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Tuesday, September 20, 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

  • of the Body itself
  • of the Spirit that gives it life
  • of the hope to which Christians are called
  • of the Lord who is one
  • of faith
  • of baptism
  • of God, who is Father of all

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 1:54 PM
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 2:06 AM
Categories: Liturgy, Old Testament

Friday, August 05, 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 5:29 PM
Categories: Liturgy, Old Testament

Sunday, July 24, 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 2:48 PM
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 1:55 AM
Categories: Liturgy, Old Testament

Thursday, June 09, 2005

The First Stage of Wisdom

Here is the P. Benedict XVI's reflection on Psalm 110 (111) given during the Wednesday audience. Here is a link to the NAB version of Psalm 110 (111)

Posted by bible student at 6:01 AM
Edited on: Thursday, June 09, 2005 6:08 AM
Categories: Old Testament

Friday, June 03, 2005

The Prayer of Tobiah and Sarah

Here is a prayer that newly weds can pray on wedding night:

Blessed are you, O God of our fathers;
praised be your name forever and ever.
Let the heavens and all your creation
praise you forever.

You made Adam and you gave him his wife Eve
to be his help and support;
and from these two the human race descended.
You said, `It is not good for the man to be alone;
let us make him a partner like himself.'

Now, Lord, you know that I take this wife of mine
not because of lust,
but for a noble purpose.
Call down your mercy on me and on her,
and allow us to live together to a happy old age."

The passage is taken from Tobit 8:5-7. Tobias has just redeemed Sara, Raguel's daughter, by way of levirate marriage. The prayer is Jewish but it may as well be used by Christians.

The prayer can be divided into three parts. The opening blessing to God is characteristic of the berakah. "Baruk Adonay" is the normal beginning of a berakah -- "Blessed be the Lord." This is the "upward" motion of the prayer. Then the prayer moves to the remembrance of an action of God, in this case, the first marriage between Man and Woman, Adam and Eve. Tobias then professes the purity of his intention in marrying Sarah. He married her out of a "noble purpose," he proclaims. The Jerusalem Bible translates this phrase as "singleness of heart". The Septuagint has ep alhtheiaV, literally "on account of the true" which perhaps is the reason why the NAB reads "noble purpose". "Singleness of heart" may be the better translation since ep alhtheiaV is contrasted with the phrase for "lustful desire (dia porneian)." In any case, Tobias professes a pure motive for wedding Sarah and asks from God one thing: that he and Sarah grow old together.

"Grow to a happy old age" saith Tobias. How many do you think still want this for their marriage?

Posted by bible student at 5:17 AM
Edited on: Friday, June 03, 2005 5:27 AM
Categories: Devotional, Old Testament