Bible Diary for August 14th – 20th

August 14th

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

St. Maximilian Kolbe

1st Reading: Jer 38:4-6, 8-10:
Then the officials told the king, “This man should be put to death, because he is weakening the will of the fighting men and the people left in the city. In fact he is not out to save the people but to do harm.” King Zedekiah said, “His life is in your hands for the king has no power against you.” So they took Jeremiah and pushed him into the cistern of Malchiah, the king’s son, in the guard’s court.

They lowered him by means of ropes. There was no water in the cistern but only mud; and Jeremiah sank into the mud. Ebedmelech went and spoke to him, “My lord king! These men have acted wickedly in all they did to Jeremiah the prophet. They threw him into the cistern where he will die.” So the king ordered Ebedmelech the Ethiopian: “Take three men with you from here, and draw Jeremiah the prophet out from the cistern before he dies.”

2nd Reading: Heb 12:1-4:
What a cloud of innumerable witnesses surround us! So, let us be rid of every encumbrance, and especially of sin, to persevere in running the race marked out before us. Let us look to Jesus, the founder of our faith, who will bring it to completion. For the sake of the joy reserved for him, he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and then, sat at the right of the throne of God. Think of Jesus, who suffered so many contradictions from evil people, and you will not be discouraged or grow weary. Have you already shed your blood in the struggle against sin?

Gospel: Lk 12:49-53:
I have come to bring fire upon the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and what anguish I feel until it is finished! Do you think that I have come to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on, in one house five will be divided: three against two, and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father; mother against daughter and daughter against mother; mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law, and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”

Most Christians, when they think of heaven, imagine a place very far away, high in the empyrean, in which perfect bliss makes the inhabitants of that place hardly aware of us, humans. And, since Jesus and the saints often look up to the sky when they evoke Heaven (cf. Mt 14:19; Mk 7:34; Acts 7:55), we tend to think of Heaven as a place very far beyond the blue sky. However, a sentence from today’s second reading belies this notion that Heaven is a far place: “Therefore, we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses…” Here the author of Hebrews is referring to all the great men and women of the past who, by faith (repeated 19 times) have achieved great things, and he says that all these great men and women are presently surrounding us like a gigantic cloud hovering over us.

In other words, far from being a distant place, Heaven is all around us, only we are not aware of it! This thought should comfort us in our dark hours. Let us remember then: we are not alone, far from it. We are constantly surrounded by our departed loves ones. In fact, the word “departed” is misleading because they are all here! Let us pray for a share in the faith which animated the great Christians of the past and which inspired them to achieve great things for God. Today let us remember a few times the great cloud of deceased loved ones surrounding us and cheering us on in our efforts to serve God.

August 15th

Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

1st Reading: Rev 11:19a; 12:1-6a, 10ab:
Then, the Sanctuary of God, in the heavens, was opened, and the Ark of the Covenant of God could be seen inside the Sanctuary. A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman, clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and a crown of twelve stars on her head. … Then, another sign appeared: a huge, red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and wearing seven crowns on its heads. … Then, I heard a loud voice from heaven: Now has salvation come, with the power and the kingdom of our God, and the rule of his anointed.

2nd Reading: 1 Cor 15:20-27:
But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead came also through a human being. For just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life, but each one in proper order: Christ the firstfruits; then, at his coming, those who belong to Christ; then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to his God and Father, when he has destroyed every sovereignty and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death, for “he subjected everything under his feet.” But when it says that everything has been subjected, it is clear that it excludes the one who subjected everything to him.

Gospel: Lk 1:39-56:
Mary then set out for a town in the hill country of Judah. She entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leapt in her womb. Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and, giving a loud cry, said, “You are most blessed among women; and blessed is the fruit of your womb! How is it, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? The moment your greeting sounded in my ears, the baby within me suddenly leapt for joy. Blessed are you, who believed that the Lord’s word would come true!”

And Mary said, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit exults in God, my savior! He has looked upon his servant, in her lowliness, and people, forever, will call me blessed. The Mighty One has done great things for me, Holy is his Name! From age to age, his mercy extends to those who live in his presence. He has acted with power and done wonders, and scattered the proud with their plans. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and lifted up those who are downtrodden. He has filled the hungry with good things, but has sent the rich away empty. He held out his hand to Israel, his servant, for he remembered his mercy, even as he promised to our fathers, to Abraham and his descendants forever.”

Mary remained with Elizabeth about three months, and then returned home. When the time came for Elizabeth, she gave birth to a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the merciful Lord had done a wonderful thing for her, and they rejoiced with her. When, on the eighth day, they came to attend the circumcision of the child, they wanted to name him Zechariah after his father.

In most of my adult life, I have not paid much attention to Mary and her important role in the history of salvation. However, it dawned on me that without her “yes” to the announcement of the angel Gabriel, God’s saving plan would have been frustrated. What made her “most blessed among women”? What is truly special about her? Three reasons come to mind why Elizabeth rightly declared her as the most blessed among women and why people of every generation would call her blessed: first, God himself chose her; second, she said “yes” to the announcement of the angel Gabriel.

The third, I want to give emphasis: she carried the Son of God in her womb for nine months; she brought Jesus to human life; she nursed him in infancy; she played with him when he was a boy; she cared for him as he grows; she was a witness as to how he conducted his ministry; and, she was there when he suffered and died on the cross. Imagine the interaction between the mother and the Son of God! Imagine also the intimacy between them! This is why I believe that the risen Christ appeared to Mary before he ascended back to the Father.

August 16th

St. Stephen of Hungary

1st Reading: Ez 28:1-10:
The word of Yahweh came to me in these terms, “Son of man, say to the prince of Tyre: You are very proud and self-satisfied: ‘I am a god, Is it like a god in the heart of the sea.’ Yet you are man and not a god; would you hold yourself as wise as God? You consider yourself wiser than Daniel; no secret is hidden from you. Your wisdom and know-how have earned you a fortune, gold and silver flowed to your treasury. Clever in trade, you became wealthy and, as your fortune increased, your heart became prouder.

“But now, Yahweh has spoken to you, to the one who is like God: I am bringing foreigners against you, the most feared of all the nations. Their sword will challenge your wisdom and debase your refined culture. They will bring you down to the pit and you will die in the depths of the sea. Will you be able to say ‘I am a god’ when your murderers are killing you? You are a man and not a god. You will die the death of the uncircumcised and perish at the hands of aliens, for I have spoken—word of Yahweh.”

Gospel: Mt 19:23-30:
Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I say to you: it will be hard for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Yes, believe me: it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of the needle than for the one who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.” On hearing this, the disciples were astonished and said, “Who, then, can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and answered, “For human beings it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”

Then Peter spoke up and said, “You see, we have given up everything to follow you. What, then, will there be for us?” Jesus answered, “You, who have followed me, listen to my words: on the Day of Renewal, when the Son of Man sits on his throne in glory, you, also, will sit, on twelve thrones, to judge the twelve tribes of Israel. As for those who have left houses, brothers, sisters, father, mother, children or property for my Name’s sake, they will receive a hundredfold, and be given eternal life. Many who are now first, will be last, and many who are now last, will be first.

Wealth in itself is not intrinsically evil. It is how we use it that can be sinful or virtuous. Similarly, knowledge and power are morally neutral entities. They may be used either for good or evil. The possession of any of these carries with them the responsibility to use them for the welfare of others. The possession of these though can enslave or sway a person to use them for one’s own selfish gain. Let us thank the Lord for all he has given us. And let us ask the grace to use all we have for the greater good.

August 17th

1st Reading: Ez 34:1-11:
The word of Yahweh came to me in these terms, “Son of man, speak on my behalf against the shepherds of Israel! Say to the shepherds on my behalf: Woe to the shepherds of Israel, who feed themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flock? … This is what Yahweh says: I will ask an account of the shepherds and reclaim my sheep from them. No longer shall they tend my flock; nor shall there be shepherds who feed themselves. … Indeed Yahweh says this: I, myself, will care for my sheep and watch over them.

Gospel: Mt 20:1-16:
This story throws light on the kingdom of heaven: A landowner went out early in the morning, to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay each worker the usual daily wage, and sent them to his vineyard. He went out again, at about nine in the morning, and, seeing others idle in the town square, he said to them, ‘You also, go to my vineyard, and I will pay you what is just.’ So they went. The owner went out at midday, and, again, at three in the afternoon, and he made the same offer.

Again he went out, at the last working hour—the eleventh—and he saw others standing around. So he said to them, ‘Why do you stand idle the whole day?’ They answered, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ The master said, ‘Go, and work in my vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wage, beginning with the last and ending with the first.’ Those who had gone to work at the eleventh hour came up, and were each given a silver coin. When it was the turn of the first, they thought they would receive more. But they, too, received one silver coin.

On receiving it, they began to grumble against the landowner. They said, ‘These last, hardly worked an hour; yet, you have treated them the same as us, who have endured the heavy work of the day and the heat.’ The owner said to one of them, ‘Friend, I have not been unjust to you. Did we not agree on one silver coin per day? So, take what is yours and go. I want to give to the last the same as I give to you. Don’t I have the right to do as I please with what is mine? Why are you envious when I am kind?’ So will it be: the last will be first, the first will be last.”

Most humans are endowed with a natural sense of fairness. This is manifest in any group of children to whom, say, an ice cream cone is given to each, with a simple scoop of ice cream on each cone. Well, try giving a cone with two scoops to one of the children, and all the others will protest and condemn you as being unfair. That is why, upon hearing the parable contained in today’s gospel reading, a lot of people feel that the landowner is decidedly unfair, since he paid the same salary (the one initially agreed upon by the first group of workers) to all workers, even those who had worked only one hour.

Now here we must remember that in this parable the landowner represents God. In his answer to the protesters the landowner denies being unfair, since he paid the first group exactly the salary they had agreed upon. But he admits that he goes beyond fairness into the realm of kindness. And that is exactly what God does with us. He never treats us with mere fairness, otherwise we would all be damned. Fortunately, we can rely on his kindness, and that is our salvation.

August 18th

1st Reading: Ez 36:23-28:
I will make known the holiness of my great name, profaned among the nations because of you; and they will know that I am Yahweh, when I show them my holiness among you. For I will gather you from all the nations and bring you back to your own land. Then I shall pour pure water over you and you shall be made clean—cleansed from the defilement of all your idols. I shall give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you. I shall remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I shall put my spirit within you and move you to follow my decrees and keep my laws. You will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you shall be my people and I will be your God.

Gospel: Mt 22:1-14:
Jesus continued speaking to them in parables: “This story throws light on the kingdom of heaven: A king gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to call the invited guests to the banquet, but the guests refused to come. Again, he sent other servants, instructing them to say to the invited guests, ‘I have prepared a banquet, slaughtered my fattened calves and other animals, and now, everything is ready. Come to the wedding!’ But they paid no attention and went away, some to their farms, and some to their work. Others seized the servants of the king, insulted them and killed them. The king was furious.

He sent his troops to destroy those murderers and burn their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is prepared, but the invited guests were not worthy. Go instead to the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding feast.’ The servants went out into the streets and gathered all they found, good and bad alike, so that the hall was filled with guests. The king came in to see the wedding guests, and he noticed a man not wearing a wedding garment. So he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in without the wedding clothes?’ But the man remained silent. So the king said to his servants, ‘Bind his hands and feet and throw him into the outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”

Today’s first reading contains one of the most important texts of the Bible. But, in order to understand its importance, we have to remember two things. First, let us recall that the first Covenant, that of Moses, was based on a law (the Ten Commandments) written by God on stone tablets (Ex 24:12). But the Israelites broke that Covenant repeatedly. So then, God promised to make a new Covenant, one which would overcome the exteriority of stone tablets outside the Israelites, and would be written inside them, on their hearts (Jer 31:33).

Second, keeping this background in mind, today’s excerpt from the prophet Ezekiel specifies further just what exactly will make the New Covenant so unique. In this excerpt God says: “I shall put my spirit within you and move you to follow my decrees and keep my laws.” So now we are told a tremendous secret: it is the Holy Spirit himself who will move our heart, the very love and strength of God! Our whole lives should, second by second, be moved by the gentle promptings of the Holy Spirit in the depths of our hearts. He is our Secret Lover, and he wants to bring us into God’s arms.

August 19th

St. John Eudes

1st Reading: Ez 37:1-14:
The hand of Yahweh was upon me. … Yahweh said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live again?” I said, “Lord Yahweh, only you know that.” He then said, “Speak on my behalf concerning these bones; say to them: Dry bones, hear the word of Yahweh! Yahweh says: I am going to put spirit in you and make you live. I shall put sinews on you and make flesh grow on you; I shall cover you with skin and give you my spirit, that you may live. And you will know that I am Yahweh.” I prophesied as I had been commanded; … the bones joined together. I looked and saw that they had sinews, that flesh was growing on them; and that he was covering them with skin. But there was no spirit in them.

So Yahweh said to me, “Speak on my behalf and call on the spirit, son of man! Say to the spirit: This is the word of Yahweh: spirit, come from the four winds. Breathe into these dead bones and let them live!” I prophesied as he had commanded me and breath entered them; they came alive, standing on their feet—a great, immense army!

He then said to me, “Son of man, these bones are all Israel. They keep saying: ‘Our bones are dry, hope has gone, it is the end of us.’ So prophesy! Say to them: This is what Yahweh says: I am going to open your tombs; I shall bring you out of your tombs, my people; and lead you back to the land of Israel. You will know that I am Yahweh, O my people! when I open your graves and bring you out of your graves; when I put my spirit in you, and you live. I shall settle you in your land; and you will know that I, Yahweh, have done what I said I would do.”

Gospel: Mt 22:34-40:
When the Pharisees heard how Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they assembled together. One of them, a lawyer, questioned him to test him, “Teacher, which commandment of the law is the greatest?” Jesus answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and the most important of the commandments. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets are founded on these two commandments.”

The prophet Ezekiel was one of the Jews deported to Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar in 597 B.C. He had warned his nation about this possible disaster before the fall of Jerusalem (Ez 1—24), but to no avail. He lived the rest of his life in exile. However, a good part of his book (chs. 33 to 39) describes the return of the people to Palestine and the restoration of the temple of Jerusalem, and of the nation Israel. Today’s first reading is taken from this section of his book.

In the previous chapter of the book (as we saw in yesterday’s first reading) God has announced through Ezekiel the gift of the Spirit to enable individual Israelites henceforth to obey the law faithfully. In today’s reading it is announced that the Spirit will also be given collectively to the people and will thus restore and renew the nation, following its exile to the graveyard of Babylon. This national resurrection is predicted here symbolically in a vision of dry bones coming back to life under the action of the Holy Spirit (mentioned 7 times here). The Holy Spirit is our life-giving energy, enabling us to serve God freely and joyfully.

August 20th

St. Bernard of Clairvaux

1st Reading: Ez 43:1-7ab:
He took me to the gate, facing east. Then I saw the glory of the God of Israel approaching from the east, with a sound like the sound of the ocean; and the earth shone with his glory. This vision was like the one I had seen when he came for the destruction of the city, and like the one I had seen on the bank of the river Chebar. Then I threw myself to the ground. The glory of Yahweh arrived at the temple by the east gate. The spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner court: the glory of Yahweh was filling the house. And I heard someone speaking to me from the temple while the man stood beside me. The voice said, “Son of man, you have seen the place of my throne, where I will place the soles of my feet, and live among the Israelites forever.

Gospel: Mt 23:1-12:
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees have sat down on the chair of Moses. So you shall do and observe all they say; but do not do as they do, for they do not do what they say. They tie up heavy burdens and load them on the shoulders of the people, but they do not even lift a finger to move them. They do everything in order to be seen by people: they wear very wide bands of the law around their foreheads, and robes with large tassels. They enjoy the first places at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues, and they like being greeted in the marketplace, and being called ‘Master’ by the people.

But you, do not let yourselves be called Master, because you have only one Master, and all of you are brothers and sisters. Neither should you call anyone on earth Father, because you have only one Father, he who is in heaven. Nor should you be called Leader, because Christ is the only Leader for you. Let the greatest among you be the servant of all. For whoever makes himself great shall be humbled, and whoever humbles himself shall be made great.

“Do not call anyone on earth your father. Only one is your father, the One in heaven.” Let us notice a few things about these words of Jesus. First, they clearly formulate a prohibition, not a mere suggestion. Second, the Catholic Church has always ignored this prohibition, to the scandal of our Protestant brethren. They call their leaders “Pastor,” and nothing else. They obey Jesus. We, on the other hand, give all kinds of extravagant (and often non-Christian) titles to our leaders: Your Excellency, Your Eminence, Your Holiness. This is not the spirit of Jesus.

Furthermore, in spite of the latter’s directive, we refer to the Pope as the Holy Father. But the Pope is the Vicar of Christ, that is, his representative on earth, and Christ is our Brother (Mt 12:50). How can the representative of our Brother be our Father? Third, priests are routinely addressed as “Father.” But this violates Jesus’ clear prohibition. Priests should be called “Brother,” or “Pastor,” or “Shepherd” or something similar. Finally, since this teaching of Jesus is aimed at correcting those who seek honors, Jesus is only correcting the honorific use of the title “father,” not its natural use in the family.