Bible Diary for January 9th – 15th

January 9th

Baptism of the Lord

1st Reading: Is 40:1-5, 9-11:
Be comforted, my people, be strengthened, says your God. Speak to the heart of Jerusalem, proclaim to her that her time of bondage is at an end, that her guilt has been paid for, that from the hand of Yahweh she has received double punishment for all her iniquity. A voice cries, “In the wilderness prepare the way for Yahweh. Make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley will be raised up; every mountain and hill will be laid low. The stumbling blocks shall become level and the rugged places smooth. The glory of Yahweh will be revealed, and all mortals together will see it; for the mouth of Yahweh has spoken.”

Go up onto the high mountain, messenger of good news to Zion, lift up your voice with strength, fear not to cry aloud when you tell Jerusalem and announce to the cities of Judah: Here is your God! Here comes Yahweh Sabaoth with might; his strong arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and here before him is his booty. Like a shepherd he tends his flock: he gathers the lambs in his arms, he carries them in his bosom, gently leading those that are with young.

2nd Reading: Ti 2:11-14; 3:4-7:
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, teaching us to reject an irreligious way of life, and worldly greed, and to live in this world, as responsible persons, upright and serving God, while we await our blessed hope—the glorious manifestation of our great God and Savior Christ Jesus. He gave himself for us, to redeem us from every evil, and to purify a people he wanted to be his own, and dedicated to what is good.

But God, our Savior, revealed his eminent goodness and love for humankind, and saved us, not because of good deeds we may have done, but for the sake of his own mercy, to the water of rebirth and renewal, by the Holy Spirit poured over us through Christ Jesus our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we should become heirs, in hope of eternal life.

Gospel: Lk 3:15-16, 21-22:
The people were wondering about John’s identity, “Could he be the Messiah?” Then John answered them, “I baptize you with water, but the one who is coming will do much more: he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. As for me, I am not worthy to untie his sandal. Now, with all the people who came to be baptized, Jesus, too, was baptized. Then, while he was praying, the heavens opened: the Holy Spirit came down upon him in the bodily form of a dove, and a voice from heaven was heard, “You are my Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

It is strange how we stubbornly refuse to accept God on his own terms and persist in projecting on him our contradictory values! Take our liturgical prayers, for example. How many of them begin like this: “All-powerful God” (1st Sunday of advent), “God of power” (2nd Sunday of Advent), “All-Powerful God” (4th Sunday of Advent), “Almighty God” (Christmas Mass at Dawn). Take, as another example, the liturgical texts of today. The first two are flatly contradicted by the gospel reading. For Isaiah announces: “Here comes Yahweh Sabaoth with might; his strong arm rules for him,” and Paul speaks of “the glorious manifestation of our great God and savior Christ Jesus.”

But is that how Jesus enters our world? No, he comes in the form of a powerless baby. And today’s gospel reading shows him meekly falling in line–as an anonymous figure without any special standing–and receiving John’s baptism in total solidarity with all of us sinners. Where is God’s so vaunted power now? When will we ever learn that power and love are opposites and that God is simply not interested in power, only in love? Let us savor the gentle humility of Jesus, who is not interested in power, only in love. Let us try today to avoid any act of pride.

January 10th

1st Reading: 1 Sm 1:1-8:
There was a man from Ramathaim, in the hills of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah. He was son of Tohu, son of Jeroham, of the clan of Zuph. He had two wives, Hannah and Peninnah. Peninnah had children but Hannah had none. Every year Elkanah went to worship and to sacrifice to Yahweh of Hosts at Shiloh. The priests there were the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phineas. Whenever Elkanah offered sacrifice, he gave portions to his wife, Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters.

To Hannah, however, he gave the more delightful portion because he loved her more, although she had no child. Yet Hannah’s rival used to tease her for being barren. So it happened every year when they went to Yahweh’s house, Peninnah irritated Hannah and she would weep and refuse to eat. Once Elkanah, her husband, asked her, “Hannah, why do you weep instead of eating? Why are you sad? Are you not better off with me than with many sons?”

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.

“I will make you fish for people.” These words of Jesus in today’s gospel reading present a striking paradox. For when a fisherman catches a fish and hauls it out of the water, it is with the intention of causing the fish’s death. But it is the very opposite that happens when Jesus enters the picture. For when a person fishes for people and brings them to Jesus, it results in life for these people. And how many thousands of converts in the course of history have witnessed to the fact that they were in the throes of spiritual death until they came to Jesus? 

Now in our present age, as in all past ages, there are many who fish for people—but for their own perverse ends. Some fish for people in order to sell them pornography or drugs or racial hate or atheism, etc. Those Christians who fish to bring people to God are in constant competition with others who fish to bring people to ruin and despair. Let us not be naïve in this respect. We are not alone in this fishing enterprise. And nowadays we need God’s guidance more than ever before if we want to win in this cosmic conflict.

January 11th

1st Reading: 1 Sm 1:9-20:
After they had eaten and drunk in Shiloh, Hannah stood up not far from Eli, the priest whose seat was beside the doorpost of Yahweh’s house. Deeply distressed she wept and prayed to Yahweh and made this vow: “O Yahweh of Hosts, if you will have compassion on your maidservant and give me a son, I will put him in your service for as long as he lives and no razor shall touch his head.” As she prayed before Yahweh, Eli observed the movement of her lips. Hannah was praying silently; she moved her lips but uttered no sound and Eli thought Hannah was drunk. He, therefore, said to her: “For how long will you be drunk? Let your drunkenness pass.”

But Hannah answered: “No, my lord, I am a woman in great distress, not drunk. I have not drunk wine or strong drink, but I am pouring out my soul before Yahweh. Do not take me for a bad woman. I was so afflicted that my prayer flowed continuously.” Then Eli said, “Go in peace and may the God of Israel grant you what you asked for.” Hannah answered, “Let your maidservant deserve your kindness.” Then she left the temple; and when she was at table she seemed a different woman. Elkanah rose early in the morning and worshiped before Yahweh with his wives. Then they went back home to Ramah. When Elkanah slept with his wife, Hannah, Yahweh took compassion on her, and she became pregnant. She gave birth to a son and called him Samuel because she said: “I have asked Yahweh to give him to me.”

Gospel: Mk 1:21-28:
They went into the town of Capernaum and Jesus taught in the synagogue on the Sabbath day. The people were astonished at the way he taught, for he spoke as one having authority, and not like the teachers of the law. It happened that, a man with an evil spirit was in their synagogue, and he shouted, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are: you are the Holy One of God.” Then Jesus faced him and said with authority, “Be silent, and come out of this man!” The evil spirit shook the man violently and, with a loud shriek, came out of him. All the people were astonished, and they wondered, “What is this? With what authority he preaches! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him!” And Jesus’ fame spread throughout all the country of Galilee.

It was believed throughout the centuries preceding the time of Jesus that Moses (who lived some 12 centuries before Jesus) had left, aside from the Ten Commandments and his other teachings enshrined in the Torah (most of our modern Pentateuch), a body of oral teachings which were transmitted uninterruptedly from generation of rabbis to generation of rabbis and which had the same binding authority as the written Torah. Consequently, most of the teaching of the rabbis consisted in quoting authorities of the past. For example, a scribe would say: “Well, according to Rabbi Meir, who received this from his teacher Rabbi Solomon…”

But when Jesus comes on the scene, he teaches on his own authority: “You have heard it said… but I say to you” (Mt 5:21, 27, 31, 33-34, 38, 43). He cuts through all human traditions (Mt 15:1-30) and proposes his message in simple, direct terms that anybody can understand. How refreshing he sounds when compared to the “doublespeak” of our politicians, demagogues and televangelists! And eventually he backed his words with the cost of his life. He practiced what he preached and was in all things “as simple as a dove” (Mt 10:16). Are we his disciples also in this simplicity?

January 12th

1st Reading: 1 Sm 3:1-10, 19-20:
During the time young Samuel was minister to the Lord under Eli, a revelation of the Lord was uncommon and vision infrequent. One day Eli was asleep in his usual place. His eyes had lately grown so weak that he could not see. The lamp of God was not yet extinguished, and Samuel was sleeping in the temple of the Lord where the ark of God was. The Lord called to Samuel, who answered, “Here I am.” Samuel ran to Eli and said, “Here I am.  You called me.” “I did not call you,” Eli said.  “Go back to sleep.”  So he went back to sleep. Again the Lord called Samuel, who rose and went to Eli. “Here I am,” he said. “You called me.” But Eli answered, “I did not call you, my son. Go back to sleep.”

At that time Samuel was not familiar with the Lord, because the Lord had not revealed anything to him as yet. The Lord called Samuel again, for the third time. Getting up and going to Eli, he said, “Here I am.  You called me.” Then Eli understood that the Lord was calling the youth. So Eli said to Samuel, “Go to sleep, and if you are called, reply, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’”  When Samuel went to sleep in his place, the Lord came and revealed his presence, calling out as before, “Samuel, Samuel!” Samuel answered, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” Samuel grew up, and the Lord was with him, not permitting any word of his to be without effect. Thus all Israel from Dan to Beersheba came to know that Samuel was an accredited prophet of the Lord.

Gospel: Mk 1:29-39:
On leaving the synagogue, Jesus went to the home of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. As Simon’s mother-in-law was sick in bed with fever, they immediately told him about her. Jesus went to her and, taking her by the hand, raised her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them. That evening, at sundown, people brought to Jesus all the sick and those who had evil spirits: the whole town was pressing around the door. Jesus healed many who had various diseases, and drove out many demons; but he did not let them speak, for they knew who he was.

Very early in the morning, before daylight, Jesus went off to a lonely place where he prayed. Simon and the others went out also, searching for him; and when they found him, they said, “Everyone is looking for you.” Then Jesus answered, “Let us go to the nearby villages so that I may preach there too; for that is why I came.” So Jesus set out to preach in all the synagogues throughout Galilee; he also cast out demons.

Both of today’s readings present someone placing himself in a position which will render communication with God possible: young Samuel in a nocturnal listening to God‘s voice in the Temple sanctuary and Jesus in an early morning encounter with God “in a lonely place.” Does God really favor this sort of situation (aloneness) to communicate himself to us? All the spiritual masters insist that, without a lot of solitary time spent with God, no voice of God is likely to be heard. And that is basically true. Why the qualification “basically?” Because, in truth, this is what seems to be God’s preferred way of proceeding.

Let us imagine Ben, a man of God whom we consider wonderfully guided by God in all his actions. Does Ben pray regularly? Yes, he spends at least an entire hour communing with God every day. Does God speak to him then? Ben will answer that, as a rule, his hour of prayer is one long arid distraction during which nothing much happens—certainly no voice from Heaven. But during the day Ben is aware that the Spirit is gently inspiring him to do this or not to do that, to say this or not to say that. And so, God does speak to Ben, but only after Ben has “wasted” time in “listening” to Him through long silences, and that voice of God is deferred until after prayer time. Strange, isn’t it?

January 13th

St. Hilary

1st Reading: 1 Sm 4:1-11:
At that time Samuel was a prophet of Israel. The Israelites went out to battle against the Philistines. They encamped at Ebenezer, while the Philistines encamped at Aphek. The Philistines then drew up in battle formation. They attacked Israel and after a fierce fighting, Israel was defeated, leaving about four thousand men dead on the battlefield. When the troops retreated to their camp, the elders of Israel asked, “Why has Yahweh allowed us to be defeated by the Philistines? Let us take the Ark of God from Shiloh and bring it here so that Yahweh may be with us and save us from our enemies.” So the people sent messengers to Shiloh to take the Ark of Yahweh who is seated on the cherubim.

Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, accompanied the Ark. As soon as the Ark of Yahweh entered the camp, the Israelites began to cheer so loudly that the earth resounded. The Philistines heard the shouting and asked, “What does this loud shout in the camp of the Hebrews mean?” And they were told that the Ark of Yahweh had been brought to the camp. The Philistines were overcome with fear. They exclaimed, “A god has come into the camp. Woe to us! For nothing like this has happened before. Woe to us! Who can save us from the power of these mighty gods? These are the gods who struck the Egyptians with all sorts of plagues—and in the desert. Take courage and conduct yourselves like men, O Philistines, lest you become slaves to the Hebrews in the same way they have been slaves to you. Be manly and fight.”

So the Philistines fought and Israel was defeated. Everyone fled to his home. It was a disastrous defeat; thirty thousand foot soldiers of Israel were killed. The Ark of God was captured  and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were slain.

Gospel: Mk 1:40-45:
A leper came to Jesus and begged him, “If you want to, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I do want to; be clean.” The leprosy left the man at once and he was made clean. As Jesus sent the man away, he sternly warned him, “Don’t tell anyone about this, but go and show yourself to the priest; and for the cleansing, bring the offering ordered by Moses; in this way, you will give to them your testimony.” However, as soon as the man went out, he began spreading the news everywhere, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter any town. But even though he stayed in the rural areas, people came to him from everywhere.

One of the strangest paradoxes of the gospels is how Jesus conducts what could be called his PR (Public Relations) campaign. On the one hand, he certainly wants the Good News of his entering the stage of history to spread far and wide, as Matthew tells us: “He went around all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues… His fame spread to all Syria” (Mt 4:23-24). So we would expect that Jesus would welcome any form of publicity which would make him known. Yet, on the other hand, he silences the demons who, incidentally, are the only ones who know who he really is, as he also discourages the beneficiaries of his healings (like the leper in today’s gospel reading) from making his healings known.

Why is this? Isn’t propaganda, especially gospel propaganda a good thing for Jesus? Apparently not. Here the gospels are silent. So we must guess why Jesus shunned some forms of PR pitch. Perhaps he wanted the proclamation of him to be an act of love and devotion— which the demon’s proclamation was not. Perhaps he disliked to be known primarily as a miracle worker offering spiritual fireworks. Perhaps he wanted people to come to him for deeper reasons—because they were in search of God?

January 14th

1st Reading: 1 Sm 8:4-7, 10-22a:
All the elders of Israel came in a body to Samuel at Ramah and said to him, “Now that you are old, and your sons do not follow your example, appoint a king over us, as other nations have, to judge us.” Samuel was displeased when they asked for a king to judge them. He prayed to the Lord, however, who said in answer: “Grant the people’s every request. It is not you they reject, they are rejecting me as their king.” Samuel delivered the message of the Lord in full to those who were asking him for a king. He told them: “The rights of the king who will rule you will be as follows: He will take your sons and assign them to his chariots and horses, and they will run before his chariot.

“He will also appoint from among them his commanders of groups of a thousand and of a hundred soldiers. He will set them to do his plowing and his harvesting, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots.  He will use your daughters as ointment makers, as cooks, and as bakers. He will take the best of your fields, vineyards, and olive groves, and give them to his officials. He will tithe your crops and your vineyards, and give the revenue to his eunuchs and his slaves. He will take your male and female servants, as well as your best oxen and your asses, and use them to do his work. He will tithe your flocks and you yourselves will become his slaves.

“When this takes place, you will complain against the king whom you have chosen, but on that day the Lord will not answer you.” The people, however, refused to listen to Samuel’s warning and said, “Not so!  There must be a king over us. We too must be like other nations, with a king to rule us and to lead us in warfare and fight our battles.”  When Samuel had listened to all the people had to say, he repeated it to the Lord, who then said to him, “Grant their request and appoint a king to rule them.”

Gospel: Mk 2:1-12:
After some days, Jesus returned to Capernaum. As the news spread that he was in the house, so many people gathered, that there was no longer room even outside the door. While Jesus was preaching the word to them, some people brought to him a paralyzed man. The four men who carried him couldn’t get near Jesus because of the crowd, so they opened the roof above the room where Jesus was and, through the hole, lowered the man on his mat. When Jesus saw the faith of these people, he said to the paralytic, “My son, your sins are forgiven.”

Now, some teachers of the law, who were sitting there, wondered within themselves, “How can he speak like this, insulting God? Who can forgive sins except God?” At once, Jesus knew in his spirit what they were thinking, and asked, “Why do you wonder? Is it easier to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your mat and walk?’ But now you shall know, that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” And he said to the paralytic, “Stand up, take up your mat and go home.” The man rose and, in the sight of all those people, he took up his mat and went out. All of them were astonished and praised God, saying, “Never have we seen anything like this!”

A small detail in today’s gospel reading is rather intriguing. Usually in a narrative presenting a healing, something is said of the faith of the petitioner. In fact, in most cases it seems that Jesus made the petitioner’s faith a pre-condition for the granting of a healing. But in today’s story not a word is said about the paralyzed man’s faith. Maybe because the man’s paralysis extended to his vocal chords and prevented him from speaking? The text does not specify. What the text does specify, though, is the faith of the paralyzed man’s four friends, who stubbornly untiled a roof to bring him to Jesus.

Now if that is not determination, what is? Apparently, Jesus is entirely won over by this kind of solidarity. “When he saw their faith…” We were never meant to be saved as isolated units. God wants to help each other on our spiritual journey and delights in nothing more than when he sees us reaching out to a brother or a sister in need (whether material or spiritual). We are not monads. We are a people. We are a family, God’s family.

January 15th

1st Reading: 1 Sm 9:1-4, 17-19; 10:1:
There was a man from the tribe of Benjamin whose name was Kish. He was the son of Abiel, son of Zeror, son of Becorath, son of Aphiah, a valiant Benjaminite. Kish had a son named Saul, a handsome young man who had no equal among the Israelites, for he was a head taller than any of them. It happened that the asses of Kish were lost. So he said to his son Saul, “Take one of the boys with you and go look for the asses.” They went all over the hill country of Ephraim and the land of Shalishah but did not find them. They passed through the land of Shaalim and the land of Benjamin, but the asses were nowhere to be found.

So, when Samuel saw Saul, Yahweh told him, “Here is the man I spoke to you about! He shall rule over my people.” Saul approached Samuel in the gateway and said, “Tell me, where is the house of the seer?” Samuel answered Saul, “I am the seer. Go up ahead of me to the high place, for today you shall eat with me. In the morning, before you leave, I will tell you all that is in your heart. Then Samuel took a vial of oil and poured it on Saul’s head. And kissing Saul, Samuel said, “Yahweh has anointed you to rule over and to lead his people Israel. And this will be Yahweh’s sign to you that he has anointed you.

Gospel: Mk 2:13-17:
When Jesus went out again, beside the lake, a crowd came to him, and he taught them. As he walked along, he saw a tax collector sitting in his office. This was Levi, the son of Alpheus. Jesus said to him, “Follow me!” And Levi got up and followed him. And it so happened that, when Jesus was eating in Levi’s house, tax collectors and sinners sat with him and his disciples; there were a lot of them, and they used to follow Jesus. But Pharisees, men educated in the law, when they saw Jesus eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does your master eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus heard them, and answered, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor, but sick people do. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

We spontaneously think of the verb “to collaborate” in the positive sense of “work with another” (Collins Dictionary). But this latter dictionary also defines the verb “to collaborate” in this negative sense of “cooperate as a traitor, esp. with an enemy occupying one’s own country.” Now, at the time of Jesus, Palestine was under Roman rule and most Jews hated these undesirable masters. But some Jews accepted to side with them against their own countrymen for a profit. Such were the tax collectors. And in today’s gospel reading we see Jesus calling one of these, Levi, to become no less than an apostle!

What is going on here? Well, as Jesus explains quite candidly, he is a doctor and, as a doctor, he is bound to seek the company of sick people. Tax collectors and other categories of “sinners” are spiritually sick, there is no doubt about it. Hence his keeping company with them. Would you blame a doctor for spending most of his time with patients? Most Christians think that their sins prevent Jesus from coming to them. And so, they pretend that they are good people, not lousy sinners. But the opposite is true. Show your sins to Jesus in a trusting appeal and you will always find him at your side.