Bible Diary for January 30th – February 5th

January 30th

4th Sunday in Ordinary Time

1st Reading: Jer 1:4-5, 17-19:
A word of Yahweh came to me, “Even before I formed you in the womb I have known you; even before you were born I had set you apart, and appointed you a prophet to the nations!” “But you, get ready for action; stand up and say to them all that I command you. Be not scared of them or I will scare you in their presence! See, I will make you a fortified city, a pillar of iron with walls of bronze, against all the nations, against the kings and princes of Judah, against the priests and the people of the land. They will fight against you but shall not overcome you, for I am with you to rescue you—it is Yahweh who speaks.”

2nd Reading: 1 Cor 12:31–13:13:
Be that as it may, set your hearts on the most precious gifts, and I will show you a much better way. If I could speak all the human and angelic tongues, but had no love, I would only be sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, knowing secret things, with all kinds of knowledge, and had faith great enough to remove mountains, but had no love, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I had to the poor, and even give up my body to be burned, if I am without love, it would be of no value to me. Love is patient, kind, without envy. It is not boastful or arrogant. It is not ill mannered, nor does it seek its own interest. Love overcomes anger and forgets offenses.

It does not take delight in wrong, but rejoices in truth. Love excuses everything, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love will never end. Prophecies may cease, tongues be silent and knowledge disappear. For knowledge grasps something of the truth and prophecy as well. And when what is perfect comes, everything imperfect will pass away. When I was a child, I thought and reasoned like a child, but when I grew up, I gave up childish ways. Likewise, at present, we see dimly, as in a mirror, but, then, it shall be face to face. Now, we know, in part, but then I will know as I am known. Now, we have faith, hope and love, these three, but the greatest of these is love.

Gospel: Lk 4:21-30:
Then he said to them, “Today, these prophetic words come true, even as you listen.” All agreed with him, and were lost in wonder, while he spoke of the grace of God. Nevertheless they asked, “Who is this but Joseph’s Son?” So he said, “Doubtless you will quote me the saying: Doctor, heal yourself! Do here, in your town, what they say you did in Capernaum.” Jesus added, “No prophet is honored in his own country. Truly, I say to you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens withheld rain for three years and six months and a great famine came over the whole land.

“Yet, Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow of Zarephath, in the country of Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha, the prophet; and no one was healed except Naaman, the Syrian.” On hearing these words, the whole assembly became indignant. They rose up and brought him out of the town, to the edge of the hill on which Nazareth is built, intending to throw him down the cliff. But he passed through their midst and went his way.

A piece of spiritual advise which has circulated among monks for centuries goes like this: “If you happen to visit a brother in his cell and find his cell in disorder, tell yourself that your brother is so lost in God that he forgets to clean his cell. If, on the contrary, you find your brother’s cell in good order, tell yourself that this state of affairs reflects your brother’s inner state.” In other words, the monk is exhorted through a tongue-in-cheek recommendation to put into practice Paul’s teaching in today’s second reading: “Love excuses everything.” Of course, he is not referring here to actions which are of their very nature inexcusable, such as torture, child abuse, human trafficking, and the like.

He is referring no doubt to little weaknesses, idiosyncrasies, manias which many people are likely to develop with the passing of time. These are really without much consequence—except that they irritate us no end! Well, Paul tells us, we must try to excuse those minor irritants as best we can. That’s what love is all about. And we will find ourselves happier in the bargain! We all have little weaknesses, idiosyncrasies, manias which we are likely to develop with the passing of time. Ask the Spirit to enlighten you about your own little quirks and mannerisms. Find excuses today for an irritating trait of one of your acquaintances.

January 31st

St. John Bosco

1st Reading: 2 Sm 15:13-14, 30; 16:5-13:
An informant came to David with the report, “The children of Israel have transferred their loyalty to Absalom.” At this, David said to all his servants who were with him in Jerusalem: “Up!  Let us take flight, or none of us will escape from Absalom. Leave quickly, lest he hurry and overtake us, then visit disaster upon us and put the city to the sword.” As David went up the Mount of Olives, he wept without ceasing. His head was covered, and he was walking barefoot. All those who were with him also had their heads covered and were weeping as they went. As David was approaching Bahurim, a man named Shimei, the son of Gera of the same clan as Saul’s family, was coming out of the place, cursing as he came.

He threw stones at David and at all the king’s officers, even though all the soldiers, including the royal guard, were on David’s right and on his left. Shimei was saying as he cursed: “Away, away, you murderous and wicked man! The Lord has requited you for all the bloodshed in the family of Saul, in whose stead you became king, and the Lord has given over the kingdom to your son Absalom. And now you suffer ruin because you are a murderer.” Abishai, son of Zeruiah, said to the king: “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over, please, and lop off his head.”

But the king replied: “What business is it of mine or of yours, sons of Zeruiah, that he curses? Suppose the Lord has told him to curse David; who then will dare to say, ‘Why are you doing this?’” Then the king said to Abishai and to all his servants: “If my own son, who came forth from my loins, is seeking my life, how much more might this Benjaminite do so? Let him alone and let him curse, for the Lord has told him to. Perhaps the Lord will look upon my affliction and make it up to me with benefits for the curses he is uttering this day.” David and his men continued on the road, while Shimei kept abreast of them on the hillside, all the while cursing and throwing stones and dirt as he went.

Gospel: Mk 5:1-20:
Jesus and his disciples came to the other side of the sea, to the territory of the Gerasenes. When he got out of the boat, at once a man from the tombs who had an unclean spirit met him. The man had been dwelling among the tombs, and no one could restrain him any longer, even with a chain. In fact, he had frequently been bound with shackles and chains, but the chains had been pulled apart by him and the shackles smashed, and no one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the hillsides he was always crying out and bruising himself with stones.

Catching sight of Jesus from a distance, he ran up and prostrated himself before him, crying out in a loud voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me!” (He had been saying to him, “Unclean spirit, come out of the man!”) He asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “Legion is my name. There are many of us.” And he pleaded earnestly with him not to drive them away from that territory. Now a large herd of swine was feeding there on the hillside.

And they pleaded with him, “Send us into the swine.  Let us enter them.” And he let them, and the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine. The herd of about two thousand rushed down a steep bank into the sea, where they were drowned. The swineherds ran away and reported the incident in the town and throughout the countryside. And people came out to see what had happened. As they approached Jesus, they caught sight of the man who had been possessed by Legion, sitting there clothed and in his right mind. And they were seized with fear.

 Those who witnessed the incident explained to them what had happened to the possessed man and to the swine. Then they began to beg him to leave their district. As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed pleaded to remain with him. But Jesus would not permit him but told him instead, “Go home to your family and announce to them all that the Lord in his pity has done for you.” Then the man went off and began to proclaim in the Decapolis what Jesus had done for him; and all were amazed.

Both of today’s readings present us with an example of quite extraordinary meekness—and God knows that we all need such examples in an age like ours when we are so sensitive about our rights and prerogatives! The first example is given by David. He is fleeing from his rebellious son Absalom. And he is being cursed on his way by a certain Shimei. David’s men went to kill Shimei for his audacity, but David tells them to leave Shimei alone, hopeful that God would “turn to good things” those curses.

The second example of meekness is given by Jesus, who meekly allows evil spirits to enter into pigs—considered at the time of Jesus to be supremely unclean animals and, therefore, well suited to demonic possession. On the other hand, as a kind of contrast to this largeness of heart, we have the mean-spirited attitude of the Gerasenes. They are more concerned about the loss of their pigs than about the presence of Jesus restoring a possessed madman to sanity. So they beg Jesus to go away. Obviously their pocketbook is more important than their souls. How would we have reacted in their place?

February 1st

Blessed Claretian Martyrs

1st Reading: 2 Sm 18:9-10, 14b, 24-25a, 30–19:3:
Absalom unexpectedly came up against David’s servants. He was mounted on a mule, and, as the mule passed under the branches of a large terebinth, his hair caught fast in the tree. He hung between heaven and earth while the mule he had been riding ran off. Someone saw this and reported to Joab that he had seen Absalom hanging from a terebinth. And taking three pikes in hand, he thrust for the heart of Absalom, still hanging from the tree alive. Now David was sitting between the two gates, and a lookout went up to the roof of the gate above the city wall, where he looked about and saw a man running all alone.

The lookout shouted to inform the king, who said, “If he is alone, he has good news to report.” The king said, “Step aside and remain in attendance here.” So he stepped aside and remained there. When the Cushite messenger came in, he said, “Let my lord the king receive the good news that this day the Lord has taken your part, freeing you from the grasp of all who rebelled against you.” But the king asked the Cushite, “Is young Absalom safe?”

The Cushite replied, “May the enemies of my lord the king and all who rebel against you with evil intent be as that young man!” The king was shaken, and went up to the room over the city gate to weep. He said as he wept, “My son Absalom!  My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you, Absalom, my son, my son!” Joab was told that the king was weeping and mourning for Absalom; and that day’s victory was turned into mourning for the whole army when they heard that the king was grieving for his son.

Gospel: Mk 5:21-43:
When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side,  a large crowd gathered around him, and he stayed close to the sea. One of the synagogue officials, named Jairus, came forward. Seeing him he fell at his feet and pleaded earnestly with him, saying, “My daughter is at the point of death. Please, come lay your hands on her that she may get well and live.” He went off with him and a large crowd followed him. There was a woman afflicted with hemorrhages for twelve years. She had suffered greatly at the hands of many doctors and had spent all that she had. Yet she was not helped but only grew worse. She had heard about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak.

She said, “If I but touch his clothes, I shall be cured.” Immediately her flow of blood dried up. She felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction. Jesus, aware at once that power had gone out from him, turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who has touched my clothes?” But his disciples said to him, “You see how the crowd is pressing upon you, and yet you ask, Who touched me?” And he looked around to see who had done it. The woman, realizing what had happened to her, approached in fear and trembling. She fell down before Jesus and told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be cured of your affliction.”

While he was still speaking, people from the synagogue official’s house arrived and said, “Your daughter has died; why trouble the teacher any longer?”  Disregarding the message that was reported, Jesus said to the synagogue official, “Do not be afraid; just have faith.” He did not allow anyone to accompany him inside except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they arrived at the house of the synagogue official, he caught sight of a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. So he went in and said to them, “Why this commotion and weeping?

The child is not dead but asleep.” And they ridiculed him. Then he put them all out. He took along the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and entered the room where the child was. He took the child by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise!” The girl, a child of twelve, arose immediately and walked around. At that they were utterly astounded. He gave strict orders that no one should know this and said that she should be given something to eat.

In all the miracles Jesus performed, he would inevitably say after the cure: YOUR FAITHHAS SAVED YOU. What is this power within us that has tremendous effects? Is this real? I must say that in my life, I am amazed at how many of my dreams (projects) have come true. The material and human resources simply appeared when they were needed. I can give many examples. The latest is when a bishop of a very poor diocese asked me (when I was Prioress) to put a hospital in their area because people just die on the way to the hospital which is 6 hours away. Believe it or not somebody donated to us 3 and a half hectares of land as site of the hospital.

And a former scholar of ours, who is now CEO of an automobile company which had a foundation for social responsibility, undertook the construction of the hospital for free. We got a mobile clinic for free. That is why when I was giving a homily in a New York parish to fund-raise for the endowment fund of the hospital, I said: “To put up a hospital is no joke. But I learned two things in undertaking this project. First, that miracles do happen today not to saints but to ordinary people like us. And second, it pays to dream and to dream big, because if our dream is for people and is worthwhile fulfilling, all the forces of the universe will align themselves to make our dream come true. As Jesus said: If you have a faith as small as a mustard seed, you can move mountains.

February 2nd

Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

1st Reading: Mal 3:1-4:
Now I am sending my messenger ahead of me, to clear the way; then, suddenly, the Lord, for whom you long, will enter the Sanctuary. The envoy of the Covenant which you so greatly desire, already comes, says Yahweh of hosts. Who can bear the day of his coming and remain standing when he appears? For he will be like fire in the foundry and like the lye used for bleaching. He will be as a refiner or a fuller. He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them, like gold and silver. So Yahweh will have priests who will present the offering, as it should be. Then Yahweh will accept with pleasure the offering of Judah and Jerusalem, as in former days.

2nd Reading: Heb 2:14-18:
Since the children share in blood and flesh, Jesus likewise shared in them, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the Devil, and free those who through fear of death had been subject to slavery all their life. Surely he did not help angels but rather the descendants of Abraham; therefore, he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every way, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest before God to expiate the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested through what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.

Gospel: Lk 2:22-32:
When the day came for the purification according to the law of Moses, they brought the baby up to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord, as it is written in the law of the Lord: Every firstborn male shall be consecrated to God. And they offered a sacrifice, as ordered in the law of the Lord: a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons. There lived in Jerusalem, at this time, a very upright and devout man named Simeon; the Holy Spirit was in him. He looked forward to the time when the Lord would comfort Israel; and he had been assured, by the Holy Spirit, that he would not die before seeing the Messiah of the Lord.

So, he was led into the temple by the Holy Spirit at the time the parents brought the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the law. Simeon took the child in his arms, and blessed God, saying, “Now, O Lord, you can dismiss your servant in peace, for you have fulfilled your word and my eyes have seen your salvation, which you display for all the people to see. Here is the light you will reveal to the nations, and the glory of your people Israel.”

It is difficult to imagine a greater contrast between, on the one hand, Malachi’s prophecy as read in today’s first reading and, on the other hand, its actual fulfillment in today’s gospel reading. Malachi describes the future coming of the Lord as a truly terrifying event: “Who can bear the day of his coming and remain standing when he appears for he will be like fire in the foundry.” Like all the authors of the Old Testament (except Second Isaiah), Malachi associates God with power. However, when God finally does enter our world and the Jerusalem temple, it is under the form of a powerless baby!

When will we stop identifying God with raw, brutal power? The only power that God is interested in is the power of love. And, as we all know from our own personal experience, that power can never use force or coercion to achieve its end—which is to win the heart of the Beloved. God’s love is perhaps best described in the figure he draws of himself in the Book of Revelation: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me (Rev 3:20). Our God is a gentle God.

February 3rd

St. Blasé
St. Ansgar

1st Reading: 1 Kgs 2:1-4, 10-12:
When David was about to die, he gave his son Solomon this instruction, “I am about to go the way of all creatures. Be strong and show yourself a man. Keep the commandments of Yahweh your God and walk in his ways. Keep his statutes, his commands, his ordinances and declarations written in the law of Moses, that you may succeed in whatever you do and wherever you go.

If you do so, Yahweh will fulfill the promise he made to me: ‘If your sons take care to walk before me faithfully with their whole heart and their whole soul, you shall always have one of your descendants on the throne of Israel.’ Then David rested with his ancestors and was buried in the city of David. David reigned over Israel for forty years: seven years in Hebron and thirty-three years in Jerusalem. So Solomon sat on the throne of David his father and his reign was firmly established.

Gospel: Mk 6:7-13:
Jesus then went around the villages, teaching. He called the Twelve to him, and began to send them out two by two, giving them authority over evil spirits. And he ordered them to take nothing for the journey, except a staff: no food, no bag, no money in their belts. They were to wear sandals and were not to take an extra tunic. And he added, “In whatever house you are welcomed, stay there until you leave the place. If any place doesn’t receive you, and the people refuse to listen to you, leave after shaking the dust off your feet. It will be a testimony against them.” So they set out to proclaim that this was the time to repent. They drove out many demons and healed many sick people by anointing them.

There is something moving about today’s first reading. In it we see dying David giving his last advice to his son Solomon. We sense a great urgency in his words. And do we not share the same feeling when we ourselves give advice to our children on how to lead a good and Christian life? How we would like them to grow up into real lovers of God and neighbor! And we do our best to show them the way by setting a good example, by frequently reminding them of their Christian duties, by lovingly correcting them whenever necessary, by praying for their progress, and by hoping with all our hearts that they will eventually turn out to be the sterling human beings we dream they will become.

But we know that, despite our best efforts, anything can happen. Why? Because we are dealing with free agents. In the end each one of our children will choose his or her character. Jesus was a superb teacher, yet he was not successful with Judas. People are free—and even God respects their free decisions. This thought should console us when we fail as parents.

February 4th

1st Reading: Sir 47:2-11:
Like the choice fat of the sacred offerings, so was David in Israel. He made sport of lions as though they were kids, and of bears, like lambs of the flock. As a youth he slew the giant and wiped out the people’s disgrace, when his hand let fly the slingston that crushed the pride of Goliath. Since he called upon the Most High God, who gave strength to his right arm to defeat the skilled warrior and raise up the might of his people, therefore the women sang his praises, and ascribed to him tens of thousands and praised him when they blessed the Lord. When he assumed the royal crown, he battled and subdued the enemy on every side.

He destroyed the hostile Philistines and shattered their power till our own day. With his every deed he offered thanks to God Most High, in words of praise. With his whole being he loved his Maker and daily had his praises sung; he set singers before the altar and by their voices he made sweet melodies, he added beauty to the feasts and solemnized the seasons of each year so that when the Holy Name was praised, before daybreak the sanctuary would resound. The Lord forgave him his sins and exalted his strength forever; he conferred on him the rights of royalty and established his throne in Israel.

Gospel: Mk 6:14-29:
King Herod heard about Jesus, for his fame had become widespread, and people were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead; that is why mighty powers are at work in him.” Others were saying, “He is Elijah”; still others, “He is a prophet like any of the prophets.” But when Herod learned of it, he said, “It is John whom I beheaded. He has been raised up.” Herod was the one who had John arrested and bound in prison on account of Herodias,  the wife of his brother Philip, whom he had married. John had said to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” Herodias harbored a grudge against him and wanted to kill him but was unable to do so.

Herod feared John, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man, and kept him in custody. When he heard him speak he was very much perplexed, yet he liked to listen to him. Herodias had an opportunity one day when Herod, on his birthday, gave a banquet for his courtiers, his military officers, and the leading men of Galilee. His own daughter came in and performed a dance that delighted Herod and his guests. The king said to the girl, “Ask of me whatever you wish and I will grant it to you.”  He even swore many things to her, “I will grant you whatever you ask of me, even to half of my kingdom.” She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?” Her mother replied, “The head of John the Baptist.”

The girl hurried back to the king’s presence and made her request, “I want you to give me at once on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” The king was deeply distressed, but because of his oaths and the guests he did not wish to break his word to her. So he promptly dispatched an executioner with orders to bring back his head. He went off and beheaded him in the prison. He brought in the head on a platter and gave it to the girl. The girl in turn gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.

Today’s gospel reading illustrates just how the first of the Seven Deadly Sins, Pride, can be progressively, but really, deadly. First we see King Herod imprisoning John the Baptist because the latter is publicly accusing him of incest. Although this accusation is based on fact—Herod is actually living with his sister-in-law as man and wife—Herod cannot accept being publicly branded of his sin and silences John. Then comes the dance of young Salome, Herodias’ daughter (we know her name from pagan historians). We can understand Herod’s enthusiastic admiration for it, but why indulge in extravagant promises (half of his kingdom)? Isn’t that sheer bluster, boastful talk, vocal swagger—pride again?

Finally, again out of sheer pride Herod refuses to back out of his foolish oaths. He does not want to lose face in front of his guests. And, because of his demonic pride, he murders a man of God. Such is the inexorable dynamics of pride. It is a deadly sin because it inevitably brings death when we give it a free rein. Such was the sin of Adam and Eve (“you shall be as gods” – Gen 3:5), remember?

February 5th

St. Agatha
St. Philip of Jesus

1st Reading: 1 Kgs 3:4-13:
Solomon went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, because that was the most renowned high place. Upon its altar Solomon offered a thousand burnt offerings. In Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream at night. God said, “Ask something of me and I will give it to you.” Solomon answered: “You have shown great favor to your servant, my father David, because he behaved faithfully toward you, with justice and an upright heart; and you have continued this great favor toward him, even today, seating a son of his on his throne. O Lord, my God, you have made me, your servant, king to succeed my father David; but I am a mere youth, not knowing at all how to act.

“I serve you in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a people so vast that it cannot be numbered or counted. Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong. For who is able to govern this vast people of yours?” The Lord was pleased that Solomon made this request. So God said to him: “Because you have asked for this–not for a long life for yourself, nor for riches, nor for the life of your enemies, but for understanding so that you may know what is right– I do as you requested.  I give you a heart so wise and understanding that there has never been anyone like you up to now, and after you there will come no one to equal you. In addition, I give you what you have not asked for, such riches and glory that among kings there is not your like.”

Gospel: Mk 6:30-34:
The apostles returned and reported to Jesus all they had done and taught. Then he said to them, “Let us go off by ourselves into a remote place and have some rest.” For there were so many people coming and going that the apostles had no time even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a secluded area by themselves. But people saw them leaving, and many could guess where they were going. So, from all the towns, they hurried there on foot, arriving ahead of them. 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.

Two details in today’s gospel reading are rather striking. The first one is the decision of Jesus to take time off—he and the Twelve apostles—from their evangelizing activity and to simply go away on a vacation. This fact in itself is an indictment on busybody Christians who act as if the salvation of the world rested on their shoulders. They go about always in a hurry, always serious-faced, always intent on pursuing some apostolic endeavor. At some point somebody would do well to stop them in their tracks and remind them: “Hey! The world has already been saved! Our job is merely to announce it.”

The second striking detail is the statement, “(Jesus) had compassion on them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he began to teach them many things.” Few Christians realize that teaching the Christian faith (whether as parents or friends or catechists or priests) is one of the greatest acts of compassion possible. For it boils down to bringing light to those in the darkness of ignorance and despair. So many people are lost as regards the basic truths of life: where do we come from, where we are going, how do we get there? To enlighten them is a magnificent act of compassion.