Bible Diary for January 2nd – 8th
Sts. Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzen
1st Reading: Is 60:1-6:
Arise, Jerusalem shine, for your light has come. The glory of Yahweh rises upon you. Night still covers the earth and gloomy clouds veil the peoples, but Yahweh now rises and over you his glory appears. Nations will come to your light and kings to the brightness of your dawn. Lift up your eyes round about and see: they are all gathered and come to you, your sons from afar, your daughters tenderly carried. This sight will make your face radiant, your heart throbbing and full; the riches of the sea will be turned to you, the wealth of the nations will come to you. A multitude of camels will cover you, caravans from Midian and Ephah. Those from Sheba will come, bringing with them gold and incense, all singing in praise of Yahweh.
2nd Reading: Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6:
You may have heard of the graces God bestowed on me, for your sake. By a revelation, he gave me the knowledge of his mysterious design. This mystery was not made known to past generations, but only now, through revelations, given to holy apostles and prophets, by the Spirit. Now, the non-Jews share the inheritance; in Christ Jesus, the non-Jews are incorporated, and are to enjoy the Promise. This is the Good News.
Gospel: Mt 2:1-12:
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, in Judea, during the days of king Herod, wise men from the East arrived in Jerusalem. They asked, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw the rising of his star in the East and have come to honor him.” When Herod heard this he was greatly disturbed, and with him all Jerusalem. He immediately called a meeting of all high-ranking priests and teachers of the law, and asked them where the Messiah was to be born.
“In the town of Bethlehem in Judea,” they told him, “for this is what the prophet wrote: And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, you are by no means the least among the clans of Judah, for from you will come a leader, one who is to shepherd my people Israel.” Then Herod secretly called the wise men and asked them the precise time the star appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem with these instructions, “Go and get accurate information about the child. As soon as you have found him, report to me, so that I, too, may go and honor him.”
After the meeting with the king, they set out. The star that they had seen in the East went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. The wise men were overjoyed on seeing the star again. They went into the house, and when they saw the child with Mary his mother, they knelt and worshiped him. They opened their bags and offered him their gifts of gold, incense and myrrh. In a dream they were warned not to go back to Herod, so they returned to their home country by another way.
For most people, history is just a series of events happening in time and space, events which follow each other with no apparent direction or purpose. But Christians read history in a far different manner. They read history as God’s story. And they interpret history as God’s slow and patient bringing together of all his human children under the headship of his Son. This is how it works, At the beginning of time you have isolated clans and tribes, more or less in conflict. Then you have these combined into villages and towns and cities. Then you see cities wanting to form kingdoms.
Then you see kingdoms forming empires. Then you see continents exploring other continents and engaging in trade and commerce. In all this vast movement of world unification, today’s feast marks a decisive step when the pagan world (represented by the Magi) joined the Chosen People to form one Christ People. God’s plan continues apace: to bring all his children under the gentle kingship of his Son Jesus. Each one of us can hasten or delay this magnificent saga by our free choices. What will we decide to do? Hold back or run with God?
The Most Holy Name of Jesus
1st Reading: 1 Jn 3:22–4:6:
We receive from him whatever we ask, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And his commandment is this: we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another just as he commanded us. Those who keep his commandments remain in him, and he in them, and the way we know that he remains in us is from the Spirit whom he gave us. Beloved, do not trust every spirit but test the spirits to see whether they belong to God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
This is how you can know the Spirit of God: every spirit that acknowledges Jesus Christ come in the flesh belongs to God, and every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus does not belong to God. This is the spirit of the antichrist who, as you heard, is to come, but in fact is already in the world. You belong to God, children, and you have conquered them, for the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They belong to the world; accordingly, their teaching belongs to the world, and the world listens to them. We belong to God, and anyone who knows God listens to us, while anyone who does not belong to God refuses to hear us. This is how we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of deceit.
Gospel: Mt 4:12-17, 23-25:
When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. He left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum, a town by the lake of Galilee, at the border of Zebulun and Naphtali. In this way, the word of the prophet Isaiah was fulfilled: Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, crossed by the Road of the Sea; and you, who live beyond the Jordan, Galilee, land of pagans: The people who lived in darkness have seen a great light; on those who live in the land of the shadow of death, a light has shone. From that time on, Jesus began to proclaim his message, “Change your ways: the kingdom of heaven is near.”
Jesus went around all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing all kinds of sickness and disease among the people. The news about him spread through the whole of Syria; and the people brought all their sick to him, and all those who suffered: the possessed, the deranged, the paralyzed; and he healed them all. Large crowds followed him from Galilee and the Ten Cities, from Jerusalem, Judea, and from across the Jordan.
The arrest of John the Baptist marks a significant turn in the gospel “plot.” For Jesus, this marks the signal to begin his own ministry, while also foreshadowing the ultimate price he will pay. Understandably, he is moved to withdraw “into Galilee,” perhaps to discern his next steps. Those who arrested John had hoped they were silencing his proclamation. But they soon learn their mistake, when Jesus steps forward to repeat the very words from John’s lips: “Change your ways: the kingdom of heaven is near.”
But if there is continuity with John’s mission, there is also something new. If John delivered a message of coming judgment, Jesus’ proclamation is tempered by works of mercy and compassion: not only the sick, but “the possessed, the deranged, the paralyzed” are healed. In “curing all kinds of sickness and disease” Jesus is advancing far beyond John’s message; the “kingdom of heaven” is not simply “near” but is actually breaking forth in Jesus’ words and deeds.
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton
1st Reading: 1 Jn 4:7-10:
My dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves, is born of God and knows God. Those who do not love have not known God, for God is love. How did the love of God appear among us? God sent his only Son into this world, that we might have life, through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that, he first loved us and sent his Son, as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
Gospel: Mk 6:34-44:
As Jesus went ashore, he saw a large crowd, and he had compassion on them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things. It was now getting late, so his disciples came to him and said, “This is a lonely place and it is now late. You should send the people away, and let them go to the farms and villages around here, to buy themselves something to eat.” Jesus replied, “You, yourselves, give them something to eat.” They answered, “If we are to feed them, we need two hundred silver coins to go and buy enough bread.” But Jesus said, “You have some loaves; how many? Go and see.”
The disciples found out and said, “There are five loaves and two fish.” Then he told them to have the people sit down, together in groups, on the green grass. This they did, in groups of hundreds and fifties. And Jesus took the five loaves and the two fish and, raising his eyes to heaven, he pronounced a blessing, broke the loaves, and handed them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them. They all ate and everyone had enough. The disciples gathered up what was left, and filled twelve baskets with broken pieces of bread and fish. Five thousand men had eaten there.
The apostle John tells us in today’s first reading: “Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” Now the verb “to know” has a very strong meaning in biblical Hebrew. For example, when a man has sexual intercourse with his wife, he is said to “know” her (v.g. Gen 4:1; 17:25; Nb 31:18, 35; Jdg 21:12; etc.). In other words, to “know” is synonymous with: to experience in depth. It is not, like in Western philosophy, a merely intellectual process. It is an activity which involves the whole person.
Now, because of this, sincere atheists who are ready to sacrifice themselves for other people’s welfare, despite their intellectual denial of God’s existence (often based on inadequate notions about God), are actually very much attuned to God, because the very nature of God is to love, as John tells us (“God is love“), and such atheists truly love. Thus we have such cases as that of Nelson Mandela (died in 2013), who spent 27 years in jail for his political convictions and emerged from there a most loving person who rid his country, South Africa, of the scourge of apartheid (racial segregation)— and yet was a communist to his dying day. True, his mind denied God, but he “knew” God at the very core of his being. And that is what ultimately matters.
St. John Neumann
1st Reading: 1 Jn 4:11-18:
Dear friends, if such has been the love of God, we, too, must love one another. No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love comes to its perfection in us. How may we know that we live in God and he in us? Because God has given us his Spirit. We ourselves have seen, and declare, that the Father sent his Son to save the world. Those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God remains in them, and they in God.
We have known the love of God and have believed in it. God is love. The one who lives in love, lives in God, and God in him. When do we know, that we have reached a perfect love? When, in this world, we are like him, in everything, and expect, with confidence, the Day of Judgment. There is no fear in love. Perfect love drives away fear, for fear has to do with punishment; those who fear do not know perfect love.
Gospel: Mk 6:45-52:
Immediately, Jesus obliged his disciples to get into the boat and go ahead of him to the other side, toward Bethsaida, while he himself sent the crowd away. And having sent the people off, he went by himself to the hillside to pray. When evening came, the boat was far out on the lake, while he was alone on the land. Jesus saw his disciples straining at the oars, for the wind was against them; and before daybreak he came to them, walking on the lake, and he was going to pass them by.
When they saw him walking on the lake, they thought it was a ghost and cried out; for they all saw him and were terrified. But, at once, he called to them, “Courage! It is I; don’t be afraid!” Then Jesus got into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely astonished, for they had not really grasped the fact of the loaves; their minds were dull.
“There is no fear in love,” John tells us in today’s first reading. And why is this? Because, John explains, “perfect love drives away fear, for fear has to do with punishment; those who fear do not know perfect love.” The key word in this sweeping statement of John’s is the word “punishment.” One would venture to say that 99% of Christians fear God—not Jesus Christ, whom they love dearly, but God the Father. And apparently for good reasons.
This is because the Old Testament is replete with stories staging a God who gets angry, destroys entire populations (think of the Great Flood), kills women and children indiscriminately (think of the Holy Wars), and murders children with abandon (think of the Tenth Plague of Egypt). But such a God is a projection from primitive minds who knew no better. Such a God never existed. When Jesus came, he told us: “The Father judges no one” (Jn 5:22). And, therefore, God punishes no one. God is pure love. Period. And we have to purge our minds of all Old Testament texts which betray God’s heart. At one point Jesus said: “Philip, who sees me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9). Did Jesus ever punish?
St. André Bessette
1st Reading: 1 Jn 4:19–5:4:
So, let us love one another, since he loved us first. If you say, “I love God,” while you hate your brother or sister, you are a liar. How can you love God, whom you do not see, if you do not love your brother, whom you see? We received from him, this commandment: let those who love God also love their brothers. All those, who believe that Jesus is the Anointed, are born of God; whoever loves the Father, loves the Son. How may we know, that we love the children of God? If we love God and fulfill his commands, for God’s love requires us to keep his commands. In fact, his commandments are not a burden because all those born of God overcome the world. And the victory, which overcomes the world, is our faith.
Gospel: Lk 4:14-22:
Jesus acted with the power of the Spirit; and on his return to Galilee, the news about him spread throughout all that territory. He began teaching in the synagogues of the Jews and everyone praised him. 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; and 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?”
There is a charming Irish ditty which goes like this: To live above With the saints we love, Ah! that is purest glory! But to live below With the saints we know, Ah! that is another story. At first blush, this little poem seems to be simply describing reality: it is easy to love saints but difficult to love those we rub shoulders with and whose weaknesses are so glaring. In reference to such a state of affairs, John’s implied statement that it is easier to love humans (we see) than God (we don’t see) is startling and almost non-sensical.
Yet, when we think in greater depth on all this, we realize that the problem with our difficulty in loving our companions is that we do not really see them in their full dimension as God’s loved children. We see their outward mannerisms, ugliness, bad temper, narrow-mindedness, etc., but that is just their exterior shell. If we accept to go beyond that and love them as God’s children, then we really see them. And that happens when we ask God to pour his love into our hearts. When that happens, we see everyone with God’s loving eyes.
St. Raymond of Peñafort
1st Reading: 1 Jn 5:5-13:
Who has overcome the world? The one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus Christ was acknowledged through water, but also through blood. Not only water, but water and blood. And the Spirit, too, witnesses to him, for the Spirit is truth. There are, then, three testimonies: the Spirit, the water and the blood, and these three witnesses agree. If we accept human testimony, with greater reason must we accept that of God, given in favor of his Son.
If you believe in the Son of God, you have God’s testimony in you. But those who do not believe make God a liar, since they do not believe his words when he witnesses to his Son. What has God said? That he has granted us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. The one who has the Son has life; those who do not have the Son of God do not have life. I write you, then, all these things, that you may know, that you have eternal life, all you, who believe in the name of the Son of God.
Gospel: Lk 5:12-16:
One day, in another town, a man came to Jesus covered with leprosy. On seeing Jesus, the man bowed down to the ground, and said, “Lord, if you want to, you can make me clean.” Stretching out his hand, Jesus touched the man and said, “Yes, I want to. Be clean.” In an instant, the leprosy left him. Then Jesus instructed him, “Tell this to no one. But go, and show yourself to the priest. Make an offering for your healing, as Moses prescribed; that will serve as evidence for them.” But the news about Jesus spread all the more; and large crowds came to him, to listen and to be healed of their sickness. As for Jesus, he would often withdraw to solitary places and pray.
There is something infinitely touching in today’s gospel scene. And it is the tone of the leper’s request for healing. “Lord, if you want to, you can make me clean.” We do not have here the usual shouts for attention, the frenzied requests accompanied with theatrical bowings and scrapings, the great shows of devotion (artificial or real). What we have is a surprisingly low-keyed request. In fact, it hardly sounds like a request at all. “If you want…” It is difficult to imagine a more restrained approach, a more low-pitched attitude.
One senses that the leper has reached, so to speak, a state of “indifference” in reference to his leprosy. It might be that he lived with it for so long that, eventually, he has learned to find God in it—so much so that, now, he is not sure if a cure would be so spiritually beneficial after all. So he lets Jesus decide the issue. “If you want…” Obviously he trusts Jesus’ decision unreservedly. And Jesus is obviously won over by this extraordinary trust. Would we approach Jesus in like manner if we suffered, say, from cancer? Would we let him decide the outcome with a quiet heart?
1st Reading: 1 Jn 5:14-21:
Through him we are fully confident that whatever we ask, according to his will, he will grant us. If we know that he hears us whenever we ask, we know that we already have what we asked of him. If you see your brother committing sin, a sin which does not lead to death, pray for him, and God will give life to your brother. I speak, of course, of the sin which does not lead to death. There is also a sin that leads to death; I do not speak of praying about this.
Every kind of wrongdoing is sin, but not all sin leads to death. We know, that those born of God do not sin, but the one who was born of God, protects them, and the evil one does not touch them. We know, that we belong to God, while the whole world lies in evil. We know, that the Son of God has come and has given us power to know the truth. We are in him who is true, his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God, and eternal life. My dear children, keep yourselves from idols.
Gospel: Jn 3:22-30:
After this, Jesus went into the territory of Judea with his disciples. He stayed there with them and baptized. John was also baptizing in Aenon, near Salim, where water was plentiful; people came to him and were baptized. This happened before John was put in prison. Now John’s disciples had been questioned by a Jew about spiritual cleansing, so they came to John and said, “Rabbi, the one who was with you across the Jordan, and about whom you spoke favorably, is now baptizing, and all are going to him.”
John answered, “No one can receive anything, except what has been given to him from heaven. You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ Only the bridegroom has the bride; but the friend of the bridegroom stands by and listens, and rejoices to hear the bridegroom’s voice. My joy is now full. It is necessary that he increase, but that I decrease.”
It is strange that, when we take a global view of the entire Bible from cover to cover, so few characters are found to be faultless. The ones who spontaneously come to mind are: Abel, Jacob’s son Joseph (Gen:39—45), David’s friend Jonathan (1 S:18—2 S:1), Ruth, Tobit and his son Tobiah, Esther, Job. So much for the Old Testament. But in the New Testament there are far fewer faultless figures—if we remember that at one point all the disciples abandoned Jesus at Gethsemane (Mt:26, 56) and that Paul, through his blind prejudices, did persecute the Church for a while.
And so, if we except Jesus and Mary, who stands out flawless in the New Testament? The sole figure of John the Baptizer. He rings true from start to finish. His only “weakness”, if that is the correct term, is that he was not sure about Jesus‘ true personality. But he cleared this honest doubt (Mt:11, 2-6). And Jesus himself praised John unreservedly by calling him “more than a prophet” (Mt:11, 9). In today’s gospel reading this luminous figure has only one desire: to decrease so that Jesus can increase. Should this not be the secret desire of all of us?