Bible Diary for August 29th – September 4th

August 29th

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Beheading of St. John the Baptist

1st Reading: Dt 4:1-2, 6-8:
And now, Israel, listen to the norms and laws which I teach that you may put them into practice. And you will live and enter and take possession of the land which Yahweh, the God of your fathers, gives you. Do not add anything to what I command you nor take anything away from it. But keep the commandments of Yahweh, your God, as I command you. If you observe and practice them, other peoples will regard you as wise and intelligent.

When they come to know of all these laws, they will say, “There is no people as wise and as intelligent as this great nation.” For in truth, is there a nation as great as ours, whose gods are as near to it as Yahweh, our God, is to us whenever we call upon him? And is there a nation as great as ours whose norms and laws are as just as this Law which I give you today?

2nd Reading: Jas 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27:
Every good and perfect gift comes from above, from the Father of Light, in whom there is no change or shadow of a change. By his own will he gave us life through the Word of Truth, that we might be a kind of offering to him among his creatures. Welcome the Word that has been planted in you and has the power to save you. Be doers of the Word and not just hearers, lest you deceive yourselves. In the sight of God, our Father, pure and blameless religion lies in helping the orphans and widows in their need and keeping oneself from the world’s corruption.

Gospel: Mk 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23:
One day the Pharisees gathered around Jesus and with them were some teachers of the Law who had just come from Jerusalem. They noticed that some of his disciples were eating their meal with unclean hands, that is, without washing them. Now the Pharisees, and in fact, all the Jews, never eat without washing their hands for they follow the tradition received from their ancestors. Nor do they eat anything when they come from the market without first washing themselves. And there are many other traditions they observe, for example, the ritual washing of cups, pots and plates.

So the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law asked him, “Why do your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders, but eat with unclean hands?” Jesus answered, “You, shallow people! How well Isaiah prophesied of you when he wrote: This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. The worship they offer me is worthless, for what they teach are only human rules. You even put aside the commandment of God to hold fast to human tradition.”

Jesus then called the people to him again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and try to understand. Nothing that enters a person from the outside can make that person unclean. It is what comes out from within that makes a person unclean. For evil designs come out of the heart: theft, murder, adultery, jealousy, greed, maliciousness, deceit, indecency, slander, pride and folly. All these evil things come from within and make a person unclean.”

External acts are markers that convey what is happening in the internal forum of a person, what the person thinks, feels or desires. In the case of the ritual acts of purity performed by every devout Jew, it is done to remain pure and holy in the sight of Yahweh. But this desire for ritual purity must have a basis in our daily lives. Acting out the ritual is no substitute for a life lived in holiness. The actions become empty and devoid of meaning. Holiness becomes a production number and a sham. This is what Jesus tried to tell the religious leaders: that ritual acts of holiness for the sake of the action has no salvific import. What are my own ritual acts that I sometimes substitute for real holiness?

Today is a good day to start cleaning up the internal clutter that blocks my path towards holiness. A visit to the confessional box is a good option to follow. Loving Father, direct my time, talent and energies to things that really matter. May I not be fascinated too much by external appearance that I have no time to cleanse my internal space. May I seek holiness mostly from within and may everything I do outside be rooted from within. In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

August 30th

1st Reading: 1 Thes 4:13-18:
Brothers and sisters, we want you not to be mistaken about those who are already asleep lest you grieve as do those who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose; it will be the same for those who have died in Jesus. God will bring them together with Jesus and for his sake. By the same word of the Lord we assert this: those of us who are to be alive at the Lord’s coming will not go ahead of those who are already asleep.

When the command by the archangel’s voice is given, the Lord himself will come down from heaven, while the divine trumpet call is sounding. Then those who have died in the Lord will rise first; as for us who are still alive, we will be brought along with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the celestial world. And we will be with the Lord forever. So, then comfort one another with these words.

Gospel: Lk 4:16-30:
When Jesus came to Nazareth where he had been brought up, he entered the synagogue on the Sabbath as he usually did. He stood up to read and they handed him the book of the prophet Isaiah. Jesus then unrolled the scroll and found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and new sight to the blind; to free the oppressed and to announce the Lord’s year of mercy.” Jesus then rolled up the scroll, gave it to the attendant and sat down, while the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he said to them, “Today these prophetic words come true even as you listen.”

All agreed with him and were lost in wonder, while he spoke of the grace of God. Nevertheless they asked, “Who is this but Joseph’s son?” So he said, “Doubtless you will quote me the saying: Doctor, heal yourself! Do here in your town what they say you did in Capernaum.” Jesus added, “No prophet is honored in his own country. Truly, I say to you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens withheld rain for three years and six months and a great famine came over the whole land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow of Zarephath, in the country of Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha, the prophet, and no one was healed except Naaman, the Syrian.”

On hearing these words, the whole assembly became indignant. They rose up and brought him out of the town, to the edge of the hill on which Nazareth is built, intending to throw him down the cliff. But he passed through their midst and went his way.

What is most shocking to the Nazarenes is not that Jesus had already lavished his miracles on other cities of Israel; it is rather that, appealing to the example of Elijah and Elisha, those great prophets of the past, Jesus asserts his right to perform miracles also for the benefit of pagans: a prophet does not restrict his favors to his homeland. To the Jews, who were aware of being the Chosen People, it was unthinkable and scandalous that the Messiah, the Messenger of God to Israel, could be interested in pagans. And so, his declaration seems blasphemous to them, deserving death by stoning.

Jesus will often meet with this attitude in the course of his ministry. If God has chosen us to be his sons and daughters through baptism and Christian education, it is not because he is not interested in the pagans; it is because he wants to use us in attracting the pagans to the true God through our good example. And if God, without out intermediary, gives us to some pagans more graces than he gives to us, then we should not be scandalized by his kindness. We should rather give glory to such a kind God “who wants everybody to be saved” (1 Tim 2:4).

August 31st

1st Reading: 1 Thes 5:1-6, 9-11:
You do not need anyone to write to you about the delay, and the appointed time for these events. You know that the Day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When people feel secure and at peace, the disaster will suddenly come upon them as the birth pangs of a woman in labor, and they will not escape. But you, beloved, are not in darkness; so that day will not surprise you like a thief. All of you are citizens of the light and the day; we do not belong to night and darkness.

Let us not, therefore, sleep as others do, but remain alert and sober. For God has not willed us to be condemned but to win salvation through Christ Jesus our Lord. He died for us so that we might enter into life with him, whether we are still awake or already asleep. Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, as you are doing now.

Gospel: Lk 4:31-37:
Jesus went down to Capernaum, a town of Galilee, and began teaching the people at the Sabbath meetings. They were astonished at the way he taught them, for his word was spoken with authority. In the synagogue there was a man possessed by an evil spirit who shouted in a loud voice, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I recognize you: you are the Holy One of God.”

Then Jesus said to him sharply, “Be silent and leave this man!” The evil spirit then threw the man down in front of them and came out of him without doing him harm. Amazement seized all these people and they said to one another, “What does this mean? He commands the evil spirits with authority and power. He orders, and you see how they come out!” And news about Jesus spread throughout the surrounding area.

Some Christians are not a little embarrassed when they read stories of exorcisms in the gospel like the one we have in today’s gospel reading. They are so influenced by secular thought that they are ready to relegate any mention of demons to the Dark Ages. They are tempted to accept the sweeping statement of rationalist thought which claims that Jesus and his contemporaries naively called demonic possession what were simply cases of hysteria or of psychosomatic illness. Jesus’ “exorcisms” were, therefore, merely natural cures of nervous disorders. However, a close study of the gospels contradicts the rationalist theory at every turn.

When the gospels give general statements on healings and exorcisms, they usually (78% of the time) distinguish between sickness and demonic possession. And Mark, our earliest gospel, never confuses the two. In the 14 different gospel passages presenting specific exorcisms, 8 out of 14 (or 57%) are devoid of terminological confusion and clearly distinguish healings from exorcisms. The rest of the texts present some slight confusion (3 texts) or considerable confusion (3 texts). We also have 15 gospel passages in which Jesus is said to have performed healings and in which these healings are described without the least reference to demonic influence.

September 1st

1st Reading: Col 1:1-8:
Paul, apostle of Christ Jesus, by the will of God and Timothy our brother, to the saints in Colossae, our faithful brothers and sisters in Christ: Receive grace and peace from God our Father, and Christ Jesus our Lord. Thanks be to God, the Father of Christ Jesus, our Lord! We constantly pray for you, for we have known of your faith in Christ Jesus and of your love for all the saints. Indeed you await in hope the inheritance reserved for you in heaven, of which you have heard through the word of truth.

This Gospel, already present among you, is bearing fruit and growing throughout the world, as it did among you from the day you accepted it and understood the gift of God in all its truth. He who taught you, Epaphras, our dear companion in the service of Christ, faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, has reminded me of the love you have for me in the spirit.

Gospel: Lk 4:38-44:
Leaving the synagogue, Jesus went to the house of Simon. His mother-in-law was suffering from high fever and they asked him to do something for her. Bending over her, he rebuked the fever, and it left her. Immediately she got up and waited on them. At sunset, people suffering from many kinds of sickness were brought to Jesus. Laying his hands on each one, he healed them. Demons were driven out, howling as they departed from their victims, “You are the Son of God!”

He rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, for they knew he was the Messiah. Jesus left at daybreak and looked for a solitary place. People went out in search of him and, finding him, they tried to dissuade him from leaving. But he said, “I have to go to other towns to announce the good news of the kingdom of God. That is what I was sent to do.” And Jesus continued to preach in the synagogues of Galilee.

The following reflections are meant to complete yesterday’s reflections, which attempted to refute the rationalist interpretation of Jesus’ exorcism as mere healings of psychic disorders. The behavior of Jesus is very different when he is dealing with a merely sick person and when he is dealing with a possessed person. In the first case he speaks kindly and encouragingly to the patient, and displays the greatest compassion for him or her. In the second case, he speaks harshly and mordantly, not to the victim of the demon (who does not seem to be aware of what is going on), but rather to the entity which possesses the body of the victim and speaks through the victim.

When a merely sick person confronts Jesus, his or her behavior is very different from that of a possessed person. In the first case, the person is fully conscious, speaks humbly and respectfully to Jesus, acts with normal calm. But, in the second case, the speaker is not the victim of the possessing entity, it is the entity possessing the victim. Often enough that entity will betray a supernatural knowledge of Jesus’ real identity. How can mere mental illness explain this? (For a thorough treatment of this question, cf. Nil Guillemette, “Exorcisms or Healings?” in Your Heart’s Treasure (Manila: Paulines, 2010), pp. 112-142).

September 2nd

1st Reading: Col 1:9-14:
Because of this, from the day we received news of you, we have not ceased praying to God for you, that you may attain the full knowledge of his will through all the gifts of wisdom and spiritual understanding. May your lifestyle be worthy of the Lord and completely pleasing to him. May you bear fruit in every good work and grow in the knowledge of God. May you become strong in everything by a sharing of the glory of God, so that you may have great endurance and persevere in joy. Constantly give thanks to the Father who has empowered us to receive our share in the inheritance of the saints in his kingdom of light. He rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son. In him we are redeemed and forgiven.

Gospel: Lk 5:1-11:
One day, as Jesus stood by the Lake of Gennesaret, with a crowd gathered around him listening to the word of God, he caught sight of two boats left at the water’s edge by the fishermen now washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to pull out alittle from the shore. There he sat and continued to teach the crowd. When he had finished speaking he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” Simon replied, “Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing. But if you say so, I will lower the nets.” This they did and caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break.

They signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. They came and filled both boats almost to the point of sinking. Upon seeing this, Simon Peter fell at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Leave me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For he and his companions were amazed at the catch they had made and so were Simon’s partners, James and John, Zebedee’s sons. Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid. You will catch people from now on.” So they brought their boats to land and followed him, leaving everything.

In today’s gospel reading, we see that, even though Peter is a sinner, Jesus makes an apostle of him. Our sins, when they are humbly confessed, do not drive Jesus away from us. Only pharisaism, the conviction of being holy and above reproach before God draws up an insurmountable barrier between God and his creature. In this gospel passage we hear Simon say to Jesus: “Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing.” The same temptation of discouragement threatens us many times. We are then on the point of giving up. Yet perhaps we are only minutes away from a miraculous catch of fish! Let us therefore listen to the voice of Christ telling us to put out into deep water: keep on going, start again!

This narrative reminds us of the peculiar conditions in which apostleship is exercised in the Church. When Jesus was not with Peter, Peter did not catch anything; but from the moment that he took Jesus on board, he caught a great many fish. This is an example illustrating the truth that, without Jesus, we can do nothing (Jn 15:5). But, with his help, anything is possible. As Paul says, “I can do anything in him who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13).

September 3rd

St. Gregory the Great

1st Reading: Col 1:15-20:
He is the image of the unseen God, and for all creation he is the firstborn, for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible: thrones, rulers, authorities, powers… All was made through him and for him. He is before all and all things hold together in him. And he is the head of the body, that is the Church, for he is the first, the first raised from the dead that he may be the first in everything, for God was pleased to let fullness dwell in him. Through him God willed to reconcile all things to himself, and through him, through his blood shed on the cross, God establishes peace, on earth as in heaven.

Gospel: Lk 5:33-39:
Some people asked him, “The disciples of John fast often and say long prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees. Why is it that your disciples eat and drink?” Then Jesus said to them, “You can’t make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them. But later the bridegroom will be taken from them and they will fast in those days.” Jesus also told them this parable, “No one tears a piece from a new coat to put it on an old one; otherwise the new will be torn and the piece taken from the new will not match the old. No one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed as well. But new wine must be put into fresh skins. Yet no one who has tasted old wine is eager to get new wine, but says: The old is good.”

In today’s gospel reading Jesus refers to himself as our bridegroom. And indeed he is. Here perhaps some super-macho male Christian might feel uneasy at the thought of being anyone’s wife, however divine and transcendent that someone might be. But such a reaction is really unwarranted. Our bodies are either male or female, and consequently are attracted to and are meant to complete the gender they happen to lack. But our soul is different. In reference to God it is decidedly feminine (even grammatically it seems to be of the feminine gender in most languages) and feels spontaneously attracted to God as a bride to her bridegroom.

This human trait is universal and has been described by countless spiritual authors. For instance, a Carthusian monk writes in the same vein in his book The Way of Silent Love: “God,” he says, “never surfeits us with the gift of himself but creates in us an ever larger capacity for love and, having done this, he replenishes us with a desire, a thirst, more ardent still. And it will always be this way with God for eternity without end, because God is without end. If we arrive at the end, it is not God” (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1993, p. 28).

September 4th

1st Reading: Col 1:21-23:
You, yourselves, were once estranged, and opposed to God because of your evil deeds, but now, God has reconciled you, in the human body of his Son, through his death, so that you may be without fault, holy and blameless before him. Only stand firm, upon the foundation of your faith, and be steadfast in hope. Keep in mind the Gospel you have heard, which has been preached to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.

Gospel: Lk 6:1-5:
One Sabbath Jesus was going through the corn fields and his disciples began to pick heads of grain crushing them in their hands for food. Some of the Pharisees asked them, “Why do you do what is forbidden on the Sabbath?” Then Jesus spoke, “Have you never read what David did when he and his men were hungry?” He entered the house of God, took and ate the bread of the offering and even gave some to his men, though only priests are allowed to eat that bread.” And Jesus added, “The Son of Man is Lord and rules over the Sabbath.”

When we say that Claire and Jane have “reconciled,” we usually mean that both women have modified their position from one of hostility to one of friendliness. They have both been reconciled to each other—the verb being used in the passive voice. However, when it comes to our relationship with God, things are very different. God never needs to be reconciled to us, because he always loves us perfectly, even as he loves the demons in Hell, according to the greatest doctor of the Church, St. Thomas Aquinas. We need to be reconciled (i.e. changed) to God, but not God.

This state of affairs is perfectly reflected in the letters of the apostle Paul. With absolute consistency, not once does he say that God has been reconciled to us. As in today’s first reading, he insists that “God has reconciled you (to him).” Why is this? Because God has never been hostile to us, he has never ceased loving us, he has always been turned toward us, even while we were turning our backs on him by our sins. As Paul writes so poignantly: “While we were enemies, we were reconciled to God” (Rom 5:10).