Thursday 31 August 2023
Friday, September 1, 2023 - Is there enough oil in the lamp of your life? If not what will you do about it today?
To read the texts click on the texts:1 Thess 4:1-8; Mt 25:1-13
In the parable of today we will hear of the ten bridesmaids, five of whom were prepared and five unprepared, five of whom had oil and five of whom who did not. We are told that five were foolish and five were wise right at the beginning of the parable, because we cannot tell this just be looking at them. All ten have come to the wedding; all ten have their lamps burning; all ten presumably have on their gowns. The readiness is what distinguishes the wise from the foolish.. Five are ready for the delay and five are not. Five have enough oil for the wedding to start whenever the bridegroom arrives; the foolish ones have only enough oil for their own timetable.
It is easy to be good for a day if goodness is seen only as a means to an end. It is easy to be merciful for a day if mercy is seen only as a means to an end. However, if we see goodness and mercy and everything that is positive as an end in itself, then it is possible to be good and merciful and positive always. We are called then to be like the wise ones with our lamps always burning so that we will then be able to welcome the Lord whenever he comes.
Wednesday 30 August 2023
To read the texts click on the texts:1 Thess 3:7-13; Mt 24:42-51
We will hear for the next few days’ readings from Chapters 24 and 25 of the Gospel of Matthew, which are known as the Eschatological Discourse. The word Eschatological comes from the Greek word “Eschaton” that means “the last things”, “the things of the afterlife”. In these chapters, Jesus speaks to all the people about how they must behave in the present, if they are to expect to be judged with mercy in the future. In the text of today, the disciples are asked to “stay awake”, because no one knows when the hour of departure will be. The disciples are called to be busy with the assigned mission not with apocalyptic speculation. The wise servant is the one who obeys not calculates.
Some of us regard being good as a burden. This is because we may associate goodness with being serious and sombre and not enjoying every single moment of life. On the contrary, goodness means exactly the opposite. It means that one is in the present moment and so living it as fully as possible. It also means that for a person who does this there is no need to worry about the day or hour when he/she will be called simply because such a person is always ready.
Tuesday 29 August 2023
Wednesday, August 30, 2023 - How will you ensure that your being is good today so that your works too might be good? Your clothes may be in the right place, your hair might be in the right place, but is your heart in the right place?
To read the texts click on the texts:1 Thess 2:9-13; Mt 23:27-32
The text of today contains the sixth (23,27-28) and seventh (23,29–36) woes begun in 23,13. The sixth Woe concerns “whitewashed tombs”. As a public service, tombs were whitewashed to make them more obvious, since contact with the dead and with graves, even if unintentional, transmitted ritual impurity (Num 19,11-22). This was especially important to pilgrims at Passover time, who would not know the places they visited. The point that Matthew makes is “ostentatious exterior, corrupt interior”. The seventh and final Woe extends the tomb image and modulates into the concluding theme: The rejection of the prophets God has sent.
The challenge then to each one of us is to bother less about what we ought to do and think more about what we ought to be, because if our being were good then our works would shine forth brightly.
Monday 28 August 2023
Tuesday, August 29, 2023 - The Beheading of John the Baptist - Does it make sense to lose your head?
To read the texts click on the texts: 1 Cor 2:1-5; Mk 6:17-29
Mark’s Account of the beheading of Saint John the Baptist by Herod Antipas is more elaborate than that of Matthew and Luke. According to Mark, Herod had imprisoned John because he reproved Herod for divorcing his wife (Phasaelis), and unlawfully taking Herodias, the wife of his brother Herod Philip I. On Herod's birthday, Herodias' daughter (traditionally named Salome but not named by Mark or the other Gospels) danced before the king and his guests. Her dancing pleased Herod so much that in his drunkenness he promised to give her anything she desired, up to half of his kingdom. When the daughter asked her mother what she should request, she was told to ask for the head of John the Baptist on a platter. Although Herod was appalled by the request, he reluctantly agreed and had John executed in the prison.
The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus also relates in his Antiquities of the Jews that Herod killed John, stating that he did so, "lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his [John's] power and inclination to raise a rebellion, (for they seemed ready to do anything he should advise), [so Herod] thought it best [to put] him to death." He further states that many of the Jews believed that the military disaster which fell upon Herod at the hands of Aretas his father-in-law (Phasaelis' father), was God's punishment for his unrighteous behaviour.
While Mark has mentioned Herodians before (3:6), this is the first time in his Gospel that he mentions Herod. Herod, here is Herod Antipas who was the son of Herod the Great who is the one referred to in the narrative of the birth of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew (Mt 2:1-23), and had been appointed by the Roman as the ruler of Galilee and Perea (Lk 3:1). He was never “king” as Mark mentions in his story, and Matthew corrects this by referring to Herod as tetrarch (Mt 14,1). The story of the death of John the Baptist in Mark is sandwiched between the sending of the Twelve on Mission (6:7-13) and their return from Mission (6:30-34).
Mark mentions three opinions about Jesus said to be circulating at that time. Some believed that Jesus was John the Baptist raised from the dead; others believed that Jesus was Elijah, while still others believed that Jesus was one of the prophets of old. Herod, however, is quite clear in Mark that Jesus is John the Baptist raised. This profession of Herod leads Mark to narrate the story of the death of John the Baptist as a flashback. According to Mark, the reason why John was put in prison was because he objected to Herod’s violation of the purity code, which forbade marriage of close relatives and to a brother’s wife while the brother was still alive (Lev 18:16; 20:21). Mark seems to lay the blame for the death of John on Herodias who manipulates Herod into executing John. The daughter of Herodias is not named here or anywhere in the Bible, nor does the Bible give her age. According to Mark a drunken Herod is trapped into fulfilling a rash vow and so has John beheaded.
Though in Mark’s narrative it is Herodias who is directly responsible for the death of John the Baptist, Herod cannot disown responsibility. He could have decided if he had the courage not to give in, yet he made the choice to have John beheaded. Each of us is responsible for our own actions though we may sometimes blame others or even circumstances. The sooner we accept responsibility for who we are and what we do, the sooner we will grow up. The legend of John the Baptist shows us that justice is the ultimate victim in such situations.
Sunday 27 August 2023
Monday, August 28, 2023 - How often has the impression of others over your own values, determined the way you behave?
To read the texts click on the texts:1 Thess 1:1-5,8-10; Mt 23:13-22
The text of today contains the first three of the seven Woes that Jesus pronounces against the Pharisees of his time, because they gave more importance to human laws, rules and regulations than to the law of God, which was the Law of Love. The polemic is against placing too much value on the way one appears to others, which can be a form of idolatry. So understood, hypocrisy is not merely a transgression, but represents a lack of trust in God, a turning away from God toward what others think as the point of orientation of one’s life. This was the reason for their single-minded focus on the law and it blinded them to all else that really mattered. Consequently, the human person was relegated to the far extreme. Jesus seeks to correct their understanding and ours, by asking them and us to focus not so much on law but on love, not so much on self but on God.
The first of the three woes (23,13) is also found in Luke 11,52, but whereas the Lucan Jesus pronounces the owe because the Pharisees “take away the key of knowledge”, The Matthean Jesus pronounces the woe because they “shut the kingdom of heaven against men”. They do not enter themselves, nor do they allow others to enter.
The second woe (23,15) is exclusive to Matthew, and continues the imagery of the first woe. Here the Pharisees are accused of converting others to their beliefs, but this results in the converted being worse than they were before.
The third woe (23,16-22) accuses the Pharisees of trying to find loopholes in the law in order to suit themselves. They interpret the law to suit their convenience.
Saturday 26 August 2023
To read the texts click on the texts: Isa 22:19-23; Rom. 11:33-36; Mt. 16:13-20
A story is told of John XXIII who was Pope during the turbulent 1960s when it seemed that everything in the Church was falling apart. There was a crisis in the priesthood, in religious life, in married life, in faith, indeed in the Church. The Pope worked long and hard hours trying to address these problems. One evening, after an exhausting day in the office, he went to his private chapel to do his daily Holy Hour before retiring but he was too exhausted and too stressed out to focus or pray. After a few minutes of futile effort, he got up and said, “Lord, the church belongs to you. I am going to bed.” Yes, the Church did and continues to belong to Christ. He is the builder even if Peter and each of us are the rocks on which the Church is built.
There is a striking parallel between the first reading from the prophet Isaiah and the Gospel text of today. The prophet denounces the master of the palace, Shebna, and says that the Lord will place another, the more worthy servant Eliakim, in his place. Eliakim will have binding authority over David’s House, and the Lord will make him secure. He will be a father to all. The text from Matthew portrays a similar investiture of power and authority. Simon is renamed Peter which is translated “Rock” and on which foundation the Church of Jesus will be built. Though there is still some debate about whether it is Peter or Jesus who is the rock mentioned in the text, if one remembers that it is Jesus who builds, then one will not have too much difficulty with accepting Peter as the rock on whom the Church is built by Jesus. Peter will also receive the keys of the kingdom and be given the power to bind and to loose, which will be ratified in heaven. The foundation for such authority and confidence is that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.
Somewhat paradoxically, having altered Mark to enhance the role of Peter in making him the recipient of divine revelation and the foundation of the Church, Matthew leaves virtually intact the subsequent misunderstanding of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection by Peter, whom Jesus rebukes as a “Satan” who “is not thinking as God does, but as humans do.” This is an indication of how weak the foundation can be. The same Peter who was declared “blessed” a few verses earlier is now regarded as being against Jesus and all that he stands for. The whole story portrays blessedness on the one hand and brokenness on the other. It portrays insight on the one hand and lack of sight on the other. Without the whole story the dangers are enormous. The church has always been in danger of becoming one of the powers that it has been called to confront. That reality is lived out in history - on a grand scale, but also in each of us. The will to power and pomp and glory is very seductive.
Thus instead of this incident celebrating a turning point in recognizing who Jesus is, as in Mark, it has become in Matthew a celebration of what the church is.. Peter is representative, but it is significant that it is precisely Peter who represents. He appears to have been chosen as a leader, but he and the others are to be the church, the community, who will be called to feed the multitudes, walk on water, and who bring God's compassion into confrontation with the destructive powers of life. That will sometimes mean having to say, no, having to exercise discipline within the church.
They will also be the community who will often fail and fall short of what it means to be “Ekklesia” or “those who are called out”. They will sometimes side with the powerful against the weak and with the “haves’ against the “have-nots”. They will sometimes sink because of the fear that overwhelms them and because of their lack of faith, but they continue nevertheless to be called to be that “contrast community” who will show by their words and actions that the community of Jesus continues to be alive and that negative forces or evil can never overcome it. What Jesus is stressing in these words to Peter is continuity namely that the historical and spiritual reality that the church Jesus is creating is his and his alone. No one can create another church. Christ’s church can be built on no other foundation, with no other living stones than those he names, and with no other cornerstone and chief builder than Christ himself. We constantly re-live this Gospel story. As we like Simon say to Jesus, “you are the Christ,” he says to each one of us “you, too, are Peter, you too, are a rock, and with you, also, I am building my church.” What happened to Peter continues even today and it includes us.
Paul is clearly aware of this and so in his hymn to Divine Wisdom he affirms that it is only because of the active wisdom of God working in the world that the Church can continue to be faithful to the promises of Christ, the Lord. The depth of God’s wisdom and purpose are a marvel. God’s action for the most part, goes beyond human understanding.
This idea is reiterated by the Psalmist who acknowledges God’s unfailing love and faithfulness and his immediate answer to the prayer of a humble heart. God, in Jesus is a God who constantly stretches out his hand to save the lowly. He is a God who will not abandon the work of his hands.
Thus the idea that comes through powerfully from the readings is that it is indeed God who builds even if on weak human structures, and without his sustenance nothing can really stand. The weak are made strong, sinners are forgiven, the sick are healed and the incomplete is completed. He remains the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega.
Friday 25 August 2023
To read the texts click on the texts: Ruth 2:1-3,8-11; 4,13-17; Mt 23:1-12
Moses’ seat is a metaphorical expression representing the teaching and administrative authority of the synagogue leadership, scribes and Pharisees. Jesus condemns only the practice of the scribes and Pharisees and not their teaching. Matthew makes three points. The first is that they say but do not do, the second is that they burden while failing to act themselves and the third is that they act for the wrong reasons: to make an impression on others. “Phylacteries” is the term Matthew uses for the tephillin, which were small leather boxes containing portions of the Torah (Exod 13,1-16; Deut 6,4-9; 11,13-32) strapped to the forehead and arm during the recitation of prayers in literal obedience to Deut 6,8. The “tassels” were attached to the prayer shawls, and the most important seats in the synagogue refer to the place of honour at the front facing the congregation, occupied by teachers and respected leaders. The term “Rabbi” was a title of honour.
The point that the Gospel reading of today makes is that there must be a correlation between our words and our actions. It is easy to say, but difficult to do, it is easy to preach but difficult to practice. The way to ensure that there is a correlation between the two is to first do and then say, or better to let people hear not what you say but what you do.
Thursday 24 August 2023
To read the texts click on the texts: Ruth 1:1,3-6,14-16,22; Mt 22:34-40
Matthew has written Mark’s story (Mk 12, 28-34) and made what was a scholastic dialogue in to a controversy. Unlike in Mark where the scribe is friendly, here the “lawyer” (the only occurrence of “nomikos” = lawyer in Matthew) is hostile, and the question is asked to “test” Jesus (only the devil and the Pharisees are the subject of the verb, “test”). The lawyer addresses Jesus as “Teacher”, which is an indication of insincerity, because in Matthew, believers address Jesus as “Lord”. The rabbis counted 613 commands (248 positive and 365 negative), and some regarded all commandments as equal. The question of the lawyer may have been intended to draw Jesus into a debate and get him to make a statement that could be interpreted as disparaging toward the Law.
In his answer, however, Jesus brings together two Old Testament texts that existed separately and in different books of the Bible. The commandment to love God alone was found in Deut 6, 4-5 and the commandment to love neighbour was found in Lev 19,18. These two, Jesus brings together into one, making them dependent on each other. This combination is distinctive of the Synoptic Jesus.
In his first letter John makes a telling point when he says that the one who says that he/she loves God whom they cannot see but cannot love their brother/sister whom they can see are liars (1 John 4,20).
Wednesday 23 August 2023
Thursday, August 24, 2023 - St. Bartholomew, Apostle - Is seeing believing or do we have to believe in order to see?
To read the texts click on the texts: Rev 21:9-14; Jn 1:45-51
Bartholomew was one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus, and is usually identified as Nathanael (mentioned in the first chapter of John's Gospel). According to the Gospel of John, he was brought to Jesus by Philip. It is Nathanael whom Jesus calls “an Israelite in whom there is no guile”. Though Nathanael is not mentioned in any list of the Twelve, Bartholomew is mentioned by all the Synoptic Gospels and also the Acts of the Apostles. One reason why Bartholomew is identified as Nathanael is because in all the lists of the Twelve Bartholomew is named in the company of Philip
Unlike the first two disciples who followed Jesus (1:35-40), here Jesus invites Philip to discipleship. Even more significant that the call of Philip, is what happens to Philip as a result of his call. He cannot remain silent about it and wants another to know and encounter Jesus. Thus, he finds Nathanael and bears witness about Jesus. This he does in two ways. He first points Jesus out as the fulfilment of all scripture and then he refers to him as “Jesus, son of Joseph from Nazareth.” This witness seems to bring out both divine and human origins of Jesus and once again reminds us of the mystery that Jesus is and continues to be. Immediately after Philip’s testimony, there is resistance on the part of Nathanael, yet Philip does not argue but responds in the words that Jesus had used to invite the first two disciples: “Come and see”
Though having an opinion about where the Messiah would come from, Nathanael remains open to another revelation. Though sceptical, he is willing to be convinced. Jesus addresses Nathanael as an “Israelite” which signifies his faithfulness to the law and is used here in a positive sense. He is without guile because though he has questions and even doubts, he is open and receptive and willing to learn. Jesus’ intimate knowledge of Nathanael and the revelation that he makes to him leads to a transformation in Nathanael and he comes to faith. He responds to Jesus with a confession and though he begins with Rabbi, he moves on to recognizing Jesus as Son of God and King of Israel.
However, Jesus responds by pointing out to Nathanael that this is only the beginning of the revelation that Jesus makes. If he continues to remain open he will experience even greater things. By means of a double “Amen”, Jesus points out to Nathanael and to others there that he will be the bridge between heaven and earth. He will be that place and person in whom the earthly and divine encounter each other. He as Son of man will make God known.
Skepticism and cynicism are common among many people. While this is not a problem in itself, what causes the problem is when these lead to a closed attitude. In a world in which we refuse to believe unless we first see, Jesus seems to be saying to us like he said to Nathanael “First believe than you will see”.
Tuesday 22 August 2023
Wednesday, August 23, 2023 - Are you good because of fear of punishment or hope of reward? Or are you good because it is good to be good?
To read the texts click on the texts:Judges 9:6-15; Mt 20:1-16
The parable of the labourers in the vineyard, who are paid the same wages for unequal work, is exclusive to the Gospel of Matthew. Many are of the opinion that the original parable ended at 20,13 or 20,14a, and what follows from 20,14b –16 or 20,14-16 are Matthean additions. The parable narrates how the landowner himself goes to the market to hire labourers at different hours and even at the eleventh hour. While the first group of workers is told explicitly that they will be paid the day’s wage which was one denarius, while the others are told that they would be paid whatever is right. When the time for payment arrives the focus is on the groups hired first and last, with the last being paid before all the other. They are paid one denarius, which is the day’s wage. The last are also paid what the landowner agreed with them. Since the parable does not speak about the amount work done by each group or say that those who were hired at the eleventh hour did as much work as those who were hired in the morning, it leaves the reader stunned. This ending upsets and challenges conventional values. The point that Jesus seems to make in the parable is that the tax collectors and sinners will be given the same status as those who have obeyed the law.
The additions by Matthew stress the jealousy and envy of those who were hired in the morning. The objection is not to what they have received but about the fact that the others have received as much as they which they regard as unfair. The difference is that they have received what is theirs through their hard work and effort; the others have received what they have because of the landowner’s generosity.
If one can identify with the group who complains, then it is time that one checks one’s motivation whenever one does good, because if one does not, one will continue to get frustrated at what one sees happening around one. Is the work that you do reward in itself? Or do you expect another reward?
Monday 21 August 2023
Tuesday, August 22, 2023 - How would you define “kingdom of God”? What/How much are you willing to give to acquire the kingdom?
To read the texts click on the texts:Judges 6:11-24; Mt 19:23-30
Immediately after the rich young man departs, the next words of Jesus are to his disciples. Matthew reformulates it as an “AMEN” saying. The word “Amen” occurs thirty-two times in Matthew. Beginning some of his pronouncements with “Amen” was a unique aspect of Jesus’ own authoritative speech. Amen is not a Greek word, but a transliteration of the Hebrew word “Amen” which is a responsive affirmation to something said previously. In this context, it is used to make the pronouncement of Jesus solemn. The pronouncement is about the impossibility of a rich person entering the kingdom of God. Jesus clearly reached for the most extreme illustration of impossibility, and the disciples got the point.
In response to Peter’s question, which must be seen as a continuation of the preceding dialogue (for taken by itself, Peter’s question seems purely selfish) Jesus affirms the eschatological reward for those who have not depended on their own goodness/talents/abilities/righteousness, but acknowledge their dependence on God’s free grace.
The point is not so much that God will prevent the rich from entering the kingdom, but that their riches will be an obstacle in their path.
To read the texts click on the texts: Isa 9:1-6; Lk 1:26-38
Pope Pius XII established the feast of the Queenship of Mary in 1954. However, Mary’s Queenship also has roots in Scripture. At the Annunciation, Gabriel announced that Mary’s Son would receive the throne of David and rule forever. At the Visitation, Elizabeth calls Mary “mother of my Lord.” As in all the mysteries of Mary’s life, Mary is closely associated with Jesus: Her Queenship is a share in Jesus’ kingship.
In the fourth century St. Ephrem (June 9) called Mary “Lady” and “Queen.” Later Church fathers and doctors continued to use the title. Hymns of the 11th to 13th centuries address Mary as queen: “Hail, Holy Queen,” “Hail, Queen of Heaven,” “Queen of Heaven.”
This feast is a logical follow-up to the Assumption of Mary (celebrated on August 15) and is now celebrated on the octave day of that feast. In his 1954 encyclical To the Queen of Heaven, Pius XII pointed out that Mary deserves the title because she is Mother of God, because she is closely associated as the New Eve with Jesus’ redemptive work, because of her preeminent perfection and because of her intercessory power.
It is fitting then that the Gospel text chosen for the feast is the Annunciation of the birth of the Lord to his mother. Through his mother and her courageous YES, Jesus became a human being. The point of the Annunciation is to stress that Jesus did not come down from heaven as an “avatar” but rather that in every sense of the word; he was totally and completely human. Another related point is that God “needs” the co-operation of human beings to complete the plans god has for the world. One of the most beautiful examples of co-operating with God is that of Mary and her unconditional Amen.
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.
When we think of or reflect on Mary, the one word that comes to mind to describe her whole life is the word, AMEN, a word which may be translated, “so be it”, “your will be done”, “do whatever you want to do in my life”. This was, indeed, Mary’s constant response to every situation in her life, especially when she could not understand why things were happening the way they were. The text of today is, then, a call and challenge to each one of us, that we, too, like Mary, might be able to say YES to all that God wants to do in our lives. It is a challenge to be open and receptive to the Spirit of God, so that we, too, might be able to give birth to the Saviour in our hearts.
Sunday 20 August 2023
Monday, August 21, 2023 - What is the wealth that has so possessed you; so as to leave you unfree to say a total YES to Jesus? What will you do about it today?
To read the texts click on the texts: Judges 2:11-19; Mt 19:16-22
The story found in Matthew has sometimes been called the one of “The Rich young ruler”. However, these words appear nowhere in the New Testament, and is a conglomerate of the figures in Mark (rich), Matthew (who alone adds “young”) and Luke (who alone adds “ruler”). Matthew alone gives us a picture of a youth, twice calling him “a young man”. He would thus be a person in his twenties. He addresses Jesus as “teacher’, which signals that he is an outsider – in Matthew, real disciples address Jesus as “Lord”. In his answer to the young man, Jesus is portrayed as an advocate of the Law rather than its opponent. In response to the second question of the young man, Jesus takes him further to “perfection”, which does not mean “to be blameless”, but rather to be “whole”, “undivided” in love.
However, he was not able to say YES to the call of Jesus not merely because he was a man of great wealth, but rather because instead of possessing wealth, he let wealth possess him. This “being possessed”, did not leave him free, and consequently, he was unable to make a free choice.
We are living in a world in which it is easy to get so taken up with material things that we lose sight of everything and everyone else. We can if are not careful make the acquisition of things an end in itself.
Saturday 19 August 2023
To read the texts click on the texts: Isa 56:1, 6-7; Rom 11:13-15, 29-32; Mt 15:21-28
It took Winston Churchill three years to get through the eighth grade, because he couldn’t pass English. Ironically, many years later he was asked to give the commencement address at the Oxford University. His now famous speech consisted of only three words: “Never give up!” While this theme of perseverance and never giving up is surely one of the themes of the readings of today, another theme that also comes out powerfully is the movement from particularity to the universality of God’s love.
There is no doubt that Jesus appears to be speaking to the Canaanite woman in the Gospel text of today in extremely harsh terms. He disregards the heartfelt and sincere plea for mercy made by the woman, and makes it clear that his mission, at this time, is for the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and even likens the woman to a dog. Some have attempted to soften this harshness by suggesting that Jesus’ retort to the woman was said with a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his lips or that Jesus did not mean stray dogs but house pets. However, nothing in the text warrants such interpretations and when compared with the similar incident in Mark, which allows for a mission to the Gentiles following the mission to the Jews, the retort of Jesus in Matthew is harsher, leaving no apparent scope for a Gentile mission: “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”
The Jews are the children and the Gentiles are the dogs. The epithet “dogs” for Gentiles had derogatory connotations. Dogs roamed the streets scavenging for food, and the Jews considered them unclean animals. The Gentiles cannot get what belongs to the Jews. Thus Jesus not only flatly refuses the woman’s request; he also seems to insult her.
The woman, however, will neither be excluded nor allow herself to be insulted. She will persevere and will overcome. She will keep on keeping on. She will neither give up nor give in. She meets Jesus’ initial stony silence with more pleading. She drowns out the disciples’ request for Jesus to send her away with her own repeated requests for Jesus to have mercy. She factually negates his exclusive mission to the Jews when she, a Gentile calls him Lord and worships him. Finally, she cleverly turns his own maxim supporting exclusivism into an illustration of inclusivism in salvation. Accepting the designation “dogs” for Gentiles, she turns it to the Gentiles’ advantage. “Yes, Lord,” she counters Jesus, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” In her maxim the dogs and the children both eat. And they eat simultaneously. She bests the Matthean Jesus: She denies both exclusivism and sequential priority in salvation based on ethnic identity. The Gentiles can have at least the crumbs of salvation if not the bread, and they can have it now. She challenges Jesus to rise up to a new, ethnically broadened sense of his mission and his Lordship. The woman’s brash courage actually “converts” Jesus. Though Jesus had limited his mission to the sons and daughters of Israel, here he crosses this self-imposed boundary to bring merciful healing to a Gentile. The woman brings him to the full implications of his mission.
This gospel passage thus reveals that Jesus’ understanding of God’s saving work entails both the particular and the universal. He knew that this woman was a Canaanite; he knew that he was a Jew and had been sent to Israel yet this did not exclude the limits of God’s gracious work in and through him. He also knew that God’s redemptive work reached across the boundaries of difference without necessarily obliterating them. God in Christ did not make this woman and her daughter into something other than Canaanites, but in response to the woman’s faith he did bring healing to her daughter.
This is reiterated by Paul in the second reading of today who, writing to the Romans, asserts that he who is, “an Israelite himself, a descendant of Abraham”, expresses hope for Israel because “salvation has come to the Gentiles”. When either Gentiles or Jews, women or men, are saved, they remain Gentiles or Jews, women or men, yet they are saved in the same way i.e. through faith. And, this salvation is the result of God’s grace and mercy which is blind to differences of ethnicity, gender, or nationality.
The fact that such differences to not constitute a barrier to the love of God do not mean, however, that God’s saving work is meaninglessly indiscriminate. Those whom God welcomes into his “house of prayer for all nations” are those who “bind themselves to the Lord… to be his servants.” They are vessels of God’s justice. As people of faith hey hear the Lord in the depths of their hearts calling them to, “do what is right.” These are people like the Canaanite woman, who persevered in faith in the only hope she had.
The call and challenge to us today is to continue to persevere, even if at times it seems that our prayers are not being answered and that there seems to be no solution in sight. It is also an invitation to realize the inclusive nature of God’s unconditional and magnanimous love.
Friday 18 August 2023
Saturday, August 19, 2023 - Humility is a funny thing. Once you think you’ve got it you’ve lost it. What do you think of this statement?
To read the texts click on the texts: Joshua 24:14-29; Mt 19:13-15
The text of today is on the one level about Jesus’ attitude to children, but is more importantly and on a deeper level about the kingdom. While in Mark and Luke the children were being brought to Jesus that he might “touch” them (Mk 10,13; Lk 18,15), in Matthew the children are brought that he “might lay his hands on them and pray” (19,13). These two acts are the typical acts of blessing by a revered teacher and Matthew intends to show that Jesus is regarded as such by the people. Jesus goes further than the blessing to make a pronouncement about who will inherit the kingdom, and he identifies not just the children but also “such as these”. This means that anyone no matter of what chronological age will inherit the kingdom if he/she receives it without presumption and self-justification.
As Christians we are blessed in that all that we receive from God is not through any effort on our part but is given gratis. We have only to receive. Even this, however, is difficult because sometimes we mistakenly think that it is our effort that brings us what we have.
Thursday 17 August 2023
To read the texts click on the texts: Joshua 24:1-13;Mt 19:3-12
The context of today’s reading is immediately after Jesus has finished instructing his disciples (19,1-2) in the “Community Discourse” (18, 1-35). The text is found also in Mark 10, 1-12, but Matthew has made some changes to suit his purpose. In Matthew, Jesus begins his response to the Pharisees question about the legality of divorce by going back to Genesis 1,27 and 2,24 (in Mark the quotations from Genesis come later). In Matthew, the Pharisees respond to Jesus’ quotation by citing Deut. 24,1, which allowed divorce, and this prompts Jesus to move to the situational application. The union of husband and wife is the creation of God and must be regarded as such (in Mark, they respond in this manner after a question from Jesus about what Moses commanded them). Matthew omits 10,12 of Mark, which reflects the Gentile provision for a woman’s initiating a divorce, since this is not applicable from his Jewish perspective. Matthew adds an exception clause; “except for unchastity” as he did earlier in 5,32, and in doing so makes the teaching of Jesus, a situational application rather than a legalistic code.
19,10-12 is exclusive to Matthew, and in them Jesus responds to the comment of the disciples that it is better not to marry. Those “who are made eunuchs by men” seems to refer to the pagan practice of literal castration as a religious practice, and this is rejected by Jesus. Those “who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom” seems to refer to those who choose to remain celibate in order to concentrate more fully on the kingdom, rather than get weighed down by family cares.
No matter what state of life one chooses, one must remain faithful to one’s commitment in that state of life. The grass seems greener on the other side, but only till we go to the other side.
Wednesday 16 August 2023
Thursday, August 17, 2023 - What would be your position if God kept a grudge against you for every sin you committed? Will you give up all your un-forgiveness today?
To read the texts click on the texts: Joshua 3:7-11,13-17; Mt 18:21 – 19:1
The text of today is the conclusion to Matthew’s “Community Discourse” (18,1-35). It begins with a question from Peter about the number of times one is expected to forgive. While Peter proposes seven times, Jesus’ response far exceeds that proposal. The number seventy-seven can be understood in this way or even as four hundred ninety (seventy times seven). The point is not so much about numbers but about forgiveness from the heart. If one has to count the number of times one is forgiving, it means that one is not really forgiving at all. The story that follows in 18,23-35 about the king who forgave his servant a debt of ten thousand talents (a talent was more than fifteen years wages of a labourer) and that same servant who would not forgive another servant who owed him a mere hundred denarii (a denarius was the usual day’s wage for a labourer) makes the same point.
We expect to be forgiven by other when we do them harm after we have said sorry, and sometimes if they do not forgive us, we get upset with them even more. We need to apply the same yardstick to ourselves when others ask for forgiveness from us.
Tuesday 15 August 2023
Wednesday, August 16, 2023 - There is no such thing as “individual sin”. All sin is both individual and communitarian.
To read the texts click on the texts: Deut 34:1-12; Mt 18:15-20
Though Matthew means that the one who sins against another is a member of the Church, he also means that that person is a brother or sister. One needs to avoid scandal or embarrassment as far as possible and so the matter must first be sought to be settled between the offended and the offending party with the offended taking the initiative. If this does not work, then two or three must be taken to the offending party to work for the reconciliation. If this too does not work, then the local church will have to intervene to set things right. If the offending party will not listen even to the members of the Church who might be the leaders or some members of the congregation, then the person concerned must be expelled. Though this may sound harsh and does not seem to fit in with Jesus’ command to forgive innumerable times (18,22), the point seems to be that it is possible that at times the best way to make a person see sense is to resort to harsh measures. Also, the good of the entire community is in view.
Jesus himself will ratify the decision of the community and assures them of his presence when they are gathered together in his name. He also gives them an assurance of their prayers being answered when there is a unity of minds and hearts in the community.
There are some people who are incorrigible. Even with these, however, every attempt must be made to win them over and regard them as part of the community. After everything possible has been done and they still refuse, then they can be left to their own designs.
Monday 14 August 2023
To read the texts click on the texts: Rev11:19; 12:1-6,10; 1 Cor15:20-26; Lk1:39-56
Today we celebrate two significant and related events. These are The Assumption of our Blessed Mother and Independence Day. Both are celebrated on the same date: August 15.
The reason why these events are related is because they are both about Freedom. Independence is celebrated as freedom from foreign rule and domination to self-rule and governance and the Assumption may be seen as a freedom from this limited and incomplete life to the bliss of eternal and perpetual life.
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 modelled 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 favor 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.
The stress on God as a God primarily of the poor stands out in Mary’s hymn of praise. In a world where the rich seem to be getting richer and the poor, poorer, one wonders whether the Magnificat is a hymn that can make sense to the poor, to those of low degree. Yet, it is important to remember that God’s ways are not our ways and so, the poor must, in confidence, sing this song as their song. The confidence with which Mary sings this song runs through the entire hymn. She uses past tense to denote God’s future actions, thus expressing that God will indeed accomplish his will, and the poor will be vindicated. What is important for the poor to realize is that they, like Mary, need to continue to open themselves to all that God wants to do in them. They need to continue to acknowledge their dependence on God by doing all that is required of them and then, leaving the rest in his capable and strong hands.
Even as we do celebrate these events, we need to ask ourselves serious questions both as Indians and Christians. Can we be really free when caste distinctions result in murder and rape? Can we be really free when freedom to speak the truth is met with physical violence and threat to life? Can we be free when the incidence of female foeticide is so high in our country and where in many places the girl child is seen as a liability and burden rather than a blessing? Can we be really free when we are so intent on destroying our natural resources for selfish ends and then have to wonder whether we will have enough rain to see us through the year? Can we call ourselves Christians when we will not do anything about these atrocities and continue with our lives as if it does not concern us?
Are we really free? Are we truly Christian?
Let the celebrations of Independence Day and the Assumption of our Blessed Mother be wake-up calls for us to rouse ourselves from our slumber and do something tangible to right the wrongs.
Sunday 13 August 2023
Monday, August 14, 2023 - Is your “freedom” an end in itself? Does it sometimes result in the “bondage” of others?
To read the texts click on the texts:Deut 10:12-22; Mt 17:22-27
The text of today contains the second Passion and Resurrection Prediction in the Gospel of Matthew. In this one, however, it is clearer that God will deliver up the Son of Man., but it is human hands into which he will be delivered. God will also vindicate Son of Man. Since Matthew tries to avoid scenes in Mark, which speak of the disciples’ inability to understand, here too, the response of the disciples is to be “greatly distressed”.
The pericope about the “Temple Tax” (17:24-27), which follows, is exclusive to Matthew. The point being made is about freedom and concern for others. Just as the Son of Man gives his life for others and freely, so too the members of his community live lives of freedom but concern for others and not wanting to be a cause for their stumbling will result in a foregoing of that freedom.
There are times when we do things more to avoid scandal than because they are important and need to be done.
Saturday 12 August 2023
To read the texts click on the texts: 1 Kgs. 19:9a, 11-13a; Rom 9:1-5; Mt 14:22-33
Visitors to the Holy Land like to take a boat ride across the Sea of Galilee, the sea on which Jesus walked. A certain tourist wanted such a ride and the boatman told him the fare was 100 dollars. “One hundred dollars!” exclaimed the tourist, “No wonder Jesus walked!”
As in both Mark and John, the miracle of Jesus walking on the water occurs in Matthew immediately after the feeding of the five thousand. The effect of these successive narratives is powerful. They portray Jesus as the one who can provide for the needs of all peoples and one who has control over the elements of nature and even over all demons and evil itself.
There are some who interpret the walking on the water to mean walking by the water. To do so would be to miss the point that Matthew wants to make. Matthew does not intend to portray Jesus as defying the law of gravity. By showing Jesus walking on the water, he reveals a Jesus who has power over the sea: he walks upon the deep as God alone does, and the sea respects his wishes. If the Israelites regarded the sea as the domain of evil powers, then the terrifying experience of a storm at sea in the dead of night becomes even more symbolic of the human experience of evil. The fear of the disciples is like the fear of all who are threatened by insecurity in the face of the unknown. But when Jesus appears to those in extreme need and in the darkest part of the night, it is as one who has sovereign power, not only over the forces of nature but over evil itself. Thus the words of Jesus, “Take heart, it is I, do not be afraid” are not empty or meaningless. Fear is unwarranted where Jesus is present. The very presence of Jesus banishes all fear. In Jesus, the great “I AM” has come to dwell with us and for us, whether we are tossed about on the seas or hungry on the hillside, whether we are in the boat or out of the boat. The point is not to emphasize God’s supernatural powers but to show that his blessed presence gives us calm in the midst of our stormy world. It is to help us realize that we too might face the storms of life with God’s help.
In fact, like Peter, when we recognize God present in our world, we are commanded to go out into the water, knowing that the storms of this life cannot hurt us, even when we are outside of the safety and comfort of the Church. Peter’s lack of faith is caused by a failure of concentration: he is distracted by the fierce wind. He removes his gaze from Jesus. His mind becomes more affected by the circumstances than by faith in the power of Jesus, and once again he is filled with fear. This is why he begins to sink and cries out in desperation: ”Lord, save me.” Peter realizes that in the moment of most dire human need, there is but one cry, just as there is but one source of salvation.
We too will surely falter. We too will feel that we are drowning in the depths of our world’s darkness. We too will surely feel that the chaotic waters of life are too treacherous for our tentative footsteps. We too will sink. That is real. Only fools pretend otherwise.
Then we will see, with Peter that Jesus’ hand reaches out to us. We discover, at times to our relief and at times to our chagrin that we are not the heroes of this story. We also discover that our doubts and fears, while the cause for a rebuke from our Lord, do not take us outside of his care and concern. This is important. For even when we are back inside the boat of the Church, when the waters about us appear to be calm, we find that we are still in the midst of a storm. We have to cast aside any fear that there might be limits to the abundance of God’s grace, and that with his grace given freely we cannot achieve the impossible, or that we can’t change the world. Who would have though it possible to walk on water, or to discern the voice of God as Elijah does? He does so – not in the strong wind or earthquake or raging fire – but in “a sound of sheer silence”. Faith is not merely being able to walk on the water but daring to believe in spite of everything that God is with us in the boat, this community of faith as it makes its way through the storm, battered by the waves.
The Jesus who multiplied the loaves and fish and who appeared to the disciples walking on the water and who saved Peter from sinking, this same Jesus is the Lord of the Church. He has brought salvation and stands similarly prepared to save his people, even when they may doubt, from the evils that beset them. This Jesus who rules over nature and even the realm of evil is rightly worshipped as “truly the Son of God.”
Friday 11 August 2023
To read the texts click on the texts: Deut 6:4-13; Mt 17:14-20
This miracle story of the healing of an epileptic boy is found also in Mark (9,14-29), but Matthew has shortened it considerably by omitting many of the details found in Mark. This also results in a change in the focus of the story. In Matthew, the exorcism proper is narrated so briefly that it is clear that the exorcism is subordinated to the pronouncement on faith. The inability of the disciples to exorcise is because of their little faith. The father of the boy addresses Jesus as “Lord” which is an indication that he is a believer and thus Matthew omits the dialogue between the father and Jesus in Mark 9,21-24, where the father expresses doubt in Jesus’ ability to cure his child.
Each of us has been given the power to heal and make whole. We can do this by a kind word or a loving gesture. However, on the one hand we are not convinced that we possess this power and so are loathe to use it, and on the other hand we think that a miracle is only something extra-ordinary or stupendous, and so we are not capable of it.
Thursday 10 August 2023
Friday, August 11, 2023 - “Your money or your life.” “You better take my life, I will need my money for my old age.”
To read the texts click on the texts:Deut 4:32-40; Mt 16:24-28
In Matthew, the sayings that form our text for today are addressed exclusively to the disciples unlike in Mark where they are addressed to the crowds. A disciple must be prepared to follow the Master and even to the cross if need be. This is the consequence of confessing Jesus as the Christ. The Son of Man has to suffer, but will also be vindicated by God. The pronouncement “some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom” (16,28) has been variously interpreted. Some think it refers to the event of the Transfiguration, others think it refers to the Resurrection and still others that it refers to Pentecost. However, it seems that Matthew’s community expected that the Parousia (the second coming of the Lord) would come soon, indeed before the death of some who belonged to the community, and so there are some who think that this pronouncement refers to the Second coming of the Lord.
Denial of self means to count the self as nothing. While this sounds nice to hear and sing in hymns, it requires grace from God if it is to be into practice. Jesus had to constsntly overcome this temptation himself and challenges each of us through his words but also through the example that he gave on the cross.
Wednesday 9 August 2023
Thursday, August 10, 2023- St. Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr - In becoming like the grain of wheat, Lawrence became like Jesus. Will you?
To read the texts click on the texts: 2 Cor 9:6-10; Jn 12:24-26
The esteem in which the Church holds Lawrence is seen in the fact that today’s celebration ranks as a feast. Lawrence is one of those whose martyrdom made a deep and lasting impression on the early Church. Celebration of his feast day spread rapidly.
He was a Roman deacon under Pope St. Sixtus II. Four days after this pope was put to death, Lawrence and four clerics suffered martyrdom, probably during the persecution of the Emperor Valerian. The church built over his tomb became one of the seven principal churches in Rome and a favourite place for Roman pilgrimages.
After the Pope was arrested, Lawrence knew that he would be too. As soon as he could he gave all the money that he possessed to the poor and even sold some of the Church’s treasures and gave the money he received to the poor. Later, when asked to show the Emperor the treasures of the Church, Lawrence gathered a great number of blind, lame, maimed, leprous, orphaned and widowed persons and put them in rows. When the prefect arrived, Lawrence simply said, “These are the treasure of the Church.”
The Emperor was so angry he told Lawrence that he would indeed have his wish to die—but it would be by inches. He had a great gridiron prepared, with coals beneath it, and had Lawrence’s body placed on it. After the martyr had suffered the pain for a long time, the legend concludes, he made his famous cheerful remark, “It is well done. Turn me over!
The Gospel text for the feast of St. Lawrence is from the Gospel of John. Jesus introduces teachings about his death with a brief agricultural parable The seed imagery recalls the parables of sowing found in the Synoptic Gospels (Mt 13:3-32; Mk 4:3-20, 26-32; Lk 8:5-15). Jesus uses the imagery here to interpret his own death.
The significance of this parable for understanding Jesus’ death lies in the contrast between remaining solitary and “bearing much fruit”. In John, “fruit” is Jesus’ metaphor for the life of the community of faith. Jesus thus uses the seed parable to show that the salvific power of his death resides in the community that is gathered as a result of it (cf. 10:15-16; 11:51-52).
Jn 12:25 is one of the best-attested sayings of Jesus; in addition to this verse, some form of the saying occurs five times in the synoptic Gospels (Mt 10:39; 16:25; Mt 10:39; Lk 9:24; 17:33). While all of the occurrences share the basic pattern of an antithetical parallelism that highlights contrasting attitudes toward one’s life, there are also significant differences among the sayings. The significant number of variations within the synoptic tradition and between the Synoptic Gospels and John argues against any theory of literary dependence and for multiple attestations of this saying in the oral tradition. It also argues for the authenticity or historicity of the saying. The differences point to the ways each evangelist adapted this Jesus saying to serve his Gospel.
To love one’s life is the opposite of Jesus’ own action; it places one outside of the community shaped by Jesus’ gift of his life (psyche) and leads to the loss of that life To hate one’s life in “this world” is to declare one’s allegiance to Jesus (cf. 15:18-19) and so to receive his gift of eternal life (cf. 3:16; 6:40; 10:28; 17:2).
While the synoptic versions establish a condition for following Jesus (“taking up one’s cross”), the Johannine version contains both condition and promise. Since Jesus’ ultimate service is the gift of his life in love, he calls the disciples to love as he loves and hence to serve as he serves. What it means to be Jesus’ servant will be enacted in the foot washing of 13:1-20.
The prime reason for the choice of the Gospel text is that Lawrence became like the grain of wheat that was unafraid to fall into the ground and die. In doing so, he became like his Lord and master Jesus.
Tuesday 8 August 2023
Wednesday, August 9, 2023 - “If at first you don’t succeed try again”. Do you often give in to despair? Will you keep on keeping on?
To read the texts click on the texts:Numbers 13:1-2,25 – 14:1,26-29, 34-35; Mt 15:21-28
The story of the healing of the daughter of the Canaanite woman is our text for today. This story is found also in Mark 7,24-30, but Mark identifies the woman as a Syrophoenician. Matthew’s mention of “Tyre and Sidon” (Mark has only Tyre) and identifying the woman as a Canaanite results in an emphasis that Jesus has entered Gentile territory. This is also emphasised by the fact that Matthew does not have Jesus enter a house (like Mark does). In Matthew, Jesus does not enter the houses of Gentiles. The woman still addresses him with the title that only believers use in Matthew namely “Lord”. Despite an initial rejection, the woman perseveres in her request and continues to address Jesus as Lord. Jesus’ direct response to the woman is harsh and must be interpreted as a rejection. The analogy is indeed strong. However, the woman seems undeterred, and for the third time addresses Jesus as Lord, and continues to plead her cause. Jesus interprets such perseverance as “great faith”, and immediately heals the woman’s daughter even from a distance.
The woman shows not only perseverance and faith but also the ability not to let words get her down. The harsh words of Jesus spoken not in jest or with a twinkle in his eye (because nothing in the text warrants such an explanation) would have resulted in a lesser person treating it as an affront. The woman does not such thing. She knows what she wants and is determined to get it. She knows that while sticks and stones may break her bones, words can never hurt her.