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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
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 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
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.
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
The vengeful will suffer the Lord's vengeance,
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?
a man refuse mercy to his fellows
yet seek pardon for his own
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.
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
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.
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
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").
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,
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)"
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
Let the heavens and all your creation
You made Adam and you gave him his wife Eve
to be his help and
and from these two the human race descended.
`It is not good for the man to be alone;
let us make him a partner
Now, Lord, you know that I take this wife of mine
not because of
but for a noble purpose.
Call down your mercy on me and on
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
, Old Testament