Bible Diary for January 16th – 22nd

January 16th

2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

1st Reading: Is 62:1-5:
For Zion’s sake I will not hold my peace, for Jerusalem I will not keep silent, until her holiness shines like the dawn and her salvation flames like a burning torch. The nations will see your holiness and all the kings your glory. You will be called by a new name which the mouth of Yahweh will reveal. You will be a crown of glory in the hand of Yahweh, a royal diadem in the hand of your God. No longer will you be named Forsaken; no longer will your land be called Abandoned; but you will be called My Delight and your land Espoused. For Yahweh delights in you and will make your land his spouse. As a young man marries a virgin, so will your builder marry you; and as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride, so will your God rejoice in you.

2nd Reading: 1 Cor 12:4-11:
There is diversity of gifts, but the Spirit is the same. There is diversity of ministries, but the Lord is the same. There is diversity of works, but the same God works in all. The Spirit reveals his presence in each one with a gift that is also a service. One is to speak with wisdom, through the Spirit. Another teaches, according to the same Spirit. To another is given faith, in which the Spirit acts; to another, the gift of healing, and it is the same Spirit. Another works miracles, another is a prophet, another recognizes what comes from the good or evil spirit; another speaks in tongues, and still another interprets what has been said in tongues. And all of this, is the work of the one and only Spirit, who gives to each one, as he so desires.

Gospel: Jn 2:1-11:
Three days later there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus was also invited to the wedding with his disciples. When all the wine provided for the celebration had been served, and they had run out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” Jesus replied, “Woman, what concern is that to you and me? My hour has not yet come.” However his mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Nearby were six stone water jars, set there for ritual washing as practiced by the Jews; each jar could hold twenty or thirty Galilee. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.”

And they filled them to the brim. Then Jesus said, “Now draw some out and take it to the steward.” So they did. The steward tasted the water that had become wine, without knowing from where it had come; for only the servants who had drawn the water knew. Immediately he called the bride – groom, and said, “Everyone serves the best wine first, and when people have drunk enough, he serves that which is ordinary. But you have kept the best wine until the end.” This miraculous sign was the first, and Jesus performed it at Cana in Galilee. In this way he showed his glory, and his disciples believed in him.

For Isaiah the image of bridegroom and bride describes the relationship between God and His holy people. St. Paul describes a similar intimacy: the work of the Holy Spirit that is poured down on his people, and reveals Its presence in diverse gifts. In the Gospel, a wedding feast is the occasion of Jesus’ first miracle: turning water into wine. That wine foreshadows the later Eucharistic mystery, the most intimate union of all with his people. Reflect: “Do whatever he tells you.”

With these words Jesus’ mother initiates the first of her son’s miraculous signs. Does she know that this is the beginning of a journey that will end with the pouring out of his life? So it begins—with Mary’s prompting. In effect, she is saying, yes, the hour has come. Now it is time for his glory to be known. Now it is time for him to be about his Father’s business. He will no longer have occasion to heed his mother. But it remains for us to heed her words: “Do whatever he tells you.” Blessed Mother, let me heed your words, and do whatever your Son tells me.

January 17th

St. Anthony

1st Reading: 1 Sm 15:16-23:
Samuel then told Saul, “Enough! Let me tell you what Yahweh said to me last night.” Saul replied, “Please tell me.” So Samuel went on and said, “Though you had no confidence in yourself, you became chief of the tribes of Israel, for Yahweh wanted to anoint you king over Israel. Then he sent you with this command, ‘Go. Completely crush the Amalekite offenders, engaging them in battle until they are destroyed.’ Why then did you not obey the voice of Yahweh but instead swooped down on the spoil, doing what was evil in his sight?”

To this, Saul replied, “I have obeyed the voice of Yahweh and have carried out the mission for which he sent me. I have captured Agag, king of Amalek and completely destroyed the Amalekites. If my men spared the best sheep and oxen from among those to be destroyed, it was in order to sacrifice them to Yahweh, your God, in Gilgal.” Samuel then said, “Does Yahweh take as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obedience to his command? Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission better than the fat of rams. Rebellion is like the sin of divination, and stubbornness like holding onto idols. Since you have rejected the word of Yahweh, he too has rejected you as king.”

Gospel: Mk 2:18-22:
One day, when the Pharisees and the disciples of John the Baptist were fasting, some people asked Jesus, “Why is it, that both the Pharisees and the disciples of John fast, but yours do not?” Jesus answered, “How can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. But the day will come, when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast. No one sews a piece of new cloth on an old coat, because the new patch will shrink and tear away from the old cloth, making a worse tear. And no one puts new wine into old wine skins, for the wine would burst the skins, and then both the wine and the skins would be lost. But new wine, new skins!”

Both of today’s readings focus on the idea of compromise. King Saul decided he would compromise with God’s strict orders and come up with his own watering-down of them. But the prophet Samuel would have none of that: “Obedience is better than sacrifice,” he says. In the gospel reading, we meet with the same idea. Jesus is adamant: there is no compromise possible between the Old Order of the past (symbolized here by the Pharisaic practice of fasting and John the Baptist’s similar practice) and the New Order inaugurated by Jesus. Here Jesus compares himself to mankind’s bridegroom, an image of infinite richness.

When the bridegroom erupts on the human scene, he says, the time for fasting is over. Who would fast at a wedding? Between Christ and anything else, if there is compromise (we call it nowadays “inculturation of the Gospel), it must be entirely one-sided on the part of what is being “evangelized.” This means that some things (v.g. divorce, abortion, gender inequality) simply cannot combine with Christianity. This is something that many of our contemporaries find difficult to understand. Yet, a person is either married or single before the law; there is no in-between civil status.

January 18th

1st Reading: 1 Sm 16:1-13:
The Lord said to Samuel: “How long will you grieve for Saul, whom I have rejected as king of Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and be on your way. I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem, for I have chosen my king from among his sons.” But Samuel replied: “How can I go? Saul will hear of it and kill me.” To this the Lord answered: “Take a heifer along and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I myself will tell you what to do; you are to anoint for me the one I point out to you.” Samuel did as the Lord had commanded him.

When he entered Bethlehem, the elders of the city came trembling to meet him and inquired, “Is your visit peaceful, O seer?” He replied: “Yes!  I have come to sacrifice to the LORD. So cleanse yourselves and join me today for the banquet.” He also had Jesse and his sons cleanse themselves and invited them to the sacrifice. As they came, he looked at Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is here before him.” But the Lord said to Samuel: “Do not judge from his appearance or from his lofty stature, because I have rejected him. Not as man sees does God see, because he sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart.”

Then Jesse called Abinadab and presented him before Samuel, who said, “The Lord has not chosen him.” Next Jesse presented Shammah, but Samuel said, “The Lord has not chosen this one either.” In the same way Jesse presented seven sons before Samuel, but Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any one of these.” Then Samuel asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?” Jesse replied, “There is still the youngest, who is tending the sheep.”

Samuel said to Jesse, “Send for him; we will not begin the sacrificial banquet until he arrives here.”  Jesse sent and had the young man brought to them. He was ruddy, a youth handsome to behold and making a splendid appearance. The Lord said, “There–anoint him, for this is he!” Then Samuel, with the horn of oil in hand, anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and from that day on, the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David.  When Samuel took his leave, he went to Ramah.

Gospel: Mk 2:23-28:
One Sabbath he was walking through grain fields. As his disciples walked along with him, they began to pick the heads of grain and crush them in their hands. Then the Pharisees said to Jesus, “Look! They are doing what is forbidden on the Sabbath!” And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did in his time of need; when he and his men were very hungry? He went into the House of God, when Abiathar was High Priest, and ate; the bread of offering, which only the priests are allowed to eat, and he also gave some to the men who were with him.” Then Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is master even of the Sabbath.”

In today’s first reading, we have one of the profoundest statements of the Bible: “Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart” (NAB). In this case we learn how the prophet Samuel’s preferences for choosing a new king are entirely based on appearances: stature, good looks, imposing presence. And, as we learn from the rest of the story, he is always dead wrong. How many of our judgments on people are based on very exterior things such as looks, job occupation, way of dressing, make-up, fashion, etc.?

It is astounding to see how much space is given in daily newspapers to fashionable clothes, fashionable shoes, fashionable perfumes, etc. In all this, only the exterior appearance is valued—as if people had no souls! Yet, God sees us from a completely different point of view. He looks into our hearts. Since we ourselves are unable to do so, why judge people at all? We simply lack the data to do so fairly. “Do not judge and you will not be judged,” Jesus tells us (Mt 7:1).

January 19th

1st Reading: 1 Sm 17:32-33, 37, 40-51:
David spoke to Saul: “Let your majesty not lose courage. I am at your service to go and fight this Philistine.” But Saul answered David, “You cannot go up against this Philistine and fight with him, for you are only a youth, while he has been a warrior from his youth.” David continued: “The Lord, who delivered me from the claws of the lion and the bear, will also keep me safe from the clutches of this Philistine.” Saul answered David, “Go! the Lord will be with you.” Then, staff in hand, David selected five smooth stones from the wadi and put them in the pocket of his shepherd’s bag. With his sling also ready to hand, he approached the Philistine.

With his shield bearer marching before him, the Philistine also advanced closer and closer to David. When he had sized David up, and seen that he was youthful, and ruddy, and handsome in appearance, the Philistine held David in contempt. The Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog that you come against me with a staff?” Then the Philistine cursed David by his gods and said to him, “Come here to me, and I will leave your flesh for the birds of the air and the beasts of the field.”

David answered him: “You come against me with sword and spear and scimitar, but I come against you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel that you have insulted. Today the Lord shall deliver you into my hand; I will strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will leave your corpse and the corpses of the Philistine army for the birds of the air and the beasts of the field; thus the whole land shall learn that Israel has a God. All this multitude, too, shall learn that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves. For the battle is the Lord’s and he shall deliver you into our hands.”

The Philistine then moved to meet David at close quarters, while David ran quickly toward the battle line in the direction of the Philistine. David put his hand into the bag and took out a stone, hurled it with the sling, and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone embedded itself in his brow, and he fell prostrate on the ground. Thus David overcame the Philistine with sling and stone; he struck the Philistine mortally, and did it without a sword. Then David ran and stood over him; with the Philistine’s own sword which he drew from its sheath he dispatched him and cut off his head.

Gospel: Mk 3:1-6:
Again, Jesus entered the synagogue. A man, who had a paralyzed hand, was there; and some people watched Jesus: would he heal the man on the Sabbath? If he did, they could accuse him. Jesus said to the man with the paralyzed hand, “Stand here, in the center.” Then he asked them, “What does the law allow us to do on the Sabbath? To do good or to do harm? To save life or to kill?” But they were silent. Then Jesus looked around at them with anger and deep sadness at their hardness of heart. And he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was healed. As soon as the Pharisees left, they met with Herod’s supporters, looking for a way to destroy Jesus.

Jesus looked around at them with anger.” This statement of today’s gospel reading should make us pause. Because few Christians have a balanced view of anger. Perhaps because anger (under the old-fashionable name of “wrath”) is listed among the Seven Deadly Sins, many Christians think of anger as essentially sinful. And they regularly confess it as a sin: “Father, I was angry three times.” But today’s gospel reading tells us a very different story. It spells out in black and white that Jesus was angry at times. So! How can any form of anger be a sin if Jesus himself felt angry on some occasions?

The answer to this question is very simple: a feeling is never sinful in itself, because sin essentially resides in one’s will. Feelings and passions are gifts from God to help us negotiate life’s problems. Anger is a gift from God. It is meant to energize us when fighting injustice, protecting the weak, promoting great causes, etc. Without anger, we would be as effective as a pancake! But anger is raw energy which can easily get out of control. It is what we do with our anger which makes it sinful or beautiful.

January 20th

St. Fabian
St. Sebastian

1st Reading: 1 Sm 18:6-9; 19:1-7:
When they arrived after David had slain the Philistine, the women came out from the cities of Israel to meet king Saul singing and dancing with timbrels and musical instruments. They were merrily singing this song: “Saul has slain his thousands, and David, his tens of thousands.” Saul was very displeased with this song and said, “They have given tens of thousands to David but to me only thousands! By now he has everything but the kingdom!” From then on, Saul became very distrustful of David. Saul told his son Jonathan and his servants of his intention to kill David.

But Jonathan, who liked David very much, said to David, “My father Saul wants to kill you. Be on your guard tomorrow morning and hide yourself in a secret place. I will go out and keep my father company in the countryside where you are and I will speak to him about you. If I find out something, I will let you know.” Jonathan spoke well of David to his father Saul and said, “Let not the king sin against his servant David for he has not sinned against you. On the contrary, what he has done has benefited you.

He risked his life in killing the Philistine and Yahweh brought about a great victory for Israel. You yourself saw this and greatly rejoiced. Why then sin against innocent blood and kill David without cause?” Saul heeded Jonathan’s plea and swore, “As Yahweh lives, he shall not be put to death.” So Jonathan called David and told him all these things. He then brought him to Saul and David was back in Saul’s service as before.

Gospel: Mk 3:7-12:
Jesus and his disciples withdrew to the lakeside, and a large crowd from Galilee followed him. A great number of people also came from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, Transjordan, and from the region of Tyre and Sidon, for they had heard of all that he was doing. Because of the crowd, Jesus told his disciples to have a boat ready for him, to prevent the people from crushing him. He healed so many, that all who had diseases kept pressing toward him to touch him. Even the people who had evil spirits, whenever they saw him, they would fall down before him and cry out, “You are the Son of God.” But he warned them sternly not to tell anyone who he was.

In an earlier set of reflections, Jonathan was mentioned among those rare characters of the Bible who are absolutely flawless, morally seamless, as it were. In order to understand this, we must examine the overall picture of his particular circumstances. He is King Saul’s son and apparent heir to the throne. Yet he is upstaged (if this is a correct word in this case) by young David—who, after all, is only an ignorant shepherd who happens to have been anointed successor to Saul on God’s orders. Which means that, for all intents and purposes, David is Jonathan’s dynastic rival.

As long as David is alive, Jonathan’s succession to the throne is in jeopardy. But does Jonathan care about that? Not at all. He befriends David, protects him from his father’s madness, and never once sees David as a rival. His love for David is pure friendship, nothing else. And at no time does he deviate from this attitude of loving loyalty! Apparently, David’s friendship for him is worth more than a kingdom and a crown… That is what true friendship is all about. It is pure beauty.

January 21st

St. Agnes

1st Reading: 1 Sm 24:3-21:
Saul took three thousand picked men from all Israel  and went in search of David and his men  in the direction of the wild goat crags. When he came to the sheepfolds along the way, he found a cave, which he entered to relieve himself. David and his men were occupying the inmost recesses of the cave. David’s servants said to him, “This is the day of which the Lord said to you, ‘I will deliver your enemy into your grasp; do with him as you see fit.’”

So David moved up and stealthily cut off an end of Saul’s mantle. Afterward, however, David regretted that he had cut off an end of Saul’s mantle. He said to his men, “The Lord forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the Lord’s anointed, as to lay a hand on him, for he is the Lord’s anointed.” With these words David restrained his men and would not permit them to attack Saul. Saul then left the cave and went on his way. David also stepped out of the cave, calling to Saul, “My lord the king!”

When Saul looked back, David bowed to the ground in homage and asked Saul: “Why do you listen to those who say, ‘David is trying to harm you’? You see for yourself today that the Lord just now delivered you into my grasp in the cave. I had some thought of killing you, but I took pity on you instead. I decided, ‘I will not raise a hand against my lord, for he is the Lord’s anointed and a father to me.’ Look here at this end of your mantle which I hold. Since I cut off an end of your mantle and did not kill you, see and be convinced that I plan no harm and no rebellion. I have done you no wrong, though you are hunting me down to take my life. The Lord will judge between me and you, and the Lord will exact justice from you in my case. I shall not touch you. The old proverb says, ‘From the wicked comes forth wickedness.’ So I will take no action against you. Against whom are you on campaign, O king of Israel? Whom are you pursuing?  A dead dog, or a single flea! The Lord will be the judge; he will decide between me and you. May he see this, and take my part, and grant me justice beyond your reach!”

When David finished saying these things to Saul, Saul answered, “Is that your voice, my son David?” And Saul wept aloud. Saul then said to David: “You are in the right rather than I; you have treated me generously, while I have done you harm. Great is the generosity you showed me today, when the Lord delivered me into your grasp and you did not kill me. For if a man meets his enemy, does he send him away unharmed? May the Lord reward you generously for what you have done this day. And now, I know that you shall surely be king  and that sovereignty over Israel shall come into your possession.”

Gospel: Mk 3:13-19:
Then Jesus went up into the hill country, and called those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed Twelve to be with him, and he called them ‘apostles.’ He wanted to send them out to preach; and he gave them authority to drive out demons. These are the Twelve: Simon, to whom he gave the name Peter; James, son of Zebedee, and John his brother, to whom he gave the name Boanerges, which means ‘men of thunder’; Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alpheus, Thaddeus, Simon the Cananean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.

In the David-Goliath episode we read two days ago, some verses were omitted for the sake of brevity (1 S 17:34-36). In those verses we learn that as a shepherd David would attack any lion or bear which preyed on his sheep. This he did many times and every time at the risk of his life. Thus we saw that David was a man of strong character. But today’s episode shows him to be more than that. It shows him to be a man of noble character, ever respectful of the divine order of things and unwilling to seek personal revenge.

Here he is, a man on the run with 3,000 first-class soldiers hunting him down. He can end it all with one single thrust of his sword into the heart of Saul, his archenemy. But he resists the temptation and lets Saul go scot-free. Even Saul has to bow before such greatness of heart: “You are right and I am wrong,” he admits in the end. To forgive an enemy is not only to obey a strict commandment of Christ (Mt 5:43-48). It is also to escape the dreary cycle of hate and to emerge into greatness of soul.

January 22nd

1st Reading: 2 Sm 1:1-4, 11-12, 19, 23-27:
After the death of Saul, when David had returned from defeating the Amalekites, he stayed at Ziklag for two days. On the third day a man arrived from the camp of Saul with his clothes torn and dirt on his head. When he approached David, the man threw himself to the ground in homage. David asked him, “Where are you from?” And he answered, “I have escaped from the Israelite camp.” David then said, “Tell me what happened.” And the man told him, “The soldiers fled from the battle but many of them fell and died. Saul and his son Jonathan—they too are dead.” At this, David took hold of his clothes and tore them and his men did the same.

And they mourned, weeping and fasting until evening, for the death of Saul and his son Jonathan, for all the people of Judah and for the nation of Israel. Your glory, O Israel, is slain upon your mountains! How the mighty ones have fallen! Saul and Jonathan, beloved and cherished, neither in life nor in death were they parted; swifter than eagles they were and stronger than lions. Women of Israel, weep over Saul who clothed you in precious scarlet. How the valiant have fallen! In the midst of the battle Jonathan lies slain on your mountains. I grieve for you, my brother Jonathan; how dear have you been to me! Your love for me was wonderful, even more than the love of women. How the valiant have fallen! The weapons of war have perished!”

Gospel: Mk 3:20-21:
They went home. The crowd began to gather again and they couldn’t even have a meal. Knowing what was happening, his relatives came to take charge of him. “He is out of his mind,” they said.

The people closest to Jesus (in terms of blood connection), namely, his relatives, said about him, as we learn in today’s gospel reading: “He is out of his mind.” Well, that is not too surprising, for many a great man was misunderstood and unappreciated by his own family. But, something much more serious, Jesus was misunderstood by his own disciples. Sometimes he is so frustrated by their obtuseness that his patience breaks down.

On one occasion, for example, he shows his exasperation with these words: “Do you not understand or comprehend? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes and not see, ears and not hear? And do you not remember, when I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many wicker baskets full of fragments you picked up?” They answered him, “Twelve.” “When I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many full baskets of fragments you did you pick up?” They answered, “Seven.” He said to them, “Do you still not understand?” (Mk 8, 17-21) Jesus suffered that special form of loneliness which is to be misunderstood.