01Feb 01 Feb. Wednesday of Week Four

In Ireland: Feast of St Brigid

2 Samuel 24:2ff. Finding that he has sinned by counting the people, David prays that the punishment may fall on himself.

Mark 6:1ff. The people of Nazareth reject Jesus and he could work very few cures there.

Not in your own Home Town!

Three faults, envy, pride and stubbornness, often seem to cluster together, and the cure for each of them is in the bond of love. A nasty example of envy flares up in the gospel, when the people of Jesus’ home town, who earlier in life grew up with him now find him “too much” for them. Why should he have more wisdom than any of them, they ask. And why should he be able to work miracles while they can not? In Hebrews the “bitter root” that defiles so many turns out to be stubbornness, and the recommended cure is discipline. The reading from Samuel describes many difficulties but pride seems to be at the bottom of all of them.

Why is the Bible so severe on such “ordinary” faults as stubbornness, pride and jealousy? We take them for granted in ourselves and others, and presume they belong to the normal inconveniences of life, like headaches or the common cold. Much of the power of Scripture is in its unwillingness to take mediocrity of life for granted, but it combines a continual dedication to ideals with a practical sense of living on planet earth. The Bible reflects the perception that most people are more often hurt by such day-to-day sins as pride, stubbornness and envy than they are by the heinous sins of murder, bribery and adultery. “The fruit of peace and justice,” to which Hebrews refers, is prevented from growing to maturity in our families and personal lives by the pestilence of pride or envy or stubbornness.

A painful level of envy is manifested by the frequency with which people repeat Jesus’ words, “No prophet is without honour except in his or her native place, among his or her relatives, and in his or her own house.” If the phrase “his or her” bores us by its repetition, it also insists that no person is exempt from envy, man or woman, Jew or Gentile, wealthy or poor. And envy hurts most the person who surrenders to it.

We have been following the career of Saul and David, and have seen how Saul became moody, unreliable, fearful and finally driven to suicide. David on the contrary seems to possess an extraordinary reservoir of energy, a clarity of judgment, a love that charmed all opposition and extended even to the son in revolt. We read, already in 1 Samuel 18:9, “From that day on, Saul was jealous of David”; and like a man infected by the plague, Saul was destroyed by his own envy.

The people in the gospel who were most lost sight of were the people of Nazareth. Even Jesus could work no miracle there, apart from curing a few who were sick, so much did their lack of faith distress him, and made the rounds of the neighbouring villages instead. What a sad commentary on envy: Jesus made the rounds of the neighbouring villages while Nazareth was left behind in silence. Envy is an incurable disease – so that “he could work no miracle there.” Close to envy in its symptoms and effects is the fault of stubbornness. God tries in many ways to heal this disease: Whom the Lord loves, he disciplines: he scourges every child he receives. The cure for stubbornness is not to be found in suppression, anger and coercion.

Finally, today’s text from Samuel, warns of the pestilence let loose by pride and an excessive desire to control others. It is not condemning a census of the people as such; the first part of the Book of Numbers records the results of another census, undertaken with God’s blessing. It must have been David’s motive that spoiled this census in God’s eyes. Yet, as mentioned already, it was an understandable fault. Why shouldn’t a ruler be proud of the nation he has built, and whom he intends to tax? Yet we see also how a census can lead to government control, heavier taxation and affluence at the top. The pestilence is halted by David’s prayer, a prayer in which he accepts the blame and begs God to be merciful to the sheep of the flock, who have not done wrong. It is the bond of love and loyalty that brings the solution and that heals the disease.

 2 Samuel 24:2, 9-17

So the king said to Joab and the commanders of the army, who were with him, “Go through all the tribes of Israel, from Dan to Beer-sheba, and take a census of the people, so that I may know how many there are.” Joab reported to the king the number of those who had been recorded: in Israel there were eight hundred thousand soldiers able to draw the sword, and those of Judah were five hundred thousand.

But afterward, David was stricken to the heart because he had numbered the people. David said to the Lord, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done. But now, O Lord, I pray you, take away the guilt of your servant; for I have done very foolishly.” When David rose in the morning, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Gad, David’s seer, saying, “Go and say to David: Thus says the Lord: Three things I offer you; choose one of them, and I will do it to you.” So Gad came to David and told him; he asked him, “Shall three years of famine come to you on your land? Or will you flee three months before your foes while they pursue you? Or shall there be three days’ pestilence in your land? Now consider, and decide what answer I shall return to the one who sent me.” Then David said to Gad, “I am in great distress; let us fall into the hand of the Lord, for his mercy is great; but let me not fall into human hands.”

So the Lord sent a pestilence on Israel from that morning until the appointed time; and seventy thousand of the people died, from Dan to Beer-sheba. But when the angel stretched out his hand toward Jerusalem to destroy it, the Lord relented concerning the evil, and said to the angel who was bringing destruction among the people, “It is enough; now stay your hand.” The angel of the Lord was then by the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. When David saw the angel who was destroying the people, he said to the Lord, “I alone have sinned, and I alone have doe wickedly; but these sheep, what have they done? Let your hand, I pray, be against me and against my father’s house.”

Gospel: Mark 6:1-6

He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honour, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.

#02 Feb. Thursday: Presentation of the Lord

Malachi 3:1ff. The Lord will send his messenger to his temple

Lk 2:22-40. Jesus is presented in the temple, by his parents; and welcomed by two prophetic people, Simeon and Anna

A Sign of Contradiction

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#03 Feb. Friday of Week Four

St Blaise

Sir 47:2ff. David is praised as defender of Israel, as psalmist, as penitent sinner, and receptor of eternal promises.

Mark 6:14ff. Herod is curious about John the Baptist and about Jesus. Mark recounts the martyrdom of the Baptist.

Entertaining Angels

Today we commemorate great precursors of Jesus, people like John the Baptist in the gospel, or David in the text from Sirach . Elsewhere it is urged, “Remember your leaders who spoke the word of God to you; consider how their lives ended, and imitate their faith.” This magnificent “cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1) merge into the mystery of Jesus and in some way reflects the features of his character and mission, who is the same, “yesterday, today, and forever.”

These living portraits of Jesus are not silent and changeless, like photographs, forever declaring their immutable message as something chiseled on stone (Job 19:24). The Sirach text honouring David indicates the presence of God through his long career, from when as a youth he battled the Philistine giant, and then as king when he extended the boundary of Israel and overcame all opposition, and even when he became guilty of adultery and murder yet repented humbly and publicly. It recalls moments when David sang before the altar, “providing sweet melody for the psalms.” God was present through every moment, as helper, as one who forgave, as one who inspired ideals, as one who overcame all opposition to the fulfillment of the divine will in the life of David.

That sort of providence seems to collapse in the gospel account of John the Baptist, ending hideously when the daughter gave to her mother the head of the Baptist on a platter. No wonder the memory of John haunted the uneasy sleep of King Herod, so that he hoped that somehow Jesus was John raised from the dead. But indeed, in a way Herod could not comprehend, John was not dead, but alive in Jesus who “is the same yesterday, today and forever.”

Jesus is present in our prisons and among the persecuted people of the world – just as he was the reason for the Baptist’s imprisonment and persecution. We must seek him in these areas that are enclosed, narrow, dark, lonely and seemingly hopeless – in prisons, and among the lowest migrant, unwelcome people in our midst. Even in our own personal lives, we may have entertained God’s angels unbeknownst.

 Sirach 47:2-11

As the fat is set apart from the offering of well-being,
so David was set apart from the Israelites.
He played with lions as though they were young goats,
and with bears as though they were lambs of the flock.

In his youth did he not kill a giant,
and take away the people’s disgrace,
when he whirled the stone in the sling
and struck down the boasting Goliath?

For he called on the Lord, the Most High,
and he gave strength to his right arm
to strike down a mighty warrior,
and to exalt the power of his people.

So they glorified him for the tens of thousands he conquered,
and praised him for the blessings bestowed by the Lord,
when the glorious diadem was given to him.
For he wiped out his enemies on every side,
and annihilated his adversaries the Philistines;
he crushed their power to our own day.

In all that he did he gave thanks
to the Holy One, the Most High, proclaiming his glory;
he sang praise with all his heart,
and he loved his Maker.

He placed singers before the altar,
to make sweet melody with their voices.
He gave beauty to the festivals,
and arranged their times throughout the year,
while they praised God’s holy name,
and the sanctuary resounded from early morning.

The Lord took away his sins,
and exalted his power forever;
he gave him a covenant of kingship
and a glorious throne in Israel.

Gospel: Mark 6:14-29

King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”

For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. For John had told Herod: “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” The king was deeply grieed; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.

#04 Feb. Saturday of Week Four

1 Kings 3:4ff. Solomon prayed for an understanding heart to judge God’s people and to distinguish right from wrong.

Mark 6:30ff. Jesus invites the apostles to come aside and rest, though he pities the people, as sheep without a shepherd.

Consistency of Prayer and Life

The theme of peace in today’s readings is suitable for Saturday, the Sabbath, an ancient Hebrew word that itself means to stop, to rest, to take a holiday. This is the day that God blessed and made holy, because on it he rested from all the work he had done in creation (Gen 2:3). Earlier in Hebrews heaven was called by the name of Sabbath: the Sabbath rest that lies ahead for the people of God. And the one who enters into God’s rest, relaxes from own work as God did from his. We must strive to enter in that rest (Hebrews 4:9-11).

The opening sentence in advises a sincere and close relation between our prayers on the one hand and our secular pursuits on the other. The ideal of offering a “sacrifice of praise,” is found in biblical passages which almost seem to condemn liturgy, in their insistence on an interior attitude at prayer that reflects our attitudes towards the real world, of family, neighbour and even the stranger. “Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you,” says the psalmist “but offer to God praise as your sacrifice and fulfill your vows to the Most High (Ps 50:8, 14). To this we can unite another text with a strong prophetical ring: “Do you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: unleashing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; Sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless” (Isa 58:5-7).

For the best commentary on the acceptable sacrifice of praise, we can turn again to today’s reading from Hebrews: “Do not neglect good deeds and generosity; God is pleased by sacrifices of that kind.” This fits in with another line in Hebrews, just a few verses earlier: “Jesus died outside the gate.. Let us go to him outside the camp, bearing the insult which he bore” (Hebrews 13:12-13). We are advised to seek Jesus “outside the camp” where the outcast, the lepers and the unclean cluster. With these Jesus was crucified as a common criminal. “Outside” is at a distance from the sacred temple and the ritual sacrifices which were “inside.”

Peace with God means that we go out to the poor and needy and thereby be able to transform our prayers and ritual into a worthy sacrifice of praise. It also requires a good relationship between ourselves and our leaders, both in civil society and in the church, “Obey your leaders and submit to them.” This admonition must not extend to obeying even to the point of committing sin, but we “submit to them” by putting the common good before private desires or selfish whims and personal ambition. The peaceful relationship here should bring “joy, not.. sorrow, for that would be harmful to you.”

To seek first the kingdom of God, that is, the common good of the community, is exemplified for us in the reading from Kings . Solomon is rewarded for having asked “not for a long life for yourself, nor for riches, nor for the life of your enemies, but for understanding”. It is interesting to note that this message of God to Solomon came “in a dream at night.” Dreams imply a time with God, a time of mystical perception, a moment when we settle into the mystery of our better self, a time when we are not distracted by selfish wants and petty concerns.

Such times are necessary – as Jesus remarked to the disciples, “Come apart and rest a little.” The peace which we are seeking is not a human creation; it is God’s special gift. The rabbis considered the Sabbath, along with the Torah, as God’s supreme gift to his chosen people. We need the long stretches of unprogrammed silence, when God can appear and speak the right question to the best part of ourselves.

Yet, even this solitude was invaded by the people who “hastened on foot to the place.” When Jesus the crowd, he pitied them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd and “he began to teach them at great length.” How well he fulfills the injunction of Hebrews to go to those outside the camp, to those wandering and in need. Jesus leaves behind the solitude and the sacred, to find the word of God while mingling with the crowd. Peace means the integral harmony of all these aspects of our life, centred in the mystery of God’s presence with us.

 1 Kings 3:4-13

The king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the principal high place; Solomon used to offer a thousand burnt offerings on that altar. At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask what I should give you.”

And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today. And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?”

It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you. I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honour all your life; no other king shall compare with you.

Gospel: Mark 6:30-34

The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place by yourselves and rest a while.” For so many were coming and going, that they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them.

As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.

#06 Feb. Monday of Week Five

1 Kings 8:1ff. At the dedication of the temple, a cloud fills the sanctuary to symbolize the Lord’s awesome presence.

Mark 6:53ff. Wherever Jesus went, the sick were brought to him. Whoever touched him got well.

Where is the Real Sanctuary?

The reading from Genesis provides a wide-angle view of the universe, the real sanctuary or throne room for God’s majestic presence. The temple at Jerusalem, whose dedication is celebrated in First Kings, was considered a mirror of God’s heavenly home, a reflection of the Lord’s marvellous presence throughout the universe, the place for re-enacting the redemptive acts of God in the history of his chosen people. These redemptive acts become concentrated with strength and compassion in the acts of Jesus, the first and third reading – from Genesis and Mark- speak about the real world, the same one that our eyes behold and our feet walk on, the very one where our bodies feel aches and pains and reach out for healing. Then there is the passage from First Kings about the symbolic world of the temple. Symbol does not mean unreal but rather acts as a sign of a deeper meaning within the real and a means, therefore, enabling us to plummet into the mystery of God’spresence in the “real” world round about us.

It is important then to note that the sacred ceremonies of the sanctuary – whether this sanctuary be the Holy of Holies of the Jerusalem temple or the central area of our churches with eucharistic table and tabernacle-lose then-meaning if they lose contact with the physical world of earth and sky (even with the adornments of each, like stars or animals or fishes) or if they are no longer vivid reminders of God’s redemptive acts, healing us in our sickness, forgiving us in our weakness, inspiring us with hope. At the same time, we see that without sanctuary services and church liturgy we easily lose sight of the mysterious presence of God in our universe and in our daily secular living.

This close interaction, as intimate as soul and body in forming a human being, is emphasised in the verse that is omitted from the reading today of cycle II. Verse 9 is deleted, perhaps as an irrelevant detail that might distract us from the magnificent dedication for the Jerusalem temple. It reads: The poles by which the Ark of the Covenant was carried throughout its long journeys from the days of Moses, through the desert, into the promised land, till this day of enthronement in the Holy of Holies were so long that their ends could be seen from that part of the holy place adjoining the sanctuary; however, they could not be seen beyond. They have remained there to this day. This may reflect the discontent of a scholarly priest, unhappy over the architectural blunder that did not provide adequately for the poles of the Ark; they protruded from the Holy of Holies into the adjoining room of the Holy Place. The verse also reminds us of the extraordinary respect of the Scribes for sacred scripture, never to remove what seemed unnecessary and certainly archaic. Yet divine wisdom might be hinting at an essential element of liturgy and church services. Just as the poles remained on the side of the Ark of the Covenant, ready to carry it into the streets and daily lives of the Israelite people, likewise our church services should always be on the edge of moving into our own personal lives, down our neighbourhood streets, into our city, state and international politics and business. All of us are consecrated as Levites to carry the Ark, to bring the eucharist and our church services into our homes and activity, to be the living temples of God’s presence.

We can find other indications for worthy liturgy and faith-filled lives in the relationship of today’s readings: Genesis and Mark coming from the “real” world of secular life, First Kings, from the symbolical world of the temple and church. Genesis declares clearly that the world where we look out to see the light of the sun and where our ears strain to hear melodies from the wind, is a world of beauty, indeed a sacred world. Each activity is a response to God’s word, “Let there be light.. let there be a dome in the middle of waters called the sky.. let there be luminaries in the dome of the sky.” The result of his creative word is always a delight for God.Holies were so long that their ends could be seen from that part of the holy place adjoining the sanctuary; however, they could not be seen beyond. They have remained there to this day.

This verse may reflect the impatient discontent of the priest-Scribe unhappy over the architectural blunder that did not provide adequately for the poles of the Ark; they protruded from the Holy of Holies into the adjoining room of the Holy Place. The verse also reminds us of the extraordinary respect of the Scribes for sacred scripture, never to remove what seemed unnecessary and certainly archaic. Yet divine wisdom might be informing us about an essential element of liturgy and church services. Just as the poles remained on the side of the Ark of the Covenant, ready to carry it into the streets and daily lives of the Israelite people, likewise our church services should always be on the edge of moving into our own personal lives, down our neighbourhood streets, into our city, state and international politics and business. All of us are consecrated as Levites to carry the Ark, to bring the eucharist and our church services into our homes and activity, to be the living temples of God’s presence.

In order that these physical objects be cleansed and reconsecrated they must be touched by the word of God and be obedient to the touch of Jesus, as in today’s readings from Genesis and Mark. We are the instruments of God to cleanse and reconsecrate our good world. Our touch of kindness and love is the touch of Jesus; our word of forgiveness and encouragement is the word of God. Each touch heals; each word is creative. The liturgy then brings us to the heart of the mystery of our real world.

 1 Kings 8:1-7, 9-13

Then Solomon assembled the elders of Israel and all the heads of the tribes, the leaders of the ancestral houses of the Israelites, before King Solomon in Jerusalem, to bring up the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord out of the city of David, which is Zion. All the people of Israel assembled to King Solomon at the festival in the month Ethanim, which is the seventh month. And all the elders of Israel came, and the priests carried the ark. So they brought up the ark of the Lord, the tent of meeting, and all the holy vessels that were in the tent; the priests and the Levites brought them up.

King Solomon and all the congregation of Israel, who had assembled before him, were with him before the ark, sacrificing so many sheep and oxen that they could not be counted or numbered. Then the priests brought the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord to its place, in the inner sanctuary of the house, in the most holy place, underneath the wings of the cherubim. For the cherubim spread out their wings over the place of the ark, so that the cherubim made a covering above the ark and its poles.

There was nothing in the ark except the two tablets of stone that Moses had placed there at Horeb, where the Lord made a covenant with the Israelites, when they came out of the land of Egypt. And when the priests came out of the holy place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord.

Then Solomon said, “The Lord has said that he would dwell in thick darkness. I have built you an exalted house, a place for you to dwell in forever.”

Gospel: Mark 6:53-56

When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.

#07 Feb. Tuesday of Week Five

1 Kings 8:22ff. Solomon concludes the temple dedication ceremony with a prayer of faith, confidence and humility.

Mark 7:1ff. The crime of nullifying the plain sense of God’s word by recourse to human traditions and practices.

God’s Dwelling on Earth

The Scriptures for today proclaim the sacredness of the created world. In concluding the work of creation, God first crowns his efforts across the universe by forming humankind to the divine image, “male and female he created them.” While all his other works were good, after creating humankind, God looked.. and “found it very good.” Marriage, home and family become an image of the Godhead, and here God must continue to be present. After this ultimate of all works on the sixth day, God proceeded to “rest from all the work he had done” and so “blessed the seventh day.” God does not withdraw from his newly created world in order to rest, but rather rests in the midst of all its beauty and goodness. The world is temple and church; the sound of wind and surf and birdsong are hymns of praise.

From this background we can examine the passages from First Kings, and from Mark’s gospel, the better to understand why Solomon and Jesus spoke as they did. Solomon ponders, “Can it be that God indeed dwells among us on earth? If the heavens and the highest heavens cannot contain you, how much less this temple which I have built?” And Jesus excoriates the lawyers for “making a fine art of setting aside God’s commandment [that the world, as blessed by God, is to be respected and appreciated] just for the sake of keeping your traditions.”

Solomon’s prayer reminds us that God’s normal temple is the universe, and for that reason the king asks how a mere human construction can contain God. Jesus argues that the produce of the world, its fruits and vegetables, are all clean because they have been created and blessed by God. Nonetheless, Solomon did build the temple; and Jesus did sanction fasting and abstinence from food. The Bible holds together these diverse statements about eating and about fasting, about the entire world as God’s temple and about constructing a temple or church for prayer. This diversity is not meant to cancel out or neutralize but rather to balance, nuance and enrich.

We construct a temple for the community for the same reason that we build a home for a family. A home is necessary, at least for the large majority of humankind, in order to remain closely knit in love and intimacy, in order to share sorrow and joy and thereby support one another, in order to nourish and protect during sickness and old age. We need the home in order to learn how to love properly. Only then are we capable of extending our genuine love to the larger human family. Likewise, we benefit greatly from a church. Here we learn to be family or covenanted people, bonded to one another and to God. Through the church, we have a place for prayer and instruction and a community where people undertake various offices of teaching, of leading in prayer, and of prophetically challenging. Without the church we would have been deprived of the Scriptures, of the sacraments and the memory of saints.

To wash ourselves or our food before eating is good, if it induces respect, cleanliness and a relaxed spirit. Yet if it divides, leads to arguments and a better-than-thou spirit (as seems to have happened), it violates the plan of God to form one large human family made in his own likeness. The Bible is continually cutting down the barriers which we raise. If the word of God sanctions walls for temple and home, it is with the intention of training us to live in the world outside those walls. When we are thoroughly at home in the outside world, then we are ready for heaven, “the highest heavens,” where all God’s children are at home. Therefore, Jesus could not tolerate separations that divide and split apart. People who favour such divisiveness are the hypocrites condemned by the Scripture: This people pays me lip service but their heart is far from me.

 1 Kings 8:22-23, 27-30

Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands to heaven. He said, “O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and steadfast love for your servants who walk before you with all their heart.

“But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built! Regard your servant’s prayer and his plea, O Lord my God, heeding the cry and the prayer that your servant prays to you today; that your eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the place of which you said, ‘My name shall be there,’ that you may heed the prayer that your servant prays toward this place. Hear the plea of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place; O hear in heaven your dwelling place; heed and forgive.

Gospel: Mark 7:1-13

Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,’This people honours me with their lips,

but their hearts are far from me;

 in vain do they worship me,

teaching human precepts as doctrines.’

You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.” Then he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.’ But you say that if anyone tells father or mother, ‘Whatever support you might have had from me is Corban’ (that is, an offering to God) – then you no longer permit doing anything for a father or mother, thus making void the word of God through your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many things like this.”

#08 Feb. Wednesday of Week Five

1 Kings 10:1ff. The Queen of Sheba comes to find out about Solomon, about his wisdom, riches and good judgment.

Mark 7:14ff. What renders us impure is not what enters us from outside but rather the wickedness in the deep recesses of the heart.

The Wisdom from Above

Within the creation story and the Queen of Sheba’s visit to King Solomon, our attention may be first drawn to the externals of the scene, but on further reflection we discover the wisdom at the heart of each account. In Genesis (*1), the Lord planted a garden with all kinds of delightful things to eat and placed Adam there to cultivate and care for it. Within the garden was the tree of knowledge of good and evil whose fruit he was not to eat; for Adam was expected to exercise self-control and a humble regard for God’s instructions. Turning to the book of Kings, we find Solomon’s wisdom at the centre of all the glitter and wealth and remember his prayer at Gibeon, for an understanding heart to judge the people. Because Solomon requested wisdom rather than wealth or long life, God promised him “such riches and glory that among kings there is not your like.” The king’s wisdom remained at the heart of his good fortune, integrating and balancing all the external splendour.

Jesus’ words to his disciples develop this traditional idea, that external things are part of God’s good creation. What we eat or drink is clean and healthy, gifts from the God of life. Evil comes from within the human heart, from whose wicked desires flow those crimes and offenses which corrode and corrupt the world about us.

The story-teller in the ancient Book of Genesis wants to impress on us how the creation of human life needed a special intervention of God who breathed into man the breath of life; that the garden was not the result of human ingenuity but was prepared in advance by God. The wisdom to make the best use of the world also comes from the Lord, with our intellect illumined by his assisting grace. It is a wisdom that includes a humble attitude to care for the earth and the strength to control our selfish desires. A sensitivity towards God, a remembrance in prayer of God’s gracious acts for us in the past, a joy from offering praise and adoration to our Maker, all this belongs to the wisdom by which good judgment is formed.

Without such wisdom, wicked designs begin to take hold within the heart. Jesus names some of these evil tendencies, almost the reverse of the ten commandments: fornication, theft, murder, greed, arrogance, an obtuse spirit. The wisdom by which we direct our lives must be sincere and fully supernatural, open always, as we read in the creation of the first human being, to the breath of God’s Holy Spirit. At the base of every good life lies an intuitive, secret wisdom, the fruit of living prayerfully in God’s presence and of responding humbly and obediently to the movements of God’s spirit within us.

 1 Kings 10:1-10

When the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon, (fame due to the name of the Lord), she came to test him with hard questions. She came to Jerusalem with a very great retinue, with camels bearing spices, and very much gold, and precious stones; and when she came to Solomon, she told him all that was on her mind. Solomon answered all her questions; there was nothing hidden from the king that he could not explain to her. When the queen of Sheba had observed all the wisdom of Solomon, the house that he had built, the food of his table, the seating of his officials, and the attendance of his servants, their clothing, his valets, and his burnt offerings that he offered at the house of the Lord, there was no more spirit in her. So she said to the king, “The report was true that I heard in my own land of your accomplishments and of your wisdom, but I did not believe the reports until I came and my own eyes had seen it. Not even half had been told me; your wisdom and prosperity far surpass the report that I had heard. Happy are your wives! Happy are these your servants, who continually attend you and hear your wisdom! Blessed be the Lord your God, who has delighted in you and set you on the throne of Israel! Because the Lord loved Israel forever, he has made you king to execute justice and righteousness.” Then she gave the king one hundred twenty talents of gold, a great quantity of spices, and precious stones; never again did spices come in such quantity as that which the queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon.

Gospel: Mark 7:14-23

Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”

When he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about the parable. He said to them, “Then do you also fail to understand? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters, not the heart but the stomach, and goes out into the sewer?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, “It is what comes out of a person that defiles. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

#09 Feb. Thursday of Week Five

1 Kings 11:4ff. Solomon’s sins are traced to the influence of his pagan wives; as punishment his kingdom will be divided.

Mark 4:24ff. By humble, persevering faith, a Syro-Phoenician woman induces Jesus to cure her daughter, despite his initial reluctance.

Generosity between the Sexes

Women hold the centre stage in today’s readings. In Genesis the first woman heals the loneliness of man, measures up to him in a way that no other creature could, and the two are united as equals, “in one flesh”. While the woman brings joy and stability into the life of the first man, pagan women are also held responsible, at least in part, for the apostasy of Solomon . Then in the gospel a pagan woman surprises Jesus with her faith and humble perseverance.

These texts invite our reflection about the relationship of the sexes, in family, friendship and community. Our differences as man and woman along with diversity in personality, talents and interests help us to complement each other and challenge one another to grow. Genesis clearly suggests that woman and man in isolation are each lacking important gifts and qualities. The union by which they complement one another enables the image of God, divine goodness, strength and fidelity, to be manifest. In this way marriage sets the pattern for all human friendship and community.

Many of the women in the Scriptures are in some sense models for both men and women, just as men provide examples for both women and men. What is scattered and fragmented must be reunited in Jesus, for as Paul says: “among you it is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, for all are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28-29). Belonging to Jesus, then, in a radical way heals all fragmentation arising from gender or race.

Adam exclaimed, “This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” If a spouse is to leave father and mother and cling to the other, then each has a divine mandate to put nothing before one’s love and loyalty for the other person. Jesus put it still more heroically and totally: There is no greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13). In this context we understand Jesus’ other words: Whoever tries to preserve their life will lose it; whoever loses it will keep it (Luke 17:33). Not only do we refuse to put any other object before our spouse, friend or community member, but we do not even place ourselves in preference to them. The reading from Kings, expresses the same demand of total loyalty and intimate love, but this time negatively, when Solomon’s heart turned to other gods by the coaxing of his wives.

Love and friendship make many demands on our generosity. How difficult this can be is shown . Jesus is reluctant to divert attention away from his own chosen people, Israel, to attend to the pagan woman. There is no simple way to soften the harsh reply of Jesus, except perhaps that he would not repeat the mistakes of Solomon and interact closely with foreign women. The apparent rejection is healed by the woman’s humility, perseverance and love for her child. Not for selfish pleasure or personal gain, but for the sake of her daughter, does the woman turn aside Jesus’ harsh words by replying: “but even the dogs under the table eat the family’s leavings.” This answer overcomes his first objections, and Jesus heals the woman’s daughter – a splendid example of gentle perseverance rewarded.

 1 Kings 11:4-13

For when Solomon was old, his wives turned away his heart after other gods; and his heart was not true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of his father David. For Solomon followed Astarte the goddess of the Sidonians, and Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and did not completely follow the Lord, as his father David had done. Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. He did the same for all his foreign wives, who offered incense and sacrificed to their gods.

Then the Lord was angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice, and had commanded him concerning this matter, that he should not follow other gods; but he did not observe what the Lord commanded. Therefore the Lord said to Solomon, “Since this has been your mind and you have not kept my covenant and my statutes that I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you and give it to your servant. Yet for the sake of your father David I will not do it in your lifetime; I will tear it out of the hand of your son. I will not, however, tear away the entire kingdom; I will give one tribe to your son, for the sake of my servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem, which I have chosen.”

Gospel: Mark 7:24-30

From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” The he said to her, “For saying that, you may go – the demon has left your daughter.” So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

#10 Feb. Friday of Week Five

1 Kings 11:29ff. The prophet Ahijah announces the breakup of David’s kingdom; ten of the twelve tribes choose Jeroboam as their king.

Mark 7:31ff. Jesus cures a man who was deaf and dumb, and the people are amazed as his power.

Paradise Lost and Found

The first reading tells of paradise lost; the gospel, of paradise regained. The text from First Kings fits into the long stretch of time in between the beginning and end of salvation history. In the paradise lost story (*1), the guilty man and woman become ashamed of their nakedness, whereas up to the time of their sin, they had experienced no unease in each other’s company and sensed each aspect of themselves as created to the image of God and as very good. The physical aspects of our earthly paradise show up again in the gospel, where, in order to cure the deaf and dumb man, Jesus put his fingers in the man’s ears and touched his tongue with saliva, and looked up to heaven with a groan. Jesus’ words and action, even his groan of distress over the man’s disability, manifest the human way by which the man was led back into paradise.

That Mark intends this scene to indicate the start of the final age, of paradise regained, is clear from hints later in the text. The phrase, “he makes the deaf hear and the mute speak” is from the prophecy of Isaiah, where “those whom the Lord has ransomed will return and enter Zion singing, crowned with everlasting joy.” The fulfillment of the messianic prophecies is at hand, when “desert and the parched land will exult; the steppe will rejoice and bloom.. They will see the glory of the Lord.. Here is your God, he comes with vindication, to save you. Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared (Isa 35:1-5).

In fulfilling the prophecy, Jesus is flashing a hint of universal salvation, something already observed in yesterday’s story of the Syro-Phoenician woman. We can contrast the two paradises, lost and regained. In Genesis man and woman, once they had sinned, realized that they were naked and felt ashamed. In the gospel, once the man’s hearing and speech are healed, every other impediment is dropped. With joyful spontaneity he forgets the injunction not to tell anyone. Not only the man himself, but everyone around him starts to proclaim the good news of what Jesus has acomplished. The gospel has almost a playful interaction here, since the more he urged them not to tell anyone, the more they proclaimed it.

The first parents left paradise and at once felt compelled to cover themselves with defenses against the other person. Fear of self and mistrust of the other inhibited the spontaneity and trust of their relationship. The man cured of deafness and dumbness seems to toss all restrictions to the wind, dancing, singing, leaping, shouting and proclaiming the good news. We lose paradise and we re-enter paradise as human beings with physical bodies and spiritual souls, but the Bible seems to focus more on the earthly expressions of joy rather than on its spiritual source.

In between the two paradisal scenes stands the story of how the kingdom of David is rent apart, when ten of the twelve tribes will transfer their loyalty from the house of David to Jeroboam. The northern ten tribes revolt in punishment for the excesses of Solomon and his son Roboam, but they will also be God’s instrument for preserving important Mosaic traditions and for advancing the prophetic movement. In that northern kingdom will emerge the first two of the classical, writing prophets, Amos and Hosea, and the paradisal section from Isaiah 35, quoted earlier, seems to come from a northern influence. It is clear that the outsider is not simply converted but brings a richness of insight into the mystery of God which we may otherwise overlook.

 1 Kings 11:29-32; 12:19

About that time, when Jeroboam was leaving Jerusalem, the prophet Ahijah the Shilonite found him on the road. Ahijah had clothed himself with a new garment. The two of them were alone in the open country when Ahijah laid hold of the new garment he was wearing and tore it into twelve pieces. He then said to Jeroboam: Take for yourself ten pieces; for thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, “See, I am about to tear the kingdom from the hand of Solomon, and will give you ten tribes. One tribe will remain his, for the sake of my servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem, the city that I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel. So Israel has been in rebellion against the house of David to this day.

Gospel: Mark 7:31-37

Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

#11 Feb. Saturday of Week Five

Our Lady of Lourdes

World Day of Prayer for the Sick

1 Kings 12:26ff. Jeroboam, the first king of the north, rebels;he makes his own sanctuaries, priests and feastdays.

Mark 8:1ff. Jesus, out of compassion for hungry people, multiplies bread and fish for about four thousand people.

Sentenced and Reprieved

In Genesis we have heard how our first parents are condemned to return to the ground from which you were taken. The gospel seems to reverse this, on a different, more optimistic note. The men and women who came out into the desert to hear him are so tired and hungry that if Jesus sends them away without food, “they will collapse on the way.” Therefore he multiplies bread and fish, and they all return not to the earth but to their homes with renewed vigor. In the beginning Adam and Eve ate the forbidden food and die; in the gospel their children eat the heavenly food and live. First Kings, offers another clue why human actions so often lead to death rather than to a new life, when we see King Jeroboam acting out of ambition and false fear.

The difference between orientation towards life or death lies within ourselves and our motives for acting. Earth itself is not evil, since it provides God with the material for moulding man and woman, and produces the bread and the fish, that Jesus gives as food of new life for the people. Even the break of the northern tribes from the Davidic dynasty at Jerusalem was not in itself an unmixed evil for it happened in the name of the Lord God.

The ways that lead to death can entrap us exclusively either in the secular world or in the religious realm. In Genesis we find man and woman giving themselves wholly to secular values. Driven by pride, desire to master the world and by an overweening ambition to control all things, man and woman sinned, falling into the typical sin of secular society. In the Book of Kings, the way to death comes through misuse of the religious realm. Jeroboam uses the instruments of religion, the priesthood, sanctuaries and feastdays to control the riches of the northern kingdom and to prevent peace and reunion with the south. By envy he kept north and south, which both professed the same religion, at each other’s throat.

The orientation towards life or death is not “out there” but inside ourselves, in how we react to God and to share with others as God has shared, indifferent to personal ambition. It is amazing how quickly and simply today’s gospel text ends. After the magnificent miracle of feeding “about four thousand” from seven loaves of bread and a few small fishes, the story ends abruptly. He dismissed them and got into the boat with his disciples to go to the neighbourhood of Dalmanutha. Acting out of compassion, not ambition, Jesus did not make a living from miracles. The happiness of seeing others restored to life and strength was its own joy.

 1 Kings 12:26-32; 13:33-34

Then Jeroboam said to himself, “Now the kingdom may well revert to the house of David. If this people continues to go up to offer sacrifices in the house of the Lord at Jerusalem, the heart of this people will turn again to their master, King Rehoboam of Judah; they will kill me and return to King Rehoboam of Judah.” So the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold. He said to the people, “You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.” He set one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan. And this thing became a sin, for the people went to worship before the one at Bethel and before the other as far as Dan. He also made houses on high places, and appointed priests from among all the people, who were not Levites.

Jeroboam appointed a festival on the fifteenth day of the eighth month like the festival that was in Judah, and he offered sacrifices on the altar; so he did in Bethel, sacrificing to the calves that he had made. And he placed in Bethel the priests of the high places that he had made.

Even after this event Jeroboam did not turn from his evil way, but made priests for the high places again from among all the people; any who wanted to be priests he consecrated for the high places. This matter became sin to the house of Jeroboam, so as to cut it off and to destroy it from the face of the earth.

Gospel: Mark 8:1-10

In those days when there was again a great crowd without anything to eat, he called his disciples and said to them, “I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way – and some of them have come from a great distance.” His disciples replied, “How can one feed these people with bread here in the desert?” He asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven.” Then he ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground; and he took the seven loaves, and after giving thanks he broke them and gave them to his disciples to distribute; and they distributed them to the crowd. They had also a few small fish; and after blessing them, he ordered that these too should be distributed. They ate and were filled; and they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. Now there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away. And immediately he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha.

#13 Feb. 6th Week Monday of Week Six

James 1:1ff. Trials test and strengthen our faith. Whatever we ask in faith will be given to us; while riches will just fade away.

Mark 8:11ff. Jesus refuses the Pharisees’ demand for a sign. He gets into the boat and goes to the other side.

Saving Faith

Faith is at the heart of today’s word from God. In two of the most theological writings of the New Testament, the Epistle to the Romans and Hebrews, faith becomes both the basis and the conclusion of the Christian life on earth. In Romans 1, Paul writes:”The just person lives by faith”; and Hebrews 11 summarizes not only its own understanding of Jesus but the entire Old Testament by stating: Faith is the confident assurance concerning what we hope for, and conviction about things we do not see. Because of faith our ancestors were approved by God (Hebrews 11:1).

Twice, the letter to the Hebrews refers to the incident of Cain and Abel, the subject of the first reading (*1) : By faith Abel offered God a sacrifice greater than Cain’s, and because of this he was seen to be just. Later we read about where faith has brought us: “You have drawn near.. to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood which speaks more eloquently than that of Abel” (Hebrews 12:24).

Faith, indeed, is the centrepiece of biblical religion, so we must inquire further to see what is the heart of faith. Negatively, we learn from the gospel that faith does not revolve around miracles. When jealous and suspicious people test Jesus and look for some heavenly sign, he sighs heavily about the weakness of their faith. The Epistle of James points out another direction, not to seek miracles to overcome our difficulties but to find a way to retain our joy even amid “every sort of trial.” He says: “When faith is tested this makes for endurance. Let endurance come to its perfection so that you may be fully mature and lacking in nothing.” For him, faith is linked with loyalty and steadiness. It is not self-confidence but rather confidence arising from God’s fidelity. Faith enables our love for God and for others to survive the darkness and see hope and new life.

Cain might run away from his family but he could not run away from God. “The Lord put a mark on Cain,” a mark of divine protection, a pledge of the Creator’s fidelity to all he has made. When some people responded to Jesus with suspicion and envy, he left them and went off. Such dispositions do not keep Jesus in our midst; he remains only with people of faith, compassion and forgiveness.

 James 1:1-11

 My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.

If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.

Let the believer who is lowly boast in being raised up, and the rich in being brought low, because the rich will disappear like a flower in the field. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the field; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. It is the same way with the rich; in the midst of a busy life, they will wither away.

Gospel: Mark 8:11-13

The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, asking him for a sign from heaven, to test him. And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to this generation.” And he left them, and getting into the boat again, he went across to the other side.

#14 Feb. Tuesday of Week Six

Ss Cyril and Methodius, Patrons of Europe

James 1:12ff. God tempts no one but rather is the giver of every good gift. He wills to bring us to birth with a word spoken in truth.

Mark 8:14ff. Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees! Jesus is amazed at the blindness of his disciples.

A Word Deeply Rooted

On first reading today’s texts are focussed on externals. We are fascinated by the story of Noah and the flood that covered the earth; we hear James speaking about gifts of life and penalties of death; and in Mark the disciples are worried that they have too little bread, as they embark on a hard pull across the Sea of Galilee.

Our own reflections, and our theology, must also begin with externals. It is the sight of the poor and the oppressed that stirs us into considering what place or purpose suffering may have in the wise providence of God. The behaviour of the people in Noah’s time provoked regret in God’s heart and that phrase in Genesis raises all sorts of theological problems: how can God regret? Did he see the creation of mankind as a mistake? Is there room for change in the divine mind? Similarly in the gospel Jesus’ response to the disciples turns into a volley of questions which evinces surprise on Jesus’ part that his followers acted as they did: “Do you still not see or comprehend? Are your minds completely blinded? Have you eyes but no sight, ears but no hearing? Do you not remember how I broke the five loaves..?” The gospel ends on the question: “Do you still not understand?”

We begin with the externals but we must not remain with them. So it is not a good method of biblical interpretation to exhaust ourselves in arguing about the externals, as in the case of Noah’s flood: did it really cover the earth? could all those animals have been contained within the ark? Even if archaeology shows that mammoth floods swept across large areas in Mesopotamia and gave rise to various flood stories, these all tend to show the writers struggling with theological issues.

The flood story in Genesis begins with the dispositions of the human heart; for when the Lord saw how much wickedness was on earth, and how no human desire was even anything but evil, he regretted having made man, “and his heart was grieved.” The Scriptures move from external actions to human desires and to regret in God’s heart.

Likewise in James the initial moment is located in the externals, whether it be holding out to the end through trial.. or passions that lure a person into sin.. or worthwhile gifts and genuine benefits from the Father of the heavenly luminaries. Yet already we perceive the movement of the spirit and the silent beating of the heart. How else can anyone persevere till the end unless by God’s special gifts of fidelity and long-suffering patience and deeply rooted hope in others. In this context we can interpret James’ final phrase: God wills to bring us to birth “so that we may be a kind of first-fruit of his creatures.” His word, deeply rooted within our heart, induces the good fruit in our lives. If at times, we are left with a questions, he wants us to remain within our hearts, listening, contemplating, wondering, seeking, correcting and most of all just being in God’s presence.

 James 1:12-18

Blessed is anyone who endures temptation. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. No one, when tempted, should say, “I am being tempted by God;” for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one. But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it; then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death.

Do not be deceived, my beloved. Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.

Gospel: Mark 8:14-21

Now the disciples had forgotten to bring any bread; and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out – beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod.” They said to one another, “It is because we have no bread.” And becoming aware of it, Jesus said to them, “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?” They said to him, “Twelve.” “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?” And they said to him, “Seven.” Then he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”

#15 Feb. Wednesday of Week Six

James 1:19ff. Be doers of the word, not merely listeners. Humbly welcome the word with its power to save you.

Mark 8:22ff. Jesus cures the blind man in stages, secretely, with spittle and the touch of his hands.

Maturing by Stages

The gospel suggests the long, gradual process by which we come to the light of truth and the persistence to follow the way of truth. Genesis points out dramatically that the period of the flood must run its full course and that the earth’s return to normal existence cannot be rushed. James, offers a compressed dictionary of moral instructions, and we instinctively feel how much time is needed to comply such with a list.

The miracle story is told only by Mark; it was not repeated nor even adapted by Matthew and Luke, even though these evangelists relied heavily on Mark. This is also the only miracle which Jesus worked in stages. Jesus even uses such lowly human substance as spittle.

Jesus’ willingness to live on our human level offers great comfort. There is a sense of delicate consideration in the way he dealt with the blind man’s need. He first took his hand and with gentle compassion led him outside the village. Then, away from the crowd, he put spittle on his eyes and touching the closed eyelids with his fingers, Jesus bonded with the blind man. This poor man could not see the sorrow in Jesus’ eyes at the sight of this disability, but could feel the clasp of his hand and touch of his fingers. Jesus is not just conforming to common ritual practices but adapting himself to the human condition of need.

The stages of the miracle are noteworthy: first, people looked like walking trees; then, “he could see everything clearly.” These too are the stages of our growth in faith. At first, a new insight into God’s goodness and its expectation that we gently “look after orphans and widows in their distress” (as we read in James *2) may appear like “walking trees,” really not a part of our real world. We argue that we do not have the time, nor the material or financial resources to help the poor, the needy and the hungry. Jesus, however, presses the bond of our human flesh and family, places spittle again over our eyelids, gently presses and strokes and to our amazement – to paraphrase the gospel words, “we can see perfectly; our sight is restored and we can see everything clearly.” We have the light to see our way for helping, for finding time and for locating resources to be of service to our fellow human beings.

The admonition of James no longer seems too difficult, too sudden and abrupt: “Strip away all that is filthy, every vicious excess. Humbly welcome the word that has taken root in you, with its power to save you. Act on this word. If all you do is listen to it, you are deceiving yourselves.” Jesus never deceived himself, he acted on the word that was his very life and so possessed the power to save.

We may be grateful to Mark for preserving the memory of Jesus’ respect for the stages of our life and its growth to sanctity. The steps to sanctity follow the path of human existence, only we cannot walk the path alone but must be like Jesus who took the blind man’s hand and led him outside the village. We take the hand of our neighbour in need, and to our surprise the hand that we clasp is leading us to our salvation, just as the blind man led Jesus into an episode that preached redemption to us today.

 James 1:19-27

You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.

But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act – they will be blessed in their doing.

If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

Gospel: Mark 8:22-26

They came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village; and when he had put saliva on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Can you see anything?” And the man looked up and said, “I can see people, but they look like trees, walking.” Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he looked intently and his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Then he sent him away to his home, saying, “Do not even go into the village.”

#16 Feb. Thursday of Week Six

James 2:1ff. Show no favouritism. Love your neighbour as yourself.

Mark 8:27ff. Peter confesses Jesus as the Messiah ; then he is reprimanded for rejecting the Passion prediction.

Equal in God’s Sight

The two great signs of the covenant between God and the entire human race are the rainbow and the cross. And just as each spans the universe, so the covenant levels all men and women to an equal status with no favouritism in God’s eyes. We are invited to reflect on the glories and hopes of forming one human family and to realize the cost in sacrifice and sharing.

The rainbow and the cross both symbolize God’s deep union with the human family. Each has a vertical and a horizontal span, and presumes some measure of purification, while offering a strong promise of joy and completion. The rainbow appears after the rain has cleansed the sky and is a herald of bright sunlight. In Genesis the rainbow announces the end of Noah’s flood and also gives a divine promise that such a flood will never again sweep the earth. Despite its lightsome beauty, the rainbow will not let us forget the devastating force of the flood, which is now seen as a purifying thing, washing the human race clean of its wickedness.

The same applies to the cross. No one can look at a cross, no matter how ornate it may be, without remembering the excruciating death of Jesus. Yet the cross is lifted high on our churches and is worn as the sign and emblem of our victory over sin and despair, for Jesus’ resurrection is the pledge of our own future life. Both cross and rainbow carry a message of universal salvation. They belong to the world and in fact come to our attention first from the secular sphere of life. The cross was the dreaded Roman form of execution; the rainbow is visible to every human eye, whatever the person’s religion may be.

St James helps us examine whether the universal saving signs of the cross and of the rainbow are operative in our own lives . He begins simply: “Your faith must not allow of favouritism.” We are not to evaluate one person from another by external indications of wealth, power, prestige or social rank. Whoever operates by these false standards is liable to make “corrupt decisions.” If we return to the symbols of the cross and the rainbow, they present everyone as a human being created by God to the divine likeness. On the cross, Jesus died naked; through the rainbow we look on a world washed clean and appearing in its naked beauty. Returning to James, we find that we are not to be impressed by those who enter our company fashionably dressed, or despise those who enter dressed in shabby clothes, for in God’s eyes we are all poor and naked, beautiful and naked – and equal. We are what we have grown to be by our faith in God’s goodness and fidelity, by our imitation of God’s generosity and forgiveness.

Before concluding his critique of favouritism, James cites the biblical injunction: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” which Jesus listed as the second commandment and was repeated by Paul in Romans (Rom 13:9). These beautiful ideals are hard to put into practice, just as is the call to carry our cross with Jesus. It is little wonder that Peter took Jesus aside and began to remonstrate with him, until he had to reply abruptly and sternly “Out of my sight, you satan!” Jesus’ final words on that occasion seem to resonate in James’ epistle for today, “You are not judging by God’s standards but by human standards.”

The cross and the rainbow are beautiful and demanding, hopeful and distressing, dark/grim and open/fragile, deeply personal and fully universal. In their light we can truly answer Jesus’ question to the disciples, “Who do you say that l am?”

 James 2:1-9

My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favouritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?

For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?

Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonoured the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?

You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.

Gospel: Mark 8:27-33

Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they answered him, John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

#17 Feb. Friday of Week Six

James 2:14ff. Faith without works is as dead as a body without breath.

Mark 8:34ff. One must lose one’s life in order to save it. What is the good of gaining the whole world and losing oneself?

Conflicting Aspirations

The tower of Babel and the hill of Calvary: two ways of approaching heaven and of being with God, one deceptively attractive but ultimately wrong, the other forbidding but in the long run good. The contrast is intriguing and enigmatic. We see human the striving to construct the tower of Babel and the reluctance to carry one’s cross after Jesus. In building the tower of Babel the proud entrepreneurs destroyed peace and harmony; in the epistle of James, good works become the proof that God is present within us and these works unite us with our neighbour. The gospel contrasts two forms of activity: taking up one’s cross or acting for personal aggrandizement. Again the action which threatens to destroy us is the one which adds permanence of our life; the action which seems to affirm and build us up turns on us and destroys us. “Whoever would save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”

In talking about good works, James cites two rather unusual examples from the hundreds available in the Hebrew Scriptures: first, that of Abraham, ignorantly thinking that he must worship God in the heroic fashion of his Canaanite neighbours and so be willing to kill his long-awaited son Isaac: second, that of Rahab the harlot, who though misguided in her profession, welcomes the incoming invaders as the wave of the future. Scripture affirms that God can see a brighter future and even a purer holiness in people whose hearts are sincere and honest than in others whose external behaviour wraps them in mantles of splendid display, yet whose mind is shallow with its treasure located in esteem and reputation. The latter can always say the proper formula to the unfortunate needy neighbour but do nothing meet their actual needs. “What good is that?” James trenchantly asks.

See how James links the spirit of true faith with a genuine human sincerity. Even if it seemed in Abraham’s day to sacrifice one’s best – even one’s only child – to God, sincerity and common sense, the bonds of human loyalty shouted “No!” and such religious insensitivity to the bonds of life was ever after rejected in Judaism. Yet ordinary human wisdom and the natural bonds of life are not enough, for they can lead to such pompous manifestations of independence from God as to build a tower of Babel. This attempt to build a protective tower can today mean a disproportionate military build-up for an entire nation, or unions or corporations that selfishly guard the rights of the privileged insider, religious ritual purporting to make us look pious and good, or just personal excuses and private ways of avoiding responsibility so that we never risk making a mistake.

To act against our selfish inclinations and pious camouflage, to reach out spontaneously with practical help to the neighbour in need, means to take up one’s cross. To stand by someone in need and disgrace is to follow the way of Jesus who befriended prostitutes and tax collectors. It means to lose one’s life; and in the depth of that faith we will have a glimpse of the true “kingdom of God established in power.” Where we seem to have lost everything and to have died, we become fully alive in a way that can never taste death. No one can take that vision from us, the memory of being with Jesus and reaching out, as he did, to those genuinely in need of us. What can equal life such as this, joyful like Abraham’s joy in the return of Isaac, with dignity restored, like Rahab the harlot in saving the lives of the messengers.

 James 2:14-24, 26

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe – and shudder. Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith apart from works is barren? Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works. Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.

Gospel: Mark 8:34–9:1

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.”

#18 Feb. Saturday of Week Six

James 3:1ff. Guard the tongue from inflammatory speech; do not let blessing and curses come out of the same mouth.

Mark 9:2ff. In his transfiguration Jesus sits between his great fore-runners, Moses and Elijah.

Faith and Visions

The need for faith is not removed even by the experience of visions. The experience of Jesus’ transfiguration led to further questions for the disciples – Peter, James and John, who were with Jesus on the mountain – who now perceived a new dimension present in their daily life. Visions do not stop the clock but are a momentary insight that will tend to leave us more restless and unsettled than before.

The transfiguration of Jesus, like his baptism and prayer in Gethsemane, enables us to see for a moment the intimate personal relation between Jesus and the Heavenly Father. We see also his close contact with us in an earthly life ending in death, and the overlapping of future glory with present difficulties in one profound life-force. At the beginning of his ministry, when Jesus was baptized by John, the heavens were split open and a voice proclaimed with loving approval, “You are my beloved Son” (Mark 1:11). This message of endearment was fraught with responsibility, resonant with the enthronement of the Davidic king (Ps 2) along with the difficult vocation of the suffering servant (Isa 42). The transfiguration scene also presents Jesus in closeness to God the Father, but likewise is the fearful sense of impending doom is accented. Coming down from the mountain Jesus speaks of his death, and in Luke’s account he discusses with Elijah and Moses his “exodus” or passing from this world to the next (Luke 9:31). Finally, when the time for that passing was at hand, Jesus is once again wrapped in prayer in the garden of Gethsemane, this time pleading, “Abba (Father), you have the power to do all things. Take this cup away from me!” (Mark 14:36).

Jesus felt the profound mystery of God the Father’s presence within the path of his human life on its various stages towards his inevitable death. Death will be the supreme moment of God’s intense, intimate presence with us as it was with Jesus. Only after we have traveled that passage from life through death into eternal life, only after the child of earth has risen from the dead, can we really tell what we have seen in the course of our life, just as the fleeting vision of Jesus’ transformation on the mountain transformed his disciples’ understanding of him.

Hebrews summarizes what we have seen in Genesis but also warns that what we thought we understood is only half of the truth. For this author, “faith is confident assurance concerning what we hope for, and conviction about things we do not see.” When we think we see and understand, we should be filled with new questions. The wonder of God is so great that we may be certain that it is far beyond what we understand.

James brings us down to earth and says how careful we must be in talking about others, not to spread gossip and half-truths. If we aspire to be teachers, let it be with patience and humility. Perhaps our instruction ought to give insights to ourselves too, showing the splendour God invests in our human lives – and even in our death.

 James 3:1-10

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits.

How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue – a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so.

Gospel: Mark 9:2-13

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean. Then they asked him, “Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” He said to them, “Elijah is indeed coming first to restore all things. How then is it written about the Son of Man, that he is to go through many sufferings and be treated with contempt? But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written about him.”

#20 Feb. Monday of Week Seven

James 3:13ff. A wise spirit is not characterized by envy but by leniency, sympathy and peace.

Mark 9:14ff. The mute spirit which convulses the boy is driven out by Jesus’ faith and prayer.

Qualities of True Prayer

Three great and related moments in Mark’s gospel – Jesus’ baptism, transfiguration and prayer in the garden – are each followed by struggle: Jesus’ baptism by the Lord’s wrestling with Satan in the desert (Mark 1:12-13); the transfiguration by the disciples’ futile wrestling to drive out a demon from the mute boy; the prayer in the garden where Jesus struggles with the will of the heavenly Father amidst “sorrow to the point of death” (Mark 14:34). Even though Mark is not characterized like Luke as a gospel of prayer, nonetheless each of these episodes is surrounded or at least concluded by prayer: Jesus spends the forty days in the desert in prayerful seclusion (1:13), caught between heaven and earth, between overwhelming goodness and demonic evil, in the grip of deep contemplative prayer. Today’s episode of the boy under demonic possession ends with the statement, “This can be driven out only by prayer.” In the garden Jesus admonishes his disciples, “Be on guard and pray that you may not be put to the test” (14:38).

Regarding the spirit in which to pray, we can learn from the reading from Sirach, an Old Testament book beginning in cycle *1. In the last chapter of book, we learn that this elderly gentleman conducted a “house of instruction” – in Hebrew, beit midrash – for noble youths (Sir 51:23). With serenity and sureness of touch Sirach spoke about every aspect of human existence, ranging from the home into the business world, from study of the law to the entertainment of guests. Yet he always ended in a spirit of wonder, prayer and the true fear of the Lord. “Extol God with renewed strength, and do not grow weary, though you cannot reach the end.. It is the Lord who has made all things, and to those who fear him he gives wisdom (Sir 44:32,35).

Today’s reading also ends with the fear of the Lord which “is glory and splendour” and “warms the heart.” To bring this kind of reverence into our prayer, we look to the opening poem from the Book of Sirach: God’s wisdom is spread across “heaven’s height and earth’s breadth,” so great that no one can explore them. God “has poured her forth on all his works and on every living thing. He has lavished her on his friends.” This wonderful wisdom exists at the depth of our being and is also with God where “it remains forever.” At the depths of our selves is a perception, an intuition, a divine spark of wonder, a godly way of holding everything togetherin harmony. Yet this wisdom is also so magnificent that “you cannot reach the end” of it. This type of wisdom leads to a fear that is “glory and splendour” and that “warms the heart.”

The reading from James, provides us with another aspect of true prayer, linked also with the wisdom about which Sirach spoke. A “wise and understanding” person shows “humility filled with good sense.” James adds: Wisdom from above.. is first of all innocent. It is also peaceable, lenient, docile, rich in sympathy and the kindly deeds that are its fruits, impartial and sincere. It reaps the harvest of justice that has been sown in peace.

When we review these qualities of prayer, we too cry out with the father of the mute and epileptic boy, “I do believe. Help my lack of trust.” The biblical appreciation of prayer may seem far beyond us. In fact, it is and we remember again Sirach’s healthy advice, “weary not, though you cannot reach the end.” What we strive to reach, we already possess at the depths of ourselves. Through Jesus we discover who we are, provided we persevere long in prayer and provided we balance our prayer with true and healthy fear, with humility and good sense.

 James 3:13-18

Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.

Gospel: Mark 9:14-29

When they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and some scribes arguing with them. When the whole crowd saw him, they were immediately overcome with awe, and they ran forward to greet him. He asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?” Someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought you my son; he has a spirit that makes him unable to speak; and whenever it seizes him, it dashes him down; and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid; and I asked your disciples to cast it out, but they could not do so.” He answered them, “You faithless generation, how much longer must I be among you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him to me.” And they brought the boy to him. When the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. Jesus asked the father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. It has often cast him into the fire and into the water, to destroy him; but if you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us.” Jesus said to him, “If you are able! – All things can be done for the one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out, “I believe; help my unbelief!” When Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You spirit that keeps this boy from speaking and hearing, I command you, come out of him, and never enter him again!” After crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he was able to stand. When he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” He said to them, “This kind can come out only through prayer.”

#21 Feb. Tuesday of Week Seven

James 4:1ff. Recommendation to sincerity, humility and fidelity, shunning worldliness and selfishness.

Mark 9:30ff. Whoever welcomes a child for Jesus’ sake welcomes Jesus himself, and the Father who sent him.

Welcoming the Child

The call to welcome Jesus as one would welcome a child rounds off today’s gospel. We can find him among the servants and the apparently least important people. Just as children easily find other children and quickly begin enjoy themselves at play, so we ought to gravitate towards the servants and the least. Childhood in this sense is not a matter of age only. A person who is lonely may be someone who also treasures beautiful memories and buried hopes, genuine possibilities, waiting for the healing touch of kindness. To welcome Jesus as a child is to open one’s arms to the infinite possibilities that lie before us in life.

In the text from James, we seem to have left the child’s world behind. There is talk of “conflicts and disputes,” of “cravings that make war within your members,” of murder and envy. We can find the way towards conversion in the phrase: “God resists the proud but bestows his favour on the lowly.” This is drawn from the Greek version of the Book of Proverbs, 3:34. Oddly, the other quotation “The spirit he has implanted in us tends towards envy” which he presents as Scripture, cannot be found in our extant Bible. Evidently, James is drawing on ancient bits of wisdom circulating in his time, traditions that fill out what has been written down in the Bible. The adult spirit, he says, which tends towards envy, needs to be turned back to the childlike spirit in its innocence and spontaneity. It is often enough a difficult journey for adults to revive the memory and goodness of their childhood. In life’s journey if often seems that “laughter is turned into mourning and joy into sorrow.” Yet James ends with the assurance that the Lord “will raise you on high.”

Sirach proposes that we reflect on our ancestors, and the success of their godly lives: “Study the generations long past and understand; has anyone hoped in the Lord and been disappointed?” This Lord, we are told, is “compassionate and merciful.. he saves in time of trouble.” Sirach beautifully combines fear with confidence: “You who fear the Lord, hope for good things, for lasting joy and mercy.” As we see any child, we can recall the opening words from today’s Bible passage in Sirach, “prepare yourself for trials.” Yet as we find again the child in each of us, we welcome Jesus. Our trials are united with his cross and resurrection, and we rebound with firm hope because after three days, he rose again.

 James 4:1-10

Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your ravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures. Adulterers! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you suppose that it is for nothing that the scripture says, “God yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives all the more grace; therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

Gospel: Mark 9:30-37

They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

#22 Feb. Ash Wednesday

##June 11. Monday of Week Ten

Acts 1:21ff; 13:1-3. The beginnings of the Church, in Antioch.

Matthew 10:7ff. Our Lord’s advice to his first missionaries.

Starting Afresh

Acts 1:21-26; 13:1-3

The hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number became believers and turned to the Lord. News of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast devotion; for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were brought to the Lord.

Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for an entire year they met with the church and taught a great many people, and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called “Christians.”

Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the ruler, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.

Gospel: Matthew 10:7-13

As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.

Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food. Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.

#.June 12. Tuesday of Week Ten

1 Kings 17:7ff. Because the widow of Zarephath gave water and bread to Elijah, her supply lasted until the drought was over.

Matthew 5:13ff. You are the salt of the earth, the light of the world.

A Generous Yes to God

Salt sharpens the flavour of food and light allows us to see what is there in a room, just as the presence of Christ’s Spirit within us (*1), salt and light enables our “yes” and “no” – to see things as they are. The Holy Spirit with which we have been sealed puts this passion for truth into our mind and heart and there we discover what God wants us to see. What is illuminated by the light of Christ and sharpened in taste by the salt of his Gospel, is the truth, present within our hearts, with which we respond to God.

Another kind of “yes” is heard from the widow of Zarephath when the prophet Elijah asked her for food and water. Her answer was prompted by trust in God and her belief in Elijah’s promised miracle. Her generous faith, willing to share with this stranger her last reserves of food and drink, brings to light the prophet’s miraculous powers.

To return to Jesus’ words about salt and light. His disciples do not add anything specifically new but enable people to recognize and to value what they already possess as God’s creatures, redeemed by Jesus. What the disciple says and does ought to be like a candle, set on a lampstand to give light to all in the house. “So your light must shine, so that they may see your goodness in action and give praise to your heavenly Father.”

As we follow through with this image, we see that our role, as light, helps others to see the good that already exists in their own environment. Without light, we enter a dark room and stumble over hidden objects, fall and hurt ourselves and perhaps others too. With light we recognize chairs and tables, doors and walls. We can sit down and rest, we can eat at table, we can see the photos and pictures on the walls, move through the doors into other parts of the home. Light brings harmony, good relationships, enrichment, happiness. It brings warmth, love and new life. As light and salt, we are called on to enhance life in all its goodness, to share and to preserve. Our response to life should be an enthusiastic “Yes” as we address our Amen to God, in worship together.

We too, as Jesus’ disciples and ministers, are called to be light and salt, enabling others to see how much Jesus has invested in them. We lead others – and ourselves – to the hidden presence of the Holy Spirit within each person. It is Jesus, who has anointed us and has sealed us, thereby depositing the first payment, the Spirit in our hearts.

This Holy Spirit is our down payment, our pledge, our first reception of the full glory and joy of heaven, the beginning of the final “yes.” when God receives us home.

Another way to say our positive Amen to life is when others request our help. They are like Elijah, asking us to share our supplies of oil, bread and water. To say “yes” is to affirm and discover, as did the widow of Zarephath, an inexhaustible store of goodness, both for the others and for ourselves.

 1 Kings 17:7-16

But after a while the wadi dried up, because there was no rain in the land.

Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” So he set out and went to Zarephath. When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink.” As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” But she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.” Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the Lord the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth.” She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil ail, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah.

Gospel: Matthew 5:13-16

“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.

“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. Righteousness

#June 13.Wednesday of Week Ten

1 Kings 18:20ff. Elijah’s challenge, to follow the true and living God. His faith is confirmed when God sends down fire upon his sacrifice.

Matthew 5:17ff. Jesus has not come to abolish the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them.

Conversion and Reconciliation

While the readings from 2 Cor and from 1 Kings reflect serious tensions, the gospel seeks to harmonize and reconcile. As Ecclesiastes wrote, “There is a time for everything.. A time to rend, and a time to sow.. A time of war, and a time of peace” (Eccles 3:1, 7-8). Today’s Scripture places these various situations before us. As we reflect on them, we recognize that tough decisions sometimes need to be made, for Elijah says: “How long will you sit on the fence? If the Lord is God, follow him; if Baal, follow him.” Yet at other times, we are called to reconcile apparent opposites. Such is the spirit of the Gospel, part of the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus supports the fulfillment of the Mosaic law, right down to the letter, while still announcing a new, more interior, set of values. According to Ecclesiastes, there is “a time to plant and a time to uproot” (Eccles 3:2). “To uproot” means that the old is gone; we must embrace the new. We are not to follow a dead written law that has lost its meaning but a new living law of the Spirit. Paul calls us, like the Corinthians, to make a clear decision to move ahead.

The Scriptures lay various possibilities before us, each equally inspired by God: to reconcile and harmonize, or to make a clean break. The question is not whether one is right and the other wrong, nor even whether one is more perfect than another. All are inspired by the same Holy Spirit, and as Paul wrote to the Romans: “Whatever was written before our time was written for our instruction, that we might derive hope from the examples of patience and the encouragement in the Scriptures” (Rom 15:4). He then applied this to a very difficult Old Testament passage, a psalm which includes a long section of cursing the enemy (Ps 69:10). From all the Scriptures, Paul concludes, God will enable us to live in harmony with one another according to the spirit of Christ Jesus (Rom 15:5).

We need every book and chapter of the Bible for different moments and various circumstances. We are back again with Ecclesiastes’ question of timing. We must cover all the bases and study issues carefully to avoid bad decisions and impulsive, emotional reactions. Further, since it is the Spirit who gives life, we must not be rigidly controlled by laws but be able to react humanly, compassionately, with forgiveness and hope. If these are our dispositions, then we are mature Christians – with our mistakes, yes, but dependable most of the time. We must rely on prayer, on the guidance of the Holy Spirit who has called us to some responsibility whether as parent or teacher, as priest or minister, as friend or confidant, as counselor or advisor.

Clearly, such a decisive stand as that of the prophet Elijah must be at the end of a long road of other attempts to reconcile and change. That his stance on Mount Carmel was the last resort, becomes clear when he ordered the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal seized, dragged down to brook Kishon, and killed (1 Kings 18:40). We leave such a final day of judgement to God himself, and until it comes, we are to call others to conversion and reconciliation.

 1 Kings 18:20-39

So Ahab sent to all the Israelites, and assembled the prophets at Mount Carmel. Elijah then came near to all the people, and said, “How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” The people did not answer him a word. Then Elijah said to the people, “I, even I only, am left a prophet of the Lord; but Baal’s prophets number four hundred fifty. Let two bulls be given to us; let them choose one bull for themselves, cut it in pieces, and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it; I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it. Then you call on the name of your god and I will call on the name of the Lord; the god who answers by fire is indeed God.” All the people answered, “Well spoken!” Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first, for you are many; then call on the name of your god, but put no fire to it.” So they took the bull that was given them, prepared it, and called on the name of Baal from morning until noon, crying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no answer. They limped about the altar that they had made. At noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud! Surely he is a god; either he is meditating, or he has wandered away, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” Then they cried aloud and, as was their custom, they cut themselves with swords and lances until the blood gushed out over them. As midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice, no answer, and no response.

Gospel: Matthew 5:17-19

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

#June 14.Thursday of Week Ten

1 Kings 18:41ff. To end the three year drought, to the west of Mount Carmel a small dark cloud appears and develops into a heavy rain.

Matthew 5:20ff. Before offering a gift on the altar, go first to be reconciled with your neighbour.

Mountain Experiences

All three readings refer to a mountain where God was encountered in a transforming moment of grace. Paul in 2 Cor reminds us of Mount Sinai, where Moses stayed with the Lord for forty days and he wrote the words of the covenant on the tablets of stone; then, as he came down from Mount Sinai, he did not know that the skin of his face had become radiant (Exod 34:28-29) so he had to veil his face whenever he met with the people. According to Paul, we join Moses on the Holy Mount, and enter into the immediate presence of Jesus. We enter behind the veil, opened up by Jesus’ death on the cross (Matthew 27:51) and where there is true freedom. Paul develops this idea into a profound mystical theology, in a way freely open to everyone. All of us gazing on the Lord’s glory with unveiled faces, are being transformed from glory to glory into his very image by the Lord who is glory.

In the passage from 1 Kings, we move from Mount Sinai up the Mediterranean coast to Mount Carmel. Here we see the extraordinary, mystical prophet Elijah, “crouched down to the earth.. his head between his knees.” There is a dramatic flair about Elijah, who again and again sends his servant to the edge that overlooks the Mediterranean with the simple instruction, “Look out to sea.” On the seventh time he announces “a cloud as small as a man’s hand rising from the sea.” Seventh time indicates completion, perfection, the full circle of the will of God. The moment has come for a torrential rainfall to end the long drought and to begin a new age for Israel, though the people failed to seize this glorious opportunity.

Finally, we travel eastward to the Mount of the Beatitudes overlooking the Lake of Galilee, where Jesus delivers the extensive Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chaps. 5-7). He tells us how to see his glory and so to be transformed to be like him: “Do not grow angry, do not use abusive language, do not offer a gift on the altar without first being reconciled with neighbour.” This advice may seem too elementary, ever to place us on the road to mystical experiences like Moses or Elijah or Jesus. Yet, it is charity, patience and forgiveness that draws us to Mount Calvary where Jesus died, that tore open the veil that separated us from the Holy of Holies, and that enables us like Moses to converse with God.

 1 Kings 18:41-46

Elijah said to Ahab, “Go up, eat and drink; for there is a sound of rushing rain.” So Ahab went up to eat and to drink. Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; there he bowed himself down upon the earth and put his face between his knees. He said to his servant, “Go up now, look toward the sea.” He went up and looked, and said, “There is nothing.” Then he said, “Go again seven times.” At the seventh time he said, “Look, a little cloud no bigger than a person’s hand is rising out of the sea.” Then he said, “Go say to Ahab, ‘Harness your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.'” In a little while the heavens grew black with clouds and wind; there was a heavy rain. Ahab rode off and went to Jezreel. But the hand of the Lord was on Elijah; he girded up his loins and ran in front of Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel.

Gospel: Matthew 5:20-26

For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

##June 15. Friday: The Sacred Heart (Feast)

Hosea 11:1-4, 8-9.

Eph 3:8-12, 14-19. The abundance of God’s gracious mercy.

John 19:31-37. The rich grace flowing from the pierced heart of Jesus.

“In Earthen Vessels”

Quotable quotes abound in today’s readings, “treasure in earthen vessels”; “whoever looks lustfully at another”; “the small, still voice,” phrases coined by Paul, Jesus and Elijah respectively. Such proverbial phrases possess a universal relevance that speaks a message for everyone. Yet, for the general statement to become a personal word of God, it has to be reflected on and applied to oneself. “The sayings of the wise are like goads” says Qoheleth (Eccles 12:11) – goads to drive us on to clearer thinking and self-understanding, but also spikes on which to hang our own ideas.

The story of Elijah on Mount Horeb (or Sinai) leaves us puzzled, as was the weary prophet himself, having gone south all the way to Sinai only to be told to return back up north, to the desert near Damascus, about 300 km each way. The sequence from God’s presence in the “still, small voice” (or “whispering sound”) to his order to anoint Hazael as king of Damascus is also puzzling. Hazael turned out to be a ruthless warlord who seized the throne by murdering his predecessor and who then led his army against Israel (1 Kings 19:15-18; 2 Kings 8:15, 29). The contrast may be important. If God is in the “still, small voice,” he may not be totally pleased with the political ventures of Elijah. God speaks to us in the same “still, small voice;” he does not shout us down nor hit us over the head with the truth. Yet there are enough indications for us to turn our backs firmly on violence in our own lives.

In Paul’s quotable quote, we are only “earthen vessels,” not immune to suffering or temptation. He adds his eloquent statement about living in hope, through whatever happens: “afflicted in every way but not crushed; full of doubts, but not despairing; persecuted, but not destroyed.” Then his concluding words make good sense to both mystic and Christian activist: “we carry about in our bodies the dying of Jesus, so that in our bodies the life of Jesus also may be revealed.”

Jesus’ proverbial words articulate genuine ideals which may not be fully realizable, or sometimes even wrong to literally implement. It would be wrong to gouge out one’s right eye or to hack off one’s right hand, just because they have led us into trouble or temptation. There is a shock treatment in his mode of address, like his other words about “hating” father and mother in order to love God (Matthew 10:37). What Jesus says about adultery, whether in the heart only, by lusting after another person or in action, by breaking up a happy marriage, must be taken seriously, as an ideal. He sets up ideals for us, and although we are tempted, undergo doubts and confusion, and at times falter and sin and need forgiveness, they remain a precious guideline for us, for as long as we live in our “earthen vessels.”

 1 Kings 19:9, 11-16

At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there. Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” Then the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place.

Gospel: Matthew 5:27-32

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.

“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

#June 16. Saturday of Week Ten

(optional: Immaculate Heart of Mary)

1 Kings 19:19ff. Elijah chooses Elisha as his attendant and successor.

Matthew 5:33ff. Swear no oaths, but speak with a simple “Yes” or “No.” Anything stronger is from the evil one.

New Horizons

Spiritually, most of us are still in our adolescent stage, old enough to be responsible but young enough to blunder and fall; far enough along to glimpse the new heavens and the new earth (Rev 21:1, Isa 65:17) and to share in the “new creation,” announced today by Paul, and yet at the same time still looking backward and in need of God’s forgiveness and patience.

Many statements in today’s readings project fully forward into the kingdom of God as fully realised on the earth. We read in 2 Cor (*1) : “Since one died for all, all have died.” “Whoever is in Christ is a new creation. The old order has passed away; now all is new.” This same sense of belonging to “a new creation” also shows up in 1 Kings and the gospel. Elijah threw his cloak over the young man Elisha, showing that the older generation was passing from the scene and a new generation was taking its place. When a man whom Jesus called as a follower asks permission to bury his father first, he was told, “Let the dead bury their dead; you come and proclaim the kingdom of God!” The same radical Jesus stands before us in today’s gospel: “Do not swear at all. Take no oaths, but say Yes when you mean Yes and No when you mean No.”

The kingdom of God is a wonderful idea and glorious dream – but are Jesus’ directives in the Sermon on the Mount literally possible in this world of ours? Some Christian groups follow them literally, and keep their speech simple and exact, as honest as the blue sky on a spring morning. Most people, however, feel the need to say more than a crisp “Yes” or an absolute “No.” We consider it fair to have our ID card checked out, our driver’s license verified, and are willing in court to swear on the Bible that our words are true. We and our world are not yet fully there, in kingdom mode!

Paul seems to recognize this anomaly. He tells us that “Christ became sin for our sake,” and goes on to say that for our sakes “God made him who did not know sin to be sin, so that in him we might become the holiness of God.” By this reference to an ongoing process, Paul seeks to bridge the chasm between the future and the now, the new creation and our old selves, the pure “Yes” or “No” and the hesitant, provisional “Maybe” in which we live. Paul speaks of an ongoing process of reconciliation: God, in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, and now he has entrusted the message of reconciliation to us.

Earlier this week we were assured of being sealed and anointed by the Spirit who is the pledge and first payment of eternal life. We are, incipiently, part of that new creation, but God is patient and forgiving as we stumble forward. Meanwhile, we too should be reconciling towards our neighbour.

 1 Kings 19:19-21

So he set out rom there, and found Elisha son of Shaphat, who was ploughing. There were twelve yoke of oxen ahead of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle over him. He left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, “Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.” Then Elijah said to him, “Go back again; for what have I done to you?” He returned from following him, took the yoke of oxen, and slaughtered them; using the equipment from the oxen, he boiled their flesh, and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out and followed Elijah, and became his servant.

Gospel: Matthew 5:33-37

“Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.

#June 18. Monday of Week Eleven

1 Kings 21:1ff. By accusing Naboth of blasphemy and having him put to death, King Ahab seized his precious vineyard.

Matthew 5:38ff. Instead of demanding “a tooth for a tooth, an eye for an eye” we are to offer the other cheek and go the extra mile.

Heroic Endurance

The first readings convey a sense of helpless indignation. In Naboth (2*) we have an instance of a good and decent man, betrayed by his neighbours just to please the government (the royal pair). The tragedy begins in the greed of a king who always got what he wanted – like a spoiled child who never grew up. But why shouldn’t a king have whatever he wants? Hasn’t he the right to annex the neighbouring property of Naboth? The prophet Samuel had long ago warned against the claims of the kings who will rule them (1 Samuel 8:10-18); but the people would not listen to this warning and replied, “We must be like other nations, with a king to rule us and lead us in warfare and fight our battles.” This all seemed reasonable and perhaps necessary, for the Israelites needed someone to unite their forces against the Philistines who would otherwise drive them from the entire land.

When King Ahab asked to purchase Naboth’s vineyard at a handsome price, it showed he no longer appreciated the ancient religious traditions of the people, as Naboth himself did. An important norm of Israelite society was the attachment of a family to a particular piece of land, a heritage that must not be permanently alienated from its ancestral owners. The book of Leviticus (25:23-55) carefully stipulates the norms by which land was to be preserved within the larger family or clan. But what Naboth regarded as non-negotiable, Ahab waved aside as irrelevant and out-of-date. To deal with his opposition, Naboth was quickly entrapped in false accusations and stoned as a blasphemer, and even his neighbours connived in this unjust charade.

Some of Paul’s sentences (*1), may convey the mind of Naboth and echo his despondent grief: “We are called imposters, and yet we are truthful; nobodies but in fact are well known; considered dead, yet here we are alive; punished, but not put to death; sorrowful, though always rejoicing; poor, yet enriching many; seeming to have nothing, yet everything is ours.” Naboth was courageous in standing firm against royal intrigue, bribery and threat. His unswerving obedience to an important social law secured immortality for himself and his family. Queen Jezebel thought that his name and property could be written out of the genealogies and history of the people. Yet Naboth’s name is forever remembered with honour, and his example spurs us to honesty and respect for our neighbour. As Paul wrote: “when poor, he enriches many; when called an imposter, he was truthful.” We rejoice to have such ancestral martyrs within our family of faith, and thank God for their inspiration.

While the king pouted like a spoiled child, lying down on his bed and turning away from his food, Naboth showed the quiet strength of a man who lived in the awareness of God. He did not cry out for revenge, but went far beyond the call of duty, more than the extra mile. He died for his principles and left us an example of heroism. Jesus’ ideals in the Sermon on the Mount are exemplified for us in a dramatic way by Naboth.

 1 Kings 21:1-16

Later the following events took place: Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard in Jezreel, beside the palace of King Ahab of Samaria. And Ahab said to Naboth, “Give me your vineyard, so that I may have it for a vegetable garden, because it is near my house; I will give you a better vineyard for it; or, if it seems good to you, I will give you its value in money.” But Naboth said to Ahab, “The Lord forbid that I should give you my ancestral inheritance.” Ahab went home resentful and sullen because of what Naboth the Jezreelite had said to him; for he had said, “I will not give you my ancestral inheritance.” He lay down on his bed, turned away his face, and would not eat.

His wife Jezebel came to him and said, “Why are you so depressed that you will not eat?” He said to her, “Because I spoke to Naboth the Jezreelite and said to him, ‘Give me your vineyard for money; or else, if you prefer, I will give you another vineyard for it’; but he answered, ‘I will not give you my vineyrd.'” His wife Jezebel said to him, “Do you now govern Israel? Get up, eat some food, and be cheerful; I will give you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.”

So she wrote letters in Ahab’s name and sealed them with his seal; she sent the letters to the elders and the nobles who lived with Naboth in his city. She wrote in the letters, “Proclaim a fast, and seat Naboth at the head of the assembly; seat two scoundrels opposite him, and have them bring a charge against him, saying, ‘You have cursed God and the king.’ Then take him out, and stone him to death.” The men of his city, the elders and the nobles who lived in his city, did as Jezebel had sent word to them. Just as it was written in the letters that she had sent to them, they proclaimed a fast and seated Naboth at the head of the assembly. The two scoundrels came in and sat opposite him; and the scoundrels brought a charge against Naboth, in the presence of the people, saying, “Naboth cursed God and the king.” So they took him outside the city, and stoned him to death. Then they sent to Jezebel, saying, “Naboth has been stoned; he is dead.”

As soon as Jezebel heard that Naboth had been stoned and was dead, Jezebel said to Ahab, “Go, take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, which he refused to give you for money; for Naboth is not alive, but dead.” As soon as Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, Ahab set out to go down to the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, to take possession of it.

Gospel: Matthew 5:38-42

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

#June 19. Tuesday of Week Eleven

1 Kings 21:17ff. Elijah threatens King Ahab with a dreadful death for murdering Naboth and stealing his vineyard.

Matthew 5:43ff. Love your enemies and so be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.

“Father, forgive them”

Whenever we hear the gospel command to love our enemies and to pray for our persecutors, we think of Jesus’ own heroic example, praying for his executioners, as he hung on the cross (Luke 22:34). In today’s reading from I Kings, we have another example of humility and forgiveness.

We have read how Ahab and his wife Jezebel schemed to acquire the vineyard of Naboth, and by false charges of blasphemy had the innocent man stoned to death. God cannot tolerate such blatant injustice, and there was no better prophet to voice God’s wrath than Elijah, the man who had executed the four hundred and fifty prophets of the false god Baal(1 Kings 18:40). But when Ahab repented, God relented and passed on his pardon through Elijah. If that prophet could be eloquent in anger, he also learned that God was more forgiving than he had ever thought possible.

Paul, today, also pleads for generosity as he tells the church at Corinth about the evident kindness of the churches of Macedonia. He was now collecting alms from the Corinthians for the church at Jerusalem, coming to the aid of a church that had persecuted him, blocked his apostolic work for the gentiles and even questioned his right to be an apostle.

These Scriptures constitute a call to a spirit of forgiveness. We are being asked to swallow our pride and reverse our customary harsh ways. If even King Ahab repented, it shows how others can change. No matter how justified our anger or how eloquent our condemnation, like the prophet Elijah we too must look to the Lord God and seek to be forgiving and thus perfect as our Father is perfect.

 1 Kings 21:17-29

Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying: Go down to meet King Ahab of Israel, who rules in Samaria; he is now in the vineyard of Naboth, where he has gone to take possession. You shall say to him, “Thus says the Lord: Have you killed, and also taken possession?” You shall say to him, “Thus says the Lord: In the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth, dogs will also lick up your blood.”

Ahab said to Elijah, “Have you found me, O my enemy?” He answered, “I have found you. Because you have sold yourself to do what is evil in the sight of the Lord, I will bring disaster on you; I will consume you, and will cut off from Ahab every male, bond or free, in Israel; and I will make your house like the house of Jeroboam son of Nebat, and like the house of Baasha son of Ahijah, because you have provoked me to anger and have caused Israel to sin. Also concerning Jezebel the Lord said, ‘The dogs shall eat Jezebel within the bounds of Jezreel.’ Anyone belonging to Ahab who dies in the city the dogs shall eat; and anyone of his who dies in the open country the birds of the air shall eat.”

(Indeed, there was no one like Ahab, who sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of the Lord, urged on by his wife Jezebel. He acted most abominably in going after idols, as the Amorites had done, whom the Lord drove out before the Israelites.)

When Ahab heard those words, he tore his clothes and put sackcloth over his bare flesh; he fasted, lay in the sackcloth, and went about dejectedly. Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite: “Have you seen how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself before me, I will not bring the disaster in his days; but in his son’s days I will bring the disaster on his house.”

Gospel: Matthew 5:43-48

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

#June 20. Wednesday of Week Eleven

(option: Feast of the Irish Martyrs)

2 Kings 2:1ff. After miraculously crossing the River Jordan, Elijah is taken up to heaven, and his mantle, his legacy, falls to Elisha.

Matthew 6:1ff. Beware of performing religious acts for people to see.

The Cheerful Giver

We must live for God rather than to be seen by others; act silently rather than ostentatiously. At the same time, we cannot do without the good example of others. There is a great value in remembering God’s deeds in the lives of his saints. If Moses and Joshua, Elijah and Elisha, or Jesus and Paul had performed all of their works in secret, the Scriptures would mainly consist of empty pages. Paradoxically, we stand in need of the visible example of others, to teach us to act secretly and humbly.

To feel the need always to be seen and praised is not psychologically or spiritually healthy. Such people are fundamentally unsure of themselves, and so are grasping for crutches to hold onto. They are so taken up with themselves, with telling their own story and seeking praise for their own acts, that they have little time for others. In turn, others find it more and more difficult to converse with them, and so their friends drop off and keep their distance. So Jesus is offering very healthy advice when he says, “Do not blow a horn before you in synagogues and streets, looking for applause.” He goes on to suggest, “In almsgiving, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Keep your deeds of mercy secret, and your Father who sees in secret will repay you.”

Jesus wants us to preserve both our own dignity and also that of others, whenever we help them, particularly with alms. One way, of course, is by giving anonymously, so nobody knows who did it except God “who sees in secret.” Another way, as Paul suggests, is to act so cheerfully that we seem to get more joy out of giving than the other does in receiving our gift. In this case the centre of activity is the relationship: we are the happiest in seeing others happy, because we love them.

Paul even goes so far as to claim that the more we give to others, the more we ourselves will have, since “Whoever sows sparingly will reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will reap bountifully.” Here he relies on the Book of Proverbs (11:24-25), one of the most practical books in the entire Bible. It is seldom makes heroic demands, never stirs up a prophetic tempest, and cautiously tempers excessive zeal.

This principle is not denied by the prophets, even though some of their actions have very high profile. Before leaving this earth, Elijah rolls up his mantle and divides the River Jordan for himself and disciple Elisha to walk dry shod to the other side. He keeps alive the ancestral faith that God is always with them, as when Moses separated the Red Sea and Joshua the River Jordan. Within the prophetic family, people acted generously, even lavishly, despite not being wealthy. They worked hard at manual labour and were always concerned for what they could do for others.

 2 Kings 2:1, 6-14

Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal.

Elijah said to him, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them went on. Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground.

When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.” Elisha said, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.” He responded, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.” As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. Elisha kept watching and crying out, “Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” But when he could no longer see him, he rasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.

He picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. He took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” When he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over.

Gospel: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.

“So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

#June 21. Thursday of Week Eleven

Sirach 48:1ff. The prophet Elijah is praised for the wonders of his life. He is expected to return before the messianic era.

Matthew 6:7ff. Prayer ought not to be too wordy but modelled on the Our Father and therefore incorporating a spirit of forgiveness.

Reflection:

Some people at Corinth must have accused Paul of merely “rattling” words – of being just a talker, not a doer. In their gossip they must have complained that he should manifest a more tolerant and patient attitude towards their faults. Yet Paul did not back down but stated his personal independence and his privilege of speaking openly to them. He lashes out at the roving preachers who wanted to undermine the Corinthians’ loyalty to himself and replace the vision of Jesus as preached by Paul. He dubs these troublemakers “super-apostles,” and disdainfully implies that these so-called apostles were making a good living off the people, and treating the ministry as a profitable career. By contrast, he and Barnabas were prepared to work for their living (1 Cor 9) so that the gospel message was untarnished by personal gain and could be accepted as God’s pure word.

Paul’s plain speech cleared the air and purified the people’s hearts. He calls on them to make their language “Yea” and “Nay” (2 Cor 1:18) and their lives one of total dedication to Christ. Here is the best kind of forgiveness, wiping the slate clean so that all can begin over again, this time with greater maturity. He draws on an Old Testament image to describe this new life: they are like “a chaste virgin,” a bride coming to her marriage, with joyful enthusiasm to be united with Christ. This tradition, going back to the prophet Hosea (Hos 2:16), was developed by Jeremiah (Jer 2:2) and Second Isaiah (Isa 54:5) and especially the Song of Songs, is echoed at different moments in the preaching of Jesus and in other New Testament writings.

They are assured that sin will not leave any scar or blemish on them. Here is the fullest and most effective form of forgiveness, with the redemptive work of Jesus brought to fullest expression. The words of the Our Father come true because “your kingdom has come, your will has been done on earth as in heaven.” In this endorsement from Paul the Corinthians received that very day, that “daily bread,” for which each of us must pray.

Paul’s words seemed like flaming fire but they purified the Corinthians and brought back to life all the innocence of their first fervour, as a “chaste virgin” presented in marriage to Christ. By forgiving one another each of us takes on the reconciling role of Elijah and of Paul in the lives of our neighbours. We thereby announce the coming of God’s kingdom and both receive and distribute the “daily bread” which he gives us.

 Sirach 48:1-14

Then Elijah arose, a prophet like fire,

and his word burned like a torch.

He brought a famine upon them,

and by his zeal he made them few in number.

By the word of the Lord he shut up the heavens,

and also three times brought down fire.

How glorious you were, Elijah, in your wondrous deeds!

Whose glory is equal to yours?

You raised a corpse from death

and from Hades, by the word of the Most High.

You sent kings down to destruction,

and famous men, from their sickbeds.

You heard rebuke at Sinai

and judgments of vengeance at Horeb.

You anointed kings to inflict retribution,

and prophets to succeed you.

You were taken up by a whirlwind of fire,

in a chariot with horses of fire.

At the appointed time, it is written, you are destined

to calm the wrath of God before it breaks out in fury,

to turn the hearts of parents to their children,

and to restore the tribes of Jacob.

Happy are those who saw you

and were adorned with your love!

For we also shall surely live.

When Elijah was enveloped in the whirlwind,

Elisha was filled with his spirit.

He performed twice as many signs,

and marvels with every utterance of his mouth.

Never in his lifetime did he tremble before any ruler,

nor could anyone intimidate him at all.

Nothing was too hard for him,

and when he was dead, his body prophesied.

In his life he did wonders,

and in death his deeds were marvellous.

Gospel: Matthew 6:7-15

“When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

“Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

#June 22. Friday of Week Eleven

2 Kings 11:1ff. Athaliah seized the throne by executing the royal family, except for one son who escaped. When he is later crowned king, Athaliah is executed, and the covenant is renewed.

Matthew 6:19ff. Do not lay up earthly treasure where moths and rust corrode. If your vision is bad, your whole self will be in darkness.

Reflection:

Today’s words from the Sermon on the Mount touch on a problem we instinctively feel about Paul’s boasting and the moral collapse which follows inflated ambition . Jesus puts it bluntly: “Do not lay up for yourselves an earthly treasure. Moths and rust corrode.. Instead, store up heavenly treasure.. If your vision is bad, you will be in darkness. And if your light is darkness, how deep the darkness will be.”

Poor Paul is caught up in a confusing whirlwind of boasting. “Since many are bragging.., I too will boast,” he says, with some embarassment. Yet his boasting mostly is about failures, disappointment and rejection. When drawn into the boasting game, he can brag only of his suffering. Yet, in this he leads the people to place their confidence in the power of the Spirit. Paul’s eloquent bragging is not really an attempt to lay up earthly treasures, for he hopes to direct people towards the true source of any real strength that we have. His way of handling the false claims of others turns out to be such a delicate balance that it is difficult to imitate. Its value for us is enormous, nonetheless, as it enables us to reconstruct Paul’s personal biography and to have a rare insight into the personality of this genial saint.

A tragic situation is seen in Second Kings . Here is a woman driven by ambition to murder her own step-children in order to seize the Jerusalem throne. She then attempts to secure her place by corrupting the morals of the people, for if they are as bad as she is, they will welcome the changed opportunity for luxurious living, the sensuous fertility rites and sacred prostitution in the Baal temple she has built. Yet the innate goodness of the people wins the day, and seven years later the single royal son who escaped Athaliah’s slaughter is acclaimed as king. The high priest solemnizes a covenant between king and people, based on religious fidelity and popular justice. The house built upon ambitious boasting collapsed on Athaliah – an example of Jesus’ words that moths and rust corrode the strength and security of such false constructions.

Other words of Jesus may provide more practical advice. He advises us to have a “good eye,” filled with light and so able to see goodness and light in the actions and hearts of others. Rather than be annoyed by their faults and idiosyncrasies, our “good eye” ought to recognize the good side of them. We should commend them for their virtues, not condemn them for their vices, and not imitate them in bragging or boasting. But if we must brag, let it be about the grace of God that helps us in whatever are our weaknesses, failures or moments of rejection.

 2 Kings 11:1-4, 9-18, 20

Now when Athaliah, Ahaziah’s mother, saw that her son was dead, she set about to destroy all the royal family. But Jehosheba, King Joram’s daughter, Ahaziah’s sister, took Joash son of Ahaziah, and stole him away from among the king’s children who were about to be killed; she put him and his nurse in a bedroom. Thus she hid him from Athaliah, so that he was not killed; he remained with her six years, hidden in the house of the Lord, while Athaliah reigned over the land.

But in the seventh year Jehoiada summoned the captains of the Carites and of the guards and had them come to him in the house of the Lord. He made a covenant with them and put them under oath in the house of the Lord; then he showed them the king’s son.

The captains did according to all that the priest Jehoiada commanded; each brought his men who were to go off duty on the Sabbath, with those who were to come on duty on the Sabbath, and came to the priest Jehoiada. The priest delivered to the captains the spears and shields that had been King David’s, which were in the house of the Lord; the guards stood, every man with his weapons in his hand, from the south side of the house to the north side of the house, around the altar and the house, to guard the king on every side. Then he brought out the king’s son, put the crown on him, and gave him the covenant; they proclaimed him king, and anointed him; they clapped their hands and shouted, “Long live the king!”

When Athaliah heard the noise of the guard and of the people, she went into the house of the Lord to the people; when she looked, there was the king standing by the pillar, according to custom, with the captains and the trumpeters beside the king, and all the people of the land rejoicing and blowing trumpets. Athaliah tore her clothes and cried, “Treason! Treason!” Then the priest Jehoiada commanded the captains who were set over the army, “Bring her out between the ranks, and kill with the sword anyone who follows her.” For the priest said, “Let her not be killed in the house of the Lord.” So they laid hands on her; she went through the horses’ entrance to the king’s house, and there she was put to death.

Jehoiada made a covenant between the Lord and the king and people, that they should be the Lord’s people; also between the king and the people. Then all the people of the land went to the house of Baal, and tore it down; his altars and his images they broke in pieces, and they killed Mattan, the priest of Baal, before the altars. The priest posted guards over the house of the Lord. So all the people of the land rejoiced; and the city was quiet after Athaliah had been killed with the sword at the king’s house.

Gospel: Matthew 6:19-23

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

#June 23. Saturday of Week Eleven

2 Chronicles 24:17ff. King Joash turns against the faithful followers who saved his life; he is defeated by the Arameans, who loot the temple

Matthew 6:24ff. We cannot serve two masters. Do not be anxious for tomorrow.. The birds of the sky and the flowers of the field.

Thorns in the Flesh

Today’s Old Testament reading shows the sad effects brought on by a false sense of values. This text interrupts the liturgical readings from the 2 Kings to supplement our information about King Joash. When power and control went to his head, he forgot the heroic loyalty of friends who had saved his life and secured the kingdom for him when he was a child, and executed the high priest whose father had defended him years before.

About the reversal of values, Paul writes, “I must go on boasting, however useless it may be.” Even if he had visions and revelations of the Lord and was caught up to Paradise “to hear words which cannot be uttered,” he feels the foolishness of talking about it and says he will boast no more except about his weakness, which God helps him to bear. Lines like that are more intelligible if we remember that Paul dictated his epistles (and then to prove the authenticity of the letter signed it in his own handwriting – 1 Cor 16:21). Perhaps Paul asked his secretary to re-read part of the letter to him, and then added “no more boasting.”

This sudden awareness leads to the intriguing admission that he was tormented by “a thorn in the flesh.” Many a guess has been proposed about what this means. Was it an unattractive appearance, some crippling sickness, poor eyesight, his tendency to impetuosity and blunt speech? Was it some unfulfilled instinct for intimacy, having set aside his natural desire to marry? All we know is that this “thorn in the flesh,” whatever it was, was hard to bear and prompted him to turn repeatedly to the Lord for help. Paul records the answer to that prayer, when God revealed to him, “My grace is enough for you, for power comes to perfection in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9). Even his very weakness led Paul to discover a source of strength far greater than any of his natural gifts and talents. His weakness led him to depths of prayer and dependence on God, as expressed in Jesus’ words, “Don’t worry about tomorrow. Your heavenly Father knows all that you need.”

“Enough for the day. Let tomorrow take care of itself. Today has troubles enough of its own.” It is far more necessary to live today than to worry about tomorrow. Life is more important than food, the body more valuable than clothes. It is not psychologically healthy, much less Christian, to surrender to a compulsion for exotic foods and luxurious clothing.

Jesus warns us to review our scale of values, “Look at the birds in the sky. They do not sow or reap.. yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they?” Selfish or sensuous desires lead to all sorts of trouble, but as Paul points out, weakness turns into strength when it brings us to prayer and trust in God and the memory of God’s goodness. Such an awareness of weakness can put our values back into good order, for God can transform even our sins into occasions of grace.

 2Chr 24:17-25

Now after the death of Jehoiada the officials of Judah came and did obeisance to the king; then the king listened to them. They abandoned the house of the Lord, the God of their ancestors, and served the sacred poles and the idols. And wrath came upon Judah and Jerusalem for this guilt of theirs. Yet he sent prophets among them to bring them back to the Lord; they testified against them, but they would not listen.

Then the spirit of God took possession of Zechariah son of the priest Jehoiada; he stood above the people and said to them, “Thus says God: Why do you transgress the commandments of the Lord, so that you cannot prosper? Because you have forsaken the Lord, he has also forsaken you.” But they conspired against him, and by command of the king they stoned him to death in the court of the house of the Lord. King Joash did not remember the kindness that Jehoiada, Zechariah’s father, had shown him, but killed his son. As he was dying, he said, “May the Lord see and avenge!”

At the end of the year the army of Aram came up against Joash. They came to Judah and Jerusalem, and destroyed all the officials of the people from among them, and sent all the booty they took to the king of Damascus. Although the army of Aram had come with few men, the Lord delivered into their hand a very great army, because they had abandoned the Lord, the God of their ancestors. Thus they executed judgment on Joash.

When they had withdrawn, leaving him severely wounded, his servants conspired against him because of the blood of the son of the priest Jehoiada, and they killed him on his bed. So he died; and they buried him in the city of David, but they did not bury him in the tombs of the kings.

Gospel: Matthew 6:24-34

“No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

#June 25. Monday of Week Twelve

2 Kings 17:5ff. The deportation and loss of the ten northern tribes of Israel followed their failure to listen to God’s warning through his prophets.

Matthew 7:1ff. Our judgment on others determines our own judgment by God. “First remove the plank from your own eye” is the message.

Humility like Abraham’s

Abram’s call in Genesis 12 marks the beginning of Israel’s salvation history, the monumental moment when this rugged nomad was called to migrate to the land of promise and eventually become a sign of blessing for everyone on earth. In 2 Kings 17, the tragic story of the ten northern tribes comes to a fiery end when their capital city, Samaria, is stormed and captured by the Assyrians. The people left alive after the ordeal of a three year siege are marched into exile and historical oblivion. By this stern judgment of God, most of Abram’s descendants, ten out of the twelve tribes, were suppressed by a gentile nation for whom they were supposed to be a blessing. Yet, in the gospel we are told not to judge others. Is God, we wonder, above his own law of compassion and forgiveness?

The mystery of divine providence cannot be explained in any clear and simple way, why some are chosen and others seem unchosen. At times the question is squarely faced in the Bible – for instance in today’s reading from 2 Kings, without the answer being utterly persuasive. Yes, the northern tribes did not keep God’s commandments; but the single remaining tribe of Judah did not keep the commandments all that faithfully, either. Jerusalem, their capital, was also razed to the ground (2 Kings 25) but they survived the Babylonian exile and became a remnant group who rebuilt the Holy City and prepared for the coming of the Messiah.

Another attempt to explain divine election and non-election is made in the Book of Deuteronomy: It was not because you are the largest of all nations that the Lord set his heart on you and chose you, for you are the smallest of all nations. It was because the Lord loved you.. that he brought you out with his strong hand from the place of slavery (Deut 7:7-8).

From this text we see that a non-negotiable element for survival is a sense of humble gratitude. The proud person, as today’s reading says, is “stiff-necked.” Humility receives each gift and blessing continuously as a gift, never as an absolute possession. Whatever is received as a gift is easily shared with other needy persons. Humility quickly leads to generosity, generosity to trust in God, and trust in God to a profound sense of prayer and adoration.

Abram left Haran in upper Syria, going into an unknown land and leaving behind his relatives and his home and everything he knew, for the sake of a promise and a blessing. Even the new land was also to remain promised, never completely possessed. God said to Israel, “The land is mine; you are but aliens who have become my tenants” (Lev 25:23). Land was to be shared, so that no one would be homeless among God’s people. Never to possess but always to receive as a gift meant that Israel was to be “the smallest of all nations.”

For “the smallest” to be anything else but humble would be ridiculous. This humble people can hardly stand high enough to see what is happening, and so cannot be judgmental towards others. They already have a plank in their eyes when they dare to judge their neighbours, who turn out to be more righteous with only a speck in their eyes.

Humble persons will not lose the promised land, the divine blessing, for God always remembers his promise in their regard. Humility means strength in God and kindliness towards one’s neighbour, and its tests are: a good heart to think well of one’s neighbour, generosity in sharing with them, always trusting God and going forward willingly, at God’s call.

 2 Kings 17:5-8, 13-15, 18

Then the king of Assyria invaded all the land and came to Samaria; for three years he besieged it. In the ninth year of Hoshea the king of Assyria captured Samaria; he carried the Israelites away to Assyria. He placed them in Halah, on the Habor, the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.

This occurred because the people of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt from under the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. They had worshipped other gods and walked in the customs of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel, and in the customs that the kings of Israel had introduced.

 Yet the Lord warned Israel and Judah by every prophet and every seer, saying, “Turn from your evil ways and keep my commandments and my statutes, in accordance with all the law that I commanded your ancestors and that I sent to you by my servants the prophets.” They would not listen but were stubborn, as their ancestors had been, who did not believe in the Lord their God. They despised his statutes, and his covenant that he made with their ancestors, and the warnings that he gave them. They went after false idols and became false; they followed the nations that were around them, concerning whom the Lord had commanded them that they should not do as they did. Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel and removed them out of his sight; none was left but the tribe of Judah alone.

Gospel: Matthew 7:1-5

“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbour’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbour, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye.

#June 26. Tuesday of Week Twelve

2 Kings 19:9ff. The Assyrians attack the People of God. Isaiah promises deliverance for a remnant, and Jerusalem is saved.

Matthew 7:6ff. A series of short, disconnected sayings of Jesus.

Coping with Success

Today’s texts manifest how success goes to the head, power can corrupt and prosperity can make even good people greedy for more. It seems that in life we cope better with hopes than with their fulfillment. People who must work hard and pass through all the stages of developing a business, a farm, or a family inheritance, generally show more care for their work, and deeper joy in their creativity, than the next generation who receive it on a golden platter.

The Assyrians spread their empire from the borders of Egypt across the fertile crescent of Israel, Lebanon and Syria, south into Iraq and eastward towards Iran. At Nineveh their capital city, the archaeological pickaxe has unearthed an immense library of literature and history. At home the Assyrians were cultured and polite, abroad they were greedy and insolent. In his pride the Assyrian king did not hesitate to claim divine status and dared to blaspheme the Lord Yahweh. Emboldened by their wealth and military might the Assyrians felt secure against any harm or revenge, and like all tyrants, they demanded ever greater tribute from vassal states and grew intolerant of any signs of independence.

Like the Assyrians, we too can be trapped by our own success and betrayed by our own talents. We tend to make our worst mistakes when we have the money and the leisure to do so, and even family members turn against each other in the flush of prosperity. Today’s text reflects our common difficulty in dealing with success, but also offers a way out of this impasse. Wryly, Jesus advises us not to toss our pearls before swine, and not to follow the wide and easy way to damnation. In a more desperate situation King Hezekiah took the letter of ultimatum from the hand of the Assyrian messengers, and brought it up to the temple and prayed in the Lord’s presence. He did not take the easy way, of caving in and surrendering just to save the royal family; but they each acted bravely and prudently, in a way that already anticipated the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount.

 2 Kings 19:9-11, 14-21, 31-35a, 36

When the king heard concerning King Tirhakah of Ethiopia, “See, he has set out to fight against you,” he sent messengers again to Hezekiah, saying, “Thus shall you speak to King Hezekiah of Judah: Do not let your God on whom you rely deceive you by promising that Jerusalem will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.

Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers and read it; then Hezekiah went up to the house of the Lord and spread it before the Lord. And Hezekiah prayed before the Lord, and said: “O Lord the God of Israel, who are enthroned above the cherubim, you are God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth. Incline your ear, O Lord, and hear; open your eyes, O Lord, and see; hear the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to mock the living God. Truly, O Lord, the kings of Assyria have laid waste the nations and their lands, and have hurled their gods into the fire, though they were no gods but the work of human hands – wood and stone – and so they were destroyed. So now, O Lord our God, save us, I pray you, from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O Lord, are God alone.”

Then Isaiah son of Amoz sent to Hezekiah, saying, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I have heard you prayer to me about King Sennacherib of Assyria. This is the word that the Lord has spoken concerning him: “She despises you, she scorns you – virgin daughter Zion; she tosses her head – behind your back, daughter Jerusalem. From Jerusalem a remnant shall go out, and from Mount Zion a band of survivors. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.”

“Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the king of Assyria: He shall not come into this city, shoot an arrow there, come before it with a shield, or cast up a siege-ramp against it. By the way that he came, by the same he shall return; he shall not come into this city, says the Lord. For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.”

That very night the angel of the Lord set out and struck down one hundred eighty-five thousand in the camp of the Assyrians. Then King Sennacherib of Assyria left, went home, and lived at Nineveh. As he was worshiping in the house of his god Nisroch, his sons Adrammelech and Sharezer killed him with the sword, and they escaped into the land of Ararat. His son Esar-haddon succeeded him.

Gospel: Matthew 7:6, 12-14

“Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.

“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.

#June 27. Wednesday of Week Twelve

2 Kings 22:8ff. The book of the Deuteronomic law is rediscovered in the temple; King Josiah inaugurates a vigorous moral and liturgical reform.

Matthew 7:15ff. “You can tell a tree by its fruit.”

A Tree that is Tested

When Jesus stated that a good tree is known by its good fruit, he was referring to the annual fruit harvest rather than to a single harvest, once for all time. At the same time he warned how some people could be misled, “Be on guard against false prophets.. You will know them by their deeds.” We need to be attentive not to compromise our faith and our convictions, little by little, in the face of daily temptations. Continuing the analogy of the fruit tree, we know that a tree generally does not die in a single moment but rather decays gradually from within.

Such was the trial of Abram. Over the long years of his marriage with Sarah, no child had been conceived, so he complained to God, “What good will your gifts be, if I keep on being childless and have as my heir the steward of my house, Eliezer?” He repeated his question, for the long testing of his confidence in the Lord was getting the better of him. Why keep on hoping against hope (Rom 4:18)? Abram’s dream not only churned up his doubts but also reached still more deeply into his heart and helped him persevere. After dividing the sacrificial animals on two sides, he saw a smoking brazier and a flaming torch pass between the pieces. But first birds of prey swooped down and Abram had to stay with the sacrifice and persistently drive off the birds. Even though doubts and hesitation were almost destroying his faith, he stayed with them and persevered.

Then under the symbol of smoke and fire, the Lord passed between the divided animals, whose blood, flowing between the two sides, with God in between, symbolise the bond of life between God and his servant Abram. Within this intimate moment, Abram shared his agony with God, and he believed – not merely with intellectual assent but rather with surrender of his whole self to God, his joys and ambitions, his entire span of life on earth. Here was a tree that bore good fruit, retaining its health and vigor all through the years!

But our covenant with God is not to be simply made once and then forgotten. It must be ratified over and over again, even day by day. Yet there are certain pivotal moments in life, crucial turning points, and such a dramatic time came when the Law of Moses was rediscovered, after long neglect, in some dusty corner of the temple . King Josiah has the law book read to different groups of people and then solemnizes a rededication to the covenant before all the people.

In our own life, if we have wandered far from the Lord’s will, or our first hopes and ideals have faded, we need to turn to prayer, contemplate the Scriptures, and be willing to be converted anew to the Lord. The book of Deuteronomy, with its call for renewal and fidelity, could, as in the days of King Josiah, be an excellent guide for ourselves. The good tree was only partially decayed; it doesn’t have to be cut down, only pruned and brought back to health, and again it will bear good fruit. God will again confirm our faith and renew the bond of life with us.

 2 Kings 22:8-13; 23:1-3

The high priest Hilkiah said to Shaphan the secretary, “I have found the book of the law in the house of the Lord.” When Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, he read it. Then Shaphan the secretary came to the king, and reported to the king, “Your servants have emptied out the money that was found in the house, and have delivered it into the hand of the workers who have oversight of the house of the Lord.” Shaphan the secretary informed the king, “The priest Hilkiah has given me a book.” Shaphan then read it aloud to the king.

When the king heard the words of the book of the law, he tore his clothes. Then the king commanded the priest Hilkiah, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Achbor son of Micaiah, Shaphan the secretary, and the king’s servant Asaiah, saying, “Go, inquire of the Lord for me, for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that has been found; for great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our ancestors did not obey the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.”

Then the king directed that all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem should be gathered to him. The king went up to the house of the Lord, and with him went all the people of Judah, all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the priests, the prophets, and all the people, both small and great; he read in their hearing all the words of the book of the covenant that had been found in the house of the Lord. The king stood by the pillar and made a covenant before the Lord, to follow the Lord, keeping his commandments, his decrees, and his statutes, with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. All the people joined in the covenant.

Gospel: Matthew 7:15-20

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits.

#June 28. Thursday of Week Twelve

2 Kings 24:8ff. Description of the first deportation of the Israelites to Babylon, in 597 B.C.

Matthew 7:21ff. By relying on faith rather than on words and showy display, we build our house on rock, not sand.

Long-term Effects

Abram and Sarah followed the custom of their time, when children were the surest way to secure human rights and dignity in one’s old age. After many years of marriage, they had no children, so in desperation, Sarah turned to the local custom that allowed a surrogate wife to bear her child. Yet once Hagar, the Egyptian maidservant, had conceived, she now scorned her mistress for being childless; and Sarah now blamed this new humiliation on Abram. Since by ancient Near Eastern custom it was the wife’s place to look after the female servants, Abram tried to solve the problem by replying, “Your maid is in your power. Do to her whatever you please.”

The Biblical narrative clearly indicates disapproval of the action of Abram and Sarah; but God’s response is more compassionate. Rather than confronting Abram and Sarah, God cares for Hagar and her child Ishmael. This child too was to receive a promise of protection and a future, a future that was to bring much sorrow and trouble to Abram’s other offspring. Even today, the Arabs descended from Ishmael, and the Jews descended from Isaac are deeply suspicious and antagonistic towards one another.

We note how problems which plague people all their lifetime often begin when they act in hasty disregard for the feelings of others. Like Abram we can act abruptly and take matters too firmly under our own control. Or like Sarah and Hagar we spoil the chances of a peaceful life by envy and spite. Yet, even amid painful consequences of our faults we are asked to recognize the purifying hand of God. The Babylonian capture of Jerusalem was not just the result of the city’s sins but also part of God’s plans for its renewal. Today’s reading, records this as a healthy and timely warning.

God has other ways of enabling us to reverse the sad consequences of our faults. Our enemy must be seen as actually a neighbour, a member of our extended human family, just as Ishmael, the father of the Arabs, and Isaac, the father of the Jews, were brothers. The eucharist which unites us around the same table reminds us of our larger family ties, sharing the same food and the same sacred traditions, the same Lord Jesus in whom there is “neither Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for all are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28).

The house of peace is built on the rock of Christ where we are all one family, one blood. We must do much more than simply say “my brother, my sister” or “Lord, Lord!” It is not enough to make one single lavish display of goodwill and then think we can forget all about our neighbour. A house of mere words will not last; it is built on sand and will be easily washed away at the next storm. Jesus calls us to do the will of our heavenly Father, his Father and ours. We enter the kingdom of God, the secure house of faithful love, by doing the will of God continuously and faithfully.

 2 Kings 24:8-17

Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he began to reign; he reigned three months in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Nehushta daughter of Elnathan of Jerusalem. He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, just as his father had done.

At that time the servants of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came up to Jerusalem, and the city was besieged. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came to the city, while his servants were besieging it; King Jehoiachin of Judah gave himself up to the king of Babylon, himself, his mother, his servants, his officers, and his palace officials. The king of Babylon took him prisoner in the eighth year of his reign.

He carried off all the treasures of the house of the Lord, and the treasures of the king’s house; he cut in pieces all the vessels of gold in the temple of the Lord, which King Solomon of Israel had made, all this as the Lord had foretold. He carried away all Jerusalem, all the officials, all the warriors, ten thousand captives, all the artisans and the smiths; no one remained, except the poorest people of the land. He carried away Jehoiachin to Babylon; the king’s mother, the king’s wives, his officials, and the elite of the land, he took into captivity from Jerusalem to Babylon. The king of Babylon brought captive to Babylon all the men of valour, seven thousand, the artisans and the smiths, one thousand, all of them strong and fit for war. The king of Babylon made Mattaniah, Jehoiachin’s uncle, king in his place, and changed his name to Zedekiah.

Gospel: Matthew 7:21-29

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell – and great was its fall!”

Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.

##June 29. Friday. Feast of Sts Peter and Paul, Apostles

#June 30. Saturday of Week Twelve

(option: First Martyrs of the Church of Rome)

Lamentations 2:2ff. A survivor of Jerusalem’s destruction chants the mournful tones of the Book of Lamentations.

Matthew 8:5ff. Jesus cures the centurion’s serving boy and Peter’s mother-in-law, because “it was our infirmities that he bore.”

A Compassionate Heart

Long before he fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy of the suffering servant by his death on the cross, Jesus had been living out the prophetic words by his daily responses to people. It seems he could not pass by a sick person, without being moved to compassion. The one asking for help might be a foreigner, even one of the despised Roman occupation force, or a leper, a poor widow, a demented person roaming the countryside or a close friend like Peter’s mother-in-law. It made no difference, the nationality, the sex, the social level, the mental or moral condition. What mattered was human misery which became a burden on the heart of Jesus.

Jesus looked for trusting faith as the condition for a cure, an attitude missing among the people of his home town of Nazareth where he could work very few miracles (Mark 6:5). Through his miracles he came to be known most of all as a man of compassion, reaching out to suffering people. As we read in Isaiah, he was “accustomed to infirmity” because the sick gravitated towards him. Many passages from Isaiah 53 read like a commentary on the public ministry of Jesus.

He thus aligned himself with a long biblical tradition, in which God’s servants were conspicuous for their attention towards strangers and sinners, towards the sick and defenseless. Today, we read how Abraham could not let travellers pass by his tent without bathing their feet and then satisfying their hunger with a special banquet. They in turn could not pass by the lonely sterility of Abraham and Sarah’s marriage, and so they promised that a child would be conceived by the aged couple.

We also read from the poignant Book of Lamentations . The bitter grief, the wrenching trial of faith, the seeming betrayal of divine promises for Jerusalem and the Davidic dynasty, all of these reactions to the destruction of the Holy City become the inspired word of God. “Pour out your heart like water in the presence of the Lord; Lift up your hands to him for the lives of your little ones.” These sorrowful lines not only describe the healing ministry of Jesus but also the inmost feeling of the eternal Father throughout Old Testament history.

Lamentations 2:2, 10-14, 18-19

The Lord has destroyed without mercy all the dwellings of Jacob; in his wrath he has broken down the strongholds of daughter Judah; he has brought down to the ground in dishonour the kingdom and its rulers.

The elders of daughter Zion sit on the ground in silence; they have thrown dust on their heads and put on sackcloth; the young girls of Jerusalem have bowed their heads to the ground.

My eyes are spent with weeping; my stomach churns; my bile is poured out on the ground because of the destruction of my people, because infants and babes faint in the streets of the city.

They cry to their mothers, “Where is bread and wine?” as they faint like the wounded in the streets of the city, as their life is poured out on their mothers’ bosom.

What can I say for you, to what compare you, O daughter Jerusalem? To what can I liken you, that I may comfort you, O virgin daughter Zion? For vast as the sea is your ruin; who can heal you?

Your prophets have seen for you false and deceptive visions; they have not exposed your iniquity to restore your fortunes, but have seen oracles for you that are false and misleading.

Cry aloud to the Lord! O wall of daughter Zion! Let tears stream down like a torrent day and night! Give yourself no rest, your eyes no respite!

Arise, cry out in the night, at the beginning of the watches! Pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord! Lift your hands to him for the lives of your children, who faint for hunger at the head of every street.

Gospel: Matthew 8:5-17

When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, appealing to him and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible distress.” And he said to him, “I will come and cure him.” The centurion answered, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.” When Jesus heard him, he was amazed and said to those who followed him, “Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you according to your faith.” And the servant was healed in that hour.

When Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever; he touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she got up and began to serve him.

That evening they brought to him many who were possessed with demons; and he cast out the spirits with a word, and cured all who were sick. This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah, “He took our infirmities and bore our diseases.”

#July 02. Monday of Week Thirteen

Amos 2:6ff. Israel is condemned for serious social neglect of the poor and the defenseless.

Matthew 8:18ff. As a wandering preacher, Jesus has no place to call home. His unworldly challenge: let the dead bury the dead.

Arguing with God

The Genesis story shows Abraham bargaining with God to have the wicked cities spared. He begins at fifty, asking God to spare the cities if fifty innocent people can be found there. He speaks up again, pleading for their survival if forty-five innocent are found. The haggling continues and Abraham gradually pares the number down to ten. At that the Lord closes the conversation and leaves.

This conversation between Abraham and the living God is a classic piece of literature that reveals significant aspects of biblical faith: the freedom of people to argue with God and God’s patient willingness to bear with such jostling. Even though this account reveals God’s immanent closeness is to his people and theirs to God, still God’s sovereignty remains and he closes the conversation when he wills to do so. The most conspicuous point, nonetheless, is the intuition of a personal, compassionate God.

Therefore, when we turn to the prophet Amos,, and later when we come to the harsh statement of Jesus, “Let the dead bury their dead”, we want to argue with God as Abraham did. Even though our bargaining power may not be as great as Abraham’s, we still feel that justice and common decency are on our side. As we argue with Jesus, we recall how after his own sorrowful death on Calvary, his friends took care of his burial. If a saying like this stirs reflection, or even provokes an argument with God, Jesus has achieved his objective in speaking such a baffling paradox which was not followed at his own death. The Scriptures evidently are intended more as a book of meditation and reflection than as a simple answer book.

Amos was the first of a long series of writing prophets in Israel. These were religious men, troublers of conscience, outspoken defenders of God’s honour, who by divine compulsion rose out of the ranks of the people. Today we begin the first of a series of readings from the prophets that will extend for the next seven weeks. These prophetic writings help us more than any other part of the Old Testament to understand Jesus; for he was above all a prophet. In some ways both Jesus and the Old Testament prophets speak with such finality that they bring conversation to a close. Their statements remain long within our memory and force us to reflection.

“Let the dead bury their dead” – how well this echoes the stern preaching of Amos. With no show of emotion, Amos cites the evidence, a long list of social abuses in which the poor were wronged. The rich have trampled the heads of the weak into the dust of the earth, and forced the lowly out of the way. People who are guilty of such crimes are morally dead, already buried by their dead consciences beneath the accumulated guilt of their crimes. Amos declares that God avenges the poor and the oppressed, just as he had saved them from Egyptian slavery. All oppressors must beware, for they will be crushed into the ground “as a wagon crushes when laden with sheaves.”

Even though we may argue with God, a ray of hope always remains, for he always wants to give healing and life.

 Am 2:6-10, 13-16

Thus says the Lord: For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment; because they sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals – they who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth, and push the afflicted out of the way; father and son go in to the same girl, so that my holy name is profaned; they lay themselves down beside every altar on garments taken in pledge; and in the house of their God they drink wine bought with fines they imposed.

Yet I destroyed the Amorite before them, whose height was like the height of cedars, and who was as strong as oaks; I destroyed his fruit above, and his roots beneath. Also I brought you up out of the land of Egypt, and led you forty years in the wilderness, to possess the land of the Amorite. So, I will press you down in your place, just as a cart presses down when it is full of sheaves.

Flight shall perish from the swift, and the strong shall not retain their strength, nor shall the mighty save their lives; those who handle the bow shall not stand, and those who are swift of foot shall not save themselves, nor shall those who ride horses save their lives; and those who are stout of heart among the mighty shall flee away naked in that day, says the Lord.

Gospel: Matthew 8:18-22

Now when Jesus saw great crowds around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side. A scribe then approached and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Another of his disciples said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”

##July 03. Tuesday. St Thomas, Apostle

Eph 2:19-21. Built into a holy dwelling-place for God

John 20:24-29. Jesus revives the faith of Thomas the doubter

S

Ephesians 2:19-21.

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

Gospel: John 20:24-29.

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

#July 04. Wednesday of Week Thirteen

Amos 5:14ff. If justice and goodness are absent, liturgy is empty. Where they are found, it is pleasing to God and productive of grace.

Matthew 8:28ff. Jesus cures two madmen and drives their demons into a herd of swine that rush into the sea. Then he is begged to leave the area.

The Liberationist God

The theme of God’s concern runs through today’s readings. In the Old Testament compassion is the dominant intuition: ‘The Lord, the Lord, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity, continuing his kindness for a thousand generations.’ (Exod 34:5-7). God is personally concerned, kindly disposed towards repentant sinners, faithful in looking after the poor and needy, strong in defending people oppressed and abused by social injustices.

Different kinds of oppression appear in today’s liturgy: Hagar and Ishmael, victims of a custom that gave the wife full control over the maidservants; poor, untitled peasants in Amos’ day, victimized by kings and the clergy of the sanctuary; mentally disturbed people in Jesus’ day, ostracized and left to survive as best they could. This is social sin, the primary sin of the world, both then and now. These sins of society, far more than isolated personal failings, call forth stern warnings from God.

When God pronounced his sacred name on Mount Sinai, he declared himself “a merciful and gracious God.” Repeatedly he announces mercy and graciousness, at times through saints and angels, at other times through prophets, and most strongly through the spirit of Jesus in our midst. In today’s texts he sets aside customs that allowed a woman to be sent into the wilderness with her young child, with only some bread and a skinful of water, and told to fare for herself.

Amos gives us a glimpse of God who rises up indignantly through the person of the prophet, In the midst of sacred ceremonies, carried out by duly consecrated priests and with punctilious care for each rubric, God shouts: I hate, I spurn your feasts,.. I take no pleasure in your solemnities;.. Away with your noisy songs. I will not listen to the melodies of your harp. Matthew, while he tones down the bewildered commotion described by Mark, still shows the anger of Jesus against the ill-treatment of mentally handicapped people as he shouts to the demons, “Out with you!”

The Bible does not seek to answer every problem, but goes to the heart of the matter, God’s concern for the underprivileged. It will not let distractions – even legitimate theological questions – obscure the first essential of religion, expressed so well by another prophet, Micah, in what may be called the prophetic Torah, “You have been told, O man and woman, what is good, and what the Lord requires of you: Only to do the right and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Mic 6:8).

 Am 5:14-15, 21-24

Seek good and not evil, that you may live; and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you, just as you have said. Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.

I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll downlike waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream.

Gospel: Matthew 8:28-34

When he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demoniacs coming out of the tomb met him. They were so fierce that no one could pass that way. Suddenly they shouted, “What have you to do with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” Now a large herd of swine was feeding at some distance from them. The demons begged him, “If you cast us out, send us into the herd of swine.” And he said to them, “Go!” So they came out and entered the swine; and suddenly, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and perished in the water. The swineherds ran off, and on going into the town, they told the whole story about what had happened to the demoniacs. Then the whole town came out to meet Jesus; and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their neighbourhood.

#July 05. Thursday of Week Thirteen

Amos 7:10-17. Amos, when expelled from the sanctuary of Bethel, announces doom on the country and its leaders.

Matthew 9:1-8. Jesus cures a paralyse man, thereby showing his power to forgive sin too.

Misguided Orthodoxy

The Pharisees are orthodox in their theology that only God can forgive sin yet they are misguided in limiting God’s power. It is clear that even basically well-intentioned rules cannot go unchallenged; yet in such cases correction and warnings are most difficult to accept. How difficult it is to help good people see that they have room for improvement. This challenge was faced by Jesus, at it was by Amos and many other prophets.

It is hard for religious leaders to admit mistakes and see the damage they may have done to others. After all, how could good people like them be wrong? The blindness of hierarchs is not to theology, which they know well, but to common sense and elementary justice. Often it seems easier to excommunicate trouble-makers than to re-think official practices. Also, the truth-telling prophet is not always diplomatic in denouncing what needs to be changed. Amos was vitriolic and sarcastic, calling the luxury-loving women “fat cows of Bashan,” and portraying the men as effete and sensuous, lying on ivory couches to be anointed with sweet-smelling oil, while reciting poetry to a captive audience. Yet this was God’s true messenger, a rugged individual, earliest of the classical prophets even while he refused the title “prophet” from the filthy mouth of the high priest, Amaziah. Jesus too was less than diplomatic. Rather than dodging the issue he wants to force a decision, “Why do you harbour evil thoughts? Which is less trouble to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven’ or ‘Stand up and walk’?

It is never right to use theology against the poor. In this case the cure of the paralyzed man could teach the theologians about the Messiah. God can transform and sanctify whatever is brought to him: a misguided Abraham, a sinful paralytic, an uncouth prophet. The proud person, no matter how pure and how correct, cannot be helped. The proud person goes away angry; the unlettered crowd praise God for such a compassionate prophet as Jesus.

 Am 7:10-17

Then Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, sent to King Jeroboam of Israel, saying, “Amos has conspired against you in the very center of the house of Israel; the land is not able to bear all his words. For thus Amos has said, ‘Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel must go into exile away from his land.'”

And Amaziah said to Amos, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there; but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.”

Then Amos answered Amaziah, “I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’

“Now therefore hear the word of the Lord. You say, ‘Do not prophesy against Israel, and do not preach against the house of Isaac.” Therefore thus says the Lord: ‘Your wife shall become a prostitute in the city, and your sons and your daughters shall fall by the sword, and your land shall be parceled out by line; you yourself shall die in an unclean land, and Israel shall surely go into exile away from its land.'”

Gospel: Matthew 9:1-8

And after getting into a boat he crossed the sea and came to his own town. And just then some people were carrying a paralyzed man lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” Then some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” But Jesus, perceiving their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” – he then said to the paralytic – “Stand up, take your bed and go to your home.” And he stood up and went to his home. When the crowds saw it, they were filled with awe, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to human beings.

#July 06. Friday of Week Thirteen

Amos 8:4ff. Because of social injustices, a famine for the word of God will devastate the people’s lives.

Matthew 9:9-13. The call of Matthew, a despised tax collector, to be one of the twelve. Jesus is criticized for eating with lax, non-observant Jews.

A Break with the Past

Today’s texts speak of radical transitions, important changes, at times with sorrow, even frustrating pain, at other times with love and happy excitement. Genesis has the death of Sarah and her burial; not only is the first age of the patriarchs coming to an end, but the end evolves into a cutting away from the past. Buried in the land of Canaan, Sarah becomes a symbol that biblical people are in this new land to stay; they will never return to the ancestral country in upper Syria, or to Ur of the Chaldees in southern Iraq (Gen 11:28).

Amos has decided that the northern kingdom of Israel has no future but destruction. They will suffer a famine for the word of God, a complete break with basic biblical hope in God’s inspiring word. In the gospel Jesus flashes one of the first signals that God’s kingdom would extend beyond Canaan, reach into Syria and Ur of the Chaldees and to distant lands at the end of the earth. Jesus calls a non-observant Jew, the tax-collector, Matthew, to be an apostle. Everyone, even foreigners, can be saved. The Scriptures may not give us detailed directions, but they provide the basis for all moral directives: changes such as these are within the providence of God. God is truly present. The purpose of religion is to unite us with God continually during such drastic transitions.

The prophet Amos announces a looming crisis: for their lack of social concern, the people will be driven from the land of promise. Earlier he had condemned the greed of those “who trample on the needy and destroy the poor.” Active compassion is also at the heart of Matthew’s account of how a despised tax collector is called to be one of Jesus’ inner circle. Jesus does not draw the application, yet his eating with those who disregarded the law provides a reason for the later church to reach out beyond Judaism and the narrow circle of those who know and keep the law. To paraphrase Amos, the gospel was to move “from sea to sea.. from the north to the east in search of the word of the Lord.”

How to deal with radical change in our lives? First, to accept it as the will of God and not demand to go back; second, to adapt with human concern for the wider family; and always to practice justice towards the needy and compassion to any who are outcast.

 Am 8:4-6, 9-12

Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land, saying, “When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the Sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale? We will make the ephah small and the shekel great, and practice deceit with false balances, buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat.”

On that day, says the Lord God, I will make the sun go down at noon, and darken the earth in broad daylight. I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation; I will bring sackcloth on all loins, and baldness on every head; I will make it like the mourning for an only son, and the end of it like a bitter day.

The time is surely coming, says the Lord God, when I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it.

Gospel: Matthew 9:9-13

 As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him. And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard this, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”

#July 07. Saturday of Week Thirteen

Amos 9:11ff. A final promise: the Davidic dynasty will be restored, and the land will be blessed with fertility.

Matthew 9:14ff. The disciples need not fast while the bridegroom is with them. Unshrunken cloth and new wine in old wineskins.

Things Old and New

Several times Matthew tells how Jesus himself remained with the old – with “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:6), that he was not sent to foreigners, even to those who happened to show up in Palestine. Yet in the Sermon on the Mount (5-7), Matthew repeats Jesus’ new vision that perfects and replaces the old law, “You have heard the commandment.. but now I say to you..,” (Matthew 5:27, 32, 39, etc.). The change from Judaism to the work to be now achieved is found in the conclusion of Matthew, “Full authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth; go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28:18-19).

The new is introduced with “full authority” over “heaven and earth.” Even though ministering usually to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” Jesus had given strong indications that his work extended beyond Israel to something new. There was a striking difference between the disciples of Jesus and those of John the Baptist. One ought not to sew unshrunken cloth – originally, animal skins that have not been tanned and processed – on to old leather cloaks; the new will proceed to shrink, pull away and the rip will only get worse. Also, when animal skins are used to contain fermenting wine, new skins will stretch, while old skins will burst open and the wine will be lost. These examples from a thoroughly Jewish background point to a dramatic discontinuity with the past, in Jesus’ preaching and healing. What began on the outer edge now moves to the centre. There is to be rejoicing, an entirely new cloak rather than an old one with patches, new wineskins for the new wine.

The plan of salvation winds up and down, zigzags across mountains, draws a straight line crookedly across valleys. God’s ways with mankind are thoroughly human and earthly, yet the strength to proceed and the goal at the end are beyond the capacity of earth to provide. There are also the moments of joy and celebration, “How can the wedding guests go in mourning so long as the groom is with them?” asks Jesus, and then adds: “When the groom is taken away, then they will fast.”

Change, then, evokes many types of reaction. Most of all, however, we should remain at peace, willing to adapt to new circumstances. The way of divine providence is a way of continuity towards an exalted goal, but it passes through human existence in all of its moments, welcome and unwelcome. We must always seek and pray to be worthy disciples of Jesus, letting him pour his new wine into new wineskins, and be as realistic as the Bible in accepting change.

 Am 9:11-15

On that day I will raise up the booth of David that is fallen, and repair its breaches, and raise up its ruins, and rebuild it as in the days of old; in order that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations who are called by my name, says the Lord who does this.

The time is surely coming, says the Lord, when the one who ploughs shall overtake the one who reaps, and the treader of grapes the one who sows the seed; the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it. I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit. I will plant them upon their land, and they shall never again be plucked up out of the land that I have given them, says the Lord your God.

Gospel: Matthew 9:14-17

Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “The wedding guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak, for the patch pulls away from the cloak, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; otherwise, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are detroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.”

#July 09. Monday of Week Fourteen

Hos 2:16ff. The covenant is affirmed under the new and joyful imagery of marriage.

Matthew 9:18ff. Jesus cures a woman of haemorrhage and revives the daughter of a synagogue leader.

Problems in the Family

Family and personal problems are the launching pad for religious growth, in today’s readings. The envy of his twin brother had forced Jacob to flee for his life (*1) ; the repeated infidelities of Hosea’s wife triggered an emotional explosion in the prophet’s heart ; and Jesus is confronted with a family tragedy, the death of the synagogue leader’s young daughter.

Repeatedly we see Biblical religion linked with the needs and crises of people and rooted in the secular arena. The ancient sanctuary of Bethel (in Hebrew, “House of God”) is associated in its origins with Jacob’s flight from his brother Esau and with the exhausted Jacob’s need for sleep. It was already a shrine, as the first part of the text indicates, yet its sacred character is reinterpreted at the end of the account, due to Jacob’s dream.

Our parish church is sacred because it symbolises God’s compassionate and caring presence in our homes, our employment, and relaxation. Angels link us with God, continuously bringing blessings on us from heaven and bringing our prayers back to heaven. Jesus explains Jacob’s dream in such a way for Nathanael and other followers, that they will see a marvellous presence of God in their daily life (John 1:51).

Not only is religion rooted in normal, secular, everyday existence, but it can bring healing to disputes and even serious family problems. Jacob had stolen the blessing of the first-born from his blind father, Isaac, by the intrigue of his mother, Rebekah, who favoured Jacob over her more unruly, less tractable son. When his angry brother Esau was stalking him for revenge, Jacob had to flee to the place where Abraham never wanted his offspring to settle, (as we read last Friday). The setting for Jacob’s dream of angels and for God’s renewal of covenantal promises was hardly the tranquil sanctuary. In, we find some deviation from good morals and proper religious behaviour. The prophet is caught up in a marital scandal. Not only has his wife been unfaithful, but Hosea is not even sure of the paternity of two of the family’s three children. Only the first, a son, is said to be truly born to Hosea (Hos 1:6, 8).

Jesus too had been made ceremonially or religiously unclean, incapable of entering the synagogue or temple; he had been touched by a woman with a flow of blood and he took the hand of a dead child (Lev 15:19-33; 21:1). There must have been a great sense of freedom in Jesus, an overwhelming compassion, a decisive urge to help the needy, to have responded so that the “unclean” would presume to touch him and request him to touch them. Through all these examples we detect a wholesome way to live our religion according to the norms of loving concern.

 Ho 2:16a, 17-18, 21-22

On that day, says the Lord, you will call me, “My husband.”

For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth, and they shall be mentioned by name no more.

I will make for you a covenant on that day with the wild animals, the birds of the air, and the creeping things of the ground; and I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land; and I will make you lie down in safety.

On that day I will answer, says the Lord, I will answer the heavens and they shall answer the earth; and the earth shall answer the grain, the wine, and the oil, and they shall answer ‘Jezreel.’

Gospel: Matthew 9:18-26

While he was saying these things to them, suddenly a leader of the synagogue came in and knelt before him, saying, “My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” And Jesus got up and followed him, with his disciples.

Then suddenly a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak, for she said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well.” Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well.

When Jesus came to the leader’s house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, he said, “Go away; for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl got up. And the report of this sprad throughout that district.

##July 10. Tuesday of Week Fourteen

Hos 8:4ff. Because of their many sins, the people of Israel shall return to Egypt and to the slavery there. But Hosea intercedes with God for them.

Matthew 9:32ff. Jesus cures the sick, teaches and proclaims the good news of the reign of God, for the harvest is ready.

W

What

Ho 8:4-7, 11-13

They made kings, but not through me; they set up princes, but without my knowledge.
With their silver and gold they made idols for their own destruction.
Your calf is rejected, O Samaria. My anger burns against them.
How long will they be incapable of innocence?
For it is from Israel, an artisan made it; it is not God.
The calf of Samaria shall be broken to pieces.
For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.
The standing grain has no heads, it shall yield no meal; if it were to yield, foreigners would devour it.
When Ephraim multiplied altars to expiate sin, they became to him altars for sinning.
Though I write for him the multitude of my instructions, they are regarded as a strange thing.
Though they offer choice sacrifices, though they eat flesh, the Lord does not accept them.
Now he will remember their iniquity, and punish their sins; they shall return to Egypt.

Gospel: Matthew 9:32-38

After they had gone away, a demoniac who was mute was brought to him. And when the demon had been cast out, the one who had been mute spoke; and the crowds were amazed and said, “Never has anything like this been seen in Israel.” But the Pharisees said, “By the ruler of the demons he casts out the demons.”

Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.”

#July 11. Wednesday of Week Fourteen

(option: St Benedict, Patron of Europe)

Hos 10:1ff. Infidelity towards God has produced a seemingly hopeless situation, because the people won’t convert to social justice.

Matthew 10:1ff. Jesus gives his apostles the power to heal, and sends them out to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

Giving and Sharing

Somehow, the way must be found to share in each other’s gifts without losing our human dignity and sense of equality. Economic measures are never enough of themselves; the solution must have a religious dimension too. Mere legal compliance allows for many loopholes and clever manipulation, and sooner or later injustice and idolatry become rampant like weeds in the once luxuriant vineyard. We must go beyond even the measures taken by Joseph in Egypt; and when we give to others, remember that it is a God-willed sharing, not a one-way giving. In this process, we are learning as much as teaching; for we are as needy as our neighbour, even if in different ways.

 Ho 10:1-3, 7-8, 12

Israel is a luxuriant vine that yields its fruit.
The more his fruit increased the more altars he built;
as his country improved, he improved his pillars.

Their heart is false; now they must bear their guilt.
The Lord will break down their altars, and destroy their pillars.

For now they will say: “We have no king, for we do not fear the Lord, and a king – what could he do for us?”
Samaria’s king shall perish like a chip on the face of the waters.

The high places of Aven, the sin of Israel, shall be destroyed
Thorn and thistle shall grow up on their altars.
They shall say to the mountains, Cover us, and to the hills, Fall on us.

Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground;
for it is time to seek the Lord, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you.

Gospel: Matthew 10:1-7

Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness.

These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’

#July 12. Thursday of Week Fourteen

Hos 11:1ff. With feminine imagery, God declares his tender care for his beloved child, Israel.

Matthew 10:7ff. The twelve are to preach, cure, live dependently on others and announce the reign of God.

Boundless Compassion

The ministry of the Twelve is not confined to preaching, for the news that the reign of God is at hand is to be exemplified by curing the sick, raising the dead, healing lepers, expelling demons. Jesus adds that what they have freely received, they must freely give to others, in a complete sharing of gifts and talents. The true meaning of “the reign of God,” therefore, is seen in the generous relationships of daily life.

Further illustration of the situation willed by God comes from Genesis and Hosea . Genesis emphasises God’s providence over every event of life, good and bad, while Hosea underlines the quality of compassion, even to heroic proportions.

The key to the long Joseph narrative in Genesis (chaps. 37-50) is the simple statement, “God sent me here ahead of you.” The full implications of his early life are recognized by Joseph when his brothers approach him after their father’s death. Fearfully they imagine he has been nursing a grudge and may now pay them back for all the wrong they did him. But Joseph told them, “Have no fear.. God meant it for a good purpose, to achieve the survival of many.” Simply and fearlessly, Joseph confessed the absolute and total providence of God over human life. It is striking how all the twists and turns of the story of Joseph are harmoniously concluded by two simple statements, “God sent me here ahead of you” and “God meant it for a good purpose.”

There is a story about a tiny remnant of Jews, who survived in hiding in Nazi Germany during World War II. In their hiding-place, one of them said, “We must pray to God.” Another answered, “If we pray, God will find out that there are still a few Jews left in Germany.” A third added, “It is idiotic to pray, for how can God be present in this kind of world?” This was less a question to be answered than a cry of desperation, but the rabbi answered, “It may be idiotic to pray, but it is still more idiotic not to pray.”

As in the Joseph story, so in our own lives, when the future is still in doubt – as with Joseph’s brothers – common decency may save us. This human response too comes under God’s providence, as one of the many ways by which we are led to salvation. At the root of the Joseph narrative we find a profound attitude of compassion. This loving concern also controls the history of the descendants of Joseph and his brothers, as retold by the prophet Hosea. In this central prophecy God says of himself: “I drew them with cords of love, like a mother raising an infant to her cheeks. But though I stooped to feed my child, they did not know that I was their healer.”

Providence cannot always be discerned by human reason; in fact, one may be able to argue strenuously against it, so as to make it appear idiotic. The biblical doctrine of providence results from the theology of those invisible “bands of love.” In the rich anthropomorphic language of Hosea, God cries out in agonies of love: “My heart is overwhelmed, my pity is stirred. I will not give vent to my blazing anger,.. For I am God, not man, the Holy One present among you.”

Biblical compassion surpasses all human boundaries in its kindness and understanding, in its forgiveness and the renewal of life’s good relationships.

 Ho 11:1-4, 8-9

When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. But the more I called them, the more they went from me; they kept sacrificing to the Baals, and offering incense to idols. Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them.

How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my fierce anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.

Gospel: Matthew 10:7-15

Jesus said, “As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.

Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for labourers deserve their food. Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.

#July 13. Friday of Week Fourteen

Hos 14:2ff. Hosea concludes with Israel’s prosperous revival in the promised land. We are asked to ponder the words of his book.

Matthew 10:16ff. Jesus foretells persecution, even from one’s own family. Whoever holds out to the end will escape disaster.

Tears of Joy

Today’s texts are appropriate for Friday, the day when we commemorate the death of Jesus on the cross. We read of tears of agony and persecution as well as of joy and relief. Joseph and Jacob weep over their long separation and final reunion and while Hosea is not explicitly said to weep, his text is packed with such intense emotions that this highly charged prophet must have given vent to tears. The gospel too, while it does not mention tears, implies them as brother hands brother over to death, and children “turn against parents and have them put to death.”

In the book of Hosea, the prophet’s pure and lofty ideals for marriage would not permit divorce, despite the infidelities of the spouse. The covenant model kept the prophet from compromising his ideals; he would not accept life as a jungle; it must be life with justice and peace. Hosea condemns the situation in which “There is no fidelity, no mercy.” Repentance must be sincere, as inferred in chapter 6, where the prophet concludes, “That is why I slew them by the words of my mouth.” But then he evokes God’s compassion, “I will heal their defection, I will love them freely; my wrath is turned away from them. I will be like the dew for Israel..” Because Hosea’s patience bore this abundant fruit, the final editor of the book adds the advice, “Let the one who is wise understand these things; let the one who is prudent know them. Straight are the paths of the Lord, and in them the just shall walk.”

In their meeting (*1), Jacob and Joseph realized that tears of grief and of hope can be turned into tears of joy, for as soon as Joseph saw him, he flung himself on his elderly father’s neck and wept a long time in his arms. So too, when Jesus warns of family hostility and even of betrayal, he advised us to persevere with high hopes and grand ideals. We are not to fight betrayal with betrayal, but with complete trust in God’s ideals of forgiveness and fidelity, and “hold out till the end.” Along the way “you will be given what you are to say.. the Spirit of your Father will be speaking in you.” When this ideal of goodness extends through the entire world only then can humanity’s best hopes be realized, and the Kingdom of God will have come.

 Ho 14:2-9

Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity. Take words with you and return to the Lord; say to him, “Take away all guilt; accept that which is good, and we will offer the fruit of our lips. Assyria shall not save us; we will not ride upon horses; we will say no more, ‘Our God,’ to the work of our hands. In you the orphan finds mercy.”

I will heal their disloyalty; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them. I will be like the dew to Israel; he shall blossom like the lily, he shall strike root like the forests of Lebanon. His shoots shall spread out; his beauty shall be like the olive tree, and his fragrance like that of Lebanon. They shall again live beneath my shadow, they shall flourish as a garden; they shall blossom like the vine, their fragrance shall be like the wine of Lebanon.

O Ephraim, what have I to do with idols? It is I who answer and look after you. I am like an evergreen cypress; your faithfulness comes from me. Those who are wise understand these things; those who are discerning know them. For the ways of the Lord are right, and the upright walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them.

Gospel: Matthew 10:16-23

“See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

#July 14. Saturday of Week Fourteen

Isa 6:1ff. While praying in the temple, Isaiah is called to his great prophetic ministry.

Matthew 10:24ff. Wise maxims – everything will be revealed; the soul is more important than the body.

A Life of Courage

In the tradition of dedicating Saturdays to Mary, the mother of Jesus, we can blend all the crisscrossing ways of life, which converge in the mystery of divine providence.

There is no logical order in the various maxims gathered in the Gospel. In fact, the some of same maxims are quoted in other gospels while giving them a different application. To get their meaning, one must believe firmly in God’s providence that reaches mightily from end to end (Wis 8:1). The world of our lifetime, like that of our ancestors, contains mysteries beyond our human ability to unravel. The Scriptures offer clues and pointers to enable us to understand them in part – and what we find, we must “proclaim from the housetops,” says Jesus. No insight should be neglected or disdained. The smallest part of truth, like a single hair among the thousands on our head or like a single sparrow among the millions across the earth, is precious in God’s sight.

With what a sense of wonder must the old man Jacob have looksed back on his life. He has married his wives in Haran (northern Syria), lived in Israel amid the jealous rivalries of his sons and the sorrow of losing one of them, and is now about to die in Egypt. God’s providence has led him along the way and will provide for his bones to be buried back in the promised land, in the ancestral plot once purchased by grandfather Abraham. Egypt, then, was just one stage along the journey of a long life, lived in the mysterious way of God’s providence. So many moments of Jacob’s life seem to clash with the promises made to his father Abraham and then to himself. Yet his strange, paradoxical life ends up triumphantly, for the hand of God was always with him.

The same mystery of divine providence is seen in the prophet Isaiah, the master stylist who can find a phrase that remains forever in our memory. Perhaps no prophet is more quotable, more universally applicable than Isaiah. He has been called the fifth evangelist, for his words fit so well into the story of Jesus. Each day through the world we sing the Isaian words at the liturgy: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts.” In today’s reading he highlights the contrast between two kings, Uzziah and Yahweh. While Uzziah died of leprosy, confined to the dark inner rooms of the palace, Yahweh’s glory streams across the universe. Isaiah saw the Lord within the Holy of Holies, “seated on a high and lofty throne” between the seraphim. While another might feel doomed by this, for “who can see God and live?” (Exod 33:20), Isaiah goes to meet the challenge, “Here I am; send me.”

Only by such sturdy faith can we reach and remain true to the marvellous ways of providence. These converge on Mary, the woman of faith in the gospels, the virgin who paradoxically gives birth to the Saviour, the silent person of prayer by the cross and in the upper room who becomes the mother of the church.

 Isaiah 6:1-8

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke.

And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.”

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”

Gospel: Matthew 10:24-33

“A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!

“So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

“Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.

#July 16. Monday of Week Fifteen

(option: Our Lady of Mount Carmel)

Isa 1:10ff. The temple liturgy is unacceptable to God, because of the ongoing oppression of the poor.

Matthew 10:34ff. In his missionary discourse, Jesus foresees division within families about the gospel.

Peace and Conflict

Beginning today, the readings from Exodus lead up to the theophany on Mount Sinai (chap. 19), followed by the covenant guidelines (chaps. 20-23), and its solemn ratification (chap. 24). Isaiah represents a supreme expression of the protests that Israel’s prophets raised against injustice. Today’s Gospel text is the conclusion one of Jesus’ major sermons, the missionary discourse, for those he sends to continue his work in the world. We are reminded, implicitly by Exodus and Isaiah, explicitly in the gospel, that following the will of God can be hard, even disruptive of peace between people. Jesus sums it up very dramatically, “My mission is to spread, not peace, but division.” The Greek text of Matthew reads even more grimly, “not peace but the sword”; Luke blunted this expression by changing “sword” to “division” (Luke 12:51).

The Scriptures state the inevitability of suffering and division. We may remember Simeon’s “blessing” and words to Mary as she held the infant Jesus in her arms: “This child is destined to be the downfall and the rise of many in Israel, a sign that will be opposed” (Luke 2:34). The sword of division is raised for nationalistic motives in the Book of Exodus (*1), by social injustice in the prophecy of Isaiah, by family disputes according to Jesus’ words .

The opening chapter of Exodus records how a new king who “did not know Joseph” came to power in Egypt. Archaeologists and historians have revealed the enormous political and social upheaval that underly this sentence. A native Egyptian dynasty had finally driven out the old and hated Asiatic (Hyksos) dynasty from Egypt, and in the backlash of fear and hatred towards all Asiatics, the Israelites were reduced to slave labour. God’s people were oppressed because of racial bias and nationalistic envy.

Isaiah witnesses to a new type of oppression of the Israelites, this time not by Egyptians but by their fellow-Jews. The religious scene in Isaiah’s time seemed so perfectly observant that one could easily have overlooked the injustices and suffering in homes and places of employment. Yet God’s anger blazes out in the words of the prophet: “Your new moons and festivals I detest; they weigh me down, I tire of the load.. Though you pray the more, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood.”

The “hands full of blood” refer to a judge’s “Guilty” verdict in a lawcourt. But the divine judge gives another chance; instead of sentencing the guilty party to death, Israel is granted a reprieve, provided that they make justice their aim, redress the wronged, hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow. Unless their religion turns towards social justice, God will “turn my hand against you, and refine your dross in the furnace” (Isa 1:25). In Isaiah’s view, what God desires is peace with justice, compassion and human dignity. If needs be, fire will engulf the guilty party and burn away the dross.

In the gospel the problems come from the family circle. Again it is not peace at any price, but peace with a sincere resolve to follow Jesus. If the sword strikes within family relationships, it is not being wielded for personal ambition but for the sake of conscience. However, the sword never brings a clear moral solution, especially amid social, racial or family disputes. We are summoned to be sincere and strong, to be willing to suffer and bear the cross, to be humble and lowly, to be men and women of trust in Jesus.

 Isaiah 1:10-17

Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom! Listen to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah! What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats.

When you come to appear before me, who asked this from your hand? Trample my courts no more; bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and calling of convocation – I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity. Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them. When you stretch ot your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.

Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.

Gospel: Matthew 10:34-11:1

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up he cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple – truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”

#July 17. Tuesday of Week Fifteen

Isa 7:1ff. During a serious national crisis the prophet realizes that only one solution is morally possible, deeper faith in God.

Matthew 11:20ff. An easier judgment will be passed on Sodom than on the Galilean cities where Jesus preached and worked miracles.

Faith and Miracles

The gospel puts in question the purpose of miracles. Both Chorazin and Capernaum witness many miracles, yet the people in those cities at the northwest corner of the Lake of Galilee remained unconvinced by the message of Jesus and he reproaches them with their failure to reform. His miracles were meant to lead to a reformation of lives, turning aside from sinful ways, and showing new concern for the poor and the sick. They were less a display of power than of tender solicitude for people in need, an indicator of Jesus’ bond with humanity. Miracles were not intended to catapult him into prominence but to show God’s will for us all to form a happy, healthy family.

Moses, whose birth and youth are described (*1), reappears before Pharaoh years later as a miracle worker who invokes the ten plagues (Exod chaps. 7-12), a section that is passed over in the liturgy. Given this tradition about Moses’ miraculous power, it is notable that he does not use this for his own self-promotion but had to flee for his life into the wilderness of Sinai. At his birth, Moses’ mother and sister had to resort to all kinds of ingenuity to save the infant’s life, for God did not miraculously intervene.

In his youth, Moses was prepared for his later vocation of bringing the slave people Israel out of their slavery. Already sensitive to any oppression or mistreatment of others, he could not stand by, uninvolved, on seeing an Egyptian striking a Hebrew. Nor could he tolerate the sight of a Hebrew man being beaten by another, but asked the culprit, ‘Why are you striking your brother?’ A passion for justice burned already in the young Moses, preparing him for his role as liberator in later years.

Today’s reading from Isaiah, ends with a maxim, simple and true, yet overwhelming in all its implications: “Unless your faith is firm, you will not be confirmed.” This is leading up to a dramatic challenge for King Ahaz to ask for any kind of sign he wants; and the Immanuel prophecy follows (7:14). Only by faith can people have the strength to remain true to their conscience, trusting in God’s effective care of their lives. In this context of faith, as Jesus was to declare, miracles can be worked; but without this faith miracles only harden the heart to find other excuses for not doing what we ought to do.

With his kingdom under invasion, King Ahaz was truly in serious trouble. The hostile powers were intending to replace his dynasty and put another family on the throne. At that precise moment Ahaz had no son to succeed him, for he had sacrificed his only infant son to pagan gods (2 Kings 16:3) and his army could to defeat the invaders. Isaiah urged a moral solution: to do nothing but to put his trust in the Lord. But Ahaz had decided to barter the independence of his people and make the Kingdom of Judah a vassal of Assyria. This would draw them into the international scene of intrigue, warfare and destruction. God would save them only if king and people take the risk of putting their faith in him. Isaiah said to the king, “Be calm and tranquil; do not fear nor lose courage.” This disposition of heart was essential for miracles to happen.

 Isaiah 7:1-9

In the days of Ahaz son of Jotham son of Uzziah, king of Judah, King Rezin of Aram and King Pekah son of Remaliah of Israel went up to attack Jerusalem, but could not mount an attack against it. When the house of David heard that Aram had allied itself with Ephraim, the heart of Ahaz and the heart of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind.

Then the Lord said to Isaiah, Go out to meet Ahaz, you and your son Shear-jashub, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool on the highway to the Fuller’s Field, and say to him, Take heed, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint because of these two smoldering stumps of firebrands, because of the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram and the son of Remaliah.

Because Aram – with Ephraim and the son of Remaliah – has plotted evil against you, saying, ‘Let us go up against Judah and cut off Jerusalem and conquer it for ourselves and make the son of Tabeel king in it;’ therefore thus says the Lord God: It shall not stand, and it shall not come to pass. For the head of Aram is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is Rezin. (Within sixty-five years Ephraim will be shattered, no longer a people.) The head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is the son of Remaliah. If you do not stand firm in faith, you shall not stand at all.

Gospel: Matthew 11:20-24

Then he began to reproach the cities in which most of his deeds of power had been done, because they did not repent.

“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, on the day of judgment it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will be brought down to Hades. For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that on the day of judgment it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom than for you.”

#July 18. Wednesday of Week Fifteen

Isa 10:5ff. Assyria was at first instrumental in punishing Israel but later was discarded for interfering with God’s plans for his people.

Matthew 11:25ff. Jesus praises his heavenly Father for revealing the mystery of salvation to those who become as simple as children.

Instruments of God

Today’s gospel lets us eavesdrop on a secret moment of revelation, for we are not simply told that Jesus stole away to spend time in prayer; we get a rare opportunity to hear the actual words of his prayer. In Exodus we watch in awe as Moses approaches the burning bush in reverential fear, and hear the revelation that was to create a new people, for the world’s salvation. Centuries later, Isaiah interacts with a different moment in the history of Israel, and again we glimpse the mysterious plans of God.

The Isaiah text evokes the mammoth military machine of ancient Assyria, whose kings ruled an empire that lasted three hundred years, and at its peak extended from modern Iran through Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Israel to the borders of Egypt. Matthew speaks of a power very different from such military might, where Jesus prays: “Father, Lord of heaven and earth, to you I offer praise; for what you have hidden from the learned and the clever you have revealed to the merest children.”

This ability is known by children and is learned from one who is “the Son.” As Son, Jesus knows only what his Father reveals within him; and he is commissioned to share this great revelation with other “children,” who are continuously begotten by God through faith. What is the mystery, known only by children, and especially by the most beloved of them, the Son who is Jesus? To know oneself as child is to realize our total dependence, our state of being begotten and receptive of life. At the deepest source of our life, God our Father dwells within us; here we are in touch with our most profound self, our secret mission, our heavenly name, written in the book of life (Luke 10:20).

Such a word was spoken to Moses from the burning bush. Because this call reached into his deepest self, he could only respond, “Here I am.” With absolute obedience and total spontaneity, he seeks to know the name and nature of God. His request is answered, “I am the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.” Later in the same chapter God reveals his most sacred name of Yahweh – the One who is always there with you.

But parents discipline the child whom they love (Prov 3:12). Assyria became a rod of God’s anger, to punish, correct and restore Israel to just and moral living. Yet when Assyria boasts, “By my own power I have done it,” and interferes with God’s plans, this “rod” will be tossed away. Isaiah asks, “Will the axe boast against one who hews with it? .. As if a rod could wield the one who lifts it..” The lesson is to remain humble and open as a child to God’s life-giving direction. Then we can achieve creative and life-giving results, such as those accomplished by Moses, Isaiah and Jesus.

 Isaiah 10:5-7, 13-16

Ah, Assyria, the rod of my anger – the club in their hands is my fury! Against a godless nation I send him, and against the people of my wrath I command him, to take spoil and seize plunder, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets.

But this is not what he intends, nor does he have this in mind; but it is in his heart to destroy, and to cut off nations not a few. For he says: “By the strength of my hand I have done it, and by my wisdom, for I have understanding; I have removed the boundaries of peoples, and have plundered their treasures; like a bull I have brought down those who sat on thrones. My hand has found, like a nest, the wealth of the peoples; and as one gathers eggs that have been forsaken, so I have gathered all the earth; and there was none that moved a wing, or opened its mouth, or chirped.”

Shall the ax vaunt itself over the one who wields it, or the saw magnify itself against the one who handles it? As if a rod should raise the one who lifts it up, or as if a staff should lift the one who is not wood! Therefore the Sovereign, the Lord of hosts, will send wasting sickness among his stout warriors, and under his glory a burning will be kindled, like the burning of fire.

Gospel: Matthew 11:25-27

At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.

All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

#July 19. Thursday of Week Fifteen

Isa 26:7ff. A prayer in the night, awaiting the dawn of God’s justice, even for the dead who lie in the dust.

Matthew 11:28ff. Come to me, all you who are weary. Take my yoke on you and you will find rest.

The Ever-Present One

The long night is coming to an end. The yearning through the darkness is almost over and Israel is about to be liberated from slavery. We not only learn to appreciate God’s presence with us in our suffering, but come to realize that salvation must be shared before it can be accomplished.

We sense a transition from anguish and desolation to new life and freedom in the Exodus text. Moses is commissioned to assemble the elders of Israel and tell them of God’s concern about how they were enslaved in Egypt. Israel will not simply be liberated, but the living God will be always with them; for the divine name, Yahweh, derived from the Hebrew verb “to be”, suggests will be continuously with his people. It has been noted that, when spoken by God, the title “Yahweh” is a promise (“I will be always there”), but when spoken by Israel or ourselves, it is a prayer (“Please be there at all times with us”).

Jesus reveals this same aspect of God in one of the classic gospel texts which ought to be memorized. By his intimate relationship with us, he makes our yoke easy and our burden light. He is conscious that life can be weary and burdensome, yet does not make any false, easy promises. The yoke will remain, as will the burden, but with his help they become easy and light. The difference is made by the presence of Jesus who is “gentle and humble of heart.” The God who is with us always, promising ultimate peace at the end, is a gentle and loving Lord.

 Isaiah 26:7-9, 12, 16-19

The way of the righteous is level; O Just One, you make smooth the path of the righteous. In the path of your judgments, O Lord, we wait for you; your name and your renown are the soul’s desire. My soul yearns for you in the night, my spirit within me earnestly seeks you. For when your judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness.

O Lord, you will ordain peace for us, for indeed, all that we have done, you have done for us. O Lord, in distress they sought you, they poured out a prayer when your chastening was on them. Like a woman with child, who writhes and cries out in her pangs when she is near her time, so were we because of you, O Lord; we were with child, we writhed, but we gave birth only to wind. We have won no victories on earth, and no one is born to inhabit the world.

Your dead shall live, their corpses shall rise. O dwellers in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a radiant dew, and the earth will give birth to those long dead.

Gospel: Matthew 11:28-30

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

#July 20. Friday of Week Fifteen

Isa 38:1ff. King Hezekiah is cured of a serious sickness; as a sign of full health God turns the sun’s rays backward.

Matthew 12:1ff. Jesus defends his disciples for eating on the Sabbath, for he is Lord of the Sabbath; and God desires mercy more than sacrifice.

Celebrating Life

Ther are various ways of responding to God’s law. Exodus provides a careful set of rules for the celebration of Passover (*1), while Isaiah and Matthew give examples of adapting the law to meet the circumstances. In fact, Exodus 12 contains two sets of regulations for Passover. Those in today’s liturgy are a later amplification of the earlier, less elaborate rendition found in verses 21-28. If we look at the origins of the liturgy, we will appreciate better Jesus’ reasons for not following the law about work on the Sabbath, as found in the Ten Commandments.

The Passover was a feast to keep alive the memory of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt and the protection of its first-born sons. After they settled in Canaan, the feast took on agricultural details, to include deliverance from drought and famine and the bestowal of new life through an abundant barley harvest. Passover, therefore, celebrated life – both as saved from oppression, and as the Lord’s gift from the fertile earth. In the Passover ritual, blood had an important role; it was splashed on the doors of each Israelite home and rubbed on the forehead of each worshipper. This blood symbolized the bond of life uniting the people, as well as between them and God. This symbolism of blood is stated succinctly in the Book of Leviticus (Lev 17:11).

In the days of Jesus the religious leaders put more importance on the ritual of the Passover than on its origin and meaning, which led to a head-on clash that arose quite spontaneously. As Jesus and his hungry disciples walked through the fields on a Sabbath day, the disciples began to pull off the heads of grain and eat them. This was not stealing, as the grain was standing free and unfenced, and farmers were encouraged to leave some grains on the edge for the poor (Lev 19:9); but as it seemed to violate the traditional rules for keeping the Sabbath, some leaders complained about it.

It is interesting to note that Jesus himself did not act against the traditions, for in general he was careful to keep the rules. However, he countered the objectors on their own grounds by citing biblical passages about David and referring to the work of priests on temple duty. The Scriptures, he says, do not endorse the strict interpretation made by the Pharisees. For if God “wants mercy, not sacrifice”, then the Sabbath is better celebrated by affirming life than by ritual; indeed, life gives ritual its true meaning. The people in the temple, like David or the priests, are more important than the temple itself, so the disciples could act as they did for the sake of life. Since Jesus interpreted the Sabbath regulations so freely, then the later church concluded that he was “Lord of the Sabbath.” Similarly, the same early church changed the Sabbath celebration from Saturday to Sunday.

God’s concern for life shows up again in the reading from Isaiah. God wonderfully heals King Hezekiah, whose death had already been predicted, and proves that the king will again go to the temple for prayer by turning back the shadow of the sun. Perhaps we can say that God breaks his own laws in order to celebrate life. We must always believe that deeper than all law is his loving solicitude for life, which must not be unjustly restricted in its exercise. Whether we live or die, or are healthy or sickly, God wants the goodness of life to be manifest in us, and eventually with eternal life in the heavenly Sabbath.

 Isaiah 38:1-6, 21-22,

In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz came to him, and said to him, “Thus says the Lord: Set your house in order, for you shall die; you shall not recover.” Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall, and prayed to the Lord: “Remember now, O Lord, I implore you, how I have walked before you in faithfulness with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.

Then the word of the Lord came to Isaiah: “Go and say to Hezekiah, Thus says the Lord, the God of your ancestor David: I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; I will add fifteen years to your life. I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria, and defend this city.

Now Isaiah had said, “Let them take a lump of figs, and apply it to the boil, so that he may recover.” Hezekiah also had said, “What is the sign that I shall go up to the house of the Lord?”Gospel: Matthew 12:1-8At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath; his disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. When the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him or his companions to eat, but only for the priests. Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple break the Sabbath and yet are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”

#July 21. Saturday of Week Fifteen

Micah 2:1ff. Wicked Israelites covet and steal ancestral lands; therefore, their own land will be portioned out to their captors.

Matthew 12:14ff. While the Pharisees plot to kill him, Jesus continues to cure the sick, fulfilling the Isaian prophecy about God’s silent servant.

People of Mixed Ancestry

Each of these responses, towards gentiles (foreigners) or natives (fellow-Israelites) is reflected in our own lives. These texts invite us to learn wisdom. Despite the stringent separation of the chosen people from the non-chosen Egyptians, foreigners continue to have a role in God’s plans for his people. First there is an interesting phrase about the exodus of Israel out of Egypt (*1) . It states that a crowd of “mixed ancestry” also went up with them. Israel was not to be identified by purity of racial stock nor by prestige of origin. The presence of foreigners within them ensures the portrayal of Israel as a poor, oppressed people. It was “the smallest of all nations” that God chose, to manifest his love and fidelity (Deut 7:7).

If we in turn wish the privilege of being God’s elect people, called to be his very own, then we need to manifest kindliness, compassion and a healthy humility. Attitudes such as these lead to prayer for, like Israel, we are called to commemorate “a night to vigil for the Lord,” keeping watch and trusting in him.

The Israelites respond in quite another way in Micah . Instead of praying at night, they now “work out evil on their couches” coveting fields and seizing them, to cheat people of their inheritance. These land-hungry people are reversing the purpose and goal of their exodus. God intended the ex-slaves to live in a homeland where each family passed on its property from one generation to the next (Lev 25:3-28). But many were reducing their fellowmen again to slavery. Their punishment will come when gentiles will seize all the land for themselves. As in other prophecies, we note how foreigners have a role in God’s plans.

Matthew quotes Isaiah about the Suffering Servant. The apostolate of Jesus is well described by this passage, written during the Babylonian exile. Its message was rejected in his own day, as its attitude towards the gentiles seemed too mild, even hopeful for their salvation. Jesus is described as.. “my servant whom I have chosen, my loved one in whom I delight.. He will not contend nor cry out.. The bruised reed he will not crush.. In his name the gentiles will find hope.” If we disregard our neighbour in time of sickness and trouble, we do not deserve the name of Christian, for, like Jesus we are called to cure and heal, quietly, without ostentation. We cannot disregard the outsider without being called to account by God.

As we open our hearts to people of mixed ancestry, according to the example of Jesus, we will be apostles of hope, proclaiming hope, not just for others but also for ourselves. In many ways, others can teach us how to be God’s chosen people.

 Micah 2:1-5

Alas for those who devise wickedness and evil deeds on their beds! When the morning dawns, they perform it, because it is in their power. They covet fields, and seize them; houses, and take them away; they oppress householder and house, people and their inheritance.

Therefore thus says the Lord: Now, I am devising against this family an evil from which you cannot remove your necks; and you shall not walk haughtily, for it will be an evil time. On that day they shall take up a taunt song against you, and wail with bitter lamentation, and say, “We are utterly ruined; the Lord alters the inheritance of my people; how he removes it from me! Among our captors he parcels out our fields.” Therefore you will have no one to cast the line by lot in the assembly of the Lord.

Gospel: Matthew 12:14-21

The Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.

When Jesus became aware of this, he departed. Many crowds followed him, and he cured all of them, and he ordered them not to make him known. This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah: “Here is my servant, whom I have chosen, my beloved, with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. He will not wrangle or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets. He will not break a bruised reed or quench a smodering wick until he brings justice to victory. And in his name the Gentiles will hope.”

#July 23. Monday of Week Sixteen

Mic 6:1ff. The prophet’s famous summary of the Torah on walking humbly with your God.

Matthew 10:38ff. The Ninevites and the foreign queen responded better than did his own people to Jesus.

Trust and Anxiety

How few of us are willing to really trust in God. We are like the Israelites, who after their release from Egypt were still fearful that God would abandon them in the desert. Unless they could see immediate solutions that did away with all risk, the people complained and put this bitter question to Moses: “Were there no burial places in Egypt that you had to bring us out here to die in the desert?” Unless people are determined not to endure slavery under any form, they will not take the risks of faith.

We instinctively know that risks are an ingredient in life. Unless spouses take the risk of commitment “for better or for worse” sooner or later will fail in fidelity to one another. At crucial times in life, we must summon our faith that God does care when his people are in trouble. The Bible challenges us to sustain that spirit of hopeful faith, even if the fulfillment of our hope is long delayed.

God pleads with his people through the prophet Micah: “What have I done to you, or how have I wearied you? Answer me!” – lines that inspire the poignant or “Reproaches” of the Good Friday liturgy. After the unveiling of the cross, the choir sings: “My people, what have I done to you? How have I offended you? Answer me. For forty years I led you safely through the desert. I fed you with manna from heaven,.. But you led your Saviour to the cross and gave me vinegar to drink.”

Micah, also advises us on the answer to this reproach. Negatively, he states what God does not want: Not holocausts, nor thousands of sacrificial lambs – for none of these externals can replace the interior attitudes of the soul. Then, positively, he declares what the Lord really require of us: “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”

With these priorities in his heart, how disappointed Jesus was when some demanded to see miracles, instead of listening to his words about our relationship with God. He had already shown an ministry of kindness and concern, but these people wanted more than the cure of a poor cripple or the blessed wisdom of being poor in spirit or pure of heart. He then reminds them about Jonah and how many Ninevites were converted by his preaching; and about the Queen of the South’s admiration for the wisdom of Solomon. These foreigners, even the worst of them, the Ninevites, repented and were converted – “and you have a greater than Solomon here.”

Unless we take the risk of being generous towards others, no miracle will prove anything to us. Then too, Jesus points to the sign of Jonah, “three days and three nights in the belly of the whale.” We too must risk going the depths and letting ourselves be as it were “swallowed up” by the will of God and taken to wherever God brings us, as happened to Jonah. Then we will experience the sweet reward of faith, after long fidelity.

 Micah 6:1-4, 6-8

Hear what the Lord says: ‘Rise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice.’ Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the Lord, and you enduring foundations of the earth; for the Lord has a controversy with his people, and he will contend with Israel.

“O my people, what have I done to you? In what have I wearied you? Answer me! For I brought you up from the land of Egypt, and redeemed you from the house of slavery; and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.”

“With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”

He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Gospel: Matthew 12:38-42

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to him, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth. The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here! The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and see, something greater than Solomon is here!

#July 24. Tuesday of Week Sixteen

Mic 7:14ff. Israel prays for a renewal of the time of Moses and its wonderful signs, for God’s fidelity in renewing the covenant.

Matthew 12:46ff. Jesus extended his hand towards the crowd and said: Behold my brother and sister and mother- whoever does the will of my heavenly Father.

The Wider Family Circle

The Exodus text and the final prayer in Micah both tell of Israel’s liberation and journey towards the promised land; and each stresses Israel’s separateness from all other nations. Matthew, on the contrary, sees Jesus forming a new family of outsiders, based on “whoever does the will of my Father.” This qualification enables Christianity to form a chosen people from among all nations and races, with no exclusivity.

The Old Testament often seems restrictive and biased, yet we remember that unless we first rally together in a strong family bond, we will have little to share with others. Only a loving family can open its doors freely to neighbours and outsiders. Wisely, the Church has kept both Testaments, the Old and the New, to form its one Bible of God’s inspired word. The Hebrew Scriptures insist that God’s chosen people should exclude all oppression. Among them, all symbols of pride and greed and dominance must be cast to the bottom of the sea, as they sang “praise to the Lord, who has triumphed gloriously;

horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.”

The rich meaning of this symbolism was remembered in Israel. In today’s reading God is trusted to “cast into the depths of the sea all our sins” and to “show faithfulness to Jacob, and grace to Abraham.” This prayer, tacked on to Micah’s prophecy, was composed after Israel returned from the Babylonian exile, with the people still reeling from this traumatic event. They beg for a renewal of the days of Moses, and for the wonderful signs God showed to their ancestors. But in this period of regrouping they felt it necessary to exclude all outsiders. Verses 16 and 17, omitted from today’s reading, are harsh towards the foreigners; for Israel first had to recover its identity in order to later open its doors and have something worthwhile to share.

Jesus opened the doors, heroically and at great cost even to his mother Mary. When his mother and brothers were seeking to speak with him, Jesus seems to pass them by. Extending his hands to the circle of his disciples, he said, “These are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is brother and sister and mother to me.”

 Micah 7:14-15, 18-20

Shepherd your people with your staff, the flock that belongs to you, which lives alone in a forest in the midst of a garden land; let them feed in Bashan and Gilead as in the days of old. As in the days when you came out of the land of Egypt, show us marvellous things.

Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of your possession? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in showing clemency. He will again have compassion upon us; he will tread our iniquities under foot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. You will show faithfulness to Jacob and unswerving loyalty to Abraham, as you have sworn to our ancestors from the days of old.

Gospel: Matthew 12:46-50

While he was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brothers were standing outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, “Look, your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.” But to the one who had told him this, Jesus replied, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

#July 25. Wednesday of Week Sixteen

Jer 1:1ff. Jeremiah is called from his mother’s womb for God’s special assignment to the gentiles.

Matthew 13:1ff. The parable of the sower in which the crop depends not only on the quality of the seed but also on the condition of the soil.

Perseverance brings its Reward

Today we begin reading from Jeremiah, one of the most influential prophets, whose impact on the popular piety of Israel was immense. The fame of Jeremiah probably explains why the book is textually so mixed up, between the Hebrew and its early Greek translation. A book that is in such popular use among the ordinary people will tend to be adapted and expanded.

Today we also start a series of parables from Matthew’s gospel. A parable is a story which ends with a single punch-line that emerges naturally from the story yet usually takes the reader somewhat by surprise by its application. As we compare the same parable in different gospels, we see how each evangelist felt free to adapt these enigmatic stories.

As we compare Exodus with the gospel, we observe two different ways in which God deals with his people: in Exodus, miraculously; in Matthew, naturally, by the farmer’s hard work. Comparing Exodus and Jeremiah, we see also two different types of grumbling and complaints. After leaving Egypt, the people begin to murmur, first about the bitter water (15:24) and now about the scarcity of meat and bread. Clearly they preferred slavery with plenty to eat, rather than freedom and human dignity without these material benefits. God responded with a miracle that was not just for the benefit of the grumblers but for all future generations of his people, extending to ourselves. The Book of Wisdom looked on the manna as symbolic of all God’s wonderful gifts:.. You nourished your people with food of angels and furnished them bread from heaven, ready at hand, untoiled-for, endowed with all delights and conforming to every taste.. (Wis 16:20-21).

The parable of the sower insists on another side of God’s dealings with us. Jesus describes the normal growth of wheat or barley. The system of fanning is quite different from ours but it would have been familiar to his listeners. Jesus draws attention to the certainty of the harvest, yielding “grain a hundred- or sixty- or thirty-fold.” This harvest excludes nobody from the kingdom: whether with few or with many talents, all have a part. Not only does the natural process of sowing, growth and harvesting contrast with the sudden appearance of the quail and manna, but the parable insists on the virtue of waiting.

The Israelites in the desert were demanding instant paradise and refused to follow the slow trek through the desert with its austerities and deprivations. What a contrast we see in the prophet Jeremiah, a man of strong and humble faith, tested in all sorts of ways and still persevering in his mission. While the grumbling in the desert grew out of a selfish disposition, Jeremiah’s complaints came from the strength of his faith in God’s providential care.

When towards the end of his career Jeremiah wrote the story of his vocation, he attributes everything to God’s care for him, even before his birth. Surrendering to providence, Jeremiah glimpsed that he had been “a prophet to the nations,” a hope he passed on to future generations, till it was fulfilled in Christ (Gal 1:15). Whether in Jeremiah or in ourselves, every God-directed hope leads to the harvest – whether of a hundred- or sixty- or thirty-fold. Small or large, all will have been worthwhile.

 Jeremiah 1:1, 4-10

The words of Jeremiah son of Hilkiah, of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin. Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
Then I said, “Ah, Lord God!
Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.”
But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you,
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.”

Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, “Now I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”

Gospel: Matthew 13:1-9

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!”

#July 26. Thursday of Week Sixteen

Sir 44:1, 10-15. .

Matthew 13:19ff. Jesus speaks to the people by riddle and parable but plainly to his disciples. Blessed are your eyes and ears.

Privileged Moments

Each of us has our personal mentors and our privileged moments of revelation. Like old Sirach we need to remember the heroes of our youth, and also those moment of exceptional grace and significance that God has granted to us.

We turn to Jesus to revive our best memories and finest inspirations from the days of our youth. If we remember our fundamental call, our first inspiration, our first enthusiasm for life, then God’s grace can develop within us. In such a context we can re-read the puzzling words of Jesus: “To the one who has, more will be given until that one grows rich; the one who has not, will lose what little he or she has.”

 Sir 44:1, 10-15.

Let us now sing the praises of famous men,
our ancestors in their generations.”

But these also were godly men,
whose righteous deeds have not been forgotten;”

their wealth will remain with their descendants,
and their inheritance with their children’s children.”

Their descendants stand by the covenants;
their children also, for their sake.”

Their offspring will continue forever,
and their glory will never be blotted out.”

Their bodies are buried in peace,
but their name lives on generation after generation.”

The assembly declares their wisdom,
and the congregation proclaims their praise.”

 

Gospel: Matthew 13:16-17 ??

Jesus said to his disciples “Blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.

#July 27. Friday of Week Sixteen

Jer 3:14ff. The Ark of the Covenant will be forgotten, Israel and Judah will be united and all nations will assemble at Jerusalem.

Matthew 13:18ff. Jesus offers a detailed explanation of the parable of the sower.

Fundamentals of Religion

No code can be more fundamental than the Ten Commandments. The quality of life is explained by the soil and the environment, and by such essential virtues as perseverance, fidelity and thoughtfulness, a scale of values that puts money and worldly things in a lower place. Then Jeremiah calls for strong family spirit that unites people in sincerity, in God.

These basic virtues are so ingrained in human nature that it hardly seems necessary to make them the object of a new, stupendous revelation on Mount Sinai, wrapped in fire, clouds and earthquakes, as described in yesterday’s reading from Exodus 19. Almost every legal code throughout the world condemns stealing, killing, adultery and blasphemy. In fact, more honour seems to be accorded parents and ancestors in some eastern cultures where Christianity is not the dominant religion. Probably too, the explanation of the parable of the sower comes from the ancient wisdom of farmers and others close to the soil.

It is a healthy exercise to realize the earthy roots and universal appeal of biblical religion, just as salubrious as physical exercise and manual labour. Biblical religion does not centre on visions and miracles, or secret rules and mystifying ceremonies. As we read earlier from Micah, we must “do justice and love goodness, and walk humbly with your God” (Mic 6:8). Isaiah’s call is just as down to earth, “Cease doing evil; learn to do good. Make justice your aim; redress the wronged, hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow” (Isa 1:16).

Any religious system that denies common sense or requires superhuman heroism on a daily basis runs counter to a basic quality of biblical religion. Long before the Word of God became incarnate in the person of Jesus, God’s word had implanted itself in the earthly setting and human history of the people Israel. They were strongly knit together and possessed an exceptionally firm tribal loyalty. This tribal bond dictated many of the customs and practices of the people, as we find in such chapters as Leviticus 25, Numbers 35 and Deuteronomy 24-25, detailing the obligations of kinship. They hope for an eventual reunion of all Israel and Judah, under a single shepherd endowed with the human virtues of prudence and wisdom.

But alongside the earthy setting of biblical religion, no world religion stresses the mercy of God as much as the Bible; no set of commandments looks after resident aliens as the Bible does. If it foresees a reunion of Israel and Judah, it also reaches out to include other nations. The parables of Jesus challenge us to be generous in sharing our possessions. There is an overall generosity about the Bible which makes Israel the centre of God’s hopes for the world.

 Jeremiah 3:14-17

Return, O faithless children, says the Lord, for I am your master; I will take you, one from a city and two from a family, and I will bring you to Zion. I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding. And when you have multiplied and increased in the land, in those days, says the Lord, they shall no longer say, “The Ark of the Covenant of the Lord.” It shall not come to mind, or be remembered, or missed; nor shall another one be made.

At that time Jerusalem shall be called the throne of the Lord, and all nations shall gather to it, to the presence of the Lord in Jerusalem, and they shall no longer stubbornly follow their own evil will.

Gospel: Matthew 13:18-23

“Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

#July 28. Saturday of Week Sixteen

Jer 7:1ff. Words and ceremonies, no matter how sacred and how often repeated, can never free us of our obligations to social justice.

Matthew 13:24ff. The parable about wheat and weeds growing together. At harvest the weeds will be burned and the wheat will be gathered in the barn.

Covenant and Justice

Today, in Exodus we see human life ritually dedicated to God by a covenant sacrifice. Then in true prophetic style Jeremiah’s temple sermon,, insists that ritual must be balanced by practical morality. Finally the gospel sounds a cautionary note to restrain us in our condemnation of others.

Exodus 24 solemnly concludes the “Book of the Covenant,” the heart of the Mosaic Torah. It was introduced by the magnificent and fearsome theophany in Exodus 19. and by the basic laws, the Ten Commandments (20:1-17), followed by a series of “casuistic laws” (21:1-23:9) on various practical cases. This whole account ends with the ratification of the covenant, in a ceremony symbolising the personal union between God and the people. A little later in the chapter, a sacred meal is added to signify the same result, the peace between God and the people. This symbolism is repeated, with some modification, in each Eucharistic service. Over the chalice the priest repeats Jesus’ words: “This is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant.”

Still, the prophetic reading can correct any ritual excess in our celebrating the covenant. Jeremiah insists that words, no matter how sacred, cannot save and sanctify, unless accompanied by a life of justice and true devotion. As if to mimic the superstitious reliance on ritual, the prophet repeats three times, “The temple of the Lord! The temple of the Lord! The temple of the Lord!” Church ceremony and daily life also ought to complement and reinforce each other. Social injustice, as Jesus repeats in another prophetic occasion, makes God’s house into a “den of thieves” (Matthew 21:13).

Yet today’s gospel advises patience and hope, in face of wrongdoing by others. If weeds are detected in a wheat field and the prophet-servants want to go out and pull them up, the master says, “No! If you pull up the weeds and you might take the wheat along with them.” It is not that God tolerates evil forever, but allows plenty of time for the harvest to be properly brought home.

 Jeremiah 7:1-11

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: Stand in the gate of the Lord’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the Lord, all you people of Judah, you that enter these gates to worship the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your doings, and let me dwell with you in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.”

For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, then I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors forever and ever.

Here you are, trusting in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, “We are safe!” – only to go on doing all these abominations? Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your sight? You know, I too am watching, says the Lord.

Gospel: Matthew 13:24-30

He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.'”

#July 30. 17th Week Monday of Week Seventeen

Jer 13:1ff. Israel was as near to Yahweh as a loincloth to the body. But just as a discarded loincloth rots, the people can rot and become good for nothing.

Matthew 13:31ff. By parables, like those of the mustard seed and yeast, Jesus reveals what has been hidden since the creation of the world.

Despite our Sins, we will receive Mercy

As life moves along, earlier sins seem to meet with their nemesis. Sooner or later the poison works its way through the body so that it sickens, weakens and may even die. Even though God did not immediately punish the people for worshipping the golden calf with such lustful revelry, Moses is told that in due time it would be punished (*1) . One time of reckoning came in the days of Jeremiah; the rotten loincloth was “good for nothing” and must be thrown away . Yet, the story does not end here, for there is another aspect of the mystery of salvation, “hidden since the creation of the world,” to be revealed in the parables of Jesus. If we seek a key word to help explain this message, it may be the twice repeated, “hidden.” Paradoxically, what hides, also reveals. Jeremiah is told: “Take the loincloth you are wearing, and go to the river Parath, there hide it in a cleft of the rock.”

Jesus spoke about matters “hidden since the foundation of the world,” quoting from the opening lines of Psalm 78, “Listen, my people, to my teaching. I will open my mouth in a parable, I will utter mysteries from of old.” This long psalm of seventy-two verses recounts the history of Israel, from the exodus from Egypt to the choice of David as king and Mount Zion as the sacred site of the temple. Through Ps 78, the first reading about Moses and the golden calf becomes a part of God’s eternal mystery of mercy and salvation, hidden since the creation of the world.

Each person, family, nation or race carries the seeds of destruction, as well as the potential for rising to new life day by day (Rom 6:5; Gal 2:19-20). Israel is not the only one to carry the memory of its golden calf and reckless revelry. We all hav a share in Israel’s promise and Israel’s blame. Like Israel we share the privilege and pledge of being the chosen people, intimately united with God. In Jeremiah we find the image of the loincloth to manifest this intimacy. “As the loincloth clings to the loins, so had I made the whole house of Israel cling to me,” says the Lord.

Exodus reminds us more than once that God is faithful to his people even to the thousandth generation. Yet in today’s first reading God says, “I will punish them for their sins.” If we combine Jesus’ parables with this statement, we get a fuller view of the process of purification. Because “Israel,” each of us as God’s chosen people, contains the high potential of the mustard seed, the mystery of good life is also developing within us. For goodness will triumph. The healthy body (God’s mystery of yeast and mustard seed,) will eject the poison (the mystery of sin and the memory of evil deeds). At the end we shall be found cleansed, healed and purified.

 Jeremiah 13:1-11

Thus said the Lord to me, “Go and buy yourself a linen loincloth, and put it on your loins, but do not dip it in water.” So I bought a loincloth according to the word of the Lord, and put it on my loins. And the word of the Lord came to me a second time, saying, “Take the loincloth that you bought and are wearing, and go now to the Euphrates, and hide it there in a cleft of the rock.” So I went, and hid it by the Euphrates, as the Lord commanded me.

And after many days the Lord said to me, “Go now to the Euphrates, and take from there the loincloth that I commanded you to hide there.” Then I went to the Euphrates, and dug, and I took the loincloth from the place where I had hidden it. But now the loincloth was ruined; it was good for nothing.

Then the word of the Lord came to me: Thus says the Lord: Just so I will ruin the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem. This evil people, who refuse to hear my words, who stubbornly follow their own will and have gone after other gods to serve them and worship them, shall be like this loincloth, which is good for nothing. For as the loincloth clings to one’s loins, so I made the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah cling to me, says the Lord, in order that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory. But they would not listen.

Gospel: Matthew 13:31-35

He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”

Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables; without a parable he told them nothing. This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet: “I will open my mouth to speak in parables; I will proclaim what has been hidden from the foundation of the world.”

#July 31. Tuesday of Week Seventeen

(option: St Ignatius of Loyola)

Jer 14:17ff. Jeremiah laments the destruction of his people and begs God not to spurn them and to remember his covenant.

Matthew 13:35ff. Jesus explains the parable of the sower in terms of the end of the world and the final judgment.

The Way of the Covenant

Jeremiah 14:17-22

You shall say to them this word: Let my eyes run down with tears night and day, and let them not cease, for the virgin daughter – my people – is struck down with a crushing blow, with a very grievous wound.

If I go out into the field, look – those killed by the sword! And if I enter the city, look – those sick with famine! For both prophet and priest ply their trade throughout the land, and have no knowledge.

Have you completely rejected Judah? Does our heart loathe Zion? Why have you struck us down so that there is no healing for us? We look for peace, but find no good; for a time of healing, but there is terror instead.

We acknowledge our wickedness, O Lord, the iniquity of our ancestors, for we have sinned against you. Do not spurn us, for your name’s sake; do not dishonour your glorious throne; remember and do not break your covenant with us.

Can any idols of the nations bring rain? Or can the heavens give showers? Is it not you, O Lord our God? We set our hope on you, for it is you who do all this.

Gospel: Matthew 13:36-43

Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen! Dragnet

#August 01. Wednesday of Week Seventeen

(option: St Alphonsus Ligouri)

Jer 15:10ff. The second lament of Jeremiah and the Lord’s reply.

Matthew 13:44ff. Sell all for the sake of the buried treasure and for the priceless pearl.

Ready for Radical Choices?

At crucial transitions in our life, and certainly at the hour of death, we are obliged to exchange all our possessions for the pearl of great price. Then the challenge of Joshua to the Israelites in the drama of covenant renewal at Shechem is leveled at ourselves: Now, therefore, fear the Lord and serve him completely. If you do not wish to serve the Lord, decide today whom you will serve.. As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord (Josh 24:14-15). The same stirring call to total service and absolute loyalty, to selling everything for the “one really valuable pearl,” is made by the prophet Elijah: How long will you straddle the issue? If the Lord is God, follow him; if Baal is god, follow him (1 Kings 18:21).

While today’s gospel clearly stipulates this condition of thorough consecration, the other two readings from Exodus and Jeremiah, reflect various moments in this pure and loyal service of the Lord. Moses is the rugged warrior towards the end of a life of many struggles. After such frequent conversation with the Lord, Moses already has a foretaste of heaven so that “the skin of his face has become radiant.” The peace and strength, compassion and wisdom of God shone from the eyes and countenance of this “man of God.”

Such radiance was too much for the Israelites. They backed away so that Moses had to call to them from a distance and even began to wear a veil over his face. Most of us do not want God too close as this, one who continually calls us to peace and forgiveness with our neighbour, to strength and fidelity with moral principles, to compassion towards those who harm us, day by day. Yet, when important decisions were pending, the people were anxious for God’s guidance. We too are grateful for the saintly people who force us to put our life and its many demands into a healthy perspective wherein we are led to esteem most of all this “one really valuable pearl.”

There comes a time, in seeking this inestimable pearl, when the struggle is not against something obviously evil or immoral, but is caused by the betrayal of friends or feeling abandoned even by God. In those circumstances we are not surrounded by blinding light, like Moses, but plunged into darkness like the prophet Jeremiah. During a bleak stretch of lonely and fruitless years, Jeremiah composed his famous confessions. It seems that he first wrote them in a private prayer-diary and only after his death were they spliced into his completed “book.” Today’s reading is from the second of these confessions. They usually consist of a lament, which brings the tragedy into God’s presence, to be followed by an oracle or answer from God.

Jeremiah even curses the day of his birth, “Woe to me, my mother, that you ever gave me birth.” When God replies, it is not to back down and apologize for piling too much trouble on the back of the prophet. Rather God calls for further repentance, and then speaks words which are among the most difficult in the entire Bible: If you bring forth the precious without the vile, you shall be my mouthpiece. We wonder, just what words of Jeremiah were “vile?” Even his wrestling with God was like Jacob’s wrestling with the angel (Gen 32:24), revealing a person so close to God as to feel the burning heat of his holiness. He may be instructing us that in parting with everything for the sake of the one really valuable thing, the most difficult moment comes in parting with the last of our possessions: our sense of success, our reputation for holiness, the control of our future. That is the keenest pain of a good person, called to be better.

 Jeremiah 15:10, 16-21

Woe is me, my mother, that you ever bore me, a man of strife and contention to the whole land! I have not lent, nor have I borrowed, yet all of them curse me. Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart; for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts.

I did not sit in the company of merrymakers, nor did I rejoice; under the weight of your hand I sat alone, for you had filled me with indignation. Why is my pain unceasing, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed? Truly, you are to me like a deceitful brook, like waters that fail.

Therefore thus says the Lord: If you turn back, I will take you back, and you shall stand before me. If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless, you shall serve as my mouth. It is they who will turn to you, not you who will turn to them. And I will make you to this people a fortified wall of bronze; they will fight against you, but they shall not prevail over you, for I am with you to save you and deliver you, says the Lord. I will deliver you out of the hand of the wicked, and redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless.

Gospel: Matthew 13:44-46

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

#August 02. Thursday of Week Seventeen

Jer 18:1ff. The Lord is a potter, forming Israel anew out of the same clay that had previously turned out poorly.

Matthew 13:47ff. Jesus compares the reign of God to a net that draws good and useless fish from the sea and to a storeroom with new and old objects.

New Beginnings

Today we conclude the Book of Exodus, as important to the Old Testament as are the gospels to the New. We also conclude another of the major sections in Matthew’s gospel, on the reign or kingdom of God (Matthew 11:2–13:53). Oddly enough, the symbolic actions of Jeremiah announce the intention of God, the divine potter, to collapse the clay and start over again in forming Israel. While Exodus and Matthew come to an end, Jeremiah marks an end and a new beginning.

In these readings we find God’s merciful way of starting over again. In Exodus we read of new stages in the journey of God’s people into the future. Matthew’s gospel does not stop with the fearful scene of the final judgment, with the wicked hurled into the fiery furnace. Another final parable is appended about the storeroom full of new things as well as the old.

As we meditate on this final chapter of Exodus, we find that it was composed after Solomon had built the magnificent Jerusalem temple. The details here reflect the dedication ceremony in ch 8 of the First Book of Kings. The history of Israel had advanced many stages from the wilderness days of Moses to the sophisticated and centralized capital of the kingdoms of Judah and Israel in Solomon’s time. Solomon was completing an extraordinary revolution in Israelite life. Chapter forty of Exodus places a stamp of divine approval on the change; it was thoroughly in accord with Moses’ spirit. The cloud by day and the fiery glow by night ratified each step along the way with God’s sacred presence.

Biblical religion always had a forward vision about it. It never consecrated a past golden age but moved onwards towards its messianic age. Along the way it took monumental leaps forward. These changes were required at times by cultural or national crises, like the Philistine threat which was overcome by the unification of the people in a twelve-tribe, one capital, one temple system under David and Solomon. Other changes were required to renew and purify the people, as was the case when Jeremiah proposed the prophetic symbol of the potter: Whenever the object which the potter was making turned out badly in his hand, he tried again, making of the clay another object of whatever sort he pleased.

God is the divine potter and asks, “Can I not do to you, house of Israel, as this potter has done?” There is continuity. The clay is the same and the potter is the same, just as the ark carried memories of Moses. Yet all these transitions are difficult. They can seem as drastic and cruel as the gospel parable of the dragnet with worthwhile fishes and useless ones. In the fierce ordeal, some are hurled into the fiery furnace. Yet, this is not the end of Jesus’ sermon. He adds one final parable – the storeroom from which “the head of the household.. can bring.. the new and the old.”

At all transitional moments, in our personal life as in church or national existence, we need to be courageous to suffer through the change, and clearsighted to recognize the will of God and even his glorious presence in the new stage along the way, safeguarding tradition and genuine continuity with the past.

 Jeremiah 18:1-6

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.

Then the word of the Lord came to me: Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.

Gospel: Matthew 13:47-53

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

“Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.” And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

When Jesus had finished these parables, he left that place.

#August 03. Friday of Week Seventeen

Jer 26:1ff. Jeremiah is almost executed for comparing Jerusalem to the devastated site of Shiloh where the ark was earlier enshrined.

Matthew 13:54ff. The people of Nazareth find Jesus too much to accept. Because of their lack of faith he could work there only a few miracles.

Liturgy and Life

We could reflect on the liturgy and our response to it. Cycle I has a portion from Leviticus, perhaps the most obscure or at least the most boring books for Christians. It seems too irrelevant to be of any value for Church life and worship today. Perhaps for this reason, readings from it are used so seldome in the Church year. Still, in its time Leviticus achieved a marvellous synthesis of culture, practices, secular traditions and religious laws and ritual. It was an evolving book so that Mosaic religion never became stale and ineffective. Only around the year 400 B.C., some eight hundred years after Moses, did this book reach its definitive form. Its last great achievement was to absorb the prophetic preaching of Ezekiel and so to be adapted to the postexilic age, quite different from any previous age in their history. Today’s text briefly alludes to their most sacred of all days, later called simply yoma, “the day” – the Day of Atonement. We read in Leviticus 16 how the ritual combined a formal liturgy in the temple (16:1-19) with the colourful, popular ceremony of driving out into the desert a scapegoat loaded with all the people’s sins, to be hurled over a precipice to Azazel (16:20-28). Popular religiosity was pleased with this, even if not to the perfect satisfaction of a more orthodox theology.

What bothered the prophets far more than this weird consigning of sins to Azazel was the discordance between liturgical and secular life. Jeremiah’s call for justice can be read in an enlarged version in Chap. 7, where the social injustices of daily life are said to contaminate the liturgy. Then the priestly managers of the temple turn against Jeremiah, demanding that he be put to death. But he was not looking for their ritual to be abandoned, only that, in the true spirit of Leviticus, they also defend justice and dignity in everyday life, and lead the prayers in such a way that it encouraged people to care for the poor.

Jesus attempted to do just this. He began his ministry at Nazareth by quoting from Isaiah, “He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives, recovery of sight for the blind and release for prisoners.” It was his response to the Year of Jubilee, discussed in tomorrow’s reading from Leviticus. Yet Jesus encountered stiff resistance arising from envy in his home town, and as they lacked faith in a generous, compassionate God, he could work very few miracles there. Today one too can reflect on our own approach to liturgy and prayer. Does it touch and reflect my daily life, my home and our contemporary world? Can I accept challenge and change, even miraculous interventions, for the sake of the poor and the helpless? Am I envious of, or delighted with, God’s concern for others?

 Jeremiah 26:1-9

At the beginning of the reign of King Jehoiakim son of Josiah of Judah, this word came from the Lord: Thus says the Lord: Stand in the court of the Lord’s house, and speak to all the cities of Judah that come to worship in the house of the Lord; speak to them all the words that I command you; do not hold back a word. It may be that they will listen, all of them, and will turn from their evil way, that I may change my mind about the disaster that I intend to bring on them because of their evil doings.

You shall say to them: Thus says the Lord: If you will not listen to me, to walk in my law that I have set before you, and to heed the words of my servants the prophets whom I send to you urgently – though you have not heeded – then I will make this house like Shiloh, and I will make this city a curse for all the nations of the earth.

The priests and the prophets and all the people heard Jeremiah speaking these words in the house of the Lord. And when Jeremiah had finshed speaking all that the Lord had commanded him to speak to all the people, then the priests and the prophets and all the people laid hold of him, saying, “You shall die! Why have you prophesied in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘This house shall be like Shiloh, and this city shall be desolate, without inhabitant’?” And all the people gathered around Jeremiah in the house of the Lord.

Gospel: Matthew 13:54-58

He came to his hometown and began to teach the people in their synagogue, so that they were astounded and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these deeds of power? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all this?” And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honour except in their own country and in their own house.” And he did not do many deeds of power there, because of their unbelief.

#August 04. Saturday of Week Seventeen

Jer 26:11ff. Jeremiah stands by his threats against Jerusalem and its temple in God’s name. To kill the prophet is to shed innocent blood.

Matthew 14:1ff. In the context of Herod’s confusion of Jesus with John the Baptist, Matthew tells the story of John’s martyrdom.

The secular roots of redemption

Leviticus 25 summarizes the sociological setting of ancient Israel. It states the secular context regulating land and family relationships, and roots these rights and obligations in Israel’s relationship to God. Another passage from this chapter, not cited today, gives the theological basis. Through Moses on Mount Sinai, God says: The land shall not be sold in perpetuity; for the land is mine, and you are immigrants who have become my tenants. Therefore, in every part of the country that you occupy, you must permit the land to be redeemed (Lev 25:23-24).

The religious implications of this are intriguing when we note that in Hebrew the term for “redeem” is go’el. At an early time this term signified the blood-bond and its rights and obligations. Later in Second Isaiah, author of Isaiah 40-55, this secular term is applied to God, who is called our Redeemer on account of his living bond with us. Combining these observations on the origin of the Jubilee Year, we find bonds closer than flesh and blood uniting all Israelites because of their union with God. If anyone violates the go’el relationship, God has been injured and is obliged to come to the rescue of his family member in trouble. We read according to Num 35:16-29 one of the duties of the go’el is to kill the murderer of one’s own kin.

From this we can appreciate the burning indignation of the prophets when an Israelite preyed on another Israelite, forced the sale of family inheritance, overlooked the needs of orphans and widows and turned might into right to impose their own desires. If even priests and temple officials supported such social injustices, then prophets like Jeremiah spoke out in the name of God, the people’s ultimate go’el.

These secular roots of redemption deserve our attention. Theology must return to its biblical origins, which is God’s siding with the poor and defenceless. John the Baptist defended the rights of ordinary people and spoke up in the name of common decency. He died in this cause, protesting at Herod’s elaborate wealth, sensuality, envy, and human respect. His life was whisked away by a dancing girl, put on display by her dissipated step-father. Matthew even records Herod’s confusion between the Baptist and Jesus, whom he tought was John, raised from the dead. In a sense both Jesus and John the Baptist preached for the goals of the Jubilee Year and died in defense of the faithful life-bond between Israel and God.

 Jeremiah 26:11-16, 24

Then the priests and the prophets said to the officials and to all the people, “This man deserves the sentence of death because he has prophesied against this city, as you have heard with your own ears.”

Then Jeremiah spoke to all the officials and all the people, saying, “It is the Lord who sent me to prophesy against this house and this city all the words you have heard. Now therefore amend your ways and your doings, and obey the voice of the Lord your God, and the Lord will change his mind about the disaster that he has pronounced against you. But as for me, here I am in your hands. Do with me as seems good and right to you. Only know for certain that if you put me to death, you will be bringing innocent blood upon yourselves and upon this city and its inhabitants, for in truth the Lord sent me to you to speak all these words in your ears.”

Then the officials and all the people said to the priests and the prophets, “This man does not deserve the sentence of death, for he has spoken to us in the name of the Lord our God.” But the hand of Ahikam son of Shaphan was with Jeremiah so that he as not given over into the hands of the people to be put to death.

Gospel: Matthew 14:1-12

 At that time Herod the ruler heard reports about Jesus; and he said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist; he has been raised from the dead, and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” For Herod had arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because John had been telling him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” Though Herod wanted to put him to death, he feared the crowd, because they regarded him as a prophet.

But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company, and she pleased Herod so much that he promised on oath to grant her whatever she might ask. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.” The king was grieved, yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he commanded it to be given; he sent and had John beheaded in the prison. The head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, who brought it to her mother. His disciples came and took the body and buried it; then they went and told Jesus.

##August 06. Transfiguration of Our Lord

#August 07. Tuesday of Week Eighteen

Jer 30:lff. After the exile the Israelites will be restored in their own land with their own civil and religious leaders.

Matthew 14:22ff. Jesus retires to pray, walks on the water, saves Peter from sinking and cures people who simply touch the tassel of his cloak. {or Matthew 15:1-2, 10-14}

Overcoming Anxiety

Never neglecting his people, God comes to rescue them in a moment of crisis, defending Moses against the envy of Miriam and Aaron. The Israelites are drawn back from the land of exile; and the disciples, adrift on the lake of Galilee in a violent storm, are saved from drowning.

In the first instance the problem is caused by devout people, too easily scandalized by Moses’ marriage with a foreign woman. The second problem came from political forces, the Assyrian invasion of the northern Kingdom of Israel, and the third from natural causes, sudden windstorms sweeping on the Lake of Galilee from the Mediterranean. No circumstance is either too insignificant or too critical for the Lord not to help us.

It is almost consoling that such common frictions as brother-sister envy and a marriage not acceptable to the rest of the family should afflict a person of the stature of Moses. Granted his exceptional career and his intimacy with God, his position as lawgiver and founder of the Israelite nation, one might think him exempt from the normal problems of other people. But it is impressive that throughout the episode we never hear from Moses himself, who remains silent under the criticism. We remember the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, “Not crying out, not shouting, not making his voice heard in the street. The bruised reed he shall not break” etc (Isa 42:2-3). The silent Moses is canonized as “the meekest man on the face of the earth.” Strange, that the man who accomplished so much was characterized most of all by his meekness. As the sage Ecclesiastes remarked in unforgettable style, “There is an appointed time for everything, a time for every affair under the heavens. A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to be silent, and a time to speak (Eccles 3:1,7).

“Lord, teach me the right time for things.” The Bible suggests that during family disputes we find the right time for silence. Another moment for silence, this time far more tragic and overwhelming, is described by Jeremiah. The northern Kingdom of Israel had been broken by the Assyrians in 721 B.C. and its people taken forcibly into exile. Jeremiah’s family was among the few left behind. Now more than thirty years later, as the Assyrian empire was collapsing and falling apart, Jeremiah sees hope for their return. Earlier it had seemed hopeless, “Incurable is your wound, grievous your bruise;” but this desperate situation was not too hopeless for the Lord. Jeremiah is inspired to declare: See. I will restore the tents of Jacob. City shall be rebuilt on hill. From them will come songs of praise.

This optimistic spirit continues into the gospels: Jesus saves the disciples, adrift on stormy waters on the Lake of Galilee. His concern also comes to their defense when they fail to wash their hands religiously before eating. Events both small and great show the tender way that God fulfills all his promises. Meekness and prayer, whether it be like Moses ecstatic on Mount Sinai or silent before his detractors, or like Jesus who “went up on the mountain by himself to pray”; or like Jeremiah “hoping against hope” and always allowing God to decide the time and way to come to our help.

 Jeremiah 30:1-2, 12-15, 18-22

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Write in a book all the words that I have spoken to you.

For thus says the Lord: Your hurt is incurable, your wound is grievous. There is no one to uphold your cause, no medicine for your wound, no healing for you. All your lovers have forgotten you; they care nothing for you; for I have dealt you the blow of an enemy, the punishment of a merciless foe, because your guilt is great, because your sins are so numerous. Why do you cry out over your hurt? Your ain is incurable. Because your guilt is great, because your sins are so numerous, I have done these things to you.

Thus says the Lord: I am going to restore the fortunes of the tents of Jacob, and have compassion on his dwellings; the city shall be rebuilt upon its mound, and the citadel set on its rightful site. Out of them shall come thanksgiving, and the sound of merrymakers. I will make them many, and they shall not be few; I will make them honoured, and they shall not be disdained. Their children shall be as of old, their congregation shall be established before me; and I will punish all who oppress them. Their prince shall be one of their own, their ruler shall come from their midst; I will bring him near, and he shall approach me, for who would otherwise dare to approach me? says the Lord. And you shall be my people, and I will be your God.

Gospel: Matthew 14:22-36

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them.

And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret. After the people of that place recognized him, they sent word throughout the region and brought all who were sick to him, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.

#August 08. Wednesday of Week Eighteen

(option: St Dominic)

Jer 31:1ff. Jeremiah again sings of the joyful return of the people to Samaria and Ephraim and foresees the reunion of these northern tribes with Jerusalem.

Matthew 15:21ff. When Jesus tries to discourage the Canaanite woman, she humbly persists and her faith is rewarded.

God’s transforming touch

The readings speak of hope, the quality of persevering despite bad reports and long delays, and God’s adjustment to our human responses. The Israelites gave up so quickly, but the Canaanite woman would not take No for an answer. Jeremiah would not revise his early message of hope for the northern tribes’ return, even when they slipped even further away into oblivion; the prophet repeats the same words which now look far beyond the exile of the southern tribes into the age of the new covenant. Just as the prophet adjusted to a new, even more sorrowful situation, so did the Lord manifest a willingness to work within a new context of Israel’s rebellion. The people are condemned to forty years of wandering, years that become a school of discipline in which the traditions of exodus and covenant could take root among them.

The scouts return with a glorious report about the land’s fertility and sweetness – a land flowing with milk and honey, and fruit so heavy that it took two men to carry a single bunch of grapes on a pole. But the scouts also told of giants and a heavily walled city guarded by a fierce and strong people, that made the Israelites lose heart. God does not push his people about; it was their own fear that condemned them to wandering in the desert.

Yet even this tortuous meandering back and forth put Israel through the paces of a strengthening process and developed the “desert spirituality” so beautifully expressed by Jeremiah: “I remember the devotion of your youth, how you loved me as a bride, following me in the desert, in a land unsown. Sacred to the Lord was Israel, the first fruits of his harvest” (Jer 2:2-3). These lines were composed by the young Jeremiah, probably about the time that he wrote the “Book of Consolation,” chaps. 30-31. The passage is powerfully used at the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The final phrase “virgin Israel” continues the nuptial theme, introduced into biblical tradition by the prophet Hosea. Applied to the exiled northern tribes as a young woman gloriously happy at the moment of her marriage, but it also envisages the miraculous transformation of the sinful adulterous woman Israel in her sins, into the “virgin daughter.” So hopeful is Jeremiah that he sees God’s achieving what is humanly impossible.

Jesus, too, is transformative. At first he would not even answer the Canaanite woman, when his disciples came up and begged entreat him to get rid of her. Then his first words to her sound very blunt, “My mission is only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” The world mission of the church was not yet clearly envisioned. Yet there are hints that he perceived a vision beyond the horizon of his words. Jesus’ non-verbal commentary indicates just as much right here. First, his silence may be interpreted as an unwillingness to reject her request. Then we find that he could not simply walk away from the woman but talked with her till she wore down his defenses. Finally, by his affirmative response to her plea, Jesus steps beyond his verbal statement into the future outreach of the church, which is so gloriously expressed in the theology of Paul.

 Jeremiah 31:1-7

At that time, says the Lord, I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people.

Thus says the Lord: “The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness; when Israel sought for rest, the Lord appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.

Again I will build you, and you shall be built, O virgin Israel! Again you shall take your tambourines, and go forth in the dance of the merrymakers. Again you shall plant vineyards on the mountains of Samaria; the planters shall plant, and shall enjoy the fruit. For there shall be a day when sentinels will call in the hill country of Ephraim: “Come, let us go up to Zion, to the Lord our God.”

For thus says the Lord: Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob, and raise shouts for the chief of the nations; proclaim, give praise, and say, “Save, O Lord, your people, the remnant of Israel.”

Gospel: Matthew 15:21-28

Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

#August 09. Thursday of Week Eighteen

(option: St Teresa Benedicta = Edith Stein)

Jer 31:31ff. The new covenant will not be inscribed on rock but on the flesh of the heart; all will know the Lord and be forgiven their sins.

Matthew 16:13ff. Simon honours and confesses Jesus as the Son of God; his name is changed to “Peter,” for he will be the rock or foundation of the church.

The Rock and the Flesh

Two contrasting words emerge from the readings, “rock” and “flesh.” In them we can recognize the rich diversity and development of the Scriptures. A literal rock is the source of fresh water and vigorous life in the Book of Numbers. In Matthew’s Gospel a human rock becomes the foundation of the church. In the prophecy of Jeremiah the significances of rock changes negatively to stubbornness and pride. A similar switch of meaning is involved in the word flesh. Jeremiah contrasts flesh with rock, so that it symbolizes a warm person, sensitive to the will of God and to the needs of the neighbour. Yet in the gospel “flesh” indicates the limitations of human nature, of itself unable to adequately answer Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that the Son of Man is?” The weakness of flesh shows up more clearly still in Numbers, when people complain about the wretched place where Moses and Aaron have led them. Such variety of meaning in the Scriptures need not dismay us. Instead, we are advised to reflect and pray over these terms, and not read them simplistically in search of for quick answers.

Even Moses had his doubts a times, and struck the rock twice. Yet God could patiently bear with both the people’s frequent murmuring and the hesitation of Moses. When his people wanted to exchange their liberty for the “grains, figs, vines and pomegranates” of the land of slavery, God provided sweet water for his wayward children from a rock in the desert. Centuries later, when Israel was enjoying “the land flowing with milk and honey,” they proved that they could not manage prosperity nearly as well as adversity. They had become stony-hearted and by legalistic cleverness defended their hard-as-rock insensitivity towards God and towards the poor. God would now strike this rock, not to bring forth water, but to transform it to flesh. A law written on flesh was to be administered compassionately and promote the best instincts of everyone. No longer will one person lord it over others, says Jeremiah, for “All shall know me, from the least to the greatest.” They will approach the Lord as a single people of faith, for the covenant will be inscribed on the flesh of their hearts.

In the Scriptures God never makes a covenant with an individual, unless that individual, like a king, represents all the people. Such an individual representative of all was Simon son of John. He clearly expressed the faith of the disciples, for all to rally round. Jesus, therefore, changed his name to “Rock” (in Aramaic, Cephas; in Latin, Petrus; in English, Peter.) Just as the new covenant was unitive, practical and faithful, so also was Peter’s role among Jesus’ disciples. He was the foundational rock on which the wise person can build (Luke 6:48), the living rock of personal devotion to Jesus, the rock of compassion and forgiveness, the rock of unity and faith. He was not to be influenced by wealth, selfish concerns, power or ambition; this weak side of the flesh will be sustained by the overwhelming power of Jesus, the Son of the Living God.

 Jeremiah 31:31-34

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.

It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt – a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord.

But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

Gospel: Matthew 16:13-23

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

#August 20. Friday of Week Eighteen

(option: St Lawrence)

Nah 2-3: passim. The collapse of cruelly oppressive Assyria is celebrated by a joyful, gifted and optimistic prophet.

Matthew 16:24ff. We must lose our life for Jesus’ sake to save it and so never experience death.

Fidelity and Endurance lead to Life

Matthew here draws together various sayings of Jesus on true discipleship; Deuteronomy sets forth the conditions and attitude of an obedient follower of Moses; the prophecy of Nahum celebrates the victory of such goodness and fidelity over massive forces of evil.

Today begins a series of readings from Deuteronomy, a book to be treasured. It seems to have been one of the favourite parts of the Bible for Jesus, who quoted it freely during the temptation in the desert (Matthew 4:4 / Deut 8:3) and later, when discussing the first and most important law (Matthew 27:37 / Deut 6:5). Deuteronomy stands a line from Moses through the earliest settlement in the land and later to the great religious renewal called the “Deuteronomic reform” (2 Kings 22-23). Its dominant quality is its homiletic style, for it does much more than repeat the law of Moses; it exhorts and reasons from a spirit of compassion and love. Some of its memorable lines have become the daily prayer of every Israelite and will be repeated in tomorrow’s liturgy: Hear, O Israel. The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart (Deut 6:4-5).

In today’s reading God calls on Israel to remember its past history and to wonder: Has anything so great ever happened before? Was it ever heard of? Did a people ever hear the voice of God speaking from the midst of fire? Deuteronomy then asks for obedience – fidelity to Yahweh alone, in all the Lord’s “statutes and commandments which I enjoin on you today.” In its homiletic style Deuteronomy is continually stressing the word “today.” Each day is a new today, a new opportunity to profess loyal and grateful obedience to the Lord. Then you will “have long life in the land which the Lord, your God, is giving you forever.”

Nahum, in its three short chapters, equals the best of Hebrew poetry. Its brilliance is evident even in English translation. He celebrates his people’s victory over the oppression and cruelty imposed on them by Assyria. We see, hear, feel all at once the terrifying assault on the city walls: the crack of the whip, the rumbling sound of wheels, horses galloping, chariots bounding, cavalry charging, the flame of the sword, the flash of the spear, the many slain, the heaping corpses the endless bodies to stumble on.

After this warlike imagery, we need the sayings of Jesus. Even for us in our sins, death need not mean utter collapse and destruction. By obediently following Jesus to death, we will not experience the ultimate death described by the prophet. Ours will be the new, abundant life of Deuteronomy. That rich and peaceful existence begins in ourselves and reaches outward. Each act of obedience can seem restrictive and even destructive of life. Yet if obedience is from a religious faith, in response to the will of God and loving concern, if it lays before us the immense possibilities of the “promised land,” if obedience surrounds us with peace in our homes and neighbourhoods, then it opens up for us a whole new field of energetic activity and creative ingenuity.

 Na 2:1, 3; 3:1-3, 6-7

A shatterer has come up against you. Guard the ramparts; watch the road; gird your loins; collect all your strength.

The shields of his warriors are red; his soldiers are clothed in crimson. The metal on the chariots flashes on the day when he musters them; the chargers prance. Ah! City of bloodshed, utterly deceitful, full of booty – no end to the plunder! The crack of whip and rumble of wheel, galloping horse and bounding chariot! Horsemen charging, flashing sword and glittering spear, piles of dead, heaps of corpses, dead bodies without end – they stumble over the bodies!

I will throw filth at you and treat you with contempt, and make you a spectacle. Then all who see you will shrink from you and say, “Nineveh is devastated; who will bemoan her?” Where shall I seek comforters for you?

Gospel: Matthew 16:24-28

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? “For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

#August 11. Saturday of Week Eighteen

Hab 1:12ff. When the prophet questions God about injustice, God answers that the just person lives by faith.

Matthew 17:14ff. Jesus states the power of faith to cure the sick and to move mountains.

Miracle and Routine

Today’s texts balance faith with love, miracles with life’s normal routine. A vigorous spirituality needs to take account of these divergent aspects of life. It cannot focus exclusively on any single side. Truth and fidelity must be enriched with love, human limitations with divine hope and even miraculous intervention. Although we survive by living within our human resources, survival is hardly worth it if this life does not lead into the future life with God. We continue our reading from Deuteronomy with the famous Shema prayer, named from the initial Hebrew word, shema – “listen.” This prayer is recited each day by the devout Jew and is the clarion call of Judaism: Listen, O Israel. The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. Shema’ yisra’el. Yahweh ‘elohenu, Yahweh ‘ehad.

Not only did this exclamation of Jewish faith become ever more clearly a credo of absolute monotheism, but it also demanded absolute, total devotion from each Israelite, “Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength. This devotion reaches into the home and spreads into the market place: Drill them into your children. Speak of them at home and abroad. Bind them at your wrist. Let them be a pendant on your forehead. Write them on the doorposts of your home.”

Now Deuteronomy turns to God’s actions and the good things the Lord God will bestow on Israel, “a land with fine large cities that you did not build, houses full of food you did not garner cisterns you did not dig.” As usual, Israel can deal better with hopes than with fulfillment. Moses must warn the people, “When therefore you eat your fill, take care not to forget the Lord.” They must never forget their role as servants of the living God.

Habakkuk combines familiarity with respect in a different way than does Deuteronomy. This is the single text from Habakkuk among the thirty-four weeks of ordinary time. It is a short book in which the prophet brings human questions to God, and strangely enough these become equally the word of God. What first appears in Habakkuk is soon to become a standard style in the long books of Jeremiah and Job as well as in many psalms.

The first question put to God by Habakkuk occurs at the very beginning, “How long, O Lord? I cry for help but you do not listen.” God replies that he will punish the wicked people of Jerusalem by summoning the Chaldeans or Babylonians. That provokes another question, “Why, then, do you gaze on the faithless in silence, while wicked persons devour one more just than themselves?” God can tolerate these challenges to his divine control of the universe. Yet God also remains God and knows when to close the conversation. Finally he does not give an explanation why the more wicked Babylonians are to punish the less wicked Jerusalemites. God’s simple reply becomes the basis of Paul’s dictum (Rom 1:17), “The just person lives by faith.”

The full impact of faith is seen in the Gospel. Faith cures the sick, drives out demons and moves mountains. This is a metaphor to emphasise Jesus’ final words, “Nothing will be impossible for you,” if you have faith. He reminds us that our life is involved in a struggle between superhuman forces of good and evil. We are called to daily expressions of faith, faith that prompts us even to question God like Habakkuk, yet faith that nonetheless reaches beyond human expectations – into the world to come.

 Hab 1:12-2:4

Are you not from of old, O Lord my God, my Holy One?
You shall not die. O Lord, you have marked them for judgment;
and you, O Rock, have established them for punishment.

Your eyes are too pure to behold evil, and you cannot look on wrongdoing;
why do you look on the treacherous,
and are silent when the wicked swallow those more righteous than they?

You have made people like the fish of the sea, like crawling things that have no ruler.
The enemy brings all of them up with a hook; he drags them out with his net,
he gathers them in his net; so he rejoices and exults.
Therefore he sacrifices to his net and makes offerings to his net;
for by them his portion is lavish, and his food is rich.
Is he then to keep on emptying his net, and destroying nations without mercy?

I will stand at my watchpost, and station myself on the rampart;
I will keep watch to see what he will say to me, and what he will answer concerning my complaint.

Then the Lord answered me and said:
Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it.
For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay.
Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith.

Gospel: Matthew 17:14-20

When they came to the crowd, a man came to him, knelt before him, and said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly; he often falls into the fire and often into the water. And I brought him to your disciples, but they could not cure him.” Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him here to me.” And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was cured instantly.

Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.”

#August 13. Monday of Week Nineteen

Ezek 1:2ff. The majestic vision of the four cherubim who serve as a throne for God’s glory.

Matthew 17:22ff. Jesus announces his death. Then he pays the temple tax, not as an obligation.

The Paradox of Election

The more we come to know the God of majesty, the more amazing seems his love and personal concern, his closeness. Today’s texts centre on this paradox. Deuteronomy puts it marvellously, first speaking of God’s majesty, “The heavens, even the highest heavens, belong to Him, with the earth and everything on it.” How can such a God concern himself for Israel and “choose you, their descendants, in preference to all other peoples, as indeed he has now done”? Yet, paradox though it be, it is the living truth. God, the greatest, chooses the smallest, so that He is to be appreciated most of all for his gracious love. Yet Deuteronomy does not scorn the non-elect, but reaches out to embrace immigrants, requiring Israel to “befriend them, feeding and clothing them.” We sense a prophetic influence when it says that the Lord “has no favourites, accepts no bribes and does justice for the orphan and the widow.” Clearly, Deuteronomy is much more than a restatements of Israel’s law, for like the prophet Jeremiah and the apostle Paul, it insists more on circumcision of the heart than on physical circumcision. It continues to asks for a personal response to the law that was given amidst such splendour on Mount Sinai.

The Book of Ezekiel today offers startling vision of the awesome splendour of God. Yet this prophet also turned out to be a man of practical detail, charting Israel’s future after the Babylonian exile. In his blueprint, God’s glory “dwells” not just in the Jerusalem temple but wherever his people are forced to wander.

Jesus accepted the temple tradition and told Peter to pay the temple tax for both of them; but Jesus too gave hints that the Father’s intentions reached far beyond the temple. This gospel suggests that the transition from a single elect people to a beloved family of all nations would not be easily achieved. The Son of Man must be put to death, before it can be made a reality.

 Ezekiel 1:2-5, 24-28

On the fifth day of the month (it was the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin), the word of the Lord came to the priest Ezekiel son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the river Chebar; and the hand of the Lord was on him there.

As I looked, a stormy wind came out of the north: a great cloud with brightness around it and fire flashing forth continually, and in the middle of the fire, something like gleaming amber. In the middle of it was something like four living creatures. This was their appearance: they were of human form.

When they moved, I heard the sound of their wings like the sound of mighty waters, like the thunder of the Almighty, a sound of tumult like the sound of an army; when they stopped, they let down their wings.

And there came a voice from above the dome over their heads; when they stopped, they let down their wings.

And above the dome over their heads there was something like a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was something that seemed like a human form.

Upward from what appeared like the loins I saw something like gleaming amber, something that looked like fire enclosed all around; and downward from what looked like the loins I saw something that looked like fire, and there was a splendour all around.

Like the bow in a cloud on a rainy day, such was the appearance of the splendour all around. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. When I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of someone speaking.

Gospel: Matthew 17:22-27

As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised.” And they were greatly distressed.

When they reached Capernaum, the collectors of the temple tax came to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the temple tax?” He said, “Yes, he does.” And when he came home, Jesus spoke of it first, asking, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tribute? From their children or from others?” When Peter said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the children are free. However, so that we do not give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook; take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a coin; take that and give it to them for you and me.”

#August 14. Tuesday of Week Nineteen

Ezek 2:8ff. In a second inaugural vision the prophet is told to eat a scroll filled with woe yet sweet as honey to the taste.

Matthew 18:1ff. A little child is the greatest in the kingdom of God and causes more joy in heaven than what is experienced over ninety-nine others.

The Courage to Change

The Scriptures point to two different forms of leadership in time of change, one of them external, enshrined in leaders like Joshua, Ezekiel and the apostles; the other internal, in the guidance of the Holy Spirit, inspiring courageous decisions and initiatives. Both forms of leadership help us in different ways. The first handles routine matters, referring to external needs and projects, and is like caring for the ninety-nine sheep who are always with us. The second can energise us to locate the one lost sheep, the elusive hope and golden dream. There can be more joy over the one lost sheep – that intuitive inspiration which suddenly flashes forth and totally transforms life – than over ninety-nine other routine projects and prosaic ideas.

The stirring homilies in Deuteronomy emerged from times of crisis, intuition and renewal. Its call reaches into our hearts for it combines the enthusiasm of love with the routines of daily life. Deuteronomy promotes a spirit-guided style of life, an earthly existence coloured by a great inspiration. Today’s passage concludes this rich collection of sermons. Deut 32-34 can be considered an “appendix,” focussed on the liturgical blessing of the twelve tribes and the story of Moses’ death. With his passing, Israel must now look more directly for God’s guidance. Crossing the Jordan becomes a symbol for any major change. It directs attention to God’s presence and his abiding help: “It is the Lord who marches before you; he will be with you and will never fail you or forsake you.”

The Book of Ezekiel begins to be read as the first reading . Like Deuteronomy, this prophecy deals with a transitional phase. It spans the last days of Jerusalem (chaps. 4-24), hopes for the future (chaps. 33-39) and the blueprint of the new Jerusalem (chaps. 40-48.) By consuming the scroll, which was written over, front and back, with lamentation and woe, Ezekiel was condemning the evil ways of the past. The scroll that tasted “sweet as honey in my mouth” intimated the hope of a new, purified, spirit-filled people rising from the dead bones of the past (ch. 37). Ezekiel reminds us that transitions, however difficult can be necessary; though seemingly destructive they are actually transformative.

Today’s gospel sees change more in the tranquil spirit of Deuteronomy than with the harshness of Ezekiel. Yet the call to become a little child is just as difficult as Ezekiel’s and requires the same steadfast courage which Moses asks of the people. Adults never find it easy to lay aside dignity and ambition, power and influence, to “become like little children.” Jesus is not calling for childishness but for a serious, mature realization that beneath the surface of our life God’s Holy Spirit is calling us to faith, compassion and simplicity beyond our normal range. If we are alert to this inspiration, then this one percent of ourselves, this seemingly lost sheep, this “infant” within us, will be found and bring extraordinary joy and new life to the ninety-nine percent which is the rest of ourselves. This recovery of the “little one” is true of each individual and of society and the church as a whole.

 Ezekiel 2:8-3:4

But you, mortal, hear what I say to you; do not be rebellious like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you.

I looked, and a hand was stretched out to me, and a written scroll was in it. He spread it before me; it had writing on the front and on the back, and written on it were words of lamentation and mourning and woe. He said to me, O mortal, eat what is offered to you; eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.

So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat. He said to me, Mortal, eat this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it. Then I ate it; and in my mouth it was as sweet as honey. He said to me: Mortal, go to the house of Israel and speak my very words to them.

Gospel: Matthew 18:1-5, 10, 12-14

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

“Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven.

What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.

##August 15. Assumption of Our Blessed Lady

#August 16. Thursday of Week Nineteen

Ezek 12:1ff. The rebelliousness of Israel provides a setting for the prophet’s symbolic actions, his parables in action.

Matthew 18:21ff. Forgiveness many times. The pardoned official, harsh towards his own debtors.

Change of Heart

In the first six chapters of his book, Joshua’s story is modelled on outstanding moments in the career of Moses. Through parallels to the crossing of the Red Sea and the sanctification of the people before Mount Sinai (Josh 3:5; Exod 15; 19:10-14), the celebration of Passover (Josh 5:10; Exod 12), the manna (Josh 5:12; Exod 16:4) and the appearance of the Lord (Josh 5:13-15; Exod 3:13) this author is emphasising continuity. The succession from Moses to Joshua is thoroughly in the spirit of their original inspiration. Nonetheless, the modeling of Joshua on Moses is not slavish or total, but adaptive to the new situation. The manna ceases; and circumcision which had been neglected during Moses’ days is reinstituted. The crossing of the Red Sea and of the River Jordan must be applied to our own lives, and in this we are helped by the prophet Ezekiel and the evangelist Matthew, through parables on how to handle difficult moments in our life.

After the two verses of today’s reading the rest of Ezekiel 12 describes two symbolic actions. He carries all of his belongings through a hole in the city walls, silently with his head covered, so as to see the land no more. He eats his bread and drinks water in a state of trembling. These action parables fascinate the people and absorb their attention, offering them a period of grace to think and pray. But then they ridicule Ezekiel, and at that point he declares the meaning of his action, “This oracle concerns Jerusalem and the whole house of Israel within it.” We too may need to look again at people or events we tend to ridicule, and cross-question our motives; for we too can be a “rebellious house” having eyes that see nothing, ears yet hearing nothing – because we do not want to see the whole truth, or hear the real consequences of our actions.

Perhaps the most difficult barrier (“Red Sea” or “Jordan”) to cross is the need to forgive our neighbour. How often must we do so?, we ask. We do not want the Lord’s simple answer, “seventy times seven times.” So he tells us the story of the king who forgave us a very serious debt – so how are we unable to forgive the debts of our neighbour who owes us so much less? The underlying dynamic here is not “justice” but as we read in the story, the king was “moved with pity.” We are questioned by this parable: do we make it possible for others to appeal to our patience? Here is a major “River Jordan” to pass – the need for patience with those who have not cooperated fully with us and have delayed payment. And this parable is not about optional, higher sanctity, for our eternal salvation depends on it: My heavenly Father will treat you in the same way, unless you forgive each other from your heart.

Matthew concludes with a statement of Jesus’ moving elsewhere, his typical way of ending one of the major sections of his gospel. This parable on heroic forgiveness ends the great section on discipleship.

 Ezekiel 12:1-12

The word of the Lord came to me: Mortal, you are living in the midst of a rebellious house, who have eyes to see but do not see, who have ears to hear but do not hear; for they are a rebellious house. Therefore, mortal, prepare for yourself an exile’s baggage, and go into exile by day in their sight; you shall go like an exile from your place to another place in their sight. Perhaps they will understand, though they are a rebellious house. You shall bring out your baggage by day in their sight, as baggage for exile; and you shall go out yourself at evening in their sight, as those do who go into exile. Dig through the wall in their sight, and carry the baggage through it. In their sight you shall lift the baggage on your shoulder, and carry it out in the dark; you shall cover your face, so that you may not see the land; for I have made you a sign for the house of Israel.

I did just as I was commanded. I brought out my baggage by day, as baggage for exile, and in the evening I dug through the wall with my own hands; I brought it out in the dark, carrying it on my shoulder in their sight.

In the morning the word of the Lord came to me: Mortal, has not the house of Israel, the rebellious house, said to you, “What are you doing?” Say to them, “Thus says the Lord God: This oracle concerns the prince in Jerusalem and all the house of Israel in it.” Say, “I am a sign for you: as I have done, so shall it be done to them; they shall go into exile, into captivity.” And the prince who is among them shall lift his baggage on his shoulder in the dark, and shall go out; he shall dig through the wall and carry it through; he shall cover his face, so that he may not see the land with his eyes.

Gospel: Matthew 18:21-19:1

Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, is lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt.

So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went to the region of Judea beyond the Jordan.

#August 17. Friday of Week Nineteen

Ezek 16:1ff. Israel is compared to a baby girl, neglected at birth but later espoused and loved by God.

Matthew 19:3ff. Jesus forbids divorce and remarriage, in light of God’s original ideal. Among the signs of the kingdom are marital fidelity and celibacy.

Heroic Love

If the Bible calls for heroic love and fidelity on the part of Israel, it first recalls God’s sublime kindness towards his chosen people. Today’s text from Joshua represents a typical covenant ceremony at Shechem, a major sanctuary in central Israel. When people had taken their places before the tabernacle, they recited a well known “credo” – similar to other formulas found in Deut 6:20-25 and 26:3-11. Israel’s origins were not the best; their ancestors “served other gods,” yet God led the patriarchs to the promised land and freely entered a covenant with them. After the exodus from Egypt and the wandering in the wilderness, God brings them over the Jordan to “a land you did not till and cities you did not build,.. vineyards and olive groves you did not plant.” Israel’s sacred history was an account of God’s initiative and continual kindness, always exceeding what they deserved.

Instead of seeing the covenant as a treaty between nations, or an overlord and vassal, Ezekiel describes Israel’s relation with Yahweh as a marriage bond. He portrays Israel as a cast-off from birth, unwanted and left to die, a mixed breed of Canaanites, Amorites and Hittites, echoing earlier expressions in the Torah, “a crowd of mixed ancestry” (Exod 12:38) or “riffraff” – in Hebrew ha’sapsup (Num 11:4). The Lord loved and espoused this unwanted female, despised by others. Yet after adorning Israel with precious jewels and transforming her “with the dignity of a queen,” Israel was fascinated by her own beauty and became a harlot for “every passer-by.” But God is committed to Israel, not just for a lifetime but for eternity. God adds, “I pardon you for all you have done.” Love such as this – divine, exceeding all measure, heroic in its fidelity and forgiveness – is overwhelming for us. It grants us joyful satisfaction and absolute security; we always have a home with God. We are even on a basis of equality like husband and wife. No longer are we children before God the Father, nor vassals before the overlord, but the spouse of God.

Jesus restates God’s original design for marriage: “a man shall leave his father and mother and cling to his wife, and the two shall become as one.” The disciples recognize the heroic conditions which Jesus lays down for marriage and reply, “It is better not to marry.” Jesus does not back down but explicitly states that such fidelity is possible only for “those to whom it is given to do so.” Fidelity is a divine imperative within the heart of husband and wife, heroic in one sense, yet normal in another way. God’s grace of sacramental marriage, continuously motivating the spouses, transforms this great demand into routine daily affection and dedication. Not only does Jesus go beyond the tradition of Moses to God’s original ideal for marriage, but he also says that, for the sake of the kingdom, some people are called to celibacy. Some are steered into the single life by birth defects or by other causes; others by a free decision. Yet celibacy can be received and lived as a special grace, liberating one for fuller service to God and our fellow human beings, on the example of Jesus himself.

 Ezekiel 16:1-15

The word of the Lord came to me: Mortal, make known to Jerusalem her abominations, and say, Thus says the Lord God to Jerusalem: Your origin and your birth were in the land of the Canaanites; your father was an Amorite, and your mother a Hittite. As for your birth, on the day you were born your navel cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to cleanse you, nor rubbed with salt, nor wrapped in cloths. No eye pitied you, to do any of these things for you out of compassion for you; but you were thrown out in the open field, for you were abhorred on the day you were born. I passed by you, and saw you flailing about in your blood. As you lay in your blood, I said to you, “Live! and grow up like a plant of the field.” You grew up and became tall and arrived at full womanhood; your breasts were formed, and your hair had grown; yet you were naked and bare.

I passed by you again and looked on you; you were at the age for love. I spread the edge of my cloak over you and covered your nakedness: I pledged myself to you and entered into a covenant with you, says the Lord God, and you became mine. Then I bathed you with water and washed off the blood from you, and anointed you with oil. I clothed you with embroidered cloth and with sandals of fine leather; I bound you in fine linen and covered you with rich fabric. I adorned you with ornaments: I put bracelets on your arms, a chain on your neck, a ring on your nose, earrings in your ears, and a beautiful crown upon your head.

You were adorned with gold and silver, while your clothing was of fine linen, rich fabric, and embroidered cloth. You had choice flour and honey and oil for food. You grew exceedingly beautiful, fit to be a queen. Your fame spread among the nations on account of your beauty, for it was perfect because of my splendour that I had bestowed on you, says the Lord God. But you trusted in your beauty, and played the whore because of your fame, and lavished your whorings on any passer-by.

Gospel: Matthew 19:3-12

Some Pharisees came to him, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command us to give a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her?” He said to them, “It was because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery.” His disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” But he said to them, “Not everyone can accept this teaching, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.”

#August 18. Saturday of Week Nineteen

Ezek 18:1ff. Each individual is personally responsible before God, must seek personal integrity and not hide behind the virtues of one’s ancestors.

Matthew 19:13ff. The kingdom of God belongs to such as these little children.

Personal Responsibility

Today’s texts summon us to a clear, personal decision for the Lord. The covenant ceremony at Shechem provides the occasion to step forward and to pledge oneself anew to the Lord. Ezekiel highlights our personal responsibility, while Jesus commends the spontaneity of children, a spirit which adults ought never to lose.

As mentioned in yesterday’s meditation, the final chapter of Joshua describes a covenant ceremony from Shechem, where the tribes recited their “credo” or confession of faith. Today’s reading outlines the liturgical action. Even so many centuries later we admire the psychological power and dramatic interaction between the priestly Levite and the people:

Levite, “Cast out the gods your ancestors served.. Decide today whom you will serve.. As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

People, “Far be it for us to forsake the Lord. We will serve the Lord. He is our God.”

Levite, “Now, therefore, put away the strange gods.”

People, “We will serve the Lord, our God, and obey his voice.”

After this dramatic interchange involving the entire community, the liturgical formalities take place: recording the decisions in the book of the Law; setting up a large stone as a memorial; probably the pouring of blood on the stone and on the people to symbolize a single life between all the people and the Lord (see Exod 24). Then with a formal blessing the people were dismissed, similar to the final action in our liturgy today.

By contrast, the prophet Ezekiel focuses on the individual Israelite. In his eyes, too many people sought to justify themselves by the virtue of the community or of their ancestry, while their own hearts and practices were against the Lord’s will. Or else people were blaming their sorrows on the mistakes of the ancestors and failing to look into their own hearts for renewal. He first takes the people to task for a proverb that they repeated as a way to shift blame from themselves. They should never again say: Because fathers and mothers have eaten sour grapes, their children’s teeth are on edge. Ezekiel insists: if your lips smart and your teeth burn with acid, it is because you yourself ate the sour grapes. Only the one who sins shall die, only the virtuous person shall live, everyone belongs to the Lord. He then reads an examination of conscience to the people and puts to them a serious, adult stance on personal responsibility.

The gospel provides a new context for this. We hear Jesus say, “Let the children come to me. The kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” As we allow the impact of today’s readings to be felt in our lives, we realize that our following of the Lord must be clear and simple, pure and spontaneous like that of a child.

 Ezekiel 18:1-10, 13, 30-32

The word of the Lord came to me: What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge”? As I live, says the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. Know that all lives are mine; the life of the parent as well as the life of the child is mine: it is only the person who sins that shall die. If a man is righteous and does what is lawful and right – if he does not eat upon the mountains or lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, does not defile his neighbour’s wife or approach a woman during her menstrual period, does not oppress anyone, but restores to the debtor his pledge, commits no robbery, gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment, does not take advance or accrued interest, withholds his hand from iniquity, executes true justice between contending parties, follows my statutes, and is careful to obsere my ordinances, acting faithfully – such a one is righteous; he shall surely live, says the Lord God. If he has a son who is violent, a shedder of blood, who takes advance or accrued interest; shall he then live? He shall not. He has done all these abominable things; he shall surely die; his blood shall be upon himself.

Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, all of you according to your ways, says the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions; otherwise iniquity will be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord God. Turn, then, and live.

Gospel: Matthew 19:13-15

Then little children were being brought to him in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them; but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” And he laid his hands on them and went on his way.

#August 20. Monday of Week Twenty

Ezek 24:15ff. The prophet is not to publicly mourn his wife’s death, as a sign that Jerusalem and its sanctuary will “die” and not be mourned by the people.

Matthew 19:16ff. To seek perfection in our lives, we must not only keep God’s commandments but share with the poor, to fully follow Jesus.

The Cycle of Repentance

The era of the judges cover the two centuries from the first settlement in Canaan under Joshua till the inauguration of the monarchy under Saul and David. This era saw the people embroiled in gigantic problems, sociological, political, military, personal and their ongoing religious development. The Bible captures it in popular stories resounding with rhythm and catch-words, at times echoing the sanctuary, like Deborah’s poetic masterpiece in ch. 5, or the soldiers’ campfire at night, like the humorous, even baudy story of Ehud in 3:12-30 or of Samson in chaps. 13-16. Throughout this repertory weaves a theological thread, its pattern seen most clearly in today’s text: 1) sin always brings sorrow and oppression; 2) pain and slavery lead the people to cry to God for mercy; 3) God replies by sending a judge or liberator; 4) the new period of peace degenerates into injustice and sensuality; so the cycle starts all over again.

The story of the judges is our story too. For some odd reason most of us find it harder to deal with success than with failure. The Bible sees the land of Canaan as the land of promise, the goal of the exodus, the pledge of the patriarchs who were buried with their wives there. Yet that land is also a risk, a temptation, an inducement to selfishness and sensuality. Israel’s highest ideal seems to consist in their determination to return to the land: from the slavery of Egypt, from the exile in Babylon, from their present scattering throughout the world. Moments of glory like the triumphs of David and Solomon, turn out to be more important for what they later symbolize than for what was materially achieved. Their memory in times of loss and destruction led Israel to visions of peace and messianic glory. When the misuse of talents and gifts leads to sorrow and loss, not only this theological introduction to Judges but also the prophet Ezekiel recognizes the hand of God in the punishment. Throughout the Bible the punishment for sin can become a disciplinary action to purify and sanctify us anew and enable us to start over again.

Ezekiel is ordered not to mourn publicly the death of his wife. She is described by the endearing phrase, “the delight of your eyes.” People are amazed that on the day after her death Ezekiel proceeds with life as usual. They ask him: Will you not tell us what all these things that you are doing mean for us? He replies that the people shall not mourn or weep, perhaps because of sheer exhaustion after the long siege and its horrifying experience, when God “will desecrate my sanctuary, the stronghold of your pride, the delight of your eyes, the desire of your soul.” As we accept the inevitable as God’s mysterious providence, we acquire the strength to begin over again. Ezekiel 24 marks the end of the first major period, up to the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C.

In the gospel Jesus asks us to make the best use of our gifts, talents and assets, by sharing them with others. Everyone is called to this positive and generous interaction; and some may even be called literally to give up everything and to own nothing for the sake of the kingdom. Sooner or later all are asked to share of our best. We are being led deeply into the mystery of the kingdom where actions are not judged by worldly wisdom but by the instincts of faith.

 Ezekiel 24:15-23

The word of the Lord came to me: Mortal, with one blow I am about to take away from you the delight of your eyes; yet you shall not mourn or weep, nor shall your tears run down. Sigh, but not aloud; make no mourning for the dead. Bind on your turban, and put your sandals on your feet; do not cover your upper lip or eat the bread of mourners.

So I spoke to the people in the morning, and at evening my wife died. And on the next morning I did as I was commanded. Then the people said to me, “Will you not tell us what these things mean for us, that you are acting this way?”

Then I said to them: The word of the Lord came to me: Say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: I will profane my sanctuary, the pride of your power, the delight of your eyes, and your heart’s desire; and your sons and your daughters whom you left behind shall fall by the sword. And you shall do as I have done; you shall not cover your upper lip or eat the bread of mourners. Your turbans shall be on your heads and your sandals on your feet; you shall not mourn or weep, but you shall pine away in your iniquities and groan to one another.

Gospel: Matthew 19:16-22

Then someone came to him and said, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” The young man said to him, “I have kept all these; what do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

#August 21. Tuesday of Week Twenty

Ezek 28:1ff. An oracle against the proud, wealthy seaport metropolis of Tyre.

Matthew 19:23ff. Leave all in God’s hands, for selfish wealth destroys us. The last shall be first.

The Force of Faith

The final phrase in today’s Gospel is one of those paradoxical statements that can surface anywhere. How many times do we not hear the remark, “the first shall be last, and the last first.” Maybe it was to describe a fait accompli, an accomplished fact that was almost inexplicable. But faith is not fatalism nor passivity. The readings for today reveal many active aspects of the spirit of faith: the active role of memory, recalling God’s help to our ancestors; the active side of hope that will not give up but even expect miracles; the dignified way of not succumbing to colossal giants of wealth and commerce like Tyre; the ingenious way of relying more on native talents than on the artificial bulwark of wealth; the courageous action of giving up everything for the sake of the kingdom.

No force in human life can compare with faith in summoning people to dedicated service, or even (unfortunately) to fierce warfare, in God’s name. In Iran the Islamic religion ousted the mighty Shah; Catholic Poland faced down Soviet military might. Whatever be the final act of history in each case, the active power of faith remains visible to the eyes of the world. Strong faith can raise problems as well as solutions. Gideon bluntly asks the angel of the Lord: My Lord, if Yahweh is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are his marvellous deeds of which our ancestors told us?.. Now the Lord has abandoned us.

Gideon’s faith was weak and uncertain – for he feels that maybe God did marvellous deeds for the ancestors, but maybe not. It could be a lie or a myth. In fact, a weak faith can turn out to be a handy protection against disappointment. If a person does not have full faith and complete confidence in God, in one’s spouse or in one’s church or government, then such a person will never be totally surprised by betrayal or infidelity. Being ready for the worst, they had already given up on the best. Weak faith is a sort of fatalism; strong faith works on the assumption of the best. Through the angel, Gideon is convinced that God is about to renew the “marvellous deeds” from the days of the ancestors.

By contrast Ezekiel points his wrath at the epitome of worldly success, the wealthy seaport kingdom of Tyre. The ships of Tyre spread out across the Mediterranean, even populating the city of Carthage. Tyre looked “wiser than Daniel,” the proverbial wise person of ancient literature who shows up even in ancient, non-biblical documents. By wisdom and know-how Tyre amassed wealth and commerce and said, “I must be a god.” Tyre survived many assults, so that not even the Assyrians nor the Babylonians could capture the island city. Only when Alexander the Great ordered an earthen mole to be built and so to connect the city with the mainland, was it eventually captured. But collapse it did, a symbol in the Bible of defeated pride and useless wealth. Chaps. 27-28 of Ezekiel are classics of world literature as they describe the downfall of Tyre under the symbol of a ship that sinks at sea or of paradise lost through pride. “Faith” survived to write the epitaph of worldly wealth.

With this biblical background Jesus’ enigmatic statements about wealth, about first and last, about human impossibilities and divine gifts begin to make some sense. Jesus actually proves nothing, but to a person of faith with memories like Gideon, with instincts and values like Ezekiel, with experiences of prayer and fidelity, Jesus’ words summon us to the most active response of faith. Even the last will be first.

 Ezekiel 28:1-10

The word of the Lord came to me: Mortal, say to the prince of Tyre, Thus says the Lord God: Because your heart is proud and you have said, “I am a god; I sit in the seat of the gods, in the heart of the seas,” yet you are but a mortal, and no god, though you compare your mind with the mind of a god. You are indeed wiser than Daniel; no secret is hidden from you; by your wisdom and your understanding you have amassed wealth for yourself, and have gathered gold and silver into your treasuries.By your great wisdom in trade you have increased your wealth, and your heart has become proud in your wealth.

Therefore thus says the Lord God: Because you compare your mind with the mind of a god, therefore, I will bring strangers against you, the most terrible of the nations; they shall draw their swords against the beauty of your wisdom and defile your splendour. They shall thrust you down to the Pit, and you shall die a violent death in the heart of the seas.Will you still say, “I am a god,” in the presence of those who kill you, though you are but a mortal, and no god, in the hands of those who wound you? You shall die the death of the uncircumcised by the hand of foreigners; for I have spoken, says the Lord God.

Gospel: Matthew 19:23-30

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, “Then who can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”

Then Peter said in reply, “Look, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man is seated on the throne of his glory, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.

#August 22. Wednesday of Week Twenty

Ezek 34:1ff. Bad shepherds who neglect the sheep and care only for themselves. God will punish them and tend the sheep himself.

Matthew 20:1ff. Parable of the estate-owner who pays the same agreed wage to the first as to the last.

Justice for the Weak

Especially in the case of parables and riddles, the word of God does not give quick, final answers but prods us into reflection, as we read at the end of the Book of Ecclesiastes, “The sayings of the wise are like goads.” Elsewhere the word of God is compared to rain and snow that come down from heaven but do not return without soaking the earth, “giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater.” (Isa 55:10). God’s word is not simply the words of the Bible but the biblical message as absorbed within our own heart and mind, and as planted in the earth of our questions and hopes, like seed that is sown in the field or like bread that nourishes our lives.

Once goaded into thinking by the word of God, we must attend to its literary form. The text from Judges is of the riddle form, which draws on homely examples, where the main actors are generally plants and animals and which hides the truth as much as reveal it. Riddles require reflection and imagination, to uncover its intricacies. Allegories and parables are homespun stories with details drawn from everyday life, never pretending to be historically accurate, but serving to prod us to some personal application. The meaning of parable is not as deeply hidden as in the case of a riddle, and the message of each is delivered in different ways. The parable usually musters many details, all for the sake of the moral or final punch-line while in the allegory each detail in the story can be applied to contemporary life.

The riddle of Jotham cries to heaven for revenge. Gideon’s son, Abimelech, connives with the people of Shechem to kill all of his brothers, except for young Jotham who manages to escape. Dramatically from the heights of Mount Gerizim, Jotham shouts the riddle, actually a curse. Those who seize authority by violence will themselves be destroyed by violence. The final plant, the buckthorn, chosen to be king, provides no shade and easily burns and devours itself and anything close by.

The allegory of Ezekiel helps us to look at some details in our style of leadership. Every adult acquires some type of authority over others, be it a parent over home and children, priest and parish team over parishioners, seniority in one’s place of employment, elected positions in civil administration, those who hire people for occasional work in the home or office, even each of us in our attitude toward the persons delivering our mail or daily paper, those who collect garbage, and hosts of others who touch our lives in various ways. Each line of Ezekiel’s allegory puts a serious question to us. Do we use our authority for our own benefit: by not strengthening the weak, or refusing to bind up the injured? by lording it harshly over others ? by being indifferent to what happens in their daily life? These questions are put to us very seriously. Unless we change our ways, God swears, “I am coming against those shepherds. I will claim my sheep from them and stop them from shepherding my sheep.”

When Jesus spoke the word of God, he used the Semitic form of speaking. Therefore, in the case of the parable of the vineyard workers it is entirely irrelevant to discuss the social justice (or injustice) of the estate-owner, who was paying only a denarius, less than minimal wage for those who worked all day but more than adequate for those who worked only an hour in the cool of the evening. The punch-line declares that new arrivals are equal to those who have been around a long time. Jesus may have been defending his disciples, newly arrived on the religious scene, against the Pharisees, Sadducees and Scribes whose leadership had been long accepted. The early church reinterpreted the parable, to mean that gentiles are equal to Jews in the kingdom of God. Today the parable may put in question our ability to recognize new leadership from the ranks of the laity, including the women, or to give proper credit to the young generation, to transfer the mantle of authority, to accept change within the forms of civil or religious authority.

 Ezekiel 34:1-11

The word of the Lord came to me: Mortal, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel: prophesy, and say to them – to the shepherds: Thus says the Lord God: Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep.You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them.So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd; and scattered, they became food for all the wild animals.My sheep were scattered, they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill; my sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with no one to search or seek for them.

Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: As I live, says the Lord God, because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild animals, since there was no shepherd; and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep. Oh you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: Thus says the Lord God, I am against the shepherds; and I will demand my sheep at their hand, and put a stop to their feeding the sheep; no longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, so that they may not be food for them. For thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out.

Gospel: Matthew 20:1-16

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the labourers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the labourers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

#August 23. Thursday of Week Twenty

Ezek 36:23ff. The exiles are brought back to their promised land, purified and renewed in heart and spirit, and so enabled to keep God’s law carefully.

Matthew 22:1ff. Parable of the royal wedding, where people from the byroads take the place of the original guests, a story adapted to the final judgment.

The Scandal of Jephtah

Difficulties abound as we reflect on Jephthah the judge and the parable of the royal wedding. In the one story the Bible seems to sanction human sacrifice, or at least to support rash promises; and in the other the original parable of Jesus seems to have gone through several revisions, seen by comparing Matthew’s parable with Luke 14:16-24 – and the various editorial levels overlap in a confused way. Yesterday we saw how, like rain from above, God’s word soaks the earth and returns in riddle and parable; here is a good example of how earthly and imperfect even God’s word can become in human hands.

It is futile to defend Jephthah’s action, even if we might understand his initial rash impulsiveness. Caught in a military crisis, he vows, if successful, to offer in sacrifice whatever living thing first comes out of the doors of the house to meet him. “When I return in triumph.. I shall offer it up as a holocaust.” A holocaust must always be totally consumed on the altar. We are shocked by his carrying out this vow; for the first to meet him was his daughter, who came out, celebrating and dancing. Pathetically the text adds that she was his only child. Jephthah granted her request for two months to mourn her virginity, her inability now to marry and have children. Then she returned to her father, who carried out his terrible vow. But Gen 22, where at the last second Abraham is prevented from sacrificing his firstborn son, Isaac, shows that Yahweh never approved, but in fact condemned child sacrifice. It is no explanation to say that God could makes exceptions to this law against child sacrifice. The God of the Bible, a God of compassion and fidelity, cannot act with such blind and ruthless command over life and death.

We are left then with the serious warning – not everything that is done in God’s name, even in the Bible, can be accepted and followed as right. Fortunately we have the passage in Gen 22 to correct the horrible error of Jephthah. The final verse in Judges gives another warning to read cautiously: In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what they thought best. The entire Book of Judges is preparing for the inauguration of the Davidic royalty, a radical change from the earlier Mosaic traditions yet absolutely necessary. This episode compels us to question and evaluate our own motives and promises. Have we acted impulsively to the harm of others? Do we try to justify everything we do, saying that we do all things in God’s name? Do we use – or abuse – our legitimate authority to consider everything that we do as godly and automatically correct? Can we be corrected by common sense and candid observations from others?

Ezekiel is a careful and cautious adviser in this matter. Where Jeremiah spoke warmly of our receiving a new heart (Jer 31:31-34), Ezekiel adapts his charter of freedom to the other expectations of Israel, more conscious than Jeremiah of liturgical rules and priestly authority. He speaks of sprinkling with holy water and cleansing from impurities. The priest must vouch that the worshipper will not contaminate the other members of the community. Yet Ezekiel is by no means a legalist. Before the law can be truly observed God must take away the stony heart and give a natural heart (in Hebrew, a heart of flesh, open and adaptable, sensitive to life). Ezekiel also speaks of a new spirit, God’s very own, that is placed within the true Israelite. Only under these conditions shall they be God’s people in truth. He strikes a happy balance between freedom and law, religion and common sense, individual rights and community expectations. Compared with the incident in Judges, Ezekiel shows the need of a balanced religious outlook to control or enrich our lives.

While Jephthah acted imprudently – with very painful results – based on a false conscience, the gospel places before us the need to act firmly on a good conscience, properly guided not only by tradition but also by humble obedience to God. Jesus, in the punch-line of the parable, shows that gentiles from the byroads will enter the wedding feast, once reserved to the Jews. Then in a later revision of the parable, the phrase “bad as well as good” was added to describe the people from the byroads, thus preparing for the final judgment. Eventually God straightens out everything and shows his providential care. Till then we must wait and believe, conscious of his abundant goodness towards each of us, called in from the byroads.

 Ezekiel 36:23-28

I will sanctify my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them; and the nations shall know that I am the Lord, says the Lord God, when through you I display my holiness before their eyes.I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land.

I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances.Then you shall live in the land that I gave to your ancestors; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.

Gospel: Matthew 22:1-14

Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”

##August 24. St Bartholomew, Apostle

Rev 21:9-14

Jn 1:45-51

The Triumph of Love

Rev 21:9-14

Jn 1:45-51

#August 25. Saturday of Week Twenty

Ezek 43:1ff. The prophet sees the glory of the Lord return to dwell in the Jerusalem temple which it had earlier abandoned.

Matthew 23:1ff. Through humility we are absorbed into God who exalts us in his loving power.

Providence and Prudence

Ruth points to a divine providence which functions through human activity yet reaches new heights for the humble and kindly of heart. Jesus contrasts these humble people with others who are proud and selfish. The temple where the glory of the Lord comes to dwell is located among the humble, sincere worshippers of Ezekiel’s prophecy. Although Ruth worked and reached decisions based on her healthy, common-sense instincts, she left the larger direction of her life to be determined by charity and fidelity. Yesterday spoke of the persevering love between her and Naomi, a love that drew her, a Moabite, into the land of foreigners. In Today’s text this aspect of her character receives special attention from Boaz, who heard what the young widow had done for her mother-in-law, “how you left your parents and the land of your birth, and have come to a people whom you did not know.”

Ruth’s actions were not blind and naive. A careful reading of the book shows a growing awareness that Boaz was a kinsman or go’el and under some social obligation to marry and care for Ruth. His field was chosen deliberately. Ruth also indicated her desire for marriage. Yet Ruth and Naomi were something more than clever match-makers. Human precaution is always at the service of love and fidelity, and through human goodness God was directing events according to a mysterious divine providence. Providence was achieving more than a happy marriage for Ruth and Boaz, more than continuity of a bloodline that will reach King David. God was directing the attention of Israel to a foreign woman to teach them how to live as his chosen people. It is strange how election, which separated Israel from foreigners, would be secured and explained by a foreigner.

In Jesus’ time, about a millenium later, another group of Jewish people also worked strenuously; but while the ingenuity of the Scribes and Pharisees can be compared with Ruth’s, their actions were thwarting God’s plans and so were in direct contrast with Ruth. It was not their bad theology that twisted the overall results of their lives. Their theology, as Jesus admitted, was correct: The Scribes and the Pharisees are Moses’ successors as teachers; therefore, observe everything they tell you. But do not follow their example. Their words are bold but their deeds are few. Pride and selfishness, greed for honour and power, destroyed them. Jesus condemned their haughty practices: widening their phylacteries, boxes containing parchments of scripture, worn on forehead and left wrist at prayer; places of honour at banquets and the front seats in synagogues; delighting in honourary titles like rabbi, teacher and father.

Jesus is not branding these practices as evil of themselves. The Scriptures told the devout Israelite to wear the phylactery. After speaking of loving God with all one’s heart, soul and strength (Deut 6:4-5), the Torah continues: Take to heart these words.. drill them into your children. Speak of them at home and abroad.. bind them at your wrist.. on your forehead (Deut 6:6-8). It is not the actions but the spirit with which they are performed that draws attention in Ruth and in the words of Jesus. He may seem to absolutely forbid the use of such titles as rabbi, teacher and father; but he was speaking with semitic eloquence and exaggeration (cf., Luke 14:26). In his explanation Jesus at once refers to the inner spirit that directs and motivates external actions: The greatest among you must be the one who serves the rest. Those who exalt themselves shall be humbled, but those who humble themselves shall be exalted.

This same insistence on the inner spirit dominates today’s text from Ezekiel. Once he has completed his prophetic task and the spirit-led people have returned to their ancestral land, the temple can be rebuilt. Yet external reconstruction is not enough. The glory of the Lord must return and dwell again in the midst of the people. From the beginning then, as in the story of Ruth, God had a mysterious plan that would develop far beyond the dreams of his servants.

 Ezekiel 43:1-7

Then he brought me to the gate, the gate facing east.And there, the glory of the God of Israel was coming from the east; the sound was like the sound of mighty waters; and the earth shone with his glory.The vision I saw was like the vision that I had seen when he came to destroy the city, and like the vision that I had seen by the river Chebar; and I fell upon my face.

As the glory of the Lord entered the temple by the gate facing east, the spirit lifted me up, and brought me into the inner court; and the glory of the Lord filled the temple.While the man was standing beside me, I heard someone speaking to me out of the temple.He said to me: Mortal, this is the place of my throne and the place for the soles of my feet, where I will reside among the people of Israel forever. The house of Israel shall no more defile my holy name, neither they nor their kings, by their whoring, and by the corpses of their kings at their death.

Gospel: Matthew 23:1-12

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honour at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father – the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.

#August 27. Monday of Week Twenty One

2 Thess 1:1ff. Where faith and love increase in the midst of difficulties, the name of Jesus Christ is glorified.

Matthew 23:13ff. Jesus condemns the blind guides for their legalistic distinctions that destroy the purpose of the law.

Genuineness versus Hypocrisy

The Thessalonians live and act in such a way as to “prove” their faith; the blind guides in the gospel destroy faith by legalistic hairsplitting. Compared to the Scribes and Pharisees, the Thessalonian Christians possessed only elementary training in their religion. The fact that they would easily misunderstand Paul’s words about the second coming of Jesus shows that they had gone no further than the ABCs of the faith. This problem will show up again in next week’s readings). Still other problems surfaced at Thessalonica according to Acts 17:1-15.

While the Scribes and Pharisees quoted Scripture much more eloquently and precisely and were much more successful in gaining converts to Judaism than the Thessalonians to Christianity, nonetheless, the latter were proving their faith more effectively. No one proves faith by logical words pondered by the mind or even by miraculous actions seen by the eye. Even the Egyptian magicians could match Moses’ actions, and the devil can quote Scripture for evil purposes. Faith is proved by intuitions of the spirit and by manifestations of the spirit. Its supernatural language is spoken through acts of love and fidelity: By this shall everyone know that you are my disciples, if you have love, one for another (John 13:35). Intuitions of the spirit are communicated through the vibrations of sincerity, honesty, humility and other fruits of the spirit (Gal 5:22).

In this spirit Paul had come to Thessalonica, preaching the gospel “not merely in words” but out of complete conviction. In the same spirit the church he founded there lived the faith so vibrantly that reports of their faith spread to other places too. They confidently awaited from heaven the Son whom God raised from the dead, “Jesus, who delivers us from the wrath to come.” Faith was much more than a recital of past events, for it looked to the future too, awaiting the messianic kingdom. This expectation should not make us dreamers, overlooking the basic needs of our neighbour. Rather, it prompts us to be “labouring in love.” The reading from the 2 Thessalonians joins the two ideas clearly: as faith grows so mutual love increases, and results in a spirit of “constancy.”

The gospel refers to the faith seen among the Scribes and Pharisees. When Jesus declares that their actions are “few,” he means actions worthy of imitation. He goes on to say that their works were performed to be seen. Their religious practices were to enhance their reputation; converts were trophies to be displayed. By using a refined legalism they justified doing what the law prohibits. Jesus’ words here are so severe that we almost wonder if he was being guided by the charity which ought to direct all words and actions? The liturgy does not include other lines which help to put the entire speech into a perspective of love and compassion, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, murderer of prophets and stoner of those who were sent to you. How I have yearned to gather your children, as a mother bird gathers her young under her wings, but you refused me.”

 2Th1:1-5, 11-12

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

We must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of everyone of you for one another is increasing. Therefore we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith during all your persecutions and the afflictions that you are enduring. This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, and is intended to make you worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering.

To this end we always pray for you, asking that our God will make you worthy of his call and will fulfill by his power every good resolve and work of faith, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Gospel: Matthew 23:13-22

“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.

“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the sanctuary is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gold of the sanctuary is bound by the oath.’ You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the sanctuary that has made the gold sacred? And you say, ‘Whoever swears by the altar is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gift that is on the altar is bound by the oath.’ How blind you are! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? So whoever swears by the altar, swears by it and by everything on it; and whoever swears by the sanctuary, swears by it and by the one who dwells in it; and whoever swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by the one who is seated upon it.

#August 28. Tuesday of Week Twenty One

(option: St Augustine)

2 Thess 2:1ff. Not to be too excited about the second coming of the Lord.

Matthew 23:23ff. Integrity is based on justice, mercy and good faith.

Gentle Strength

Paul combines attitudes that at first may seem contradictory. Though strong and independent, he is “gentle as any nursing mother.” In no way did he plan his actions merely to please others, yet he was anxious to share very lives of h is people. He values practical, everyday decision-making, even while he points ahead to the second coming of the Lord Jesus. Another contradiction seems to flare up in the preaching of Jesus. He reverses what the Scribes and Pharisees consider essential and what they judge of leser importance. Moreover, his attitude to the Law is that all depends on the spirit with which it is kept. This could become very subjective, so that people would act more by their feelings than by their principles.

Because biblical religion deals with a mixture of mutual charity and of total obedience to God, of external laws and inner spirit, of ancient traditions and future hopes, it will always have to face seemingly irreconcilable factors. Unless there is trust in God and in each other, no principles will be enough.

The Scribes and Pharisees are so nearsighted by selfishness and vainglory as to “neglect the weightier matters of the Law, justice and mercy and good faith.” Despite their zeal to make others clean on the outside, they are unwilling to cleanse what is inside themselves. One of the ways to sidestep God’s demand for a sincere, integral religion is to focus attention on small matters, “straining out the gnats.” Another way, as Paul points out today, is to be all absorbed in our Lord’s second coming, peering into the clouds with ecstatic fixation while doing nothing immediate needs of life.

In First Thessalonians we find a number of practical norms to keep religion free from weird excesses and in tune with the highest ideals. Paul asks the Christians to practice courage in the face of great opposition; to seek to please God, “the tester of our hearts,” rather than impressing others; to avoid flattery or greed under any pretext. He points to his own behaviour: gentle as any nursing mother; sharing with you not only God’s tidings but our very lives, so dear had you become to us. These everyday yet heroic expressions of faith can be attempted by anyone even today, in line with Paul’s policy of honesty and openness.

 2Th2:1-3, 14-17

As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here. Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the one destined for destruction.

For this purpose he called you through our proclamation of the good news, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter.

Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.

Gospel: Matthew 23:23-26

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may become clean.

##August 29. The Beheading of St John the Baptist

#August 30. Thursday of Week Twenty One

1 Cor 1:1ff. He greets the Corinthian church, thanks God for their gifts and prays for their perseverance.

Matthew 24:42ff. The faithful, farsighted servant always awaits his master who may come by surprise.

Reflection:

The local Pauline churches were eager for the glorious second coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ. The apostle prays, “may he strengthen your hearts.. at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.” Similarly in the greeting for the first letter to the Corinthians he prays that they be “blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus.” The gospel develops the theme of the opening words, “Stay awake, therefore. You cannot know the day your Lord is coming.”

We are to be alert and prepared, but not to the extent of some who quit their jobs so as to give full time to prayers and vigilance. Paul handled that crisis briskly. He wrote, as we read yesterday, “Anyone who wil not work should not eat.” And in today’s reading he is not tempted to ignore other problems and questions just because of the second coming. He prays to see them again “and remedy any shortcomings in your faith.”

The Corinthians,, are praised for being “richly endowed with every gift of speech and knowledge.” This encouragement is sincerely meant, yet there is an indirect admonition there too, for this church that never won Paul’s affection as did the Thessalonians or the Philippians. If Paul praises the Corinthians for their speech and knowledge, he never does so for their unity and charity, the two most essential virtues.

Jesus calls for good stewards who treat others in the household with love and respect, eat and drink temperately, and always alert. Such is “the faithful, far-sighted servant.” But if the Scriptures do not tolerate sleepy dreamers, neither are we to become mere busy-bodies, masters of trivia, activists with no time for contemplation, strategists with no moral principles, manipulators without mercy or personal concern. We are asked to judge everything in light of the Lord’s return “like a thief in the night.” Today’s texts ask us to be practical and diligent; to be men and women of vision and moral perspective; most of all to be prayerful and personally aware of the presence of our Lord Jesus.

 1 Cor 1:1-9

Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sos’thenes, To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I give thanks to God always for you because of the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him with all speech and all knowledge – even as the testimony to Christ was confirmed among you – so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ; who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Gospel: Matthew 24:42-51

Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

“Who then is the faithful and wise slave, whom his master has put in charge of his household, to give the other slaves their allowance of food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possession. But if that wicked slave says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ and he begins to beat his fellow slaves, and eats and drinks with drunkards, the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know. He will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

#August 31. Friday of Week Twenty One

1 Cor 1:17ff. The mystery of the cross, wiser than human intelligence, stronger than human power.

Matthew 25:1ff. Parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids; on being ready to receive the bridegroom when he comes.

The Pitfalls of Eschatology

Jesus points out that not all even of the specially chosen people are assured salvation. Only five of the bridesmaids were there to welcome the bridal party; five others were told, “I do not know you.” The interpretation of this parable developed within early Christian history. In first speaking it Jesus was warning that salvation did not come automatically through the perfect observance of law and tradition. In this he was in direct continuity with Old Testament prophets up to John the Baptist, who bluntly corrected those who preened themselves on being Israelites, with Abraham as their father, “God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones.” Jesus, therefore, was not saying anything new, only imparting a greater urgency to the oft repeated prophetic challenge.

When Matthew wrote his gospel, a controversy was raging between Christian Jews and Pharisaic Jews. The former considered themselves genuine disciples of both Moses and Jesus, the latter condemned them as traitors to Moses. Some of the chosen people accepted Jesus, some did not. The Messiah had come and some were not ready. Already in Matthew’s gospel, the interpretation of the parable was evolving further. The Christians faced the question of when to expect the second coming of Jesus. Now the moral is, “Keep your eyes open, for you know not the day nor the hour.” Being a Christian was no absolute guarantee of being ready to welcome Jesus on his return.

As we re-read the gospel passage, we sense the pathos and tragedy of the five foolish bridesmaids. They really did nothing seriously wrong, but simply nodded off asleep. No matter how many excuses may explain the failure, nonetheless, people often let an important opportunity slip by. We need the repeated reminder, “watch, for you know not the day nor the hour.”

On the other hand, in the case of the Thessalonians (*1), some people became so absorbed in the vision of the Lord and in rarified spirituality, that they despised this present life and soon considered all physical acts totally unimportant. The tragedy here is that such overly-spiritual people can weave the web of immorality without sensing any danger. They nod, fall off to sleep and hardly notice the real condition of their lives. Paul’s language here to the Thessalonians boldly condemns their sexual aberrations and will not accept the excuse that absorption in the second coming of Jesus makes one’s earthly acts inconsequential.

Still others, like the Corinthians, can look at the sign of salvation and misread its message. In an admirable effort to adapt to culture and values, they would have banished the cross of Jesus from sight and from preaching. It is “a stumbling block” to some and “an absurdity” to others. The cross is too bleak or too self-renouncing. Particularly among the cultured class who gloried in the perfect male and female body, as we find in ancient Greek sculpture, or among the Jews who worshipped a living God and permitted no dying or diseased person in their synagogue, the cross was intolerable. The cross cuts clean and deep and reveals emotions and intuitions otherwise hidden from the wise and prudent. Without the cross we are lulled to sleep and will never receive the Master on his return.

 1 Cor 1:17-25

For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will thwart.” Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

Gospel: Matthew 25:1-13

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do no know you.’ Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

#Sept 01. Saturday of Week Twenty One

1 Cor 1:26ff. God chose the world’s despised, so that our wisdom, justice, and holiness would centre on Jesus.

Matthew 25:14ff. Those who make good use of their talents are rewarded; whoever buries his talents is blamed.

Talents are for Using

The gist of today’s parable is summarized in the paradox: The haves will get more, while the have-nots will lose even the little that they have. Like an automobile or a typewriter, God’s gifts must be kept in use, in order to stay in good condition; non-use leads to stagnation, sticky parts and clogged valves. Physical and spiritual life quickly degenerates in isolation and dark confinement. But the wrong use of life, gifts, automobiles and typewriters also destroys them, even more quickly than non-use. Today’s three readings enable us to balance and integrate these factors in the use of our talents.

It is not God’s will that we bury the Bible as a sacred treasure, but neither must we expect immediate, obvious answers from reading it. Some questions like those about nuclear war or world overpopulation were never addressed in the Bible. Other questions were raised but neglected, like that of slavery which is accepted as a fact of life even in Jesus’ parables and in Paul’s epistle to the slave-owner Philemon. Still other questions are addressed in a way that is clearly valid for today, like Paul’s recommendations to the Thessalonians, “remain at peace; attend to your own affairs-work with your hands; give good example; seek to want for nothing.”

The Bible is just one part of the total process of arriving at the will, answer and word of God. As I trade with the precious heritage of Sacred Scripture, I interact with personal, family, society and church expectations. I pray for the enlightenment of God’s spirit. I seek advice and draw on experience. In this way, those who have traded and interacted will get more.. while those who have not traded and interacted are in danger of losing the little they have.”

Paul gives us another norm and impetus for reaching outward for help in trading with the gift of Sacred Scripture. Jesus is our sanctification, for he attracts our best self; and our redemption, so that we form one living person with Jesus, our elder brother, whose spirit and example we try to follow in everything.

 1 Cor 1:26-31

For consider your call, brethren; not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth; but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption; therefore, as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast of the Lord.”

Gospel: Matthew 25:14-30

“Think of a man, going on a journey, who summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’

Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

#Sept 03. Monday of Week Twenty Two

1 Cor 2:1ff. Paul came to Corinth in a weakened state, but still preached with the convincing power of the Spirit.

Luke 4:16ff. Jesus’ inaugural discourse at Nazareth, promising the fulfilment of Isaiah’s hope-filled vision

True Fulfilment

Two types of fulfillment are brought to our attention, the first during Jesus’ earthly ministry, the second at the end of time with his second coming. In each case the results are due more to God’s power than to human wisdom, as Paul reminds us. In preaching to the Thessalonians, Paul insisted on the central mystery of Christ’s resurrection, as a pledge of our own resurrection: For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, God will bring forth with him from the dead those also who have fallen asleep believing in him.

If all true spiritual power derives from Christ, then Paul will not be discouraged, even if for a time he has to live “in weakness and fear.” His correspondence with the Corinthians reveals the intensity with which Paul argued. Yet, at the base of his activity he felt a sincere sense of consecration, and he sensed the genuine presence of the Spirit. Therefore he was open to new inspiration, and even to changes of his mood. After doing his best, Paul could then confidently leave the results with “the power of God.”

Today we begin to read from Luke’s gospel. With him we will follow the journeys of Jesus all the way through the remaining weekdays in ordinary time, from this twenty-second week till the thirty-fourth. Already in his opening address at Nazareth he announces, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” Later in this gospel, Jesus points out that the kingdom of God is not to be identified with a point of time, nor is it “here” or “there.” For the deepest truth is that the reign of God is already in your midst (17:21). This inaugural sermon of Jesus at Nazareth combines some of the major themes of Luke’s gospel: concern for the poor; people’s amazement at Jesus; outreach to Gentiles; role of the Spirit; Jesus as prophet; Jesus’ rejection “outside the city.”

“Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” The power of the resurrection is already being felt. The jubilee year of favour announced in Isaiah 61, which leads up to the new Jerusalem (chap. 62) and the new heaven and new earth (Isa 65: 17-25), has already begun with Jesus. We are already experiencing the wonder and the joy of the jubilee. Such happiness cannot be possessed selfishly. It will be lost if it is not shared. We, the chosen people, must be willing to recognize the same messianic fulfillment with widows and foreigners, with outcasts and lepers. Jesus cannot rise to new life unless the glad tidings be sent to all the poor and neglected of the world.

 1 Cor 2:1-5

When I came to you, brethren, I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in much fear and trembling; and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

Gospel: Luke 4:16-30

When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to procaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.'” And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

#Sept 04. Tuesday of Week Twenty Two

1 Cor 2:10ff. One who is taught by the Spirit of God can judge things correctly and knows their innermost self. Such as these have the mind of Christ.

Luke 4:31ff. On the Sabbath Jesus instructs in the synagogue with authority and drives out demons. The people are spellbound by his teaching and astonished at his power.

Crucial Transitions

For most of us life plods along without much excitement. Routine becomes the pace of every day. Wise old Solomon admitted this fact: “What has been, will be; what has been done, will be done. Nothing is new under the sun. Even the thing of which we say, ‘See, this is new’ has already existed in former ages” (Eccl 1:9-10). This normal day-to-day monotony was so true, that he twice again returned to the statement (Eccl 3:15; 6:10). The famous opening lines of his book, usually translated, “Vanity of vanity. All things are vanity” (Eccl 1:2), would read more literally, “Air. Air. All is but a puff of air.”

The sages in the sapiential books like Proverbs or Ecclesiastes want things to stay normal, conservative and controlled – as most of the time they do; but it is the times when they do not that make such a difference in our lives. These are the vital, crucial transitions when routine is broken and we are turned in another direction. Some transitions can be carefully planned, like marriage or priesthood or religious life, like graduation from school or acceptance of an offer for work, like a decision to remain at home with one’s dependent parents or to move away to live more independently. Other transitions hit us “like a thief in the night.” Unplanned as it may be, the event changes our life. These can be physically devastating like a heart attack or a death in a family, or they may be happy events like a pregnancy or finding a new friend.

At all such surprising moments, whether they surprise us with joy or with sadness, we are given important advice from Scripture. First of all, Paul instructs us: “All of you are children of light and of the day. We belong neither to darkness nor to night.” Often, what happens unexpectedly has been lurking in the shadows of our character. It can be a healthy purification to come clean and be out with it. But we cannot arrive at the truth without the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit. In the reading we hear again from Paul: “The natural person does not accept what is taught by the Spirit of God.” Indeed, we rely heavily on the Holy Spirit to put our inner selves back together again, once we have experienced any serious transition. In this “we have the mind of Christ,” says Paul. We must believe God’s providence embraces this sudden change and can direct our life as Christ’s was directed.

Even if we revolt against the change in our lives, we are never in a hopeless bind. Suddenly on any Sabbath day Jesus comes into our midst, instructing us and driving out our “devil” of fear and anger. We are “spellbound by his teaching, for the words have authority.” Jesus speaks to our heart and opens the dark reserves of our unconscious. We are “struck with astonishment as he commands the unclean spirit with.. power.” Through Scripture and prayer, through homilies and advice, we are in Jesus’ presence. A new quiet descends on us and we may even welcome a new stretch of routine or even monotony.

 1 Cor 2:10-16

God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For what person knows a man’s thoughts except the spirit of the man which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who possess the Spirit.

The unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because the are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

Gospel: Luke 4:31-37

He went down to Capernaum, a city in Galilee, and was teaching them on the Sabbath. They were astounded at his teaching, because he spoke with authority. In the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, “Let us alone! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” When the demon had thrown him down before them, he came out of him without having done him any harm. They were all amazed and kept saying to one another, “What kind of utterance is this? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and out they come!” And a report about him began to reach every place in the region.

#Sept 05. Wednesday of Week Twenty Two

1 Cor 3:1ff. People caught up in envy are still “infants,” while ministers of the gospel are “God’s co-workers.”

Luke 4:38ff. Jesus heals Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, then presses onward to announce the reign of God.

The Winding Road To Heaven

Today’s texts suggest the long process of growth with its ups and downs, before reaching “the hope held in store for you in heaven.” The Corinthian epistle reveals a struggling church, falling and rising again, and Colossians in cycle I a church assured of its final victory because of its “love in the Spirit;” then the gospel announces the miracles which accompany the preaching of Jesus. Spiritual development is embedded in the process of life and respects human nature.

Arriving at Simon Peter’s home, Jesus learns that the apostle’s mother-in-law is “in the grip of a severe fever.” We note of the sequence of events. The story, in being told over and over again, has been reduced to its bare bones, those details helpful for catechetical instruction: 1) the mother-in-law is found critically sick; 2) friends intercede with Jesus and pray for her; 3) Jesus stands over her and addresses the fever; 4) she gets up immediately and waits on them.

After the woman’s miraculous cure, one might expect everything to stop and total, ecstatic attention to centre on Jesus. That was not what actually happened. Life returned to the normal routine of caring for one another. “She got up immediately and waited on them.” The family setting is enhanced when we hear that the people around Jesus “interceded with him for her.” This endorses the practice of praying for one another and of asking the saints to intercede for us. The family reaches outward to all God’s friends.

But this does not happen easily, or for all. Even Paul’s converts did not follow a clear, quick path to heaven but often seemed to lose their way. He calls them “infants,” not adults, not yet ready for solid food. Like children they were quarreling over petty matters. Well, it looked petty when contrasted with true devotion for Jesus. They were split apart into jealous communities and claimed different spiritual leaders. Religion was being “used” and their natural tendency to pride and independence ended up in ridiculous ecclesiastical bickering. Paul reminds them that every church leader was God’s co-worker and that the church is nobody’s private property, or rather, “you are God’s garden.”

Paul reminds the Colossians of “the hope held in store for you in heaven,” a hope that “has borne fruit and has continued to grow in your mind as it has everywhere.” When Christians are strong in charity towards each other, they become people of expansive hopes. This hope, born of love, is the resource out of which miracles are worked and heaven is dreamed.

 1 Cor 3:1-9

But I, brethren, could not address you as spiritual men, but as men of the flesh, as babes in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food; for you were not ready for it; and even yet you are not ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving like ordinary men? For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apol’los,” are you not merely men?

What then is Apol’los? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apol’los watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are equal, and each shall receive his wages according to his labour. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.

Gospel: Luke 4:38-44

After leaving the synagogue he entered Simon’s house. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked him about her. Then he stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. Immediately she got up and began to serve them.

As the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various kinds of diseases brought them to him; and he laid his hands on each of them and cured them. Demons also came out of many, shouting, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Messiah.

At daybreak he departed and went into a deserted place. And the crowds were looking for him; and when they reached him, they wanted to prevent him from leaving them. But he said to them, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities als; for I was sent for this purpose.” So he continued proclaiming the message in the synagogues of Judea.

#Sept 06. Thursday of Week Twenty Two

1 Cor 3:18ff. We ought not to be wise in a worldly way, nor boastful. All things are yours, you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.

Luke 5:1ff. After a miraculous catch of fish in Peter’s boat, Jesus calls Peter and the two brothers, James and John, to leave everything and follow him.

Counting our Blessings

Today’s Scripture sanctifies the normal duties and works of daily life by calling on us to be innerly transformed by faith as we perform them and to reach beyond them by a sense of God’s marvellous power in our lives. We are to consecrate the natural forms of life – employment, study, health-care, eating and drinking, marriage and family – by following a deeply personal call from Jesus. Another way of expressing this same idea would be: while doing our best, Jesus calls us to a “new” and still “better” way of performing the same actions.

But sometimes our success can be our undoing. More people are hurt by success than they are by failure. Like Simon Peter on the catch of a large number of fish, we too need help and advice at times of material and spiritual success. Paul in First Corinthians sums up the attitude that will save us from the pitfalls of success: Let there be no boasting and no name dropping like, “I am of Paul or of Apollos or of Cephas.” We ought to be honestly aware of our blessings – for “all these things are yours,” but we also remember: you are Christ’s and Christ is God’s.

 1 Cor 3:18-23

Let no one deceive himself. If any one among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” So let no one boast of men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apol’los or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future, all are yours; and you are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.

Gospel: Luke 5:1-11

Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

#Sept 07. Friday of Week Twenty Two

1 Cor 4:1-5. As God’s administrator, Paul must not be judged by any human judge but by the Lord, who will reveal all, even the most hidden motives.

Luke 5:33-39. The disciples do not fast while Jesus is with them, only later when he is taken away. Two short parables about the new situation her brings.

Surprised by Grace

We are asked to consider our lives as lived between two extremes of creation, the first at the beginning of time, the second when Jesus returns at the end of time. Situated in between, our lives are profoundly influenced by the memory of beginnings and by a marvellous hope beckoning us into the future. This text from Colossians, which may have been a hymn chanted in the early Church, attributes first creation to Christ, the firstborn of all creatures, in whom everything continues in being, and who is the head of the body, the church.

Yet, we live in the “now,” when things can take quite another form and we are caught amidst envy, misunderstanding and rash judgment towards one another. While some rejoice in God’s wonderful graces, others complain that they ought to be fasting and praying more fervently. Jesus himself was not good enough for his contemporaries, and even alive within our friends and our church today he is still criticized. We sense this situation in his words, We piped you a tune but you did not dance, we sang you a dirge but you did not wail (Luke 7:32). Some people can never approve what others do, no matter what the motive.

In 1 Cor 4:1-5, mystery leads to rash judgment. Neither could Paul ever please the Corinthians, and in desperation he lashes back, “It matters little to me whether you or any human court pass judgment on me. The Lord is the one to judge me.” At the deepest level this is true, we are judged by the Lord alone. Real faith makes this demand and has its reward when Jesus reveals the hidden intentions of the heart.

Some wish to suppress the mysterious working of grace under human control, excessively applied and rigidly maintained. They want to patch a new garment with old material, pour new wine into old wineskins. But the old skins will burst under the pressure of the fermenting new wine. The old piece of cloth will never match the texture and color of the new.

 1 Cor 4:1-5

This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then every man will receive his commendation from God.

Gospel: Luke 5:33-39

Then they said to him, John’s disciples, like the disciples of the Pharisees, frequently fast and pray, but your disciples eat and drink. Jesus said to them, “You cannot make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them, can you? The days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.”

He also told them a parable: “No one tears a piece from a new garment and sews it on an old garment; otherwise the new will be torn, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine desires new wine, but says, ‘The old is good.'”

##Sept 08. Birthday of Our Blessed Lady

#Sept 10. 23rd Week Monday of Week Twenty Three

1 Cor 5:1ff. Excommunication for an unlawful marriage. We must banish corruption, to celebrate the new Passover.

Luke 6:6ff. Jesus heals the man with a withered hand on the Sabbath, to the chagrin of his opponents.

An Uncompromising Stance

Jesus did not enter the synagogue to stir up a quarrel nor to prove his miraculous power. But at once he sensed a trap by his enemies to put him in a negative light. A disabled man was being “used” to make Jesus look like a law-breaker – how calloused a ploy, to use the man’s handicap in order to gather evidence against Jesus. There is a common tendency to put restrictions on the love of God, just as narrow-minded people tried to limit Jesus’ outreach and exclude individuals or whole groups from his help. But the power of Jesus cannot be bound with a heavy load of rigid traditions. So many facile, false reasons can be advanced: Sabbath, the wrong day of the week for a miracle; fear to side with a poor, the unemployed, or the disabled; prejudices about race or nationality; inability to correct a powerful, influential person, even for the scandal of marrying his own father’s wife. In the readings people advance many reasons why God should not act generously and miraculously.

The hope of forming one body, of Christ and all his members, cannot be accomplished any more easily than Christ’s action of restoring the impaired hand and thereby stirring up the frenzied anger of his opponents. Yet Paul’s patient effort to reconcile all men and women brings great joy and satisfaction. Since this ideal is so glorious, Paul feels himself, even in the midst of struggle, to be impelled by a powerful force urging him on.

In 1 Cor 5, Paul would not tolerate a compromise in public morality, no matter how influential the person may be. He speaks of the “lewd conduct” of a man who is cohabiting with his stepmother. Most probably the father is deceased, but still this type of marriage was seriously scandalous in Jewish eyes (Lev 20:11). Paul demands therefore, “Get rid of the old yeast,” for just a little of it would spoil the whole batch. He takes the occasion to speak of the sincerity expected of Christ’s followers. Although union with Christ is open to all, regardless of race or nationality, still it comes at the cost of fidelity and self-control. To be one body in Christ (1 Cor 12:12,27) means that the purifying spirit of Jesus must flow through all the members.

 1 Cor 5:1-8

It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and of a kind that is not found even among pagans; for a man is living with his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. For though absent in body I am present in spirit, and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment in the name of the Lord Jesus on the man who has done such a thing. When you are assembled, and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us, therefore, celebrate the festival, no with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

Gospel: Luke 6:6-11

On another Sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught, and there was a man there whose right hand was withered. The scribes and the Pharisees watched him to see whether he would cure on the Sabbath, so that they might find an accusation against him. Even though he knew what they were thinking, he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come and stand here.” He got up and stood there. Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to destroy it?” After looking around at all of them, he said to him, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so, and his hand was restored. But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.

#Sept 11. Tuesday of Week Twenty Three

1 Cor 6:1ff. No lawsuits before pagan courts! Christians should resolve their disputes among themselves.

Luke 6:12ff. Jesus spends the night in prayer and afterwards calls the twelve; then teaches and heals.

A Spiritual Dawning

We note a dramatic transition from death to life in Colossians (*1), from public wrangling to a new life in Jesus and the Spirit in 1 Corinthians ; and in the Gospel from night-time to a new dawn. Night is the time of death and contention, as well as of rebirth and new awareness. At night we can lose our healthy inhibitions and self-control, and be swept into any number of evil actions or thoughts. Paul links with darkness a devastating list of sins which excludes from God’s kingdom, suggesting sins that he found or suspected in Corinth: fornication, idolatry, adultery, sodomy, thievery, miserliness, drunkenness, slander and the rest.

Some sins, like miserliness, may not seem as serious as others on the list, but all the sins have to be understood in the larger setting at Corinth. The main sin, for Paul, is located in disunity and in hurting one another, “You yourself injure and cheat your very own brother and sister.” He singles out the scandal of mistrust and deceit in the Corinthian church, so that members feel obliged to take their problems and disputes to secular law courts. Indignantly he adds, “I say this in an attempt to shame you.”

But night is also a time of struggle against evil. Paul names these forces of evil as superhuman agents, “principalities and powers,” over whom Christ triumphed, “leading them off captive” (*1) . Locked in such struggle, we cannot be victorious without Jesus. We are advised in Colossians: Continue to live in Christ Jesus the Lord, in the spirit in which you received him. Be rooted in him and built up in him.

Night can also be a time of profound, silent prayer. Jesus went out to the mountain to pray, spending the night in communion with God. Silent prayer of such intense surrender turns into a dynamic time of new life. “Even when you were dead in sin, God gave you new life in company with Christ.” After being restored by the night of prayer, at daybreak he called his disciples and selected twelve of them to be his apostles. Jesus proceeded to share his life by teaching and by healing all who came to him. “Power went out from him which cured all.”

 1 Cor 6:1-11

When one of you has a grievance against a brother, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, matters pertaining to this life! If then you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who are least esteemed by the church? I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no man among you wise enough to decide between members of the brotherhood, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers?

To have lawsuits at all with one another is defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud, and that even your own brethren. Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

Gospel: Luke 6:12-19

Now during those days he went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God. And when day came, he called his disciples and chose twelve of them, whom he also named apostles: Simon, whom he named Peter, and his brother Andrew, and James, and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James son of Alphaeus, and Simon, who was called the Zealot, and Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.

He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.

#Sept 12. Wednesday of Week Twenty Three

1 Cor 7:25ff. Christians are free to marry or to remain single, but all should live in the awareness that this world is passing away.

Luke 6:20ff. The Beatitudes, spoken on the plain to a large crowd.

No Lasting City

We have here no lasting city. The seriousness of Luke’s Beatitudes becomes more apparent as we compare them with Matthew’s which are somewhat theoretical and more general. Luke’s are more simple and direct. Matthew’s are addressed not to the crowd, but to the disciples who alone follow Jesus up the mountain, and are phrased in the third person, “How blessed are the poor in spirit, for the reign of God is theirs.” Luke portrays Jesus as coming down the mountain to a level stretch where many of his disciples and a large crowd of people came to hear him. His Beatitudes are closer to Jesus’ original words, phrased in the second person: Blessed you who are poor; the reign of God is yours. you who hunger; you shall be filled. Luke, therefore, is not writing a general, catechetical discourse but is specifically and immediately addressing “you poor” and “you who hunger.” As we carefully re-read this Gospel, we are told, rather bluntly, that God accomplishes more with our poverty than with our wealth, more with our faith than with our activity. Poverty and faith have nothing to lose and an almost infinite variety of choices before them. Wealth and specialization restrict a person’s options and weigh that person down with anxieties. Yet, we feel the need of more direction, and for this we turn to the epistles.

To the Corinthians Paul admits that “I have not received any commandment from the Lord” on the matters now to be discussed. He proceeds to give the results of his own reflection. The first direction then for us, as we face problems and questions is to place ourselves in God’s presence and to think the matter through. The Scriptures may not always give the final answer, as difficulties arise that were not addressed by the writers of the Bible. He advises them to arrive at a careful decision. They are not to rush into marriage nor are they to remain in the single state as the easy way out of responsibility. Once married, or settled in the single state whether it be within religious community or with secular careers, one is not to be overly possessive. Husbands and wives are not related as owners of property but are united in the Lord. Those who buy and sell should never overlook God’s statement: The land shall not be sold in perpetuity; for the land is mine. And you are but aliens who have become my tenants (Lev 25:23).

Still other directives for living in a world that is passing away came from today’s reading from Colossians. This exhortation constitutes one of the finest, most stirring calls to living a heavenly existence on earth, “Be intent on things above.. put on the new person.. formed anew in the image of the Creator.” Paul is not afraid to translate these magnificent statements into practical language: put to death fornication, uncleanness, evil desires, put aside anger, quick temper, malice, insults, foul language. stop lying to one another. The centre point where all discussion stops always turns out to be unity, trust and charity. Here he states our new life in Christ where “there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, foreigners, Scythian, slave or free person.” Paul’s final directive here is engraven on many banners and should be cut into the flesh of our heart, “Christ is everything in all of you.”

 1 Cor 7:25-31

Now concerning the unmarried, I have no command of the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. I think that in view of the present distress it is well for a person to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek marriage. But if you marry, you do not sin, and if a girl marries she does not sin. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that. I mean, brethren, the appointed time has grown very short; from now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the form of this world is passing away.

Gospel: Luke 6:20-26

Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.”Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.

“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. “Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. “Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

#Sept 13. Thursday of Week Twenty Three

1 Cor 8:1ff. Knowledge inflates but love upbuilds. We should never wound the conscience of the weak.

Luke 6:27ff. Be compassionate, as your Father is compassionate. Give with joy and generosity.

Exalted Ideals

The biblical goals often reach beyond our normal human limits. Paul goes so far as to state that he will never again eat meat, if meat is an occasion of sin to another. In Colossians the entire list of expectations relies on the opening statement of who we really are, “Because you are God’s chosen ones.” If that is who we are, then we should act no differently. The goal of love is not beyond our nature as “God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved.” God’s choice has drawn us into the life of Jesus. If we are all “members of the one body”, then Christ’s inspiration and grace flow through us like breath or like blood. We breathe in his responses to life like air through our nostrils. Before we act, Christ is already alive within us. His heart is the signal to regulate our heart; his breath or spirit purifies our lungs and blood. He is giving us health and strength. Moreover, as “members of one body,” we all exist in an extraordinary bond of intimacy with one another. Our instinctive reaction to one another ought to be concern, kindness, patience, humility.

Writing First Corinthians Paul was practical and specific. Knowledge inflates us like a bag of wind. We argue speculatively and forget the fact of scandal. Some people can be so obsessed with theological correctness, that they have lost contact with reality. Part of any true dedication to Jesus is a refined sense of concern for people with weak consciences. Paul uses the example of meat dedicated to the gods. Because those “gods” are really “no-gods,” we are free to eat all food. But if a neighbour does not yet make these distinctions and their weak consciences are scandalized and injured, then as Paul puts it bluntly: you have sinned against a neighbour for whom Christ died. Therefore, you are sinning against Christ.

In this same spirit we should re-read the Gospel and seek to understand Christ’s expectations, like: bless those who curse you, turn the other cheek, and love your enemy. These statements reflect the supreme law of Christian life.

 1 Cor 8:1-7, 11-13

Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” “Knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. If any one imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if one loves God, one is known by him.

Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth – as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords” – yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through being hitherto accustomed to idols, eat food as really offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. And so by your knowledge this weak man is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food is a cause of my brother’s falling, I will never eat meat, lest I cause my brother to fall.

Gospel: Luke 6:27-38

Jesus said to them: “I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. RuleDo to others as you would have them do to you. “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged;do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”

##Sept 14. Exaltation of the Holy Cross

##Sept 15. Our Lady of Sorrows

 

#Sept 17. Monday of Week Twenty Four

1 Cor 11:17ff. The Eucharistic meal can be seriously profaned by divisions based on class and wealth.

Luke 7:1ff. The Roman centurion has greater faith than all Israel and receives from Jesus the cure of his servant.

All are Called to Salvation

Different sides of the Church’s mission are seen in today’s texts. While First Timothy proclaims the Gospel’s outreach to the world, the Roman centurion in Luke 7 shows how well prepared the world can be and Paul’s Letter shows how much the Gentile community stands in need of correction, to return to Gospel values. The mission statements in First Timothy are clear and engaging: God wants all to be saved and to know the truth; Jesus gave himself as ransom for all; and Paul has a mission to all nations.

Since God wants the salvation of all, we must conclude that the bulk of the human race are being saved without explicit acceptance of the Gospel. Much less than fifty percent of the world’s population is Christian. Therefore the preaching of the Gospel does not make the difference between heaven and hell for an individual; rather the difference is between the joy and strength of knowing Jesus and the difficulty and unclarity of living without his clear guidance. Paul prays not only that all may be saved but that they also “come to know the truth.” Truth sets free and envigorates, it brings greater peace and self-respect. The truth, according to Paul, consists in this: since God is one, all his children form one human family. The mediator between God and ourselves, is also one, the man Christ Jesus.

In the new person, a Gentile centurion, shows up with even stronger faith than existed in Israel. If we transfer this into our contemporary era, the faith of a Buddhist or of Islam can take a Christian by surprise. The Roman centurion shows an alertness, a concern, a direct simplicity and a graciousness towards the distress of his servant. He sends to Jesus for help, even though he risked refusa as a member of the hated military presence of Rome. He also shows courtesy towards Jesus, “Sir, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you enter my house.” Open and honest, he does not beat around the bush and is not afraid to publicly admit his confidence in Jesus, and courteously sends a delegation of Jewish elders to intercede for him and his slave. These natural virtues served to create a distinguished public servant and portray him as a consummate diplomat. Jesus praises the faith of this foreigner.

Those who are proselytized can themselves teach the parent church. Believers can become hardened to their faith, take it for granted, use it for their selfish benefit, and even lose their wholesome natural virtues. An instance of such back-sliding was already corroding a church founded by Paul . The Corinthians were not united charitably and peacefully but split apart between the wealthy and the poor, or into groups attached to different spiritual masters, (Paul or Cephas or Apollos,) or according to their selfish appetite for food and drink. All this was showing up at the time of the Eucharist. In this context Paul repeats the ancient eucharistic tradition. The one body belongs to Christ, the one blood is that of Christ. The Corinthians are united with Jesus’ death and in hope of his second coming. They must regroup together, share sufferings and hope together, for they are all ransomed by the same Lord, Jesus.

 1 Cor 11:17-26, 33

But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first lace, when you assemble as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you; and I partly believe it, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. When you meet together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal, and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait upon one another.

Gospel: Luke 7:1-10

After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy of having you do this for him, for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.”

Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.” When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.

#Sept 18. Tuesday of Week Twenty Four

1 Cor 12:12ff. The body is one and has many members. Many gifts all at the service of the one body of Christ.

Luke 7:11ff. Jesus raises to life the dead son of a widow at Naim. The people respond with awe.

Variety of Christian Tasks

If we read today’s scriptural selection in reverse, beginning with the Gospel, then First Corinthians, and finally First Timothy (*1), we can detect stages of development within church leadership. In the Gospel, at the sight of a dead man being carried to his grave, the only son of a widowed mother, Jesus acts spontaneously to work a miracle. In First Corinthians, the miracle-worker is named fourth in line along with such offices in the church as apostle, prophet, teacher, healer and others. In First Timothy the offices of apostle or miracle worker are not mentioned at all, and the focus is now on the roles of bishop, deacon, deaconess and (later) on those of presbyter and widow.

As the church expanded in number and spread throughout the Mediterranean world, and faced crises of internal leadership and external persecution, its need of careful organization grew. We can see this paralleled in the development of an individual’s life. Children and youth are filled with hope and seem willing to tackle giants and become anything they choose; as young adults, they must choose a definite way of life yet they still bring new spirit and creative innovation within the office or vocation; finally, as mature men and women they settle down into their role or job with caution, wisdom and strength. Yet some important ideas come to mind as we meditate on the evolution of roles in the church.

First, the development from the more charismatic to the more organizational is normal and necessary. If the more charismatic and freer type of leadership is chronologically closer to Jesus, the later church is also called the body of Christ in the Scriptures. Paul’s phrase in First Corinthians says (translated literally): The body is one and has many members, but all the members, many though they are, are one body as is Christ. He reflects on the pastoral or practical question, which of these is best adapted to the needs of church life.

Secondly, it is apparent that the more charismatic types of leadership are fraught with more danger. Throughout the Bible miraculous feats were not always sign of God’s approval. Some of Moses’ miracles were matched by Pharaoh’s magicians (Exod 7:22; 8:3). Miracles can result in mad fervor where religion becomes a cult, and the leader exercises absolute and often lucrative control. On the other hand, we must recognize the presence of the miraculous in biblical religion and in church history. Whether in the church or in our own personal lives, we must never lose faith in miracles nor forget the beautiful memories of Jesus, the compassionate miracle worker.

A third observation: concern for others should drive us to expend ourselves generously for the poor, the sick, the helpless, the needy. We will be amazed at the results; they might even be miraculous. Perhaps one of the deadliest cancers in middle age and beyond, in church life as well as in civil administration, is the quiet acceptance of monotony, mediocrity and heavy passivity. To live happy lives we must always be ready for a miracle around the corner.

This combination of human prudence and divine wonder induces a healthy spirit within church and within each human life. The virtues expected of bishop, deacon and deaconess are admirable indeed: irreproachable, married only once, of even temper, self-controlled, modest, hospitable, not addicted to drink, a good manager of one’s own household, holding fast to the divinely revealed faith with a clear conscience. To hope for all these virtues in one person must implies a belief in miracles in the everyday life of God’s people.

 1 Cor 12:12-14, 27-31

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the organs in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single organ, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to he hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body which seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those parts of the body which we think less honourable we invest with the greater honour, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving the greater honour to the inferior part, that there may be no discord in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators, speakers in various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.

Gospel: Luke 7:11-17

Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us!” and “God has looked favourably on his people!” This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.

#Sept 19. Wednesday of Week Twenty Four

1 Cor 12:13ff. Hymn to charity, the supreme virtue, which will outlast faith and hope into eternity.

Luke 7:31ff. The self-centred cannot respond to others, whether to dance to a tune or mourn to a dirge.

A Lively, Nurturing Family

The key word today is household. We are all “members of God’s household.” Like any family, God’s household is the scene of a wonderful treasure of mystery. It treasures many wise sayings and sings its traditional hymns. First Timothy quotes a confession of faith, popular among believers. The Gospel cites a bit of ancient wisdom, echoing the Book of Proverbs and repeated from parent to child, rabbi to student. Paul most probably did not compose the hymn to charity but drew on a well-known hymnic statement of the early church.

A family holds this diversity of tradition as the parents, children and grandchildren, the relatives and neighbours pass through the different phases of life, from birth to death, from innocent faith to tried and nature faith, from gifts that divide and instigate envy to gifts that are now the source of enrichment and family pride.

A good family is never monotonous and its members are gifted in very many ways. In the reading from First Corinthians, Paul speaks of many of these talents: prophecy, full knowledge, comprehension of mysteries, confidence to move mountains, generosity in feeding the poor, willing to die heroically. But the greater the intensity of these talents, the greater the problems that arise in the family and the church. Paul does not want any talent to be suppressed, but calls some of these gifted people “a noisy gong,” “a clanging cymbal.” Such people, he states “put on airs” and become snobbish. They can be rude, self-seeking or prone to anger, whereas all true gifts should be united in love. There are in the end three things that last: faith, hope, and love, and the greatest of these is love.

To love in such an outstanding way, the members of God’s household cannot be egotistic individuals, but people who thrust outward into the family, neighbourhood and church. If there is strength in unity, these are the people who strengthen the church.

 1 Cor 12:31-13:13

But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends; as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect; but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Gospel: Luke 7:31-35

“To what then will I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not weep.’ For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Nevertheless, wisdom is vindicated by all her children.”

#Sept 20. Thursday of Week Twenty Four

1 Cor 15:1ff. The Gospel Paul preached is the one that he himself received, and has not proved fruitless.

Luke 7:36ff. The parable of the generous money-lender illustrates the conversion of the once-sinful woman.

Ministry, in Various Ways

We are all called to minister to others, some as priests and pastoral carers, others as teachers, nurses and counselors, others as relatives and neighbours. There is no single way of responding to others, not even if these be children in the same family or adults in the identical social or cultural bracket. The three biblical passages for today call our attention to various aspects of serving and helping one another.

First of all, as we find in First Corinthians, we must be anchored in the Gospel. This announcement of good news reaches back to Jesus and continues in the church. Paul writes with a keen sense of tradition: “I remind you of the Gospel I preached to you.. and in which you stand firm.. I handed on to you first of all what I myself received.” Paul summarizes this gospel of salvation: Christ died for our sins, was buried and rose again; was seen by Cephas, the Twelve, many others and “last of all.. by me.. the least of the apostles.”

In preaching the good news of Jesus Christ, Paul is also conscious of the church and of those whom Jesus placed in leadership roles: first Peter, then the Twelve and a larger group of five hundred, afterwards James who led the Jewish Christians, and finally Paul himself. We are advised to minister to one another within the faith of Jesus’ death and resurrection and within the visible bond of church unity. Faith and unity are both seen in a human, humble and hopeful way. Faith declares that Jesus died “for our sins” and unity is enclosed within Paul’s humble attestation, “I am the least of the apostles,.. I do not deserve even the name.” We minister to one another in the faith that Jesus died for the sins of each of us. We never lord it over others, we the least of all.

At other times we must encourage and support another who may be ignored or may feel diffident, as Paul wrote to Timothy, “because of your youth.” The exhortation to Timothy is a classic combination of strong support, self-confidence and avuncular advice. Youth stands in need of respect for its talents, appreciation of its ideals, assurance of its ability to teach and preach, acceptance of its genuine leadership gained by natural talent, training and divine call within the church.

Finally, we come to the sharp contrast of attitudes and responses in the Gospel. Jesus can be stern with the pure and proud, tender and protective towards the humble and repentant. Jesus grounds his teaching in the parable of God’s generous initiative in loving and forgiving. In fact, the person with heavier debts of sin seems to be loved more by God than the other person with lighter debts. God can seem unjust, until we remember that pride is a greater sin than sexual excess. At first, we may think that the woman, a public sinner in town, is the one who owes the five hundred gold pieces to God, and that the Pharisee has the small debt of only fifty gold pieces. There is still hope for the proud, if the woman can be forgiven this easily.

We minister towards one another, within the Gospel and authority of the church, with encouragement and esteem for the young, with concern for the repentant, with stern dedication to God’s love in the case of the proud and self-righteous.

 1 Cor 15:1-11

Now I would remind you, brethren, in what terms I preached to you the gospel, which you received, in which you stand, by which you are saved, if you hold it fast – unless you believed in vain.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God which is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

Gospel: Luke 7:36-50

One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him – that she is a sinner.” Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “Speak.” “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “our faith has saved you; go in peace.”

##Sept 21. St Matthew, Apostle

#Sept 22. Saturday of Week Twenty Four

1 Cor 15:25ff. What is sown as mutable rises to new, incorruptible life. Our bodies will resemble the risen Jesus.

Luke 8:4ff. The parable of the seed and the sower is explained only to the apostles to whom all mysteries are revealed.

The Mysterious Potential

A divine potential simmers in the depths of each human being. Both Jesus and his apostle Paul compare it to a seed, buried in the ground. Looking at the seed before it is planted, one hardly suspects what a flower is to develop from it. The process by which the seed “dies” or disintegrates within the earth cannot be rushed. It needs not only time but also a silent waiting within the dark, warm earth.

Our inner life is mystery, linked to the heavenly person whose likeness we bear, and God’s action within us is told in parables (Gospel). While we cannot yet grasp the mode of existence God plans for us in heaven, yet we already feel the stirrings of our future life within us, as a pregnant mother sense her child. In one way this mystery seems so fragile, even non-existent in its gradual, silent evolution; in another way it is the deepest, truest part of ourselves. We have the ability to ignore and suppress the mystery, yet tenaciously the seed preserves its life and by its very dissolution as a seed it grows into its new stage of life.

First Timothy urges us to respect those secret stirrings of new life as God’s command to us. Our truest self, not yet visible, is like a divine word of command. To know ourselves we must be attuned to our deepest hopes and desires. Then we are charged to keep God’s commands faithfully. If we ask “for how long?” the answer is simply, “until Jesus Christ appears.” These secret parts of ourselves will outlast all trials and be the source of our new existence. We dare not deny or compromise this mystery which is our very self.

Another reflection on this mystery comes from Paul to the Corinthians . Part of ourself is “subject to decay” and must die; not that this dying part is bad or useless, for once it existed as a lovely flower or bloom. After the flower fades away, the seed developes, and then the seed, sown in the ground, must disintegrate. At first the whole process seems very frustrating, but let us not forget that flowers impart joy and color to life even though they are intended to die. Our true self emerges in direct continuity with our former self, as a new plant grows out of the seed, yet surpassing the old in unimaginable ways. Weakness is sown, and strength rises up. Paul’s resurrection faith makes him the most profoundly optimistic of religion teachers.

Matthew’s explanation of the parable of the sower gives us further pointers about life. As the seed, God’s word, can fall on the footpaths and there be trampled down, so life’s mystery must not be subjected to every person’s advice and be easily subjected to anyone’s opinion. If the seed is scattered on rocky ground where it cannot take root but quickly dries up, we must allow God’s inspiration to sink its roots deeply into our lives and become a part of ourselves. Neither should the seed be dispersed amid briars, as it would be if we lose ourselves in a whirlwind pursuit of pleasure, and lose our taste for prayer, reflection and the self-denial which every mature person needs. Finally, the seed that falls on good ground and yields a plentiful harvest suggests how the grace of God must be thoroughly integrated into ourselves. The harvest depends on the quality of our lives over a long period of time.

 1 Cor 15:35-37, 42-49

But some one will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” You foolish man! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body which is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain.

So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being;” the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual which is first but the physical, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.

Gospel: Luke 8:4-15

When a great crowd gathered and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable: “A sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell on the path and was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. Some fell on the rock; and as it grew up, it withered for lack of moisture. Some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew with it and choked it. Some fell into good soil, and when it grew, it produced a hundredfold.” As he said this, he called out, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”

Then his disciples asked him what this parable meant. He said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God; but to others I speak in parables, so that ‘looking they may not perceive, and listening they may not understand.’

“Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. The ones on the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. The ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe only for a while and in a time of testing fall away. As for what fell among the thorns, these are the ones who hear; but as they go on their way, they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. But as for that in the good soil, these are the ones who, when they hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance.

#Sept 24. Monday of Week Twenty Five

Prov 3:27ff. Practical guidelines for dealing justly and honourably with one’s neighbour.

Luke 8:16ff. A lamp must go on a lampstand, to brighten the house. Whoever has spiritual depth will be given more.

The power of cryptic statements

This short gospel text is a good introduction to two weeks of readings from Israel’s wisdom literature. Jesus’ word about the lampstand is clear, though startling in its implications; his next word, however, about having and gaining, or not-having and losing even that little, is enigmatic and baffling, like so many of the best proverbs in the sapiential literature.

The first readings for the next three weeks are drawn from the early postexilic literature that centres on the temple: Ezra and Nehemiah, the prophets Haggai, Zechariah, Baruch, Jonah, Malachi and Joel. The readings from cycles I and II are both from the postexilic age, yet the wisdom writers pay little attention to the temple, while the prophets, despite their diverse attitudes and responses, urgently consider the role of the temple in people’s lives. With its long history and variety of human authors, the Bible’s final answer depends on prayer, prudence, and a sincere desire to follow the will of God.

Jesus’ cryptic statement in the Gospel, “The one who has, will be given more; the one who has not, will lose even that little.” can perhaps be paraphrased: the one who has time to pray and reflect will be given more; the one who has not taken the time to turn to God and friends for advice will lose even the little wisdom that he or she possesses. The sapiential books in particular remind us that the Bible is not a child’s answer book but an adult’s reflection book. The variety of postexilic prophets leads to the same conclusion.

Mature reflection must always take into consideration one’s relation with one’s neighbours. This is the topic of the short essay from Proverbs, . Each line is as down to earth as sidewalks and working clothes. “Say not to your neighbour, Go and come back again, when you can give at once. Do not quarrel with a person without cause. Do not envy the lawless person.” Typical of the sapiential literature, the responses are moderate and possible. For these writers, the cardinal sins are extremism and radicalism. The sage even seems to permit “quarrels” or “envy” – but not without cause nor with the lawless person.

The sapiential literature, like the narratives and prophets in cycle I, comes from the postexilic age. We are introduced to this long, generally bleak and unexciting period, from 539 B.C. onward, by the Book of Ezra. The Israelites, dragged into exile in 597 and 587 B.C. when the Babylonians twice captured Jerusalem, are among many captive peoples set free by the benevolent despot, Cyrus the Great. Two years after his army entered Babylon without even a whisper of opposition, he permitted all exiles to return home. The account here centres on the southern tribes of Judah and Benjamin; the ten northern tribes, deported in 721 B.C. by Assyria, are lost to history. We notice how the writer has a keen literary sense and models this return on the exodus from Egypt, when, to hasten their departure from the land, the Egyptians helped the Israelites (Exod 12:33-36).

The returning Israelites had to leave everything behind. We know from other documentation that life in Babylon (then a province of Persia) had become pleasant and prosperous. The Jews who never returned eventually produced the famous Babylonian Talmud, still the book of regulations for devout Jews. To return to the homeland meant a drastic, dramatic decision for the Lord. This action was like taking the lamp from under a covering and place it on a lampstand. It allowed others to walk in the beam of its light. We will always be greatly enriched, if we leave everything behind us for the Lord’s sake; if we seek his will unreservedly, everything will be given to us. Whoever has wholeheartedly followed the Lord will be given more; whoever has not obeyed his inspiration will lose all, through excessive caution.

“There is nothing hidden that will not be exposed.” Those moments are heroic and demanding; they do not share the moderation of the sapiential literature. Evidently we need both parts of the Bible for the diverse needs and challenges of our life. There is a time to be “pampered” or quietly prodded by the sapiential style; there is another time to be shaken up by prophets. At times we leave behind our past, at other times we seek our future.

 Pr 3:27-34

Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.

Do not say to your neighbour, “Go, and come again, tomorrow I will give it” – when you have it with you.

Do not plan harm against your neighbour who lives trustingly beside you.

Do not quarrel with anyone without cause, when no harm has been done to you.

Do not envy the violent and do not choose any of their ways;

 for the perverse are an abomination to the Lord, but the upright are in his confidence.

The Lord’s curse is on the house of the wicked, but he blesses the abode of the righteous.

 Toward the scorners he is scornful, but to the humble he shows favour.

Gospel: Luke 8:16-18

“No one after lighting a lamp hides it under a jar, or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a lampstand, so that those who enter may see the light. For nothing is hidden that will not be disclosed, nor is anything secret that will not become known and come to light. Then pay attention to how you listen; for to those who have, more will be given; and from those who do not have, even what they seem to have will be taken away.”

#Sept 25. Tuesday of Week Twenty Five

Prov 21:1ff. This prudent advice for self-control is drawn from the major collection of Solomon’s proverbs.

Luke 8:19ff. “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it.”

Knowing and Doing His Will

The first readings for today show in what a variety of ways the will of God is made known and accomplished. Ezra refers to imperial decrees from the Persian kings Cyrus and Darius, messages of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah (which will begin later this week), and financial help from Persian taxes, as supporting the sanctuary liturgy and the functions of priests and Levites. The Book of Proverbs draws on advice from Solomon and the Jewish schools for noble youth.

We must belong to the total world and not isolate ourselves in the sanctuary or in the pages of the Bible. We must be interested in politics, local, national and international, higher learning, economics and finance, being both cautious scholars and threatening prophets. As we form our decisions from this wide background, we are drawn into a world family and in such a setting can arrive at the will of God for us.

Within the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah we observe the foundation of Judaism into the shape it had ihn the days of Jesus, and as it would survive the destruction of the second temple by the Romans in A.D. 66. Judaism supplied the strength and principles by which the people maintained their identity even into our own time. Religion was associated with every aspect of life, and life found its meaning and value within religious faith. Even though the Book of Ezra seems monotonous, foreign and impractical to us, the reason for our difficulty lies in the close interaction of this book with real life of Judaism. We ourselves cannot duplicate the details nor form identical judgments, but we are being continuously challenged to unite our religion and our life just as intimately.

A different type of organization is reflected in the Book of Proverbs . The wise sayings in this book cluster around the names of great sages: Solomon (10:1-22:16; chaps. 25-29), an Egyptian Scribe, Amen-em-Ope (22:17- 24:22), Agur (30:1-6), and Lemuel (31:1-9). These individuals probably led schools at Jerusalem, as we know to have been the case with another respected sage, “Jesus, son of Eleazar, son of Sirach” (Sir 50:27), known as Sirach or from a later title, Ecclesiasticus. Around 190 B.C. Sirach wrote to the young men of his country: Come to me, you untutored, and take up lodging in the house of instruction (Sir 51:23).

Most of the sapiential literature, notably the Book of Proverbs, defers very little to temple and religious authority and concentrates on common sense and ancient wisdom. What has succeeded for so many years, even centuries, has an exceptional lasting power. It has no special set of prerequisites to understand its message. Just be open, honest, reflective, humble, strong, the basic qualities of human nature as it was originally created by God and as it has spread throughout the world. All the world knows and accepts the wisdom of Proverbs: The one who makes a fortune by a lying tongue is chasing a bubble over deadly snares.

Whether we take the more “religious” route of Ezra or the more “secular” way of Proverbs, we must arrive at a healthy openness to the real world and form ties with men and women everywhere. Perhaps that was the intention of Jesus in his enigmatic reply sent by a messenger to his mother Mary and his brothers. Jesus’ words may even have seemed a repudiation of his own immediate relatives when he said, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it.” Therefore, truly to know that word we must be in contact with everyone who is sincere, virtuous, obedient and responsive to life.

 Pr 21:1-6, 10-13

The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord;
he turns it wherever he will.
All deeds are right in the sight of the doer,
but the Lord weighs the heart.
To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.
Haughty eyes and a proud heart – the lamp of the wicked – are sin.

The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to want.
The getting of treasures by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapor and a snare of death.
The souls of the wicked desire evil; their neighbours find no mercy in their eyes.

When a scoffer is punished, the simple become wiser;
when the wise are instructed, they increase in knowledge.
The Righteous One observes the house of the wicked; he casts the wicked down to ruin.
If you close your ear to the cry of the poor, you will cry out and not be heard.

Gospel: Luke 8:19-21

Then his mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him because of the crowd. And he was told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.” But he said to them, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.”

#Sept 26. Wednesday of Week Twenty Five

Prov 30:5ff. In praise of moderation and sufficiency.

Luke 9:1ff. Jesus sends the twelve out on their mission. They are to travel light, dependent only on alms.

Sober Encouragement

The diversity of the biblical message is again impressive today. We need all of the options it proposes, for its variety is not a matter of passages more inspired or less inspired. Holy Scripture is a pastoral document, and we have to decide, through prayer, guidance and community wisdom, which parts of it are best adapted to our current situation. Ezra expects us to be satisfied with small achievements and Proverbs with healthy moderation. The gospel sends us out like the twelve, poor, dependent and enthusiastic over the reign of God now in our midst. It paints an attractive ideal, brimming over with contagious joy and simple trust.

Ezra takes on the role of another Moses, being the parent of legal Judaism as was Moses of Israel’s basic covenant with God. Although the Jews began their return to the Promised Land in 537 B.C., about all they accomplished in that generation was to rebuild a very modest temple. They were discouraged and covetous and some even sold other Jews into slavery for payment of a debt. The situation was still as Zechariah described it, “a day of small beginnings” (Zech 4:10) when Ezra set himself to straighten out the confusion and guide the people with clear direction. He reedited the Books of Moses and demanded compliance to them, and began a series of oral interpretations of the law that developed several centuries later into the famous Talmud.

He begins by confessing aloud the sins of the people, identifying himself with the people in their guilt and wretchedness, “My God, I am too ashamed to raise my face to you, for our wicked deeds are heaped up above our heads.” Then he addressed the people, whose social status in the Persian empire was very low, assuring them that God’s mercy has reached them; they are a remnant, a stake, firmly planted in the holy land and they have the good will of the Persian king, and the house of God has been rebuilt. A sense of sober reality dominates this prayer and sermon of Ezra. Sometimes all of us need to be told bluntly, first to admit our mistakes and to take responsibility for their effects, then to count our blessings. Things are not as bad as we suppose. There is a future for us and for our descendants.

The Book of Proverbs sobers us up in still another way. In this reading for, we are no longer poor and disgraced as in the time of Ezra. We even have the opportunity to amass wealth and keep climbing upward. In our determination to get ahead, armed as we are with prestige and learning, we are tempted to twist truth and law to our own benefit and to the harm of others. We become greedy, and as we read elsewhere in Proverbs, greed, like lust, starves the soul and it never has enough (Prov 13.19). We need to be warned – and we are! These words were not minted for the low income days of Ezra but for a later different period.

Finally, we come to the happy days of Jesus, sending out the twelve, overcoming demons, curing diseases, proclaiming the reign of God. Traveling missionaries are freely cared for, so they need not carry bread or money, not even staff and traveling bag. Whenever we meet such joy and confidence, it is our privilege to rejoice and thank God. Occasionally the shadow of a living saint crosses our path in a member of our family or parish, of our neighbourhood or acquaintance. We should encourage their ideals, stand by them, support them, receive them into our homes. Then the reign of God will be in our midst.

 Pr 30:5-9

Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.

Do not add to his words, or else he will rebuke you, and you will be found a liar.

Two things I ask of you; do not deny them to me before I die:

Remove far from me falsehood and lying;

give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that I need,

or I shall be full, and deny you, and say, “Who is the Lord?”

or I shall be poor, and steal, and profane the name of my God.

Gospel: Luke 9:1-6

Then Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. He said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money – not even an extra tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there, and leave from there. Wherever they do not welcome you, as you are leaving that town shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” They departed and went through the villages, bringing the good news and curing diseases everywhere.

#Sept 27. Thursday of Week Twenty Five

Eccl 1:2ff. Nothing is new under the sun. Vanity of vanities; all is vanity!

Luke 9:7ff. Herod was perplexed about Jesus and became very curious to see him.

Responses to Confusion

People can be faced with economic confusion, as reflected in the prophecy of Haggai (*1) ; or they are simply too tired to try anything new, as in Ecclesiastes ; or again their religion consists of curiosity, born of moral confusion, as was the case with Herod the tetrarch. But no situation is hopeless, for the Bible is not the story of sin and hell but of sin and conversion.

“Economic confusion” may not be the best way to pinpoint the scene facing the prophet Haggai. His very name means feastday, quite appropriate for the development within his five short sermons. Haggai began to prophesy around 520 B.C., some nineteen years after the first caravan of Jews returned from exile. Those were long, discouraging years when the great vision of a new people of God collapsed and the returned exiles barely survived from month to month in the relatively barrent hills of Judea. As Haggai describes it: You have sown much, but have brought in little; you have eaten, but have not been satisfied; You have drunk, but have not been exhilarated. Twice he calls on this tired, lethargic people, “Consider your ways.”

The prophet makes one simple demand, “Fetch lumber and build the house” of the Lord. He says it in plain, unadorned Hebrew. All other prophets spoke in poetry with eloquent symbols and parables. Haggai was not going to write high literature in a corner slum or produce the golden poetry of an Isaiah or the wrenching pathos of a Jeremiah. But alone of all the prophets, Haggai lived to see his mission accomplished. In 515 B.C. the temple was completed, as we read last Tuesday (*1) : The elders of the Jews continued to make progress in the building, supported by the message of the prophets, and finished the building according to the command of the God of Israel and the decrees of Cyrus and Darius (Ezra 6:14).

Haggai reminds us not only to put aside any pompous airs and address the practical side of people’s lives, but also to realize the crucial importance of temple or church and of community and family prayer. Without a strong symbol that we are a people of God, with spiritual and moral aspirations, we easily sink into materialism. Even in our poverty we will still cling to our trinkets and be jealous of others for theirs. Without community or family prayer, we will miss the encouragement to be men and women of prayer. Without prayer we end up saying, what’s the use of it all?

Another type of ennui can set in when we have too much, too easily. Etched into the memory of the world are those opening lines of Ecclesiastes or Qoheleth. The name is probably a title, given or accepted, which means the assembly-preacher. But it is clear from reading the entire book that this assembly was not a liturgical one nor was the preacher any ordained minister. This wise cynic, this troubling questioner, this tongue-in-check jokester, this affluent teacher who owned so much yet called it all a puff of wind, this sage keeps us guessing from the opening word: Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth, vanity of vanities. All things are vanity.

Qoheleth forces us to pray in a different way than Haggai; we are not called to liturgy and feastday but to take a long, hard look at life. We are to contemplate life as it is and to admit that it is all very boring-unless we begin to seek the way of wisdom, “It is from the hand of God” (2:24), from beginning to end, the work which God has done” (3:11), “rather, fear God.” (5:6), “God made humankind straight, but people have had recourse to many calculations” (7:29). He ends his twelfth and last chapter with these words: The last word, when all is heard: fear God and keep his commandments, for this is all for man and woman, because God will bring to judgment every work, with all its hidden qualities, whether good or bad (12:13-14). The end result may not seem like exalted spirituality, yet it is no small accomplishment to shake loose the complacent and begin the work of conversion.

Finally, we have the sad portrait of Herod the Tetrarch, for whom religion was a curiosity, a temporary pill to soothe conscience, a clever way of winning allegiance. It is tragic to think that his wish to see the Nazarene prophet was fulfilled only when for political reasons Pilate sent him the captive Jesus. We are told that “Herod was extremely pleased to see Jesus” (Luke 23:8). Religion, like Jesus, can be used for politics and pleasure, the saddest way to relieve boredom.

 Ecclesiastes 1:2-11

Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
What do people gain from all the toil at which they toil under the sun?
A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises and the sun goes down, and hurries to the place where it rises.
The wind blows to the south, and goes around to the north;
round and round goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns.
All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full;
to the place where the streams flow, there they continue to flow.
All things are wearisome; more than one can express;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing, or the ear filled with hearing.
What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done;
there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new”?
It has already been, in the ages before us.
The people of long ago are not remembered,
nor will there be any remembrance of people yet to come by those who come after them.

Gospel: Luke 9:7-9

Now Herod the ruler heard about all that had taken place, and he was perplexed, because it was said by some that John had been raised from the dead, by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the ancient prophets had arisen.

 Herod said, “John I beheaded; but who is this about whom I hear such things?” And he tried to see him.

#Sept 28. Friday of Week Twenty Five

Hag 2:1-9.

The Lord remembers his covenant. Soon he will make the new temple more glorious than Solomon’s.

Eccl 3:1ff. There is an appointed time for everything. Yearning for the timeless stirs in the human heart.

Luke 9:18ff. Peter confesses Jesus as the Messiah. Our Lord then announces his suffering, death and resurrection.

Life’s Varied Moments

All of life’s stages are represented in today’s texts. Even though each of us individually may identify with only one of these stages at this particular moment, we must come to a peaceful acceptance of our past and we need to prepare in advance for what lies ahead. Moreover as each of us lives in family, parish, neighbourhood, work or residence, we mingle with others in all the stages of human existence.

Haggai does not deny memories but puts them to their proper use. Without dodging the issue of discouragement, he asks the people, “Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory the temple built by Solomon and demolished by the Babylonians? And how do you see it now? Does it not seem like nothing in your eyes?” But if the prophet can draw upon one memory, he is entitled to summon others. Next he refers to the days of Moses and the covenant at Mount Sinai, “This is the pact that I made with you when you came out of Egypt, and my spirit continues in your midst. Do not fear.”

By means of these good memories Haggai evokes a recollection of Israel’s early days of dedication and accomplishment, dedication through the covenant at Sinai and accomplishment during the glorious reigns of David and Solomon. In our lives these are the days of adolescence and young adult life. The Bible asks us to be enthusiastic about this period of human existence, whether in ourselves or in others. We should be excited about the achievement of young people, never jealous nor critical. They will need those golden days as happy memories at a later time.

Next comes the long stretch of decision, acceptance and patience. For this we turn from Haggai to Ecclesiastes . We quote his lines, “There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens. A time to be born, and a time to die,” etc. Ecclesiastes combines purpose (“an appointed time for everything”) with the “timeless” and monotonous. We never seem to complete the pursuit of our desires and objectives. We interpret this reaction as a healthy way of making decisions and an equally healthy way of knowing that “here we have no lasting city; we are seeking one which is to come” (Hebrews 13:14).

The New Testament will recognize a supremely new “moment” in the coming of Jesus (Hebrews 12:26). Out of the scorching trial of the exile and the monotonous days afterwards God drew this statement of messianic hope. We too will be surprised by the spiritual insight achieved through suffering and perseverance.

 Ecclesiastes 3:1-11

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die; a
time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones,
and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace,
and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
What gain have the workers from their toil?
I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with.

He has made everything suitable for its time; moreover he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginnng to the end.

Gospel: Luke 9:18-22

Once when Jesus was praying alone, with only the disciples near him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” They answered, “John the Baptist; but others, Elijah; and still others, that one of the ancient prophets has arisen.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “The Messiah of God.”

He sternly ordered and commanded them not to tell anyone, saying, “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”

##Sept 29. Ss. Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, Archangels

#Oct 01. Monday of Week Twenty Six

Job 1:6ff. Satan is allowed to try Job, first with loss of property and then with the death of his children.

Luke 9:46ff. With the example of a little child Jesus declares the least to be the greatest.

Children’s Merits

Children remain the key to reflection through all three readings and give a glimpse of the new Jerusalem, Zechariah pictures the city with “boys and girls playing in the streets” (*1) . In the prologue to the Book of Job the loss of sons and daughters brings out lament, “Naked I came out from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I go back again” . Finally, in the gospel Jesus turns to children to teach about the “greatest in the Kingdom of God.”

So often they demonstrate where adults fail. Children manifest life and enthusiasm where many people in Zechariah’s day were simply dragging themselves through life to the grave. The prophet’s preaching about new life and bright future was received with a yawn. On his advice and that of Haggai the people had rebuilt the temple. Yet it was on such a small scale that many of them “cried out in sorrow” (Ezra 3:12). The splendid vision of a new Jerusalem seemed impossible in the people’s eyes. Zechariah, however, quickly asks the question on the part of God, “Shall it.. be impossible in my eyes also?”

Because of the children, the prophet returns in many ways to God’s fidelity towards Israel: I am intensely jealous for Zion, I will return to Zion, Jerusalem shall be called the faithful city and I will rescue my people from east and west. They shall be my people and I will be their God, with faithfulness and justice.

If we are to believe in the hereafter, we must think of children. Children force us to think also in terms of family and that means the sharing of possessions with the wider family. Children appear in our first passage from the Book of Job, and here our discussion moves in another direction. We are reading from the prose prologue, which with the epilog at the end, forms the context for the dramatic dialogue within the central part of the book. This prose section turns out to be the most ancient part and belonged to the patrimony of the Near East. We meet the somewhat naive situation in which Satan shows up in the heavenly throne room and argues with God about justice in the human family. God permits Satan to test Job, destroying first his property and then taking the lives of his sons and daughters. Job is alone, totally alone. His wife appears later in the narrative but is hardly any consolation. Alone, yes; but alone with God. “Naked I came out from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I go back again. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Children make us ponder the mysterious source of life. As adults, we cannot control life as though we were God. At the same time we do not act solely on instinct, like animals. We must think and consider all of the responsibilities of life. Yet, there must also remain a secret part of life which belongs solely to God. Not only in the process of conception, pregnancy and birth, but also in many other important moments of our existence, we do our best when we follow intuitions or inspirations which take even ourselves by surprise.

Children quarrel, yes, but they quickly make up again. The gospel presents us with two scenes of envy and pettiness. The disciples were arguing, “which of them was the greatest.” Jesus turns to children and says to welcome a child is to welcome him, and “The least one among you is the greatest.” This statement is all the more puzzling if it includes Jesus. Is he the least? He is, supremely, the child of his Father, always in the attitude of receiving the Father’s life and as a child he is receiving it totally.

 Job 1:6-22

One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from? Satan answered the Lord, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” The Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil.” Then Satan answered the Lord, “Does Job fear God for nothing? Have you not put a fence around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, all that he has is in your power; only do not stretch out your hand against him!” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.

One day when his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in the eldest brother’s house, a messenger came to Job and said, “The oxen were ploughing and the donkeys were feeding beside them, and the Sabeans fell on them and carried them off, and killed the servants with the edge of the sword; I alone have escaped to tell you.” While he was still speaking, another came and said, “The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants, and consumed them; I alone have escaped to tell you.” While he was still speaking, another came and said, “The Chaldeans formed three columns, made a raid on the camels and carried them off, and killed the servants with the edge of the sword; I alone have escaped to tell you.” While he was still speaking, another came and said, “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother’s house, and suddenly a great wind came across the desert, struck the four corners of the house, and it fell on the young people, and they are dead; I alone have escaped to tell you.”

Then Job arose, tore his robe, shaved his head, and fell on the ground and worshipped. He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, an naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong-doing.

Gospel: Luke 9:46-50

An argument arose among them as to which one of them was the greatest. But Jesus, aware of their inner thoughts, took a little child and put it by his side, and said to them, “Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me; for the least among all of you is the greatest.”

John answered, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.” But Jesus said to him, “Do not stop him; for whoever is not against you is for you.”

##Oct 02. Tuesday. The Guardian Angels

#Oct 03. Wednesday of Week Twenty Six

Job 9:1ff. Job confesses God’s omnipotent control of the universe and his mysterious guidance of life.

Luke 9:57ff. Jesus responds to prospective followers by a series of stern statements.

Courage amid Uncertainty

In career terms, Nehemiah had it made, as personal valet to the Persian king, Artaxerxes I (464-423 B.C.). An incidental detail indicates his rank or position at court, as the one who first tasted the king’s food and drink, to prove that nothing poisonous was being offered the monarch. He was daily in the royal retinue, and was therefore in a position to make requests or to interpret events and people. Yet he was sad because the city of his ancestors lay in ruins. Even though the temple had been rebuilt at the urging of Haggai and Zechariah, it was open to hostile invaders and no one could muster much energy to rebuild on a decent scale. The great prophecies of Ezekiel and Second Isaiah, spoken during the Babylonian exile, must have seemed to Nehemiah like visions without substance, mere whistling in the dark.

His gloom was so visible that the king asked what ailed him. To find the right words, Nehemiah prayed to the God of heaven and then made his request to be allowed go to Israel and speed up the rebuilding. He even got down to practical nuts-and-bolts issues like letters of introduction to local governors along the route of his return and requiring Asaph, the keeper of the royal park, to provide wood for the city gates, temple-citadel and his own residence. Nehemiah’s account ends with a reference that the favour of the Lord was on me.

Job also takes us back to that austere period after the exile as well as forward to personal crises in our lives. Today he is replying to Bildad, the second of his three friends who had journeyed to give him sympathy and comfort. In many ways chapter nine summarizes the entire Book of Job: no one can be justified before God, God is wise in heart and mighty in strength.. “Should he come near me, I see him not; How much less can I give him any answer.” The magnificent poem to God’s overpowering control of the universe, beyond human scrutiny and comprehension, which concludes the Book in chaps. 38-41, is already sketched for us in today’s reading. Like Job, we too must live long within the dark cloud of mystery, in order to learn the way of faith and humility before God. Quick answers, like quick food and instant wealth, are generally not the best for physical health and psychological peace. Yet, once we have learned to recognize the inner groaning of the Spirit “as we await the redemption of our bodies” (Rom 8:23) and to be inwardly at peace with hopes as yet unfulfilled, then God calls us like Nehemiah to summon all of our human talents and to seize the opportunity to act with prudence and courage.

Very few people can live heroically on a continuous day-by-day basis, nor should life be planned that way. Yet, harsh moments come to each disciple, and then we need to turn and hear again the stern words of Jesus: The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. Let the dead bury their dead. Whoever puts his hand to the plough but keeps looking back is unfit for the reign of God. Today’s reading sets a pattern for one’s entire life, a life that includes long delays, great opportunities for human talents, heroic decisions of faith. For this day’s “today” we need to discern which of the readings are most appropriate, yet even today it is necessary to prepare for tomorrow and its new, unexpected demands.

 Job 9:1-12, 14-16

Then Job answered:
“Indeed I know that this is so;
but how can a mortal be just before God?
If one wished to contend with him,
one could not answer him once in a thousand.
He is wise in heart,
and mighty in strength – who has resisted him,
and succeeded?
– he who removes mountains,
and they do not know it,
when he overturns them in his anger;
who shakes the earth out of its place,
and its pillars tremble;
who commands the sun,
and it does not rise;
who seals up the stars;
who alone stretched out the heavens and trampled the waves of the Sea;
who made the Bear and Orion,
the Pleiades and the chambers of the south;
who does great things beyond understanding,
and marvellous things without number.
Look, he passes by me,
and I do not see him;
he moves on,
but I do not perceive him.
He snatches away;
who can stop him?
Who will say to him, ‘What are you doing?’
How then can I answer him,
choosing my words with him?
Though I am innocent, I cannot answer him;
I must appeal for mercy to my accuser.
If I summoned him and he answered me,
I do not believe that he would listen to my voice.

Gospel: Luke 9:57-62

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

#Oct 0. Thursday of Week Twenty Six

Job 19:21ff. Job again takes his case directly to God who will appear as his vindicator.

Luke 10:1ff. Jesus sends out the seventy-two disciples to announce the reign of God.

Urgent Sense of Mission

We sense an urgency in each of these readings. Ezra assembles all the people, even the “children old enough to understand ” what was read from the Torah or ancient Books of Moses. Job wants his words to be “cut in the rock forever” “with an iron chisel and with lead.” Jesus sends out the seventy-two disciples with no provisions, lest they be hampered in their keen and rapid announcement that the reign of God is at hand. While all these texts share a sense of critical need to act at once in a decisive way, they part company in their vision of the future. Ezra foresees a long stretch of time on earth, for which he prepares his people by renewing the covenant and by teaching them the Torah. Job cuts through all human means of justification and reaches out directly towards God’s immediate presence. Jesus announces that Job’s wish is fulfilled in the reign of God. Yet, we also know that this reign, inaugurated by the Gospel, did not lead at once to a glorious paradise but rather to the long period of church history, still awaiting the second coming of Jesus.

We stand in need of all of these three texts, not for any single moment in life, and maybe not for today. One text may seem to suffice at this time. Yet, we need to be prepared for the many tomorrows that lie ahead, lest we reject the Lord’s messenger, and when it is too late, we see only the dust of our mistake, shaken from the messenger’s feet. Jesus told his messengers, “If the people of any town you enter do not welcome you, go into its streets and say, ‘We shake the dust of this town from our feet as testimony against you. But know that the reign of God is near.'” At certain crossroads of life we are afforded the luxury of much time, and like Ezra we can prepare punctiliously. Other moments, just as serious in their outcome, come quickly and leave us no time, only our good (or bad) instincts for an immediate decision. Sometimes we have opportunity enough afterwards to correct mistakes, at other times like Job or the towns that rejected the Lord’s messengers, our decisions are “cut in stone, forever.” For the rest of our life, possibly for eternity, we must live with the consequences.

Ezra has his place even today. We need someone to stand up and to speak with authority. He read plainly from the book of the law of God, interpreting it so that all could understand what was read. He did not intend the Torah to bring sorrow. When he saw the people in tears, he corrected them, this time in a different tone, “Today is sacred to the Lord your God. Do not be sad, and do not weep.. Go, eat rich foods and drink sweet drinks, and allot portions for those with nothing prepared. He combined joy with discipline and so became the founder of Judaism, the way of life which beats in the heart of the Jewish people even today, whether that heart weeps or laughs.

While Ezra mustered their energy for the long haul and parceled it out carefully for ordinary days and generously for festivals, Job is faced with the once-in-twenty years challenge, maybe the once-in-a-lifetime ordeal. Human comforters, with their ancient wisdom and respected advice, simply intensified his agony. Job does not want theological explanations but called out, “Pity me, pity, O you my friends.. Why do you hound me as though you were divine?” Then he takes his case directly to God. Each of us too at singular crises may be face to face with the awesome God in the depth of our conscience.

Jesus brings us a major imperative with the message, “The reign of God is at hand.” Our reaction is as serious in its results as the fate of Sodom. But once our basic decision is made, clearly and responsibly, we can settle into Christian life with its routine weekdays and special festivals – like that marked out by Ezra. Once we have staked our very life on accepting and building up the reign of God, then the rest of our journey through life will benefit from the gospel and especially from the presence of Jesus, “my Vindicator.. whom I myself shall see.”

 Job 19:21-27

Have pity on me, have pity on me, O you my friends,
for the hand of God has touched me!
Why do you, like God, pursue me,
never satisfied with my flesh?
“O that my words were written down!
O that they were inscribed in a book!
O that with an iron pen and with lead
they were engraved on a rock forever!
For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;
and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
then in my flesh I shall see God,
whom I shall see on my side,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.

Gospel: Luke 10:1-12

After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the labourer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’ I tell you, on that day it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town.

#Oct 0. Friday of Week Twenty Six

Job 38:1ff. Only if Job is himself divine, with the knowledge of hidden things, can he challenge God.

Luke 10:13ff. Tyre and Sidon would have reformed long ago, if they had seen the miracles done by Jesus.

Memories and Hopes

The readings today are full of memories, some of which make us sad, while others reduced us like Job to “dust and ashes” (Job 42:6). Yet, each reading is “gospel” for us, good news of salvation through Jesus, the promise of a transformed existence. Today’s text from Baruch dates to the Babylonian exile (587-539 B.C.), and the verse immediately preceding refers the autumnal feast of Tabernacles. A collection was being taken up, to be sent to Jerusalem for sacrifices and for helping the poor in the holy city. The feast of Tabernacles was originally an octave of great rejoicing. During the exile, however, and in the postexilic period, the joy prescribed for the feast even precipitated sorrow. The contrast between the feast and the reality of life was too great. During Ezra’s day “all the people were weeping” and had to be told, “Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength” (Neh 8:9-10).

Baruch insists that the fault is ours, not God’s: we should blush with shame, for we have been disobedient; we went off after the desires of our own heart. Yet the same merciful God of the exodus is with us today. We are asked to repent, to reform our ways, to set our faces towards our good inspirations and yes, most of all to be men and women of hope.

Hopes do not make the future easy. Today’s text, summarizes God’s overwhelming address to Job out of the storm and whirlwind. Because Job had questioned God’s providential care, he must be like a fellow-god: so Job is asked, “Have you walked about in the depths of the abyss? Do you know the way to the dwelling place of light? Do you command the morning light and show dawn its place?”

We too tend to question God’s wisdom. Yet we carry that wonderful memory of having taken part in the secret council of God, like Job and again like Jeremiah (Jer 23:18,22). If life’s hopes and demands seem too divine and overtaxing on our human strength, we are reminded how much we belong to God’s family. Like Moses in the desert, we have experienced the goodness, even the miracles of God. In the gospel, Jesus reminds us again of these miracles and holds out to us, even when melancholy and without hope, a new life, miraculously transformed.

 Job 38:1, 12-21; 40:3-5

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:
“Have you commanded the morning since your days began,
and caused the dawn to know its place,so that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth
and the wicked be shaken out of it?
It is changed like clay under the seal,
and it is dyed like a garment.
Light is withheld from the wicked,
and their uplifted arm is broken.”
Have you entered into the springs of the sea,
or walked in the recesses of the deep?
Have the gates of death been revealed to you,
or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?
Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?
Declare, if you know all this.
“Where is the way to the dwelling of light,
and where is the place of darkness,that you may take it to its territory
and that you may discern the paths to its home?
Surely you know, for you were born then,
and the number of your days is great!
Then Job answered the Lord:
“See, I am of small account;
what shall I answer you?
I lay my hand on my mouth.I have spoken once,
and I will not answer;
twice, but will proceed no further.”

Gospel: Luke 10:13-16

“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But at the judgment it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will be brought down to Hades.

“Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”

#Oct 0. Saturday of Week Twenty Six

Job 42. After Job repents of his omplaints, he is blessed more abundantly than ever before.

Luke 10:17ff. When the disciples return jubilant, Jesus rejoices in the graces reserved for the humble of heart.

Rejoicing in the Spirit

The secret stirring beneath the surface in Baruch and Job comes marvellously to the surface in Jesus’ prayerful rejoicing in the Holy Spirit, “what you have hidden from the learned and the clever, you have revealed to the merest children.” One mystery crops up when a city as stately and as endowed with promise as Jerusalem is seen in “great mourning” (*1) . Another mystery baffles us when a person as good and honourable as Job, is seen to “repent in dust and ashes” . Still another glimpse of mystery overawes us in the sight of Jesus in prayer.

Mystery, like a child, can never be mastered by anger or pride, not with success and prosperity, not even with academic learning and syllogistic reasoning. Anger and pride deprive us of delicacy and concern, so necessary to approach any mystery in life. Learning and reasoning deal so much with what can be controlled that the intuitive and the marvellous are overlooked. Success and prosperity so involve us in materiality and in worldliness, that our sense of the other-world or inner-world is blurred and denied. The three readings for today invite us to take the time to stop and meditate, to let our spirit slip beneath surface concerns and quick answers, and to be at prayer with Jesus.

Baruch brings to mind all the photos of Jerusalem’s ancient walls that we have seen. Some of us will remember our walks along those walls, so stately and silent, so old and wise. The walls of Jerusalem have seen it all, from the triumphant days of David to the battering rams of Babylonians and Romans, Crusaders and Moslems, and now the Israeli army. These walls are as old as dead tombstones, yet amazingly new life is always growing between the rocks, in the crannies, where green shoots are sprouting. Such is the spirit and tone of Jerusalem’s prayer in Baruch, “Hear, you neighbours of Zion, God has brought great mourning on me.. my sons and daughter. With joy I fostered them but with mourning and lament I let them go.. I am left desolate.”

If Jerusalem can speak in this kindly way to neighbours who have harmed her and her children, she is already a mother, begetting new life. Such concern cannot remain barren. With new hope Jerusalem then addresses her children, as yet hidden in exile or in the dark womb: Fear not, my children; call out to God.”

Very similar to sorrowful Jerusalem is the suffering image of Job, humbled by the mystery of God’s overpowering providence. He had presumed to question God, as though he, Job, were a divine colleague, but now he disowns his words and repents in dust and ashes. “In dust and ashes” – how blessed we are to number humble, great men and women in our own lives and among our own acquaintances. How we long to glimpse the mysterious depths of their heart and spirit. We feel certain that a great reward awaits them, even though they disclaim any credit for their beautiful lives. The conclusion to the Book of Job answers us. If we follow this example, we will be truly blessed.

Finally, the gospel allows us a rare glimpse into the deepest of all mysteries, the prayer of Jesus. The gospels, especially that of Luke, frequently enough speak of Jesus at prayer, but seldom do they do more than preserve a reverent silence around such moments. Here he suddenly becomes silent, overcome by a hidden power. Rejoicing in the Holy Spirit, he thanks the Father that “what you have hidden from the learned and the clever, you have revealed to merest children.” We can only hope to remain so delicately sensitive and grateful in the midst of any triumph or success we may achieve.

 Job 42:1-3, 5-6, 12-17

Then Job answered the Lord:”I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.’Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me,
which I did not know.I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes.”

The Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; and he had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand donkeys. He also had seven sons and three daughters. He named the first Jemimah, the second Keziah, and the third Keren-happuch. In all the land there were no women so beautiful as Job’s daughters; and their father gave them an inheritance along with their brothers. After this Job lived one hundred and forty years, and saw his children, and his children’s children, four generations. And Job died, old and full of days.

Gospel: Luke 10:17-24

The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

At that same hour Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

Then turning to the disciples, Jesus said to them privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.”

#Oct 0. 27th Week Monday of Week Twenty Seven

Gal 1:6ff. Paul’s gospel is no mere human invention but a true revelation; there is no other authentic gospel.

Luke 10:25ff. The parable of the Good Samaritan, to explain “who is my neighbour?”

Divine Reversals

Today’s texts deal with divine reversals. Sometimes we may resemble Jonah who attempted to use the sea to flee away from the God of earth and sea. But God has wonderful ways of bringing us back to our senses, extraordinary ways to correct even our orthodox theology by appealing to pagans and heretics. It can seem whimsical on God’s part, to advise us, who possess the truth, by means of our enemies who are wrong.

The dramatic reversals begin with the first reading from the Book of Jonah. The paradox begins on the first line: all other prophets speak in poetry, while Jonah is written in prose; all others preach to Israelites, Jonah to foreigners; other prophets usually fail in converting Israel, Jonah succeeds in converting foreigners. The prophecy of Jonah speaks of a spiritual extension of God’s kingdom while preserving the political independence of Assyria. Last but not least, elsewhere in the Bible, Assyria is the most hated and feared of all foreign nations, second only to Babylon. In Jonah the Assyrians are more open to God’s grace than the Israelite prophet.

God is determined to teach Israel a stern lesson by means of the foreigners. While on board, Jonah sleeps and must be wakened by the pagan sailor, “What are you doing asleep? Rise up, call on your God. Perhaps God will be mindful of us that we may not perish.” Even after the lots fall on Jonah and it is evident that he is guilty in “fleeing from the Lord,” they still hesitate to take his life by throwing him into the sea, until he insists on it himself.

Dramatic reversals take a different twist in the letter to the Galatians, where Paul insists on the authentic truth of his gospel, namely that in the community based on Christ there is no distinction based on Jew or Greek, slave or free person, male or female, for all are united in Jesus (Gal 3:28). This statement, which we will read again on Saturday of this week, is the keystone to Paul’s entire ministry. This insight came to him directly – he did not learn it from Peter or any of the other apostles. Jesus had sent the twelve apostles to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:5), but Paul turns to foreigners, not only for subjects to convert, but also for new styles of worship. Israel could not learn exclusively from her own traditions what God intended as the full and final meaning of her covenant.

A hint of this new openness to outsiders was given by the author of the Book of Jonah. Another comes from today’s gospel. A lawyer-theologian posed a problem to Jesus about everlasting life, one of the deepest and most serious of all theological questions, and then tried to justify himself because he already knew the the answer. He asked, “Who is my neighbour?” Jesus turned to the Samaritans for an answer, to a people who were despised and rejected by Israel as heretics and spoilers of the Torah.

How do we regard our “Samaritan” or “Assyrian” neighbour, those we hate or look down on, who are ignorant and willfully wrong, who have harmed us and taken advantage of us. Listen, Jesus tells us, listen to them as they teach you how to pray and to follow God’s holy will. Listen as they silently turn aside and care for their wounded enemy along the road. Listen, because we who are correct can be so biased and self-righteous, so proud and pious that we miss the signals of wonder and goodness flashed through the darkness to keep us on the course of God’s blessed will.

 Galatians 1:6-12

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed! As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed!

Am I now seeking human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ.

For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

Gospel: Luke 10:25-37

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal lie?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

#Oct 0. Tuesday of Week Twenty Seven

Gal 1:13ff. Paul persecutes the Jesus movement, then his conversion, and going to Jerusalem to meet Cephas.

Luke 10:38ff. Jesus defends Mary’s receptivity, while Martha busied herself with the hospitality.

How Much Activity?

While good intentions can drive one to overactivity and even to misguided zeal, the Scriptures defend human activity and good works as essential to salvation. For interpreting today’s scripture readings we must keep in mind this healthy balance between contemplation and action, and remember that each of us reflects, simultaneously, Martha and Mary, Paul and Peter, Jonah and the the Ninevites. Each of these becomes a symbol for us. This outlook does not deny their individual reality but enshrines Paul’s view that “everything in the Scriptures was written for our instruction” (Rom 15:4).

Jonah was a man of action, though not always good action. As we saw yesterday, when ordered to Nineveh to preach repentance he acted promptly but in the wrong direction. He could have avoided all trouble by ignoring the Lord’s command and sleeping his life away at home in Israel. In Galatians Paul too is a man of action, always at the eye of the hurricane. And in, Martha is like others in Luke’s rendition of the Good News, who threw parties, beginning with Simon Peter’s mother-in-law (4:39) and including the father of the prodigal son (15:22-24), Zacchaeus the tax collector (19:5-6) and Jesus’ own preparations for the Last Supper (22:7-13). Silent contemplation is the exception, not the rule, in the Old and New Testament.

In the Book of Jonah repentance did not consist simply in the ritual acts of sackcloth and ashes. All persons were required to “turn from their evil ways,” a phrase repeated twice in this short book, and therefore essential for true conversion. Both ritual and moral action were expected. In Galatians, Paul was not converted in order to spend his life in prayer but rather to “spread among the gentiles the good news of Jesus.” Martha, too, fits the pattern of many good, active people in the Gospel of Luke.

Still, the role of Mary begins to emerge as also a valid option. First of all, note how Moses, the founder of biblical religion, ascends into the clouds as he went up on mount Sinai and “stayed there for forty days and forty nights” (Exod 24:18). Later we are told that during his time spent in writing the law, Moses refrained from “eating any food or drinking any water” (Exod 34:28). The king of Nineveh also called for fasting, penance and prayer on the part of everyone, to draw close to god. In the case of Paul, we learn that immediately after his conversion he went off to Arabia, where in silence and prayer, he lived with the Lord Jesus. This may have been the time and place when he was “snatched up to Paradise to hear words which cannot be uttered, words which no one can speak” (2 Cor 12:4). He read and re-read the Scriptures, so that when he wrote the Epistle to the Galatians, his words form a filigree of earlier prophetical passages, especially from Jeremiah and the Songs of the Suffering Servant.

Turning to the gospel, we are not surprised at Jesus’ words to Martha, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and upset about many things; one thing only is required. Mary has chosen the better portion.” In a very true sense, Jesus was speaking to the “Mary spirit” that should exist in Martha and belongs to each of us. It is not good to be so active as to be “anxious and upset.” Then, we are always in need to be reminded of the secret, inner vision of our lives.

The “better portion,” praised by Jesus in no ways makes the other portion unimportant or unnecessary; it makes our activity full of spirit and soul, direction and wisdom, love and concern. We each need to be both Martha and Mary.

 Galatians 1:13-24

You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism. I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it. I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors. But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus.

Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days; but I did not see any other apostle except James the Lord’s brother. In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie! Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia, and I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea that are in Christ; they only heard it said, “The one who formerly was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy.” And they glorified God because of me.

Gospel: Luke 10:38-42

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

#Oct 0. Wednesday of Week Twenty Seven

Gal 2:1ff. Paul openly corrects Peter for compromising the principle of the equality of all believers.

Luke 11:1ff. The Lucan version of the Our Father stresses daily needs and daily temptation.

Who Can Be Saved?

If the Kingdom of God is to extend throughout the universe, the qualities of faith, patience, and trust in God must be stressed. But externals are also necessary, to manifest this inner life. Where there is no breath nor pulse, a person is assumed to be dead. Today’s Scripture reflects this healthy balance between principles and their application, just as yesterday’s linked the examples of contemplative Mary and activist Martha.

We have already noted the paradoxes in the Book of Jonah. The prophet who claimed to worship the Lord “who made the sea and the dry land” seeks to flee from the Lord” by taking a long sea voyage. Today’s paradox is even more poignant. Jonah knew his Torah very well and would know that God is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and rich in kindness” (Exod 34:7). So Jonah feared to preach in the name of such a God, who would have compassion on Jonah’s enemies, the people of Nineveh. The book now centres on the object of God’s compassion. Jonah is willing to bypass the Ninevites, but he becomes angry when God fails to save the gourd plant. The selfish prophet thinks God must show compassion on this little tree, that shades Jonah from the fierce sun and burning east wind. God’s reply blends a good lesson with whimsical concern: You are concerned for the plant.. Should I not be concerned for Nineveh, with all its inhabitants?

In Galatians, Paul states the origin and validity of his message that gentiles are “coheirs” with Jesus in the promises of Abraham. This was no revolt for, prompted by a revelation he laid out for the scrutiny of the original band of apostles and disciples the gospel he preached to the gentiles. It is summarized in a famous statement, to be read later this week (Saturday): Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, all are one in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:28).

While the Torah retained its value as a guideline (Rom 15:4), nonetheless gentiles were redeemed immediately by faith in Jesus. Circumcision and dietary laws were no longer obligatory. Paul was so convinced of this new freedom in Christ Jesus, that when Peter came to Antioch and would not sit to eat a meal with gentiles, Paul blamed him, “for he was clearly in the wrong.”

In order to harmonize the principles of God’s Kingdom with daily life, freedom in Christ Jesus with the demands of the apostolate, we need patience with people’s difficulties and long-standing habits. Life is not concentrated on the single moment of death or of Christ’s second coming, but is to be embraced in its own rhythms, day by day. Luke, therefore, adapted the Our Father, so as no longer to refer to a single, crucial moment as in Matthew 6:9-13 but to the extended and continuous practice of the faith.

Like Peter in today’s reading from Galatians, we too succumb to temptation and sin. Our good intentions are marred by fear and false motives. We need the strength of daily prayer and even of daily Eucharist. Luke’s Our Father quickly became the prayer before holy communion in the early church. The blend of principles with daily needs was to leave no single moment of life unaffected.

 Galatians 2:1-2, 7-14

Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. I went up in response to a revelation. Then I laid before them (though only in a private meeting with the acknowledged leaders) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure that I was not running, or had not run, in vain.

On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel for the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel for the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter making him an apostle to the circumcised also worked through me in sending me to the Gentiles), and when James and Cephas and John, who were acknowledged pillars, recognized the grace that had been given to me, they gave to Barnabas and me the right hand of fellowship, agreeing that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. They asked only one thing, that we remember the poor, which was actually what I was eager to do.

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned; for until certain people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction. And the other Jews joined him in this hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

Gospel: Luke 11:1-4

He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”

He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.”

#Oct 0. Thursday of Week Twenty Seven

Gal 3:1ff. Paul asks the Galatians how they received the Spirit, by observance of the law or by faith ?

Luke 11:5-ff Jesus teaches perseverance in prayer, confident of the Father’s love to all who ask it.

The Power of Perseverance

Perseverance is based on the assurance that we already possess what we seek. No one can keep on asking all through the night if they were not already being sustained by God’s Holy Spirit. We already treasure this Holy Spirit within us, as temples of God (1 Cor 3:16). If we believe, it is under the impulse of God’s mysterious presence. Faith accepts and acts on that which remains unseen. Paul wrote to the Romans that this “Spirit witnesses within our spirit that we are truly God’s children” (Rom 8:16).

We have been using the more religious word, “perseverance.” In, Luke brings our discussion much closer to earth by citing a more secular word, “persistence”. While “perseverance” connotes the way to heaven, “persistence” almost has an unappropriate taste of stubbornness about it. Such indeed is the tone and attitude of Jesus’ short parable.

The social law of that country and culture demands an open door even to someone who comes, in the middle of the night. But we do not bang on the door of a neighbour in the middle of the night in order to obtain some bread. Jesus is not arguing what is right or wrong. The point of a parable is kept for the last line. The neighbour obliges, not because of friendship but because of the other person’s persistence, and then gives as much as he needs.

Perseverance and persistence carry a note of annoyance and trouble, but most of all require an enduring faith that hopes will not be frustrated. A bond between the neighbours is being deepened beyond the laws of friendship. A new sense of admiration can ensue, once the shock of midnight banging and family disturbance levels off.

Jesus takes the parable further by appealing to parents’ care and attention towards their children. Does a mother give a snake when a child asks for fish? He acknowledges the basic goodness and fidelity of every human being, yet he also wants our relationships to deepen and become still more reliable:, with God’s help. If you, with all your sins, know how to give your children good things, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him. God gives part of himself, his own Holy Spirit so that our own good actions manifest his divine goodness and reach beyond our dreams and expectations.

Paul also does not want his converts to slip back into earlier, immature habits. Not that these ways were all that wicked, only that they were not good enough. We should not regulate our external actions simply by conventional norms. The spirit of love should reach beyond custom and habit, and like the neighbour who persists knocking in the darkness, we too should extend our hopes to new and even to heroic expressions of love. Such generosity is possible for people “before whose eyes Jesus Christ was displayed to view on the cross.” With such love before our eyes, how can we be mean in what we can expect of ourselves and of our neighbour.

As mentioned already, persistence implies a certain amount of stubbornness and annoyance. It can also bring a dose of discouragement. As the prophet Malachi points out (*1), law-abiding people begin to ask: What do we profit by keeping God’s command? Must we call the proud blessed? Can evildoers tempt God with impunity? Here, Malachi makes clear that good people need to be purified and corrected. Religion, like friendship and love, is not a commodity to be “used” nor should its effectiveness be gauged by external results. But Malachi also has a hopeful message for those who persevere under the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit, “they shall be mine, my own special possession, I will have compassion on them, and shine on them with healing rays.”

 Galatians 3:1-5

You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly exhibited as crucified! The only thing I want to learn from you is this: Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? Having started with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh? Did you experience so much for nothing? – if it really was for nothing. Well then, does God supply you with the Spirit and work miracles among you by your doing the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard?

Gospel: Luke 11:5-13

And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.

“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

#Oct 0. Friday of Week Twenty Seven

Gal 3:7ff. Justification is by faith as seen in Abraham, and is offered us through the death of Christ.

Luke 11:15ff. Jesus casts out devils by the finger of God, not by Beelzebul, as claimed by his detractors.

The Finger of God

One of the favourite methods of answering a question, among the rabbis and with Jesus, is to ask another question. While our culture demands instant answers, the Bible tries to induce a meditative attitude in God’s presence. This God is beyond our comprehension and rational control, as the Book of Sirach so eloquently says, “More than this we need not add; let the last word be, God is all in all.” (Sir 43:28).

Israel’s liturgies testified to a long-standing tradition that God will transform the universe. In God we do not find a destructive force but a transforming love. Joel quotes from the ancient covenant with Moses on Mount Sinai: The Lord, your God, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and rich in kindness, relenting in punishment (Joel 2:13; Exod 34:6-7). Somehow, when we are pushed to the limits of our energy and patience, then we can realize that God’s plans for us reach beyond the horizons of this earthly life.

Paul picks up this idea, and moves with it in an entirely different direction than the prophet Joel. His doctrine about justification by faith does not deny the efficacy and necessity of good works, but like the prophets whom Paul quotes very frequently, we cannot rely just on our works, no matter how good they may be, for works are visible and so can always be judged. They will seldom achieve the perfection and goals of the laws that God has laid down. Therefore, Paul quotes from Deuteronomy, “Cursed be that one who fails any of the provisions of this law.” And all the people shall answer, “Amen.” (Deut 27:26)

Jesus acknowledges the existence of supernatural forces of good and evil, devils and angels. He wrestles with these mighty powers and must silence his opponents who accuse him out of envy and fear, “by Beelzebul, he casts out devils!” No indeed, he replies, but it is with God’s help that he faces down the power of evil. So we too cannot rely simply on our own unaided strength, but make God our refuge in the day of evil.

 Galatians 3:7-14

so, you see, those who believe are the descendants of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, declared the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the Gentiles shall be blessed in you.” For this reason, those who believe are blessed with Abraham who believed.

For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the things written in the book of the law.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law; for “The one who is righteous will live by faith.” But the law does not rest on faith; on the contrary “Whoever does the works of the law will live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us – for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree” – in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

Gospel: Luke 11:15-26

But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons.” Others, to test him, kept demanding from him a sign from heaven. But he knew what they were thinking and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself becomes a desert, and house falls on house. If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? – for you say that I cast out the demons by Beelzebul. Now if I cast out the demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your exorcists cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out the demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you. When a strong man, fully armed, guards his castle, his property is safe. But when one stronger than he attacks him and overpowers him, he takes away his armour in which he trusted and divides his plunder. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.

“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it wanders through waterless regions looking for a resting place, but not finding any, it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ When it comes, it finds it swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and live there; and the last state of that person is worse than the first.”

#Oct 0. Saturday of Week Twenty Seven

Gal 3:33ff. In Christ, all the baptized are equally children of God, Jew or gentile, slave or free, male or female.

Luke 11:27ff. More blessed than the womb that bore Jesus is the one who hears God’s word and keeps it.

The Sword of God’s Word

A sword of sorrow seems to be wielded in all three readings. Joel announces severe judgment against the nations, in the Valley of Jehoshaphat (“Yahweh judges.”) In Galatians Paul tells how the privileged role of Israel, a people who had been God’s elect over eighteen hundred years, is now ended. From now on, writes Paul, “all are one in Christ Jesus.” Luke, in turn, almost seems to have in mind the prophecy of Simeon to Mary that she would be “pierced with a sword” (Luke 2:35). With what a shock of bewilderment must Mary have interpreted Jesus’ response to a woman who shouted her spontaneous praise for the one who nursed Jesus, when he said, “Rather blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it.”

Even if such symbols are not to be taken literally, they are to be taken seriously. As blood is seen as “the seat of life” (Lev 17:11), Joel warns that the life of all the created universe must be re-consecrated to God in the valley of decision. We must rethink our entire existence, and evaluate our loyalty to family, country, race and even our church, if the Lord is to be our refuge and our stronghold. We reconsider our relationship with foreigners and with business, employment and government, possibly what is meant by the references to Egypt, Edom and Judah. In all of these rich symbolic expressions, Joel bids us to rethink the heart and source of all our relationships.

The sword of God’s word reaches the sensitive heart of life in Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, to strike down all false, artificial boundaries between “Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female.” Paul writes: All of you who have been baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with him. The pain and humility by which divisions and grievances may be healed are usually more difficult than the offence which initially provoked the differences. Paul summons us to this “valley of decision,” to heal old wounds and family disputes, to become “one in Christ Jesus.”

No one escapes the sharp sword of God’s words, not even Jesus’ own blessed mother. Her role does not stop with her physical motherhood and her gentle, life-giving care of the infant Jesus at her breast. She too was to listen continually to God’s word and to act on its new inspirations. In Luke’s gospel, Mary is presented in just that way, treasuring God’s word, spoken through her wide reach of neighbours, and reflecting on them in her heart (Luke 2:19). We too must listen again this day to God’s word and act on it with new faith and confidence, and reach out with new bonds of love to our faith-family across the world, as close to us as brothers and sisters.

 Galatians 3:22-29

But the scripture has imprisoned all things under the power of sin, so that what was promised through faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.

As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

Gospel: Luke 11:27-28

 While Jesus was speaking, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!” But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!”

#Oct 0. 28th Week Monday of Week Twenty Eight

Gal 4:22ff. Through faith we are born free, heirs to God’s promises. It was for liberty that Christ freed us.

Luke 11:29ff. The people of Nineveh and the queen of Sheba will blame Jesus’ generation for not recognising the Privilege of his presence among them.

The Last Shall be First

Some people with little or no knowledge of Jesus manifest a gentleness, honesty and generosity which puts to shame many Christian believers. The gospel gives us excellent examples of this. While, of course, Jesus was comparing the gentiles with his Jewish compatriots, the story was written for Christian communities. The queen of the south represents Africa, long known in the Bible through references to Kush or Ethiopia. This distant land was impenetrable and forbidding to Israelites who feared the open sea and only rarely constructed a fleet of ships, possibly under Solomon (1 Kings 9:26-29) and another futile attempt under Jehoshaphat (1 Kings 22:49). Ethiopia came to Solomon in the person of the queen of the south (1 Kings 10:1-13). The Ninevites were the hated Assyrians, who destroyed the ten northern tribes (2 Kings 17) and even scorched Judah with widespread destruction (2 Kings 19). These people, among the crudest in biblical history, could be converted by the obstinate and stubborn Jonah. Yet, a greater than Solomon and Jonah was present in Jesus. With so little these pagans accomplished so much. We who see and hear what “kings and prophets desired to see” (Matthew 13:17), we with so much accomplish so little!

An explanation for this can be found by reflecting on Paul’s letter to the Galatians, and to the Romans (*1) . In many ways the Galatians epistle was a trial run for the ideas developed more extensively in the Romans, which is Paul’s most careful synthesis of his gospel and will be read for the coming four weeks, the 28th to the 31st in ordinary time (*1) .

Galatians introduced an antithesis which Romans will make famous, the opposition between flesh and spirit, the way of nature and the way of God’s promises. This image evokes a series of Old Testament passages which speak of several heirs to the promise born of very elderly or sterile couples: Isaac, son of Abraham and Sarah in their old age (Gen 18:11); Samson, whose mother had been “barren and had borne no children” (Judg 13:2); Samuel, whose mother, “Hannah was childless” up to that time (1 Samuel 1:2).

Paul’s reasoning in Galatians is in a style very strange for us. In fact, he who knew Israel’s history so well turns history on its head, arguing as a Rabbi who can make surprising turns and leaps. Paul traces the Jewish people and Sinai to Abraham’s son Ishmael by his fertile Egyptian concubine, Hagar; gentiles and Jerusalem are related to Abraham’s son Isaac, conceived by the barren wife, Sarah.

Each of us, he seems to say, contains in ourselves not one but two births. We are born of the flesh in the natural order, and born of the spirit in the supernatural order. The first follows a law that is irreversible – conception, birth, life in the flesh. Paul compares this to Judaism with its multiple laws for each moment of human existence. Our second birth through the Spirit far surpasses our fleshly human ability and potency, and it leads to eternal life. Flesh is doomed to die; spirit is promised eternal life. The spirit co-exists with our human, fleshly self and liberates us from its slavery to death.

This double birth is modelled in Jesus, according to Paul’s opening words to the Romans (*1) . Jesus was descended from David “according to the flesh” but was made Son of God in power, “by his resurrection from the dead.” Salvation comes through the Spirit, not only in Jesus’ case but even throughout the Old Testament when children of the promise, like Isaac or Samuel, were conceived miraculously. Jerusalem was revived after the exile when all seemed lost, by the enduring love of the Lord (Isa 54:8). Jesus was raised from the dead by the Holy Spirit. His flesh was transformed into an instrument of eternal joy for Jesus and through him for each of us.

The impulse of the Spirit exists with all men and women throughout the world. We too have the benefit of the Scriptures, the sacred liturgy and a long tradition of saints. All of us can remember wonderful moments in our own lives when the Holy Spirit brought us the fruits of love, joy and peace. We are able to anticipate eternal life and its joy here on earth, for the Spirit of Jesus, greater than Solomon or Jonah, dwells within the fleshly temple of our bodies.

 Galatians 4:22-24, 26-27, 31-5:1

For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and the other by a free woman. One, the child of the slave, was born according to the flesh; the other, the child of the free woman, was born through the promise. Now this is an allegory: these women are two covenants. One woman, in fact, is Hagar, from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery.

 But the other woman corresponds to the Jerusalem above; she is free, and she is our mother. For it is written, “Rejoice, you childless one, you who bear no children, burst into song and shout, you who endure no birthpangs; for the children of the desolate woman are more numerous than the children of the one who is married.”

 So then, friends, we are children, not of the slave but of the free woman. For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Gospel: Luke 11:29-32

When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, “This generation is an evil generation; it asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. For just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so the Son of Man will be to this generation. The queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the people of this generation and condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and see, something greater than Solomon is here! The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here!

#Oct 0. Tuesday of Week Twenty Eight

Gal 5:1ff. In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor the lack of it counts any more; only faith which expresses itself through love.

Luke 11:37ff. Interior cleanliness is far more important than exterior cleanliness. If you give what you have as alms, all will be wiped clean for you.

A Reflective Faith

In today’s reading from Romans (*1), we hear of the visible manifestation of God’s eternal power within the created world and are gradually led to the invisible reality of God himself. The gospel seems to say that the condition of the inside of the cup is more important than the outside, and generosity more effective than the washing of hands. Romans moves from the outside in, the gospel from the inside out. Galatians, seems to hit the happy medium: there ought to be a harmonious blending of faith and love, flesh and spirit, inner and outer cleanliness. If such an integral and peaceful wholeness exists in us, then Paul’s ideal of perfect liberty will be ours.

The Epistle to the Romans is not easily interpreted. Paul’s ideas seem to shimmer as he glides from one aspect of salvation to another. We can bring the ideas back into focus if we recall the key phrase, so prominent in Galatians (3:11) and now repeated as a dominant theme for the entire Epistle to the Romans, “The just one lives by faith.”

Paul is quoting from the prophet Habakkuk, who introduced a signal change into Israelite prophecy. Up till his time (605 B.C.) the message addressed by the prophets, was in the form of a divine oracle. But Habakkuk flung human questions back to God, and these too became a “word of God”. After Habakkuk’s second question, however, God closed the conversation with a statement that was to be inscribed with letters so large (as on a billboard) that one can read it “on the run” (Hab 2:3). His word “will not disappoint,” says the Lord. Therefore, “if it delays, wait for it.” The message was simply, “the just one lives by faith.”

“Faith” here implies fidelity and trust over the long run. It recognizes that the mysteries spread across the universe are also deeply imbedded in each person’s soul. The “justice” signifies that God, humanity, and the entire created universe live up to what they are. Actions flow from nature. God is just when. he lives up to his covenantal promises. When Paul writes, “in the gospel is revealed the justice of God which begins and ends with faith,” he means to say that God fulfills these convenantal promises in a way beyond all expectation, yet true to his own compassionate self.

This Holy Spirit is innerly present throughout the universe, slowly but surely revealing God’s invisible realities. Thus the stakes of life are high. It is not a matter of “natural goodness” but of fidelity to a supernatural spirit within each person. The law of the flesh must give way to the law of the spirit. We are set free from laws about circumcision and legal cleanliness, clean and unclean foods, so that we can follow the more demanding law of the spirit, which is love and everlasting fidelity.

Jesus makes the demand more explicit, “give what you have as alms.” love, therefore, is to be concerned about the needy and generous in attending to them. Then, he concluded, “all will be wiped clean for you.” This is a curious thought. The poor and the needy generally have a more difficult time with cleanliness than the wealthy and the leisured class. The poor work longer hours, are involved with dirt, grease and dust, and do not have at hand all the conveniences of hot and cold running water, privacy and energy. Could this be why Jesus had not properly washed his hands before sitting down to eat at the Pharisee’s house?

 Galatians 5:1-6

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Listen! I, Paul, am telling you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you. Once again I testify to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obliged to obey the entire law. You who want to be justified by the law have cut yourselves off from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love.

Gospel: Luke 11:37-41

While he was speaking, a Pharisee invited him to dine with him; so he went in and took his place at the table. The Pharisee was amazed to see that he did not first wash before dinner. Then the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? So give for alms those things that are within; and see, everything will be clean for you.

#Oct 0. Wednesday of Week Twenty Eight

Gal 5:18ff. Paul contrasts the fruits of the flesh with those of the spirit. “Those who belong to Christ have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires.” Luke 11:42ff. Woe to Pharisees and lawyers who insist on impossible legal details yet neglect to share with others in the justice and love of God.

Liberty, not Licence

The Scriptures insist on freedom and the primacy of love, but also warn us against the excess of libertinism and individualism. In today’s text from Galatians, Paul minces no words in stating what obviously proceeds from the undisciplined flesh: lewd conduct, impurity, envy, envy, drunkenness and the rest.

Jesus’ words in the gospel are carefully nuanced. While contrasting the way that the Pharisees paid their tithes, while neglecting justice and the love of God, Jesus concludes that the latter are more important, but immediately adds, “without omitting the other.” He did not mount any campaign against the Jewish or Mosaic law. In fact, he observed it carefully and always had a sensible reason for departing from it. When he permits a freer way of acting, he is generally defending his disciples, e.g., plucking and rubbing grain on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1).

As we meditate more deeply, we first note the danger of stressing external details and in judging others accordingly. The more that we multiply rules and regulations, the more we take control of other people’s lives. With control over other people’s lives comes a propensity to judge them. At the same time we ourselves are in ever greater danger of imagining ourselves to be holy because we are exact in externals. Our insistence on externals makes it all too easy to be judgmental.

Jesus did not deny the validity of rules and regulations, in this case, the requirement to pay tithes. So we should not be in the habit of neglecting these things. Yet he stresed the more important need for justice and the love of God. It is good for us to question our motives in obeying rules and in seeking to be proper and correct in external details. Some consider the appearance of a home more essential than the happy life within the home. We may look good just because that is expected of us. But if we are in the habit of passing judgment on family, community and people at large, we have probably lost touch with the more central values of love.

As we read further in today’s text from Romans, we meet several important sentences which throw new light on the question of judging others. Paul writes, “With God there is no favouritism.” This reminds us of the different scale of values and the important cultural diversity between Jew and Greek. It is so easy, at least at first, for a person from one culture or background, to judge severely a person from a different background. There are absolute truths, of course, but on the scale of values these truths will take different colorations within different cultures.

Furthermore, each person has the capability of living a good life, whether Jew or Greek. We are asked to look for this goodness in others before we drag them before our hastily convoked court of law. Jesus, moreover, adds another bit of important advice. Before we begin to judge others harshly, we are asked first to “lift a finger to lighten” their burden. Perhaps then we would be in such admiration of their goodness and patience, that negative attitudes would be choked off.

 Galatians 5:18-25

But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.

Gospel: Luke 11:42-46

“But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herb of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these you ought to have practiced, without neglecting the others. Woe to you Pharisees! For you love to have the seat of honour in the synagogues and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces. Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without realizing it.”

One of the lawyers answered him, “Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us too.” And he said, “Woe also to you lawyers! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not lift a finger to ease them.

#Oct 0. Thursday of Week Twenty Eight

Eph 1:3ff. God chose us in Christ before the world began, to be holy and blameless in his sight, and be united under Christ’s headship.

Luke 11:47ff. In opposing Jesus and plotting his death, the Pharisees and Lawyers have taken sides with those who killed the prophets of old.

Redeeming Blood

Romans and Ephesians, are important theological statements. In Romans Paul explores the basis of his gospel and entire ministry: namely, that all people, whatever their race, are spiritually dependent on Jesus. Ephesians, which may be a composite document drawn from Paul’s writings and preaching, begins with an early church hymn of wonder and adoration. By contrast, today’s gospel is similar to the “woe” or “curse” passages of the Old Testament.

Many rich theological phrases bring depth and Old Testament resonance to Paul’s writings, each with its own specific nuance of meaning. Such words include: justice of God, the glory of God, redemption, blood, the law or Torah, choice by God, divine favour, mystery, fullness of time, Christ’s headship. For our meditation we choose one of these, namely blood, which occurs in all three readings for today. Through Christ’s blood he achieves expiation for all who believe (Romans); through his blood we have been redeemed (Ephesians); his blood joins that of all the prophets shed since the foundation of the world (Luke). Clearly a positive life-giving meaning is assigned to the blood of Christ.

The key text on blood in the Old Testament is in the liturgical book of Leviticus, where blood evokes a whole series of meanings and emotions, the most basic being that the life of a living body is in its blood (Lev 17:11). It is, therefore, as life, and not as the symbol of death, that the blood of Christ mysteriously unites us with God and with one another. Blood was sprinkled on the altar and on the people when the covenant of life was sealed between Yahweh and the Israelites (Exod 24:6-8). Each of us is a single, living person when warm blood flows from heart to head and hands and feet uniting all the members.

When Paul writes to the Romans, “through his blood God made Christ the means of expiation for all who believe,” he is saying that Christ’s death and resurrection have established a bond of life in all who are one in Christ Jesus. The focus of attention is not on the death (even though this agonizing event is not to be overlooked), but on the new life which the risen Christ suffuses into our midst. Because this “life” or “blood” of Christ is so pure, vigorous and divine, we are cleansed of all impurities within our system and are granted a supernatural energy and perception.

Ephesians not only stresses the same bond of unity established by blood, but it also extends this unity to “before the world began.” If this gift of life in Christ Jesus is wholly undeserved, a term used today by Paul in Romans, it is because God freely decided to love us and to gift us with life, before we even existed. This sweep of the eternal benevolence is a frequent referent in Ephesians. If only our love for others could be swept along so freely and so effectively.

Jesus also returns to the theme of blood in his controversy with a group of Pharisees and lawyers. When he condemns them for erecting monumental tombs over the graves of the prophets, it is not that he is opposed to honouring the prophets. Typical of the blood-symbolism, Jesus wants to honour the dead, not so much by concentrating on their dead bones nor even on their dead memory, but by continuing their life and imitating their selfless concern for others, especially for the poor and for others in desperate need; we too are meant to stand up for the cause of justice, for other people’s dignity and rights.

 Ephes 1:1-10

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

Gospel: Luke 11:47-54

Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your ancestors killed. So you are witnesses and approve of the deeds of your ancestors; for they killed them, and you build their tombs. Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute,’ so that this generation may be charged with the blood of all the prophets shed since the foundation of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, it will be charged against this generation. Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge; you did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering.”

When he went outside, the scribes and the Pharisees began to be very hostile toward him and to cross-examine him about many things, lying in wait for him, to catch him in something he might say.

#Oct 0. Friday of Week Twenty Eight

Eph 1:11ff. We are sealed with the Holy Spirit, the first payment to the people that God has made his own to praise his glory.

Luke 12:1ff. Do not be fearful. What you hear or say in secret, proclaim from the rooftops. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot touch your soul.

God’s Chosen Ones

At our centre is an inner dignity, strength and holiness that far surpass any good works we do and puts us at ease before our divine Judge, living on earth yet already enjoying heavenly peace. That’s how today’s reading from Ephesians sees us, as having received from God something like a “down payment,” or “first installment,” of eternal life. It is as a pregnant woman, who already possesses new life, unborn, within her. She has an assurance, but must wait for the birth. She can discern the future child, but is still guessing what the child will really be like. In Ephesians we are said to be “sealed with the Holy Spirit,” the pledge of our inheritance.

Paul can offer no credible explanation for the gift, except that we were “chosen, predestined” by our loving God. We were loved before we loved in return, we were carefully chosen to be God’s very own people. Our life is meant to be lived in praise to God’s glory. If our entire life and its growth and fulfillment are due entirely to God, how free and uninhibited we can be.

The exuberance of Ephesians flattens out a bit as we turn to the Epistle to the Romans (*1) . Romans tends to be sober and cautious due to the atmosphere of controversy. Paul is still battling against the “Judaizers” of the early Church who demanded the full observance of the Mosaic law from every disciple of Jesus. He turns to the example of Abraham, to illustrate that justification is by faith rather than by works. Not only does the Torah state clearly, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as justice,” but it is also an indisputable fact that Abraham preceded Moses by hundreds of years, and therefore did not observe the Mosaic law. If this part of Paul’s argument is so obvious that he may seem guilty of overkill, it may be meant to counter a tradition that Abraham knew in advance by revelation the entire Mosaic law, obeyed it and so was blessed. Such seems to be the position of the sage, Ben Sirach, “Abraham, father of many peoples,.. observed the precepts of the Most High,.. and when tested, he was found loyal. Therefore, God promised him with an oath that in his descendants the nations would be blessed (Sir 44:19-21).

Paul disdains this later tradition and takes his case back to Genesis. First came God’s choice and call (Gen 12), then Abraham’s faith (Gen 15) and only later did he demand circumcision (Gen 17) and prove himself faithful in the test (Gen 22). If God’s gift to Abraham, and like Abraham now to the gentiles, was so freely bestowed, then Paul and ourselves need no longer think of past sins. Nor will we be concerned about offenses against a law that is no longer binding on us.

The exuberance and liberty of spirit returns again in the gospel. What was said in the dark we are to proclaim from rooftops. If our merciful God is concerned about sparrows, then “fear nothing. You are more precious than a whole flock of sparrows.”

Justification by faith in this God liberates us more than from the law. It makes us free, confident and already part-way to heaven.

 Ephes 1:11-14

In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

Gospel: Luke 12:1-7

Meanwhile, when the crowd gathered by the thousands, so that they trampled on one another, he began to speak first to his disciples, “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees, that is, their hypocrisy. Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops.

“I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that can do nothing more. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight. But even the hairs of your head are all counted. Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

#Oct 0. Saturday of Week Twenty Eight

Eph 1:18ff. May God enlighten your inner vision that you may know the great hope to which you are called.

Luke 12:8ff. Do not worry how to defend yourselves. The Holy Spirit will teach you at that moment all that should be said.

Fortfather in Faith

Abraham’s hoping against hope (*1), must have seemed odd, even to Sarah his wife. Who would ever think that this elderly couple would not only be the parents of “a great nation” but that all the communities of the earth would be blessed through them (Gen 12:2-3). A person without Abraham’s faith would call this man’s hope simply “ridiculous.”

Whenever a situation turns out to be humanly hopeless, we should recall Abraham and Sarah. Such situations calling for radical decision come often enough in individual lives, and within church history too. Death is one such moment for everyone. Radical conversion is another. A decision for marriage, priesthood, religious life or particular secular career is still another.

When Israel seemed lost before the Philistine onslaught, God raised up David, the youngest son of Jesse, from a tribe up till then unimportant in Israel. Many of the traditions in Genesis about the creation of the world, the formation of the human race, the call and journey of Abraham from a distant land, were gathered and developed into a continuous narrative – the Yahwist (J) tradition – at the royal court of David and Solomon.

Abraham appears again, four or five centuries later during the Babylonian exile. The fate of Judah seemed hopeless. Very few nations that were deported like Israel survived historically. A great prophet appeared at this time, unknown by name and therefore called Second or Deutero-Isaiah because his poetry was appended to the Isaiah scroll as chapters 40-55. His advice to all who seek the Lord is, “Look to the rock from which you were hewn, to the pit from which you were quarried; Look to Abraham, your father, and to Sarah who gave you birth. When he was but one, I called him, I blessed him and made him many. Yes, the Lord shall comfort Zion and have pity on her ruins.” Second Isaiah’s words may also have sounded ridiculous, yet because he too “hoped against hope” and placed unwavering faith in the Lord, death gave place to life and the wasteland was transformed like the garden of the Lord.

Paul calls us to “look to Abraham.. and to Sarah,” so that the Lord may have pity on all our ruins and turn our desert existence into a paradise like Eden. Abraham himself never witnessed how marvellous this promised fertility would be. He saw only his son Isaac. In a way, Abraham’s faith had to reach beyond death to the resurrection of the dead. For this reason Jesus appeals to the example of Abraham for belief in the resurrection.

Those with intimate union with Jesus realize how disastrous is a word spoken against the Holy Spirit, who is there to inspire us with courage and vision at any moment of crisis. “The Holy Spirit will teach you at that moment all that should be said.”

 Ephes 1:15-23

I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Gospel: Luke 12:8-12

“And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before he angels of God; but whoever denies me before others will be denied before the angels of God. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. When they bring you before the synagogues, the rulers, and the authorities, do not worry about how you are to defend yourselves or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say.”

#Oct 0. 29th Week Monday of Week Twenty Nine

Eph 2:1ff. God brought us to life with Christ and in Christ when we were dead in sin. We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus.

Luke 12:13ff. Avoid greed in all its forms. A person may be wealthy, but mere possessions do not guarantee that our life is worthwhile.

The Failings of the Good

If the Scriptures insist frequently on justification by faith, they are not condemning good works, as though we were to do nothing but believe and pray. We have the example of Jesus, who went about doing good, preaching, healing, listening, defending, encouraging, giving alms to the poor. If faith meant the absence of good works, then many of the prophets went astray, especially those like Isaiah who preached a strong message of faith and of works.

Paul’s favourite author was Isaiah, responsible for that stirring, if almost untranslatable couplet: Unless your faith is firm, You shall not be affirmed (Isa 7:9). This same prophet also stressed good works. When Isaiah condemned Israel’s liturgy as presumptuous and useless, he called for conversion: Make justice your aim: redress the wrongs, hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow (Isa 1:16,23).

The gospel reminds us of possible faults of seemingly good people. They can be greedy and miserable about preserving what they have amassed diligently and properly. They can find total security in wealth and respectability. To this streak in most of us, Jesus gives this warning: Avoid greed in all its forms..Possessions do not guarantee life.. Do not grow rich for oneself instead of growing rich in the sight of the Lord.

 Ephes 2:1-10

You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

Gospel: Luke 12:13-21

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

He said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you – you of little faith! And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

#Oct 0. Tuesday of Week Twenty Nine

Eph 2:12ff. In the flesh of Christ, nailed to the cross, God has broken down the barrier of hostility between Jew and gentile, to form one new people.

Luke 12:35ff. It will go well for those servants whom the master finds wide awake at his return. He will set them at table and wait on them.

No Longer Aliens

By the time Luke wrote his gospel, the early church was no longer obsessed with the proximate return of Jesus in glory. The urgency of waiting for the Day of the Lord was no longer directed to a once-for-all coming of Jesus in glory to end the present condition of the world and usher in the everlasting kingdom. As with the Our Father, Luke thinks of the daily presence of the Lord Jesus in our neighbour and in contemporary events. We must be waiting, always ready to open the door of our heart, and of our possessions, should Jesus come even at midnight or before sunrise. Whatever happens anytime, anywhere, must be received as though Jesus were here in person.

But in another point, Jesus overturns oriental custom and sets us back to the drawing board of our own theology and organization of life. Normally, when the master returned, his servants waited on him. Jesus recognized this custom at another time in addressing the disciples (Luke 17:7-10). Now the reverse is to happen: The master will put on an apron, seat the servants at table, and proceed to wait on them. In our service of receiving others in our heart or home, it is we who benefit most. When we try to be of service to others, it is they who heap good gifts on us.

Perhaps the greatest gift will come through our realization that our family extends to many brothers and sisters. Paul addresses clearly in Ephesians : You are strangers and aliens no longer. You are fellow citizens of the saints and members of God’s household.

Sacrifice goes into this enterprise. No one forms family and community with others, even with one’s own flesh and blood, without carrying the cross with Jesus. But our sacrifice becomes one with his, in so far as his goodness inspires us to follow his example, and his Holy Spirit sustains us. What is said of breaking down the barrier between Jew and gentile can now be repeated in ourselves as we open our lives hospitably to all who knock at our door.

Our lives, like Christ’s become a sacred sacrifice. Our bodies are built into a “temple,.. a dwelling place for God in the Spirit.” Charity and hospitality form us into a world family, dying and rising to new life in Jesus, consecrated as a sacred temple for adoration and holiness in the Spirit.

This basic sense of unity helps us better understand Paul’s words to the Romans (*1) . We are all one through Adam and again through Jesus. Through Adam we share in the sins, prejudices and weaknesses, inherent in our human family. Through Jesus there is “overflowing grace” tto grace our lives. Paul writes, “Despite the increase of sin, grace far surpasses it,.. leading to eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Each good attempt is a sacred action within God’s holy temple. Each moment of our life takes place in “a dwelling place for God in the Spirit.”

 Ephes 2:12-22

remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

Gospel: Luke 12:35-38

“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.

#Oct 0. Wednesday of Week Twenty Nine

Eph 3:2ff. Paul is commissioned to preach to the gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, the mystery now revealed by his Spirit.

Luke 12:39ff. Be on guard. The Son of Man will come when you least expect it.

Dedicated to Justice

From the point of view of Romans we are “men and women who have come back from the dead to life,” and the risen Christ dwells within us. Luke seems to say in the gospel that Jesus has gone on a long journey and has disappeared across the horizon. The Epistle to Ephesians brings these divergent ideas together. Simultaneously, we already possess the mystery of Christ in us, and we are still seeking the fullness of this mystery.

As we read the gospel again, the divergence does not seem quite so severe as at first. We are advised to live daily, even moment by moment, as though the Son of Man were at the door, already knocking and ready to come in. Another key to the readings occurs in the word “servant” or “slave,” at least for Romans and Luke. Paul advises us to be “obedient slaves of justice.” The biblical word “justice” embraces much more than integrity and concern for the distribution of this world’s goods. It goes back to God’s utter fidelity in being true to himself and to his promises. To Moses on Mount Sinai Yahweh proclaimed himself as “a merciful and gracious God.. rich in kindness and fidelity” (Exod 34:6). Therefore, as “obedient slaves to justice,” we must live with an awareness of God’s marvellous plan of salvation.

If we are “slaves of justice,” we are true to our most inward self, to our authentic personality, to our image of God before creation, to the most wonderful possibilities of our life in God’s dreams for us. The term slave also occurs repeatedly in the gospel. Here Jesus tells the parable of the unworthy steward who began to abuse the housemen and servant girls, to eat and to get drunk. This steward is a slave himself, only of a higher position, but has forgotten most elementary norms of justice and concern for others. The wise steward-slave was to be a just and faithful in his service.

In writing to the Ephesians, Paul concentrates on the far horizons. He is lost in a wonderful insight, an extraordinary revelation. We should note the repetition of such phrases as: God’s secret plan, the mystery of Christ, the unfathomable riches of Christ, the mysterious design hidden in God, the Creator of all. God’s age-old purpose has existed before creation and controlled the making of the universe. It exists now throughout the world, whether people realize it or not, accept it or not.

Linked with the gospel, this Ephesians text takes on another nuance. The master comes unexpectedly from all corners of the universe. Jesus is knocking at our door, literally everywhere. He is rising to new life in people and places where we would least expect it. Such is “God’s secret plan.” We, as chief stewards of the house, must not mistreat nor abuse anyone. We need to care tenderly for each person. We need to be very solicitous about the use of God’s good earth. Any moment, any time Jesus will come and knock.

 Ephes 3:2-12

for surely you have already heard of the commission of God’s grace that was given me for you, and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words, a reading of which will enable you to perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ. In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God’s grace that was given me by the working of his power. Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him.

Gospel: Luke 12:39-48

“But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

Peter said, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for everyone?” And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and prudent manager whom his master will put in charge of his slaves, to give them their allowance of food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. Truly I tell you,he will put that one in charge of all his possessions. But if that slave says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and if he begins to beat the other slaves, men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and put him with the unfaithful. That slave who knew what his master wanted, but did not prepare himself or do what was wanted, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know and did what deserved a beating will receive a light beating. From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.

#Oct 0. Thursday of Week Twenty Nine

Eph 3:14ff. May you grasp the depth of Christ’s love, surpassing all knowledge

and so attain to the fullness of God himself.

Luke 12:49ff. I have come to light a fire on the earth, a baptism to receive. I have not come for peace but for division.

A Passionate Heart

The imagery or symbolism of today’s readings sets up a series of paradoxes. For instance, in Romans Paul speaks of being slaves of God; in this case the Lord is a slave-master. God is called father or parent in Ephesians . And then Jesus’ words in Luke that “I have not come to establish peace but division” openly clash with his other assurance ” ‘Peace’ is my farewell to you, my peace is my gift to you” (John 14:27). Ephesians has already said that Christ is our peace “who has made the two one by breaking down the barrier of hostility.” We must meditate longer, allow the Scriptures to sink more deeply within us and so experience their harmony in a new way.

The reading from Ephesians centres on God’s love for us – a love that always reaches beneath logic and rational control. If we are able to explain fully to another’s satisfaction or even to our own, why we love someone, such love is shallow and suspect. In Ephesians, therefore, love is surrounded with mystery. Deep love in a sense makes “slaves” of us, but not a slavery wherein we grovel in fear but a slavery which sets us joyfully on the way to eternal life, freed from shame and fear. Our bodies acquire a new dignity as “servants of justice.” If we are swept beyond our control and risk everything for the sake of life in Christ and eternal life, we experience a new level of love and a new integrity surrounds us, body and soul.

In the gospel Jesus appears enslaved to love and to the Father’s holy will. The language is strong in its echo of inner emotions, “How I wish the blaze were ignited!” Jesus was swept beyond his human understanding, almost beyond his human tolerance and patience. The references are clearly to his passion and death, particularly as Luke develops the theme of Jesus’ ministry, with him “firmly resolved to go towards Jerusalem” where he would be taken from this world. Yet, when the time came for the fulfillment of this plan Jesus was plunged into agony. He prayed in the garden of Gethsemane, “Father, if it is your will, take this cup from me.”.. In his anguish he prayed with all the greater intensity, so that his sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground (Luke 22:42,44).

We can return to Jesus’ other words with a deeper appreciation of their force and implication: “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? I assure you, the contrary is true; I have come for division.” It is not so surprising that serious division will split families into quarreling factions, each misunderstanding the other. Yet, such division is only temporary. In the flesh of Jesus, where the separation was felt most severely, we find a unifying power that breaks down all barriers and makes one chosen people of Jew and gentile, male and female, slave and free. All are one in Christ Jesus. Only in this way can the justice of God, the fulfillment of God’s promises and of God’s personal love and fidelity, be accomplished.

 Ephes 3:14-21

I pray therefore that you may not lose heart over my sufferings for you; they are your glory.

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Gospel: Luke 12:49-53

“I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No,I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

#Oct 0. Friday of Week Twenty Nine

Eph 4:1ff. One body and one spirit, one hope given to all of you by your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all.

Luke 12:54ff. If you can judge rain or hot weather in the offing, why can you not interpret the present time?

Sharing Our Hope

The “one hope given to us all” mentioned in Ephesians sets a context for meditating on Romans and on the gospel. Hope is perhaps the most difficult of virtues to appreciate and safeguard, since in many ways Faith and Love are more obvious. Faith can be clarified by studying the Bible and Church documents. Love can be practiced in our relationships and responding to the manifest needs of our neighbour. Of the three great virtues, Hope is the most intangible. Paul writes that “Hope is not hope if its object is seen.. And hoping for what we cannot see means awaiting it with patient endurance” (Rom 8:24-25).

The hopes mentioned in prophecy are usually somewhat vague and generic, and applicable in different ways. In fact, tomorrow’s reading from Ephesians adapts an Old Testament prophecy by reversing it. While the Hebrew original says that God “ascended on high and received men as gifts,” Paul’s version is that God “ascended on high.. and gave gifts to men.” Hopes are like the distant horizon of a sky which is continually changing color and shifting in cloud formation. Sunrise and sunset, clouds and stars all indicate the exquisite beauty of the heavens but no single moment catches the full splendour and majesty. Similarly, in a theological sense, we are always hoping beyond that which we see.

One’s hopes also vary with one’s age, health and family. They also vary from person to person. Even identical twins can reach towards their future differently. Hope induces ambition and action, stirs up desires and plans, makes people selfish or fearful. Hope induces important personality changes, and can easily degenerate into greed and selfish passion.

Little wonder that when Paul writes about the “one hope given to all” he also admonishes us to live a life worthy of the calling we have received, with perfect humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another in love. While cherishing our hope, we should “Make every effort to preserve the unity of the spirit.” He knew how much patience and forebearance are needed, in order to live in harmony with other gifted people, who also bristled with energy and ambition!

In Romans Paul takes another view of hope and of hopeful, gifted people. He views the situation, not in calm detachment as though from a distance but from inside, namely, from within himself. He was one of God’s most gifted and creative apostles, but a thorn in the flesh for many early Christians, especially for Peter and many others of Jewish extraction. Sometimes he becomes frustrated and despondent and feels that “no good dwells in me.” At other times he reacts so impulsively that it was done “against my will.” Paul agonizes at length over this situation: My inner self agrees with the law of God, but I see in myself another law at war with the law of my mind. This leads to the impassioned “What a wretched person I am. Who can free me from this body under the power of death?”

Yet, Paul does not end up in futile moaning, but adds, “All praise to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord!” He candidly expresses those very human moments of confusion, precipitated by the hopes for what is unseen, by the energy to do always the best and by the ever present danger of stubbornness, impulsiveness, pride and selfishness.

today’s gospel from Luke shows how impulsiveness can be turned into a necessary virtue. Some important chances do not come a second time, when failure to act would mean losing the opportunity. Some graces belong to the “day” and the “hour,” the “proper time” – the “kairos”, a favourite biblical term. Kairos is not just a moment like any other in time (for which the Greeks used the word chronos) but a very special moment with tremendous implications. The moment must be seized and promptly, for the sake of charity, conversion, and fidelity. The stakes are high, and not to decide is itself a negative decision.

We are to act for God with the same energy as we dispatch other practical decisions in our life. The natural virtue is put to the service of the religious activity, the body is at the service of the soul.

 Ephes 4:1-6

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it is said, “When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people.” (When it says, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.)

Gospel: Luke 12:54-59

He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?

“And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right? Thus, when you go with your accuser before a magistrate, on the way make an effort to settle the case, or you may be dragged before the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer throw you in prison. I ell you, you will never get out until you have paid the very last penny.”

#Oct 0. Saturday of Week Twenty Nine

Eph 4:7ff. Christ, risen from the dead, sends his gifts into our midst, giving us apostles and evangelists, so that his members may be firmly joined together.

Luke 13:1ff. Those who suffer are not always those who sin. But all must yield some good fruit – or the tree may be cut down.

Breaking down Barriers

Our Scriptures propose an ideal of close union of people among themselves and with God. The Bible seldom thinks of an individual as isolated, but always as a member of a race or nation, family or clan, and in the New Testament this relationship reaches out to all the earth. The Epistle to the Romans builds on a major position expressed already in chapter 5 that through one man, Adam, sin entered the world and that likewise, through one man, Jesus Christ, the grace of God is freely available to all. For Paul, we all share the same flesh and we are all gifted by the same Holy Spirit. “Flesh” for him indicates weakness and instability; while “Spirit” indicates life, strength, permanence, purity and sacredness. It is spirit that gives character, tonal quality, dignity and integrity.

The bonds uniting us are highlighted in Ephesians . Together we form the one “body of Christ,” still growing to full stature and forming “that perfect human being who is Christ.” Through him the whole body grows and the members are joined firmly together. The theme of unity in is perhaps not as clear, yet somehow we realize that the Galileans, slaughtered under Pontius Pilate, or those other unfortunates who were killed by a falling tower at Siloam, were also linked with other men and women. Their fate shows how the innocent may suffer along with the guilty. While it is true that suffering awaits sinful people, it is not true that suffering people are always sinners. Yet, much of the pain and discouragement suffered by people is caused by someone’s sinfulness, so close are the bonds of flesh, nationality, race and family.

On the positive side, all of us together form the one body of Christ (Ephesians), and we have each received specific gifts. Paul enumerates some of them: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, in roles of service for the faithful to build up the body of Christ. This diversity is for the good of the whole community, just as the variety of parts in the human body provides for its rich and varied functions. This analogy is more fully developed in I Corinthians, “God has set each member of the body in the place he wanted it to be. If all the members were alike, where would the body be?” (1 Cor 12:14ff).

Of course, the analogy must be carefully applied to the life of the community. Ideally, each member rejoices in the others and is assisted by them. However the variety of gifts and roles can provoke envy, antagonism, and even domination. The administrator must beware of over-administering, the teacher not try to resolve all problems speculatively, the practical-minded person not totally abandon study and reflection, or the spiritual-minded person leave everything to prayer. Each gift must function in a genuine role of service “to build up the body of Christ,” and therefore must cooperate with and depend on others, even while serving them.

If we share a common bond of flesh and spirit, as we read in Romans, then we are both dragged down and built up by one another. The same person’s talents can help and complement us, or annoy and threaten us.

As we live in close interaction, all of us one family with one another and with Jesus, we suffer together, we lift one another up. Together we sorrow for each other’s sins, so that together we bear fruit. If we do not transmit life together, we are like the persons whom Jesus warned, “You will all come to the same dreadful end unless you reform.” Or again, “If the tree does not bear good fruit, it shall be cut down.”

 Ephes 4:7-16

But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it is said, “When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people.” (When it says, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.)

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in very way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

Gospel: Luke 13:1-9

At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them – do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”

Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next ear, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'”

#Oct 0. 30th Week Monday of Week Thirty

Eph 4:32ff. Be kind to one another, mutually forgiving, and imitating God,

and following high ideals of holiness after the example of Jesus.

Luke 13:10ff. Jesus cures an arthritic woman on the Sabbath; indignation among the leaders but rejoicing for everyone else.

Forever Healing

The Spirit of God moves in our hearts and through our lives in very practical ways. Chapter 8 of Romans may be called the “Gospel of the Holy Spirit” and strongly affirms the power of God within our lives. Ephesians calls for human virtues to enhance our earthly existence. In the gospel, Jesus argues from common sense against religious conservatism, for a better application of the Ten Commandments. A devout lay person, without theological education but gifted with integrity and wholesome natural virtue, has his or her day in court. The secular becomes sacred, and the earth is appreciated as God’s creation, the temple where all say, ‘Glory.’ (Ps 29:9).

The arthritic woman, “badly stooped,” the person tottering step by step, leaning on a cane, lest they collapse to the ground from their bent back – is a too common sight to anyone who has traveled or lived in under-developed countries. They have spent their strength and twisted their bodies out of shape by back-breaking labour in rice fields, transplanting individual young stalks, or at the harvest picking up the stray shoots of rice. They have looked so long at the earth that they physically cannot look up to the heavens. But though bent over, these old folk are spiritually strong. Their words carry an enormous common sense, their decisions cut through idle discussion and questioning. Their calloused hands handle the infant grandchild with delicate care, their weakened eyes still carry a sparkle of pride and peace.

Jesus saw one such woman while teaching on a Sabbath day in one of the synagogues. He knew what was proper to do on the Sabbath, and could not rest till every man and woman was re-created to the divine image. In the Ten Commandments, according to Exodus, the reason for resting on the Sabbath is that after thw work of creation God “rested on the Sabbath day” (Exod 20:11); but on this particular Sabbath, Jesus could not enjoy his Sabbath rest until the work of creation was completed and this woman was remade to the divine image.

At the sight of her, Jesus called out a creative word, “Woman, you are free of your infirmity!” then laid his hand on her, and immediately she stood up straight and began thanking God. His action was prompted by divine wisdom and his conviction of what the Sabbath was supposed to be. When the synagogue ruler became indignant that the healing was on the Sabbath, Jesus’ response comes from the impulse of mercy and from the spirit of common sense imbedded in his heart. “You hypocrites. Which of you does not let his ox or ass out of the stall on the Sabbath to water it? Should not this woman be released from her shackles on the Sabbath?”

In a more theological vein, Paul recognizes the mysterious presence of God’s spirit within humankind: The Spirit makes our spirit aware that we are children of God (*1) . In tomorrow’s reading, the text is even more pointed, “The whole created world eagerly awaits the revelation of the children of God.” Jesus’ words to the stooped woman echo this hope; his healing word calling out to her responds to the hope of the created eagerly awaiting that revelation.

Ephesians also deals with the same alertness to the Spirit . It advises us to practice the typically good virtues of human nature: kindness, compassion and forgiveness, yet it also elevates the motives for those natural virtues, “Follow the way of love, even as Christ loved you.” It sternly warns against sins that common sense will immediately condemn, such as lewdness, promiscuousness and lust.

To sum up, grace heightens our awareness of natural goodness and actually builds on it. Our crippled or handicapped neighbours often hold the key to our understanding of God’s revelation in Jesus.

 Ephes 4:32-5:8

and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

But fornication and impurity of any kind, or greed, must not even be mentioned among you, as is proper among saints. Entirely out of place is obscene, silly, and vulgar talk; but instead, let there be thanksgiving. Be sure of this, that no fornicator or impure person, or one who is greedy (that is, an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be associated with them. For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light.

Gospel: Luke 13:10-17

Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the Sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the Sabbath day.” But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the Sabbath day” When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

#Oct 0. Tuesday of Week Thirty

Eph 5: 21ff. Love between spouses foreshadows the mystery of Christ’s love for the church.

Luke 13:18ff. The reign of God is like a mustard seed planted in the garden, and like yeast that is kneaded into dough, to make it rise.

Sanctity of Everyday Life

Deep within our human nature is planted a seed that will grow in surprising ways; there is an inner “yeast” to transform us as in the dough that is baked into fresh bread, the staff of life. The whole created world eagerly awaits the revelation of what is already stirring within it, and of ourselves as children of God (*1) . Marriage, one of the most basic, elementary of human institutions, mirrors the mystery of Christ’s love for the church .

These texts of Romans and Ephesians sparkle in all directions with magnificent, exciting possibilities. They clearly state that every human being across the planet earth carries the seed of eternal life, the source of transformation into Jesus Christ, of hopes beyond understanding; also that every marriage union is a sacred mystery, not only because God is the author of sexuality but because every marriage foreshadows the union between Christ and the church. We are reminded that all those millions of non-Christians throughout the world also carry within themselves the seed or image or hope of eternal life. The extraordinary goodness which we find among the pagan world of Buddhists or Hindus, or the strong monotheistic religion of Islam, represents and inward groaning for what is yet to be revealed.

Christian hope is not centred on looking heavenward but attends to the details of human life. Ephesians suggests that marriage, family and marital love are spirited by the example and the immediate presence of Jesus. Where there is faithful, fruitful marriage, it is a powerful image of Jesus’ love for the church. Both aspects of love, within marriage and within the church, result in holiness. It is helpful to apply to marriage, as is intended in this passage from Ephesians, what is said of Christ’s love for the church: He gave himself up for her to make her holy.

The statements about wives’ “submissiveness to their husbands” should be interpreted according to the culture and customs of that ancient time. This same larger section of Ephesians also speaks of slaves and their obligation to “obey your human master” (Eph 6:5). No one would quote this today to support slavery, that was also part of culture of that time.

If we seek our place in the reign of God, we must reverence the hidden mustard seed of divine possibility in our lives. We must be like the woman who so kneads the yeast into the dough that other people’s lives rise with freshness, life and dignity.

 Ephes 5:21-33

Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Saviour. Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, so as to present the church to himself in splendour, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind – yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish. In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, because we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church. Each of you, however, should love his wife as himself, and a wife should respect her husband.

Gospel: Luke 13:18-21

He said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what should I compare it? It is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.”

And again he said, “To what should I compare the kingdom of God? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”

#Oct 0. Wednesday of Week Thirty

Eph 6:1ff. Advice to parents and children, masters and slaves. Each one must respond to the other with reverence, sincerity and patience.

Luke 13:22ff. Enter by the narrow door. Surprising people will come from distant places while others who considered themselves insiders will be excluded.

How Narrow is the Door?

We might experience two opposite reactions to today’s readings. On the one hand, the way of salvation does not seem too difficult, especially if, as in Romans “the Spirit helps us in our weakness” and “all things work together for our good,” or as in Ephesians our normal human relationships can continue, with patience, reverence and honesty. But then, when we turn to the gospel we get the opposite impression – that eternal life is so elusive that it almost seems foolish to try to attain it. We are left to puzzle at the enigmatic one-liner, “Some who are last will be first and some who are first will be last.”

Luke may give us the clue for harmonizing all three readings and applying their meaning to ourselves. These statements are like proverbs which are meant to provoke our thinking rather than give quick answers. Like icebergs they may conceal more than they reveal.

We listen again to these familiar, mystifying words: Try to come in through the narrow door. Many will try to enter and be unable. Some who are last will be first and some who are first will be last. Is the Lord saying that in each of us there are some hidden inspirations which will be our salvation? Right now we may overlook them or even try to silence them. We crowd them out with many activities and distractions, excuses and arguments. Perhaps, “the narrow door” which leads us to a new, transformed existence is some niggling inspiration or other: to forgive a person who has hurt or even injured us, to help a neighbour or relative in their old age or sickness, to follow a call to dedicate some part of our time to religious or charitable service, perhaps to follow some vocation of service, to spend some time each day in prayer and in reflection. A decision that seems small, may also turn my life around. What I had put in last place in my scale of values, now appears first; my former first concerns now take last place.

From this background we can re-read the sayings from Romans and Ephesians. “The Spirit helps in our weakness” “to pray as we ought” and to express “with groanings that cannot be expressed in speech.” For God has “predestined us to share the image of his Son.”

Ephesians may seem even further away from Jesus’ proverbial remarks, by clearly stating the obvious about everyday ethics, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord. Parents, do not anger your children. Slaves, obey your human masters. Masters, stop threatening your slaves.” Yet, Paul adds some qualifying remarks: Parents are to train and instruct their children in a way “befitting the Lord.” Slaves are to show their masters “the sincerity you owe to Christ.” And each one, whether slave or free, “will be repaid by the Lord.” These qualifying remarks transform each statement into specifically Christian counsel. Again, therefore, what seems accidental, gives new direction, and what hardly drew our attention, turns out to be the “narrow door” that leads to salvation.

 Ephes 6:1-9

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” – this is the first commandment with a promise: “so that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.”

And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ; not only while being watched, and in order to please them, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. Render service with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not to men and women, knowing that whatever good we do, we will receive the same again from the Lord, whether we are slaves or free.

And, masters, do the same to them. Stop threatening them, for you know that both of you have the same Master in heaven, and with him there is no partiality.

Gospel: Luke 13:22-30

Jesus went through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few be saved?” He said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able. When once the owner of the house has got up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then in reply he will say to you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I do not know where you come from; go away from me, all you evildoers!’ There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrown out. Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God. Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”

#Oct 0. Thursday of Week Thirty

Eph 6:10ff. Put on the armour of God, for our battle ultimately is against unseen evil spirits. Pray in the Spirit, using petitions of every sort.

Luke 13:31ff. When Pharisees warn Jesus against Herod’s plans to seize him, he laments over Jerusalem, its rejection of prophets and its coming destruction.

The Armour of God

The Scriptures mince no words in warning us about the battle against evil in which we are all engaged. Whether expressed in terms of “trial or distress, or persecution, or hunger” or in more symbolic language as “principalities and powers” the battle for goodness and integrity is fought against overwhelming odds. Yet the same passages also offer a motif of confidence, almost suggesting that the battle is already over and won. Paul writes, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ?” and “Draw strength from the Lord and his mighty power. Put on the armour of God” .

We must take seriously the double position: 1) “our battle ultimately is not against human forces but “against principalities and powers”; and 2) nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God that comes to us in Christ Jesus, our Lord.” The excelling love of God is real, but it does not make dispense us from the struggle. We are required to face, each in our own way, “trial or distress, or persecution, or hunger, etc.” These problems and sorrows will still rend our heart but they are not excuses for giving in to depression or panic, or failure to face up to the crises in our lives.

Paul offers a perpetual source of new strength for coping with these trials, “in all this we are more than conquerors because of him who loved us.” Love is, then, the secret ingredient in our response to life. We must keep ever before our eyes the image of Jesus and the love which prompted his obedience to the will of the Father: Will not he who for our sake did not spare his own Son, grant us all things besides?

In Ephesians other helps are provided for us in our struggle, including the prayer of intercessions: Pray constantly and attentively for all in the holy company. Pray for me.. Pray that I may have courage.

The gospel recognizes the certainty of Jesus’ struggle with death: On the third day my purpose is accomplished. No prophet can be allowed to die anywhere except in Jerusalem. Jerusalem, however, does not evoke hatred and bitterness, only sorrowing love and eventual hope: How often have I wanted to gather your children together as a hen collects her young under her wings. Eventually, love wins out.

 Ephes 6:10-20

stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. Pray also for me, so that when I speak, message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.

Gospel: Luke 13:31-35

At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jersalem.’

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'”

#Oct 0. Friday of Week Thirty

Phil 1:1ff. God who has begun the good work in you will carry it through to completion. How I long for each of you with the affections of Christ Jesus.

Luke 14:1ff. While at dinner on the Sabbath Jesus ignored Sabbath curfew and cured a man suffering from dropsy, which scandalised some who saw it.

Loving Responses

Different loving responses are seen in these Scriptures: sorrowing love and regret over the failure of the people to recognize Jesus as messiah (*1) ; the affection of Paul for his favourite church-group, the Philippians ; the courageous love of Jesus towards the ailing man, despite the spying tactics of certain Pharisees (gospel).

For Paul Judaism remained a “mystery,” the word with which he will summarize his lengthy discussion in tomorrow’s reading from Romans (11:25). Particularly in these three chapters (Rm 9-11) he tackles the thomy issue head on and writes very carefully about it. He formulates the relation of Israel with God as a continuing, irrevocable bond. Often in the Bible God’s promises to his chosen people are expressed in absolute style; God’s word is not conditioned, nor can it be annulled by Israel’s sins: The Lord, the Lord, a merciful and gracious God.. rich in kindness and fidelity.. forgiving wickedness and crime and sin (Exod 34:6-7).

Paul continues this tradition and affirms the absolute nature of God’s choice of Israel. In the Greek text of Romans the tense of the verb is unmistakably present for the promises to Israel; the promises are still valid: to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenant, the law-giving, the worship and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them came the Messiah – in his human origins. Paul loves his people even to the point of being willing to be lost “for the sake of my kinsfolk, the Israelites.” Yet, though he cannot be separated from Christ under any condition, he could never stop loving his fellow-Jews, admiring them and extolling their dignity before God.

He writes just as intimately and lovingly to the Christians at Philippi, certainly his favourite church. The words ramble on without restraint, an unusual style for a public, epistolary correspondence:

“I think of you.. constantly rejoicing. I hold all of you dear. I long for each of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. My prayer is that your love may more and more abound.” We can be grateful for this insight into Paul’s character. He was no stoic, no distant ascetic, no hard-nosed theologian, no stern administrator. He was much more, even if those traits do appear at times. Because he was so affectionate and sensitive, he could not write calmly nor react phlegmatically to people. The excitable side of Paul’s character is also manifest in his correspondence with the Corinthians and the Galatians. Paul paid a heavy price for his apostolate, not only in physical pain (labours and imprisonments, beatings, shipwreck, hunger and thirst, etc.-2 Cor 11:23-27), but also in his inner life (“that daily tension, pressing on me, my anxiety for all the churches”-2 Cor 11:28).

Even in such an affectionate letter, Paul keeps up his concern for the spread of the gospel. One sentence expresses this relationship very well: I give thanks to my God every time I think of you – which is constantly, in every prayer I utter-rejoicing as I plead on your behalf, at the way you have all continually helped promote the gospel from the very first day. Paul, therefore, experienced all the heights and depths, the vicissitudes of strong faithful love within marriage, family and community.

While today’s gospel is written in the literary style of a “conflict story,” we should not overlook the silent interchange of love and confidence between two people seated opposite each other at table: between Jesus and the man with dropsy. What turmoil of hope, gratitude and affection must have raced through the sick man’s mind. He sat in silence, and no words are recorded between him and Jesus, as Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, “Is it lawful to cure on the Sabbath or not?” When Luke adds, “At this they kept silent,” the silence must have been loaded with a thousand and one reactions. On the part of Jesus and the sick man the silence spoke more eloquently than words, about the strength of love and the power of compassion. Jesus was risking his entire ministry and the regard of the most powerful people in Judaism, for the sake of an unnamed sick man, who is quickly lost to sight after he was cured.

He took him; he healed him; he sent him on his way. Jesus did not attempt to possess and profit from his love or from his miracle. We must always love, whether overcome with regret, or swept along by affection, or surrounded by confrontation.

 Philippians 1:1-11

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus.

And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

Gospel: Luke 14:1-6

On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the Sabbath, they were watching him closely. Just then, in front of him, there was a man who had dropsy. And Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, “Is it lawful to cure people on the Sabbath, or not?” But they were silent. So Jesus took him and healed him, and sent him away. Then he said to them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a Sabbath day?” And they could not reply to this.

#Oct 0. Saturday of Week Thirty

Luke 14:1ff- Take the lowest place at a wedding party. The one who humbles himself shall be exalted.

Listen to the Heart

Scripture urges us to listen anew to a quiet call at the centre of our being. Here we are “with Christ” and here we long for that fuller union with Christ after our death. As we see in today’s Scripture, it is so easy to be distracted from Jesus, not so much by wilful sins but to those lesser sins that plague good people. Often enough it seems easier to convert a great sinner from grave offenses than to convince a good person to repent of small transgressions.

The Christians at Philippi must have asked Paul about people who went round preaching about Christ, yet were not of their ranks. We remember a similar episode in the gospel (Luke 9:49-50) and in each case envy is the fault which must not be tolerated among his disciples. Paul replies that the proclamation of Christ, whatever the motives, brings him joy. He reduces the entire gospel to that single word, “Christ”, who lives as our risen saviour. Matthew summarized the gospel as the “kingdom of God” but Paul does so simply as “Christ”. For “it is not ourselves we preach but Jesus Christ as Lord” (2 Cor 4:4-5).

Unlike the evangelists Paul’s gospel does not record the words and deeds of Jesus. Rather his gospel is about the risen Jesus, alive now within the community. Every action and word among the believers becomes an action or statement of the “body of Christ.” What joy filled the heart of Paul and what holiness was transmitted to others, by simply mentioning the name “Christ.” With this name he felt he could sweep aside all envy and envy among the faithful.

In Romans Christ is now the treasure and the vocation of the gentiles. This unusual turn of events brings Paul to think of his own people, the Israelites, who as a group refused to recognize Jesus as Lord and Messiah, though many of them did become disciples. Yet, as Paul sees it, as a nation, they were overcome by blindness. Rather than discuss the baffling “mystery” of Judaism’s destiny, our meditation here can focus on Paul’s word, “blindness.” How much anger and impatience would be spared, how much kindness and gentleness manifested, if we would stop judging people’s motives. Even if we are in the right, our approach to others would be so much more in accord with Scripture if we would only attribute good intentions and divine grace to those who differ with us. “God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew.” Also, the divergent viewpoint in our neighbour may enable us to see our own position of faith all the more clearly. “Blindness has come on part of Israel until the full number of Gentiles enter in.” Paul adds, “Then Israel will be saved,” but only when we ourselves are fully dedicated to the gospel which is the person of Christ. What hinders conversion is not our ignorance of truth but our lack of joy and enthusiasm “in Christ.”

Too many good people want to be known and recognized for their goodness, too many of us pull rank and “sit in the place of honour.” In today’s parable Jesus is kind enough to adapt himself to this common weakness of saintly people. “Sit in the lowest place.. so that the host will say, ‘My friend, come up higher,’ then you will win esteem.” It seems that Jesus is saying: if you must win esteem, at least go about it in a proper, civilized way. The gospel ends with the most difficult commandment of all, humility. The commandment to be humble is the stumbling block of believers and even they have to see an exaltation offered as a reward.

 Philippians 1:18-26

What does it matter? Just this, that Christ is proclaimed in every way, whether out of false motives or true; and in that I rejoice.

Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance. It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be put to shame in any way, but that by my speaking with all boldness, Christ will be exalted now as always in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labour for me; and I do not know which I prefer. I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith, so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again.

Gospel: Luke 14:1, 7-11

On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the Sabbath, they were watching him closely.

When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honour, he told them a parable. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honour, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honoured in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

#Oct 0. 31st Week Monday of Week Thirty One

Phil 2:1ff. That his joy be complete, Paul begs for humility to banish all rivalry or conceit. Each of us should look towards the interests of others.

Luke 14:12ff. In preparing a banquet invite beggars, the crippled, the lame and the blind. You will be repaid in the resurrection of the just.

Unsearchable Mercy

Because God will reward us above what we deserve, we should not be too concerned about the exact measure of our merits. If God is generous it behooves us not to argue our rights. What if he gave us only what we deserve? In the reading from Romans Paul concludes his discussion about Israelites and gentiles by stressing the disobedience of all which required that the divine mercy be shown to all, a powerful example of God’s inscrutable judgments and unsearchable ways.

We need to reflect further on the mystery of the divine mercy. What is it that God is communicating to us when we experience mercy? Paul draws on a number of favourite Old Testament texts to announce the mysterious depths of it: Isa 40:13; Ps 139:6, 17-18; Wis 9:13. He writes: How deep are the riches and the wisdom and the knowledge of God. How inscrutable his judgments, how unsearchable his ways. For “who has known the mind of the Lord?.. Who has given him anything so as to deserve return?” From Ps 139 we learn that this mercy goes back to our conception. “You knit me together in my mother’s womb,” to every moment of one’s lifetime. “Your eyes have seen my actions; in your book they are written.” And from the teaching of Jesus, it is clear that our access to the mystery of God’s mercy is linked to our relationships with others: Blessed are they who show mercy; mercy shall be theirs (Matthew 5:7).

In Philippians Paul translates that general call to “show mercy” into specifics: unanimity, unity of spirit and ideals, no rivalry or conceit, thinking humbly of self and respecting others, sincerely caring for the interests of others. By such means we do not deprive those who receive our mercy of their human dignity; they remain our brothers and sisters, members of our one large family. Paul also explains the attitude and the unity of spirit that is the true setting for mercy: In the name of the encouragement which you owe me in Christ, in the name of the solace that love can give, of fellowship in spirit, compassion and pity, I beg you make my joy complete. We note how exquisitely Paul combines the notions of obligation and spontaneity in Christian life. In one and the same text he refers to that “which you owe me” and that which “I beg you” to do.

The gospel gives a concrete example of what showing mercy can mean: When you have a reception, invite beggars and the crippled, the lame and the blind. If our memory is good, we will recall moments when God invited us in our own crippled, beggarly state to a banquet of joy – the joy of forgiveness, the joy of new life. We may recall times of depression when we were blind to hope, paralyzed to joy and crippled, without energy to go forward. Yet God gently laid his hand on our feeble eyes and legs; and we found our hopes revived, our strength restored.

If Jesus assures us that we will be repaid “in the resurrection of the just,” we can affirm that promise from our own experiences. We have already felt the power of the resurrection within ourselves. Therefore it is wiser to perform acts of mercy not so that others can repay us, but rather to do so freely, for the reward promised by God. His recompense to us may be locked in mystery, but it is as certain as the words of Jesus, and will give us a foretaste of the resurrection even now on earth.

 Philippians 2:1-4

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.

Gospel: Luke 14:12-14

He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

#Oct 0. Tuesday of Week Thirty One

Phil 2:5ff. Your attitude must be that of Christ himself, who took the form of a servant and gave his all for us. Therefore, God highly exalted him.

Luke 14:15ff. God invites poor people from the streets and the alleyways – all sorts of places. Those who turn down the invitation must stay away.

Members of each other

Our deepest hope is poured into us by God and offers us great future prospects. We cannot ignore or reject it, without losing out in the process. Furthermore, hope is not bestowed on us by God simply for our private, individual enjoyment. Unless it is shared, it is lost. The ever-hopeful watchword of Paul is, “Rejoice in hope.” The reading from Romans begins with the need to share our gifts, because we are “one body in Christ and individually members one of another.” Each one, compared to a member of the human body, must serve the entire body exercise one’s gifts in such a way that the hand is never thinking just of the hand but of the mouth to which it offers food, and the mouth is never so absorbed with chewing as to overlook whether the stomach can digest the food and nourish the other parts of the body, including both arm and mouth.

He enumerates seven of the gifts bestowed on individual members of the church, the body of the Lord: 1. prophecy, in accordance with faith, so that the bond of unity in Christ be strengthened; 2. ministry, to represent the church in serving others in their material or physical needs; 3. teaching, that the mystery of Jesus be ever more profoundly appreciated; 4. exhortation, like parents joyfully encouraging then-children in their talents; 5. almsgiving from one’s private resources, generously and graciously; 6. administration which should recognize its subordinate place on the list of gifts and act “with love”; 7. works of mercy, to be cheerfully performed. Not only does the entire church depend on the right functioning of each member within the body, but each member will shrivel and weaken, unless properly exercised.

In Philippians Paul draws on an early church hymn to Jesus, calling on us to submerge ourselves in the loving bond of community and there exercise a loving ministry of service, like his. Our basic attitude to life must be that of Christ himself. As eternal Son of God, Jesus did not deem his divine status something to be doggedly retained, but he “emptied himself” of his status, to be born as a human being. We are advised to live so fully as a member of the church that we are emptied of self-serving and focus on the interest of Christ’s body.

The Gospel reinforces this principle. We should not set our own individual goals against Christ’s invitation into the church and into community. Remembering how helpless and impoverished we would be, left to our own devices only, we take our part in welcoming others into the hospitable family of God.

 Philippians 2:5-11

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Gospel: Luke 14:15-24

One of the dinner guests, on hearing this, said to him, “Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” Then Jesus said to him, “Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had ben invited, ‘Come; for everything is ready now.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my regrets.’ Another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my regrets.’ Another said, ‘I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.’ So the slave returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, ‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ And the slave said, ‘Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.” Then the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.'”

#Oct 0. Wednesday of Week Thirty One

Phil 2:12ff. Prove yourselves children of God, innocent and straightforward. God begets in you every measure of desire or achievement. You give me cause to boast.

Luke 14:25ff. No one can be my disciple unless that one renounce all possessions, even father and mother, spouse and children, indeed one’s very self.

Love is the Fulfilment

Today’s gospel is rather grim, so fortunately we do not read it in isolation but can balance it with today’s other Scriptures. True, there are difficult moments when the gospel must be heard in stark, heroic loneliness, but normally our Christian life is lived within the bonds of union of family, community and church. Together with family and friends we form the one body of the Lord, and as Paul writes, “the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I do not need you,’ any more than the head can say to the feet, ‘I do not need you “‘ (I Cor 12:21).

In the concluding section of Romans (chaps. 12-16) Paul follows his general practice of becoming very practical and of urging fidelity to Christian virtues. Today he quotes from the Ten Commandments, and adds: all other commandments are summed up in this one commandment, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” Love is the one and only debt we really have towards the community. Each is dependent on the other and each enriches the other. There is written into our human nature a law of mutual help and mutual subordination. Love then is the fulfillment of such a law, for love preserves and cherishes the unity essential for a healthy body.

With less symbolic language, Paul points out in Philippians how the body functions smoothly and healthily. He advises us: In everything you do, act without grumbling or arguing; prove yourselves innocent and straightforward, children of God beyond reproach. He then refers to “the day of Christ,” i.e., that of his death. At that time he will even be able “to boast that I did not run the race in vain or work to no purpose.” He also adds these important words: Even if my life is to be sacrificed for your faith, I am glad of it. May you be glad too, and rejoice with me.

Jesus’ statement, therefore, about turning one’s back on father and mother and family must not be interpreted against the broad, biblical insistence on the first two commandments of love for God and for one’s neighbour. Who is a closer neighbour than one’s family? If there are times, hopefully rare, when we must act in such a way that causes grief to others – such as when parents discipline their children, or friends correct one another – even this must be done in love. Like Jesus, we too should suffer with those whom we involuntarily cause to suffer; and like Jesus our mutual bearing of the cross is life-giving and transforming. This heroic form of love is the ultimate fulfillment of the law.

 Philippians 2:12-18

Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Do all things without murmuring and arguing, so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world. I is by your holding fast to the word of life that I can boast on the day of Christ that I did not run in vain or labour in vain. But even if I am being poured out as a libation over the sacrifice and the offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you – and in the same way you also must be glad and rejoice with me.

Gospel: Luke 14:25-33

Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.

#Oct 0. Thursday of Week Thirty One

Phil 3:3ff. Though Paul has shared in the Privileges of the circumcised People of God [Israel,] he values his union with Jesus Christ more highly.

Luke 15:1ff. Ther eis more joy in heaven over finding the one lost sheep or the one lost coin than over the ninety-nine virtuous folk who had no need to repent.

Finding Lost Sheep

In Luke’s account, Jesus never misses an opportunity to join in a dinner-party. Many of the great discourses in this gospel were delivered at the dining table of his wealthy hosts. Both parables conclude with a happy retriever of lost goods [a lost sheep or lost silver pieces] inviting friends and neighbours in and bidding them, ‘Rejoice with me!’ and such happy occasion are compared with God’s own joy in heaven over one repentant sinner, which is greater than over the ninety-nine righteous who have no need to repent.

Each of us is reflected both in the ninety-nine sheep that are always accountable, and in the one lost sheep that wanders off and is reluctant to live under control. We have ideas and talents that understand and try to carefully direct. They are always with us and we are quietly proud of them, since because of them we receive compliments and awards. These constitute ninety-nine righteous percent of ourselves that has “no need to repent.” But perhaps God has also poured an unpredictable and unruly talent or quality into us. Stretching the parable a bit, we might say that this easily lost part of ourselves can be a special moment of time or a unique opportunity crossing our path, chances and graces so fleeting that they can easily pass us by. All of us possess some talents and inspirations, for ourselves or the church, for our family, neighbourhood or country, that seem too idealistic even to talk about. They might be spoiled or injured by ridicule or simply by cool indifference. Or they might turn out to demand so much of ourselves that we try to suppress them. Such inspirations could become crucial turning points in our lives – whether to forgive another and be reconciled, to volunteer assistance badly needed by a marginalised group, or to make a clear decision for marriage for priesthood or for some other vocational choice.

The parable assures us that the lost sheep and lost coin in each of us can be found. We must leave aside the ninety-nine other aspects of ourselves and seek this one, fleeting aspect. But are we ready and willing to light a lamp and sweep the house of our existence diligently, till we discover the lost coin?

This provides a viewpoint for re-reading Romans (*1) . Every part of ourselves and of our existence “in life and in death” belongs to the Lord. For Paul goes on to say, “That is why Christ died and came to life again.” If the price of detaching ourselves from the security of the ninety-nine percent is high, it is done in union with the Christ who died for us; if we venture out to find and claim our lost sheep, it is with Christ who rose to the life of resurrection.

With this viewpoint too we can also understand Paul’s injunction against harshly judging one’s neighbour. We judge from the evidence we see; but what we see may be just the ninety-nine, the one other being lost to view. Our judgment seldom takes into consideration the rediscovering of the lost sheep or coin, which cannot easily be seen. But when the lost one is found, the ninety-nine are also inspired with new meaning, for Jesus wants all of his people to share in his identity as the shepherd who never ceases to care for those outside the margins, the lost ones that he came to find.

 Philippians 3:3-8

For it is we who are the circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and boast in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh – even though I, too, have reason for confidence in the flesh.

If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.

Gospel: Luke 15:1-10

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable: “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbours, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbours, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

#Oct 0. Friday of Week Thirty One

Phil 3:17ff. We eagerly await the coming of our Lord, who will give new form to out mortal bodies, patterned on his own glorified body.

Luke 16:1ff. The worldly often take more initiative than the other-worldly, and the owner credits his devious employee for being so enterprising.

Examine our Motives

Based on what motives and attitudes do we act out our lives? All too many are workaholics, distracted from any serious reflection on our basic motives or even about the end-result of our excessive activism. A hurricane sweeps through our lives and drives other people as well. To correct this frenetic motion Scriptures declares that “by waiting and by calm you shall be saved” (Isa 30:15). Yet the Scriptures do not canonize inactivity. We have the example of Paul, apostle of the gentiles, world traveller in the second part of the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 13-28), prolific writer of letters, many of them preserved in the New Testament. In today’s text he even boasts of the work he has done for God. We can study his writings for signs of how to modulate our own activity.

The spirit by which Paul was quite consciously motivated was the Holy Spirit, the spirit of adoption through which we become “heirs with Christ” (Rom 8:15,17). Paul was at the service of Christ Jesus, and achieved only what the Spirit prompted him to do. Courage spurred him on to undertake difficult tasks, to preach where Christ’s name was unknown. Yet amid draining demands Paul did not succumb to relentless activism nor to a blind drive to get it done, but found time to keep a corner of his heart for long stretches of contemplation, “eagerly awaiting the coming of our saviour.” His ideal was to inspire and minister to the new life within the heart of the believer. “as gently as any nursing mother with her little ones” (I Thess 2:7) and warmly appreciating what God was accomplishing in and through others also. Paul furthered the charisms and talents of each person in the community, and this he saw as a “priestly duty,” fostering the heart of the believer to become a pleasing sacrifice to God.

In this way, Paul was at once an instrument of the Spirit and a minister of Christ. He could even urge the Philippians to “be imitators of me” . Yet, while Paul strove to imitate Jesus, he seldom refers to Jesus’ earthly life, and his message is quite different in tone from those of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Paul’s Jesus is the risen Lord, dwelling within him, sharing with him the spirit of total self-giving. The apostolate, therefore, carries a glow of hope and enthusiasm, for already “our citizenship is in heaven.” Paul was and remained an apostle of hope. We read in today’s text: Christ will give a new form to this lowly body of ours and remake it according to the pattern of his glorified body.

Turning to the gospel, we move from the elevated spirituality of Paul to a plainer, more common-sense language. We are called on to be enterprising and to act with initiative. Jesus notes how worldly people possess these qualities more abundantly than the other-worldly. But in making good use of our bodies and human talents, we are serving the God who created us in the divine image and likeness (Gen 1:26) and to offer spiritual sacrifice to God who dwells within us as the temple of divine glory (2 Cor 6:16).

 Philippians 3:17-4:1

Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.

Gospel: Luke 16:1-8

Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.

#Oct 0. Saturday of Week Thirty One

Phil 4:10ff. In Jesus I have strength for my imprisonment. It was kind of you to share my hardships by sending a gift for my needs.

Luke 16:9ff. A series of maxims about worldly goods and the service of God.

Others as Co-workers

God, creator of the universe and the designer of our body and mind, does not want us to despise the earth or to reduce ourselves to passive automatons. Everything is to be put to the service of God and of one another. If yesterday Jesus reproached his “other-worldly” disciples for not showing the enterprising initiative of the “worldly,” today Paul greets and commends his active co-workers in the service of the gospel and stresses how he can cope in all circumstances, whether eating well or going hungry . The gospel, again as yesterday, clearly tells us to make good use of this world’s goods.

The list of co-workers in the final chapter of Romans is long and witnesses to Paul’s recognition of talents and enterprise in others. The list begins with Prisca and Aquila who “risked their lives for the sake of mine” and in whose house the congregation meets for prayer. Then there are: the beloved Epaenetus “first fruits” of his mission in Asia; Mary “who worked hard for you;” a couple named Adronicus and Junias, “fellow prisoners, outstanding apostles.. who were in Christ even before me.” Then we catch a glimpse of Paul’s secretary, Tertius, who actually penned the letter, and sends his greetings and those from Paul’s host, “Gaius, and Erastus, city treasurer, and our brother Quartus.”

Clearly, Paul did not run a one-man show, but believed in team ministry and endorsed the talents and vocation of others. Nor was Paul anti-woman. In this list women receive as much attention as they do in Luke’s gospel. In naming the Jewish couple, “Prisca and Aquila, my co-workers,” Paul names the woman first, she who risked her life for his sake. He praises the hard work of Mary and of Junia, an “outstanding apostle.” The mention and endorsement of these co-workers is highly significant, here where Paul concludes his most elaborate, theological explanation of the gospel that he preaches wherever he goes.

This poses the question whether we too are conscious of the many people who cooperate with us. Do we call attention to our co-workers and give them proper recognition in the presence of others? Do we win for them the appreciation of the church, the way that Paul writes, “Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks to them.”

The text from Philippians gives us another example of living maturely within one’s environment and even of making a virtue out of necessity. Paul writes: Whatever my situation, I have learned to be content. I know what it is to have plenty and how to go hungry. Most of us would cringe at admitting in a public document that “I know.. how to eat well and.. to be well provided for” and might confine our remarks to our hardships for the gospel and for the neighbour. We also might hesitate to state openly how others have helped us. Here again Paul shows a very healthy spontaneity in thanking his “dear Philippians,” for their gifts. These did more than make Paul’s life pleasant; they comforted him at a time when.. “not a single congregation except yourselves shared with me.. something for my needs.”

We too should express our dependency on others even while knowing how to maintain our human dignity and self-respect. Paul, moreover, advises us to share our own selves, our time, our insights, our ability to work with hands and head, our sympathetic listening. Thereby, as each gives to the other, there is an “ever-growing balance” of each one’s receiving. All have the dignity of knowing that they give what is helpful and even necessary to the other.

The gospel, as in the preceding days, says unambiguously that we are to make good use of this world’s goods. If we are faithful in these small matters, we can be trusted in greater things. Yet, do not be the slave of money. And in financial matters, very often what humans think important, God holds in contempt.

 Philippians 4:10-19

I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it. Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. In any case, it was kind of you to share my distress.

You Philippians indeed know that in the early days of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you alone. For even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me help for my needs more than once. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the profit that accumulates to your account. I have been paid in full and have more than enough; I am fully satisfied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. And my God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

Gospel: Luke 16:9-15

And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.

“Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this, and they ridiculed him. So he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of others; but God knows your heats; for what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God.

#Oct 0. 32nd Week Monday of Week Thirty Two

Titus 1:1ff. The blessings of the faith and the hope of eternal life. The qualities desirable in a church leader.

Luke 17:1ff. Instruction on scandal, forgiveness and faith.

Firmly Planted

Scripture urges us to reach outward and to be all-embracing, like the very spirit of God. At the same time we must attend to our inward heart, think of the Lord, and practice self-control and compassionate understanding. As we meditate on the texts for today, we are helped to form a healthy balance between concern for the world outside us and a silent quest for inner peace.

 This week draws on the Book of Wisdom, the last of the sapiential books to be written; the 33rd and 34th weeks, on the two Books of Maccabees and the Prophecy of Daniel, where the Jews suffered for their fidelity to the Mosaic law in its prescriptions for daily and family living. The Book of Daniel, like Maccabees, reflects an era of intense persecution; and particularly in Daniel we have a glimpse of the glorious coming of the Son of Man on the clouds of heaven. cycle II for weeks 33 and 34 reads from the New Testament counterpart to Daniel, the Book of Revelation.

We are to live with two feet firmly planted on earth. The Old Testament often strikes us as a very earthy document, yet no less valuable for that. God accepts us whoever we are and wherever we happen to live, whatever may be our family or neighbourhood setting. Already in its opening essay, the Book of Wisdom introduces many practical pointers or warnings for this steady positioning of ourselves: seeking integrity of heart; avoiding foolish advice; not putting God to the test; the duty to rebuke injustice; keeping guard over our tongue. We note the sense of God’s presence within this practical counsel: for God listens to all that is said. The wise Jewish writer in Egypt who composed the book also provides a larger setting for life, with heart and mind sensitive to God’s presence within oneself and open to a God-filled universe. No place is too small, no question too trifling, nor is any place too immense nor any problem too complex, for God not to be immediately at hand, struggling and resting with us. Paul has exactly the same insight when he says, “Whether we eat or drink, whatever you do, do all for the glory of God” (I Cor 10:31).

The same interaction of ideals with homely advice and hard-nosed common sense is evident in the Epistle to Titus . This reads like a very late document, lacking the enthusiasm of earlier letters and drawing on some painfully acquired wisdom.

Paul writes in loving, paternal tones, calling Titus “my true child in our common faith,” but he also trusts in the good sense of Titus, “I left you in Crete to accomplish what remains to be done, especially the appointment of presbyters in every town.” He goes on to speak of the sweep of God’s providence: Titus must promote the knowledge of the truth, in the hope of that eternal life which God promised in endless ages past. Within this wide setting, Paul inserts his practical concern for the nitty-gritty. The presbyter must be of irreproachable character, not self-willed, married only once, not arrogant, father of a respectable family, hospitable and amiable.

Today’s gospel tackles one of the most difficult problems among people who are high-minded, trustful and idealistic: they can easily be scandalized. Some will say that such people just need to be more streetwise and hardened to life, but Jesus defends such innocence and warns against giving scandal. Paul wrote similarly, that if his eating meat causes scandal to his brothers and sisters, he will never again eat it (I Cor 10:28).

On the other hand, these idealistic people often find it difficult to forgive. Because virtue comes as second nature to them, they cannot appreciate the force of temptation felt by others, or they are so obsessed with their own criteria of holiness and their own scale of values, that they fail to see the goodness and the different values in the other. The inability of such pious folk to forgive may turn out to be a still greater scandal to the less devout, less religious person. One’s quest for holiness needs to be balanced by faith in God’s activity in the lives of others.

 Titus 1:1-9

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that is in accordance with godliness, in the hope of eternal life that God, who never lies, promised before the ages began – in due time he revealed his word through the proclamation with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Saviour, To Titus, my loyal child in the faith we share: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Saviour.

I left you behind in Crete for this reason, so that you should put in order what remained to be done, and should appoint elders in every town, as I directed you: someone who is blameless, married only once, whose children are believers, not accused of debauchery and not rebellious. For a bishop, as God’s steward, must be blameless; he must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or addicted to wine or violent or greedy for gain; but he must be hospitable, a lover of goodness, prudent, upright, devout, and self-controlled. He must have a firm grasp of the word that is trustworthy in accordance with the teaching, so that he may be able both to preach with sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict it.

Gospel: Luke 17:1-6

Jesus said to his disciples, “Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come! It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble. Be on your guard! If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive.”

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

#Oct 0. Tuesday of Week Thirty Two

Titus 2:1ff. Practical instructions are given for different groups, so that all may live good lives while awaiting the return of our Saviour Christ Jesus.

Luke 17:7ff. Having done what is commanded, we ought to reckon ourselves as merely servants who have done no more than is our duty.

Curriculum Vitae

A theme for today’s meditation is provided in Wisdom (*1), that God formed us to be imperishable and in the image of the divine nature. Each of us, regardless of nationality or race, gender or wealth, is equally created to image God’s divine nature. Therefore, as the Epistle to Titus puts it, nothing earthly and perishable can ultimately meet our needs and desires, for we await a still greater hope, “the appearance of the glory of the great God and of our Saviour Christ Jesus.” At that moment our reward will so surpass our expectations and all our endeavours, that we will exclaim, “We are useless servants, who have done no more than our duty.”

We begin this mortal life, created to the divine image; we end it by discovering the fullness of that image in Jesus Christ, when he appears in glory. In between, we pass along a human path of life. Human life on planet earth, somehow or other in God’s mysterious ways, helps to bring out the full glory of our divine image, even to “perfect” it, if our understanding of Hebrews is correct.

The reading from Wisdom, the latest of the Old Testament books, reinforces this understanding of life. It praises those who have paid for their ideals with their lives, “As gold in the furnace, God proved them, and as sacrificial offerings he took them himself.” Then follows a phrase difficult to grasp and accept, “God tried them and found them worthy of himself.” Earthly life provides the furnace that tries and refines the divine image within us. Similarly we read in Hebrews, “after being chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed.”

The trials we face are the normal jolts of life, faults of ignorance and impetuosity, the result of human frailty. Yet we are told that – on another level – it is God who is trying us and making us worthy of himself. We can never adequately explain this, not even with the cross of Jesus before our eyes. Yet there is consolation in realizing that somehow God is writing straight with crooked lines and that our unavoidable sufferings have a life-giving place in God’s plans. The Book of Wisdom is so certain of this that it adds, “Those who trust in God shall understand truth, and the faithful shall abide with him in love.. for his care is with his elect.”

In the letter to Titus, we find that Paul respects the limits of local culture, yet also sets our human life within a divine framework, what in the Book of Wisdom would be our divine image. Today’s text begins with the requirement that our speech be “consistent with sound doctrine” and goes on to be more specific about this sound doctrine: it is about the “glory of the great God and of our Saviour Christ Jesus.” What we do on earth is closely related to how we shall receive Jesus in his glorious second coming.

In between, Paul is quite pragmatic. Both his words here and the gospel accept cultural structures which are not acceptable today. Jesus refers to slavery and to what a master can expect from the slave. For work well done the master would not necessarily show any gratitude, because the slave was only carrying out his orders. Jesus is not endorsing slavery, though he was preparing the way for its abolition by emphasizing the dignity of everyone. At the end, if we trust, we will not only understand truth, as Wisdom promises us, but we will also be absorbed within a joy and glory far surpassing our human merits. Everything will seem useless by comparison.

 Titus 2:1-8, 11-14

But as for you, teach what is consistent with sound doctrine.

Tell the older men to be temperate, serious, prudent, and sound in faith, in love, and in endurance. Likewise, tell the older women to be reverent in behavior, not to be slanderers or slaves to drink; they are to teach what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be self-controlled, chaste, good managers of the household, kind, being submissive to their husbands, so that the word of God may not be discredited.

Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. Show yourself in all respects a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, gravity, and sound speech that cannot be censured; then any opponent will be put to shame, having nothing evil to say of us.

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.

Gospel: Luke 17:7-10

“Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from ploughing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!'”

#Oct 0. Wednesday of Week Thirty Two

Titus 3:1ff. While urging us to responsible behaviour, privately and publicly, Paul states that we are saved by the Spirit, lavished on us through Jesus Christ.

Luke 17:11ff. Of ten lepers healed by Jesus, only one, a Samaritan, returned to give thanks. “Your faith,” Jesus says to him, “has saved you.”

Why Did They Not Come Back?

Jesus states very clearly, “Your faith has saved you.” We stand in need of such faith, able to recognise our total dependency on God for life and for its good use, and also for its cooperation with others and towards eternal life. By faith God enables us to put our best self to the service of one another, and so to give praise to our Maker. This injunction to live within bonds of love and community, is expressed very simply. To the Samaritan who “threw himself at his feet,” Jesus replied, “Stand up and go on your way.” He stands up with dignity and joy, healed of the dreadful disease of leprosy, and goes his way, no longer forbidden to live with others, no longer ostracized as unclean, resuming life as it ought to be, now blessed with good health and gratitude to God.

Along with this encouraging remark of Jesus the gospel contains a sad commentary on human life. For ‘Were not all ten made whole? Where are the other nine? Was there no one to return and give thanks to God except this foreigner?’ At that time, in the eyes of most Jews the Samaritans were scorned, feared and avoided, after long history of mutual distrust. Some five centuries earlier, the Jews had refused to allow the Samaritans to cooperate in rebuilding the temple (Ezra 4) and in return the Samaritans built their own temple on Mt. Gerizim and tended to side against the Jews in later wars. Jesus’ words were noted this antagonism but were trying to break it down and show that even Samaritans could have true faith.

Perhaps it was their sudden return to good health that distracted the other nine so that they forgot about Jesus and failed in the normal human courtesy of returning to thank Jesus for their cure. Strangely enough, God’s finest gifts – life, strength, the ability to think imaginatively and to act creatively – easily become the means by which we not only forget God but also turn against against our neighbours and even our own family. With good reason the Book of Wisdom warn us about the proper use of life and talents. It admonishes us that “The Lord made the great as well as the small, and provides for all alike; but for those in power a rigorous scrutiny awaits.”

The Letter to Titus expresses the same conviction about faith in a somewhat different way. First it gives a list of practical instructions: to be loyally subject to civil government; not to be slanderous or quarrelsome; to display perfect courtesy towards everyone. All these virtues seem within our normal ability, yet Paul ends by stating, “God has saved us, not because of any good deed we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us and justified us by his grace.” No virtue is possible without God’s Spirit given us through Jesus Christ.

Where we are at our best, we stand in particular need of instruction. The Book of Wisdom advises us to “learn wisdom that you may not sin.” Whoever stands in authority or power over others is warned all the more seriously to “keep the holy precepts.” We can too easily use them to our own advantage and unjustly dominate others. Scripture and prayer, consequently, are all the more essential when one is healthy and talented. We can too easily forget about returning to the Lord and offering gratitude for our gift of life.

 Titus 3:1-7

Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show every courtesy to everyone.

For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, despicable, hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Gospel: Luke 17:11-19

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

#Oct 0. Thursday of Week Thirty Two

Phlm 7ff. Paul asks Philemon to receive his runaway slave Onesimus as a beloved brother, who can again be useful both to Paul and to Philemon.

Luke 17:20ff. The reign of God is not “here” nor “there” but already in your midst. Before coming, the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected.

Intrinsic Wisdom

At the centre of life lies the wisdom of God or according to Luke’s gospel, the reign of God. This wisdom “penetrates and pervades all things” according to the first (*1) . And according to the letter to Philemon this bond of love includes a wide range of acquaintances. In the introduction, Paul calls Philemon “our beloved friend and fellow worker,” and in today’s first sentence he expresses his “great joy and comfort in your love, because through you the hearts of God’s people have been refreshed.”

We in turn are called to unite and integrate, and to form such a bond of union that we can reach out to find each man and woman our brother and our sister, our source of “joy and comfort.” The other may seem as distant from us as a runaway slave and yet become like a neighbour to us. In passing we should note that the New Testament does not directly take issue with slavery, but indirectly supplies the data that eventually made church and society realize how grossly injust it was. For instance, Jesus was equal to God yet willing “to empty himself and take the form of a slave” (Phil 2:7). Furthermore, “All of you who have been baptized into Christ are clothed in him. So among you there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female. All are one in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:27-28). It is the inner bond of faith and love, of respect and honour that heals the social injustices of slavery and enables each us to integrate our proper bonds with others.

The Book of Wisdom sees this integration as done through wisdom, this virtue that is God’s supreme gift. According to the latin, Vulgate translation, wisdom “reaches from end to end mightily and governs all things sweetly.” Such is the way of divine wisdom: mightily and sweetly. The bond which unites is as mighty as God is strong and loyal, as sweet as God is compassionate and good – always and everywhere.

But we become impatient when God’s wisdom eludes us and like the questioners, we press Jesus for an answer, “When will the reign of God come?” In replying, Jesus immediately puts aside one part of the question, when. The kingdom of God is not to be identified with a point of time; this is an important warning to those who try to predict the end of the world on such and such a day. Jesus also refuses to locate the reign of God “here” or “there.” There is no particular, all-holy place where the kingdom must appear, as though one country is better than another. Jesus’ final answer is baffling but also consoling: The reign of God is already in your midst.

Intimately, personally rooted within us, is the kingdom of God already begun, Jesus who dwells within us. Here we already taste the sweetness of eternal life. Here we imbibe the strength to be strong and loyal, for God’s wisdom lives in our heart. We must remain conscious of the sweetness of God’s ways, even in the midst of suffering.

 Philippiansm 7-20

I have indeed received much joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, my brother.

For this reason, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love – and I, Paul, do this as an old man, and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus. I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment.

Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me. I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel; but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced. Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother – especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.

So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it. I say nothing about your owing me even your own self. Yes, brother, let me have this benefit from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ. Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.

Gospel: Luke 17:20-25

Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.”

Then he said to the disciples, “The days are coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. They will say to you, ‘Look there!’ or ‘Look here!’ Do not go, do not set off in pursuit. For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day. But first he must endure much suffering and be rejected by this generation.

#Oct 0. Friday of Week Thirty Two

2 John 4ff. Love one another and acknowledge that Jesus Christ has come incarnate in the flesh.

Luke 17:26ff. The Son of Man comes suddenly. Remember Lot’s wife and the evil days before Noah’s flood.

Distracted Away From God

It can easily happen, that God’s good gifts distract us from God. Because they are so good, they can substitute for God and stifle any desire to think about life beyond this world or about the God who is invisibly present behind this good world of ours. Much closer to home, once the good meal is on the table, we seldom remember to thank the cook. Parents who lavish toys and gifts on their children are quickly and easily taken for granted. Yet the Book of Wisdom puts it very plainly: For from the greatness and the beauty of created things, their original author, by analogy, is seen.

A somewhat similar idea occurs in our reading from the Second Letter of John who finds great joy in finding some of his Christians walking in the path of truth, and loving one another. For the path of truth leads through our home and family, our religious communities and daily obligations. Here is where we love with compassion, forgiveness and forbearance, with joy and hope. From this interaction we learn the meaning of God’s compassion and forgiveness towards us, and his joy in us. If we are always seeking God, the creator behind the beauty and greatness of our world, the Lover who inspires our love and gentleness, then we will always be ready for the coming of the Son of Man. Even if he comes without warning, we are ready.

The Book of Wisdom raises any number of important questions for the agnostic and atheist as much as for the religious person. It states, “They are distracted by what they see, because the things seen are fair.” For religious people even certain habits of prayer and worship can be an obstacle to really knowing God, if the rubrics of worship become more important than the One to whom we pray. Similarly, parents can be so concerned about the impression that their children give to the neighbours, that fear of shame becomes more important than love for children.

The ultimate guidance on such matters is given in the gospel. The Son of Man will break through all our face-saving devices and false concerns. Jesus repeats the statement, difficult indeed, yet found in all four Gospels (Luke 9:24; Matthew 10:39; Mark 8:35; John 12:25) that “Whoever tries to spare their life, will lose it; whoever seems to forfeit it, will keep it.”

While living fully and enthusiastically, we must always seek to look behind the veil of goodness and greatness to see the Creator. While loving one another, we need to be rooted in the love of Jesus, so as to deepend our own loving. If we forget God, our love will become shallow and even selfish; and such love does not last.

It seems as if only if we are willing to share with others, will God trust us to keep our life; and to keep it, we must find it with Jesus, who truly enables us to love one another.

 2Jn 4-9

 I was overjoyed to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we have been commanded by the Father. But now, dear lady, I ask you, not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but one we have had from the beginning, let us love one another. And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment just as you have heard it from the beginning – you must walk in it.

 Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh; any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist! Be on your guard, so that you do not lose what we have worked for, but may receive a full reward. Everyone who does not abide in the teaching of Christ, but goes beyond it, does not have God; whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.

Gospel: Luke 17:26-37

Just as it was in the days of Noah, so too it will be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking, and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed all of them. Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot: they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on the day that Lot left Sodom, it rained fire and sulfur from heaven and destroyed all of them – it will be like that on the day that the Son of Man is revealed. On that day, anyone on the housetop who has belongings in the house must not come down to take them away; and likewise anyone in the field must not turn back. Remember Lot’s wife. Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it. I tell you, on that night there will be two in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. There will be two women grinding meal together; one will be taken and the other left.” Then they asked him, “Where, Lord?” He said to them, “Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.”

#Oct 0. Saturday of Week Thirty Two

3 John 5ff. Exhortation to provide hospitality and other help for traveling missionaries.

Luke 18:1ff. God will act in response to persistent prayer. He will provide swift justice. But will he find any faith on the earth?

Ready for His Return

Most of us will occasionally go the extra mile (Matthew 5:41). Today’s texts ask for fidelity over the long haul, not necessarily for the single heroic act but rather the heroism of staying with the daily routine of family or work, of community or apostolate. What we are expected to do seems very ordinary, but it takes God’s extraordinary grace to keep at it.

We may seem to be getting nowhere and yet we are accomplishing much, by simply keeping the family intact or the business still functioning or the parish a place of prayer and goodwill. The gospel addresses this paradox of getting nowhere and accomplishing very much, as exemplified in the widow who kept coming to the judge, demanding her rights. Finally the judge found that this widow was wearing him out, and so settled matters in her favour. Monica, the mother of St Augustine, is another patroness of persistent people. We can accomplish very much by our daily routine.

This final verse in the gospel is probably a later addition to the original parable about the widow. No other parable in the gospels ends on a question-mark. The editor added this “floating” remark of Jesus that could fit into many different occasions, to voice our own question. When he comes, will he find faith on the earth? Originally it probably referred to the long trial of the Roman persecution but it speaks to any number of situations.

When the Son of Man comes, like the all-powerful word in today’s reading from the Book of Wisdom (*1), he will appear suddenly and act dramatically and definitively. The all-powerful word will leap down as of old, and lead his people out of bondage, through every barrier and difficulty, even the mighty Red Sea. Perhaps we hear ourselves repeating Jesus’ question: When the Son of Man comes, will he find any faith on the earth?

The Third Epistle of John is urging Christians to do their small part in the work of evangelization. Again the key word is fidelity: Beloved, you demonstrate fidelity by all that you do for the ministers of the gospel even though they are strangers. Such people can even become pests in their small requests for time and lodging and money. Yet John adds, “Help them to continue their journey.” One of the most effective ways to be ready when the Son of Man returns, suddenly and even fiercely, is to further the apostolate of the word, each of us in our own way. Then when the all-powerful word bounds from his heavenly throne, we will find ourselves ready and waiting to greet him.

 3 John 5-8

Beloved, you do faithfully whatever you do for the friends, even though they are strangers to you; they have testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on in a manner worthy of God; for they began their journey for the sake of Christ, accepting no support from non-believers. Therefore we ought to support such people, so that we may become co-workers with the truth.

Gospel: Luke 18:1-8

Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.'”

#Oct 0. 33rd Week Monday of Week Thirty Three

Luke 18:35ff. At the entrance to Jericho Jesus cures the blind man, who then begins to praise God and follow him.

Is Conversion Possible?

During the last two weeks of the church year it is not surprising that the readings focus on the violent end of one era and on the hope for a new and holier age. The era of the Maccabees was the historical background for the visionary book of Daniel, which in turn greatly influenced the New Testament Book of Revelation. Luke’s gospel brings us to the end of Jesus’ public ministry, to the place where his passion and death is about to unfold.

This liturgical arrangement follows contemporary Scripture scholarship, which sees Daniel and Revelation not as literal predictions of the exact date and circumstances of the end of the world, but as dramatic challenges to put aside the past and to begin a new and more consecrated way of life. The focus is not on when the world will end, but on the need for strong hope in the midst of violent persecution and to adopt changes in our way of living.

The blind man at the Jericho gate longed for the normal life that sight would allow him, so he begged Jesus for this gift, “Lord, that I may see!” But to receive his sight would involve new demands for him, altering his relationships to family and friends, responsibilities, his whole way of life. He was willing and eager to accept these challenges and take his chances. Once he received his sight, he began to follow Jesus, “giving glory to God.” His newly-shaped life was given a new focus. If he could now see his wife and children, he saw them as treasured gifts. The shining sun, the graceful palm trees clustered at the oasis, the birds that glided across the sky, even the bees that came out of the secret places in the desert between Jericho and Jerusalem, all this beautiful world was received in wonder as he followed Jesus along the way.

Our own conversion may not be as total nor as dramatic, but it is still very real and just as necessary. Perhaps we are like the people of Ephesus in the first reading of cycle I. Like them, we may never have been truly bad people, as they are commended for their “patient endurance and strength.” If such is the case, we may wonder, what more can God ask of us? Nonetheless, God may be addressing our conscience as he did theirs, “I hold this against you – that you have turned aside from your early love. Remember the heights from which you have fallen. Repent and return to your former deeds.” Only we ourselves can know if these words are meant for us. We alone hold the memory of our early love, the ideals from which we may have fallen. These challenging words can be addressed to married people – to religious and priests – to lay apostolic ministers – to men and women in many secular or religious careers, “You have turned aside from your early love.. Repent, and return to your former deed.”

 Revelation 1:1-4; 2:1-5

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place; he made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who hear and who keep what is written in it; for the time is near.

John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne.

“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands:

“I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance. I know that you cannot tolerate evildoers; you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them to be false. I also know that you are enduring patiently and bearing up for the sake of my name, and that you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then from what you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.

Gospel: Luke 18:35-43

As he approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard a crowd going by, he asked what was happening. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” Then he shouted, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Those who were in front sternly ordered him to be quiet; but he shouted even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and ordered the man to be brought to him; and when he came near, he asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has saved you.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him, glorifying God; and all the people, when they saw it, praised God.

#Oct 0. Tuesday of Week Thirty Three

Rev 3:1ff. A warning first to the church of Sardis whose wealth enabled them to hide their faults, and to the church of Laodicea for being lukewarm.

Luke 19:1ff. Jesus dines with the repentant tax collector, Zacchaeus, for he has come to search out and save what was lost.

Hurry On Down!

The final verse in today’s Gospel provides the key for interpreting many other stories about Jesus, whose mission was “to search out and to save what was lost.” This is variously exemplified by the gospel and by the other two readings, from Maccabees and Revelation . Jesus’ words can be turned around and paradoxically rephrased: we cannot be found unless we lose ourselves; unless we are found by Jesus, we cannot be saved.

To be found by Jesus meant that Zacchaeus had to give up and lose much of himself. First of all, his dignity by climbing up the sycamore tree, and then much of his wealth by paying back fourfold those he had defrauded. We cannot help commenting that Jesus too had to lose his dignity as a “holy man,” by going to dine at the home of the unclean sinner. Zacchaeus, after all, was even “chief tax collector” in the important city of Jericho, through which many pilgrims had to pass on their way to the festivals at Jerusalem. This city funneled all the wealth of the East towards the capital.

When Jesus came to the spot where Zacchaeus had climbed the sycamore tree, he looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, hurry down!” – for he had seen a spirit of repentance in Zacchaeus’ heart. Jesus may then have lost still more of his dignity, by inviting himself to Zacchaeus’ house. Indeed, “the Son of Man has come to search out and save what was lost.”

In the story of Eleazar not only did his lifestyle change due to his fidelity to the Law, but it was ended dramatically by martyrdom. Again, by losing, he gained much, for while dying, he confessed, “I am suffering with joy in my soul because of my devotion to him,” the Lord God. Eleazar benefitted not only for himself but for the entire nation, in providing such an unforgettable example of virtue.

Mostly our decisions are about things much less dramatic and therefore more easily overlooked. It is easy to be lukewarm, like the church of Laodicea . If we are lukewarm, we are not really bad; we help the poor, a little; we are sympathetic, sometimes; we are forgiving, towards a select few. In other words, we practice our Christianity half-heartedly. Strangely enough, God wishes that we “were one or the other, hot or cold.” In the language of the gospel, God prefers that we would be great sinners, defrauding at every chance we have, like Zacchaeus. Then there is a possibility of conversion. But “lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spew you out of my mouth.”

The Church at Sardis seems to be in better shape, “I know your reputation of being alive.” Both Sardis and Laodicea were among the wealthiest cities of Asia Minor, but all this can end quickly, just as a thief may strike in the middle of the night. Jesus came to save what was lost, but also to condemn any counterfeit of religion falsely dependent on power and prestige. Jesus is not condemning wealthy people as such, or he would never have invited himself to Zacchaeus’ house. But no one should consider wealth as the principal value of our lives or their ultimate security. Jesus stands at the door, knocking, seeking what is lost, so that he can become the support of our lives. We must open and let Jesus come in and dine with us. The words addressed once to the churches of Asia are now spoken to us.

 Revelation 3:1-6, 14-22

“And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars:

“I know your works; you have a name of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is on the point of death, for I have not found your works perfect in the sight of my God. Remember then what you received and heard; obey it, and repent. If you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you. Yet you have still a few persons in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes; they will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. If you conquer, you will be clothed like them in white robes, and I will not blot your name out of the book of life; I will confess your name before my Father and before his angels. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.

And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the origin of God’s creation: “I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are luke-warm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth. For you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.’ You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may be rich; and white robes to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen; and salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. I reprove and discipline those whom I love. Be earnest, therefore, and repent. Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me. To the one who conquers I will give a place with me on my throne, just as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.”

Gospel: Luke 19:1-10

He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”

#Oct 0. Wednesday of Week Thirty Three

Rev 4:1ff. Vision of God, seated majestically in heaven, surrounded by twenty-four elders and four living creatures and adored as eternal Creator.

Luke 19:11ff. Parable about a man who entrusts his property to his servants; returning as king, he rewards those who increased their share of the investment.

Belief in the Hereafter

While the reading from Second Maccabees portrays the most tragic moment of family life yet promises hope for the future, the reading from Revelation gives a vision of the final reward. The gospel takes a long view of one’s entire life. We need those exceptional insights of faith, as in the Book of Revelation, so that when the seriously tested, our faith can sustain us. The gospel supports us in a different way, by practical advice on living a productive life. If we do not live by bread alone, neither do we live by visions alone.

The reading from Maccabees has the clearest Old Testament statement about the resurrection of the body at the end of time. It mirrors the popular piety of a lay group which eventually evolved into the Pharisees, who resisted the theological conservatism of the Jerusalem priests and firmly believed in the resurrection of the dead. This faith did not evolve out of books or scholarly debate, but from a belief in God’s fidelity and from contact with pagan neighbours, many of whom possessed a much more advanced theology of the afterlife than did Israel.

The faith of the Maccabean mother rested solidly on her conviction of God’s faithful blood bond with her and her seven children, which endures through the barrier of death and the tomb. In a vibrant act of faith and love, the mother also confessed faith in God’s creation of the universe. Creation and pregnancy are linked together in her thought: God loves his creation with the same concern that a mother has for a child in her womb, a love that surrounds a person even through trials, death and the new resurrection.

The vision in the Book of Revelation invites us to let our religious experiences flood over us, like the roar of many waters, the flashing of thunder and the flaming of torches. All of us hold memories of peak religious experiences: our first communion, perhaps, decisions to be of service to others, moments when God seemed especially near, moments of peace after sorrow. At times we have tasted God’s closeness in intimate union; at other times we have sensed the wonder of his majesty and glory. When our world seems to be falling apart through severe trial or disappointment, we can recall those moments when the world seemed full of joy – precious moments when we savoured the reality of the living God.

In parable, Jesus is likely referring to a king all too well-known in Israel, Herod the Great, who had to flee for his life from Jerusalem, made his way to Rome and charmed the emperor into naming him king of Israel, and then returned to Palestine to take over. The parable warns us that the king will return – and therefore we must be prudent and loyal, industrious and honest, for one day we will be called to answer for our use of time and talents. “Use them or lose them” is a phrase that applies to our human abilities. We can paraphrase Jesus’ words, “Whoever puts their talents to the service of others will be given more; but the one who has nothing he is willing to share will lose the little that he has.”

If we are baffled by the last sentence of Jesus, about the king’s having his enemies slain in his presence, it may simply be because that is what king Herod did on his return from exile. It is hardly that he is warning of a vengeful God, for his central teaching is about God’s power and goodness. The faith he teaches is always of a God whom we can call upon as “Abba, Father!”

 Revelation 4:1-11

After this I looked, and there in heaven a door stood open! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” At once I was in the spirit, and there in heaven stood a throne, with one seated on the throne! And the one seated there looks like jasper and carnelian, and around the throne is a rainbow that looks like an emerald. Around the throne are twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones are twenty-four elders, dressed in white robes, with golden crowns on their heads. Coming from the throne are flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and in front of the throne burn seven flaming torches, which are the seven spirits of God; and in front of the throne there is something like a sea of glass, like crystal.

Around the throne, and on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with a face like a human face, and the fourth living creature like a flying eagle. And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and inside. Day and night without ceasing they sing, “Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God the Almighty, who was and is and is to come.”

And whenever the living creatures give glory and honour and thanks to the one who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall before the one who is seated on the throne and worship the one who lives forever and ever; they cast their crowns before the throne, singing,

“You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”

Gospel: Luke 19:11-28

As they were listenig to this, he went on to tell a parable, because he was near Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. So he said, “A nobleman went to a distant country to get royal power for himself and then return. He summoned ten of his slaves, and gave them ten pounds, and said to them, ‘Do business with these until I come back.’ But the citizens of his country hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to rule over us.’

When he returned, having received royal power, he ordered these slaves, to whom he had given the money, to be summoned so that he might find out what they had gained by trading. The first came forward and said, ‘Lord, your pound has made ten more pounds.’ He said to him, ‘Well done, good slave! Because you have been trustworthy in a very small thing, take charge of ten cities.’ Then the second came, saying, ‘Lord, your pound has made five pounds.’ He said to him, ‘And you, rule oer five cities.’ Then the other came, saying, ‘Lord, here is your pound. I wrapped it up in a piece of cloth, for I was afraid of you, because you are a harsh man; you take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.’ He said to him, ‘I will judge you by your own words, you wicked slave! You knew, did you, that I was a harsh man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? Why then did you not put my money into the bank? Then when I returned, I could have collected it with interest.’ He said to the bystanders, ‘Take the pound from him and give it to the one who has ten pounds.’ (And they said to him, ‘Lord, he has ten pounds!’) ‘I tell you, to all those who have, more will be given; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. But as for these enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them – bring them here and slaughter them in my presence.'”

After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.

#Oct 0. Thursday of Week Thirty Three

Rev 5:1ff. The lamb who was slain opens the seals on the scroll and receives homage as saviour who purchased a world kingdom by blood.

Luke 19:41ff. Jesus weeps over the forthcoming destruction of Jerusalem.

Tested in Fire

Not surprisingly, tears and warnings mark the readings for the final two weeks of the Church year. In the Books of Maccabees and Revelation, from which our readings come, no victory comes easily; always there are tears – even in heaven. John, caught up in ecstasy on the island of Patmos, was grieving because no one seemed able to open the scroll with the seven seals, and at the appearance of Jesus, bearing the wounds of his passion. Throughout the Book of Revelation Jesus is the “Lamb that had been slain”, but also the triumphant one who leads his sheep to eternal life. In faith, he is seen as the one worthy to open the scroll.. “for you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God people of every race and tongue.. You made of them a kingdom, and priests to serve our God.”

How were we purchased? Not in the crass sense of a price paid to God, but because Jesus united himself so intimately with human flesh and blood that he became totally immersed in us – and we in him. His love and obedience, his death and resurrection became our family treasure, our inheritance. All God’s children were forgiven in him, for the Father saw us as intimately bonded with our elder brother, Jesus.

No wonder that only the Lamb who had been slain can open the scroll with the seven seals. Jesus has experienced to the fullest extent the trials and joys, the collapses and triumphs of our human existence. He alone knows their secret core, and can direct their development and lead us into the vision of heavenly joy. Through him, we all become “priests to serve our God,” that is, to turn each human experience into one of worship in God’s presence.

His was a fidelity like that of Mattathias and his seven sons. The old man would not succumb to bribery or fear, “I and my children and my kinsfolk will keep to the covenant of our ancestors. God forbid that we should forsake the law and the commandments.” It is not for us to judge the subsequent military violence of Mattathias; we have never been in such desperate circumstances. But whatever severe trial may come upon us, we must muster his kind of decisiveness. Such moments are never simple or easy. As we anticipate such moments we must be prepared to stand with Jesus as he wept over Jerusalem, for his tears were not only a sign of great sorrow, but equally they flowed from the great love in his heart.

 Revelation 5:1-10

Then I saw in the right hand of the one seated on the throne a scroll written on the inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals; and I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it. And I began to weep bitterly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep. See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

Then I saw between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. He went and took the scroll from the right hand of the one who was seated on the throne. When he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell before the Lamb, each holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.

They sing a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God saints from every tribe and language and people and nation; you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God, and they will reign on earth.”

Gospel: Luke 19:41-44

As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.”

#Oct 0. Friday of Week Thirty Three

Rev 10:8ff. John is told to eat the small scroll, which was sweet to his palate but sour in the stomach.

Luke 19:45ff. Jesus cleanses the temple of traders and merchants. While the chief priests wanted to destroy him, the people hung on his words.

Purifying Our Inner Temple

All three readings are linked to the purification and reconsecration of God’s temple. In I Maccabees this happens in Jerusalem, after its desecration by Antiochus IV Epiphanes; in the Book of Revelation it is on a more global scale, after its desecration by human sin; and in the gospel, Jesus cleanses the sanctuary after its profanation by traders in the temple courts. We might note the ways in which our lives and our church can become more truly a house of prayer, a temple according to God’s holy purpose.

The interaction between world and temple is most clearly seen towards the end of Revelation when John sees “a new heaven and new earth.. a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, beautiful as a bride” (Rev 21:1-2). The transformation of the universe will mean that heaven and earth will merge, and in the midst of the new Jerusalem God will be enthroned. This vision helps us to understand better the stern action of Jesus in the gospel.

Jesus has wept over Jerusalem (yesterday’s gospel) for failing to recognize its time of grace. Today he enters the temple and begins ejecting the merchants and traders out of the temple. His objection is not to the practice of sacrifice but to the abuse of religion for financial gain, in that the merchants, regrettably the religious leaders, were more concerned about their financial interests than the worship of God.

To purify the temple means to let God be supreme in our lives. That means that our business and financial dealings as well as our politics must be moderated by God’s law of justice and compassion. We should bring every aspect of our daily lives – family and neighbourhood, work and recreation – into the temple, so that these can be purified, sanctified and placed under God’s protection. At first, this program seems sweet and easy. Think of John in today’s reading from Revelation : when he ate the scroll, given to him by the angel. At first, it tasted “sweet as honey” but later, as the price of his dedication to God the words tasted sour. We feel unable to integrate God’s desires with the secular part of our life and our stomach is upset. Jesus’ words and presence may be as stern as in today. While Luke does not say, as the other gospels do that Jesus made a whip of cord and lashed the money changers out of the temple, he cannot entirely smooth out the violent confrontation between Jesus, the merchants and the religious leaders, who now looked for a way to destroy him.

When there is conflict in our lives, remember that while at times we may want to give up on some aspect of the Gospel, we basically want to follow Jesus and be among those who were “hanging on his words.” It is good to remember when his words were indeed “sweet to our palate,” and we enthusiastically embraced them. As we renew our attachment to him, God can say of us, “My house is a house of prayer.” Every part of life, home and family, work and play, can contribute to the depth and sincerity of our prayer, with God enthroned everywhere in our being.

First Maccabees tells of the origin of the feast of Hanukkah (= Dedication), generally celebrated in our month of December. It is marked with a great use of lights; there is a special Hanukkah candelabrum, for rededication means that God’s light illumines all of life; nothing is anymore hidden from him. The new heavens and the new earth have appeared, with the new Jerusalem at their centre, beautiful as a bride.

 Revelation 10:8-11

Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me again, saying, “Go, take the scroll that is open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.” So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll; and he said to me, “Take it, and eat; it will be bitter to your stomach, but sweet as honey in your mouth.” So I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it; it was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach was made bitter.

Then they said to me, “You must prophesy again about many peoples and nations and languages and kings.”

Gospel: Luke 19:45-48

Then he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling things there; and he said, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer’; but you have made it a den of robbers.”

Every day he was teaching in the temple. The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people kept looking for a way to kill him; but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were spellbound by what they heard.

#Oct 0. Saturday of Week Thirty Three

Rev 11:4ff. The two prophets, powerful to control rain and sunshine, are slain but after three and a half days they are taken up to heaven in glory.

Luke 20:27ff. Jesus defends the resurrection of the dead by stating that God is the God of the living, not of the dead.

Faith that Perseveres

The readings seem to provide more questions than answers, yet all three rely on a strong faith which ultimately supports us better than rational arguments. In First Maccabees international political events seem to justify fidelity to God. The tyrant, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, is defeated in his plans to impose uniformity on his empire, even to the extent of demanding of the Jewish people complete conformity to his pagan religion. Then, in Revelation we find ourselves again in the midst of persecution of Christianity by the Roman empire. The question arises: does history really vindicate the justice of God in the lives of his faithful disciples? Another kind of question emerges from the gospel: if God is the God of the living, does it follow that the just will rise from the grave? After all, the Old Testament people for centuries did not include the resurrection among their religious beliefs, yet they always worshipped Yaheh, the God of the living. Somehow or other, a link seems to be missing in the argument.

The Maccabee story shows that military victory is not a final, definitive conclusion. Although this era ends with the firm establishment of the Maccabeans, later to be called Hasmoneans, as kings of Jerusalem, this dynasty in time became corrupt, and by its infighting, and its dissolute members, led to the occupation of Palestine by the Romans in 63 B.C. The fact that First Maccabees remains in our Bible affirms the Hebrew conviction that politics are necessary, though they politics must be sustained by deeper, more basic religious values, which reach beyond this life into the resurrection of the body.

The proper religious attitude is faith and perseverance, fidelity over the long haul. Such faith will also lead us to ultimate victory and peace. The Book of Revelation provides a long-term view. It traces the history of the “two witnesses.” The passage is complicated, redolent of many Old Testament images and personages, reaching through the Books of Kings with the account of Elijah, the story of Moses in the Pentateuch, the account of the High priest Joshua and the Davidic governor of the postexilic age, Zerubbabel in the Prophecy of Zechariah. Ultimately God was true to his witnesses and brought them up to heaven in a cloud.

The purification of our lives and of our world may be more intense than we even imagine. History must take its full course, at times with seeming foolishness and weakness. History takes its course in strange ways, as instanced in the Gospel. First the awkward story of the woman who was obliged to marry seven brothers, one after another, and then becomes the enigmatic factor in the story. “At the resurrection, whose wife will she be?” It is only a story – and it is told by Jesus’ enemies – yet it was told and repeated, to the chagrin of women. Jesus does not lower himself to the level of the questioners but answers the question in a different way, to bear upon life after death and the mysterious form which our bodies will take at that time, mysterious, yet full of life, and by that life we testify to the God of the living. The ultimate answer, for which we should risk everything, our history and our human fate on earth, rests in the divine mystery of God’s heart. mystery. Yet we already live within that mystery, feel its attraction, and live off its strength, for already we are part of this earth and part of the life in heaven.

 Revelation 11:4-12

These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. And if anyone wants to harm them, fire pours from their mouth and consumes their foes; anyone who wants to harm them must be killed in this manner. They have authority to shut the sky, so that no rain may fall during the days of their prophesying, and they have authority over the waters to turn them into blood, and to strike the earth with every kind of plague, as often as they desire.

When they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the bottomless pit will make war on them and conquer them and kill them, and their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city that is prophetically called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified. For three and a half days members of the peoples and tribes and languages and nations will gaze at their dead bodies and refuse to let them be placed in a tomb; and the inhabitants of the earth will gloat over them and celebrate and exchange presents, because these two prophets had been a torment to the inhabitants of the earth. But after the three and a half days, the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and those who saw them were terrified. Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here!” And they went up to heaven in a cloud while their enemies watched them.

Gospel: Luke 20:27-40

Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.”

Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.” Then some of the scribes answered, “Teacher, you have spoken well.” For they no longer dared to ask him another question.

#Oct 0. 34th Week Monday of Week Thirty Four

Rev 14:1ff. The hundred and forty-four thousand follow the lamb and sing a new hymn before the throne. They are the first fruits of humankind.

Luke 21:1ff. The widow drops two copper coins into the treasury, more than she could afford. Her mite means more than the biggest of wealthy benefactions.

Unconditional Loyalty

With God we cannot compromise but are asked to give ourselves totally and to follow his will unconditionally. This ultimate commitment is repeatedly brought home to us during the last week of the Church year as we read from Daniel and from the Book of Revelation . At the roots of our existence, at the base of our reasoning, as the ultimate test of our loyalty, we must be unreservedly on the side of God. The point at which one church year ends and another begins, shows that we are given another chance. We are allowed time to correct our previous mistakes.

Daniel and the three companions were at a turning point in their lives. Their former existence in the land of Judah had been disrupted and they must begin all over again at the royal court in Babylon. They are willing to adapt, learn the new language and be instructed in Babylonian customs, but they drew the line at where change would be sinful and would amount to compromise with the will of God. That line may seem strange to us, as it was their absolute refusal to eat unclean food, against the Law of Moses, but in their culture this seemingly small matter was of vital importance. Their dedication led to a depth of wisdom that made them admired and loved, for loyalty to God can bring a peace and contentment that are not otherwise reached, and the gentle Daniel could make his way through the complexities of the royal court.

Revelation allows us to see the eventual destiny of people like Daniel. They have suffered as everyone must, have even endured martyrdom, and are now numbered among the 144,000 elect who follow the Lamb who had been slain. The Greek text calls them “virgins,” to be understood in the symbolical sense of people totally committed to the one they love, like a bride and groom on the day of their wedding. These are the saints who share the marriage feast of the lamb in heaven.

Our personal dedication to God will keep us always on target, sustain us through life and enable us to turn again to God after momentary lapses. The trials of life do not destroy but purify the person of faith. Even sins are an opportunity to trust ourselves less and to rely all the more fully on God in the future. At the end, then, we will be among the 144,000 and the numberless throng who enter the marriage feast, and for our full and final experience of the love of God. But like Daniel, we need to show signs of this consecration during our lifetime, whether fasting with the entire church during lent, or praying with a family during its time of death or sickness. Or at times there may be an inspiration to go the extra mile and give our shirt as well as our outer cloak (Matthew 5:40-42).

In the gospel we have the touching example of the widow who drops two copper coins into the treasury. Jesus declares that by giving what she could not afford, it was worth more than the wealthiest donation. We too must be ready when the spirit inspires us to give in ways that hurt, ways that also unite us with Jesus who gave himself totally on the cross for us. The widow dropped in her two copper coins, never realizing that anyone saw what she was doing, never thinking that she would be remembered throughout the world. Only when the time comes will each of us know the real value of what we seek to give to our neighbour and to God.

 Revelation 14:1-3a, 4-5

Then I looked, and there was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion! And with him were one hundred forty-four thousand who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven like the sound of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder; the voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps, and they sing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins; these follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They have been redeemed from humankind as first fruits for God and the Lamb, and in their mouth no lie was found; they are blameless.

Gospel: Luke 21:1-4

He looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. He said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.”

#Oct 0. Tuesday of Week Thirty Four

Rev 14:14ff. The earth is harvested, first of wheat and then the grapes. The ripe grapes are thrown into the winepress of God’s wrath.

Luke 21:5ff. Take care not to be misled about the end of the world by self-proclaimed saviours. The end does not follow immediately.

What is it, that can last/

As already noted, we are near the end of one church year and the beginning of another. Here we meet some of the most controversial literature in the Bible, dealing with the end of the world, which also ranks among the most popular parts of the Bible. We must be careful in interpreting it, as the language is highly symbolical. Indeed, Jesus declares, “Take care not to be misled.” The liturgy provides the surest way to apply these passages to our lives, bidding us take responsibility for our actions, examine where we are spiritually, and honestly face God. Yet the end gives place to a new beginning. With the dawn of Advent and four weeks later with the birth of the Saviour, we are given a new chance, a new lease of life. The end and the beginning, responsibly taking stock and mercifully beginning over again, are equally important.

As we look back, we may see so many efforts, badly inspired, controlled by personal interests and pride. We see a statue, similar to that shown in Nebuchadnezzar’s vision (*1) . This statue with its four principal sections represented the four great kingdoms, as the Israelites remembered them: of the Babylonians, Medes, Persians and Greeks. No matter how colossal they were, and seemingly invincible, they collapsed. A stone hewn from the mountains struck the feet of the statue which were partly iron and partly tile and smashed them. This stone stood for Israel. Out of seeming, insignificant people, whose bodies seemed dead and hopeless according to Paul (Rom 4:19), God creates new life, comforts the ruins of Zion, and fills the holy city with “joy and gladness.”

The bible’s message is that world empires, material wealth, political clout – none of these forces can last forever; and our faith will outlast them all. What God achieves in our lives through prayer and faith, through perseverance in the midst of trials, through obedience to his will and our conscience, becomes.. a kingdom that shall never be destroyed. But the trials will be severe. We may pass through several difficult harvestings but eventually, as in the Book of Revelation the good deeds, like the wheat, will be harvested by the Son of Man who comes on the cloud; all evil will be cut from the branches like ripe grapes and thrown into the winepress of God’s wrath. There will be times of accounting and taking stock, for God will not let things just drift for ever.

We must be people of sincerity and honesty, not just bluffing our way along. We have to attempt justice towards our neighbour, characterized by sympathetic understanding of the human situation. If we have been disappointed with others, perhaps cheated and lied to, we may tend to summon the end of the world for these people – no second chance, let them be totally condemned! Perhaps we need to look at them again, through the eyes of Jesus, who sees to the heart of things. Guided by his spirit, we, the stone hewn from the mountains, can become a new kingdom of God. We must extend this hope to others as well, as we look forward to a new year of grace, beginning in Advent.

 Revelation 14:14-19

Then I looked, and there was a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one like the Son of Man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand! Another angel came out of the temple, calling with a loud voice to the one who sat on the cloud, “Use your sickle and reap, for the hour to reap has come, because the harvest of the earth is fully ripe.” So the one who sat on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was reaped.

Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. Then another angel came out from the altar, the angel who has authority over fire, and he called with a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, “Use your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe.” So the angel swung his sickle over the earth and gathered the vintage of the earth, and he threw it into the great wine press of the wrath of God. And the wine press was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the wine press, as high as a horse’s bridle, for a distance of about two hundred miles.

Gospel: Luke 21:5-11

When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”

They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them.

“When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” Then he aid to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.

#Oct 0. Wednesday of Week Thirty Four

Luke 21:12ff. The disciples of Jesus will be persecuted, yet not a hair of theirr head will be harmed. “By patience you will save your lives.”

By patience you will save your lives

The final sentence of the gospel, perhaps later added to Jesus’ words as commentary and application, directs our meditation today. “By patience you will save your lives.” It is another one of those floating comments that can fit into many situations. It occurred earlier in Luke 8:15 in a somewhat adapted form, where the seed bore fruit “through patience.” It recurs in Paul’s call to “patiently do what is right” (Rom 2:7). In another passage of Romans, this same word, patience, becomes a major link, “affliction produces patience, and patience produces character, and character produces hope, a hope that will not leave us disappointed, because the love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Rom 5:3-5).

Mene, Tekel, Peres

The Greek word for patience or endurance (hypomoné) reflects a strong inner attitude of perseverance, consistency, dependability. With this in mind, we can re-read today’s scriptures and first of all, the gospel. Persecution cannot break such a steady person, nor can family relationships that seem to be strained beyond all limits. “You will be delivered up even by your parents, brothers, sisters, relatives and friends.” In times such as this, we must continue in our loyalty to God. We need the conviction that sooner or later God will justify us, and at that moment because of continued fidelity our family and community will reunite. In the meanwhile Jesus promises “I will give you a wisdom which none of your opponents can take exception to or contradict.” Our words will be prompted by true love and honest fidelity. Such words will have power to persuade and will gradually bear their good fruit.

People of “patient endurance” can, according to Revelation, join in the song that Moses, the servant of God sang after leading the people through the Red Sea (Exodus, 15). Like the people led by Moses, we too face stretches of wilderness and desert. We can do nothing other than push onward and persevere. Even ev it may seem heroic simply to survive another day, heroic we must be so that by endurance we can arrive at the promised land and join in the song of Moses, “Mighty and wonderful are your works, Lord God Almighty. Righteous and true are your ways, O King of the nations!”

To people of patience and loyalty, God has a consoling message in the book of Daniel: Mene, Tekel, Peres. These words are fearful to those who squandered God’s graces and sat banquetting with the King Belshazzars of this world, making merry while the poor suffered. But to the prophet Daniel, the words spoke of consolation and reward. Mene- God has numbered your kingdom, which will certainly come to an end; Tekel- God has weighed you on the scales; Peres- God will divide the kingdom and bring into it those who persevered till the end.

Truly, “by patience you will save your lives” and the lives of all your loved ones. This line, which can fit into many different moments of our lives and enable us to carry onward towards the promised land, has a nice ring in the Latin translation of St. Jerome: in patientia vestra possidebitis animas vestras – “In your patience you will possess your souls.”

 Revelation 15:1-4

Then I saw another portent in heaven, great and amazing: seven angels with seven plagues, which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is ended.

And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands. And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb:

“Great and amazing are your deeds, Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, King of the nations! Lord, who will not fear and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your judgments have been revealed.”

Gospel: Luke 21:12-19

“But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.

#Oct 0. Thursday of Week Thirty Four

Rev 18:1ff. Babylon has fallen and Alleluia rings out from the heavenly assembly. The happiness of the guests at the Lamb’s wedding feast.

Luke 21:20ff. Jerusalem will be destroyed amid signs in the sun, the moon and the stars, as the Son of Man comes on the clouds with power.

Final Vindication

While Mark 13 combines the prophecy about the fall of Jerusalem with that about the end of the world, Luke separates these two events. Writing after the collapse of the Holy City, Luke saw that its destruction did not usher in the final age of the world and the second coming of the Son of Man. His restatement of Jesus’ words enables us to see the status of our own existence, in the time before the final age of the world.

The Book of Daniel draws on older traditions that reached back into the Babylonian exile and had become part of Israel’s heritage. Like Daniel, Israel itself had been preserved alive from the dangers of the lions’ den of the exile. About four hundred years later, during the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes (who had inherited a part of the empire of Alexander the Great), Israel again experienced horrendous persecution and the collapse of the holy city. The long years in-between, silent, monotonous years, did not seem to have achieved anything. Even though they were marked by intense interest in the law of Moses and an attempt to obey that law punctiliously, now this lowering cloud and whirlwind of destruction swept through their lives again.

Daniel advises the people that God is preparing a letter to the nations and peoples of every language. This letter will proclaim that Yahweh, the God of Israel’s ancestors, is the living God, enduring forever, whose kingdom shall not be destroyed, and his dominion shall be without end. While the monotonous years provide the opportunity to appreciate and safeguard our prayer and fidelity with God, the tempestuous period of trial becomes a divinely appointed way of casting down those walls and sharing our God and our family with the world.

Such moments, according to Revelation, will avenge the blood of God’s servants. False joys will be unmasked; futile waste of energy trying to build flimsy securities will be brought to an end; all the buying and selling of world merchants will stop. The ultimate shape of the future always rests in God’s hands, and in the end God achieves the victory beyond all human endeavour.

 Revelation 18:1-2, 21-23; 19:1-3, 9

After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority; and the earth was made bright with his splendour. He called out with a mighty voice, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! It has become a dwelling place of demons, a haunt of every foul and hateful bird, a haunt of every foul and hateful beast.

Then a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, “With such violence Babylon the great city will be thrown down, and will be found no more; and the sound of harpists and minstrels and of flutists an trumpeters will be heard in you no more; and an artisan of any trade will be found in you no more; and the sound of the millstone will be heard in you no more; and the light of a lamp will shine in you no more; and the voice of bridegroom and bride will be heard in you no more; for your merchants were the magnates of the earth, and all nations were deceived by your sorcery.

After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying,

“Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power to our God, for his judgments are true and just; he has judged the great whore who corrupted the earth with her fornication, and he has avenged on her the blood of his servants.” Once more they said, “Hallelujah! The smoke goes up from her forever and ever.”

And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are true words of God.”

Gospel: Luke 21:20-28

“When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. Then those in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those inside the city must leave it, and those out in the country must not enter it; for these are days of vengeance, as a fulfillment of all that is written. Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress on the earth and wrath against this people; they will fall by the edge of the sword and be taken away as captives among all nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

#Oct 0. Friday of Week Thirty Four

Rev 20:1ff. Satan is chained for a thousand years. Those whose names are written in the book of life are summoned to a new holy city.

Luke 21:29ff. When you see these things happen, know that the reign of God is near. My word will not pass away.

Apocalyptic Symbols

While the first readings, Daniel and Revelation are typical of apocalyptic literature and are replete with elaborate, even at times weird symbolism, the gospel addresses us plainly. From the example of the budding fig tree we know that summer is near. So, “when you see all the things happening, know that the reign of God is near.” Both the first reading and the gospel offer signs; but the meaning of these signs must be sensitively intuited, and instinct must guide us to what God is saying by the plain signs about us.

The symbolism in Daniel and Revelation is drawn from a long, rich heritage that blends ritual and folklore, Israelite and non-Israelite images. Put simply, apocalyptic symbolism comes from a school of thought convinced that God’s mystery is so transcendent and yet so close to us, so overwhelming and yet so immediately at hand, so creative of a new world order, that even the most menacing of present realities will not prevent the triumph of God’s will upon the earth.

Today’s imagery from the Book of Daniel comes from the four great empires of Israelite memory: Babylonian, Medes, Persian and Greek. The little horn that displaced three other horns would be Syria under Antiochus IV Epiphanes; of the four kingdoms into which Alexander’s empire was divided, this one affected Israel most seriously. Now God is about to vindicate his persecuted saints so that they receive dominion, glory and kingship.

A similar setting lies behind the Book of Revelation, when persecution by the Roman empire is in full swing and the church feels hounded on all sides. The seer of Patmos announces the collapse of the tyrant and an extraordinary period of peace for the church, the “thousand years” when Satan will be chained. After that will come the second appearance of Christ, the new heavens and the new earth, the new holy city Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, beautiful as a bride prepared to meet her husband.

The fig tree is in full bloom and the harvest is near, yet in our lives, of family and church, in our neighbourhood and world, we have to be realists. A strange recommendation: to be realists amid the weird symbols of the apocalyptic seers. Realists in digging beneath the surface and silently and perceptively listening to the mysterious message. This message will not go away, for it is the word of God, anticipating the new heavens and the new earth. Weird as it may seem right now, our world will be transformed into the beautiful Jerusalem, the lovely bride prepared to meet her husband.

 Revelation 20:1-4, 11-21:2

Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and locked and sealed it over him, so that he would deceive the nations no more, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be let out for a little while.

Then I saw thrones, and those seated on them were given authority to judge. I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony to Jesus and for the word of God. They had not worshipped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years.

Then I saw a great white throne and the one who sat on it; the earth and the heaven fled from his presence, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, the book of life. And the dead were judged according to their works, as recorded in the books. And the sea gave up the dead that were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and all were judged according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire; and anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

Gospel: Luke 21:29-33

Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

#Oct 0. Saturday of Week Thirty Four

Rev 22:1ff. The river of life, flowing from God’s throne in the new Jerusalem, the vision of the Lamb, and the promise that He is coming soon.

Luke 21:34ff. The great day comes suddenly. Be on your guard. Pray constantly to stand secure before the Son of Man.

Realism and Hope

This final day of the church’s year continues the call to blend practical realism with an exalted hope. We need to see the heavy clouds from both sides; on one side, darkness and signs of persecution, on the other side, bright sunlight and the enjoyment of eternal peace. The readings affirm that the transition from darkness to light will be certain and sudden. Meanwhile one must live with faith in God’s eternal plan for us and for the entire world. Whether in darkness or light, we are not alone but are united with all of God’s holy ones.

Though his gospel was composed after a period of severe trial (the destruction of the Holy City of Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70) Luke actually wrote during a peaceful breathing-space. Therefore, he warns, “Be on guard lest your spirits become bloated with indulgence and drunkenness and worldly cares. The great day will suddenly close in on you like a trap.” It seems that faith thrives more during adversity than during peace and financial prosperity. So Luke also advises, “Pray constantly.” Live in God’s presence and then you will “stand secure before the Son of Man” when he comes in full glory.

Revelation views the momentous crises of earthly existence from the perspective of final glory. Here is the silver lining to the clouds, the end of the three and a half years of trial. The seer of Patmos feels himself already standing with one foot within the heavenly Jerusalem and one foot on planet earth. Therefore he hears Christ’s promise, “I am coming soon.. They will drink from the river of living water, clear as crystal, which issues from the throne of God and of the Lamb.”

The thirty-four weeks of the church year are coming to an end. They do so with an announcement that the Lord Jesus will come suddenly, soon and gloriously. We have been gifted with the long preparation of the church year. We will now be further graced with four weeks of special alertness during Advent. Since in our life’s pilgrimage we are surrounded by all of this spiritual force, we can lay aside every hindrance of sin, and with eyes fixed on Jesus, persevere in running the race which lies ahead, to reach the glorious destiny he has won for us.

 Revelation 22:1-7

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

And he said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true, for the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place.” “See, I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.”

Gospel: Luke 21:34-36

“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

01 Feb. Wednesday of Week Four

Ireland- St Brigid

2 Samuel 24:2ff. Finding that he has sinned by counting the people, David prays that the punishment may fall on himself.

Mark 6:1ff. The people of Nazareth reject Jesus and he could work very few cures there.

Not in your own Home Town!

Three faults, envy, pride and stubbornness, often seem to cluster together, and the cure for each of them is in the bond of love. A nasty example of envy flares up in the gospel, when the people of Jesus’ home town, who earlier in life grew up with him now find him “too much” for them. Why should he have more wisdom than any of them, they ask. And why should he be able to work miracles while they can not? In Hebrews the “bitter root” that defiles so many turns out to be stubbornness, and the recommended cure is discipline. The reading from Samuel describes many difficulties but pride seems to be at the bottom of all of them.

Why is the Bible so severe on such “ordinary” faults as stubbornness, pride and jealousy? We take them for granted in ourselves and others, and presume they belong to the normal inconveniences of life, like headaches or the common cold. Much of the power of Scripture is in its unwillingness to take mediocrity of life for granted, but it combines a continual dedication to ideals with a practical sense of living on planet earth. The Bible reflects the perception that most people are more often hurt by such day-to-day sins as pride, stubbornness and envy than they are by the heinous sins of murder, bribery and adultery. “The fruit of peace and justice,” to which Hebrews refers, is prevented from growing to maturity in our families and personal lives by the pestilence of pride or envy or stubbornness.

A painful level of envy is manifested by the frequency with which people repeat Jesus’ words, “No prophet is without honour except in his or her native place, among his or her relatives, and in his or her own house.” If the phrase “his or her” bores us by its repetition, it also insists that no person is exempt from envy, man or woman, Jew or Gentile, wealthy or poor. And envy hurts most the person who surrenders to it.

We have been following the career of Saul and David, and have seen how Saul became moody, unreliable, fearful and finally driven to suicide. David on the contrary seems to possess an extraordinary reservoir of energy, a clarity of judgment, a love that charmed all opposition and extended even to the son in revolt. We read, already in 1 Samuel 18:9, “From that day on, Saul was jealous of David”; and like a man infected by the plague, Saul was destroyed by his own envy.

The people in the gospel who were most lost sight of were the people of Nazareth. Even Jesus could work no miracle there, apart from curing a few who were sick, so much did their lack of faith distress him, and made the rounds of the neighbouring villages instead. What a sad commentary on envy: Jesus made the rounds of the neighbouring villages while Nazareth was left behind in silence. Envy is an incurable disease – so that “he could work no miracle there.” Close to envy in its symptoms and effects is the fault of stubbornness. God tries in many ways to heal this disease: Whom the Lord loves, he disciplines: he scourges every child he receives. The cure for stubbornness is not to be found in suppression, anger and coercion.

Finally, today’s text from Samuel, warns of the pestilence let loose by pride and an excessive desire to control others. It is not condemning a census of the people as such; the first part of the Book of Numbers records the results of another census, undertaken with God’s blessing. It must have been David’s motive that spoiled this census in God’s eyes. Yet, as mentioned already, it was an understandable fault. Why shouldn’t a ruler be proud of the nation he has built, and whom he intends to tax? Yet we see also how a census can lead to government control, heavier taxation and affluence at the top. The pestilence is halted by David’s prayer, a prayer in which he accepts the blame and begs God to be merciful to the sheep of the flock, who have not done wrong. It is the bond of love and loyalty that brings the solution and that heals the disease.

 2 Samuel 24:2, 9-17

So the king said to Joab and the commanders of the army, who were with him, “Go through all the tribes of Israel, from Dan to Beer-sheba, and take a census of the people, so that I may know how many there are.” Joab reported to the king the number of those who had been recorded: in Israel there were eight hundred thousand soldiers able to draw the sword, and those of Judah were five hundred thousand.

But afterward, David was stricken to the heart because he had numbered the people. David said to the Lord, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done. But now, O Lord, I pray you, take away the guilt of your servant; for I have done very foolishly.” When David rose in the morning, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Gad, David’s seer, saying, “Go and say to David: Thus says the Lord: Three things I offer you; choose one of them, and I will do it to you.” So Gad came to David and told him; he asked him, “Shall three years of famine come to you on your land? Or will you flee three months before your foes while they pursue you? Or shall there be three days’ pestilence in your land? Now consider, and decide what answer I shall return to the one who sent me.” Then David said to Gad, “I am in great distress; let us fall into the hand of the Lord, for his mercy is great; but let me not fall into human hands.”

So the Lord sent a pestilence on Israel from that morning until the appointed time; and seventy thousand of the people died, from Dan to Beer-sheba. But when the angel stretched out his hand toward Jerusalem to destroy it, the Lord relented concerning the evil, and said to the angel who was bringing destruction among the people, “It is enough; now stay your hand.” The angel of the Lord was then by the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. When David saw the angel who was destroying the people, he said to the Lord, “I alone have sinned, and I alone have doe wickedly; but these sheep, what have they done? Let your hand, I pray, be against me and against my father’s house.”

Gospel: Mark 6:1-6

He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honour, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.

#02 Feb. Thursday: Presentation of the Lord

Malachi 3:1ff. The Lord will send his messenger to his temple

Lk 2:22-40. Jesus is presented in the temple, by his parents; and welcomed by two prophetic people, Simeon and Anna

A Sign of Contradiction

A

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#03 Feb. Friday of Week Four

St Blaise

Sir 47:2ff. David is praised as defender of Israel, as psalmist, as penitent sinner, and receptor of eternal promises.

Mark 6:14ff. Herod is curious about John the Baptist and about Jesus. Mark recounts the martyrdom of the Baptist.

Entertaining Angels

Today we commemorate great precursors of Jesus, people like John the Baptist in the gospel, or David in the text from Sirach . Elsewhere it is urged, “Remember your leaders who spoke the word of God to you; consider how their lives ended, and imitate their faith.” This magnificent “cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1) merge into the mystery of Jesus and in some way reflects the features of his character and mission, who is the same, “yesterday, today, and forever.”

These living portraits of Jesus are not silent and changeless, like photographs, forever declaring their immutable message as something chiseled on stone (Job 19:24). The Sirach text honouring David indicates the presence of God through his long career, from when as a youth he battled the Philistine giant, and then as king when he extended the boundary of Israel and overcame all opposition, and even when he became guilty of adultery and murder yet repented humbly and publicly. It recalls moments when David sang before the altar, “providing sweet melody for the psalms.” God was present through every moment, as helper, as one who forgave, as one who inspired ideals, as one who overcame all opposition to the fulfillment of the divine will in the life of David.

That sort of providence seems to collapse in the gospel account of John the Baptist, ending hideously when the daughter gave to her mother the head of the Baptist on a platter. No wonder the memory of John haunted the uneasy sleep of King Herod, so that he hoped that somehow Jesus was John raised from the dead. But indeed, in a way Herod could not comprehend, John was not dead, but alive in Jesus who “is the same yesterday, today and forever.”

Jesus is present in our prisons and among the persecuted people of the world – just as he was the reason for the Baptist’s imprisonment and persecution. We must seek him in these areas that are enclosed, narrow, dark, lonely and seemingly hopeless – in prisons, and among the lowest migrant, unwelcome people in our midst. Even in our own personal lives, we may have entertained God’s angels unbeknownst.

 Sirach 47:2-11

As the fat is set apart from the offering of well-being,
so David was set apart from the Israelites.
He played with lions as though they were young goats,
and with bears as though they were lambs of the flock.

In his youth did he not kill a giant,
and take away the people’s disgrace,
when he whirled the stone in the sling
and struck down the boasting Goliath?

For he called on the Lord, the Most High,
and he gave strength to his right arm
to strike down a mighty warrior,
and to exalt the power of his people.

So they glorified him for the tens of thousands he conquered,
and praised him for the blessings bestowed by the Lord,
when the glorious diadem was given to him.
For he wiped out his enemies on every side,
and annihilated his adversaries the Philistines;
he crushed their power to our own day.

In all that he did he gave thanks
to the Holy One, the Most High, proclaiming his glory;
he sang praise with all his heart,
and he loved his Maker.

He placed singers before the altar,
to make sweet melody with their voices.
He gave beauty to the festivals,
and arranged their times throughout the year,
while they praised God’s holy name,
and the sanctuary resounded from early morning.

The Lord took away his sins,
and exalted his power forever;
he gave him a covenant of kingship
and a glorious throne in Israel.

Gospel: Mark 6:14-29

King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”

For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. For John had told Herod: “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” The king was deeply grieed; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.

#04 Feb. Saturday of Week Four

1 Kings 3:4ff. Solomon prayed for an understanding heart to judge God’s people and to distinguish right from wrong.

Mark 6:30ff. Jesus invites the apostles to come aside and rest, though he pities the people, as sheep without a shepherd.

Consistency of Prayer and Life

The theme of peace in today’s readings is suitable for Saturday, the Sabbath, an ancient Hebrew word that itself means to stop, to rest, to take a holiday. This is the day that God blessed and made holy, because on it he rested from all the work he had done in creation (Gen 2:3). Earlier in Hebrews heaven was called by the name of Sabbath: the Sabbath rest that lies ahead for the people of God. And the one who enters into God’s rest, relaxes from own work as God did from his. We must strive to enter in that rest (Hebrews 4:9-11).

The opening sentence in advises a sincere and close relation between our prayers on the one hand and our secular pursuits on the other. The ideal of offering a “sacrifice of praise,” is found in biblical passages which almost seem to condemn liturgy, in their insistence on an interior attitude at prayer that reflects our attitudes towards the real world, of family, neighbour and even the stranger. “Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you,” says the psalmist “but offer to God praise as your sacrifice and fulfill your vows to the Most High (Ps 50:8, 14). To this we can unite another text with a strong prophetical ring: “Do you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: unleashing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; Sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless” (Isa 58:5-7).

For the best commentary on the acceptable sacrifice of praise, we can turn again to today’s reading from Hebrews: “Do not neglect good deeds and generosity; God is pleased by sacrifices of that kind.” This fits in with another line in Hebrews, just a few verses earlier: “Jesus died outside the gate.. Let us go to him outside the camp, bearing the insult which he bore” (Hebrews 13:12-13). We are advised to seek Jesus “outside the camp” where the outcast, the lepers and the unclean cluster. With these Jesus was crucified as a common criminal. “Outside” is at a distance from the sacred temple and the ritual sacrifices which were “inside.”

Peace with God means that we go out to the poor and needy and thereby be able to transform our prayers and ritual into a worthy sacrifice of praise. It also requires a good relationship between ourselves and our leaders, both in civil society and in the church, “Obey your leaders and submit to them.” This admonition must not extend to obeying even to the point of committing sin, but we “submit to them” by putting the common good before private desires or selfish whims and personal ambition. The peaceful relationship here should bring “joy, not.. sorrow, for that would be harmful to you.”

To seek first the kingdom of God, that is, the common good of the community, is exemplified for us in the reading from Kings . Solomon is rewarded for having asked “not for a long life for yourself, nor for riches, nor for the life of your enemies, but for understanding”. It is interesting to note that this message of God to Solomon came “in a dream at night.” Dreams imply a time with God, a time of mystical perception, a moment when we settle into the mystery of our better self, a time when we are not distracted by selfish wants and petty concerns.

Such times are necessary – as Jesus remarked to the disciples, “Come apart and rest a little.” The peace which we are seeking is not a human creation; it is God’s special gift. The rabbis considered the Sabbath, along with the Torah, as God’s supreme gift to his chosen people. We need the long stretches of unprogrammed silence, when God can appear and speak the right question to the best part of ourselves.

Yet, even this solitude was invaded by the people who “hastened on foot to the place.” When Jesus the crowd, he pitied them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd and “he began to teach them at great length.” How well he fulfills the injunction of Hebrews to go to those outside the camp, to those wandering and in need. Jesus leaves behind the solitude and the sacred, to find the word of God while mingling with the crowd. Peace means the integral harmony of all these aspects of our life, centred in the mystery of God’s presence with us.

 1 Kings 3:4-13

The king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the principal high place; Solomon used to offer a thousand burnt offerings on that altar. At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask what I should give you.”

And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today. And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?”

It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you. I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honour all your life; no other king shall compare with you.

Gospel: Mark 6:30-34

The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place by yourselves and rest a while.” For so many were coming and going, that they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them.

As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.

#06 Feb. Monday of Week Five

1 Kings 8:1ff. At the dedication of the temple, a cloud fills the sanctuary to symbolize the Lord’s awesome presence.

Mark 6:53ff. Wherever Jesus went, the sick were brought to him. Whoever touched him got well.

Where is the Real Sanctuary?

The reading from Genesis provides a wide-angle view of the universe, the real sanctuary or throne room for God’s majestic presence. The temple at Jerusalem, whose dedication is celebrated in First Kings, was considered a mirror of God’s heavenly home, a reflection of the Lord’s marvellous presence throughout the universe, the place for re-enacting the redemptive acts of God in the history of his chosen people. These redemptive acts become concentrated with strength and compassion in the acts of Jesus, the first and third reading – from Genesis and Mark- speak about the real world, the same one that our eyes behold and our feet walk on, the very one where our bodies feel aches and pains and reach out for healing. Then there is the passage from First Kings about the symbolic world of the temple. Symbol does not mean unreal but rather acts as a sign of a deeper meaning within the real and a means, therefore, enabling us to plummet into the mystery of God’spresence in the “real” world round about us.

It is important then to note that the sacred ceremonies of the sanctuary – whether this sanctuary be the Holy of Holies of the Jerusalem temple or the central area of our churches with eucharistic table and tabernacle-lose then-meaning if they lose contact with the physical world of earth and sky (even with the adornments of each, like stars or animals or fishes) or if they are no longer vivid reminders of God’s redemptive acts, healing us in our sickness, forgiving us in our weakness, inspiring us with hope. At the same time, we see that without sanctuary services and church liturgy we easily lose sight of the mysterious presence of God in our universe and in our daily secular living.

This close interaction, as intimate as soul and body in forming a human being, is emphasised in the verse that is omitted from the reading today of cycle II. Verse 9 is deleted, perhaps as an irrelevant detail that might distract us from the magnificent dedication for the Jerusalem temple. It reads: The poles by which the Ark of the Covenant was carried throughout its long journeys from the days of Moses, through the desert, into the promised land, till this day of enthronement in the Holy of Holies were so long that their ends could be seen from that part of the holy place adjoining the sanctuary; however, they could not be seen beyond. They have remained there to this day. This may reflect the discontent of a scholarly priest, unhappy over the architectural blunder that did not provide adequately for the poles of the Ark; they protruded from the Holy of Holies into the adjoining room of the Holy Place. The verse also reminds us of the extraordinary respect of the Scribes for sacred scripture, never to remove what seemed unnecessary and certainly archaic. Yet divine wisdom might be hinting at an essential element of liturgy and church services. Just as the poles remained on the side of the Ark of the Covenant, ready to carry it into the streets and daily lives of the Israelite people, likewise our church services should always be on the edge of moving into our own personal lives, down our neighbourhood streets, into our city, state and international politics and business. All of us are consecrated as Levites to carry the Ark, to bring the eucharist and our church services into our homes and activity, to be the living temples of God’s presence.

We can find other indications for worthy liturgy and faith-filled lives in the relationship of today’s readings: Genesis and Mark coming from the “real” world of secular life, First Kings, from the symbolical world of the temple and church. Genesis declares clearly that the world where we look out to see the light of the sun and where our ears strain to hear melodies from the wind, is a world of beauty, indeed a sacred world. Each activity is a response to God’s word, “Let there be light.. let there be a dome in the middle of waters called the sky.. let there be luminaries in the dome of the sky.” The result of his creative word is always a delight for God.Holies were so long that their ends could be seen from that part of the holy place adjoining the sanctuary; however, they could not be seen beyond. They have remained there to this day.

This verse may reflect the impatient discontent of the priest-Scribe unhappy over the architectural blunder that did not provide adequately for the poles of the Ark; they protruded from the Holy of Holies into the adjoining room of the Holy Place. The verse also reminds us of the extraordinary respect of the Scribes for sacred scripture, never to remove what seemed unnecessary and certainly archaic. Yet divine wisdom might be informing us about an essential element of liturgy and church services. Just as the poles remained on the side of the Ark of the Covenant, ready to carry it into the streets and daily lives of the Israelite people, likewise our church services should always be on the edge of moving into our own personal lives, down our neighbourhood streets, into our city, state and international politics and business. All of us are consecrated as Levites to carry the Ark, to bring the eucharist and our church services into our homes and activity, to be the living temples of God’s presence.

In order that these physical objects be cleansed and reconsecrated they must be touched by the word of God and be obedient to the touch of Jesus, as in today’s readings from Genesis and Mark. We are the instruments of God to cleanse and reconsecrate our good world. Our touch of kindness and love is the touch of Jesus; our word of forgiveness and encouragement is the word of God. Each touch heals; each word is creative. The liturgy then brings us to the heart of the mystery of our real world.

 1 Kings 8:1-7, 9-13

Then Solomon assembled the elders of Israel and all the heads of the tribes, the leaders of the ancestral houses of the Israelites, before King Solomon in Jerusalem, to bring up the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord out of the city of David, which is Zion. All the people of Israel assembled to King Solomon at the festival in the month Ethanim, which is the seventh month. And all the elders of Israel came, and the priests carried the ark. So they brought up the ark of the Lord, the tent of meeting, and all the holy vessels that were in the tent; the priests and the Levites brought them up.

King Solomon and all the congregation of Israel, who had assembled before him, were with him before the ark, sacrificing so many sheep and oxen that they could not be counted or numbered. Then the priests brought the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord to its place, in the inner sanctuary of the house, in the most holy place, underneath the wings of the cherubim. For the cherubim spread out their wings over the place of the ark, so that the cherubim made a covering above the ark and its poles.

There was nothing in the ark except the two tablets of stone that Moses had placed there at Horeb, where the Lord made a covenant with the Israelites, when they came out of the land of Egypt. And when the priests came out of the holy place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord.

Then Solomon said, “The Lord has said that he would dwell in thick darkness. I have built you an exalted house, a place for you to dwell in forever.”

Gospel: Mark 6:53-56

When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.

#07 Feb. Tuesday of Week Five

1 Kings 8:22ff. Solomon concludes the temple dedication ceremony with a prayer of faith, confidence and humility.

Mark 7:1ff. The crime of nullifying the plain sense of God’s word by recourse to human traditions and practices.

God’s Dwelling on Earth

The Scriptures for today proclaim the sacredness of the created world. In concluding the work of creation, God first crowns his efforts across the universe by forming humankind to the divine image, “male and female he created them.” While all his other works were good, after creating humankind, God looked.. and “found it very good.” Marriage, home and family become an image of the Godhead, and here God must continue to be present. After this ultimate of all works on the sixth day, God proceeded to “rest from all the work he had done” and so “blessed the seventh day.” God does not withdraw from his newly created world in order to rest, but rather rests in the midst of all its beauty and goodness. The world is temple and church; the sound of wind and surf and birdsong are hymns of praise.

From this background we can examine the passages from First Kings, and from Mark’s gospel, the better to understand why Solomon and Jesus spoke as they did. Solomon ponders, “Can it be that God indeed dwells among us on earth? If the heavens and the highest heavens cannot contain you, how much less this temple which I have built?” And Jesus excoriates the lawyers for “making a fine art of setting aside God’s commandment [that the world, as blessed by God, is to be respected and appreciated] just for the sake of keeping your traditions.”

Solomon’s prayer reminds us that God’s normal temple is the universe, and for that reason the king asks how a mere human construction can contain God. Jesus argues that the produce of the world, its fruits and vegetables, are all clean because they have been created and blessed by God. Nonetheless, Solomon did build the temple; and Jesus did sanction fasting and abstinence from food. The Bible holds together these diverse statements about eating and about fasting, about the entire world as God’s temple and about constructing a temple or church for prayer. This diversity is not meant to cancel out or neutralize but rather to balance, nuance and enrich.

We construct a temple for the community for the same reason that we build a home for a family. A home is necessary, at least for the large majority of humankind, in order to remain closely knit in love and intimacy, in order to share sorrow and joy and thereby support one another, in order to nourish and protect during sickness and old age. We need the home in order to learn how to love properly. Only then are we capable of extending our genuine love to the larger human family. Likewise, we benefit greatly from a church. Here we learn to be family or covenanted people, bonded to one another and to God. Through the church, we have a place for prayer and instruction and a community where people undertake various offices of teaching, of leading in prayer, and of prophetically challenging. Without the church we would have been deprived of the Scriptures, of the sacraments and the memory of saints.

To wash ourselves or our food before eating is good, if it induces respect, cleanliness and a relaxed spirit. Yet if it divides, leads to arguments and a better-than-thou spirit (as seems to have happened), it violates the plan of God to form one large human family made in his own likeness. The Bible is continually cutting down the barriers which we raise. If the word of God sanctions walls for temple and home, it is with the intention of training us to live in the world outside those walls. When we are thoroughly at home in the outside world, then we are ready for heaven, “the highest heavens,” where all God’s children are at home. Therefore, Jesus could not tolerate separations that divide and split apart. People who favour such divisiveness are the hypocrites condemned by the Scripture: This people pays me lip service but their heart is far from me.

 1 Kings 8:22-23, 27-30

Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands to heaven. He said, “O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and steadfast love for your servants who walk before you with all their heart.

“But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built! Regard your servant’s prayer and his plea, O Lord my God, heeding the cry and the prayer that your servant prays to you today; that your eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the place of which you said, ‘My name shall be there,’ that you may heed the prayer that your servant prays toward this place. Hear the plea of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place; O hear in heaven your dwelling place; heed and forgive.

Gospel: Mark 7:1-13

Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,’This people honours me with their lips,

but their hearts are far from me;

 in vain do they worship me,

teaching human precepts as doctrines.’

You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.” Then he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.’ But you say that if anyone tells father or mother, ‘Whatever support you might have had from me is Corban’ (that is, an offering to God) – then you no longer permit doing anything for a father or mother, thus making void the word of God through your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many things like this.”

#08 Feb. Wednesday of Week Five

1 Kings 10:1ff. The Queen of Sheba comes to find out about Solomon, about his wisdom, riches and good judgment.

Mark 7:14ff. What renders us impure is not what enters us from outside but rather the wickedness in the deep recesses of the heart.

The Wisdom from Above

Within the creation story and the Queen of Sheba’s visit to King Solomon, our attention may be first drawn to the externals of the scene, but on further reflection we discover the wisdom at the heart of each account. In Genesis (*1), the Lord planted a garden with all kinds of delightful things to eat and placed Adam there to cultivate and care for it. Within the garden was the tree of knowledge of good and evil whose fruit he was not to eat; for Adam was expected to exercise self-control and a humble regard for God’s instructions. Turning to the book of Kings, we find Solomon’s wisdom at the centre of all the glitter and wealth and remember his prayer at Gibeon, for an understanding heart to judge the people. Because Solomon requested wisdom rather than wealth or long life, God promised him “such riches and glory that among kings there is not your like.” The king’s wisdom remained at the heart of his good fortune, integrating and balancing all the external splendour.

Jesus’ words to his disciples develop this traditional idea, that external things are part of God’s good creation. What we eat or drink is clean and healthy, gifts from the God of life. Evil comes from within the human heart, from whose wicked desires flow those crimes and offenses which corrode and corrupt the world about us.

The story-teller in the ancient Book of Genesis wants to impress on us how the creation of human life needed a special intervention of God who breathed into man the breath of life; that the garden was not the result of human ingenuity but was prepared in advance by God. The wisdom to make the best use of the world also comes from the Lord, with our intellect illumined by his assisting grace. It is a wisdom that includes a humble attitude to care for the earth and the strength to control our selfish desires. A sensitivity towards God, a remembrance in prayer of God’s gracious acts for us in the past, a joy from offering praise and adoration to our Maker, all this belongs to the wisdom by which good judgment is formed.

Without such wisdom, wicked designs begin to take hold within the heart. Jesus names some of these evil tendencies, almost the reverse of the ten commandments: fornication, theft, murder, greed, arrogance, an obtuse spirit. The wisdom by which we direct our lives must be sincere and fully supernatural, open always, as we read in the creation of the first human being, to the breath of God’s Holy Spirit. At the base of every good life lies an intuitive, secret wisdom, the fruit of living prayerfully in God’s presence and of responding humbly and obediently to the movements of God’s spirit within us.

 1 Kings 10:1-10

When the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon, (fame due to the name of the Lord), she came to test him with hard questions. She came to Jerusalem with a very great retinue, with camels bearing spices, and very much gold, and precious stones; and when she came to Solomon, she told him all that was on her mind. Solomon answered all her questions; there was nothing hidden from the king that he could not explain to her. When the queen of Sheba had observed all the wisdom of Solomon, the house that he had built, the food of his table, the seating of his officials, and the attendance of his servants, their clothing, his valets, and his burnt offerings that he offered at the house of the Lord, there was no more spirit in her. So she said to the king, “The report was true that I heard in my own land of your accomplishments and of your wisdom, but I did not believe the reports until I came and my own eyes had seen it. Not even half had been told me; your wisdom and prosperity far surpass the report that I had heard. Happy are your wives! Happy are these your servants, who continually attend you and hear your wisdom! Blessed be the Lord your God, who has delighted in you and set you on the throne of Israel! Because the Lord loved Israel forever, he has made you king to execute justice and righteousness.” Then she gave the king one hundred twenty talents of gold, a great quantity of spices, and precious stones; never again did spices come in such quantity as that which the queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon.

Gospel: Mark 7:14-23

Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”

When he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about the parable. He said to them, “Then do you also fail to understand? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters, not the heart but the stomach, and goes out into the sewer?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, “It is what comes out of a person that defiles. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

#09 Feb. Thursday of Week Five

1 Kings 11:4ff. Solomon’s sins are traced to the influence of his pagan wives; as punishment his kingdom will be divided.

Mark 4:24ff. By humble, persevering faith, a Syro-Phoenician woman induces Jesus to cure her daughter, despite his initial reluctance.

Generosity between the Sexes

Women hold the centre stage in today’s readings. In Genesis the first woman heals the loneliness of man, measures up to him in a way that no other creature could, and the two are united as equals, “in one flesh”. While the woman brings joy and stability into the life of the first man, pagan women are also held responsible, at least in part, for the apostasy of Solomon . Then in the gospel a pagan woman surprises Jesus with her faith and humble perseverance.

These texts invite our reflection about the relationship of the sexes, in family, friendship and community. Our differences as man and woman along with diversity in personality, talents and interests help us to complement each other and challenge one another to grow. Genesis clearly suggests that woman and man in isolation are each lacking important gifts and qualities. The union by which they complement one another enables the image of God, divine goodness, strength and fidelity, to be manifest. In this way marriage sets the pattern for all human friendship and community.

Many of the women in the Scriptures are in some sense models for both men and women, just as men provide examples for both women and men. What is scattered and fragmented must be reunited in Jesus, for as Paul says: “among you it is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, for all are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28-29). Belonging to Jesus, then, in a radical way heals all fragmentation arising from gender or race.

Adam exclaimed, “This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” If a spouse is to leave father and mother and cling to the other, then each has a divine mandate to put nothing before one’s love and loyalty for the other person. Jesus put it still more heroically and totally: There is no greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13). In this context we understand Jesus’ other words: Whoever tries to preserve their life will lose it; whoever loses it will keep it (Luke 17:33). Not only do we refuse to put any other object before our spouse, friend or community member, but we do not even place ourselves in preference to them. The reading from Kings, expresses the same demand of total loyalty and intimate love, but this time negatively, when Solomon’s heart turned to other gods by the coaxing of his wives.

Love and friendship make many demands on our generosity. How difficult this can be is shown . Jesus is reluctant to divert attention away from his own chosen people, Israel, to attend to the pagan woman. There is no simple way to soften the harsh reply of Jesus, except perhaps that he would not repeat the mistakes of Solomon and interact closely with foreign women. The apparent rejection is healed by the woman’s humility, perseverance and love for her child. Not for selfish pleasure or personal gain, but for the sake of her daughter, does the woman turn aside Jesus’ harsh words by replying: “but even the dogs under the table eat the family’s leavings.” This answer overcomes his first objections, and Jesus heals the woman’s daughter – a splendid example of gentle perseverance rewarded.

 1 Kings 11:4-13

For when Solomon was old, his wives turned away his heart after other gods; and his heart was not true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of his father David. For Solomon followed Astarte the goddess of the Sidonians, and Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and did not completely follow the Lord, as his father David had done. Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. He did the same for all his foreign wives, who offered incense and sacrificed to their gods.

Then the Lord was angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice, and had commanded him concerning this matter, that he should not follow other gods; but he did not observe what the Lord commanded. Therefore the Lord said to Solomon, “Since this has been your mind and you have not kept my covenant and my statutes that I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you and give it to your servant. Yet for the sake of your father David I will not do it in your lifetime; I will tear it out of the hand of your son. I will not, however, tear away the entire kingdom; I will give one tribe to your son, for the sake of my servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem, which I have chosen.”

Gospel: Mark 7:24-30

From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” The he said to her, “For saying that, you may go – the demon has left your daughter.” So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

#10 Feb. Friday of Week Five

1 Kings 11:29ff. The prophet Ahijah announces the breakup of David’s kingdom; ten of the twelve tribes choose Jeroboam as their king.

Mark 7:31ff. Jesus cures a man who was deaf and dumb, and the people are amazed as his power.

Paradise Lost and Found

The first reading tells of paradise lost; the gospel, of paradise regained. The text from First Kings fits into the long stretch of time in between the beginning and end of salvation history. In the paradise lost story (*1), the guilty man and woman become ashamed of their nakedness, whereas up to the time of their sin, they had experienced no unease in each other’s company and sensed each aspect of themselves as created to the image of God and as very good. The physical aspects of our earthly paradise show up again in the gospel, where, in order to cure the deaf and dumb man, Jesus put his fingers in the man’s ears and touched his tongue with saliva, and looked up to heaven with a groan. Jesus’ words and action, even his groan of distress over the man’s disability, manifest the human way by which the man was led back into paradise.

That Mark intends this scene to indicate the start of the final age, of paradise regained, is clear from hints later in the text. The phrase, “he makes the deaf hear and the mute speak” is from the prophecy of Isaiah, where “those whom the Lord has ransomed will return and enter Zion singing, crowned with everlasting joy.” The fulfillment of the messianic prophecies is at hand, when “desert and the parched land will exult; the steppe will rejoice and bloom.. They will see the glory of the Lord.. Here is your God, he comes with vindication, to save you. Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared (Isa 35:1-5).

In fulfilling the prophecy, Jesus is flashing a hint of universal salvation, something already observed in yesterday’s story of the Syro-Phoenician woman. We can contrast the two paradises, lost and regained. In Genesis man and woman, once they had sinned, realized that they were naked and felt ashamed. In the gospel, once the man’s hearing and speech are healed, every other impediment is dropped. With joyful spontaneity he forgets the injunction not to tell anyone. Not only the man himself, but everyone around him starts to proclaim the good news of what Jesus has acomplished. The gospel has almost a playful interaction here, since the more he urged them not to tell anyone, the more they proclaimed it.

The first parents left paradise and at once felt compelled to cover themselves with defenses against the other person. Fear of self and mistrust of the other inhibited the spontaneity and trust of their relationship. The man cured of deafness and dumbness seems to toss all restrictions to the wind, dancing, singing, leaping, shouting and proclaiming the good news. We lose paradise and we re-enter paradise as human beings with physical bodies and spiritual souls, but the Bible seems to focus more on the earthly expressions of joy rather than on its spiritual source.

In between the two paradisal scenes stands the story of how the kingdom of David is rent apart, when ten of the twelve tribes will transfer their loyalty from the house of David to Jeroboam. The northern ten tribes revolt in punishment for the excesses of Solomon and his son Roboam, but they will also be God’s instrument for preserving important Mosaic traditions and for advancing the prophetic movement. In that northern kingdom will emerge the first two of the classical, writing prophets, Amos and Hosea, and the paradisal section from Isaiah 35, quoted earlier, seems to come from a northern influence. It is clear that the outsider is not simply converted but brings a richness of insight into the mystery of God which we may otherwise overlook.

 1 Kings 11:29-32; 12:19

About that time, when Jeroboam was leaving Jerusalem, the prophet Ahijah the Shilonite found him on the road. Ahijah had clothed himself with a new garment. The two of them were alone in the open country when Ahijah laid hold of the new garment he was wearing and tore it into twelve pieces. He then said to Jeroboam: Take for yourself ten pieces; for thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, “See, I am about to tear the kingdom from the hand of Solomon, and will give you ten tribes. One tribe will remain his, for the sake of my servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem, the city that I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel. So Israel has been in rebellion against the house of David to this day.

Gospel: Mark 7:31-37

Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

#11 Feb. Saturday of Week Five

Our Lady of Lourdes

World Day of Prayer for the Sick

1 Kings 12:26ff. Jeroboam, the first king of the north, rebels;he makes his own sanctuaries, priests and feastdays.

Mark 8:1ff. Jesus, out of compassion for hungry people, multiplies bread and fish for about four thousand people.

Sentenced and Reprieved

In Genesis we have heard how our first parents are condemned to return to the ground from which you were taken. The gospel seems to reverse this, on a different, more optimistic note. The men and women who came out into the desert to hear him are so tired and hungry that if Jesus sends them away without food, “they will collapse on the way.” Therefore he multiplies bread and fish, and they all return not to the earth but to their homes with renewed vigor. In the beginning Adam and Eve ate the forbidden food and die; in the gospel their children eat the heavenly food and live. First Kings, offers another clue why human actions so often lead to death rather than to a new life, when we see King Jeroboam acting out of ambition and false fear.

The difference between orientation towards life or death lies within ourselves and our motives for acting. Earth itself is not evil, since it provides God with the material for moulding man and woman, and produces the bread and the fish, that Jesus gives as food of new life for the people. Even the break of the northern tribes from the Davidic dynasty at Jerusalem was not in itself an unmixed evil for it happened in the name of the Lord God.

The ways that lead to death can entrap us exclusively either in the secular world or in the religious realm. In Genesis we find man and woman giving themselves wholly to secular values. Driven by pride, desire to master the world and by an overweening ambition to control all things, man and woman sinned, falling into the typical sin of secular society. In the Book of Kings, the way to death comes through misuse of the religious realm. Jeroboam uses the instruments of religion, the priesthood, sanctuaries and feastdays to control the riches of the northern kingdom and to prevent peace and reunion with the south. By envy he kept north and south, which both professed the same religion, at each other’s throat.

The orientation towards life or death is not “out there” but inside ourselves, in how we react to God and to share with others as God has shared, indifferent to personal ambition. It is amazing how quickly and simply today’s gospel text ends. After the magnificent miracle of feeding “about four thousand” from seven loaves of bread and a few small fishes, the story ends abruptly. He dismissed them and got into the boat with his disciples to go to the neighbourhood of Dalmanutha. Acting out of compassion, not ambition, Jesus did not make a living from miracles. The happiness of seeing others restored to life and strength was its own joy.

 1 Kings 12:26-32; 13:33-34

Then Jeroboam said to himself, “Now the kingdom may well revert to the house of David. If this people continues to go up to offer sacrifices in the house of the Lord at Jerusalem, the heart of this people will turn again to their master, King Rehoboam of Judah; they will kill me and return to King Rehoboam of Judah.” So the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold. He said to the people, “You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.” He set one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan. And this thing became a sin, for the people went to worship before the one at Bethel and before the other as far as Dan. He also made houses on high places, and appointed priests from among all the people, who were not Levites.

Jeroboam appointed a festival on the fifteenth day of the eighth month like the festival that was in Judah, and he offered sacrifices on the altar; so he did in Bethel, sacrificing to the calves that he had made. And he placed in Bethel the priests of the high places that he had made.

Even after this event Jeroboam did not turn from his evil way, but made priests for the high places again from among all the people; any who wanted to be priests he consecrated for the high places. This matter became sin to the house of Jeroboam, so as to cut it off and to destroy it from the face of the earth.

Gospel: Mark 8:1-10

In those days when there was again a great crowd without anything to eat, he called his disciples and said to them, “I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way – and some of them have come from a great distance.” His disciples replied, “How can one feed these people with bread here in the desert?” He asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven.” Then he ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground; and he took the seven loaves, and after giving thanks he broke them and gave them to his disciples to distribute; and they distributed them to the crowd. They had also a few small fish; and after blessing them, he ordered that these too should be distributed. They ate and were filled; and they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. Now there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away. And immediately he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha.

#13 Feb. 6th Week Monday of Week Six

James 1:1ff. Trials test and strengthen our faith. Whatever we ask in faith will be given to us; while riches will just fade away.

Mark 8:11ff. Jesus refuses the Pharisees’ demand for a sign. He gets into the boat and goes to the other side.

Saving Faith

Faith is at the heart of today’s word from God. In two of the most theological writings of the New Testament, the Epistle to the Romans and Hebrews, faith becomes both the basis and the conclusion of the Christian life on earth. In Romans 1, Paul writes:”The just person lives by faith”; and Hebrews 11 summarizes not only its own understanding of Jesus but the entire Old Testament by stating: Faith is the confident assurance concerning what we hope for, and conviction about things we do not see. Because of faith our ancestors were approved by God (Hebrews 11:1).

Twice, the letter to the Hebrews refers to the incident of Cain and Abel, the subject of the first reading (*1) : By faith Abel offered God a sacrifice greater than Cain’s, and because of this he was seen to be just. Later we read about where faith has brought us: “You have drawn near.. to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood which speaks more eloquently than that of Abel” (Hebrews 12:24).

Faith, indeed, is the centrepiece of biblical religion, so we must inquire further to see what is the heart of faith. Negatively, we learn from the gospel that faith does not revolve around miracles. When jealous and suspicious people test Jesus and look for some heavenly sign, he sighs heavily about the weakness of their faith. The Epistle of James points out another direction, not to seek miracles to overcome our difficulties but to find a way to retain our joy even amid “every sort of trial.” He says: “When faith is tested this makes for endurance. Let endurance come to its perfection so that you may be fully mature and lacking in nothing.” For him, faith is linked with loyalty and steadiness. It is not self-confidence but rather confidence arising from God’s fidelity. Faith enables our love for God and for others to survive the darkness and see hope and new life.

Cain might run away from his family but he could not run away from God. “The Lord put a mark on Cain,” a mark of divine protection, a pledge of the Creator’s fidelity to all he has made. When some people responded to Jesus with suspicion and envy, he left them and went off. Such dispositions do not keep Jesus in our midst; he remains only with people of faith, compassion and forgiveness.

 James 1:1-11

 My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.

If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.

Let the believer who is lowly boast in being raised up, and the rich in being brought low, because the rich will disappear like a flower in the field. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the field; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. It is the same way with the rich; in the midst of a busy life, they will wither away.

Gospel: Mark 8:11-13

The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, asking him for a sign from heaven, to test him. And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to this generation.” And he left them, and getting into the boat again, he went across to the other side.

#14 Feb. Tuesday of Week Six

Ss Cyril and Methodius, Patrons of Europe

James 1:12ff. God tempts no one but rather is the giver of every good gift. He wills to bring us to birth with a word spoken in truth.

Mark 8:14ff. Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees! Jesus is amazed at the blindness of his disciples.

A Word Deeply Rooted

On first reading today’s texts are focussed on externals. We are fascinated by the story of Noah and the flood that covered the earth; we hear James speaking about gifts of life and penalties of death; and in Mark the disciples are worried that they have too little bread, as they embark on a hard pull across the Sea of Galilee.

Our own reflections, and our theology, must also begin with externals. It is the sight of the poor and the oppressed that stirs us into considering what place or purpose suffering may have in the wise providence of God. The behaviour of the people in Noah’s time provoked regret in God’s heart and that phrase in Genesis raises all sorts of theological problems: how can God regret? Did he see the creation of mankind as a mistake? Is there room for change in the divine mind? Similarly in the gospel Jesus’ response to the disciples turns into a volley of questions which evinces surprise on Jesus’ part that his followers acted as they did: “Do you still not see or comprehend? Are your minds completely blinded? Have you eyes but no sight, ears but no hearing? Do you not remember how I broke the five loaves..?” The gospel ends on the question: “Do you still not understand?”

We begin with the externals but we must not remain with them. So it is not a good method of biblical interpretation to exhaust ourselves in arguing about the externals, as in the case of Noah’s flood: did it really cover the earth? could all those animals have been contained within the ark? Even if archaeology shows that mammoth floods swept across large areas in Mesopotamia and gave rise to various flood stories, these all tend to show the writers struggling with theological issues.

The flood story in Genesis begins with the dispositions of the human heart; for when the Lord saw how much wickedness was on earth, and how no human desire was even anything but evil, he regretted having made man, “and his heart was grieved.” The Scriptures move from external actions to human desires and to regret in God’s heart.

Likewise in James the initial moment is located in the externals, whether it be holding out to the end through trial.. or passions that lure a person into sin.. or worthwhile gifts and genuine benefits from the Father of the heavenly luminaries. Yet already we perceive the movement of the spirit and the silent beating of the heart. How else can anyone persevere till the end unless by God’s special gifts of fidelity and long-suffering patience and deeply rooted hope in others. In this context we can interpret James’ final phrase: God wills to bring us to birth “so that we may be a kind of first-fruit of his creatures.” His word, deeply rooted within our heart, induces the good fruit in our lives. If at times, we are left with a questions, he wants us to remain within our hearts, listening, contemplating, wondering, seeking, correcting and most of all just being in God’s presence.

 James 1:12-18

Blessed is anyone who endures temptation. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. No one, when tempted, should say, “I am being tempted by God;” for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one. But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it; then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death.

Do not be deceived, my beloved. Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.

Gospel: Mark 8:14-21

Now the disciples had forgotten to bring any bread; and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out – beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod.” They said to one another, “It is because we have no bread.” And becoming aware of it, Jesus said to them, “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?” They said to him, “Twelve.” “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?” And they said to him, “Seven.” Then he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”

#15 Feb. Wednesday of Week Six

James 1:19ff. Be doers of the word, not merely listeners. Humbly welcome the word with its power to save you.

Mark 8:22ff. Jesus cures the blind man in stages, secretely, with spittle and the touch of his hands.

Maturing by Stages

The gospel suggests the long, gradual process by which we come to the light of truth and the persistence to follow the way of truth. Genesis points out dramatically that the period of the flood must run its full course and that the earth’s return to normal existence cannot be rushed. James, offers a compressed dictionary of moral instructions, and we instinctively feel how much time is needed to comply such with a list.

The miracle story is told only by Mark; it was not repeated nor even adapted by Matthew and Luke, even though these evangelists relied heavily on Mark. This is also the only miracle which Jesus worked in stages. Jesus even uses such lowly human substance as spittle.

Jesus’ willingness to live on our human level offers great comfort. There is a sense of delicate consideration in the way he dealt with the blind man’s need. He first took his hand and with gentle compassion led him outside the village. Then, away from the crowd, he put spittle on his eyes and touching the closed eyelids with his fingers, Jesus bonded with the blind man. This poor man could not see the sorrow in Jesus’ eyes at the sight of this disability, but could feel the clasp of his hand and touch of his fingers. Jesus is not just conforming to common ritual practices but adapting himself to the human condition of need.

The stages of the miracle are noteworthy: first, people looked like walking trees; then, “he could see everything clearly.” These too are the stages of our growth in faith. At first, a new insight into God’s goodness and its expectation that we gently “look after orphans and widows in their distress” (as we read in James *2) may appear like “walking trees,” really not a part of our real world. We argue that we do not have the time, nor the material or financial resources to help the poor, the needy and the hungry. Jesus, however, presses the bond of our human flesh and family, places spittle again over our eyelids, gently presses and strokes and to our amazement – to paraphrase the gospel words, “we can see perfectly; our sight is restored and we can see everything clearly.” We have the light to see our way for helping, for finding time and for locating resources to be of service to our fellow human beings.

The admonition of James no longer seems too difficult, too sudden and abrupt: “Strip away all that is filthy, every vicious excess. Humbly welcome the word that has taken root in you, with its power to save you. Act on this word. If all you do is listen to it, you are deceiving yourselves.” Jesus never deceived himself, he acted on the word that was his very life and so possessed the power to save.

We may be grateful to Mark for preserving the memory of Jesus’ respect for the stages of our life and its growth to sanctity. The steps to sanctity follow the path of human existence, only we cannot walk the path alone but must be like Jesus who took the blind man’s hand and led him outside the village. We take the hand of our neighbour in need, and to our surprise the hand that we clasp is leading us to our salvation, just as the blind man led Jesus into an episode that preached redemption to us today.

 James 1:19-27

You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.

But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act – they will be blessed in their doing.

If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

Gospel: Mark 8:22-26

They came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village; and when he had put saliva on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Can you see anything?” And the man looked up and said, “I can see people, but they look like trees, walking.” Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he looked intently and his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Then he sent him away to his home, saying, “Do not even go into the village.”

#16 Feb. Thursday of Week Six

James 2:1ff. Show no favouritism. Love your neighbour as yourself.

Mark 8:27ff. Peter confesses Jesus as the Messiah ; then he is reprimanded for rejecting the Passion prediction.

Equal in God’s Sight

The two great signs of the covenant between God and the entire human race are the rainbow and the cross. And just as each spans the universe, so the covenant levels all men and women to an equal status with no favouritism in God’s eyes. We are invited to reflect on the glories and hopes of forming one human family and to realize the cost in sacrifice and sharing.

The rainbow and the cross both symbolize God’s deep union with the human family. Each has a vertical and a horizontal span, and presumes some measure of purification, while offering a strong promise of joy and completion. The rainbow appears after the rain has cleansed the sky and is a herald of bright sunlight. In Genesis the rainbow announces the end of Noah’s flood and also gives a divine promise that such a flood will never again sweep the earth. Despite its lightsome beauty, the rainbow will not let us forget the devastating force of the flood, which is now seen as a purifying thing, washing the human race clean of its wickedness.

The same applies to the cross. No one can look at a cross, no matter how ornate it may be, without remembering the excruciating death of Jesus. Yet the cross is lifted high on our churches and is worn as the sign and emblem of our victory over sin and despair, for Jesus’ resurrection is the pledge of our own future life. Both cross and rainbow carry a message of universal salvation. They belong to the world and in fact come to our attention first from the secular sphere of life. The cross was the dreaded Roman form of execution; the rainbow is visible to every human eye, whatever the person’s religion may be.

St James helps us examine whether the universal saving signs of the cross and of the rainbow are operative in our own lives . He begins simply: “Your faith must not allow of favouritism.” We are not to evaluate one person from another by external indications of wealth, power, prestige or social rank. Whoever operates by these false standards is liable to make “corrupt decisions.” If we return to the symbols of the cross and the rainbow, they present everyone as a human being created by God to the divine likeness. On the cross, Jesus died naked; through the rainbow we look on a world washed clean and appearing in its naked beauty. Returning to James, we find that we are not to be impressed by those who enter our company fashionably dressed, or despise those who enter dressed in shabby clothes, for in God’s eyes we are all poor and naked, beautiful and naked – and equal. We are what we have grown to be by our faith in God’s goodness and fidelity, by our imitation of God’s generosity and forgiveness.

Before concluding his critique of favouritism, James cites the biblical injunction: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” which Jesus listed as the second commandment and was repeated by Paul in Romans (Rom 13:9). These beautiful ideals are hard to put into practice, just as is the call to carry our cross with Jesus. It is little wonder that Peter took Jesus aside and began to remonstrate with him, until he had to reply abruptly and sternly “Out of my sight, you satan!” Jesus’ final words on that occasion seem to resonate in James’ epistle for today, “You are not judging by God’s standards but by human standards.”

The cross and the rainbow are beautiful and demanding, hopeful and distressing, dark/grim and open/fragile, deeply personal and fully universal. In their light we can truly answer Jesus’ question to the disciples, “Who do you say that l am?”

 James 2:1-9

My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favouritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?

For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?

Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonoured the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?

You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.

Gospel: Mark 8:27-33

Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they answered him, John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

#17 Feb. Friday of Week Six

James 2:14ff. Faith without works is as dead as a body without breath.

Mark 8:34ff. One must lose one’s life in order to save it. What is the good of gaining the whole world and losing oneself?

Conflicting Aspirations

The tower of Babel and the hill of Calvary: two ways of approaching heaven and of being with God, one deceptively attractive but ultimately wrong, the other forbidding but in the long run good. The contrast is intriguing and enigmatic. We see human the striving to construct the tower of Babel and the reluctance to carry one’s cross after Jesus. In building the tower of Babel the proud entrepreneurs destroyed peace and harmony; in the epistle of James, good works become the proof that God is present within us and these works unite us with our neighbour. The gospel contrasts two forms of activity: taking up one’s cross or acting for personal aggrandizement. Again the action which threatens to destroy us is the one which adds permanence of our life; the action which seems to affirm and build us up turns on us and destroys us. “Whoever would save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”

In talking about good works, James cites two rather unusual examples from the hundreds available in the Hebrew Scriptures: first, that of Abraham, ignorantly thinking that he must worship God in the heroic fashion of his Canaanite neighbours and so be willing to kill his long-awaited son Isaac: second, that of Rahab the harlot, who though misguided in her profession, welcomes the incoming invaders as the wave of the future. Scripture affirms that God can see a brighter future and even a purer holiness in people whose hearts are sincere and honest than in others whose external behaviour wraps them in mantles of splendid display, yet whose mind is shallow with its treasure located in esteem and reputation. The latter can always say the proper formula to the unfortunate needy neighbour but do nothing meet their actual needs. “What good is that?” James trenchantly asks.

See how James links the spirit of true faith with a genuine human sincerity. Even if it seemed in Abraham’s day to sacrifice one’s best – even one’s only child – to God, sincerity and common sense, the bonds of human loyalty shouted “No!” and such religious insensitivity to the bonds of life was ever after rejected in Judaism. Yet ordinary human wisdom and the natural bonds of life are not enough, for they can lead to such pompous manifestations of independence from God as to build a tower of Babel. This attempt to build a protective tower can today mean a disproportionate military build-up for an entire nation, or unions or corporations that selfishly guard the rights of the privileged insider, religious ritual purporting to make us look pious and good, or just personal excuses and private ways of avoiding responsibility so that we never risk making a mistake.

To act against our selfish inclinations and pious camouflage, to reach out spontaneously with practical help to the neighbour in need, means to take up one’s cross. To stand by someone in need and disgrace is to follow the way of Jesus who befriended prostitutes and tax collectors. It means to lose one’s life; and in the depth of that faith we will have a glimpse of the true “kingdom of God established in power.” Where we seem to have lost everything and to have died, we become fully alive in a way that can never taste death. No one can take that vision from us, the memory of being with Jesus and reaching out, as he did, to those genuinely in need of us. What can equal life such as this, joyful like Abraham’s joy in the return of Isaac, with dignity restored, like Rahab the harlot in saving the lives of the messengers.

 James 2:14-24, 26

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe – and shudder. Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith apart from works is barren? Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works. Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.

Gospel: Mark 8:34–9:1

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.”

#18 Feb. Saturday of Week Six

James 3:1ff. Guard the tongue from inflammatory speech; do not let blessing and curses come out of the same mouth.

Mark 9:2ff. In his transfiguration Jesus sits between his great fore-runners, Moses and Elijah.

Faith and Visions

The need for faith is not removed even by the experience of visions. The experience of Jesus’ transfiguration led to further questions for the disciples – Peter, James and John, who were with Jesus on the mountain – who now perceived a new dimension present in their daily life. Visions do not stop the clock but are a momentary insight that will tend to leave us more restless and unsettled than before.

The transfiguration of Jesus, like his baptism and prayer in Gethsemane, enables us to see for a moment the intimate personal relation between Jesus and the Heavenly Father. We see also his close contact with us in an earthly life ending in death, and the overlapping of future glory with present difficulties in one profound life-force. At the beginning of his ministry, when Jesus was baptized by John, the heavens were split open and a voice proclaimed with loving approval, “You are my beloved Son” (Mark 1:11). This message of endearment was fraught with responsibility, resonant with the enthronement of the Davidic king (Ps 2) along with the difficult vocation of the suffering servant (Isa 42). The transfiguration scene also presents Jesus in closeness to God the Father, but likewise is the fearful sense of impending doom is accented. Coming down from the mountain Jesus speaks of his death, and in Luke’s account he discusses with Elijah and Moses his “exodus” or passing from this world to the next (Luke 9:31). Finally, when the time for that passing was at hand, Jesus is once again wrapped in prayer in the garden of Gethsemane, this time pleading, “Abba (Father), you have the power to do all things. Take this cup away from me!” (Mark 14:36).

Jesus felt the profound mystery of God the Father’s presence within the path of his human life on its various stages towards his inevitable death. Death will be the supreme moment of God’s intense, intimate presence with us as it was with Jesus. Only after we have traveled that passage from life through death into eternal life, only after the child of earth has risen from the dead, can we really tell what we have seen in the course of our life, just as the fleeting vision of Jesus’ transformation on the mountain transformed his disciples’ understanding of him.

Hebrews summarizes what we have seen in Genesis but also warns that what we thought we understood is only half of the truth. For this author, “faith is confident assurance concerning what we hope for, and conviction about things we do not see.” When we think we see and understand, we should be filled with new questions. The wonder of God is so great that we may be certain that it is far beyond what we understand.

James brings us down to earth and says how careful we must be in talking about others, not to spread gossip and half-truths. If we aspire to be teachers, let it be with patience and humility. Perhaps our instruction ought to give insights to ourselves too, showing the splendour God invests in our human lives – and even in our death.

 James 3:1-10

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits.

How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue – a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so.

Gospel: Mark 9:2-13

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean. Then they asked him, “Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” He said to them, “Elijah is indeed coming first to restore all things. How then is it written about the Son of Man, that he is to go through many sufferings and be treated with contempt? But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written about him.”

#20 Feb. Monday of Week Seven

James 3:13ff. A wise spirit is not characterized by envy but by leniency, sympathy and peace.

Mark 9:14ff. The mute spirit which convulses the boy is driven out by Jesus’ faith and prayer.

Qualities of True Prayer

Three great and related moments in Mark’s gospel – Jesus’ baptism, transfiguration and prayer in the garden – are each followed by struggle: Jesus’ baptism by the Lord’s wrestling with Satan in the desert (Mark 1:12-13); the transfiguration by the disciples’ futile wrestling to drive out a demon from the mute boy; the prayer in the garden where Jesus struggles with the will of the heavenly Father amidst “sorrow to the point of death” (Mark 14:34). Even though Mark is not characterized like Luke as a gospel of prayer, nonetheless each of these episodes is surrounded or at least concluded by prayer: Jesus spends the forty days in the desert in prayerful seclusion (1:13), caught between heaven and earth, between overwhelming goodness and demonic evil, in the grip of deep contemplative prayer. Today’s episode of the boy under demonic possession ends with the statement, “This can be driven out only by prayer.” In the garden Jesus admonishes his disciples, “Be on guard and pray that you may not be put to the test” (14:38).

Regarding the spirit in which to pray, we can learn from the reading from Sirach, an Old Testament book beginning in cycle *1. In the last chapter of book, we learn that this elderly gentleman conducted a “house of instruction” – in Hebrew, beit midrash – for noble youths (Sir 51:23). With serenity and sureness of touch Sirach spoke about every aspect of human existence, ranging from the home into the business world, from study of the law to the entertainment of guests. Yet he always ended in a spirit of wonder, prayer and the true fear of the Lord. “Extol God with renewed strength, and do not grow weary, though you cannot reach the end.. It is the Lord who has made all things, and to those who fear him he gives wisdom (Sir 44:32,35).

Today’s reading also ends with the fear of the Lord which “is glory and splendour” and “warms the heart.” To bring this kind of reverence into our prayer, we look to the opening poem from the Book of Sirach: God’s wisdom is spread across “heaven’s height and earth’s breadth,” so great that no one can explore them. God “has poured her forth on all his works and on every living thing. He has lavished her on his friends.” This wonderful wisdom exists at the depth of our being and is also with God where “it remains forever.” At the depths of our selves is a perception, an intuition, a divine spark of wonder, a godly way of holding everything togetherin harmony. Yet this wisdom is also so magnificent that “you cannot reach the end” of it. This type of wisdom leads to a fear that is “glory and splendour” and that “warms the heart.”

The reading from James, provides us with another aspect of true prayer, linked also with the wisdom about which Sirach spoke. A “wise and understanding” person shows “humility filled with good sense.” James adds: Wisdom from above.. is first of all innocent. It is also peaceable, lenient, docile, rich in sympathy and the kindly deeds that are its fruits, impartial and sincere. It reaps the harvest of justice that has been sown in peace.

When we review these qualities of prayer, we too cry out with the father of the mute and epileptic boy, “I do believe. Help my lack of trust.” The biblical appreciation of prayer may seem far beyond us. In fact, it is and we remember again Sirach’s healthy advice, “weary not, though you cannot reach the end.” What we strive to reach, we already possess at the depths of ourselves. Through Jesus we discover who we are, provided we persevere long in prayer and provided we balance our prayer with true and healthy fear, with humility and good sense.

 James 3:13-18

Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.

Gospel: Mark 9:14-29

When they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and some scribes arguing with them. When the whole crowd saw him, they were immediately overcome with awe, and they ran forward to greet him. He asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?” Someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought you my son; he has a spirit that makes him unable to speak; and whenever it seizes him, it dashes him down; and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid; and I asked your disciples to cast it out, but they could not do so.” He answered them, “You faithless generation, how much longer must I be among you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him to me.” And they brought the boy to him. When the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. Jesus asked the father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. It has often cast him into the fire and into the water, to destroy him; but if you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us.” Jesus said to him, “If you are able! – All things can be done for the one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out, “I believe; help my unbelief!” When Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You spirit that keeps this boy from speaking and hearing, I command you, come out of him, and never enter him again!” After crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he was able to stand. When he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” He said to them, “This kind can come out only through prayer.”

#21 Feb. Tuesday of Week Seven

James 4:1ff. Recommendation to sincerity, humility and fidelity, shunning worldliness and selfishness.

Mark 9:30ff. Whoever welcomes a child for Jesus’ sake welcomes Jesus himself, and the Father who sent him.

Welcoming the Child

The call to welcome Jesus as one would welcome a child rounds off today’s gospel. We can find him among the servants and the apparently least important people. Just as children easily find other children and quickly begin enjoy themselves at play, so we ought to gravitate towards the servants and the least. Childhood in this sense is not a matter of age only. A person who is lonely may be someone who also treasures beautiful memories and buried hopes, genuine possibilities, waiting for the healing touch of kindness. To welcome Jesus as a child is to open one’s arms to the infinite possibilities that lie before us in life.

In the text from James, we seem to have left the child’s world behind. There is talk of “conflicts and disputes,” of “cravings that make war within your members,” of murder and envy. We can find the way towards conversion in the phrase: “God resists the proud but bestows his favour on the lowly.” This is drawn from the Greek version of the Book of Proverbs, 3:34. Oddly, the other quotation “The spirit he has implanted in us tends towards envy” which he presents as Scripture, cannot be found in our extant Bible. Evidently, James is drawing on ancient bits of wisdom circulating in his time, traditions that fill out what has been written down in the Bible. The adult spirit, he says, which tends towards envy, needs to be turned back to the childlike spirit in its innocence and spontaneity. It is often enough a difficult journey for adults to revive the memory and goodness of their childhood. In life’s journey if often seems that “laughter is turned into mourning and joy into sorrow.” Yet James ends with the assurance that the Lord “will raise you on high.”

Sirach proposes that we reflect on our ancestors, and the success of their godly lives: “Study the generations long past and understand; has anyone hoped in the Lord and been disappointed?” This Lord, we are told, is “compassionate and merciful.. he saves in time of trouble.” Sirach beautifully combines fear with confidence: “You who fear the Lord, hope for good things, for lasting joy and mercy.” As we see any child, we can recall the opening words from today’s Bible passage in Sirach, “prepare yourself for trials.” Yet as we find again the child in each of us, we welcome Jesus. Our trials are united with his cross and resurrection, and we rebound with firm hope because after three days, he rose again.

 James 4:1-10

Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your ravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures. Adulterers! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you suppose that it is for nothing that the scripture says, “God yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives all the more grace; therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

Gospel: Mark 9:30-37

They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

#22 Feb. Ash Wednesday

##June 11. Monday of Week Ten

Acts 1:21ff; 13:1-3. The beginnings of the Church, in Antioch.

Matthew 10:7ff. Our Lord’s advice to his first missionaries.

Starting Afresh

Acts 1:21-26; 13:1-3

The hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number became believers and turned to the Lord. News of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast devotion; for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were brought to the Lord.

Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for an entire year they met with the church and taught a great many people, and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called “Christians.”

Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the ruler, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.

Gospel: Matthew 10:7-13

As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.

Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food. Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.

#.June 12. Tuesday of Week Ten

1 Kings 17:7ff. Because the widow of Zarephath gave water and bread to Elijah, her supply lasted until the drought was over.

Matthew 5:13ff. You are the salt of the earth, the light of the world.

A Generous Yes to God

Salt sharpens the flavour of food and light allows us to see what is there in a room, just as the presence of Christ’s Spirit within us (*1), salt and light enables our “yes” and “no” – to see things as they are. The Holy Spirit with which we have been sealed puts this passion for truth into our mind and heart and there we discover what God wants us to see. What is illuminated by the light of Christ and sharpened in taste by the salt of his Gospel, is the truth, present within our hearts, with which we respond to God.

Another kind of “yes” is heard from the widow of Zarephath when the prophet Elijah asked her for food and water. Her answer was prompted by trust in God and her belief in Elijah’s promised miracle. Her generous faith, willing to share with this stranger her last reserves of food and drink, brings to light the prophet’s miraculous powers.

To return to Jesus’ words about salt and light. His disciples do not add anything specifically new but enable people to recognize and to value what they already possess as God’s creatures, redeemed by Jesus. What the disciple says and does ought to be like a candle, set on a lampstand to give light to all in the house. “So your light must shine, so that they may see your goodness in action and give praise to your heavenly Father.”

As we follow through with this image, we see that our role, as light, helps others to see the good that already exists in their own environment. Without light, we enter a dark room and stumble over hidden objects, fall and hurt ourselves and perhaps others too. With light we recognize chairs and tables, doors and walls. We can sit down and rest, we can eat at table, we can see the photos and pictures on the walls, move through the doors into other parts of the home. Light brings harmony, good relationships, enrichment, happiness. It brings warmth, love and new life. As light and salt, we are called on to enhance life in all its goodness, to share and to preserve. Our response to life should be an enthusiastic “Yes” as we address our Amen to God, in worship together.

We too, as Jesus’ disciples and ministers, are called to be light and salt, enabling others to see how much Jesus has invested in them. We lead others – and ourselves – to the hidden presence of the Holy Spirit within each person. It is Jesus, who has anointed us and has sealed us, thereby depositing the first payment, the Spirit in our hearts.

This Holy Spirit is our down payment, our pledge, our first reception of the full glory and joy of heaven, the beginning of the final “yes.” when God receives us home.

Another way to say our positive Amen to life is when others request our help. They are like Elijah, asking us to share our supplies of oil, bread and water. To say “yes” is to affirm and discover, as did the widow of Zarephath, an inexhaustible store of goodness, both for the others and for ourselves.

 1 Kings 17:7-16

But after a while the wadi dried up, because there was no rain in the land.

Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” So he set out and went to Zarephath. When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink.” As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” But she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.” Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the Lord the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth.” She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil ail, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah.

Gospel: Matthew 5:13-16

“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.

“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. Righteousness

#June 13.Wednesday of Week Ten

1 Kings 18:20ff. Elijah’s challenge, to follow the true and living God. His faith is confirmed when God sends down fire upon his sacrifice.

Matthew 5:17ff. Jesus has not come to abolish the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them.

Conversion and Reconciliation

While the readings from 2 Cor and from 1 Kings reflect serious tensions, the gospel seeks to harmonize and reconcile. As Ecclesiastes wrote, “There is a time for everything.. A time to rend, and a time to sow.. A time of war, and a time of peace” (Eccles 3:1, 7-8). Today’s Scripture places these various situations before us. As we reflect on them, we recognize that tough decisions sometimes need to be made, for Elijah says: “How long will you sit on the fence? If the Lord is God, follow him; if Baal, follow him.” Yet at other times, we are called to reconcile apparent opposites. Such is the spirit of the Gospel, part of the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus supports the fulfillment of the Mosaic law, right down to the letter, while still announcing a new, more interior, set of values. According to Ecclesiastes, there is “a time to plant and a time to uproot” (Eccles 3:2). “To uproot” means that the old is gone; we must embrace the new. We are not to follow a dead written law that has lost its meaning but a new living law of the Spirit. Paul calls us, like the Corinthians, to make a clear decision to move ahead.

The Scriptures lay various possibilities before us, each equally inspired by God: to reconcile and harmonize, or to make a clean break. The question is not whether one is right and the other wrong, nor even whether one is more perfect than another. All are inspired by the same Holy Spirit, and as Paul wrote to the Romans: “Whatever was written before our time was written for our instruction, that we might derive hope from the examples of patience and the encouragement in the Scriptures” (Rom 15:4). He then applied this to a very difficult Old Testament passage, a psalm which includes a long section of cursing the enemy (Ps 69:10). From all the Scriptures, Paul concludes, God will enable us to live in harmony with one another according to the spirit of Christ Jesus (Rom 15:5).

We need every book and chapter of the Bible for different moments and various circumstances. We are back again with Ecclesiastes’ question of timing. We must cover all the bases and study issues carefully to avoid bad decisions and impulsive, emotional reactions. Further, since it is the Spirit who gives life, we must not be rigidly controlled by laws but be able to react humanly, compassionately, with forgiveness and hope. If these are our dispositions, then we are mature Christians – with our mistakes, yes, but dependable most of the time. We must rely on prayer, on the guidance of the Holy Spirit who has called us to some responsibility whether as parent or teacher, as priest or minister, as friend or confidant, as counselor or advisor.

Clearly, such a decisive stand as that of the prophet Elijah must be at the end of a long road of other attempts to reconcile and change. That his stance on Mount Carmel was the last resort, becomes clear when he ordered the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal seized, dragged down to brook Kishon, and killed (1 Kings 18:40). We leave such a final day of judgement to God himself, and until it comes, we are to call others to conversion and reconciliation.

 1 King