Saturday, 31 December 2022
Sunday, January 1, 2023 - Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and New Year's Day - A New Beginning, a New Hope
To read the texts click on the texts: Num 6:22-27; Gal 4:4-7; Lk 2:16-21
The first day of the New Year brings with it many thoughts, feelings and emotions. The fact that it is January and named after the Roman god Janus with two faces already indicates that it brings with it a looking back and a looking ahead.
Thus it is a day for retrospection and introspection and also a day for planning and goal setting. The retrospection must be with a view to help the planning and goal setting and not an exercise in condemnation of oneself or feeling regret.
It is fitting then that the first reading of today should speak of a blessing. The blessing is what is commonly called a Priestly blessing and pronounced on all the people of Israel. There are three pairs of verbs used in the blessing resulting in a threefold blessing. The first emphasizes concrete gifts—blessing and protection. The second stresses the hope that God will be well disposed toward the person and thus temper judgement with mercy and grace. The third asserts that God will pay attention and heed to his people thus providing fullness of life. The central message of the blessing is Peace, which must be translated as wholeness or completeness. The peace of God embraces every aspect of an individual’s life.
The idea of blessing is taken up in the Second reading of today. Paul in writing to the Galatians speaks of the blessing that God conferred not just on Israel but on the whole world when he sent his Son. The sending of the Son was for one reason alone, namely to reconcile the world to himself and through that to make each of us sons and daughters of God. The Son that God sent in to the world was not an angel. Rather, he was born of a woman, Mary who dared to say that unconditional yes to God’s invitation to be the mother of his Son.
This son whom God sent is human in every single aspect of the word and is therefore circumcised and given a name. The name that the child bears signifies his function. He is named Jesus because he will save his people from their sins. This child will be king, but a new kind of king. He will inaugurate a new world order, a world not like that of earthly kings but under the direction of God’s design for the redemption of all peoples. In this world, God’s Word is heard by all who remain open to that Word. In this world, there is hope for the oppressed, and those who heard what God is doing are filled with joy. God has not forgotten us or abandoned us to the brokenness we have created. God continues to be concerned and to make new and whole. The New Year thus, is for us as Christians, an announcement of hope. It is a call to continue to believe that God continues to be in control of all the events that will take place and that we only have to do what is required of us and leave the rest to God.
Thus the triple celebration of Mary Mother of God, the giving of the name of Jesus and New Year’s Day all close in on one theme: Hope. The past is over and forgotten; it is forgiven and absolved; it is pardoned and made new. The challenge is for us to respond like Mary did to what God is doing in us and in our world. If we like Mary are open and receptive to the working of God in our lives, if we like her are willing to let God do in us, if we like her are willing to say that unconditional and categorical Yes, then the saviour Jesus will continue to be made present all through the year.
The priestly blessing of peace pronounced on the people in the first reading of today becomes then a blessing pronounced on each of us as we begin the New Year. We must keep in mind throughout the year that like the Galatians we are no longer slaves but sons and daughters of God. This means living in a fearless and bold manner. It means being able to face all the vicissitudes and challenges of life with equanimity and confident in the knowledge that we are loved unconditionally by God and that God will be with us every step of the way in the New Year.
Friday, 30 December 2022
To read the texts click on the texts:1Jn 2:3-11; Jn 1:1-18
The prologue of the Gospel of John is an extremely rich text. Unlike Matthew and Luke who begin their Gospels with stories of the birth of Jesus, the Gospel of John begins with the pre-existent WORD and the relationship of the word to the world. It is Word which is God and also an incarnate word, a word made flesh. Thus the Prologue is concerned with the sphere of God, the eternal sphere and the sphere of human beings the temporal.
Thus the prologue makes two main points.
The first of these is that the abstract, the incomprehensible, the indecipherable, the unknowable, and the absolute mystery which is the Word and God, have become concrete, comprehensible, decipherable, and knowable and a mystery revealed because of the Word becoming flesh. However, this mystery is not as easy to understand as it may seem. Many take offense at this. They want something more spectacular; some divine figure, some hero or god-man, some fascinating, mysterious being, able to impress everyone with the feats of might and glory. But what they saw was only a man; a man of compassion, a man who claimed to speak the truth. And they saw no glory here. But this is how God decided to come. He wanted to be one of us in all our limitations. Thus no longer can we say that our God could not understand what it is like to struggle against the opposition, to have to flee to another country, to be betrayed by a friend, to grieve the loss of a loved one, to fear suffering and death, to experience a seeming absence of his father. No, our God has truly walked our walk; God's Word of Love has truly taken flesh. Through this act of the Incarnation, God and the Word have become Father and Son. God, the Father is revealed in the Son, Jesus. Through this act, heaven has come down to earth and earth and heaven are reconciled as never before. The incarnation means that human beings can see, hear, and know God in ways never before possible. The relationship between divine and human is transformed, because in the incarnation human beings are given intimate, palpable, corporeal access to the cosmic reality of God. The newness wrought by God in Jesus is so dramatic that a conventional narrative of origins is good, but insufficient. That is because the story of Jesus is not ultimately a story about Jesus; it is, in fact, the story of God. When one sees Jesus, one sees God; when one hears Jesus, one hears God.
The second point that the prologue makes is the response of humanity to the incarnate Word. Since the Word is not a Word that is thrust on creation, but given freely and in total generosity, human beings must respond to the Word in freedom. This response is either of acceptance or rejection. One cannot ignore the potent power of the Word.
The rejection of the Word by Jesus’ own people while being a historical fact is a rejection that continues even today. Darkness continues to try to overcome the light. This becomes evident when we look at our world which is a world in which corruption, selfishness, injustice, intolerance, and communal disharmony, racial and caste discriminations continue to raise their ugly heads. It is seen when people still concern themselves with only the desire to have more rather than be more. It is seen when the concern to accumulate for oneself even to the detriment of not giving others their just due overpowers us.
Yet, despite this rejection of the Word, there is a note of hope and promise because there continue to be people who will choose light over darkness and selflessness over selfishness. There will continue to be people who fight for justice and will never give up this cause. There will continue to be people who will generously give not only of their wealth but also of themselves in imitation of the one who became human and gave all. Those who opt for the light can continue to do so because their openness to the Incarnate Word and all that he stands for makes them receive grace upon grace from him. This abundance of grace continues to sustain through the most trying times and gives them the courage never to give up or give in, but to continue and carry on. God became what we are, so that we could understand better what God is, and we could believe with all our hearts that God understands what we are.
Thursday, 29 December 2022
To read the texts click on the texts: Sir 3:2-6, 12-14; Col3:12-21;Lk 2:41-52
The feast of the Holy Family is celebrated every year on first Sunday after Christmas. It is appropriate that such be the case, because for centuries Christmas has been regarded as a family feast. Not only do members of a family get together to celebrate the feast, but the themes of Christmas like the birth of a child, naming of the child, gathering together as a family to celebrate this event, all lend themselves to reflection on the meaning of family.
That family life, under threat today, does not need any kind of in depth analysis. ‘Single parent families,’ unwed mothers, the rampant rate of divorce, are all testimony to this fact. What can the feast of the Holy Family mean in the face of this threat? The readings of today offer a response.
The author of the letter to the Colossians begins by giving the foundations of a good marriage. In a word this may be summarized as “adjustment”. The Colossian Christians are called to adjust with one another in any and all circumstances. To adjust means first of all to have the ability to let go off one’s ego. As long as one holds on to one’s point of view there can be no adjustment and so what is required is an openness and receptivity to accept that one can be wrong, that one does not know everything about everything and that there is lot that is unknown. Secondly to adjust means to be flexible. Rigidity of any kind is a hindrance. There is not just one hand; there is also the other hand. This leads to the third meaning of what it means to adjust: forgiveness. Any community in which forgiveness is not an integral part will be a superficial one. And what is required for sustaining community is likely to be more than a single act of forgiveness; rather, the lives of the people in that community will be characterized by the continuing practices of forgiveness that draw their resources from the forgiveness already enacted by Christ and especially on the Cross. If one realizes that one is forgiven completely by God for any and all wrongs that one has committed then it is easier to forgive others. Encompassing all of these is the reality of love. Love it is which binds everything together and while there are numerous definitions of love, it seems to me that a good way of understanding love is to realize that in love there is no “I”. The other is always more important than self. The other is always placed before self. True and genuine love is not barter exchange but unconditional.
To be sure, the exhortation to wives to be submissive to their husbands in the second part of the text might be misunderstood as servility. Nothing could be further from the truth. In a marriage both the husband and wife are equal partners. There can be no higher and lower rank. There can be no greater and lesser. What there is in fact is complementarity. Males and females need each other to complete the other. If this is understood by both partners half the journey has already been completed.
It is also important to note the role of children and the relationship of children which all three readings speak about. In the first reading from Sirach, the focus is on instructions to children to show honour to their parents. However, in the second reading while children are asked to respect their parents, parents are also asked not to provoke their children. In this context, the words of the famous Christian writer and poet Khalil Gibran take on a depth of meaning. He says to parents that the children who come through them are really life’s longing for itself. Thus they do not really “belong” to their parents but to life which “goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday”. Children “dwell in the house of tomorrow” and so parents have to be like flexible bows that are willing to be bent so that their children like arrows “may go swift and far”. Parents have to learn to grow with their children and keep in touch with all the changes that are taking place around them. They need to learn to be relevant and if they cannot be then to be understanding and accommodating.
The parents of Jesus did not realize this when they looked for him. It was not that Jesus was lost but that Mary and Joseph were lost without their son. However, Jesus made them realize that he was a child not merely of his parents, but of life itself and so his parents had to let him go to do what he had to do. Parents today too need to realize this about their children for family life to be what it is meant to be. When this happens then the feast of the Holy Family will be just that: a feast of holy families which keep inspiring one another to live like the Holy Family of Nazareth.
Wednesday, 28 December 2022
Thursday, December 29, 2022 - How will you show that the presence of Jesus has changed your life for the better? What three actions will you perform to show that the coming of Jesus has made a difference to your life?
To read the texts click on the texts: 1 Jn 2:3-11; Lk 2:22-35
The text of today consists of the presentation of Jesus in the Temple, the purification of Mary and the Song of Simeon.
According to Jewish law a woman became ceremonially unclean on the birth of a child. During this time, she was not permitted to enter the Temple or touch any holy object. On the eighth day the child was circumcised, after which the mother was unclean an additional thirty-three days—sixty-six if the child was female. At the conclusion of this period, the mother offered a sacrifice, either a lamb or, if she was poor, two doves or two young pigeons. That Luke does not mention a lamb but refers to two turtledoves or pigeons may indicate that Jesus was born to the poor of Israel. In addition, the first son was to be presented to the Lord as a reminder of the Exodus, and then, bought back with an offering. Luke does not mention that Jesus was redeemed either because he was not aware of this requirement or because he wanted to convey that Jesus was constantly devoted or dedicated to the Lord. In this part Luke emphasizes that the law of the Lord was fulfilled in all respects at the birth of Jesus.
Simeon is introduced immediately after the presentation of Jesus and the purification of Mary. He too like Zechariah and Elizabeth is described as “righteous”. He is also “devout”. He looked forward to the restoration of the people and the fulfillment of God’s redemptive work. The Spirit, who had revealed to him that he would not see death until he saw the anointed one of God, is the same Spirit who rests on him and gives him utterance to speak.
His hymn of praise of God is known as the “Nunc Dimittis” (“Now Dismiss”). It is only loosely related to the occasion of the birth of Jesus. It declares the praise of God for faithfulness and the redemption of the people. Though some interpret “now you are dismissing your servant in peace” to mean that Simeon was now prepared to die, it can also mean that he recognizes that he is being released from his mission to watch for the coming of the Messiah because he has now seen the coming of the one who will bring salvation. His blessing relates the birth of Jesus to the fulfillment of the promise of salvation and looks ahead to the inclusion of all peoples in the experience of the blessings of God. Even as the parents of Jesus wonder at what is being said by Simeon, he blesses them and then addresses Mary, the mother of Jesus. He speaks about the coming rejection of Jesus. Not everyone will want to see the light, not everyone will want top receive the salvation by God for all peoples. Not everyone will recognize God coming in Jesus. Jesus will be rejected and treated as someone to be opposed. Even his mother will have to share in his sufferings.
Jesus came not to make us comfortable but to wake us up from our sleep and this is what Simeon had prophesied. He came to challenge our way of looking at the world. This challenge is not easy to accept because it means that many of our preconceived ideas and notions will have to be given up and we will have to start anew. It is easier and more comfortable to live the selfish and self-centered lives that we are used to rather than be concerned about others. It is easier to be caught up in our own small worlds, rather than get out of our wells and see that life is much more than simply having more.
Tuesday, 27 December 2022
Wednesday, December 28, 2022 - The Feast of the Holy Innocents - Will you perform one unselfish act today?
To read the texts click on the texts:1Jn 1:5-2:2; Mt 2:1,3-18
Matthew’s Gospel is the only one of the four which has the story of the killing of innocent children by Herod. A king is born, but a king is already here; and there is room for only one king. The birth of Jesus, the messianic king, precipitates a conflict with the kingship already present in this world.
It is not merely with the historical Herod with whom Matthew is concerned, however, but with Herod as a character in the story, who serves as a foil for the kingdom of God. When this Herod hears of the birth of the new king, he is “troubled”. Matthew is not describing Herod’s psychology but the clash of two claims to kingship that occurs in the advent of Jesus. Herod represents the resistance of this world to the divine kingship represented by Jesus. When “all Jerusalem” is troubled with him, this is not mere sympathy with or fear of Herod. Matthew is again looking ahead to the passion story and implicating Judaism’s capital city as a whole, not only its king, in the rejection of Jesus’ messianic claim.
When Herod asks the magi the chronological question “When?” to determine the time of Jesus’ birth, he acts hypocritically, claiming that he too wants to worship, but with murder in his heart.
Herod’s slaughter of the innocents is in character with the historical Herod the Great, who was ruthless in maintaining his grasp on power. There is no record of such an act among the detailed records of Herod’s numerous atrocities, nor is it reflected elsewhere in or out of the New Testament. The story seems to be part of Matthew’s Moses typology, with Herod cast in the role of Pharaoh.
Matthew does not sentimentalize the tragedy of the innocent victims or speculate on how the other mothers and fathers of Bethlehem might have interpreted the divine decision to warn one family. His attention is fixed on this event as a fulfillment of Scripture. Matthew does alter his usual formula in such citations of Scripture from his usual “in order that”, and thus avoids saying that the murders happened for the purpose of fulfilling Scripture.
Matthew’s third formula quotation in 2:18-19 is from Jer 31:15. In the New Testament only Matthew explicitly mentions Jeremiah. Jeremiah 31:15 pictures Rachel, matriarch of the tribes of Benjamin and Ephraim (but not of Judah) weeping at Ramah for her “children,” the Israelites, as they are led away captive to Babylon in Jeremiah’s time. Ramah (in the area of Benjamin, five miles north of Jerusalem) was chosen by Jeremiah because one tradition locates Rachel’s tomb there, at the site where Nebuchadnezzar’s troops assembled captives for deportation (Jer 40:1). Another tradition locates Rachel’s tomb at Bethlehem. Matthew combines these traditions to achieve the desired effect. The Jeremiah passage is in a context of hope; it is not clear whether Matthew interprets contextually or whether lamentation is the only note to be heard in this text. In any case, the child Jesus recapitulates the experience of Israel.
Like in Matthew’s day so in ours the war between the two kingdoms continues. Those who regard power as absolute will continue to massacre the innocent. They will continue to destroy others for selfish means. Our response has to be one of courage and hope. Though some will have to suffer because of the selfishness and egoism of a few, there are many more who live unselfish lives for the benefit of others. If each of us were to perform one unselfish act every day, the world becomes a better place for all.
Monday, 26 December 2022
Tuesday, December 27, 2022 - St. John Evangelist - St. John proclaimed Jesus by writing a Gospel. How will you proclaim Jesus today?
To read the texts click on the texts:1 Jn 1:1-4; Jn 20:2-8
Saint John whose feast we celebrate today is in the Gospels the brother of James. The brothers were sons of Zebedee and were fishermen. John along with his brother James and Peter were the trio who accompanied Jesus when he raised Jairus' daughter and also on the mountain at the Transfiguration and in Gethsemane.
The Beloved disciple who is a character only in the Gospel of John has often been associated with the disciple and evangelist John.
The Gospel text chosen for the feast is from the Gospel of John and in which the beloved disciple figures. The text speaks about the intuition and faith of the Beloved disciple. On being told by Mary Magdalene that the Tomb in which Jesus lay was empty, he along with Peter ran to the tomb. The beloved disciple saw and believed. He needed no proof. The empty tomb and the words of Jesus before his death were proof enough for him.
What the beloved disciple believed, is the evidence of the empty tomb: not merely that the tomb was empty, but that its emptiness bore witness that Jesus has conquered death and restored life.
Sunday, 25 December 2022
Monday, December 26, 2022 - St. Stephen, Martyr - St. Stephen dared to die for his Lord. Will you dare to live for him?
To read the texts click on the texts: Acts 6:8-10;7:54-59;Mt 10:17-22
St Stephen is regarded as the first Christian martyr. He was one of the seven deacons appointed by the Apostles when there was dissatisfaction about the distribution of alms. In the first reading of today, the Acts of the Apostles tells the story of how Stephen was tried by the Sanhedrin for blasphemy against Moses and God and also of speaking against the Temple and the Law. He was tried, found guilty and stoned to death.
The Gospel text for the feast of today is part of the Mission Discourse of Matthew. The sayings found in Matthew’s Mission Discourse here are found in the Eschatological Discourse of Mark (Mk 13:9-13). This is an indication that for Matthew, Mission is already eschatological and this is proved through the life and death of Stephen. The punishment, which is referred to here, is not random, but official punishment from members of organised authority. Even in this difficult situation the disciples are offered encouragement. They will depend not on their own strength, but on the Holy Spirit. They are to be missionaries even in the courtroom. Their imprisonment and trial must be regarded as an opportunity to make mission known. Mission takes priority even over family ties and if family ties have to be broken because of mission then so be it. The affirmation of the coming of the Son of Man is probably meant to provide succour to the missionaries in their distress.
Stephen had not read the Mission Discourse and yet had been influenced by the life, Mission and Death of his Master Jesus Christ. He was also confident of the resurrection and of victory even in the face of defeat and death. He knew that if he continued to stand for the truth, he would indeed be victorious.
It is important to note that Stephen did not go around looking for trouble nor did he desire martyrdom for the sake of dying for Jesus. However, he was unafraid to stand for the truth even if it meant giving up his life.
The Jesus who challenged Stephen is the same Jesus who challenges us today. He is not calling us here to be sadists and look for suffering, persecution and pain. Rather he is challenging us to go about doing what we have to do, to be as prudent as possible about it and if despite that persecution, suffering and pain come, to be prepared and ready for it and not to be afraid.
Saturday, 24 December 2022
The Introduction and the Entrance Antiphon of today’s liturgy makes clear that for those who celebrate Christmas the word of God is no longer merely the message spoken by the prophets, but the messenger of God in person. The Word of God is a child born for us on whose shoulder dominion will be laid. This is seen clearly in the readings that have been chosen for today.
In the first reading from the Second Book of Isaiah which is a prophetic oracle of salvation, the prophet announces through a messenger the return of the exiles to Jerusalem. Jerusalem which had experienced war, destruction and sorrow will now experience peace, unity and happiness. This is the good news that is proclaimed.
The letter to the Hebrews takes up the theme of the good news spoken through God’s word in a variety of ways. In the old days, this was spoken through the prophets, but in the now, the new days God will not content himself with merely speaking through intermediaries but speaks through a part of himself when he speaks through his son. His speaking is definitive not because God will not speak again, but because in Jesus, God has said all that he would want to say. God will not need to speak like this anymore.
This is also the theme of the prologue of the Gospel of John. However, John puts it even more elaborately than Hebrews does. Jesus is here described as the one who was with God from all eternity, who was, is and will be divine. This Word “became flesh and dwelt among us.” But again this totally other "Word" has a history and a purpose. He comes into the world as life and light. He asks to be accepted in faith. His own did not accept him; throughout history he offers himself to all of good will. Those who do accept him he empowers to become children of God, to have a new birth, to be born of God in the new birth of the Spirit.
The impossible has become possible, the totally incomprehensible has become somewhat comprehensible and our humanity is never again to be seen as a limitation but as an advantage. We have been blessed with a new and radiant vision. God could not be seen, but now in Jesus he is visible. Our God is not a God out there or up there, but a God who is with us and for us and showed us this in the unique and astounding way of becoming like us. We share through the Incarnation in the very life of God. Our cry after the Incarnation is not a plaintive “I’m only human”, but an exuberant, “I’m human”. This is what Christmas means and this is what the birth of the Christ child is saying. Before the Incarnation of Jesus, we human beings thought we could be only this brave, but the Incarnation has shown that we can be braver. Before the Incarnation we thought we could only love so much, but the Incarnation has shown that we can love even more and to the very end. Before Jesus’ incarnation we human beings thought we could be only so much, but the Incarnation of God shows us that we can be more. We have become through the incarnation, children, women and men of the Magis, the greater, the more. The Incarnation has made each of us aware of the immense potential that exists in us because we have been graced through the humanity of the divinity. Christ became human to show us that even in our humanity we can become divine. The Incarnation does not simply invite us to be good men and women, rather through the Incarnation; Jesus makes us into people who can use all their strengths and defects to the service and the glory of God. This is the proof to us that it is not by our own will power that we are able to become children of God. It is by God's grace, by God's unmerited and unconditional love of us.
Thus, Christmas is not merely the celebration of a historical birth or a birth that took place over two thousand years ago. It is about becoming conscious of who we really are as human beings. It is the celebration of life in all its fullness. It is the celebration of the transformation of limit to limitlessness, of selfishness to selflessness, of bondage and fear to freedom and unconditional love.
Christmas belongs not only to a few who call themselves Christians but to the entire earth. The lowly animals, birds, plants, trees indeed the whole of nature participates in this nativity of the divine light at Christmas. Our compassion for our human brothers and sisters is increased when we realize that the animals, birds, plants, trees and the rest of nature is also made up of wondrous beings in even more humble, limited and unrecognizable form than ourselves.
As the Logos (Word) descends into the earth and becomes sarx (flesh) to bring Light to the world, we realize that it is in and through this Light that we have life.
The season of Christmas begins on the day after Christmas and continues till the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. However, every year, the fist day after Christmas (except if it is a Sunday) is celebrated as the feast of St. Stephen the first martyr of the Church. The second days after Christmas is the feast of St. John the Evangelist and the day after that is the feast of the Holy Innocents. This is why the weekday readings during the season of Christmas begin from December 29.
The revelation of Jesus as a child begins in the Temple during the event of his presentation by his parents and through the mouths of Simeon and Anna. Jesus is indeed the Word made flesh and splendour of the Father. Before Jesus can begin his public ministry, John the Baptist bears witness to him and points him out as the Lamb of God. This identification by John, results in his own disciples going after Jesus, because they realize that while they did receive a great deal as disciples of John, they will receive the completeness of revelation in Jesus. The first words that Jesus utters in his public ministry are words that invite people to a change of mind and heart because they have been forgiven and loved unconditionally. The change is not a condition, but a consequence of having received unconditional love from God. Since his mission is a tangible mission, he shows this by feeding five thousand and satisfying them completely. He also walks on the water to show that he has subdued evil and that he is indeed Son of God. His Mission is to be available to all but very especially the poorest of the poor, the outcasts, the marginalized and lepers. He has come to heal and make whole those who need his healing touch.
Friday, 23 December 2022
Saturday, December 24, 2022 - Does fear still rule the larger majority of your actions? What will you do about it today?
To read the texts click on the texts:2 Sam 7:1-5, 8-12,14.16; Lk 1:67-79
Zechariah’s song, which is traditionally called “The Benedictus” (Blessed), is the text which the Church reads on the day before Christmas. It may be seen to be divided into two parts. The first part praises God for his messianic deliverance and the second speaks of John the Baptist’s role in this deliverance. The progression of thought in the Benedictus shows that the true end of God’s redemption is not merely deliverance from political domination, but the creation of conditions in which God’s people can worship and serve God without fear. When people are released from external domination, they can worship in peace. The people of God are a covenant people, saved and rescued by the hand of God. God has thereby fulfilled the promises to Abraham and to David. Holiness and righteousness are to mark God’s people “all the days of our life”. The hymn comes to a climax as it describes the place of John in God’s redemptive work. John’s birth announced God’s new deliverance. John would be a prophet who would go before the Lord. Four infinitives outline the progress of God’s redemptive work. The first two describe the role of John the Baptist. The last two allude to the inauguration of the kingdom, “when the day shall dawn upon us from on high”.
The mark of the redeemed is that they live out of the knowledge of God that has been given to them. Darkness is dispelled by the revelation of God’s being and God’s grace toward us. Finally, through John’s call for justice and righteousness, and far more through Jesus’ unique ministry, God would “guide our feet into the way of peace”.
The Benedictus links the promise of salvation and redemption inseparably to the achievement of peace. God’s people cannot have redemption without peace, for each is necessary for the realization of the other. It affirms that God’s purposes are being fulfilled in the delivering of his people from the hands of their oppressors. Their feet are being guided in the way of peace so that they may worship without fear.
Thursday, 22 December 2022
To read the texts click on the texts: Mal 3:1-4, 23-24; Lk 1:57-66
Two days before the birth of the Messiah, the Church invites us to reflect on the birth, naming, and circumcision of his precursor or forerunner, John the Baptist.
Luke does not give us too many details about the birth of John, and he narrates it with a short sentence. He focuses more on the events that follow the birth and, through them, show that God’s word spoken through the angel, Gabriel, is being fulfilled. Elizabeth does bear a son and the people rejoice at the birth because of the great mercy shown by God.
Circumcision of the child on the eight day was in accord with Gen 17:9-14 where God makes circumcision on the eight day a sign of the covenant with Abraham. It was the father who normally named the child and, in doing so, recognized the child as his own. Sometimes, the child was named after the father, especially if the father was a person who was highly esteemed. Objections were raised to the name “John” (“God had been gracious”), chosen by Elizabeth. That the people made signs to Zechariah to ask him what he wanted to name the child indicates that, besides being dumb, he was also deaf. The moment Zechariah writes the name “John” on a writing tablet, Zechariah regains his speech. Once again, God’s word comes to pass. The fear and amazement with which the people respond to these happenings is an indication that they experienced God’s awesome power. The question that the people ask, about what the child would turn out to be, is answered in summary form by Luke when he ends this narrative by stating that “the hand of the Lord was with him.”
God’s word is a word of power and will come to pass, no matter how many obstacles we may put in its way. It is a word that enhances and builds up, a word that gives life. To be sure, we may not always be able to understand and accept it for what it is, but in the final analysis, it is always a word that is for our good and for his glory.
Wednesday, 21 December 2022
Thursday, December 22, 2022 - What image do you have of God? Does your image lead you to have confidence in God? How does this show in your life?
To read the texts click on the texts:1 Sam 1:24-28; Lk 1:46-56
The verses which make up the Gospel text of today are commonly known as “The Magnificat” or Mary’s hymn of praise. It seems to have been modeled on the prayer of Samuel’s mother, Hannah, in 1 Sam 2:1-10 and contains many Old Testament concepts and phrases. It communicates a picture of Mary as someone quite steeped in scripture. It reveals God primarily as a God of the poor. God is the one who will vindicate the poor by removing the rich and mighty from their positions and raising the lowly.
The hymn may be seen to be divided into four parts. The first part consists of praise to God for what he has done in and for Mary; the second part speaks of God’s power, holiness and mercy; the third part shows God acting as a Sovereign in reversing social conditions in favour of the poor and downtrodden; and the fourth and final part recalls God’s mercy and promises to Israel.
The hymn speaks of the effects of the Lord’s coming for all of God’s people. It begins on a note of salvation as Mary acknowledges her dependence on God. It was the grace of God that sustained and brought her to the position in which she finds herself. She has not achieved anything on her own, it is all a gift of God and thus, Mary acknowledges her humble state, referring to herself as God’s servant. She is to be called “blessed’ because God, in his mercy and goodness, had raised her to this level.
God has shown this mercy and goodness to the poor by showing the strength of his arm, by scattering the proud, and deposing the powerful. The poor, on the other hand, have been raised, and the hungry have been filled. God remembers not only those of old but also the present generation. He is a God not only of the past, but also a God of the present, the now.
Tuesday, 20 December 2022
Wednesday, December 21, 2022 - Are you generally a happy person, or do you go about life as if the burden of the whole world is on your shoulders? Will you give up that burden today?
To read the texts click on the texts: Song 2:8-14; Lk 1:39-45
The text of today, which concerns Mary’s visit to Elizabeth, is also the scriptural basis for the second Joyful mystery of the Rosary.
Since the angel does not ask Mary to visit Elizabeth, or even suggest it, the alacrity with which Mary goes to visit Elizabeth expresses clearly that Mary trusted the angel’s word. Mary’s greeting of Elizabeth results in a sign which is that the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leaps and Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit. This could also indicate that the announcement of the angel to Zechariah that their child would be filled with the Holy Spirit is being fulfilled. Being filled with the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth is also able to utter an oracle which seems to have as its source, the Spirit of God. She recognizes Mary and the child in her womb as blessed. Not only has Elizabeth been blessed, because God answered her prayer for the gift of a child, she has also been blessed by a visit from the one who is called to be the mother of her Lord. The leap of the babe in Elizabeth’s womb was a leap of joy. John has already begun to fulfil his calling as one who would declare the Lord’s coming and prepare the way for him. Mary is blessed because she dared to believe in God’s word.
When joy or happiness is shared it is doubled; when sorrow or sadness is shared it is halved. The joy of Elizabeth and Mary on their respective vocations is shared by the other and hence, both experience a doubling of their joy. This joy is experienced by even the child in Elizabeth’s womb, because it is a genuine joy felt by its mother.
Life is too short to cry or be sad. Life is too short not to be happy or not to share in the joy of others.
Monday, 19 December 2022
Tuesday, December 20, 2022 - Will you say YES to all that God wants to do through you today even when you fully cannot understand why?
To read the texts click on the texts: Isa 7:10-14; Lk 1:26-38
The text of today’s Gospel relates a scene immediately after the announcement of the birth of John the Baptist and contains the announcement of the birth of Jesus. There are many similarities in the annunciations to Mary and to Zechariah. The angel Gabriel is the one who makes both announcements. Both Zechariah and Mary are called by name and exhorted not to be afraid. Both ask a question of the angel, and it is the angel who tells them what name each child is to be given. It is the angel who predicts what each child will turn out to be. However, even as there are similarities, there are differences in the narratives. While the announcement to Zechariah comes in the Temple and as a result of his fervent prayer, the announcement to Mary comes (apparently) when she is in her home and it is unanticipated. While Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth are advanced in age, Mary has not yet stayed with her husband, and so is a virgin. The birth of John to parents who are past the age of child bearing is a miracle, but even greater is the miracle of the birth of Jesus, who would be born through the Holy Spirit, and to a virgin. Even as John the Baptist goes with the spirit and power of Elijah, Jesus will be called “Son of God”. Luke clearly wants to show John as great, but only the forerunner of the Messiah, Jesus, who is greater.
Here, too, like in the case of the announcement of the birth of John the Baptist, God intervenes in human history. Mary though betrothed or engaged to Joseph, who was of David’s family, had not yet lived with him. This she would do only after marriage, which would be one year after the betrothal. The angel greets Mary as the recipient of God’s grace. She has opened herself to the promptings of God’s Spirit. While Zechariah was gripped with fear at the very appearance of the angel, in the case of Mary, it is the angel’s greeting that perplexed her. The angel reassures Mary and makes the announcement, not only of Jesus’ birth, but of who he will be and all that he will accomplish.
In response to this announcement Mary, like Zechariah, asks a question. While both questions seem similar, it is clear that Zechariah’s question expressed doubt and asked for a sign, as is evident in the angel’s words before Zechariah is struck dumb. Mary’s question, on the other hand, is a question asked in faith. Mary did not question the truth of the revelation like Zechariah did. She asked only for enlightenment on how God would accomplish this wonderful deed. This will be accomplished in Mary through the work of God’s spirit. This is why the child will be called holy. Luke probably also intends to convey here that it is not merit on Mary’s part that obtained for her what she received, but God’s generous gift in the Spirit.
The evidence that what the angel has announced will indeed take place is the pregnancy of Elizabeth, for nothing is impossible for God. Mary responds, not merely with a Yes, but by asking that the Lord work in her to accomplish all that he wants. The annunciation would not have been complete without Mary’s trusting, obedient response.
Today, many assume that those whom God favours will enjoy the things we equate with a good life: social standing, wealth, and good health. Yet Mary, God’s favoured one, was blessed with having a child out of wedlock who would later be executed as a criminal. Acceptability, prosperity, and comfort have never been the essence of God’s blessing. The story is so familiar that we let its familiarity mask its scandal. Mary had been chosen, “favoured,” to have an important part in God’s plan to bring salvation to God’s people, but it is unthinkable that God would have forced Mary to have the child against her will. Mary is an important example, therefore, of one who is obedient to God even at great risk to self.
Sunday, 18 December 2022
Monday, December 19, 2022 - Do you believe that God can do the impossible in your life? How will you show this belief?
To read the texts click on the texts: Judges 13:2-7, 24-25; Lk
The text of today is unique to Luke and is about the foretelling or annunciation of the birth of John the Baptist. It begins by introducing Zechariah and Elizabeth and then moves to the temple where the announcement of the birth is made by an angel. Zechariah responds to this announcement in disbelief and leaves the Temple after being struck dumb. The announced child is conceived in Elizabeth’s womb fulfilling the angelic announcement.
In the first verses of today’s text, Zechariah and Elizabeth are introduced. Zechariah means “God has remembered,” and Elizabeth means something like “My God’s oath.” While Zechariah is a priest, Elizabeth is from a priestly family. By stating that they were childless (when barrenness was regarded as a tragedy, a disgrace, and even a sign of God’s punishment), despite the fact they were righteous and blameless, Luke probably wants to indicate that there is no connection between sin and punishment. That they were advanced in age, and so may have lost all hope of having a child, is to show the wondrous nature of the angelic announcement.
The priests were divided into 24 groups, and each group served twice a year for a week at a time in the Temple. On this occasion, Zechariah was chosen to enter the sanctuary and offer the incense. A sacrifice was offered twice a day, both on the outer altar and on the inner altar, inside the sanctuary. A list was compiled of those priests who had never been chosen to enter the sanctuary, and then lots were cast to determine the priests who would bring the sacrifice to the altar and clean the ashes off of it. This honour normally came only once in a lifetime. This was perhaps the most dramatic moment in Zechariah’s life as a priest. It was thus a significant moment for God to break into human history.
Zechariah’s immediate response to the angels’ appearance was one of fear and terror. The first words spoken by a character in the Gospel of Luke are by the angel and are an exhortation not to be afraid. The angel then announces, not only the birth of a son to Zechariah and Elizabeth, but also the greatness of the child. The name of the child is to be John, a name which means “God has shown favour” or “God is gracious”. Zechariah’s response is a direct quotation of Gen 15:8, “How will I know that this is so?” To Zechariah’s emphatic “I am an old man.”, the angel responds with an even more emphatic, “I am Gabriel.” Gabriel was sent to speak for God, but because Zechariah did not receive the good news, he would not be able to speak until the annunciation was fulfilled and the child was born. Though Zechariah was to pronounce a blessing on the people after he came out of the sanctuary, he could not do so since he had lost the power of speech.
The angel’s announcement comes to pass and Elizabeth conceives. She praises God for his graciousness to her.
There are numerous occasions in our lives when things do not go the way we want them to go. We try everything and nothing seems to work. We begin to think that God does not care for us or that he is punishing us for some wrong that we or our forefathers did. We might even stop praying at these times and lose faith. The text of today calls for exactly opposite attitudes to these and challenges us to cultivate them.
First, if things are not going the way we want them to go, it does not mean that God is punishing us for some past sins. There is very clearly no connection between sin and God’s punishment. To be sure, any kind of negative feelings that we harbor, any resentment that we hold on to, any sediments of anger residing in our hearts, can lead to blocks in our minds and bodies and can affect our health. Giving in to despair and desperation and losing hope can also lead to ill health.
The call is a call to hope. It is a call to continue to petition God, and to keep asking him for what we need, with confidence and courage. It is a call to continue to believe that God can do what is impossible and that nothing and no one is outside the scope of God’s power. He can, with a word, make all things whole.
Saturday, 17 December 2022
To read the texts click on the texts: Isa 7:10-14; Room 1:1-7; Mt 1:18-24
The meeting between Isaiah and King Ahaz is the second meeting between the two. The first was when God asked Isaiah to go to Ahaz with the message that he remains calm and not let his courage fail him before Rezin the king of Damascus and Pekah the king of Samaria who wanted to replace Ahaz with Ben Tabeel. In this second meeting, the reluctance of the king to ask for a sign is interpreted by Isaiah as a failure of faith, an unwillingness to be reassured by God. Thus the sign will be given even though unasked for. The sign will be the child that Ahaz’s wife Abiyah was carrying in her womb who was King Hezekiah (some think the reference is to the third child of Isaiah). However, though he began well with religious reforms, Hezekiah gradually turned away from the Lord and so the people began to look for another Emmanuel.
In the opening section of his letter to the Romans, Paul makes two main points after describing himself as servant and apostle Christ and specially chosen to preach the good news that God had promised long ago. The first is that the good news is about the Son of God, and descendant of David who was born in human nature and was truly man and who was proclaimed Son of God through his resurrection from the dead. The second is the call to the addresses to belong to Christ.
The Gospel text is from the Infancy Narrative of Matthew and contains the prophecy of Isaiah found in the first reading of today which here is applied to Jesus. Matthew uses Joseph’s dream as a tool with which to answer questions that may have risen about the virginal conception of Jesus. Since Matthew’s intention is to show Jesus as a descendant of David the focus in his story is on Joseph who in Matthew is a descendant of David. Jesus, who is Son of David, is also Son of God as indicated by the virginal birth and the one who will save all people from sin. In this he is Emmanuel, God with us, not in judgement but grace.
As feast of Christmas draws near we are invited through the readings to reflect on the meaning of the birth and significance of the name of the God/Man Jesus. Both Matthew and Paul emphasize that Jesus is both God and man. He is God incarnate, Jesus Christ. Matthew goes through great pains to show Jesus clearly as a descendant of David (and so his humanity) but at the same time insists that the Christ child is not really Joseph’s child but conceived through the Holy Spirit (and so his divinity). Paul too seems to have this in mind when writing to the Romans as is shown in his description of the human nature of Jesus and his being a descendant of David, but who is at the same time Son of God through his resurrection from the dead. The point that both seem to want to make is that God has acted decisively in history and through his personal action has caused something new in our world that goes beyond human comprehension.
This decisive action of God was intended to convey to all who encounter him that God is Emmanuel and that his function is to save people from their sin and even each one of us from ourselves. This is what we must keep in mind as we continue our preparations. He is the long cherished hope of all peoples. He is the prophecy of Isaiah fulfilled completely. Even if Hezekiah was not able to live up to what was predicted of him, it does not really matter because Jesus has more than made up for the shortfall.
Having as God, a God who saves and, through his incarnation (and so real death and resurrection) is the news that Paul proclaims to the Church in Rome and that is still proclaimed in the Church today. The implications of this are many. The first is that we need never fear God since he is God with and for us, and our response to him must only be a response of love. The second is that we do not have to do anything nor can we do anything to obtain the love of God. It is given freely simply because God wants to. All we have to do is receive it with openness and humility. This leads to a third implication which is accepting that each of us is a sinner and so in need of the saving grace of God. Once we accept this reality then we become more accepting towards others because we realize that we are in the same situation as they are. We are not better than they. We also become more aware of the responsibility that each of us has to reach out in making the other whole and show that we do indeed belong to Christ.
Friday, 16 December 2022
To read the texts click on the texts: Gen 49:2, 8-10; Mt1:1-17
The Gospel of Matthew begins with the genealogy of Jesus. One important reason he begins this way is because it is theologically important to him to begin by referring to Jesus as the son of David and the son of Abraham. Jesus is, for Matthew, the Messiah who has descended from David, as foretold by the scriptures. Another reason why Matthew begins with the genealogy of Jesus is to show that God continues to act in human history, and that he acts now, in a decisive way, in the sending of his Son. God is not simply a God in the heavens, but a God who is Emmanuel, God with us.
Matthew’s genealogy consists of three parts. The first, which begins with Abraham, ends with the Davidic kingship. The second begins with David and ends with the deportation or exile to Babylon. The third begins with the exile and ends with the birth of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
Matthew calls attention to the number fourteen at the end of the genealogy and, though a variety of suggestions have been offered as to why he chose fourteen, the simplest explanation is that the numerical value of “David” in Hebrew (DWD) is fourteen (d, 4; w, 6; d, 4). By this symbolism, Matthew points out that the promised "son of David" (1:1), the Messiah, has come. And, if the third set of fourteen is short one member (to solve this problem some count Jechoniah twice), perhaps it suggests that, just as God cuts short the time of distress for the sake of his elect, so also he mercifully shortens the period from the Exile to Jesus, the Messiah.
Unlike Luke’s genealogy, which does not name a single woman, Matthew’s genealogy mentions four women besides Mary. These are Tamar, Ruth, Rahab, and Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba. Several reasons have been offered as to why Matthew mentioned these four women. Three of these reasons are widely accepted today: (a) there was something extraordinary about their union with their partners; (b) they showed initiative or played an important role in God’s plan and so came to be considered as instruments of God’s providence or of his Holy Spirit; and (c) all four women (except Mary) were Gentiles and Matthew wants to show that in God’s plan of salvation, the Gentiles were included from the beginning.
Through this, Matthew probably wants to show that God wants all to be saved and that he uses the unexpected to triumph over human obstacles and that he intervenes on behalf of his planned Messiah. This combination of scandalous and irregular union, and divine intervention, explains Matthew’s choice of the four women.
What are the points that Matthew makes in his genealogy and what does he want to achieve by it? Matthew clearly wants to show that Jesus is the fulfillment of all Israel’s hopes. The story of Jesus is part of the story of God’s constant saving acts throughout the history of Israel. God involves himself in the nitty-gritty of life. Despite the constant infidelity of Israel, God remained faithful and, in a definitive way, directed its history towards its fulfillment in Jesus Christ.
Matthew is also interested in affirming that the plan of God has often been fulfilled in history in unanticipated and “irregular” ways, as was the case in the birth of Jesus from Mary, and that Matthew is interested in showing that God worked through irregular, even scandalous ways, and through women who took initiative, like Tamar and Ruth. Yet the main reason for Matthew’s inclusion of these women corresponds to one of the Gospel’s primary themes: the inclusion of the Gentiles in the plan of God from the beginning. All of the men in Jesus’ genealogy are necessarily Jewish. But the four women mentioned, with the exception of Mary, are Gentiles, “outsiders,” or considered to be such in Jewish tradition. Just as the following story shows Jesus to be the fulfillment of both Jewish and Gentile hopes, so also the genealogy shows that the Messiah comes from a Jewish line that already includes Gentiles.
By showing Jesus as descended from David, Matthew wants to explicate that Jesus is the royal heir to the throne. Jesus, however, thorough his life, cross, death and resurrection will redefine the meaning of Kingship as never before.
Finally, Matthew wants to stress that God is active constantly in history and involved in the lives of his people. He works not only miraculously but also ordinarily in human effort, pain, and struggle to bring people to the kingdom.
Thursday, 15 December 2022
Friday, December 16, 2022 - Who do you say Jesus is? Has your response resulted in a transformed identity?
To read the texts click on the texts: Isa 56:1-3, 6-8; Jn5:33-36
As we near Christmas, the readings make more and more explicit who Jesus really is. In the text of today, which compares John with Jesus, the point is clearly made that Jesus is superior in every way. This testimony is offered, not only by Jesus, but also by John who is just one of the other witnesses that testify to Jesus. John witnessed to Jesus when he witnessed to the truth, since Jesus is the Truth. Jesus does not need this testimony because he knows who he is and God has testified to him. Thus, he needs no human testimony. Yet, it is given because people are swayed by such testimony. John was a mere lamp in contrast to Jesus, who was the light and to whom John testified. The people were happy to accept from John’s testimony only what suited them. They conveniently rejected what did not suit them. Another witness to who Jesus is, are the works that Jesus does, which here do not seem to refer only to the miracles that Jesus worked, but to the whole of his ministry. This was a ministry that he received directly from God and thus, was a greater testimony to his person and mission than John could ever be. God bears witness to who Jesus is. Jesus does, and completes, the works of God.
The text of today invites us to ask ourselves who Jesus is for us. He is one sent from God and always seeks to do God’s will. In all that he does, he points to God. He is the one who has come to give life and draw people to God by giving them a new, transformed, identity. This is what one has to realize and accept if one desires the transformation that Jesus effects. There can be, on the one hand, an attitude of rejection of Jesus and his witness and thus, a rejection of the transformed identity or, there can be an acceptance in faith of Jesus as the revelation of God who comes that we may have life in abundance.
Wednesday, 14 December 2022
Thursday, December 15, 2022 - When things do not go the way you want them to, where do you look for answers? Whom do you approach? Why?
To read the texts click on the texts: Isa 54:1-10; Lk7:24-30
This text appears immediately after the one which was read yesterday and after Jesus had answered the question about Messiahship asked by John’s disciples. It contains Jesus’ assessment of John and John’s role and, in doing so, defines his own identity more clearly. The last two verses of this text are exclusive to Luke.
In the three questions that Jesus asks concerning John, it is obvious that the first need not be answered because the answer is obvious. While reeds shaken by the wind might be found in the wilderness, no one would go into the wilderness to see them. The second is answered but its inadequacy is shown immediately. Those who wear fine clothes are not found in places like the wilderness, which is where John preached. The third answer, that John is a prophet, is also inadequate because John is more than a prophet; his coming was prophesied by scripture. John is not merely a prophet, but also the messenger who would prepare the way for the coming Messiah. He is the forerunner of the Lord and is thus, by implication, Elijah, and so is greater than any other human being. However, as the forerunner, John is outside the kingdom since he announces its coming. Thus, even the least that is in the kingdom is greater than John. John was great and impressive. Jesus is greater and more impressive. John is the precursor; Jesus is the one whom John announces.
There are times in our lives, especially when things do not go as we plan, when we turn to faith healers and others in the hope that they will do for us what we desire. These are like reeds shaken by the wind or, those who, because of their desire to wear fine clothes, milk gullible people of all that they have.
This pericope, therefore, moves the reader from searching for figures or movements that will satisfy their spiritual needs, to finding and accepting God’s justice and God’s purposes. The answer is not in our attachment to any movement or human figure, but in our submission to God’s claims on us. The two are radically different. It is important that we recognize the difference, and check our personal questing from time to time, to be sure that we have not been fooled into substituting one for the other. To be even the least among those who have submitted to God’s sovereignty is to be greater than any of the prophetic figures outside the kingdom, regardless of their appeal or their following.