Bible Diary for February 26th – March 4th
1st Sunday in Lent
1st Reading: Gn 2:7-9; 3:1-7:
The Lord God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being. Then the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and placed there the man whom he had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God made various trees grow that were delightful to look at and good for food, with the tree of life in the middle of the garden and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Now the serpent was the most cunning of all the animals that the Lord God had made. The serpent asked the woman, “Did God really tell you not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?”
The woman answered the serpent: “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; it is only about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that God said, ‘You shall not eat it or even touch it, lest you die.'” But the serpent said to the woman: “You certainly will not die! No, God knows well that the moment you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods who know what is good and what is evil.” The woman saw that the tree was good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom. So she took some of its fruit and ate it; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized that they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.
2nd Reading: Rom 5:12-19:
Brothers and sisters: Through one man sin entered the world, and through sin, death, and thus death came to all men, inasmuch as all sinned— for up to the time of the law, sin was in the world, though sin is not accounted when there is no law. But death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who did not sin after the pattern of the trespass of Adam, who is the type of the one who was to come. But the gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one, the many died, how much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ overflow for the many. And the gift is not like the result of the one who sinned.
For after one sin there was the judgment that brought condemnation; but the gift, after many transgressions, brought acquittal. For if, by the transgression of the one, death came to reign through that one, how much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of justification come to reign in life through the one Jesus Christ. In conclusion, just as through one transgression condemnation came upon all, so, through one righteous act, acquittal and life came to all. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so, through the obedience of the one, the many will be made righteous.
Gospel: Mt 4:1-11:
At that time Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry. The tempter approached and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.” He said in reply, “It is written: One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.” Then the devil took him to the holy city, and made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down.
For it is written: He will command his angels concerning you and with their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.” Jesus answered him, “Again it is written, You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.” Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to him, “All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.” At this, Jesus said to him, “Get away, Satan! It is written: The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.” Then the devil left him and, behold, angels came and ministered to him.
The first reading narrates the Fall of Man: How humanity sinned. The Gospel narrative informs us how Jesus overcame the temptations and rewrote human history. Paul captures the theological implications of both narratives: how through one man’s sin and death entered the world, and through another, salvation and life. The temptations of Jesus parallel those of Adam and Eve. For, Eve saw that the fruit was good to eat [bodily realm], and pleasant to the eyes [psychological realm], and ideal for gaining knowledge [spiritual realm], and she succumbed to the temptation. Jesus faces the same situation— bread [bodily realm], miracle [psychological], and false worship [spiritual]—and he overcomes them. What are your temptations at these levels and how do you respond? Pray the Lord’s Prayer, with special attention to the verse on temptations. Receive the sacrament of reconciliation this week.
1st Reading: Lv 19:1-2, 11-18:
The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the whole assembly of the children of Israel and tell them: Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy. “You shall not steal. You shall not lie or speak falsely to one another. You shall not swear falsely by my name, thus profaning the name of your God. I am the Lord. “You shall not defraud or rob your neighbor. You shall not withhold overnight the wages of your day laborer. You shall not curse the deaf, or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but you shall fear your God. I am the Lord.
“You shall not act dishonestly in rendering judgment. Show neither partiality to the weak nor deference to the mighty, but judge your fellow men justly. You shall not go about spreading slander among your kin; nor shall you stand by idly when your neighbor’s life is at stake. I am the Lord. “You shall not bear hatred for your brother in your heart. Though you may have to reprove him, do not incur sin because of him. Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your fellow countrymen. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.”
Gospel: Mt 25:31-46:
Jesus said to his disciples: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’
Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’ Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’
Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’ And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
In todays’ reading we hear Yahweh reveal to Moses the fundamental Law: “Be holy, for I, Yahweh, your God am holy.“ What is holiness? How does one become holy? Holiness is following the way of Christ. And the way of Christ is the way of the Cross! Under the sign of the Cross we pray, bless, and are sanctified. It is in the sign of the Cross that we become holy. The Cross has two dimensions, namely, the vertical and the horizontal. The vertical dimension tells us to raise our eyes to God in heaven in prayer. The horizontal dimension tells us to reach out to our brothers and sisters in charity, in the corporal works of mercy.
This reminds me of two beautiful literary pieces. In “The Trees“ Joyce Kilmer wrote: I think that I shall never see A poem lovely as a tree. A tree that looks at God all day, And lifts her leafy arms to pray; Holiness is stretching our arms in prayer. The other literary piece is “The Giving Tree“ by Shel Silverstein. It is the story of an apple tree that gives itself to a man from boyhood to adulthood. The “giving tree“ gave its entire life to the boy. Holiness is giving until it hurts, giving until nothing remains! Yes, holiness is about the Cross! Holiness is becoming like Jesus who prayed with outstretched arms and giving all! Holiness comes in the form of The Tree of Life, the Cross!
1st Reading: Is 55:10-11:
Thus says the Lord: Just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down And do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, Giving seed to the one who sows and bread to the one who eats, So shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; It shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.
Gospel: Mt 6:7-15:
Jesus said to his disciples: “In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him. “This is how you are to pray: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. “If you forgive men their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.”
There is a very beautiful story about the “Our Father.“ During the communist reign in Russia under Stalin, a communist Russian-Jew, Dr. Boris Kornfeld, a surgeon, became one of the many political prisoners in Siberia. While in the prison camp a Christian prisoner taught him “The Our Father.“ Boris was not a Christian; but he found the prayer attractive and consoling, so he begun to pray it. One day, a guard featured in a knifing incident. An artery had been cut. Dr. Kornfeld was ordered to save the guard. While suturing the blood vessel, he thought of tying the thread in such a way that it would reopen shortly after surgery. The guard would die quickly and no one would suspect anything.
The process of taking this particular form of vengeance gave rein to the burning hatred Dr. Kornfeld had for the guard and all like him. How he despised his persecutors! An opportunity for him to get even with the inhuman prison guards had presented itself to him. But just as he was about to do the evil he had contemplated, he remembered the “Our Father“ he had been praying. He paused. He prayed. He resisted the temptation. As he completed the surgery he prayed: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, and lead us not into temptation.“ Dr. Kornfeld would later die in prison, a victim of the atrocities of the Gulag prison camp, but not before converting to Christianity and telling his story to his last patient in the Gulag, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, author of “One day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.“
1st Reading: Jon 3:1-10:
The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: “”Set out for the great city of Nineveh, and announce to it the message that I will tell you.”” So Jonah made ready and went to Nineveh, according to the Lord’s bidding. Now Nineveh was an enormously large city; it took three days to go through it. Jonah began his journey through the city, and had gone but a single day’s walk announcing, “”Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed,”” when the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast and all of them, great and small, put on sackcloth.
When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in the ashes. Then he had this proclaimed throughout Nineveh, by decree of the king and his nobles: “”Neither man nor beast, neither cattle nor sheep, shall taste anything; they shall not eat, nor shall they drink water. Man and beast shall be covered with sackcloth and call loudly to God; every man shall turn from his evil way and from the violence he has in hand. Who knows, God may relent and forgive, and withhold his blazing wrath, so that we shall not perish.”” When God saw by their actions how they turned from their evil way, he repented of the evil that he had threatened to do to them; he did not carry it out.
Gospel: Lk 11:29-32:
While still more people gathered in the crowd, Jesus said to them, “This generation is an evil generation; it seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it, except the sign of Jonah. Just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation. At the judgment the queen of the south will rise with the men of this generation and she will condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and there is something greater than Solomon here. At the judgment the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation and condemn it, because at the preaching of Jonah they repented, and there is something greater than Jonah here.”
The second formula used during the giving of ashes on Ash Wednesday is “Repent and believe in the Gospel.“ This formula reminds us of our call to repentance. Jonah in the Old Testament was sent to Nineveh to preach repentance. Jonah actually did not want to obey Yahweh. No! He wanted instead to pray that Nineveh, the city of their persecutors be destroyed! (Jonah was not yet taught the Lord’s Prayer!) But still God made a way so that Jonah would preach to the Ninevites and they would repent! On the other hand, in the Gospel today Jesus commiserates on how the Jews of his own time have one greater than Jonah preaching to them about repentance and yet they turn a deaf ear.
So Jesus speaks of a severe judgment on the Jews who refuse to heed his call to repentance. San Juan de Dios, our Saint of today, lived a very troubled life before his conversion. He had been a shepherd, soldier of fortune, and many odd occupations before he heard the Gospel that converted him in his 40s. Once he had seen the light of the Gospel he gave his life to the care of the sick, especially the mentally ill, as he himself had suffered some mental illness. He dedicated his life for the sick establishing the Brothers Hospitallers of St. John, who care for the sick. He repented and believed in the Gospel! May we repent and believe in the Good News!
1st Reading: Est C:12, 14-16, 23-25:
Queen Esther, seized with mortal anguish, had recourse to the Lord. She lay prostrate upon the ground, together with her handmaids, from morning until evening, and said: “God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob, blessed are you. Help me, who am alone and have no help but you, for I am taking my life in my hand. As a child I used to hear from the books of my forefathers that you, O Lord, always free those who are pleasing to you. Now help me, who am alone and have no one but you, O Lord, my God. “And now, come to help me, an orphan. Put in my mouth persuasive words in the presence of the lion and turn his heart to hatred for our enemy, so that he and those who are in league with him may perish. Save us from the hand of our enemies; turn our mourning into gladness and our sorrows into wholeness.”
Gospel: Mt 7:7-12:
Jesus said to his disciples: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which one of you would hand his son a stone when he asked for a loaf of bread, or a snake when he asked for a fish? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him. “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you. This is the law and the prophets.”
It is when we are on our knees praying that we are most powerful! I am sure that we all have at one time or another experienced the power of prayer. Many times we reach a point when we realize we are simply powerless. When tragedy or calamity threaten us and we have nowhere to turn to we cannot but go down on our knees and pray for Divine intervention. We pray “Please, Lord, maawa ka!“ Esther in our first reading was in such a predicament. Her people were in danger of being exterminated. She was their only hope.
She was asked to speak to the King even though not summoned, and beg for mercy for her people. She prays, and miracle of miracles she is given an audience and she gets what she prays for! “Ask, and you shall receive, Seek and you shall find, Knock and the door shall be opened unto you“ says the Lord. Sometimes we take prayer for granted and may even think of prayer as the way of weak. But in truth, prayer is the strongest weapon given to us. In prayer we gain our strongest ally, God himself! And if God is on our side, can there be anyone stronger than God?
St. Katharine Drexel
1st Reading: Ez 18:21-28:
Thus says the Lord God: If the wicked man turns away from all the sins he committed, if he keeps all my statutes and does what is right and just, he shall surely live, he shall not die. None of the crimes he committed shall be remembered against him; he shall live because of the virtue he has practiced. Do I indeed derive any pleasure from the death of the wicked? says the Lord God. Do I not rather rejoice when he turns from his evil way that he may live? And if the virtuous man turns from the path of virtue to do evil, the same kind of abominable things that the wicked man does, can he do this and still live?
None of his virtuous deeds shall be remembered, because he has broken faith and committed sin; because of this, he shall die. You say, “The Lord’s way is not fair!” Hear now, house of Israel: Is it my way that is unfair, or rather, are not your ways unfair? When someone virtuous turns away from virtue to commit iniquity, and dies, it is because of the iniquity he committed that he must die. But if the wicked, turning from the wickedness he has committed, does what is right and just, he shall preserve his life; since he has turned away from all the sins that he committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die.
Gospel: Mt 5:20-26:
Jesus said to his disciples: “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the Kingdom of heaven. “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment. But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, Raqa, will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna.
Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court. Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge, and the judge will hand you over to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Amen, I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.”
It is very rare that penitents confess “Bless me Father for I have sinned. I have murdered a person.“ Perhaps one may hear such a confession from prisoners convicted of murder but hardly from ordinary penitents lining up at a confession in a church. But then, consider what the Lord tells us in our Gospel of today! We must confess more often, “Father, I am guilty of the sin of murder for I have hurt people with my words.“ Jesus tells us today that we violate the 5th commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,“ more often than we think. When in anger we utter demeaning and hurting words we “kill“ our neighbor.
We know very well how words can even be more damaging than physical injury. Physical injury on the body of your neighbor can heal over time. But the injury through harsh words can remain in the heart of the offended over many years! This reminds me of a beautiful poem by Longfellow: I shot an arrow into the air, It fell to earth, I knew not where; For, so swiftly it flew, the sight Could not follow it in its flight. I breathed a song into the air, It fell to earth, I knew not where’; For who has sight so keen and strong, That it can follow the flight of song? Long, long afterward, in an oak I found the arrow, still unbroke; And the song, from beginning to end, I found again in the heart of a friend.
1st Reading: Dt 26:16-19:
Moses spoke to the people, saying: “This day the Lord, your God, commands you to observe these statutes and decrees. Be careful, then, to observe them with all your heart and with all your soul. Today you are making this agreement with the Lord: he is to be your God and you are to walk in his ways and observe his statutes, commandments and decrees, and to hearken to his voice. And today the Lord is making this agreement with you: you are to be a people peculiarly his own, as he promised you; and provided you keep all his commandments, he will then raise you high in praise and renown and glory above all other nations he has made, and you will be a people sacred to the Lord, your God, as he promised.”
Gospel: Mt 5:43-48:
Jesus said to his disciples: “You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers and sisters only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
We wrap up the first week of our Lenten meditations on becoming holy following the example of Jesus and his Cross with the distinctive character of Christian love: loving even the unlovable, our “enemies“ and those who do not love us in return. Indeed, that which distinguishes the Christian love from human love is that the former is a love that puts no limits and is so inclusive. The latter, on the other hand puts boundaries to the extent of its love. Human love finds its expression in the saying, “If you are good to me, I will be good to you.“ Implied is that I can be your friend, but I can be your worst enemy if you hurt me!
There is a “Leveling up“ in the Law of Love. The “agape“ love that Jesus invites his disciples to is a love that Jesus will show to them and to the world. From the Cross, Jesus would pray for all, including those who would crucify him, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.“ As we end the first week, consider: who has hurt you the most this year? Who among your loved ones has hurt you the most? (Because, all too often, those who hurt us the most are those closest to us!) Are you ready to stretch out your hands to forgive and love again?