Bible Diary for January 24th – 30th

January 24th

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
St. Francis de Sales

1st Reading: Jon 3:1–5, 10:
The word of Yahweh came to Jonah a second time: “Go to Nineveh, the great city, and announce to them the message I give you.” In obedience to the word of Yahweh, Jonah went to Nineveh. It was a very large city, and it took three days just to cross it. So Jonah walked a single day’s journey and began proclaiming, “Forty days more and Nineveh will be destroyed.” The people of the city believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not carry out the destruction he had threatened upon them.

2nd Reading: 1 Cor 7:29–31:
I say this, brothers and sisters: time is running out, and those who are married must live as if not married; those who weep as if not weeping; those who are happy as if they were not happy; those buying something as if they had not bought it, and those enjoying the present life as if they were not enjoying it. For the order of this world is vanishing.

Gospel: Mk 1:14–20:
After John was arrested, Jesus went into Galilee and began preaching the Good News of God. He said, “The time has come; the kingdom of God is at hand. Change your ways and believe the Good News.” As Jesus was walking along the shore of Lake Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” At once, they abandoned their nets and followed him. Jesus went a little farther on and saw James and John, the sons of Zebedee; they were in their boat mending their nets. Immediately Jesus called them and they followed him, leaving their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men.

What is God calling me now at this stage of my life? Do I run like Jonah because of a painful experience of being exiled or do I respond positively like the people of Nineveh, or like the first disciples? Loving Father, make me your faithful servant, keep me as a light amidst darkness, keep me upright even when others are not… even when others cannot… even when others will not. Amen. Review your list of resolutions to be done this New Year or make resolutions if you have not yet done and visualize on how you will realize them in the light of your being a follower of Christ.

January 25th

Conversion of St. Paul

1st Reading: Acts 22:3-16:
“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up here, in this city, where I was educated in the school of Gamaliel, according to the strict observance of our law. And I was dedicated to God’s service, as are all of you today. As for this way, I persecuted it to the point of death and arrested its followers, both men and women, throwing them into prison. The High Priest and the whole Council of elders can bear witness to this. From them, I received letters for the Jewish brothers in Damascus; and I set out to arrest those who were there, and bring them back to Jerusalem for punishment.

But, as I was traveling along, nearing Damascus, at about noon, a great light from the sky suddenly flashed about me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me: ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ I answered: ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said to me: ‘I am Jesus, the Nazorean, whom you persecute.’ The men who were with me saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of the one who was speaking to me.

I asked: ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord replied: ‘Get up and go to Damascus; there, you will be told all that you are destined to do.’ Yet, the brightness of that light had blinded me; and, so, I was led by the hand into Damascus by my companions. There, a certain Ananias came to me. He was a devout observer of the law, and well spoken of by all the Jews who were living there. As he stood by me, he said: ‘Brother Saul, recover your sight.’

At that moment, I could see; and I looked at him. He, then, said, ‘The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will, to see the Just One, and to hear the words from his mouth. From now on you shall be his witness before all the pagan people, and tell them all that you have seen and heard. And now, why delay? Get up and be baptized; and have your sins washed away, by calling upon his Name.’

Gospel: Mk 16:15-18:
Then he told them, “Go out to the whole world and proclaim the Good News to all creation. The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; the one who refuses to believe will be condemned. Signs like these will accompany those who have believed: in my name they will cast out demons and speak new languages; they will pick up snakes, and if they drink anything poisonous, they will be unharmed; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will be healed.”

It seems strange to speak of Paul’s “conversion.” Why? Because, when we refer to a person as having “converted,” we usually mean to say that such person once led a life of sinful depravity and is now leading a virtuous life. Thus we speak of St. Augustine’s “conversion.” But the case of Paul does not fit that stereotype. For he never led a depraved life. As he states about himself in today’s first reading, “I was dedicated to God’s service.” In fact, he was about as strict a Pharisee as you could find.

And so, why speak of conversion? Here we do well to analyze the word “conversion.” It means basically an about-face, a turning towards. In Paul’s case, it simply meant that, like the proverbial stupid soccer player who is unknowingly trying to score against his own team, Paul was running in the wrong direction. He was fervent to a fault, but he was unknowingly spending all his energy fighting Christ instead of serving him. His “conversion” finally sets him on the right course. With an honest person, that is always possible. Once set on this right course, Paul heroically ran to his Goal, Jesus Christ, and died for him.

January 26th

Sts. Timothy and Titus

1st Reading: 2 Tim 1:1–8:
From Paul, apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, for the sake of his promise of eternal life in Christ Jesus, to my dear son Timothy. May grace, mercy and peace be with you from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. I give thanks to God whom I serve with a clear conscience the way my ancestors did, as I remember you constantly, day and night, in my prayers. I recall your tears and I long to see you that I may be filled with joy.

I am reminded of your sincere faith, so like the faith of your grandmother Lois and of your mother Eunice, which I am sure you have inherited. For this reason I invite you to fan into a flame the gift of God you received through the laying on of my hands. For God did not confer on us a spirit of bashfulness, but of strength, love and good judgment. Do not be ashamed of testifying to our Lord, nor of seeing me in chains. On the contrary, do your share in laboring for the Gospel with the strength of God.

Gospel: Mk 3:31-35:
Then his mother and his brothers came. As they stood outside, they sent someone to call him. The crowd sitting around Jesus told him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside asking for you.“ He replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?“ And looking around at those who sat there, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does the will of God is brother and sister and mother to me.“

When Jesus said this, He surely did not mean to diminish the importance of a family. He was only pointing at a new level of relationship that goes beyond blood relationship — the bond of faith and love. In our experience as members of a human family, we know the many factors that can lead to conflicts in the family even to rifts and even to hatred. How many cases have we known where the death of old parents can cause envy, jealousy and enmity over inheritance, etc. Blood relationship seems not to overcome such sad alienation among family members.

But if their bond goes beyond blood into a strong relationship of FAITH, even if conflicts happen, there is a great chance that they will overcome these and remain in close spiritual union. There is a saying that “blood is thicker than water“ – that somehow we tend to look beyond the failings of those related to us by blood. But I think the one that is more effective in preserving this family unity is when each member has truly a deep faith and that each one sincerely wishes to do or to accept God‘s will in faith and love. Father, thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.

January 27th

St. Angela Merici

1st Reading: Heb 10:11–18:
Every priest stands daily at his ministry, offering frequently those same sacrifices  that can never take away sins. But this one offered one sacrifice for sins, and took his seat forever at the right hand of God;  now he waits until his enemies are made his footstool. For by one offering he has made perfect forever  those who are being consecrated. The Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying: This is the covenant I will establish with them after those days, says the Lord: “I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them upon their minds,” he also says: Their sins and their evildoing I will remember no more. Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer offering for sin.

Gospel: Mk 4:1–20:
Again Jesus began to teach by the lake; but such a large crowd gathered about him, that he got into a boat and sat in it on the lake, while the crowd stood on the shore. He taught them many things through parables. In his teaching he said, “Listen! The sower went out to sow. As he sowed, some of the seed fell along a path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some of the seed fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil; it sprang up immediately because it had no depth; but when the sun rose and burned it, it withered because it had no roots. Other seed fell among thornbushes, and the thorns grew and choked it, so it didn’t produce any grain. But some seed fell on good soil, grew and increased and yielded grain; some seed produced thirty times as much, some sixty, and some one hundred times as much.”

And Jesus added, “Listen then, if you have ears.” When the crowd went away, some who were around him with the Twelve asked about the parables. He answered them, “The mystery of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But for those outside, everything comes in parables, so that the more they see, they don’t perceive; the more they hear, they don’t understand; otherwise they would be converted and pardoned.” Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any of the parables? What the sower is sowing is the word.

“Those along the path, where the seed fell, are people who hear the word, but as soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. Other people receive the word like rocky ground. As soon as they hear the word, they accept it with joy, but they have no roots, so it lasts only a little while. No sooner does trouble or persecution come because of the word, than they fall. Others receive the seed, as seed among thorns.

“After they hear the word, they are caught up in the worries of this life, false hopes of riches and other desires. All these come in and choke the word, so that finally it produces nothing. And there are others who receive the word as good soil. They hear the word, take it to heart and produce: some thirty, some sixty, and some one hundred times as much.”

The parable of the sower has been read by people throughout the ages. Certainly there are nuances of meaning in different contexts but the meaning remains: the different ways of receiving the Word of God. In our times, who could be the Satan that plucks the word of God out of our hearts — would it be the love of money, prestige, power? What are our roots — good family life, religious education, fidelity in prayer? What are the thorns that choke up the life of the seed — worries about our loss of power, loss of material things?

Then there is the good soil. What makes soil good? Could it be radical openness to what the word demands from us? Could it be fidelity to this word amid temptations, challenges, difficulties, suffering and misery? Could it be nourishment through prayer, sacrifice and service to people? Lord, please give me first of all the gift of listening with the ear of my heart. Help me to understand what your word is telling me at the moment. Give me the courage to do what you are asking from me in spite of obstacles and difficulties. And finally, grant that when the seed grows in me and bears fruit, help me to share it with others in compassion and love. Amen.

January 28th

St. Thomas Aquinas

1st Reading: Heb 10:19–25:
So, my friends, we are assured of entering the Sanctuary by the blood of Jesus who opened for us this new and living way passing through the curtain, that is, his body. Because we have a high priest in charge of the House of God, let us approach with a sincere heart, with full faith, interiorly cleansed from a bad conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast to our hope without wavering, because he who promised is faithful. Let us consider how we may spur one another to love and good works. Do not abandon the assemblies as some of you do, but encourage one another, and all the more since the Day is drawing near.

Gospel: Mk 4:21–25:
Jesus also said to them, “When the light comes, is it put under a tub or a bed? Surely it is put on a lampstand. Whatever is hidden will be disclosed, and whatever is kept secret will be brought to light. Listen then, if you have ears!” And he also said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear. In the measure you give, so shall you receive, and still more will be given to you. For to the one who produces something, more will be given, and from him who does not produce anything, even what he has will be taken away from him.”

There are two everyday images that the Gospel presents us: light and measurement. We do not need to think hard in order to know the purpose of these common images. Light is used to cast out darkness, so when it is hidden it defeats its purpose. A measurement, on the other hand, is an instrument whose purpose is not only to determine physical characteristics but also to describe a certain value, like a person’s character. Wisdom based on Christ’s teachings is like a bright light that casts out the darkness of confusion.

What is hidden will eventually see the light of day. Jesus is inviting us to share our gifts with others, not hide these. He also knows our tendency to rationalize our own mistakes and our difficulty to dismiss the same mistakes in others. Jesus casts the spotlight on this propensity using the image of a measurement. Jesus did not mean it to be a legalistic matter of cause and effect. He uses it to highlight the meaning of trust. Those who learn to trust in him are freed from the tendency to measure others based on self-righteousness. The measurement Jesus uses is based only on love and mercy.

January 29th

1st Reading: Heb 10:32–39:
Remember the first days when you were enlightened. You had to undergo a hard struggle in the face of suffering. Publicly you were exposed to humiliations and trials, and had to share the sufferings of others who were similarly treated. You showed solidarity with those in prison; you were dispossessed of your goods and accepted it gladly for you knew you were acquiring a much better and more durable possession.

Do not now throw away your confidence that will be handsomely rewarded. Be patient in doing the will of God, and the promise will be yours: A little, a little longer—says Scripture—and he who is coming will come; he will not delay. My righteous one will live if he believes; but if he distrusts, I will no longer look kindly on him. We are not among those who withdraw and perish, but among those who believe and win personal salvation.

Gospel: Mk 4:26–34:
Jesus also said, “In the kingdom of God it is like this: a man scatters seed upon the soil. Whether he is asleep or awake, be it day or night, the seed sprouts and grows, he knows not how. The soil produces of itself: first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. And when it is ripe for harvesting, they take the sickle for the cutting: the time for the harvest has come.”

Jesus also said, “What is the kingdom of God like? To what shall we compare it? It is like a mustard seed which, when sown, is the smallest of all the seeds scattered upon the soil. But once sown, it grows up and becomes the largest of the plants in the garden, and even grows branches so big, that the birds of the air can take shelter in its shade.” Jesus used many such stories, in order to proclaim the word to them in a way that they would be able to understand. He would not teach them without parables; but privately to his disciples he explained everything.

Driving through stretches of agricultural land, I saw modern farms yielding hectares of fruits and vegetables that will eventually make their way to supermarkets. It made me wonder if people who buy them are aware of the journey of the little seed that ends up on their tables as food. The farmer in Mark’s Gospel does not know how the seeds grow. All he does is prepare the soil and sow the seeds. Today farming is a science meant to produce high yields. This includes using high technology in the process of preparing, planting, and calculating the amount of yield.

But the kingdom of God is not like that. The growth of the kingdom cannot be controlled and calculated in a scientific way. The biblical farmer simply “scatters” the seeds across the land trusting that at a proper time, the full grains come and can be harvested. Like the littlest mustard seed that grows into the largest plant, our Christian faith when it takes hold of us grows in a mysterious way, making us fruitful in the service of God and others. The greatest mystery is that God does his work in us without any help from us.

January 30th

1st Reading: Heb 11:1–2, 8–19:
Faith is the assurance of what we hope for, being certain of what we cannot see. Because of their faith our ancestors were approved. It was by faith that Abraham, called by God, set out for a country that would be given to him as an inheritance; for he parted without knowing where he was going. By faith he lived as a stranger in that promised land. There he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, beneficiaries of the same promise. Indeed, he looked forward to that city of solid foundation of which God is the architect and builder.

By faith Sarah herself received power to become a mother, in spite of her advanced age; since she believed that he who had made the promise would be faithful. Therefore, from an almost impotent man were born descendants as numerous as the stars of heavens, as many as the grains of sand on the seashore.

Death found all these people strong in their faith. They had not received what was promised, but they had looked ahead and had rejoiced in it from afar, saying that they were foreigners and travelers on earth. Those who speak in this way prove that they are looking for their own country. For if they had longed for the land they had left, it would have been easy for them to return, but no, they aspired to a better city, that is, a supernatural one; so God, who prepared the city for them is not ashamed of being called their God.

By faith Abraham went to offer Isaac when God tested him. And so he who had received the promise of God offered his only son although God had told him: Isaac’s descendants will bear your name. Abraham reasoned that God is capable even of raising the dead, and he received back his son, which has a figurative meaning.

Gospel: Mk 4:35–41:
On that same day, when evening had come, Jesus said to them, “Let’s go across to the other side of the lake.” So they left the crowd, and took him along in the boat he had been sitting in, and other boats set out with him. Then a storm gathered and it began to blow a gale. The waves spilled over into the boat, so that it was soon filled with water. Jesus was Jin the stern, sleeping on a cushion.

They woke him up, and said, “Master, don’t you care if we drown?” And rising up, Jesus rebuked the wind, and ordered the sea, “Quiet now! Be still!” The wind dropped, and there was a great calm. Then Jesus said to them, “Why are you so frightened? Do you still have no faith?” But they were terrified, and they said to one another, “Who can this be? Even the wind and the sea obey him!”

Having grown up on an island, sea travel was the only way we could go places. This was before low-cost air travel was available. On one occasion we were caught in a sudden storm. All the lights went off as our boat was being tossed violently to and fro by the raging waves. Children were crying in fear while adults in their quiet dread were trying to calm them. In terror my sister and I were clinging to one another while praying for God’s help. We were relieved when the captain found a cove where we hid to weather the storm.

I can’t help recall this experience as I read this narrative of Jesus calming the storm. In life, there are situations that leave us feeling anxious and fearful, powerless and out of control, almost as if we are in a boat on a stormy sea. The predicament of the disciples is ours too. We tend to be overwhelmed by many problems and concerns, making us forget that Jesus is already with us if only we call upon him. These are moments when we realize our faith in Jesus is still inadequate. It needs strengthening and deepening through prayer.