Bible Diary for August 15th – 21st

August 15th

20th Week in Ordinary Time
Assumption of Blessed Mary the Virgin

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. She was pregnant and cried out in pain, looking to her time of delivery. Then another sign appeared: a huge, red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and wearing seven crowns on its heads. It had just swept along a third of the stars of heaven with its tail, throwing them down to the earth.

The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour the child as soon as it was born. She gave birth to a male child, the one who is to rule all the nations with an iron scepter; then her child was seized and taken up to God and to his throne while the woman fled to the desert where God had prepared a place for her. 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:
Brothers and sisters:
Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through man, the resurrection of the dead came also through man. 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.”

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 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 our fathers, Abraham and his descendants forever.” Mary remained with Elizabeth about three months and then returned home.

The noun “assumption” comes from the Latin verb “assumere,” which means “to take up.” Today we are celebrating the “taking up” of the Virgin Mary, body and soul, into Heaven when her earthly life ended. Today what should occupy our minds and hearts as we reflect on the assumption of Mary concerns the way we should think of Mary’s role in our lives now that she is in Heaven. Here our imagination can mislead us. Heaven is not a faraway place somewhere out there in the sky. Why not? Because, since God is everywhere, Heaven is everywhere too. The Letter to the Hebrews alludes to this when it says that “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1).

And so, when we say that Mary is in Heaven, we are saying that she has become very close to us, for she is the most important person in the great cloud of witnesses surrounding us. Now what are Mary and the great cloud of witnesses surrounding us doing? The answer to that question is simple: far from just waiting passively that we join them one day, they are actively helping us on our way in all possible manner—until we, too, may one day enjoy the same glorious destiny.

August 16th

St. Stephen of Hungary

1st Reading: Jdgs 2:11-19:
The Israelites treated Yahweh badly for they served the Baals instead. They abandoned Yahweh, the God of their ancestors who had brought them out of Egypt, and served other gods, the gods of the neighboring peoples. They bowed before those gods and offended Yahweh. When Yahweh saw that they had abandoned him to serve Baal and Ashtaroth, he became angry with his people and gave them into the hands of plunderers who left them in misery. He himself sold them to their enemies who completely surrounded the Israelites, so that these Israelites could no longer withstand them.

Whenever they felt strong for an offensive, Yahweh would turn against them and send evil upon them, as he had warned them and sworn to do. And this caused much distress and anguish for the Israelites. Yahweh raised up “judges” (or liberators) who saved the Israelites from their exploiters. But neither did they obey those “judges” for they still prostituted themselves to other gods and worshiped them. They soon left the way of their fathers who obeyed the commandments of Yahweh; they did not follow the way of their fathers.

When Yahweh made a judge appear among his people, Yahweh was with him and saved them from their enemies. That lasted as long as the judge lived, for Yahweh was moved to pity by the lament of his people who were oppressed and persecuted. But when the judge died, they again became worse than their ancestors—worshiping and serving other gods. They would not renounce their pagan practices and stubborn ways.

Gospel: Mt 19:16-22:
It was then that a young man approached Jesus and asked, “Master, what good work must I do to receive eternal life?” Jesus answered, “Why do you ask me about what is good? One, only, is good. If you want to enter eternal life, keep the commandments.” The young man said, “Which commandments?”

Jesus replied, “Do not kill; do not commit adultery; do not steal; do not bear false witness; honor your father and mother. And love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “I have kept all these commandments. What do I still lack?” Jesus answered, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell all that you possess, and give the money to the poor; and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come back and follow me.” On hearing this, the young man went away sad, for he was a man of great wealth.

In today’s gospel; reading Jesus asks a rich young man to give up his wealth so as to follow him more closely. Now, since Jesus did not ask this of other followers of his (Lazarus and his two sisters, Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, Zaccheus, the rich ladies who sponsored his ministry) (cf. Lk 8:3), there was no doubt that the young man was enslaved to wealth. In other words, his wealth was an idol he worshipped. Because, at the bottom, an idol is anything you give your heart to, anything on which your life is focused—other than God. But nowadays there are many idols competing for our hearts.

Surely one’s career can easily become such an idol. Because in our times there are many people—men and women—who live for their career, for the money it brings, for the power and the prestige that come with a high-sounding title and position. Whatever our idol happens to be, it must be ruthlessly discarded because it will always disappoint us eventually. We are made for God and nothing less will ever satisfy our hearts. “Our heart is restless, Lord, until it rests in you” (St. Augustine, Confessions I: 1).

August 17th

1st Reading: Jdgs 6:11-24a:
The angel of the Lord came and sat under the terebinth in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite. While his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the wine press to save it from the Midianites, the angel of the Lord appeared to him and said, “The Lord is with you, O champion!” Gideon said to him, “My Lord, if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are his wondrous deeds of which our fathers told us when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ For now the Lord has abandoned us and has delivered us into the power of Midian.” The Lord turned to him and said, “Go with the strength you have and save Israel from the power of Midian. It is I who send you.”

But Gideon answered him, “Please, my lord, how can I save Israel? My family is the lowliest in Manasseh, and I am the most insignificant in my father’s house.” “I shall be with you,” the Lord said to him, “and you will cut down Midian to the last man.” Gideon answered him, “If I find favor with you, give me a sign that you are speaking with me. Do not depart from here, I pray you, until I come back to you and bring out my offering and set it before you.” He answered, “I will await your return.” So Gideon went off and prepared a kid and a measure of flour in the form of unleavened cakes. Putting the meat in a basket and the broth in a pot, he brought them out to him under the terebinth and presented them.

The angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and unleavened cakes and lay them on this rock; then pour out the broth.” When he had done so, the angel of the Lord stretched out the tip of the staff he held, and touched the meat and unleavened cakes. Thereupon a fire came up from the rock that consumed the meat and unleavened cakes, and the angel of the Lord disappeared from sight. Gideon, now aware that it had been the angel of the Lord, said, “Alas, Lord God, that I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face!” The Lord answered him, “Be calm, do not fear. You shall not die.” So Gideon built there an altar to the Lord and called it Yahweh-shalom.

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.”

Picture yourself entering a big supermarket or a big department store. There your eyes are assailed by rows upon rows of the newest products the market place offers, be it food delicacies of all kinds or fancy gadgets of all types. What do you feel then? Are you dazzled by such a spectacle? Are you tempted to get your hands on some of the products exhibited on the shelves? Do you feel a tremendous urge to go on a shopping spree and to buy everything in sight? If so, then you are not a free person. You are in the throes of greed and you are worshipping the idol WEALTH.

Because an idol is anything to which your heart belongs. Be it pleasures, honors, reputation, fame, power—it does not matter. It is a form of WEALTH and you are its slave. That is why in today’s gospel reading Jesus warns us that the rich cannot enter the kingdom of Heaven. Why not? Because the door of the kingdom is narrow (Mt 7:13-14). And, if you carry any kind of WEALTH with you, you simply cannot pass through. You must leave your idol behind. Are you willing to do that?

August 18th

1st Reading: Jdgs 9:6-15:
All the citizens of Shechem and all Beth-millo came together and proceeded to make Abimelech king by the terebinth at the memorial pillar in Shechem. When this was reported to him, Jotham went to the top of Mount Gerizim and, standing there, cried out to them in a loud voice: “Hear me, citizens of Shechem, that God may then hear you! Once the trees went to anoint a king over themselves. So they said to the olive tree, ‘Reign over us.’ But the olive tree answered them, ‘Must I give up my rich oil, whereby men and gods are honored, and go to wave over the trees?’ Then the trees said to the fig tree, ‘Come; you reign over us!’

“But the fig tree answered them, ‘Must I give up my sweetness and my good fruit, and go to wave over the trees?’ Then the trees said to the vine, ‘Come you, and reign over us.’ But the vine answered them, ‘Must I give up my wine that cheers gods and men, and go to wave over the trees?’ Then all the trees said to the buckthorn, ‘Come; you reign over us!’ But the buckthorn replied to the trees, ‘If you wish to anoint me king over you in good faith, come and take refuge in my shadow. Otherwise, let fire come from the buckthorn and devour the cedars of Lebanon.’”

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 stay 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 day’s burden and 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.”

“Don’t I have the right to do as I please with my money?” God is free, his freedom is sovereign. Otherwise he would not be God. But his freedom is not the arbitrary whim of a tyrant. God does not use his freedom to weigh merits and allot to each person only what he or she deserves to receive according to strict justice. He uses his freedom to go beyond all justice and to pour himself out in superabundant generosity: “Why are you envious when I am kind?” We can always, if we are absolutely bent on it, assert our so-called rights before God, appealing to his justice and only to his justice. But then we run the risk of obtaining justice—and only that.

The secret for being overwhelmed by his favors is to throw away the account books in the trash can and depend on his kindness. On the last day the latecomers in the Kingdom will admire what God will have done in the lives of the early comers. But it will be without envy. And the early comers will marvel at the munificent forgiveness bestowed on the latecomers. But it will be without envy. Together the ones and the others will be swallowed up in the glory of the sun’s rays.

August 19th

St. John Eudes

1st Reading: Jdgs 11:29-39a:
The Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah. He passed through Gilead and Manasseh, and through Mizpah-Gilead as well, and from there he went on to the Ammonites. Jephthah made a vow to the Lord. “If you deliver the Ammonites into my power,” he said, “whoever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites shall belong to the Lord. I shall offer him up as a burnt offering.” Jephthah then went on to the Ammonites to fight against them, and the Lord delivered them into his power, so that he inflicted a severe defeat on them, from Aroer to the approach of Minnith (twenty cities in all) and as far as Abel-keramim.

Thus were the Ammonites brought into subjection by the children of Israel. When Jephthah returned to his house in Mizpah, it was his daughter who came forth, playing the tambourines and dancing. She was an only child: he had neither son nor daughter besides her. When he saw her, he rent his garments and said, “Alas, daughter, you have struck me down and brought calamity upon me. For I have made a vow to the Lord and I cannot retract.” She replied, “Father, you have made a vow to the Lord. Do with me as you have vowed, because the Lord has wrought vengeance for you on your enemies the Ammonites.”

Then she said to her father, “Let me have this favor. Spare me for two months, that I may go off down the mountains to mourn my virginity with my companions.” “Go,” he replied, and sent her away for two months. So she departed with her companions and mourned her virginity on the mountains. At the end of the two months she returned to her father, who did to her as he had vowed.

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.”

In today’s gospel reading Jesus tells us a parable in which God invites us to his table. And his meal is not a stingy one. It is a banquet. For our God is a generous God, who gives lavishly, without ever tiring. Furthermore, this banquet is a wedding banquet. God is a lover, someone madly in love with humankind. In the Old Testament we see him presenting himself as a suitor wishing to marry Israel. To this people he offers a covenant, and a covenant bridal in character: “For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name” (Is 54:4).

In the New Testament Jesus shows that this marriage is carried through in his person. The whole history of the relationship between God and us is thus a love story. God confides to us the innermost of his heart: “I love you with an everlasting love” (Jer 31:3). And what he asks of us in return, the first commandment which includes all the other, is to love: “You shall love the Lord you God with all your heart” (Dt 6:5). It cannot be said that God is complicated.

August 20th

St. Bernard of Clairvaux

1st Reading: Ru 1:1, 3-6, 14b-16, 22:
There was a famine in the land during the time of the Judges, and a man from Bethlehem in Judah departed with his wife and two sons to sojourn in the country of Moab. Naomi’s husband Elimelech died. She was left with her two sons, who married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After living in Moab for about ten years, Mahlon and Chilion also died and Naomi was left bereft of husband and two sons. Having heard that Yahweh had come to help his people by giving them food, Naomi prepared to return home.

Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye, but Ruth clung to her. Naomi said, “Look, your sister-in-law returns to her people and her gods. You too must return. Go after her.” Ruth replied, “Don’t ask me to leave you. For I will go where you go and stay where you stay. Your people will be my people and your god, my God. Thus it was that Naomi returned from Moab with her Moabite daughter-in-law and arrived in Bethlehem as the barley harvest began.

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.”

Today’s gospel reading presents the opponents of Jesus questioning him on a hierarchy of commandments. Jesus invites them to look towards God and people. Not a tape recording, but a live broadcast. The problem is no longer to acquire a clear conscience; the problem is to love. And so, what about the essential? The essential always has a face. That of a husband or a wife, those of children and parents, those of neighbors and coworkers, those more distant of people with whom we must struggle for a more humane society.

The essential is also, at the same time, the face of all faces, that of Him whom Jesus has called Father so that all of us may know that we are all sons and daughters, brothers and sisters. How does one concretely love one’s neighbor? It is not so much a matter of feelings (some natural antipathies are almost insurmountable) as a matter of attitudes and actions. St. Paul describes in the following terms what is true charity: “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things” (1 Cor 13:7). When we seek to excuse the neighbors’ faults, when we always hope that they will improve (whatever appearances), when we accept them as they are—then we really love, then we are true sons and daughters of God.

August 21st

St. Pius X

1st Reading: Ru 2:1-3, 8-11; 4:13-17:
Naomi had a prominent kinsman named Boaz, of the clan of her husband Elimelech. Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go and glean ears of grain in the field of anyone who will allow me that favor.” Naomi said to her, “Go, my daughter,” and she went. The field she entered to glean after the harvesters happened to be the section belonging to Boaz of the clan of Elimelech. Boaz said to Ruth, “Listen, my daughter! Do not go to glean in anyone else’s field; you are not to leave here. Stay here with my women servants. Watch to see which field is to be harvested, and follow them; I have commanded the young men to do you no harm. When you are thirsty, you may go and drink from the vessels the young men have filled.”

Casting herself prostrate upon the ground, Ruth said to him, “Why should I, a foreigner, be favored with your notice?” Boaz answered her: “I have had a complete account of what you have done for your mother-in-law after your husband’s death; you have left your father and your mother and the land of your birth, and have come to a people whom you did not know previously.” Boaz took Ruth. When they came together as man and wife, the Lord enabled her to conceive and she bore a son.

Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed is the Lord who has not failed to provide you today with an heir! May he become famous in Israel! He will be your comfort and the support of your old age, for his mother is the daughter-in-law who loves you. She is worth more to you than seven sons!” Naomi took the child, placed him on her lap, and became his nurse. And the neighbor women gave him his name, at the news that a grandson had been born to Naomi. They called him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.

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.”

What do we feel when we hear Jesus criticizing the Pharisees? Satisfaction in thinking that his  criticism applies to present-day Pharisees we know well. But isn’t such an attitude already the sign of a certain superiority affirming itself: thank God, I am not like those people? Well, if we leave the church after Mass and interiorly congratulate ourselves on not being Pharisees, this is a very bad sign. The true disciples of Jesus, the one who know themselves as weak and prone to sin, are well aware that they have in themselves all the roots of Pharisaism. They know that their first duty is to examine themselves instead of seeking out the Pharisees of their parish.

When we judge and despise others while demanding that they adopt a different behavior from the one they have now, we lay a burden on their shoulders and at the same time we avoid questioning our own behavior. Actually we can all recognize ourselves to a certain degree in the description Jesus makes of the Pharisees. The truly humble Christian does not refuse the sound advice of someone merely because that someone does not follow his or her own advice or because he or she is hypocritical or conceited. The Lord can use such a person to make us better.