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Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Gospel Of Justification

Yesterday we began reading from Paul's letter to the Romans; we will be reading from it until November 5, 2005 in our daily masses. If one listens to fundamentalist and non-Catholic preachers, one gets the impression that 1:16-3:20 is a strong indictment against the sins of humanity and that Paul pronounces it in view of the end times that is about to come. I'd rather look at the section not as a threat but as an introduction to the heart of Paul's gospel of justification. In effect, Paul presents the case of humanity's sinfulness to show that God has considered it and therefore has sent his only Son as a solution to man's existential problem. The emphasis is not so much the condemnation that hangs on humankind like the perennial threat of Damocles' sword. The emphasis rather is on the mercy of God and the grace that he reveals in Christ. The condemnation is great, the threat is real, but God's love is greater than this. 1:16-3:20 is better understood in the light of what Paul says all throughout his Gospel of Justification, especially in the words which conclude his argument on Justification:

For I am convinced that neighter death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, norpowers, nor height, nor depth nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, Our Lord. (8:38)
Posted by biblista at 7:55 AM
Edited on: Wednesday, October 12, 2005 8:13 AM
Categories: Liturgy, New Testament

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Mt. 22:1-14 The Wedding Garment

Another parable proposed by the Lord as a reply to those who ask about his authority (cf. 21:23-27) is about a wedding feast. A king's son was going to be married and so gives out the invitation to those whom he usually invites. These excused themselves due to other commitments. Not only that, some of them even killed the king's messengers (vv.2-6). The king answers with a violent reprisal (v.7). With the usual guests finished off, the king sends out his messengers once more to call in anyone -- both good and bad -- into the banquet. And so the banquet did get underway.

If we compare the parable at this point to the other parables that Jesus tells his interlocutors., we can say that the present one is telling the same thing:

1. Those who refused, stand for the Jews who turned away from the invitation to the reign of God. (21:43)

2. The reprisal of the king, already hinted at in the previous parable about the tenants of the vineyard, represents the judgment that will laid upon the wicked, i.e., those who refuse the invitation of God's grace.(cf. 21:40-41)

3. Finally, those who respond to the invitation are like the tax collectors and the prostitutes in the parable of the two sons (21:28-32) who respond to the call of the Baptist to conversion. (cf. 21:32)

Apart from this, there are echoes of banquet-sayings uttered by the Lord regarding the replacement of those normally invited by others as in Mt. 8:11-13.

But then, there is a second part to the parable...

During the party itself, the king arrived to meet the guests. He saw one who was not in the proper wedding garb. Jewish culture demands that everyone come in the proper attire for a banquet. Since banquets last for some days, anyone invited can come at one's leisure in the proper garb. The man had no excuse for coming without the proper clothing. When asked by the king about his clothing, he shut his mouth (that is what phimotheti means; other translations settle for "he had nothing to say"). And that was in the culture of the times very rude. So the king orders that the man be thrown out of the party.

Then the king said to the attendants, "Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth." (v. 13)

One might as well ask: "Is the punishment proportionate to the offense? Did the man deserve to be bound hand and foot and thrown out into the darkness?" If it were just a story, perhaps we can say it was too much. The problem is, it is not just a story. The parable has all the elements of a judgment scenario: the wedding banquet, the implied wedding, the war on the wicked, the white garment for the wedding, the outer darkness. The last quoted phrase itself occurs in other parts of Matthew in the context of judgment:

Mt. 8:11-12: I tell you many will come from east and west and sit at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.

Mt. 13:41-42: The Son of man will send his angels and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and throw them into the furnace of fire; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.

Mt. 24:50-51: The Master of that (faithless) servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will punish him and put him with the hypocrites; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.

Mt. 25:40: Cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.

Given these facts, therefore, what does the white garment point to? The answer I think is hinted at that part of the New Testament where the elements of this parable -- wedding feast, war, white garment -- can be found one other time: Revelation 19:1-21:8. In this section we find the clean white robe as representing "the righteous deeds of the saints" (Rev. 19:8).

Posted by biblista at 2:10 PM
Categories: Liturgy, New Testament

Monday, October 03, 2005

Mt. 21-33-46 The Tenants of the Vineyard

Mt. 21:33-46 is a parable closely following that found in vv. 28-32 which deal with the question: "Who is doing the Father's will?" Both parables are tied up together by the same image, that of the "vineyard." In the parable under consideration, Jesus hooks up with the Vineyard Song in Isaiah 5:1-7 which is actually plaintive song regarding a vineyard that refuses to give off its fruits inspite of the attention given to it by its owner. The resemblance however is immediately cut off after Mt. 21:33, for what follows is the story of a rebellion. The tenants of the vineyard refuse to give the owner his portion of the yield. Instead, they kill off the owner's messengers one by one (vv.34-36). Finally, the owner sends his son, the one who will inherit the vineyard. But he too was killed by those tenants (37-39). The parable ends with a question: "What do you think will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants?" And the answer should have brought the parable to a conclusion:

He will put those wretches to a misrable death, and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their proper season.

Transfer of Privileges

At this point in the story, one is reminded of moments in salvation history where a privilege given by God to a place or to a person is withdrawn and given to another. This is the case of Shiloh and King Saul. Shiloh was the resting place of the Ark of the Covenant until it was transferred to David's Jerusalem. King Saul enjoyed the privilege of God's election until that privilege was taken away from him and given to David. The vineyard will be "let out to other tenants..." In Romans 9-11 we find Paul explaining why the Jews have ceased to be the People of God since the privilege has been given to the Church. The parable in Mt. 21:33-46 intimates why: in killing the owner's son and wanting to inherit the vineyard for themselves, the tenants were revealing their evil intent towards the owner. They too wanted him killed so that they can have his property. The graphic illustration of hatred towards the owner is first acted out against his son. Isn't it that to accept Jesus is to accept the One Who Sent Him? So conversely, anyone who hates Jesus, hates the Father. In this story of the Tenants of the Vineyard, the story of Israel's rejection of God's Messiah is actually presaged. And the Pharisees and chief priests understood it quite clearly! (cf. 45-46)

That the story is about Christ's rejection is quite clear in v. 42 where Jesus quotes from Ps. 118:22-23:

The very stone which the builders rejected
has become the head of the corner
this was the Lord's doing
and it is marvelous in our eyes.

Early Christian preaching has used this passage to refer to the rejection of Jesus by his people and the subsequent vindication he receives from God in the resurrection (cf. Acts 4:11; 1 Pet 2:7) . A cornerstone is prepared for a new edifice. The mention of it in the context of the parable intimates points to Jesus as the cornerstone of a new building. And God Himself will make this happen. We know when it does happen: at the glorification of Christ.

The Fruits that will be Rendered Back

The parable mentions the fruits that will finally be made available to the owner of the vineyard once the proper changes are made. In Matthew, as in the Gospels, "fruit" is most often associated with righteousness, hence "fruits of righteousness" and conversely, "fruits of wickedness" Below are the occurences of the word "fruit" and "fruits" in Matthew's gospels. Note that it is only in the case of the fig tree that Jesus curses and the parable of the farmer, where the meaning of "fruit" is not moral; while in Mt. 26, the reference is to the wine of the Last Supper.:

Mt 3:8 Bring forth therefore fruit worthy of penance.
Mt 3:10 For now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that doth not yield good fruit, shall be cut down, and cast into the fire.
Mt 7:17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit, and the evil tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
Mt 7:18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can an evil tree bring forth good fruit.
Mt 7:19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit, shall be cut down, and shall be cast into the fire.
Mt 12:33 Either make the tree good and its fruit good: or make the tree evil, and its fruit evil. For by the fruit the tree is known.
Mt 13:8 And others fell upon good ground: and they brought forth fruit, some an hundred fold, some sixty fold, and some thirty fold.
Mt 13:23 But he that received the seed upon good ground, is he that heareth the word, and understandeth, and beareth fruit, and yieldeth the one an hundredfold, and another sixty, and another thirty.
Mt 13:26 And when the blade was sprung up, and had brought forth fruit, then appeared also the cockle.
Mt 21:19 And seeing a certain fig tree by the way side, he came to it and found nothing on it but leaves only. And he saith to it: May no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And immediately the fig tree withered away.
Mt 21:41 They say to him: He will bring those evil men to an evil end and let out his vineyard to other husbandmen that shall render him the fruit in due season.
Mt 26:29 And I say to you, I will not drink from henceforth of this fruit of the vine until that day when I shall drink it with you new in the kingdom of my Father.
Mt 7:16 By their fruits you shall know them. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
Mt 7:20 Wherefore by their fruits you shall know them.
Mt 21:34 And when the time of the fruits drew nigh, he sent his servants to the husbandmen that they might receive the fruits thereof.
Mt 21:43 Therefore I say to you that the kingdom of God shall be taken from you and shall be given to a nation yielding the fruits thereof.

In other words, the "fruit" that is referred to in this passage are not different from the "fruits of the Spirit" mentoned in Gal. 5 or the lasting fruits by which the Father is honored in John 15.

Posted by bible student at 9:42 AM
Categories: Liturgy, New Testament

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Luke For The Week

Below are my reflections on this week's readings from Luke . Only on Wednesday is their a selection from Matthew.


Section and Title


8:16-18: Take Heed What You Hear


8:19-21: The Family of the Lord


Mt 9:9-13 (Feast of St. Matthew): The Call of Matthew


9:7-9: Herod's Interest In Jesus


9:18-22: Peter's Confession (Luke's Version)


9:43-45: The Second Prediction of the Passion

Posted by biblista at 9:06 PM
Edited on: Monday, November 28, 2005 4:29 PM
Categories: Liturgy, New Testament

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Build My House

The theme of the weekday readings for the 25th Week in OT Year A is "Build My House". Readings are selected from Ezra, and two minor* prophets who are mentioned in Ezra 5: Haggai and Zechariah. The week starts off with the edict of Cyrus in 538 BC, the end of the exile (Ezra 1:1-6). In this edict, the Emperor calls upon interested Jews** to go back to their land and rebuild the temple of Jerusalem. In Ezra 6:7-20 one finds the edict of Darius (521-485) which reiterates the building of the Temple. He orders that the taxes be used for the financing of the construction and commands that a steady supply of animals be given to the priests to offer as sacrifices offered continually in the temple. Due Darius' support, the temple is rebuilt.

Ephesians 4:1-13 actually continues the theme of building up the Temple of the Lord but from a different perspective, that of the New Testament. The Lord's Body is His Temple. Paul urges the Ephesians to live according to their vocation to holiness, striving at the same time to preserve their unity. The unity of the Body of Christ is based on the oneness

This unity is not to be contrasted with the diversity of gifts that the Lord has procured for his Church. There are different charisms given to different members of the Church but all these are for the "building up of the Body of Christ." It must be noted that here, Paul uses the language of human growth -- "maturity", "full stature" -- because he is emphasizing the organically vital dimension of the Mystical Body of Christ.

Haggai is mentioned together with Zechariah in Ezra 5 as those prophets who protested against the discontinuation of the rebuilding of the Temple. In Haggai 1:1-8, the prophet attributes the economic difficulties of the Jews to the ruined state of the Temple. The prophecy can be summarized thus: "Build the temple that all may go well with you" (vv. 7-11). In Haggai 2:1-9, the prophet answers those who are saying that the completed Temple looks dismal and that it lacks the glory of the old one. Noteworthy in this prophecy is the reiteration of God's promise "I am with you." There is also the words "One moment yet, a little while" which is echoed in John's Gospel. "A little while" is the period of time which separates present hardship from future glory. Finally, God's future temple will be far more glorious than the first one. This prophecy does not refer to the temple that King Herod will build and which the disciples will be marvellling at. It refers to the Temple of the Lord, His Body. Thus, with Haggai's voice, we hear the announcement of the Church.

Zechariah's prophecy repeats in some ways what Haggai said about God's dwelling among his people. Alluding to the pillar of fire that accompanied the Israelites in the Desert, he says that God will once more protect His people like a surrounding fire. But God will not only protect His people and exact vengeance on those who have hurt them. He will dwell in their midst, just as He did before (in the Tent of Meeting). The prophecy makes sense if one situates it AFTER the completion of the second temple. The dismal looking temple that the returning Jews managed to finish -- according to this prophecy -- should not trouble them for God's presence among His people is much more important than any temple built for any god whatsoever.


*"Minor" does not mean "less important". The term refers to the books ascribed to them: these are very short books, so they are called "minor."

**Jews. Technically, "Israel" no longer existed. Only those who were from Judah returned. The exiles of 721 BC are no longer mentioned.

Posted by bible student at 4:54 AM
Categories: Liturgy, Old Testament

Monday, September 12, 2005

Sirach On Forgiveness: A Doorway To The Lord's Prayer

The Gospels did not grow out of the Old Testament, we know that. Between the Two Testaments, there is a jump in quality because of the figure of Jesus Christ. It would be naive to think that the Old Testament writings, read in a particular way can lead one to the Letters of Paul and the Gospels. In fact, we know that the whole New Testament is a product of the rereading of the Jewish scriptures in the light of the death and resurrection of Christ. And yet, there are some passages in the Jewish Scriptures that show some continuity between Old and New Testaments. A case in point is today's OT reading: Sirach 27:30-28:7*

Wrath and anger are hateful things,
yet the sinner hugs them tight.
The vengeful will suffer the Lord's vengeance,
for he remembers their sins in detail.

Forgive your neighbor's injustice;
then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven,
Should a man nourish anger against his fellows
and expect healing from the Lord?
Should a man refuse mercy to his fellows
yet seek pardon for his own sins?

Remember your last days, set enmity aside;
remember death and decay, and cease from sin!
Think of the commandments, hate not your neighbor,
Think of the Most High's covenant, and overlook faults.

Note the bold phrases in black. These sentences actually echo the Lord's Prayer ("Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors") and the Beatitudes ("Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy."). The lines in blue actually bases forgiveness and the love (opposite of hate) of neighbor in the commandments, specifically, in the commandments given at Sinai. Does not Paul echo this passage in Rom. 13:10 where he writes: "Love does not evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law."

*The Wisdom of Ben-Sirach is Jewish Scriptures; the Essenes of Qumran had it among their scrolls. It is inspired writing among the Jews of the Diaspora (the Alexandrine Old Testament gives witness to this). The Pharisees excluded it from their Hebrew canon after 70 AD; it is the Pharisaic canon which is used today by Protestants.

Posted by bible student at 5:06 PM
Categories: Liturgy, Old Testament

Mt. 18:21-35: Forgiveness From The Heart

We can sympathize with Peter when he asks: "Lord, how many times should I forgive a brother who wrongs me?" And we find the answer to the question difficult to accept: "Don't count the times you forgive.*" And then, so as to quash any objections that may arise from his reply, the Lord immediately proposes a parable about a man who was freed from a large debt by his master, the king, but who would not do the same for a person who owed him a mere paltry sum. When the king heard what the man did, he had him imprisoned until he paid back all he owed to him. And the Lord concludes the parable with these ominous words: "My heavenly Father will treat you in exactly the same way unless each of you forgives his brother from the heart."

"To forgive from the heart." Seen within the context of Matthew 18:21-35, the phrase means both forgiving with compassion and forgetting the wrong done. The king had compassion on the man who owed him a large debt and therefore freed him from it. The word for compassion used here is the same word that the Gospels use for the compassion that Jesus feels for the crowds who come to him for healing. Splanchnizomai, is a strong emotion that is felt in the center of one's being. The king experienced it when the man in the parable pleaded for more time to pay what he owed. Knowing that the large amount cannot be paid in a lifetime, anyway**, the king wrote off the debt. But the man, having been freed from a debt he could not pay, would not write off the debt of one who can pay his in this lifetime. Thus, the sadness of those who witness the man who has been treated graciously deal with a fellow in a similar situation in a cruel manner. Thus, too, the harshness of the king when he hears about it.

When was the last time you forgave from the heart?

"Forgive us our sins as we forgave those who sin against us." This is the daily prayer of the Christian. In that short petition, we are asking the Heavenly Father to forgive us not out of his sheer mercy, but in the measure that we forgive others. It actually sounds as if we are saying: "Because I forgive others, forgive me too." I have written about the Jewish roots of this idea, so I won't repeat it here. But in the light of this petition, wouldn't it be quite presumptuous for me to ask God's forgiveness when I have excluded certain people from forgiveness.

There are people who think that forgiveness means that one stop from hating a person who given offense. They would accept an apology but would not forget the offense committed. The memory of the offense is allowed to remain at the back of one's head like a mine that one has buried in a field and forgotten there. Sooner or later, one will step on that mine and detonate it. The memory of an offense can be buried so deep that one would think it is no longer there. When it is aroused however (by a similar incident or by the same person) it can still cause quite a bit of turmoil. How many people are there who go through life seething with an anger whose cause they can no longer remember, or even recognize?

When was the last time you forgave from the heart?

Stop hating, ... forget the reason for the hatred. "Forgive and forget," they say. But this isn't forgiveness yet. Until one allows compassion to be a part of it, then one's act of forgiveness is incomplete. Compassion in the Gospels moves one to do something good for the other. Remember the parable of the Good Samaritan? It was compassion that differentiated the Samaritan from the priest and the Levite who also saw the suffering man by the roadside. It is compassion too that made the king in the parable write off the large debt owed to him thereby allowing his debtor a new lease on life, so to speak. Unless one's forgiveness actually moves one to also do something good for the person forgiven, then the forgiveness one offers is like a cold handshake -- it will not warm the hearts of those who receive it.

Seven times seventy-seven is five hundred and thirty-nine times. With the figure, it becomes highly impractical to remember how many times one forgives one particular person. What the Lord is saying is "as your brother does not count how many times he wrongs you, so too, do not count how many times you forgive him."

The "talanton" and the "denarii" that are contrasted in the parable as the respective amounts owed by the man to the king on the one hand, and that owed by a fellow servant represent huge disproportionate amounts. The Filipino version I am using actually translates those words in terms of PHP 10,000,000.00 as opposed to PHP 500.00.

Posted by bible student at 2:04 PM
Edited on: Wednesday, September 14, 2005 2:22 PM
Categories: Liturgy, New Testament

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Col. 3:1-11 Life Between Christ's Glorification and His Return In Glory

Col. 3:1-11 is the first part of Paul's theological introduction to the practical guidelines section of his letter to the Colossians (3:18-4:9). The second part is in 3:12-17. That these sections dwell on the life of the baptized between the time of Christ's glorification and his coming again in glory is suggested in the lines "you have been raised with Christ"(v. 1)... and "you also will appear with him in glory" (v. 4). Taking these two moments as reference points for the Christian life, how is the Christian to live?

(1b)Seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God
(2) Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.

Note the parallelism in these lines. To seek the things that are above (ano), is to set ones mind on things that are above (ano) . Paul is here actually drawing a conclusion from an idea that should be obvious to his readers: the Christian has become -- through baptism -- so united with Christ that he is even now joined with Christ at the right hand of God. The Christian, in other words, is already among heavenly things! Hence, he has to fix his gaze and his hopes on those things which are proper to his new nature.

It is normal for people to think that in terms of "below-above" when we think of the spiritual life: I am "below" and God is "above". Hence, in order to be near Him, I should "go up." Isn't it that the whole idea of "ascesis" is "to ascend" as implied in the words "ascetic" and "asceticism"? Paul knew this "ascetic mentality" and talks about it in Col. 2:23, and he dismisses it as "having an appearance of wisdom in promoting rigour of devotion and self-abasement and severity to the body but they are of no value in checking the indulgence of the flesh." Rather he points to an asceticism that is more real and more in accord with the present situation of the Christian, an asceticism that is possible because rooted in the recreation of the human being.

Paul writes that the Christian's life is "hid with Christ in God" (v.3) and that the Christian -- in baptism -- "has put off the old nature with its practices and has put on the new nature, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator." (v. 10). The Christian has been created anew in Christ. The new nature that Paul refers to is the new humanity created by God in Christ and to which the Christian shares in by virtue of his baptism. Christ is "the image of the invisible God" writes Paul in Col. 1:15 and it is in this image that the new humanity is renewed in knowledge (3:10). The Christian, may look as human as anybody else outwardly; but this is only because his life is hid. As Christ when walking among us looked just like us and talked like us, so too, the Christian is by all appearances human. Only God can see who he truly is. In the end, Paul writes, when Christ appears in glory, so the Christian will also be revealed as God knows and sees him, to all (cf. Romans 7:19).

The new status of the Christian apud Deum has consequences for his daily life (3:5-17). Since he is no longer an "earth-bound-and-death-bound" being, he now has a life that is Christ-like and Spirit-filled. It is this life which Paul describes as "living IN Christ" (cf. 2:6-11)

Posted by bible student at 12:16 PM
Categories: Liturgy, New Testament

Thursday, September 01, 2005

The Gospel of Luke and the Letter to the Colossians

For those who are in the habit of reading the Scriptures as part of their daily activities: Today, we began reading the Letter to the Colossians as the first reading for the daily mass. This will continue until next week and will cover until the third chapter of the letter. Yesterday, we began reading from the gospel of Luke, and this will continue until November, when the new liturgical season begins with Advent. We've just finished reading selections from the first letter to the Thessalonians. Below is a table showing how the selections are distributed during the weekday masses:

August 31, Wednesday

Col. 1:1-8

September 1, Thursday

Col. 1:9-14

September 2, Friday

Col. 1:15-20

September 3, Saturday

Col. 1:21-23

September 5, Monday

Col. 1:24-2:3

September 6, Tuesday

Col. 2:6-15

September 7, Wednesday

Col. 3:1-11

The readings for Sunday (September 4) and the feast of the Nativity of Mary (September 8) was not included since readings for these days follow a different rationale. Following Colossians is the first letter to Timothy.

Posted by biblista at 12:24 PM
Edited on: Thursday, September 01, 2005 1:25 PM
Categories: Devotional, Liturgy

Monday, August 29, 2005

Mt. 16:21-27 -- Being an Alter Christus

Those who have been baptized are called "alter Christus", an "other Christ". This aspect of the Christian life is underscored in Mt. 16:21-27. The gospel selection for the 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A) can be divided in the following way:

vv. 21-23 Get Behind Me, Satan: The Reproach To Peter
vv. 24-27 The Disciples' Way of the Cross

The statement "Whoever wants to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (v. 24) is actually a statement of the lifestyle of the one who wishes to follow Jesus. The central statement "take up his cross" points forward to the Way of the Cross. As Jesus will be carrying the cross of humiliation and shame, so too the disciple will have to carry his. The two outward statements -- "deny himself ... follow me" -- recalls all the instances when those whom Jesus calls have to leave something of themselves behind. The first four fishermen to be called left behind their nets and boats (in the case of James and John, they also left behind Zebedee, their father, the one who passed on to them their trade as fishermen); the rich young man had to discover that it was not enough to just obey the Mosaic law, he also had to give up his wealth (Mt. 19:16-22, cf. parallels). Given the connection of the statement to the previous one about Jesus' prediction regarding his own future, one is tempted to see here a call to the same process that Jesus will undergo: suffering, death and resurrection. When Jesus says "follow me" one might as well ask, "To where?" The gospel of John will give the answer: "Where I am, there you will also be", that is, to be with Him at the side of the Father. In Matthew Jesus intimates this in verse 27 when he refers to his return as the Son of Man who will render to each one his due.

The Son of Man is the celestial being in Daniel 7:13+ who receives from God all authority, power and kingship. This is the glorious Son of Man who will return as the Groom, King and Master of the House (cf. Matthew 25). He will share with the wise, the faithful and those who cared for the little ones the joy that is His. It is I think within this context that one must understand the statements in vv. 25-26.

Whoever will seek his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what profits a man if he gains the whole world but loses his own soul? What can he give in return for his own soul?

Vv. 21-23 is in continuation with the previous story about Peter's confession of the who Jesus is. After Simon Bar-Jona identifies Jesus as "the Messiah (the Christ), Son of the Living God" and gets commended for it, he shows in vv. 21-23 that he has not fully understood Jesus' Messiahship. He, like the Devil in Matthew 4:1f, thought of a Messiah without a Cross. Hence, Jesus calls him by the name "Satan", the Hindrance. Like Peter, the "alter Christus" must give up one's favorite image of Jesus for one that is in conformity with God's mind. In a moment of inspiration, Peter saw Jesus as the Christ, but as a Christ in glory with authority and dominion. He had to learn that that image of Christ will become true only AFTER Jesus has become the Suffering Messiah, obedient only to the Father's word. As the Tempter in Matthew 4:1f learned what Son of God meant, so too must the disciple.

Posted by bible student at 9:41 AM
Categories: Liturgy, New Testament

Thursday, August 11, 2005

The Faith of A Pagan: Matthew 15:21-28

The story of the persistent Canaanite woman in Matthew 15:21-28 is taken by the Catechism as an example of prayer borne out of deep faith (CCC, 2610). In fact, the figure of the Canaanite woman and her persistence in asking for the Lord's help reminds one of Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52), the Parables of Persistent Prayer in Luke (cf. Luke 11:5-10;18:2-5). And while it can be compared to the case of the Roman centurion as an example of a healing at a distance, (Mt. 8:5-13), the case of the Canaanite woman is distinguished by the fact that here, her request was granted after being rebuffed.

Jesus' initial rejection of the request of the woman for help is justified in 15:24: "I was sent after the lost sheep of Israel." This has led some interpreters to think that the story probably came from a time in Jesus' ministry when the restoration of the people of Israel was foremost in his thoughts. However, the fact that Jesus relents to the woman at the end in recognition of her genuine faith, the story probably became an inspiration for the early Christian missionaries when these in turn found themselves in Gentile lands. Hence, this narrative provides a type for the Church in mission to the Gentiles.

This gospel narrative is paired with Romans 11:13-15.29-32 for the 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time in Year A. This is interesting because Augustine has a sermon on the Canaanite woman where he makes side comments on this section of Romans (Sermon 77).

But why were the natural branches rightly broken off? (cf. Rom. 11:17a) Pride. And the wild olive rightly grafted in (Rom. 11:17b)? Humility. That's why this woman said: "Yes, Lord, for even the dogs eat of the crumbs that fall from the table of the master" and why he said in reply: "O woman, great is your faith!"

In this sermon, Augustine had been explaining to his audience their connection to the Canaanite woman:

With these words ("I was sent to the lost sheep of Israel") the question arises: how did we come from the gentiles into Christ's sheepfold, if he was only sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel? What is the meaning of this profoundly mysterious maneuver by which the Lord, knowing full well why he had come, which was of course to have a Church among all the nations, said he had only been sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel?

Thus, from this opening question, he explains the story as a prefiguration of what happens in the time of the apostles when they -- especially in the person of St. Paul -- preached the gospel to the Gentiles and made possible the "grafting" of the wild olive branches of gentility into the tree that is Israel.

The story of the persistent Canaanite woman therefore has a typological sense. It also has a moral sense which Augustine does not hesitate to pound into his audience:

So notice, brothers and sisters, how it is above all humility that is being recommended to us in this woman who was a Canaanite, that is, who came from gentility and was a type -- that is, a representation -- of the Church.


Let's learn, let's keep humility. If we haven't got any yet, let's learn it. If we don't have it, let us not lose it. If we haven't yet got it, let's get it andbe grafted in. If we already have it, let's keep it and not be broken off.

The story of the Canaanite woman is rich. It can be seen as an example of the persistence of a mother who loves her daughter or the humility of a pagan in front of the Lord or even a reminder of how the Lord refuses a request so as to make one's desire more intense. There is a lot of meat here but all derives from the humble woman whom the Lord praises in the end: "Oh woman, how great is your faith!"

Posted by bible student at 2:05 PM
Edited on: Thursday, August 11, 2005 2:46 PM
Categories: Liturgy, New Testament

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Deuteronomy in the Weekday Liturgy

Deuteronomy, the Pentateuch's book of love will be read in selections during the coming days. Here is the breakdown:

Section Day Week
Deut. 4:32-40 Friday 18th
Deut. 10:12-22 Monday 19th
Deut. 31:1-8 Tuesday 19th

Deuteronomy means "Second Law" or "The Law Reiterated". The Israelite generation that stood at the foot of Sinai has passed away and now Moses stands before a new generation of Israelites who never saw and experienced what their fathers saw and experienced in Egypt and in the Wilderness. This new generation will now walk into the land promised to their fathers, and so Moses narrates to them how God has loved them and their fathers and tells them how to respond to that love.

Love for God is expressed in obedience to the Law. Within the context of a loving relationship between God and his people, Father and first-born, the Law becomes the expression of paternal wisdom handed on to the son. It is thus, that obedience to the Law also becomes an occassion to really get to know the Great Abba.

Posted by bible student at 8:29 AM
Categories: Liturgy, Old Testament

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Luke 10:38-42 Martha, the One and the Many

Luke 10:38-42 has been interpreted in the past in terms of the active and contemplative religious life. According to this understanding of the text, Martha represents the religious who is engaged in various forms of apostolate while Mary would stand for those who spend their time in prayer and contemplation. While some may object to this interpretation because of its anachronism, there is also some reason to accept it. After all, Luke in his Acts also narrates an event in the early Church where the job of serving at tables was delegated to a group of chosen men so that the apostles can devote themselves to "prayer and the ministry of the Word (cf. Acts 6:3-4)." This narrative in Acts parallels the case of Martha who is worried and upset over the many tasks of hospitality vis-a-vis her sister who is at home at the Lord's feet, listening to His Word.

There is also another way of taking the symbolisms for Martha and Mary, as St. Augustine would. Martha represents the toil and labor that characterizes the present time while Mary's "resting" before the Lord points us to that time when the moment is no longer marked by human toil. In other words, the contrast between this life and the life to come. In this interpretation, Martha and Mary are facets of the Christian life which is marked by worry and hardship now, but tends towards rest and contemplation in eternity. Here are Augustine's words:

What, in any case did the Lord say to Martha? Mary has chosen the better part. Not that you chose a bad one, but she chose better. Listen to what makes it better: which shall not be taken away from her. Some time orother the burden of need will be taken away from you; the sweetness of truth is eternal. What she has chosen will not be taken away from her. It's not taken away, but still it can be increased. Or rather, in this life it can be increased; in the next life it will be perfected, it will never be taken away. (Sermon 103, 5c)

Augustine could have expressed here what he refers to as the otium sanctum and the negotium caritatis -- that balance of the "Martha and Mary" facets of the spiritual life. Otium sanctum (holy leisure) is the contemplative aspect of the Christian life, a foretaste of the joys that God reserves for those who love Him. This aspect is characterized by prayer and the adoration of God in His works -- a preparation for the beatific vision. Negotium caritatis on the other hand is the business of charity to which the Christian is daily called. In this life, Augustine seems to say, a balance of both is needed. Holy leisure is the ideal of the Christian life, but it should not prevent one from responding to the business of charity. Martha was not told to stop what she was doing; her attention was called to the one thing necessary. But Mary has chosen the better part, and that will not be taken away from her.

See this article too from Otium Sanctum.

Posted by bible student at 2:46 PM
Edited on: Saturday, July 30, 2005 3:19 PM
Categories: Liturgy, New Testament

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The Kingdom and the Scribe

Matthew 13: 44-52 may at first appear unrelated. vv. 44-50 continues the string of parables about the Kingdom that Jesus tells his hearers beginning in verse 1. Vv. 51-52 is a concluding remark about the parabolic lessons just heard. In this remark, Jesus refers to a "scribe instructed in the kingdom of heaven." What is the relationship between a kingdom and a scribe? Answer: a king always has a scribe working for him. Scribes are those who keep records of the kingly administration., records that are both old and new. Scribes are the memory of a king's reign; through them, the continuity between a previous administration to a new one is made possible.

This passage is broken down by the liturgy to smaller passages during the course of the weekday readings for the 17th week in OT. Here is the breakdown:

Wednesday, Mt. 13: 44-46
Thursday, Mt. 13: 47-53

In Mt. 13:44-46, the kingdom of heaven is compared to a treasure buried in a field on the one hand and to a pearl of great price. The first of these parables emphasizes the hiddenness of the treasure that can be discovered only by "digging up" the earth, that is, by toil and hard work. The second emphasizes the search that one undertakes before one finds a pearl of great price. In both cases, when one finds the kingdom it is with great joy, and with joy also that one gives up all that one has for it. Both these parables should somehow remind one of Jesus' teachings about discipleship and most specifically of the story of the Rich Man who could not be Jesus' disciple because he could not give up his wealth.

Mt. 13:47-50 is a parable that can be compared to the one about the darnel and the wheat because of the reference to the day of judgment (cf. vv.24-30.36-43). Here however the emphasis is on the coverage of the kingdom of heaven. At first it gathers in all -- both good and bad -- and only afterwards will the separation between good and bad occur. The God who lets the rain fall on both good and bad wants his kingdom to draw in both good and bad. This should be a reminder to all that while God wants all to be perfect as He is perfect, He also desires that the "imperfect" be perfected in His mercy and compassion*.

Mt. 13:51-52 is the saying about the scribe who is compared to the master of the household who has a rich store of supplies that he can distribute as provision. Since the scribe passes on memories, this particular saying of Jesus are for the "teachers" of the Matthaean community who are supplied with these parables so that they can teach others what the kingdom of heaven means.

Posted by bible student at 6:21 AM
Categories: Liturgy, New Testament

Monday, July 25, 2005

Give Me Wisdom

1 Kgs. 3:5.7-12 is this Sunday's Old Testament reading. The selection emphasizes Solomon's request for Wisdom and how the request pleased God. As appearing in the liturgy, we find a one-to-one correspondence between the request that Solomon makes and the response of God to that request. The text however appears in a more complete form as part of the literary unit formed by vv. 1-15. vv. 1-4 is a brief summary presentation of what Solomon did from the time he took power until the time he made his request, and justifies his presence at Gibeon, "the most renowned high place" (v.4). Note that high places were used for idolatrous worship, yet Solomon offered sacrifices to God there and it was there that God appears to him in a dream.

The dialogue between Solomon and God is found in vv. 5-14, with the remaining verse (v. 15) providing the conclusion to the whole story. The dialogue opens up with God commanding Solomon to make a request (v.5). Solomon's response can be divided into (a) Preface (vv. 6-8) and (b) The Request (v. 9). The first part of the preface is a narrative that emphasizes the special favors shown by God to David and his son. The second part highlights the present situation of Solomon, the son of David, who feels his own inadequacy in front of the people whom God has chosen. Solomon's request is in function of his role towards God's people, and that is, "an understanding heart" to judge, and to distinguish between right and wrong, so as to govern. God's response to this request is positive. God notes that Solomon did not ask for something that enhances himself personally -- long life, riches, victory in battle -- and was therefore pleased. He grants the request for an understanding heart, but in addition He would also grant what Solomon did not ask for, riches and glory as no other kings have, and -- on condition that he is faithful as David was -- even long life.

The Sunday liturgy suppresses a part of Solomon's preface to his request. "You have shown great favor to your servant, my father David, because he behaved faithfully toward you, with justice and upright heart; and you have continued this great favor toward him, even today, seating a son of his on his throne." This was done for a simple reason: the emphasis on the liturgy is on the exercise of kingship, not on the theme of succession. What is emphasized here is the requirement for a kingly rule that is pleasing to God. As such the reading actually echoes something from Wisdom literature: the need for kings and judges to seek wisdom.

This selection from the OT also sheds some light on the relationship between religion and politics, a relationship which is often misunderstood. If all authority is from God, then power and wisdom must necessarily come from on High. Take this premise as the first one in a syllogism about earthly rule and one gets to the conclusion that the best leader is one who is -- in Filipino parlance -- maka-Diyos (in English, this would be roughly translated as "Godly").

Posted by bible student at 5:48 AM
Categories: Liturgy, Old Testament

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Isaiah 55:10-11 My Word Never Fails

Isaiah 55:10-11 is from the conclusion of Isaiah's Book of Consolation (Isaiah 55:1-13). Here the keyword is DABAR which the Septuagint translates as logoV. Our modern English translations simply render it as "Word." But this somehow limits the concept that both the Hebrew original and the Greek translation containt. In both those languages, the original idea can be rendered as "Word-Event." God's "Word" is not simply an idea that is pronounced or written, it is a "happening"; and because it "happens", it can change, transform, create. The powerful imagery that Isaiah employs in these two verses compares God's Word with water that becomes either snow or rain that irrigates the land and makes it produce the food that one brings at table and from which one is nourished. From water, to snow, to irrigated land, to vegetation, to bread that one eats -- God's Word operates the same way once it leaves God's mouth. It brings about a happening, or like the water, a "life-cycle."

my word shall not return to me void,
but shall do my will,
achieving the end for which I sent it (Isa. 55:11)

The liturgy for the 15th Sunday of Ordinary time pairs this passage with the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13:1-23. By doing this, the Church is helping us understand the connection between the words of Jesus and God's Word. In Matthew's parable, the words of Jesus -- symbolized by the seed of the sower -- can grow and bear fruit in a heart that is "fertile." The parables that Jesus use to teach the crowd already "select" those meant to benefit from them: "they shall look but will not see and listen but will not hear or understand." Only to the disciples has it been given that Jesus' words are understood. And it is for them that the Word of God becomes life.

There is another passage from the Gospel of John which echoes Isaiah 55:10-11. The echo is faint, but it is there. "My Word ... shall do my will ... (shall do ) the purpose for which I sent it" has an echo in "My food is to do the will of God who sent me to finish His work" (Jn. 4:34). The context of this latter passage is Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan woman. It was an encounter where He, the Word of God made flesh (cf. Jn. 1:1-18) presents himself as the source of the water that gurgles unto eternal life (Jn. 4:14). The encounter ends with the woman going back into town and calling her townsmates to where Jesus was so that they too may encounter Him. The evangelist John composed the story in such a way that Jesus' talk about food and harvest in v. 34-38 should point to the coming of "many Samaritans" (v.30). Thus, by sending God's Word to this town of Samaria, a woman who sought water helped a whole town recognize "the Savior of the world. (v. 42)"

Posted by bible student at 4:55 PM
Categories: Liturgy, Old Testament

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

2 Corinthians For The 11th Week

From June 13-18 we have the following reading selections from 2 Corinthians:

Monday, 2 Cor. 6:1-10
Paul is here continuing an argument that he had begun in 5:11. His ministry is that of applying the graces of the reconciliating already effected by Christ to the Corinthians. He now invites the Corinthians to open their hearts to himself and to be reconciled to God. To himself, because Paul has shown himself to be a minister of that reconciliation effected by God in Christ (5:18-20.6:3-10). To God, because He is the one who, ultimately, calls the Corinthians to the grace of reconciliation (cf. 6:1).
Tuesday, 2 Cor. 8:1-9
The beginning of Paul's discourse on the collection for Jerusalem. This ends in 9:15. In this introduction, Paul narrates to the Corinthians how the Christians in Macedonia though at that time were having problems still insisted on taking on the responsibility of passing the collection for the mother church in Jerusalem. Paul asks the Corinthians to do better than the Macedonians since they -- compared to this latter -- are in a better condition to make a collection.
Wednesday, 2 Cor. 9:6-11
Still on the collection. One can take these passages as a collection of motivations for generosity.
Thursday, 2 Cor. 11:1-11
Paul expresses here a concern that he has also voiced in his letter to the Galatians: that his community is falling for another gospel. The concern is due to the appearance of some "apostles" who've come with credentials and are drawing the Corinthians away from Paul. Against these credentials, Paul will demonstrate his own (cf. 11:21b ff)
Friday, 2 Cor. 11: 18.21-30
Paul presents the credentials that he has as an apostle. He had already shown that he is a a minister of the New Covenant (cf. 3:1-4:15) Here he goes directly to the question of whether or not he is "inferior" to others who come with the credentials supposedly from the mother Church.
Saturday, 2 Cor. 12:1-10
Paul's "foolishness" is due to the fact that he has allowed himself to be drawn to "boasting" about his credentials. Here he continues to present his credentials saying that if the Corinthians think him a fool, it is because of his love for them. The visionary whom Paul alludes to here is himself.
Posted by bible student at 4:20 AM
Categories: Liturgy

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

St. Paul This Week

For the 10th week in Ordinary Time we have St. Paul's 2 Corinthians for the first reading and we stay with it through the 11th week. Below are the readings:

Monday, 2 Cor. 1:1-7
The beginning of the letter. Keywords are "comfort/consolation" on the one hand and "suffering, suffering with Christ, tribulations" on the other. The idea is that God comforts those who suffer for the sake of and in union with Christ so that these in turn can comfort others.
Tuesday,. 2 Cor. 1:18-22
Paul assures the Corinthians that he was not being insincere when he was prevented from coming to them. He is a man of his word, he explains, and this for one reason: because Jesus is the man of the Father's word, the Divine Affirmation which does not waver. The reading in fact presents Paul's words about Jesus being God's "Yes" to man, a "Yes" that never changes to "No."
Wednesday, 2 Cor. 3:4-11
Paul describes the new covenant and its superiority over the old one in terms of the glory that shown on the face of Moses. This theme of "glory" goes through to the reading on Friday. Here he speaks of the glory that shown on Moses' face, a glory however that fades. The allussion is to Exodus 34:29-35 where the glory of God was reflected on Moses' skin.
Thursday, 2 Cor. 3:15-4:1,3-6
Why can't the Jews discover Christ in the Law of Moses? The answer that Paul gives is clear: because Moses' glory required that a veil be put on his face (cf. Ex. 34:33.35). Not so for the Christians who contemplate the glory of the Lord with their faces unveiled.
Friday, 2 Cor. 4:7-15
The privilege of being able to see the glory of God shining on the face of Jesus is a treasure. Such a treasure however is held in earthen vessels to show that the privilege comes from God, not from men. So the apostle's mortality is exposed in persecution and hardship, showing in his body the death of the Lord so that it can become life for the Christian community. (See also 4:16)
Saturday (Feast of St. Barnabas)

From Monday to Friday then, there would be a kind of continuous reading of 2 Corinthians. It will be broken on Saturday to make way for the selections of readings for the feast of St. Barnabas.

Posted by biblista at 12:46 PM
Categories: Liturgy, New Testament

Saturday, June 04, 2005

The Heart Of Jesus Broken For Us

From today's Office of the Readings, a selection from St. Bonaventure (1221-1274):

It was a divine decree that permitted one of the soldiers to open his sacred side with a lance. This was done so that the Church might be formed from the side of Christ as he slept the sleep of death on the cross, and so that the Scripture might be fulfilled: ‘They shall look on him whom they pierced’. The blood and water which poured out at that moment were the price of our salvation. Flowing from the secret abyss of our Lord’s heart as from a fountain, this stream gave the sacraments of the Church the power to confer the life of grace, while for those already living in Christ it became a spring of living water welling up to life everlasting.

Posted by bible student at 12:44 AM
Categories: Liturgy

Friday, June 03, 2005

John's Hymn To Love

On the Feast of the Sacred Heart, the liturgy gives us a love feast. The second reading is actually taken from 1 Jn. 4:7-19 which is a passage that brings together in just one place what John's Gospel tells us about God's love in Christ. The passage echoes a lot of passages in John:

In 19 instances out of 11 verses, a form of the Greek for "love" (agaph agape) appears in vv. 7-19 which is an exhortation to love. The members of the Johanine community are to love because love is the nature of God (v.7); they who know Him show proof of this knowledge in loving (v.8). God showed that He is love in sending His Son (9-10) as expiation for sins. The Spirit that He gave, the Son whom the Father sent -- by these we know that God has loved us (vv. 13-16). To abide in God means living in love and letting love have perfection in our lives (v.17). True love drives out servile fear (v.18). We are able to love because of God's love (v.19)

In the midst of this exhortation we find this Trinitarian formula:

13. This is the proof that we remain in him
and he in us,
that he has given us a share in his Spirit.
14. We ourselves have seen and testify
that the Father sent his Son
as Saviour of the world.
15. Anyone who acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God,
God remains in him and he in God.

The Spirit, the Father and the Son is God going out of Himself in love, and the disciple knows this and acknowledges this in the way he lives the life of love that -- in the words of Paul -- has been poured into him: because the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit which has been given to us. (Rom. 5:5).

Here are some snippets from the passage that are worth reflecting on:

Posted by bible student at 11:47 PM
Categories: Liturgy, New Testament