Bible Diary for July 24th-July 30th

July 24th

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time
St. Sharbel Makhluf

1st Reading: Gen 18:20-32:
Then Yahweh said, “How great is the cry for justice against Sodom and Gomorrah! And how grievous is their sin! I am going down to see if they have done all that they are charged with in the outcry that has reached me. If it is not so, I will know.” The men with him turned away and went towards Sodom, but Yahweh remained standing before Abraham. Abraham went forward and said, “Will you really let the just perish with the wicked? Perhaps there are fifty good people in the town. Are you really going to let them perish? Would you not spare the place for the sake of these fifty righteous people? It would not be at all like you to do such a thing and you can’t let the good perish with the wicked, nor treat the good and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the judge of all the earth be just?”

Yahweh said, “If I find fifty good people in Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.” Abraham spoke up again, “I know that I am very bold to speak like this to my Lord, I who am only dust and ashes! But perhaps the number of the good is five less than fifty. Will you destroy the town because of five?” Yahweh replied, “I will not destroy the town if I find forty-five good people there.” Again Abraham said to him, “Perhaps there will be only forty.” He answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.” Abraham went on, saying, “May my Lord not be angry, but let me speak. Maybe only thirty good people will be found in the town.”

Yahweh answered, “I will not destroy it if I find thirty there.” Abraham said, “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to my Lord, what if only twenty can be found?” He said, “For the sake of twenty I will not destroy the place.” But Abraham insisted, “May my Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found?” And Yahweh answered, “For the sake of ten good people, I will not destroy Sodom.”

2nd Reading: Col 2:12-14:
I refer to baptism. On receiving it, you were buried with Christ; and you also rose with him, for having believed in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. You were dead. You were in sin and uncircumcised at the same time. But God gave you life with Christ. He forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of our debts, those regulations which accused us. He did away with all that, and nailed it to the cross.

Gospel: Lk 11:1-13:
One day, Jesus was praying in a certain place; and when he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.” And Jesus said to them, “When you pray, say this: Father, may your name be held holy, may your kingdom come; give us, each day, the kind of bread we need, and forgive us our sins; for we also forgive all who do us wrong; and do not bring us to the test.” Jesus said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and goes to his house in the middle of the night and says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine who is traveling has just arrived, and I have nothing to offer him.’ Maybe your friend will answer from inside, ‘Don’t bother me now; the door is locked, and my children and I are in bed, so I can’t get up and give you anything.’

But I tell you, even though he will not get up and attend to you because you are a friend, yet he will get up because you are a bother to him, and he will give you all you need. And so I say to you, ‘Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For the one who asks receives, and the one who searches finds, and to him who knocks the door will be opened. If your child asks for a fish, will you give him a snake instead? And if your child asks for an egg, will you give him a scorpion? If you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.”

The parable told by Jesus in today’s gospel reading is often misunderstood as a teaching on the importance of persisting in prayer. But that is not the case and results from a faulty translation of the long opening question and a neglect of the cultural background of the parable. For the background of the parable refers to the sacred law of hospitality in the Near East, according to which any guest is automatically the guest of the whole community. Because of this, it is unthinkable that a neighbor would refuse to help me give a suitable welcome to an unexpected guest. And so, the opening question “Who among you?” (used 7 times in the Gospel and always followed by an emphatic negative answer) amounts to asking: “Can you imagine going to a friend, asking for help to welcome a guest and being met with silly excuses about a closed door and sleeping children? Of course not!”

Consequently, this parable, far from teaching perseverance in prayer teaches the absolute certainty of being answered whenever we make a request to God. Jesus never tires of repeating that God answers our prayers. But he never specifies when or how they will be answered. Here we simply have to trust him. Let us make a daring request to God about something very dear to our heart. Today we will grant a long-standing (and reasonable) request from a relative or friend.

July 25th

St. James the Apostle

1st Reading: 2 Cor 4:7-15:
However, we carry this treasure in vessels of clay, so that this all-surpassing power may not be seen as ours, but as God’s. Trials of every sort come to us, but we are not discouraged. We are left without answer, but do not despair; persecuted but not abandoned, knocked down but not crushed. At any moment, we carry, in our person, the death of Jesus, so, that, the life of Jesus may also be manifested in us. For we, the living, are given up continually to death, for the sake of Jesus, so, that, the life of Jesus may appear in our mortal existence. And as death is at work in us, life comes to you.

We have received the same spirit of faith referred to in Scripture, that says: I believed and so I spoke. We also believe, and so we speak. We know that he, who raised the Lord Jesus, will also raise us, with Jesus, and bring us, with you, into his presence. Finally, everything is for your good, so that grace will come more abundantly upon you, and great will be the thanksgiving for the glory of God.

Gospel: Mt 20:20-28:
Then the mother of James and John came to Jesus with her sons, and she knelt down, to ask a favor. Jesus said to her, “What do you want?” And she answered, “Here, you have my two sons. Grant, that they may sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” Jesus said to the brothers, “You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I am about to drink?” They answered, “We can.” Jesus replied, “You will indeed drink my cup; but to sit at my right or at my left is not for me to grant. That will be for those, for whom my Father has prepared it.”

The other ten heard all this, and were angry with the two brothers. Then Jesus called them to him and said, “You know, that the rulers of nations behave like tyrants, and the powerful oppress them. It shall not be so among you: whoever wants to be great in your community, let him minister to the community. And if you want to be the first of all, make yourself the servant of all. Be like the Son of Man, who came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life to redeem many.”

Great powers entail great responsibilities. That’s why one has to be ready to wield power responsibly. James and John desire power with Jesus. It is a legitimate desire. Jesus Himself did not rebuke them. However there are conditions in obtaining such power. Although the brothers believed that they could fulfill the requirements, still Jesus told them that it was not He but the Father who appointed. They just had to be ready. The ten got angry at such audacity but it is more because the brothers acted faster than them. They too had the same desire. Jesus is not yet finished with them. He will have a long way to go in purifying the intentions of His disciples.

July 26th

St. Joachim and St. Anne

1st Reading: Jer 14:17-22:
This you will say to them: Let my eyes shed tears night and day without ceasing! For with a great wound has the virgin daughter of my people been wounded, a most grievous wound. If I go into the country, I see those slain by the sword. If I enter the city I see the ravages of famine. For the prophet and the priest did not understand what was happening in the land.” Have you then rejected Judah forever? Do you abhor Zion? Why have you wounded us and left us with no hope of recovery? We hoped for salvation but received nothing good; we waited for healing, but terror came!

Yahweh, we know our wickedness and that of our ancestors, and the times we have sinned against you. For your name’s sake do not despise us; do not dishonor the throne of your glory. Remember us. Do not break your Covenant with us! Among the worthless idols of the nations, are there any who can bring rain, or make the skies send showers? Only in you, Yahweh our God, do we hope, for it is you who do all this.

Gospel: Mt 13:36-43:
Then he sent the crowds away and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.” Jesus answered them, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world; the good seed are the people of the kingdom; the weeds are those who follow the evil one. The enemy who sows the weeds is the devil; the harvest is the end of time, and the workers are the angels.

Just as the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so will it be at the end of time. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom all that is scandalous and all who do evil. And these will be thrown into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the just will shine, like the sun, in the kingdom of their Father. If you have ears, then hear.

The sacred and profane, light and shadow, the good and the bad, these will forever exist as twins to one another. They are only significant when the other is present for they can be only understood in contrast to the other. This may be the reason why the owner of the field is not annoyed at all that weeds grow along with the wheat. He did not plant the former but he was not naïve enough to believe that they would not make an appearance.

So he allowed them to grow together. There’s no use weeding out the bad seeds. They are so alike and intertwined that one could not help destroy the other in the process of uprooting the weeds. And so God allows good and evil to thrive together. The harvest will determine who will go to the fire and who will go to the barn. God’s patience allows us the time to change our ways. May we make use of such time to come out the better.

July 27th

1st Reading: Jer 15:10, 16-21:
Woe is me, Mother, why did you bring me to the light? A man of dissension throughout the land! I owe them nothing, neither do they owe me, yet they all curse me! I devoured your words when they came. They were my happiness and I felt full of joy when you made your name rest on me. I never associate with worldly people, amusing myself with scoffers! When your hand was upon me I stood apart and you filled me with your anger. Why is there no end to my sorrow or healing for my wound? Why do you deceive me, and why does my spring suddenly dry up?

Then Yahweh spoke to me, “If you return I will take you back and you will serve me again. Draw the gold from the dross and you will be as my own mouth. You must draw them to you and not go over to them. I will make you a fortress and a wall of bronze facing them; if they fight against you they will not overcome you; I am with you to free you and save you. I will redeem you from the wicked and free you from the hands of tyrants.”

Gospel: Mt 13:44-46:
The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure, hidden in a field. The one who finds it, buries it again; and so happy is he, that he goes and sells everything he has, in order to buy that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a trader, who is looking for fine pearls. Once he has found a pearl of exceptional quality, he goes away, sells everything he has and buys it.

The following scenario is a typical success story of our times. Our hero—let us call him Joe—is a young man with a curious mind. He likes to tinker around in the family garage and explore new combinations of electronic wirings and signals. He finds that images can be converted into electrical signals, transmitted electronically, and then reconverted into images. In other words, Joe is aware that he has discovered television. What does he do then? He sells everything he has, borrows all the money he can and builds a television set. Is he crazy? No, he is merely investing all he has into something which will eventually make him fabulously rich.

Christians throughout the ages have behaved like Joe. At some point in their lives they have discovered God. Many of them knew about God, but had never known him directly through a personal spiritual experience. But now that they know God, they want to know him infinitely more. And they gladly sacrifice all their belongings to this end. Are they crazy? No, Jesus tells us in today’s gospel reading. They are only shrewd investors. They know that any sacrifice made for God always pays off handsomely.

July 28th

1st Reading: Jer 18:1-6:
This is the word of Yahweh that came to Jeremiah: “Go down to the potter’s house and there you will hear what I have to say.” So I went to the potter’s house and found him working at the wheel. But the pot he was working on was spoiled in his hands, so he reworked it all over again into another pot that suits his desire. Meanwhile Yahweh sent me his word, “People of Israel, can I not do with you what this potter does? As clay in the potter’s hand so are you in my hands.

Gospel: Mt 13:47-53:
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a big fishing net, let down into the sea, in which every kind of fish has been caught. When the net is full, it is dragged ashore. Then they sit down and gather the good fish into buckets, but throw the bad away. That is how it will be at the end of time; the angels will go out to separate the wicked from he just, and to throw the wicked into the blazing furnace, where they will weep and gnash their teeth.” Jesus asked, “Have you understood all these things?” “Yes,” they answered. So he said to them, “Therefore, every teacher of the law, who becomes a disciple of the kingdom of heaven, is like a householder, who can produce from his store things both new and old.” When Jesus had finished these parables, he left that place.

A lot of Christians, when they hear a parable like the one we have in today’s gospel reading, figure that, on Jesus’ own reckoning, a certain number of people will end up in Hell at the end of time. But this conclusion does not necessarily follow, because it is based on a wrong interpretation of Jesus’ words, a wrong understanding of the particular literary genre or type of discourse that Jesus is using here. For here, in the opinion of many theologians and exegetes, we are not dealing with a prophecy, a sort of anticipated scenario of what will happen one day.

We are dealing with what is technically called a threat discourse. This is a type of conditional prediction, nothing more. It consists in saying something like this: if a person persists on the path of evil without ever reversing his or her decision, then that person will have chosen damnation. Has this ever happened? Nowhere does the Bible declare that X or Y is in Hell. Never has the Church (who canonizes people and therefore declares them to be presently in Heaven) ever declared that some persons are presently in Hell—not Judas! Consequently, we may still reasonably hope that all humans will be saved.

July 29th

St. Martha

1st Reading: Jer 26:1-9 (or 1 Jn 4:7-16):
At the beginning of the reign of Judah’s king Jehoiakim son of Josiah, the word of Yahweh came to Jeremiah: Yahweh says this, “Stand in the courtyard of Yahweh’s house and say to all who come from the towns of Judah to worship in Yahweh’s house—all that I command you to say; do not omit anything! Perhaps they will listen to you. Perhaps each one will turn from his wicked ways. Then I will change my mind and forget the destruction that I have planned to inflict on them because of their wicked deeds.

Tell them: This is what Yahweh says: “You have not obeyed me and you have failed to walk according to my law which I have set before you. You have not heeded my servants, the prophets, whom I have persistently sent to you. If you stubbornly close your ears to them, I will treat this house of mine as I treated the Sanctuary of Shiloh and let all the nations see that Jerusalem is a cursed city.” The priests, the prophets and all the people heard what Jeremiah said in Yahweh’s house. When Jeremiah finished saying all that Yahweh had commanded, he was besieged by the priests and prophets saying, “You are bound to die! How dare you speak in Yahweh’s Name telling us that this house will be treated like Shiloh and this city is to become a deserted ruin.” And all the people gathered around Jeremiah in the house of Yahweh.

Gospel: Jn 11:19-27 (or Lk 10:38-42):
Many Jews had come to Martha and Mary, after the death of their brother, to comfort them. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him, while Mary remained sitting in the house. Martha said to Jesus, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha replied, “I know that he will rise in the resurrection, at the last day.” But Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection. Whoever believes in me, though he die, shall live. Whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” Martha then answered, “Yes, Lord, I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world.”

Today’s Gospel text is one which we can easily relate with. It resonates well with our experiences especially when we are in great pain or in deep sorrow. When something bad happens or when a tragedy befalls us, like Marta we are often led to say, “Lord, if you had been here… this would not have happened.“ When she said that, Marta was not being resentful and was putting the blame on the Lord for Lazarus’ death. Nor was she trying to make Jesus feel guilty for his apparent insensitivity or lack of concern. It actually expresses her faith and trust in Jesus and his power over death.

That is why later on she was able to proclaim, “Yes, Lord, I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God…“ Do we have a faith as strong as Martha’s so that even amidst tragedy or in suffering we can still hold on to God, putting our trust in Him? Martha’s friendship with Jesus has brought about growth in her faith. Hospitably welcoming him and his disciples into her home and providing some of their needs as they went about ministering to people helped her come to know the Lord better. Welcoming others into our homes and into our lives will likewise enable us to see Jesus better and grow in our faith and relationship with Him.

July 30th

St. Peter Chrysologus

1st Reading: Jer 26:11-16, 24:
Then the priests and the prophets said to the leaders of the people: “This man must die for he has spoken against the city as you have heard with your own ears!” Jeremiah replied, “I have been sent by Yahweh to prophesy against this house and this city all that you have heard. Hence, reform your ways and your deeds and obey Yahweh your God that he may change his mind and not bring upon you the destruction he had intended.

“As for me I am in your hands; do with me whatever you consider just and right. But know that I am innocent; and if you take my life you commit a crime that is a curse on yourselves, on the city and the people. In truth it was Yahweh who sent me to say all that I said in your hearing.” Then the leaders, backed by the people, said to the priests and the prophets, “This man does not deserve death; he spoke to us in the Name of Yahweh.” As for Jeremiah he was befriended by Ahikam, son of Shaphan, and was not handed over to those who wanted him put to death.

Gospel: Mt 14:1-12:
At that time, the reports about Jesus reached king Herod. And he said to his servants, “This man is John the Baptist. John has risen from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in John.” Herod had, in fact, ordered that John be arrested, bound in chains and put in prison, because of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip. For John had said to Herod, “It is not right for you to have her as your wife.” Herod wanted to kill him but he did not dare, because he feared the people, who regarded John as a prophet.

On Herod’s birthday the daughter of Herodias danced among the guests; she so delighted Herod that he promised under oath to give her anything she asked for. The girl, following the advice of her mother, said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist, here, on a dish.” The king was very displeased, but because he had made his promise under oath, in the presence of his guests, he ordered it to be given to her. So he had John beheaded in prison, and his head brought on a dish and given to the girl. The girl then took it to her mother. Then John’s disciples came, took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus.

It is said that the best way to know if a metal is pure or mixed with alloys is to expose the metal to fire: if it is impure, the alloy in it will turn to dross and blacken the metal’s color, but if it is pure it will retain its color. In this case it is fire which separates the real from the imitation. The same could be said about people who claim to be representing God and to be speaking in his name. In times of persecution we come to know who is sincere and who is not: the truly sincere maintain their stance at the risk of their lives, while the fake melt away into the landscape.

Jeremiah was a “reluctant prophet” if ever there was one. But once he accepted his prophetic vocation, he never wavered. His message was like his person—uncompromising. In today’s first reading we see him quietly ready to die at the hands of the Jerusalem priests and their lackey false prophets. Under the fire of death threats, he never changes his position. He is a true man of God. How do we react when our Christian identity risks to cost us our job, our standing in the community, our future?