesome video, seen by MailOnline, shows all 18 men in orange jumpsuits falling to the floor after being shot, but it it not clear who is pulling the trigger and giving the orders.

It is claimed by the Libyan Express the commander of the eastern Saiqa Force of Operation Dignity Mahmoud Al-Werfalli conducted the massacre.

He was also said to have ordered the killings by the Libyan Observer, who reported he had been promoted by Haftar, leader of the Libyan National Army, for his alleged role in killing policemen in May.

Image result for Khalifa Haftar, photos

Khalifa Haftar

It is understood those killed were ISIS fighters in Libya, according to Al Jazeera, who again claimed it was Al-Werfalli reading the charges before his proteges shoot the detainees dead.

In the video, a man can be seen reading from a piece of paper and men in military uniform can be seen walking up to their targets, taking one each, and unleashing a flurry of bullets on the command of their leader.

The kneeling men fall to the ground face-first, which doesn’t stop the gunmen from shooting.

Eventually, they turn on their heels and walk back together in a line before a new set of executioners walk forward and kill the next line of prisoners.

A man in an orange jumpsuit located in the second line appears to fall forward in an attempt to fool the executioners, but he is dragged back onto his knees and callously shot in the head in the second round of killings.

The sequence continues until all 18 men are dead.

The first row of prisoners are taken out by the first line of executioners in the video dated July 17

The first row of prisoners are taken out by the first line of executioners in the video dated July 17

Five prisoners lay face-down in the dirt after being shot in the back of the head at point-blank range

Five prisoners lay face-down in the dirt after being shot in the back of the head at point-blank range

Dust rises from the ground in the desert as the executioners stand behind the men they have killed

Dust rises from the ground in the desert as the executioners stand behind the men they have killed

Executioners holding up their semi-automatic assault rifles before pulling the trigger and killing their targets

Executioners holding up their semi-automatic assault rifles before pulling the trigger and killing their targets

The video is dated July 17, which means it would have come just days after the UN’s human rights spokeswoman Liz Throssell said called for the Libyan National Army (LNA) which controls the eastern part of the country to investigate summary executions of prisoners.

The UN’s human rights body and voiced concern at the fate of those still in their custody.

The LNA is pushing to expand its presence in central and southern Libya, where it has been vying for control with forces linked to the UN-backed government in Tripoli and other opponents.

LNA leader Khalifa Haftar has gained ground with Egyptian and Emirati support, and Western states say Haftar must be part of any solution to Libya’s conflict

UN human rights spokeswoman Liz Throssell said: ‘We are deeply concerned that, after recent fighting in Benghazi, people taken prisoner by members of the Libyan National Army, which effectively controls eastern Libya, may be at imminent risk of torture and even summary execution.

‘Reports have suggested the involvement of Special Forces, a unit aligned with the LNA, in torturing detainees and summarily executing at least 10 captured men.’

A member of the self-styled Libyan National Army, loyal to the country's east strongman Khalifa Haftar, rides in a tank as it drives down a street through the rubble in Benghazi's central Akhribish district on July 19, 2017 following clashes with militants

A member of the self-styled Libyan National Army, loyal to the country’s east strongman Khalifa Haftar, rides in a tank as it drives down a street through the rubble in Benghazi’s central Akhribish district on July 19, 2017 following clashes with militants

Smoke billows from buildings during clashes between members of the self-styled Libyan National Army, loyal to the country's east strongman Khalifa Haftar, and militants in Benghazi's central Akhribish district on July 19, 2017

A picture shows a damaged building in Benghazi's central Akhribish district on July 19, 2017.
Libyan military strongman Khalifa Haftar on July 5, 2017, announced the "total liberation" of second city Benghazi, which was overrun by jihadists three years ago

A picture shows a damaged building in Benghazi’s central Akhribish district on July 19, 2017.Libyan military strongman Khalifa Haftar on July 5, 2017, announced the ‘total liberation’ of second city Benghazi, which was overrun by jihadists three years ago

The Libyan National Army announced last March that it would conduct investigations into alleged war crimes but has not shared any information, Throssell said.

‘We urge the LNA to ensure there is a full, impartial investigation into these allegations,’ she said.

Throssell also called on the group to suspend Mahmoud al-Werfalli from his duties as a Special Forces field commander pending the conclusion of such an investigation.

A video circulating on social media in March allegedly showed al-Werfalli shooting dead three men who were kneeling and facing a wall with their hands tied behind their backs, Throssell said.

In June, two further videos appeared to show summary executions carried out by LNA fighters on his orders.

‘One of these videos, which emerged on 9 June, shows four men kneeling with their hands tied behind their backs who are shot dead as al-Werfalli watches,’ she said.

‘The latest video, which was posted on social media this month, seems to shows LNA fighters kicking and taunting prisoners, while al-Werfalli is apparently heard accusing two men who have their hands tied behind their backs of belonging to terrorist groups,’ she said.

The LNA has declined comment on the images.

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Rights Group Calls for Probe Into Libyan Forces After Execution Video Shown — “Apparent war crimes” HRW says

July 24, 2017

CAIRO — Libya officials should investigate and dismiss forces involved in atrocities, a human rights group said on Monday, after a video appeared on social media purportedly showing a military unit executing 20 suspected militants.

The video was seen by Reuters on social media but it could not be independently verified. It appears to show a military unit linked to eastern commander Khalifa Haftar executing 20 hooded men they accuse of being Islamic State militants found guilty of bombings and killings.

Image result for Khalifa Haftar, photos

Khalifa Haftar

The video is the latest that appears to show Haftar’s Libyan National Army troops engaged in summary executions of suspected militants. An LNA spokesman in Benghazi declined to comment on the video but it has previously denied its forces are involved.

Image result for Khalifa Haftar executing 20 hooded men, photos

Khalifa Haftar appears in an “execution video” like this one from the Islamic State

“This latest mass execution, if confirmed, would be one more in a string of atrocities committed by members of the Libyan National Army forces and is yet another manifestation of how its members are taking the law into their own hands,” Eric Goldstein, Middle East and North Africa deputy director for Human Rights Watch, said.

The video was released in a week when Haftar and Fayez al-Serraj, the leader of Libya’s U.N.-backed government, are due to meet French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris for talks over a political agreement to end the factional fighting.

Haftar and his allies have rejected the authority of Serraj’s government in Tripoli that is supported by other armed factions and presented by Libya’s Western partners as the solution to the country’s crisis.

POWER STRUGGLE

Haftar’s LNA is one of the most powerful military forces in the country, gaining ground in the east and the south with the support of Egypt and United Arab Emirates who back his campaign against Islamist militants.

Libya has had no national army, despite the name of Haftar’s group, since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in a 2011 civil war sent the state spiralling into a power struggle among competing brigades of former rebels each backing rival political factions.

Goldstein said the LNA and the Libyan government needed to remove from duty those accused of violations and hold them accountable if found guilty after a transparent investigation.

“A failure to do so risks implicating senior military commanders in these apparent war crimes,” he said.

The video purports to show an LNA commander reading out a statement before rows of men kneeling in orange jumpsuits with black hoods over their heads and their hands bound. LNA forces move row by row to fire into the back of their heads and bodies.

“Executed by firing squad after they were found guilty,” a caption on the video reads.

The video did not explain how the men had been found guilty, but armed groups in Libya often say they are legitimate forces that carry out their own investigations, and have been accused of torturing and abusing prisoners.

An LNA special forces commander, Mahmoud al-Werfalli, appears in the video. The United Nations has previously called for the LNA to dismiss him after a video in March allegedly showed al-Werfalli shooting dead three men who were kneeling and facing a wall with their hands tied behind their backs.

Image result for Mahmoud al-Werfalli,, photos

Mahmoud al-Werfalli, at right

In June, two further videos appeared to show summary executions carried out by LNA fighters on his orders.

Earlier this month, the U.N. human rights body called on the LNA to investigate summary executions of prisoners and torture of those still in captivity. In March, the LNA said it would investigate potential war crimes but has not released any details of the probe.

The U.N. human rights office had no immediate comment about the latest video.

(Reporting by Patrick Markey)

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Charlie Gard parents end legal fight

July 24, 2017

AFP

© AFP / by Clement BOUTIN | The parents of terminally-ill Charlie Gard read out a statement conceding they must let go after seeing their son’s latest brain scans

LONDON (AFP) – The parents of British baby Charlie Gard on Monday abandoned their legal fight to take him to the United States for experimental treatment in a case that has attracted global attention.A lawyer representing Gard’s parents Connie Yates and Chris Gard told judge Nicholas Francis at London’s High Court that “time had run out” and that they had made their decision after seeing the 11-month-old’s latest brain scans.

“We have decided it is no longer in Charlie’s best interests to pursue treatment and we will let our son go,” father Chris Gard said outside court.

“He had a real genuine chance of life. We are truly devastated.

“We are now going to spend our last precious moments with our son, who unfortunately won’t make his first birthday in just under two weeks time,” he added.

Judge Francis had been due to rule on whether there was enough new evidence to allow the parents to take the baby, who suffers from a rare genetic disorder, to the US for a type of treatment that has never been used on a human being.

Charlie suffers from a rare form of mitochondrial disease, which causes progressive muscle weakness in the heart and other key organs.

British doctors believe Gard’s brain damage is “severe and irreversible” and have said the baby “may be suffering”.

Great Ormond Street Hospital argued that Gard’s illness has left him “deprived of his senses” and that he is “without any awareness” as far as doctors can tell.

“He has no quality of life and no real prospect of any quality of life,” the hospital said.

– ‘Our son was a warrior’ –

But father Chris Gard criticised the authorities, saying “there is one simple reason why treatment cannot now go ahead, and that is time.

“Had Charlie been given the treatment sooner, he would have had the potential to be a normal, healthy little boy,” he said.

“We will have to live with the what-ifs, that will haunt us for the rest of our lives. Our son is an absolute warrior and we will miss him terribly.”

The couple fought a long legal fight to allow them to take their child out of London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH), but lost in both Britain’s Supreme Court and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

The ruling led to the intervention of both US President Donald Trump and Pope Francis, who offered to help the baby, leading to the hospital to ask the courts for a final assessment of any new evidence.

The latest legal battle saw new testimony from a US neurologist, but a lawyer also warned the boy’s parents Connie Yates and Chris Gard that latest scans made “sad reading”.

In response, Chris Gard shouted “evil”, while mother Connie burst into tears.

With emotions running high, the hospital on Saturday said that it had contacted police over a “shocking and disgraceful tide of hostility and disturbance.”

“Staff have received abuse both in the street and online,” it said.

Mother Connie responded that “we do not, and have not ever, condoned any threatening or abusive remarks towards any staff member”, but added that they too had suffered “the most hurtful comments from the public”.

Great Ormond Street Hospital said the parents “command GOSH’s utmost respect and humble all who work there”.

Scores of supporters holding blue balloons gathered outside the court for Monday’s hearing, and reacted to the news with anger, chanting: “shame on you judge” and “shame on GOSH”.

The parents now want to establish a foundation “for Charlie’s voice to be heard,” according to their lawyer Grant Armstrong.

Judge Francis paid tribute to the parents “for the love and the care they gave to their child Charlie”.

“No parents could have done more for their child,” he said.

by Clement BOUTIN

Thailand freezes former PM Yingluck’s bank accounts in rice subsidy case

July 24, 2017

Reuters

JULY 24, 2017 / 11:59 AM

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand’s justice ministry froze some of former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s bank accounts, the ministry and her legal team said on Monday, in relation to a $1 billion fine imposed by the ruling junta over her administration’s rice-subsidy program.

She has filed a court petition to revoke the freezing of her bank accounts and to grant an injunction to suspend asset seizures, saying they were unlawful.

Yingluck, whose government was ousted by the junta in a 2014 coup, will deliver a closing statement in a separate criminal case over the rice subsidies next week.

Related image

Thailand’s former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra entered a plea of innocent in May 2015. EPA photo

The program, which helped Yingluck sail to victory in a 2011 election, bought rice from farmers at above-market rates and distorted global prices but proved popular with rural voters.

Finance Ministry permanent secretary Somchai Sujjapongse told reporters on Monday that government committees submitted details of 12 bank accounts which belong to Yingluck to the Legal Execution Department, which then took action.

Yingluck received a formal notice about her frozen accounts from the department on Monday, her legal team said.

Yingluck declined to comment when contacted by Reuters.

Her supporters have accused the courts of bias in frequently ruling against Yingluck and her family members.

The rice scheme was a policy engineered by Yingluck’s brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was toppled in a 2006 coup and lives abroad, to avoid a two-year prison sentence from 2008 for graft in a land purchase case.

Thaksin won the hearts of voters in the populous northeast and the north but made enemies among the powerful, military-backed Bangkok elite.

In 2015, a military-appointed legislature banned Yingluck from politics for five years after finding her guilty of mismanaging the rice scheme.

The Supreme Court will give its verdict in the criminal case against Yingluck on Aug. 25.

Yingluck, who says the trial against her is politically motivated, faces up to 10 years in prison if she is found guilty of negligence over her role in the scheme.

Reporting by Panu Wongcha-um and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Louise Ireland

Ukraine leader slams Russia over arms given to rebels

July 24, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | Ukrainian servicemen talk in the streets of Avdiivka, Donetsk region, on February 5, 2017

KIEV (AFP) – Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Monday demanded Russia’s Vladimir Putin halt arms supplies to rebels as the leaders of France and Germany tried to revive a peace plan.After a spike in violence, the four leaders discussed the Ukraine crisis for two hours by telephone in the latest round of talks aimed at stilling a conflict that has killed 10,000 people since April 2014.

The conversation was the first to involve French President Emmanuel Macron since he came to power in May, becoming the main international moderator on the crisis along with Germany’s Angela Merkel.

Last week saw some of the costliest clashes in months between Russian-backed rebels and government troops, after an insurgent leader announced plans to form a new “state” to replace Ukraine.

Poroshenko called the last days of July some of the bloodiest in 2017 and urged Russia “to immediately cease aggressive actions and supply of weapons to the occupied territories,” Ukraine’s presidency said in a statement after the talks.

Kiev and its allies in the West insist the Kremlin has sent troops and arms to back up the rebels, but Moscow continues to deny evidence of its role in the conflict.

In a statement the Kremlin said Putin “laid out Russia’s approach on all the key points of the said agreement in great detail.”

A February 2015 peace plan hammered out by the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France in the Belarusian capital Minsk has failed to stop clashes rumbling on in east Ukraine.

And although the deal has hit a wall it is still viewed by those involved as the only way of unwinding Ukraine’s war.

Last week rebel chief Alexander Zakharchenko said he wanted to establish a new state called Malorossiya (Little Russia) on the basis of Ukraine.

While the plan immediately appeared doomed after it failed to gain traction with the Kremlin, it cast a further cloud over the peace agreement.

Israel, Jordan Ties Seen as Strategic, if Occasionally Rocky

July 24, 2017

JERUSALEM — A diplomatic standoff between Israel and Jordan over a deadly shooting at Israel’s embassy in the kingdom once again tests the strategic, if turbulent ties forged in a 1994 peace treaty.

In the past, Israel was willing to pay a high price to protect the relationship, including releasing an Islamic militant leader from prison in a deal with Jordan.

Jordan and Israel share a long border, various water and natural gas projects, and cooperate to stem Iran’s growing influence and the spread of Islamic State militancy in the region.

But the peace agreement remains deeply unpopular in the kingdom, where many citizens are of Palestinian origin and say normalization can only come after Israel reaches peace with the Palestinians.

Here’s a look at the Israeli-Jordanian relationship.

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ATTEMPTED ASSASSINATION

Perhaps the most serious crisis came in 1997, during Benjamin Netanyahu’s first term as Israeli prime minister. At the time, agents of Israel’s Mossad spy agency tried to assassinate then-Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal in Amman. Two agents entered Jordan using fake Canadian passports and poisoned Mashaal as he was leaving the Hamas offices in the Jordanian capital by placing a device near his ear. They were captured shortly after the attack. Outraged by the violation of his sovereignty, Jordan’s then-King Hussein threatened to void the still-fresh peace accord if Mashaal were to die. Israel ultimately dispatched an antidote that saved his life and the Israeli agents were returned home. Under pressure, Israel agreed to release the spiritual leader of Hamas, Ahmed Yassin, from prison.

JORDAN VALLEY SHOOTING

Earlier in 1997, a Jordanian soldier opened fire at a group of Israeli schoolgirls on a field trip to a joint Israeli-Jordanian tourist resort along the border. A few days after the shooting, King Hussein traveled to Israel to comfort the families of the seven slain girls, in what was seen at the time as a touching gesture to Israel that helped solidify his image as a man of peace. The soldier was released from prison earlier this year, after serving 20 years.

CONTESTED HOLY SITE

A major holy site in Jerusalem, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount, has been a frequent source of friction.

Jordan serves as Muslim custodian of the 37-acre walled compound, the third holiest site of Islam. Jews revere the esplanade as the site of their destroyed biblical Temples, and the holiest site in their religion.

Jordan’s ruling Hashemite dynasty, said to trace its ancestry back to Prophet Muhammad, draws much of its legitimacy from the role of protector of the site, which houses the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa mosques.

King Abdullah II has frequently protested Israeli measures, including restrictions on the access of Muslim worshippers and police raids of the compound to disperse Palestinian stone-throwers. Israel has defended its policies as needed security precautions.

Image result for King Abdullah II, photos

King Abdullah II with Rex Tillerson

In 2014, Jordan temporarily recalled its ambassador amid Jewish-Muslim tensions over prayer rights at the site. In a sign of the importance Israel places on its ties with Jordan, the Israeli government moved quickly to restore calm.

The following year clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces around the site quickly led to unrest elsewhere in Jerusalem, across Israel and in the West Bank that have continued intermittently till now.

Over the past week, Jordan was heavily involved in trying to defuse an escalating crisis between Israel and the Muslim world over metal detectors installed at the shrine. Israel set up the security measures in response to a shooting attack from there earlier this month that killed two Israeli policemen.

ISRAELI EMBASSY SHOOTING

On Sunday, an Israeli security guard at the Israeli Embassy in Jordan opened fire and killed two Jordanians, after one of them attacked him with a screwdriver. The Israeli guard was lightly wounded. The incident led to a diplomatic standoff, with Jordan saying it would not let the guard leave without an investigation. A day later, embassy staff remained in the compound, as Netanyahu tried to defuse the crisis and get the guard back to Israel. The incident came at the worst possible time for Israel, complicating efforts to find a way out of the standoff over the metal detectors at the Jerusalem site.

SECURITY TIES

Israel and Jordan share intelligence and have overlapping interests in southern Syria and elsewhere. Israel also considers Jordan an important land barrier on its eastern flank. The stability of the U.S.-allied kingdom is seen in Israel as a major security interest.

Previous crises have shown that both sides are willing to make gestures to maintain the relations.

“The incident in Jordan has a potential of disrupting the relations between the two countries,” said Oded Eran, a former Israeli ambassador to Jordan.

“However, the two countries have an interest to let this incident be solved in a very amicable way, providing that the two states can keep the perception of guarding their national interest,” he said.

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Prayer and Meditation for Tuesday, July 25, 2017 — “The surpassing power may be of God and not from us.” — “Can you drink the chalice that I am going to drink?”

July 24, 2017

Feast of Saint James, Apostle
Lectionary: 605

Image may contain: 1 person, sitting

Art: James & John, Sons of Zebedee – John Chrysostom

Reading 1  2 COR 4:7-15

Brothers and sisters:
We hold this treasure in earthen vessels,
that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us.
We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained;
perplexed, but not driven to despair;
persecuted, but not abandoned;
struck down, but not destroyed;
always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus,
so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body.
For we who live are constantly being given up to death
for the sake of Jesus,
so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh.

So death is at work in us, but life in you.
Since, then, we have the same spirit of faith,
according to what is written, I believed, therefore I spoke,
we too believe and therefore speak,
knowing that the one who raised the Lord Jesus
will raise us also with Jesus
and place us with you in his presence.
Everything indeed is for you,
so that the grace bestowed in abundance on more and more people
may cause the thanksgiving to overflow for the glory of God.

Responsorial Psalm  PS 126:1BC-2AB, 2CD-3, 4-5, 6

R. (5) Those who sow in tears shall reap rejoicing.
When the LORD brought back the captives of Zion,
we were like men dreaming.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with rejoicing.
R. Those who sow in tears shall reap rejoicing.
Then they said among the nations,
“The LORD has done great things for them.”
The LORD has done great things for us;
we are glad indeed.
R. Those who sow in tears shall reap rejoicing.
Restore our fortunes, O LORD,
like the torrents in the southern desert.
Those that sow in tears
shall reap rejoicing.
R. Those who sow in tears shall reap rejoicing.
Although they go forth weeping,
carrying the seed to be sown,
They shall come back rejoicing,
carrying their sheaves.
R. Those who sow in tears shall reap rejoicing.

Alleluia  SEE JN 15:16

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
I chose you from the world,
to go and bear fruit that will last, says the Lord.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel  MT 20:20-28

The mother of the sons of Zebedee approached Jesus with her sons
and did him homage, wishing to ask him for something.
He said to her,
“What do you wish?”
She answered him,
“Command that these two sons of mine sit,
one at your right and the other at your left, in your Kingdom.”
Jesus said in reply,
“You do not know what you are asking.
Can you drink the chalice that I am going to drink?”
They said to him, “We can.”
He replied,
“My chalice you will indeed drink,
but to sit at my right and at my left, this is not mine to give
but is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”
When the ten heard this,
they became indignant at the two brothers.
But Jesus summoned them and said,
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them,
and the great ones make their authority over them felt.
But it shall not be so among you.
Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant;
whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.
Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served
but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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25 JULY 2017, Tuesday, St James, Apostle

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REMOVING THE OBSTACLES FROM SEEING AND HEARING

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ EX 19:1-29-1116-20DANIEL 3:52-56MT 13:10-17]

Why do some have faith and some don’t?  The same message is given to all and yet not all receive it.  This was the same question St Paul asked. “But not all have obeyed the good news; for Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed our message?’ So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.  But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have; for ‘Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.’” (Rom 10:16-18)  Obviously, therefore faith does not depend on one’s intellectual capacity to grasp the message.  We have as many great scientists, doctors, and political leaders who believe in God, and as many who also do not.

So why do some people believe in God and some do not?  Jesus said, “So in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled:  You will listen and listen again, but not understand, see and see again, but not perceive. For the heart of this nation has grown coarse, their ears are dull of hearing.”  Many see and not perceive; hear and do not understand.  This is inevitable.  That is why some are converted and more convinced of something than another.  Again, as Jesus underscored, faith is not a matter of knowledge that comes from hearing or seeing, but understanding of the heart.

What are the causes that hinder us from perceiving with the heart? We have grown coarse because of sin and the temptations of the world.  The world is consumed by consumerism and ruled by materialism.   It is about satisfying the comforts of the human body.  The world wants immediate gratification of comfort and pleasure.  It cannot wait.  That is why there are so many products in the world that entice the eyes, the minds and the body.  We want to taste, see and experience all the good things of this world.  When we live like animals, merely attending to the insatiable needs of our body, we tend to neglect the Spirit.  We live the life of an animal, eat, work, enjoy and sleep, without real meaning and purpose, now and after death.

We grow coarse also because of routine, both in our religious practices and in our daily life. It is true that daily life is normally a routine but it is different to just go through the routine and not grow in depth in assimilating the richness of what we do every day.   Take the example of those attending mass daily or pray the Liturgy of the Hours, Rosary or Divine Mercy chaplet.   We can go through the routine of saying these prayers and yet not really benefiting from them because it is a routine that we go through.  We do not pause to understand more deeply what we are celebrating or doing each day.  This applies to the other areas of our life as well, be it the practice of customs, mundane tasks at home or work in the office.  Routine practices when not assimilated and reflected upon become a chore and reduce us to an automaton.

Thirdly, we become coarse because of indifference and neglect.  Why do we lose taste for God and for prayer or praying the Word of God?  This is because of neglect.  We begin by missing one Sunday mass, or skipping part of the Liturgy of the Hours and very soon, we will stop going for mass all together and the other pious practices as well.  We do not lose faith overnight.  But indifference sets in when we are no longer connected with God regularly.  So routine practices do have a role in our lives to keep us connected with God and with the meaning of life.  However, as I have said earlier, without deepening our understanding of what we do, they become meaningless and gradually we will fall into neglect and indifference because of a lack of appreciation and understanding.  Clearly, whether it is the temptations of the world, the sin of the flesh, or neglect and indifference or routine and perfunctory practices, when brought together, lead us to become distant from God.

What about those who are dull of hearing?  Today, many are dull of hearing because there is information overload.  There is so much information in the Media that we are simply spoilt for choice and even paralyzed by the plethora of choices.  We do not have time to consume all the information before us.  On the other hand, many of us do not make informed choices on what to read.   We end up reading fake news, sensational news and some are indoctrinated by radical ideologies. No wonder, in spite of mass communication, today there is a communication breakdown because there are simply too many emails to read, too much information to absorb.  As a consequence, whether it is on religious matters or others, people no longer have time to read serious and in-depth reflections.  This explains why Twitter and Instagram have taken over the other platforms of communication.

The second reason why we are dull of hearing is because of pride and intellectualization.  We think that knowing God is a matter of logical argument based on empirical science and experimentation.  At times, the study of theology and knowledge of science can become obstacles to come to know and encounter God.  This is not to say that theology and sciences are not important because they help us to purify our faith in God so that faith will not become a myth or some superstitious belief.  Faith in God must also be reasonable, that is to say, a human way to encounter Him.  But many of us mistake our knowledge of theology and sciences as real knowledge when they are means to encounter the Sacred and the Ultimate of life.  When we seek just to defend our clever arguments to win our case, then Jesus would say to us, “they have shut their eyes for fear they shall see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their heart, and be converted and be healed by me.”

The third factor that causes us to shut our ears is because of skepticism due to scandals and impropriety, injustices and mismanagement.  This by far is the most prevalent factor, especially those who have been hurt by religious leaders or believers.  They are bitter with God and with them.  They lose confidence in God and in the institution.  All are seen to be hypocrites, untrustworthy, uncaring, insincere and mercenary.   Indeed, many have left the Church because they have been hurt by the unjust practices of the Church and organizations and most of all, when they do not agree with the Church leaders.   They feel that the Church does not care except for herself, her institutions and structures.

Indeed, if we were to see and hear clearly today, then we must be disposed to seeing and hearing.  Moses told the people to prepare themselves and to consecrate themselves if they want to hear the voice of God.  To consecrate is to set apart all our preoccupations and our ideas, and be docile to the voice of God.  The Lord told Moses, “Go to the people and tell them to prepare themselves today and tomorrow.  Let them wash their clothing and hold themselves in readiness for the third day, because on the third day the Lord will descend on the mountain of Sinai in the sight of all the people.”   But this external purification of oneself must be an expression of the inner disposition of the purity and openness of one’s mind and heart and not something purely external.

Only when the people were prepared, did Moses then lead “the people out of the camp to meet God; and they stood at the bottom of the mountain.”   To stand at the bottom of the mountain means to be receptive, to be open and to be ready to act when the Word is spoken to them.  This is the kind of disposition needed if we are to hear the voice of God and perceive His presence and instructions.

When God comes, He will not come through logic and theories.  He comes through an event.  As the first reading tells us, He manifests Himself in nature, under the signs of peals of thunder, clouds, smoke and lightning.  Indeed, the reality of God and our conviction of Him will not come from intellectual faith or human wisdom and philosophy but from an encounter with Him in the mysteries of life.  This was why our Lord taught in parables.  “’Because the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven are revealed to you, but they are not revealed to them.’”   Parables are not meant to be rationalized or be explained away.  They are meant to enable us to enter into the experience that the parable is seeking to convey.  Only when we can identify with that experience, can we then relate with God who comes to visit us through the daily events of life.  This is what the Lord said, “The reason I talk to them in parables is that they look without seeing and listen without hearing or understanding.”  The problem with many people is that they try to rationalize about God and hence are never able to encounter Him in their daily life.  The understanding that is needed is not of the mind but of the heart.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore

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St. John Chrysostom

John Chrysostom on James and John, the Sons of Zebedee, and their mother’s famous request that her sons sit at Jesus’ right and left in the kingdom.  St. James was born at Bethsaida and was martyred by Herod around the year 42. He is especially honored at Compostela, Spain, where a special church is dedicated in his name (“Santiago”).

The sons of Zebedee press Christ: Promise that one may sit at your right side and the other at your left. What does he do? He wants to show them that it is not a spiritual gift for which they are asking, and that if they knew what their request involved, they would never dare make it. So he says: You do not know what you are asking, that is, what a great and splendid thing it is and how much beyond the reach even of the heavenly powers. Then he continues: Can you drink the cup which I must drink and be baptized with the baptism which I must undergo? He is saying: “You talk of sharing honors and rewards with me, but I must talk of struggle and toil. Now is not the time for rewards or the time for my glory to be revealed. Earthly life is the time for bloodshed, war and danger”.

Consider how by his manner of questioning he exhorts and draws them. He does not say: “Can you face being slaughtered? Can you shed your blood?” How does he put his question? Can you drink the cup? Then he makes it attractive by adding: which I must drink, so that the prospect of sharing it with him may make them more eager. He also calls his suffering a baptism, to show that it will effect a great cleansing of the entire world. The disciples answer him: We can! Fervor makes them answer promptly, though they really do not know what they are saying but still think they will receive what they ask for.

How does Christ reply? You will indeed drink my cup and be baptized with my baptism. He is really prophesying a great blessing for them, since he is telling them: “You will be found worthy of martyrdom; you will suffer what I suffer and end your life with a violent death, thus sharing all with me. But seats at my right and left are not mine to give; they belong to those for whom the Father has prepared them.” Thus, after lifting their minds to higher goals and preparing them to meet and overcome all that will make them desolate, he sets them straight on their request.

Then the other ten became angry at the two brothers. See how imperfect they all are: the two who tried to get ahead of the other ten, and the ten who were jealous of the two! But, as I said before, show them to me at a later date in their lives, and you will see that all these impulses and feelings have disappeared. Read how John, the very man who here asks for the first place, will always yield to Peter when it comes to preaching and performing miracles in the Acts of the Apostles. James, for his part, was not to live very much longer; for from the beginning he was inspired by great fervor and, setting aside all purely human goals, rose to such splendid heights that he straightway suffered martyrdom.

This excerpt from a homily on the gospel of Matthew by Saint John Chrysostom (Hom 65, 2-4: PG 58, 619-622) discusses Saints James and John, the Sons of Zebedee.  It is used in the Roman Office of Readings for the Feast of St. James, Apostle, on July 25 aka Santiago de Compostela.

https://www.crossroadsinitiative.com/media/articles/sons-of-zebedee-st-john-chrysostom/

St. John Chrysostom

St. John Chrysostom, one of the greatest Early Church Fathers of the 5th Century, was born around 347 AD.  St. John became a monk and was ordained a priest to serve the Church in Antioch where his eloquent preaching on the Sacred Scriptures earned him the title of“Chrysostom,” meaning golden-mouthed.”  In 398, Chrysostom was called upon to assume the responsibilities of the Patriarch Archbishop of Constantinople, much to his chagrin.  This reluctant patriarch nevertheless fulfilled his duty with extraordinary energy and courage.  St. John Chrysostom’s call to repentance and moral reform won him the enmity of the nominally Christian Empress who had him deposed and exiled on trumped-up charges.  But his preaching and intrepid boldness inspired the hearts of the people of Constantinople who held him in great affection.  His devotion to the written Word of God was matched by a love of the Eucharist and of divine worship.  To this day, the principal “Byzantine” liturgy celebrated by most Slavic, Greek, and middle-eastern Christians is known as the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.  St. John Chysostom, who died under the harsh conditions of his exile in 407, will always be remembered as one of the greatest of the Early Church Fathers and one of the greatest preachers of all time.  Due to his holiness and beautiful but always practical bible teaching, St. John Chrysostom is regarded as a “Doctor of the Church” by Catholics and one of the three Holy Hierarchs and Ecumenical teachers by Eastern Orthodox Christians.  (bio by Dr. Italy)

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Lectio Divina from the Carmelites
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Reflection
.• Jesus and the Disciples are on the way toward Jerusalem (Mt 20,17). Jesus knows that he will be killed (Mt 20,8). The Prophet Isaiah had already announced it (Is 50,4-6; 53,1-10). His death will not be the fruit of a blind destiny or of a pre-established plan, but it will be the consequence of the commitment freely taken of being faithful to the mission which he received from the Father together with the poor of the earth. Jesus had already said that the disciple has to follow the Master and carry his cross behind him (Mt 16,21.24). But the disciples did not understand well what was happening (Mt 16,22-23; 17,23). Suffering and the cross did not correspond to the idea that they had of the Messiah.
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• Matthew 20,20-21: The petition of the mother of the sons of Zebedee. The Disciples only not understand but they continue to think about their personal ambitions. The mother of the sons of Zebedee, the spokesperson of her sons John and James, gets close to Jesus to ask for a favour: “Promise that these two sons of mine may sit one at your right hand and the other at your left in your Kingdom.”
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They had not understood the proposal of Jesus. They were concerned only about their own interests. This shows clearly the tensions in the communities, both at the time of Jesus and of Matthew, as also we see it in our own communities.
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• Matthew 20,22-23: The response of Jesus. Jesus reacts firmly. He responds to the sons and not to the mother: “You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink? It is a question of the chalice of suffering. Jesus wants to know if they, instead of the place of honour, accept to give their own life up to death. Both answer: “We can!” This was a sincere response and Jesus confirms it: “You shall drink my cup”. At the same time, it seems to be a hasty response, because a few days later, they abandon Jesus and leave him alone at the hour of suffering (Mt 26,51). They do not have a strong critical conscience, and they are not even aware of their own personal reality. And Jesus completes the phrase saying: “But it is not mine to grant that you sit at my right hand and my left, these seats belong to those to whom they have been allotted by my Father”. What Jesus can offer is the chalice of the suffering of the cross.
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• Matthew 20,24-27: “Among you this is not to happen”. “When the other ten heard this, they were indignant with the two brothers”. The request made by the mother in the name of the sons, causes a heated discussion in the group. Jesus calls the disciples and speaks to them about the exercise of power: “The rulers of nations, you know, dominate over them and the great exercise their power over them. Among you this is not to happen: anyone who wants to become great among you must be your servant and anyone who wants to be first among you must be your slave”. At that time, those who held power had no interest for the people. They acted according to their own interests (cf. Mc 14,3-12).
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The Roman Empire controlled the world submitting it with the force of arms and, in this way, through taxes, customs, etc., succeeded to concentrate the riches through repression and the abuse of power. Jesus had another response. He teaches against privileges and against rivalry. He overthrows the system and insists on the attitude of service which is the remedy against personal ambition. The community has to prepare an alternative. When the Roman Empire disintegrates, victim of its own internal contradictions, the communities should be prepared to offer to the people an alternative model of social living together.
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• Matthew 20,28: The summary of the life of Jesus. Jesus defines his life and his mission: “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many”. In this definition of self given by Jesus are implied three titles which define him and which were for the first Christians the beginning of Christology: Son of Man, Servant of Yahweh and older brother (close relative or Joel). Jesus is the Messiah, Servant, announced by the Prophet Isaiah (cf. Is 42,1-9; 49,1-6; 50,4-9; 52,13-53,12). He learnt from his mother who said: “Behold the servant of the Lord!” (Lk 1,38). This was a totally new proposal for the society of that time.
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Personal questions
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• James and John ask for favours. Jesus promises suffering. And I, what do I seek in my relationship with God and what do I ask for in prayer? How do I accept the suffering that comes to my life and which is the contrary of what we ask in prayer?
• Jesus says: “May it not be like that among you!” Do our way of living in the Church and in the community agree with this advise of Jesus?
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Concluding Prayer
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Then the nations kept saying,
‘What great deeds Yahweh has done for them!’
Yes, Yahweh did great deeds for us,
and we were overjoyed. (Ps 126,2-3)
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Related:
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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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25 JULY 2016, Monday, St James, Apostle
EARTHENWARE JARS BEARING THE MERCY OF GOD

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [  2 COR 4:7-15; MT 20:20-28 ]

Many of us are happy and excited to follow Jesus in the ministry.  We too are inspired by the life of Jesus who “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  Like the apostles who followed Jesus in the gospel, we have goodwill and apparently good intentions.  Indeed, in the Church, we have thousands of volunteers giving themselves generously in service, time and resources to the Christian community and society, especially the poor and the underprivileged.

But, often there is much infighting and competition among ministry members and even among priests and religious.  There is jealousy when others do well, or when others are appointed to positions and offices of power. Because of envy there is competition, sometimes leading to slander and backbiting.  This was the case of the apostles in today’s gospel.  Not only were James and John and their mothers seeking glory and power, but so were the other apostles. “When the other ten heard this they were indignant with the two brothers.” So we should not be surprised that even within the Christian community, many are also fighting for recognition and power and benefits, even though many claim that they are serving God and the Church freely and without expectations of return.

The truth is that many of us lack self-awareness.  Most of us are sincere in wanting to serve the Lord and His people.  Very few in the ministry render their services with the intention of serving themselves.  But most of us are unaware of our human imperfections and hidden motives. We lack the depth of self-realization. This was true with the apostles.  Clearly, they were not following Christ for His sake and the Kingdom, but for their own personal agenda.  They were seeking for power, security and recognition. They wanted to rule over others in Christ’s Kingdom.  When we search deeply and honestly in our hearts, we, too, are no different from them.  All of us want to be loved, to be known and to have security and freedom.  That is why we seek recognition, power and status.

As Catholics, at times we do not really have a deep spiritual life or a good doctrinal understanding of our faith.  Fresh from RCIA or from a Conversion Experience, we have this deep desire to serve God.  We are enthusiastic but we are quite naïve about who Jesus is to us, the realities of life; the truth about ourselves as sinners; and what it means to be a disciple of Christ.  Doctrinally, many of us are weak in understanding our faith, the teachings of the Church and have only a superficial knowledge of the scriptures.  The disciples were like that before the passion and the resurrection of Christ.  They were still thinking of Jesus as the earthly and political Messiah.  Hence, they held political ambitions.

What is this Kingdom that Jesus is offering to us if not the kingdom of lowliness in the service of truth and love?  In no uncertain terms, the Lord taught, “You know that among the pagans the rulers lord it over them, and their great men make their authority felt. This is not to happen among you. No; anyone who wants to be great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be your slave.”  The kingdom that Jesus preached is not so much an earthly kingdom but a kingdom of love, truth and justice expressed in compassion, lowly and humble service, and selflessness even unto death.  It is to love and care for our brothers and sisters to the end, to the extent of suffering, often unjustly, being misunderstood, unappreciated, misjudged, slandered and rejected by the very people we love and give our lives to.

Many of us are too weak to love in this manner.  In truth, our love is so imperfect.  Our love for others is more like that of the pagans, loving those who love us, serving those who appreciate us.  Even if we have no material motives in service, we seek affective recognition and appreciation.  To love our enemies, to love strangers, to love those who do not love us or cannot repay us is much more difficult.  Most of our so-called Christian love is confined to our loved ones, family members and friends.  But this is not the only kind of love that Jesus is asking of us.  He wants us to love beyond our circle of friends and community.  We are called to reach out to the marginalized, the wounded, the broken, those without friends and those abandoned by society.

Yet, the Lord accepts the fact that we cannot love purely and unconditionally like Him.  He knows we are weak.  Just as He accepted Peter’s inadequate love for Him and his mixed motives in serving Him, He too accepts our limited love.  He does not demand that we either love selflessly or not at all.  He did not give up on the apostles simply because they were jostling for power and status.  Instead, He continued with them on that journey.  The Lord knows, as St Paul says, “We are only the earthenware jars that hold this treasure, to make it clear that such an overwhelming power comes from God and not from us.”  The Lord wants to work not through perfect people but through our brokenness and fallen nature.  St Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.” (1 Cor 2:4f)  Indeed, rather than be scandalized at the sins of priests, religious leaders, lay or clerical, or ministry members and active Catholics, we should give praise to God that in spite of their sinfulness and imperfections, God could use them in some way to give glory to Him and to serve His people.  

God has chosen us weaklings to be His messengers of Divine Mercy so that His glory can shine in and through us.  Only in weakness will we depend on the power of God and recognize our nothingness before Him.  This is what St Paul experienced when he wrote that this is “to make it clear that such an overwhelming power comes from God and not from us. We are in difficulties on all sides, but never cornered; we see no answer to our problems, but never despair; we have been persecuted, but never deserted; knocked down, but never killed.”  Until we have tasted the power of God, we will never be able to trust Him or surrender our lives to Him.  Even in ministry, we tend to rely on our powers, ingenuity and knowledge rather than on God.  This explains why few in the ministry really pray, intercede or rely on God’s grace.  It is all about planning, strategy, techniques, organization, except the importance and necessity of prayers!

Secondly, He chose us sinners to be His vessels of divine mercy because only in our sinfulness do we learn humility and compassion.  In the letter of Hebrews, the author wrote, “Every high priest chosen from among mortals is put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness; and because of this he must offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people.”  If God has chosen sinners to be His priests and leaders, it is so that we can learn to be more humble and compassionate towards others.  Those who have gone through difficult times or faced tremendous challenges and misfortunes in life will become great evangelizers and proclaimers of God’s mercy when they get out of their difficulties. They will come to understand the power of God and also the helplessness of man with regard to sin and temptation.  Because they are aware of their own sins and weaknesses, they do not condemn others or judge them.  Instead, they will reach out to them, healing them with the healing that they themselves had received.  Conversely those who are self-righteous, arrogant and proud are those who never know the power of God or recognize their finiteness and sinfulness.  They only know how to despise, condemn and judge. 

We must never forget that although we are baptized, we are not yet saints.  We are pilgrims along the way, growing in perfection.  As St Paul says, each day, “we carry with us in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus, too, may always be seen in our body. Indeed, while we are still alive, we are consigned to our death every day, for the sake of Jesus, so that in our mortal flesh the life of Jesus, too, may be openly shown.”  Every day is a call for us to die to self a little more, until eventually we, like St James and the other apostles, come to a stage when we are ready to die totally for the Lord, even in martyrdom.  So the path to martyrdom is not an instant decision but a gradual confidence and trust in the Lord, and letting go and letting God take over our lives.

Let us therefore never be afraid of making mistakes in life.  This is a necessary path to growth in virtues, in love and truth.  The only way to learn is to make mistakes.  Like the apostles, we learn as we go along with the Lord.  So if we find ourselves inadequate and imperfect in serving the Lord because of our sins and weaknesses, we must not be too harsh on ourselves.  We should be understanding and compassionate like Jesus towards His ignorant and self-centered apostles.  The only thing that we must not forget is that we need to grow in grace each day.  Whilst we should accept and learn from our mistakes, we must always be humble to fix our eyes on the Lord and seek His grace to grow in holiness, in truth and in love, so that at the end of our lives, we could also say with the psalmist, “When the Lord delivered Zion from bondage, it seemed like a dream. Then was our mouth filled with laughter, on our lips there were songs.   The heathens themselves said:  What marvels the Lord worked for them!’’  What marvels the Lord worked for us! Indeed we were glad. They go out, they go out, full of tears, carrying seed for the sowing; they come back, they come back, full of song, carrying their sheaves.”

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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Homily By Rev. Andrew Eckert
St. Paul’s Lutheran Church
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Wellston, Oklahoma.Are you ready to drink the cup of the Lord?  The cup I am talking about is not a pleasant cup.  It is a cup of suffering.  To drink the cup of Christ is to carry your cross in humiliation, pain, and death.  It is to suffer the loss of your honor.To drink the cup of Christ is to be a slave.  It would be much easier to be a paid servant rather than a slave.  Then there would be some dignity and some recognition of your skills and service.But a slave is lower than low.  A slave might be whipped at the least provocation.  Beat him, take away his food, lock him up in isolation, remove friends and family, remove the pleasures of life.

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Christ Jesus tells you, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave.”

Most people are willing to put in their time of service, even sometimes work hard for others.  But Jesus is not talking about occasional volunteer work.  He has called you to be a slave of all men.

He may also call upon you to be ridiculed and mocked.  He may send all manner of hardship into your life.  He may call upon you to give up your life.

Suffering separates the slave from the willing volunteer.  The slave must be emptied of all pride and self-worth, so that he is only the property of someone else.  There is no labor union for the slave to protest low wages or unsatisfactory work conditions.  The slave only suffers.

This is what you are for whomever God places in your life to serve.  You must be ready to give, ready to be hurt, ready for death itself if necessary, for the sake of Christ.

Those others are not only the nice people in your life.  You are to be a slave also to enemies, the wicked, those whom you do not like, those who annoy you, anyone at all whom Christ calls you to serve.

Who can truly live up to this?  This is a tall order, and a harsh burden.  Your sinful nature shrinks away from that bitter cup.  Your Old Adam might take a sip, but not too much!  Your flesh would rather have some other cup, perhaps the cup of mild irritation or the cup of slight unpleasantness, rather than the cup of suffering.

In fact, Christ only gives you a little of His cup.  Mortal flesh cannot drink too deeply.  Only He could drain it to the last drop upon Calvary, and no one can imagine His agony there.  You do not drink to atone from sin or drain the wrath of God.  You cannot do that.  Yet you must suffer in the image of Christ, if only in a lesser way.

So you need not be too upset if you suffer the loss of your honor and reputation.  No matter how much it is trampled in the dust, you will not descend as far as your Lord descended.

Do not fear the loss of your honor.  Be ready to be humbled, since in this way your honor is actually exalted even more in the Kingdom of God.  But if you desire to appear great in a visible, earthly way, then you shall not be great.

Everywhere Jesus turned things upside down for the disciples.  James and John tried to seek the first and highest place.  But they did not understand what that actually meant.  Jesus gave them what they desired, but in ways they did not expect.  James and John had to learn that the path to glory passes through cross and shame.

We also must learn this lesson.

Your flesh asks, “Where is the joy and comfort and peace of the Christian life if we can expect suffering and shame?” Many fall away from the faith because they cannot endure the pain and dishonor of drinking this bitter cup.  They did not sign on for this religion to carry a cross.  They wanted to escape suffering inside these doors and instead found it waiting for them.  Again, everything is turned upside down.

The true peace and joy are found even in the midst of strife.  It is not a fleshly joy, all giddy and happy, with never a tear.  Christians rejoice in Christ even as they weep.  They are at peace even when torn apart.  Your heart may be broken, yet Christ is your joy.

So be comforted in this, that you participate in Christ’s sufferings.  He chooses you, even you, a sinner, to drink from His own cup.  What sounds like a curse is actually the greatest blessing, for what is higher than to be like Christ?

You cannot earn this likeness to your Lord.  Can you be righteous as He is?  Certainly not!  Can your love equal His?  Can your works outshine the angels themselves for glory?  Hardly!

So when Christ makes you like Him in that you also taste His sufferings, it is not earned.  You do not choose your afflictions, but they are set for you in advance by your Father’s hand.  In this way He treats you like Christ, since He also sent Christ into the flesh to suffer.

Nothing is more central to the life of Christ than His passion and death.  These things He knew even before their unfolding.  He saw the betrayal, the mocking, the flogging, the crucifixion.  He knew the awfulness of His cup, and even prayed that He might not drink it.  Yet He submitted Himself to His Father’s will and drank it to the last drop as He went up to the Cross.

There is the true Slave, making His life expendable, to be struck and whipped and pierced and killed at the whim of sinful men.  In His suffering, He rendered the greatest service ever.  In His Blood, He showed Himself the faithful Slave who serves all mankind.

So the King of the powers above submitted Himself to be despised and spitefully treated.  Not even with this lowliness was He satisfied, but He submitted to death itself, the shameful death of a slave.

He chose the last place and became the first of all – the Firstborn from the dead, the First and the Last, and the Lord of all.  By paying the ransom for you, He became your Lord and King, just as He also paid the ransom for the vast number of all sinners.  Christ paid the price for the rebellion of mankind, who had violated and abused God’s holiness and righteousness.

In other words, it was not for an innocent damsel in distress that Christ died.  It was for His enemies, for you and me.  His life, the life of the Son of God, was exchanged for your life.

The deep descent of one Man has become the lifting up of us all.  When He submitted to pain and torture and crucifixion, His glory shone forth upon you.  Indeed, His majesty did not become less when cruel nails pinned Him to shame and horror and death.  His majesty was seen more clearly than ever there, since by His death He bought for Himself a kingdom, even His beloved Bride.

All glory be to this God of your salvation alone, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

http://lutheransermon.com/index.php?sn=1772

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