Bible Diary for April 3rd – 9th

April 3rd

5th Sunday of Lent

1st Reading: Is 43:16-21:
Thus says Yahweh, who opened a way through the sea and a path in the mighty waters, who brought down chariots and horses, a whole army of them, and there they lay, never to rise again, snuffed out like a wick. But do not dwell on the past, or remember the things of old. Look, I am doing a new thing: now it springs forth. Do you not see? I am opening up a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The beasts of the land will honor me, jackals and ostriches, because I give water in the wilderness and rivers in the desert that my chosen people may drink. I have formed this people for myself; they will proclaim my praise.

2nd Reading: Phil 3:8-14:
Still more, everything seems to me, as nothing, compared with the knowledge of Christ Jesus, my Lord. For his sake, I have let everything fall away, and I now consider all as garbage, if, instead, I may gain Christ. May I be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, that comes from the law, but with the righteousness that God gives, to those who believe. May I know him, and experience the power of his resurrection, and share in his sufferings, and become like him, in his death, and attain, through this, God willing, the resurrection from the dead!

I do not believe I have already reached the goal, nor do I consider myself perfect, but I press on till I conquer Christ Jesus, as I have already been conquered by him. No, brothers and sisters, I do not claim to have claimed the prize yet. I say only this: forgetting what is behind me, I race forward, and run toward the goal, my eyes on the prize, to which God has called us from above, in Christ Jesus.

Gospel: Jn 8:1-11:
As for Jesus, he went to the Mount of Olives. At daybreak Jesus appeared in the temple again. All the people came to him, and he sat down and began to teach them. Then the teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They made her stand in front of everyone. “Master,” they said, “this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now the law of Moses orders that such women be stoned to death; but you, what do you say?” They said this to test Jesus, in order to have some charge against him. Jesus bent down and started writing on the ground with his finger.

And as they continued to ask him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who has no sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And he bent down, again, writing on the ground. As a result of these words, they went away, one by one, starting with the elders, and Jesus was left alone, with the woman standing before him. Then Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She replied, “No one.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go away and don’t sin again.”

Today’s gospel reading presents another instance when the enemies of Jesus attempt, as our text says, “to test Jesus, in order to have some charge against him.” Now what does this test consist in? It consists in placing Jesus before the dilemma of either ruining his reputation or of breaking the Law of Moses and being stoned to death as a consequence of this. So they bring him a woman caught in adultery. According to the law (Dt 22:23-24), she should be stoned to death. What does he say? If he agrees that she should be stoned, then his much-vaunted reputation for welcoming sinners will be seriously damaged. If he does not agree, his own life would be in jeopardy.

In a masterly strategy Jesus first brings his adversaries to retreat. Then, when he is alone with the woman, he does two things that should inspire our own conduct every day: he condemns the sin (“from now on do not sin anymore”) but he does not condemn the sinner (“neither do I condemn you”). We should try our best to imitate Jesus and to be vigorously against any form of evil, while at the same time to welcome all sinners, whatever their sin. Jesus condemns our sins, but he never condemns us. He is pure love, nothing else. Let us ask for the clear-sightedness which condemns all sins and the compassion to accept all sinners. Today let us vigorously combat all forms of evil, while welcoming all sinners, whatever their sins.

April 4th

St. Isidore

1st Reading: Dn 13:1-9, 15-17, 19-30, 33-62:
In Babylon there lived a man named Joakim, who married a very beautiful and God-fearing woman, Susanna, the daughter of Hilkiah; her pious parents had trained their daughter according to the law of Moses. Joakim was very rich; he had a garden near his house, and the Jews had recourse to him often because he was the most respected of them all. That year, two elders of the people were appointed judges, of whom the Lord said, “Wickedness has come out of Babylon: from the elders who were to govern the people as judges.” These men, to whom all brought their cases, frequented the house of Joakim. When the people left at noon, Susanna used to enter her husband’s garden for a walk.

When the old men saw her enter every day for her walk, they began to lust for her. They suppressed their consciences; they would not allow their eyes to look to heaven, and did not keep in mind just judgments. One day, while they were waiting for the right moment, she entered the garden as usual, with two maids only. She decided to bathe, for the weather was warm. Nobody else was there except the two elders, who had hidden themselves and were watching her. “Bring me oil and soap,” she said to the maids, “and shut the garden doors while I bathe.” As soon as the maids had left, the two old men got up and hurried to her. “Look,” they said, “the garden doors are shut, and no one can see us; give in to our desire, and lie with us. If you refuse, we will testify against you that you dismissed your maids because a young man was here with you.”

“I am completely trapped,” Susanna groaned. “If I yield, it will be my death; if I refuse, I cannot escape your power. Yet it is better for me to fall into your power without guilt than to sin before the Lord.” Then Susanna shrieked, and the old men also shouted at her, as one of them ran to open the garden doors. When the people in the house heard the cries from the garden, they rushed in by the side gate to see what had happened to her. At the accusations by the old men, the servants felt very much ashamed, for never had any such thing been said about Susanna. When the people came to her husband Joakim the next day, the two wicked elders also came, fully determined to put Susanna to death.

Before all the people they ordered: “Send for Susanna, the daughter of Hilkiah, the wife of Joakim.” When she was sent for, she came with her parents, children and all her relatives. All her relatives and the onlookers were weeping. In the midst of the people the two elders rose up and laid their hands on her head. Through tears she looked up to heaven, for she trusted in the Lord wholeheartedly.

The elders made this accusation: “As we were walking in the garden alone, this woman entered with two girls and shut the doors of the garden, dismissing the girls. A young man, who was hidden there, came and lay with her. When we, in a corner of the garden, saw this crime, we ran toward them. We saw them lying together, but the man we could not hold, because he was stronger than we; he opened the doors and ran off. Then we seized her and asked who the young man was, but she refused to tell us. We testify to this.”

The assembly believed them, since they were elders and judges of the people, and they condemned her to death. But Susanna cried aloud: “O eternal God, you know what is hidden and are aware of all things before they come to be: you know that they have testified falsely against me. Here I am about to die, though I have done none of the things with which these wicked men have charged me.” The Lord heard her prayer. As she was being led to execution, God stirred up the holy spirit of a young boy named Daniel, and he cried aloud: “I will have no part in the death of this woman.” All the people turned and asked him, “What is this you are saying?”

He stood in their midst and continued, “Are you such fools, O children of Israel! To condemn a woman of Israel without examination and without clear evidence? Return to court, for they have testified falsely against her.” Then all the people returned in haste. To Daniel the elders said, “Come, sit with us and inform us, since God has given you the prestige of old age.” But he replied, “Separate these two far from each other that I may examine them.” After they were separated one from the other, he called one of them and said: “How you have grown evil with age! Now have your past sins come to term: passing unjust sentences, condemning the innocent, and freeing the guilty, although the Lord says, ‘The innocent and the just you shall not put to death.’ Now, then, if you were a witness, tell me under what tree you saw them together.”

“Under a mastic tree,” he answered. Daniel replied, “Your fine lie has cost you your head, for the angel of God shall receive the sentence from him and split you in two.” Putting him to one side, he ordered the other one to be brought. Daniel said to him, “Offspring of Canaan, not of Judah, beauty has seduced you, lust has subverted your conscience. This is how you acted with the daughters of Israel, and in their fear they yielded to you; but a daughter of Judah did not tolerate your wickedness. Now, then, tell me under what tree you surprised them together.”

“Under an oak,” he said. Daniel replied, “Your fine lie has cost you also your head, for the angel of God waits with a sword to cut you in two so as to make an end of you both.” The whole assembly cried aloud, blessing God who saves those who hope in him. They rose up against the two elders, for by their own words Daniel had convicted them of perjury. According to the law of Moses, they inflicted on them the penalty they had plotted to impose on their neighbor: they put them to death. Thus was innocent blood spared that day.

Gospel: Jn 8:12-20:
Jesus spoke to them again, “I am the Light of the world; the one who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have light and life.” The Pharisees replied, “Now you are speaking on your own behalf, your testimony is worthless.” Then Jesus said, “Even though I bear witness to myself, my testimony is true, for I know where I have come from and where I am going. But you do not know where I came from or where I am going. You judge by human standards; as for me, I don’t judge anyone. But if I had to judge, my judgment would be valid for I am not alone: the Father who sent me is with me.

In your law it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is valid; so I am bearing witness to myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness to me.” They asked him, “Where is your Father?” Jesus answered, “You don’t know me or my Father; if you knew me, you would know my Father as well.” Jesus said these things when he was teaching in the temple area, in the place where they received the offerings. No one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come.

Nowadays many agnostics and atheists, wanting to be “politically correct” and to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings unnecessarily, will proclaim to all and sundry that, although they cannot bring themselves to accept Jesus Christ as “the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God” (Creed), nevertheless admire him as one of the greatest men who ever lived. This concession of the atheists is well-meant, but it is one of the most foolish stances one can adopt in reference to Jesus. And today’s gospel reading makes this abundantly clear.

For there Jesus says of himself, “I am the light of the world.” Elsewhere he says, “I am the resurrection and the life” (Jn 11:25). Anyone making such claims nowadays would soon end up in a mental hospital. Only megalomaniacs or tricksters talk like that. And so, when faced with Jesus’ stupendous claims, we can only in strict logic think he is one of three things: lunatic, liar or Lord. To think of him as being merely a great man is nonsensical. Those who think that have simply never read the gospels.

April 5th

St. Vincent Ferrer

1st Reading: Num 21:4-9:
From Mount Hor they set out by the Red Sea road to go around the land of Edom. The people were discouraged by the journey and began to complain against God and Moses, “Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is neither bread nor water here and we are disgusted with this tasteless manna.” Yahweh then sent fiery serpents against them. They bit the people and many of the Israelites died.

Then the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, speaking against Yahweh and against you. Plead with Yahweh to take the serpents away.” Moses pleaded for the people and Yahweh said to him, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a standard; whoever has been bitten and then looks at it shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a standard. Whenever a man was bitten, he looked towards the bronze serpent and he lived.

Gospel: Jn 8:21-30:
Again, Jesus said to them, “I am going away, and though you look for me, you will die in your sin. Where I am going you cannot come.” The Jews wondered, “Why does he say that we can’t come where he is going? Will he kill himself?” But Jesus said, “You are from below and I am from above; you are of this world and I am not of this world. That is why I told you that you will die in your sins. And you shall die in your sins, unless you believe that I am He.”

They asked him, “Who are you?”; and Jesus said, “Just what I have told you from the beginning. I have much to say about you and much to condemn; but the One who sent me is truthful and everything I learned from him, I proclaim to the world.” They didn’t understand that Jesus was speaking to them about the Father. So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He and that I do nothing of myself, but I say just what the Father taught me. He who sent me is with me and has not left me alone; because I always do what pleases him.” As Jesus spoke like this, many believed in him.

As we approach the Holy Week, the liturgical readings are more and more explicitly referring to Jesus’ impending death on a cross and its resulting beneficial effects on mankind. Thus in the first reading the bronze serpent elevated on a standard and which heals the Israelites bitten by the fiery serpents is a “type” (a reality of the Old Testament symbolically representing a future reality of the New Testament) of Christ elevated on the cross and healing those who believe in him, as explicitly taught by Jesus (cf. Jn 3:14).

In today’s gospel reading, Jesus alludes again to his “lifting” up on the cross as being a source of revelation about his divinity. His use of the expression I AM in a transcendent meaning (cf. the theophany of God revealing his name as being I AM in Ex 3:14) is a clear allusion to his divine nature. Throughout the Old Testament we find many similar “types” announcing the realities of the New Testament and especially pointing to Christ as the center and fulfillment of all things. For that is what he is. “I am the alpha and omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (Rev 22:13).

April 6th

1st Reading: Dn 3:14-20, 91-92, 95:
King Nebuchadnezzar said: “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you will not serve my god, or worship the golden statue that I set up? Be ready now to fall down and worship the statue I had made, whenever you hear the sound of the trumpet, flute, lyre, harp, psaltery, bagpipe, and all the other musical instruments; otherwise, you shall be instantly cast into the white-hot furnace; and who is the God who can deliver you out of my hands?”

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered King Nebuchadnezzar, “There is no need for us to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If our God, whom we serve, can save us from the white-hot furnace and from your hands, O king, may he save us! But even if he will not, know, O king, that we will not serve your god or worship the golden statue that you set up.” King Nebuchadnezzar’s face became livid with utter rage against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. He ordered the furnace to be heated seven times more than usual and had some of the strongest men in his army bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and cast them into the white-hot furnace.

Nebuchadnezzar rose in haste and asked his nobles, “Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?” “Assuredly, O king,” they answered. “But,” he replied, “I see four men unfettered and unhurt, walking in the fire, and the fourth looks like a son of God.” Nebuchadnezzar exclaimed, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who sent his angel to deliver the servants who trusted in him; they disobeyed the royal command and yielded their bodies rather than serve or worship any god except their own God.”

Gospel: Jn 8:31-42:
Jesus went on to say to the Jews who believed in him, “You will be my true disciples, if you keep my word. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered him, “We are the descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves of anyone. What do you mean by saying: You will be free?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave. But the slave doesn’t stay in the house forever; the son stays forever. So, if the Son makes you free, you will be really free. I know that you are the descendants of Abraham; yet you want to kill me because my word finds no place in you. For my part, I speak of what I have seen in my Father’s presence, but you do what you have learned from your father.”

They answered him, “Our father is Abraham.” Then Jesus said, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do as Abraham did. But now you want to kill me, the one who tells you the truth—the truth that I have learned from God. That is not what Abraham did; what you are doing are the works of your father.” The Jews said to him, “We are not illegitimate children; we have one Father, God.” Jesus replied, “If God were your Father you would love me, for I came forth from God, and I am here. And I didn’t come by my own decision, but it was he himself who sent me.

In today’s gospel reading Jesus utters a very deep truth, but a truth which is not evident at first sight. He says. “Whoever commits sin is a slave.” And, of course, the implied counterpart of this statement is that, “Whoever obeys God is free.” Now many Christians secretly believe, on the contrary, that God’s commandments are obstacles to freedom. “You shall not… you shall not” does sound somewhat restrictive of our freedom. But what does a loving parent say to a two-year-old ten times a day? “Don’t cross the street… Don’t play with that snake… don’t put that dirty rag into your mouth, etc.”

Those “don’ts”, far from restricting a child’s freedom, enable the child to become really free—of danger! The Commandments of God are really a protecting fence keeping us in a zone of safety. All this is confirmed when we study the people who indulge their every whim because “it’s fun” to overeat, do drugs, be sexually promiscuous, live for money, loaf all day long… Yet, these are the people who end up sick or suicidal. Obedience to God is the royal road to freedom. “I run in the way of your commands” (Ps 119:32), says the soul in love with God.

April 7th

St. John Baptist de la Salle

1st Reading: Gen 17:3-9:
Abram fell face down and God said to him, “This is my Covenant with you: you will be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer will you be called Abram, but Abraham, because I will make you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you more and more famous; I will multiply your descendants; nations shall spring from you, kings shall be among your descendants. And I will establish a covenant, an everlasting Covenant between myself and you and your descendants after you; from now on I will be your God and the God of your descendants after you, for generations to come. I will give to you and your descendants after you the land you are living in, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession and I will be the God of your race.” God said to Abraham, “For your part, you shall keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you, generation after generation.

Gospel: Jn 8:51-59:
Truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never experience death.” The Jews replied, “Now we know that you have a demon. Abraham died and the prophets as well, but you say, ‘Whoever keeps my word will never experience death.’ Who do you claim to be? Do you claim to be greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets who also died?”

Then Jesus said, “If I were to praise myself, it would count for nothing. But he who gives glory to me is the Father, the very one you claim as your God, although you don’t know him. I know him, and if I were to say that I don’t know him, I would be a liar like you. But I know him and I keep his word. As for Abraham, your ancestor, he looked forward to the day when I would come; and he rejoiced when he saw it.” The Jews then said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old and you have seen Abraham?” And Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” They then picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and left the temple.

There is something prosaic and shallow about the listeners of Jesus. They are very literal people, paralyzed by the immediacy of what is before their physical eyes. They simply cannot see beyond the physicality of Jesus into the immense possibilities of Christ. Thus they confuse the meaning of death or age that Jesus speaks of. No wonder they pick up stones, for they are as sterile as the stones in their hands.

In total contrast to these people is Abraham in today’s first reading. Abraham has the capacity to imagine, see beyond the literalness and limitations of the physical world and his own physical self into the possibilities of God. In other words, he walks easy on the road of faith. He understands the language of God, and God finds it easy to converse with him. How would it be between God and me? Do we talk and hear the same language?

April 8th

1st Reading: Jer 20:10-13:
I hear many people whispering, “Terror is all around! Denounce him! Yes, denounce him!” All my friends watch me to see if I will slip: “Perhaps he can be deceived,” they say; “then we can get the better of him and have our revenge.” But Yahweh, a mighty warrior, is with me. My persecutors will stumble and not prevail; that failure will be their shame and their disgrace will never be forgotten. Yahweh, God of Hosts, you test the just and probe the heart and mind. Let me see your revenge on them, for to you I have entrusted my cause. Sing to Yahweh! Praise Yahweh and say: he has rescued the poor from the clutches of the wicked!

Gospel: Jn 10:31-42:
The Jews then picked up stones to throw at him; so Jesus said, “I have openly done many good works among you, which the Father gave me to do. For which of these do you stone me?” The Jews answered, “We are not stoning you for doing a good work, but for insulting God; you are only a man, and you make yourself God.” Then Jesus replied, “Is this not written in your law: I said, you are gods? So those who received this word of God were called gods, and the Scripture is always true. What then should be said of the one anointed, and sent into the world, by the Father? Am I insulting God when I say, ‘I am the Son of God’? If I am not doing the works of my Father, do not believe me. But if I do them, even if you have no faith in me, believe because of the works I do; and know that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.”

Again they tried to arrest him, but Jesus escaped from their hands. He went away again to the other side of the Jordan, to the place where John had baptized, and there he stayed. Many people came to Jesus, and said, “John worked no miracles, but he spoke about you, and everything he said was true.” And many in that place became believers.

Faith is a very mysterious reality. Why do some people believe and other people do not believe? In the case of the Jewish contemporaries of Jesus, the acceptance of Jesus as the Son of God and even more so as God’s equal must have been particularly difficult since all male Jews proclaimed in their daily morning prayer that “the Lord is our God, the Lord alone!” (Dt 6:4). Jesus’ claims seemed to fly in the face of their monotheism. Yet, some Jews did accept Jesus’ claims, as today’s gospel reading clearly states: “Many… became believers.”

When making his claims, Jesus also refers to his miracles (his “works” as he calls them). Since we should judge a tree by its fruits, Jesus implies that the good fruits of his miracles (always beneficial to the people) should prove that the power producing these miracles is good too, in fact is of divine origin. But his reasoning does not convince everybody… Faith is mysterious. At any rate, even if we cannot “explain” why we believe, we should be endlessly grateful that we do. For what treasure is more precious than our faith in Jesus Christ?

April 9th

1st Reading: Ezk 37:21–28:
You will then say to them: Thus says Yahweh: I am about to withdraw the Israelites from where they were among the nations. I shall gather them from all around and bring them back to their land. I shall make them into one people on the mountains of Israel and one king is to be king of them all. They will no longer form two nations or be two separate kingdoms, nor will they defile themselves again with their idols, their detestable practices and their sins. I shall free them from the guilt of their treachery; I shall cleanse them and they will be for me a people and I shall be God for them. My servant David will reign over them, one shepherd for all.

They will live according to my laws and follow and practice my decrees. They will settle in the land I gave to my servant Jacob where their ancestors lived. There they will live forever, their children and their children’s children. David my servant will be their prince forever. I shall establish a covenant of peace with them, an everlasting covenant. I shall settle them and they will increase and I shall put my sanctuary in their midst forever. I shall make my home at their side; I shall be their God and they will be my people. Then the nations will know that I am Yahweh who makes Israel holy, having my sanctuary among them forever.

Gospel: Jn 11:45–56:
Many of the Jews who had come with Mary believed in Jesus when they saw what he did; but some went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. So the chief priests and the Pharisees called the Sanhedrin Council. They said, “What are we to do? For this man keeps on giving miraculous signs. If we let him go on like this, all the people will believe in him and, as a result of this, the Romans will come and sweep away our Holy Place and our nation.” Then one of them, Caiaphas, who was High Priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all nor do you see clearly what you need. It is better to have one man die for the people than to let the whole nation be destroyed.”

In saying this Caiaphas did not speak for himself, but being High Priest that year, he foretold as a prophet that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the scattered children of God. So, from that day on, they were determined to kill him. Because of this, Jesus no longer moved about freely among the Jews. He withdrew instead to the country near the wilderness and stayed with his disciples in a town called Ephraim. The Passover of the Jews was at hand and people from everywhere were coming to Jerusalem to purify themselves before the Passover. They looked for Jesus and as they stood in the Temple, they talked with one another, “What do you think? Will he come to the festival?”

In the words of Caiaphas we have a universal truth that has shaped human civilization from its very beginning: “It is better to have one man die for the people than to let the whole nation be destroyed.”  As René Girard has pointed out, humanity has always united itself at the expense of one element. A sacrificial system shapes human culture. A few examples from our daily lives: a disordered family identifies one member as responsible for its chaos and finds its peace by alienating him/her. Nothing unites a group of employees better than the sacrifice of a fellow employee or a superior through gossip.

A nation that is in chaos declares war against an outside enemy and the people forget their differences and are united.  Two enemies resolve their differences and team up when they spot a third one to whom they can transfer their hostilities (Remember how Herod and Pilate become friends through their common victimization of Jesus. Cf. Lk 23:1-12). What Caiaphas fails to realize is that by allowing himself to be a victim and refusing to pass on violence, Jesus is showing a new way to organize communities—through forgiveness and inclusive love. There shall be no more victims, only brothers and sisters.