Bible Diary for July 31st- August 6th

July 31st

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

1st Reading: Eccl 1:2; 2:21-23:
All is meaningless—says the Teacher—meaningless, meaningless! For here was a man who toiled in all wisdom, knowledge and skill; and he must leave all to someone who has not worked for it. This is meaningless and a great misfortune. For what profit is there for a man in all his work and heart-searching under the sun? All his days bring sorrow; his work, grief; he hasn’t, moreover, peaceful rest at night: that, too, is meaningless.

2nd Reading: Col 3:1-5, 9-11:
So then, if you are risen with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things that are above, not on earthly things. For you have died and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, reveals himself, you also will be revealed with him in glory.

Therefore, put to death what is earthly in your life, that is immorality, impurity, inordinate passions, wicked desires and greed, which is a way of worshiping idols. Do not lie to one another. You have been stripped of the old self and its way of thinking; to put on the new, which is being renewed, and is to reach perfect knowledge, and the likeness of its creator. There is no room for distinction between Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, foreigner, slave or free, but Christ is all, and in all.

Gospel: Lk 12:13-21:
Someone in the crowd spoke to Jesus, “Master, tell my brother to share with me the family inheritance.” He replied, “My friend, who has appointed me as your judge or your attorney?” Then Jesus said to the people, “Be on your guard and avoid every kind of greed, for even though you have many possessions, it is not that which gives you life.”

And Jesus continued, “There was a rich man, and his land had produced a good harvest. He thought, ‘What shall I do, for I am short of room to store my harvest? Alright, I know what I shall do: I will pull down my barns and I will build bigger ones, to store all this grain, which is my wealth. Then I will say to myself: My friend, you have a lot of good things put by for many years. Rest, eat, drink and enjoy yourself.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be taken from you. Tell me, who shall get all you have put aside?’ This is the lot of the one who stores up riches for himself and is not wealthy in the eyes of God.”

Let us ask the Spirit to grant us the wisdom for discerning when to tell the truth and when to withhold it. Today I will try to tell the unvarnished truth about myself whenever I am tempted to boast instead.

In today’s second reading we have the apostle Paul tell us, “Do not lie to one another.” On this matter of lying, few Christians know the three basic principles which should inspire our behavior. The first of these principles is that, as a general rule, we should speak the truth to one another, otherwise distrust reigns and social life becomes impossible. Secondly, we have the obligation to tell the truth in answer to a question by someone who is entitled to the truth, v.g. a judge in a court of law, a parent or a guardian, a government agency, etc.

Thirdly, we can make a false statement in answer to a question by someone who is not entitled to the truth, v.g. a nosy neighbor, a nosy classmate, a dangerous maniac, etc. Moral theologians call this a falsehood, not a lie. It is morally neutral. In fact, in some rare cases (v.g. to protect the life of an innocent person, to preserve a secret, to safeguard a person’s reputation, etc.), we have the obligation of saying a falsehood. These three principles should enable us to distinguish between what is traditionally called a “white lie” (i.e. a mere falsehood) from a real lie.

August 1st

St. Alphonsus Liguori

1st Reading: Jer 28:1-17:
Early in the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah, in the fifth month of the fourth year, the prophet Hananiah spoke to me. … “This is what Yahweh the God of Hosts and the God of Israel says: I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon. Within two years I will bring back to this place all the objects that king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon took away from Yahweh’s house and carried to Babylon. …

Then Jeremiah replied to Hananiah in the presence of the priests and all the people, “So be it! May Yahweh fulfill the words you have spoken … The prophets who came before you and me continually prophesied war, disaster and plague to many nations and great kingdoms.

So the prophet who prophesies peace will not be recognized as truly sent by Yahweh, until his predictions are fulfilled.” … Then Jeremiah said to Hananiah, “Listen! Hananiah, you have not been sent by Yahweh and yet you have deceived these people, giving them false hope with your lies.… And in the seventh month of that year Hananiah died.

Gospel: Mt 14:13-21:
When Jesus hear of it, he set out by boat for a secluded place, to be alone. But the people heard of it, and they followed him on foot from their towns. When Jesus went ashore, he saw the crowd gathered there, and he had compassion on them. And he healed their sick. Late in the afternoon, his disciples came to him and said, “We are in a lonely place and it is now late. You should send these people away, so that they can go to the villages and buy something for themselves to eat.”

But Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away; you give them something to eat.” They answered, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fishes.” Jesus said to them, “Bring them here to me.” Then he made everyone sit down on the grass. He took the five loaves and the two fishes, raised his eyes to heaven, pronounced the blessing, broke the loaves, and handed them to the disciples to distribute to the people. And they all ate, and everyone had enough; then the disciples gathered up the leftovers, filling twelve baskets. About five thousand men had eaten there, besides women and children.

It is interesting to note in today’s gospel reading that it was not Jesus himself who distributed the multiplied bread and fish to the crowd. Instead he had his disciples do it for him. Obviously he wanted to associate them to his feeding activity. This is a symbolic move on his part. It means that all the disciples of Jesus dispersed throughout time and space must feed the hungry masses of mankind. In that connection, if we look at our world situation today, we find a scandalous anomaly.

On the one hand, according to the UN food agency, the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), the world has the resources and technology to produce sufficient quantities of food to bring an end to hunger and poverty. Yet, on the other hand, the UN also reports (cf. Jean Ziegler’s statement in October 2005) that every day 100,000 people die of malnutrition.

Why is this? Partly because of natural catastrophes. But partly also (and maybe more importantly) because of human greed. Ultimately rich countries are not willing to share more of their wealth with developing countries, and when they do share their wealth, the help given usually ends up in the pockets of corrupt local officials. As we read in 1 Tim 6:10: “The love of money is the root of all evils.”

August 2nd

St. Eusebius of Vercelli and St. Peter Julian Eymard

1st Reading: Jer 30:1-2, 12-15, 18-22:
This is another word that came to Jeremiah from Yahweh: Yahweh, God of Israel says, “Write in a book all that I have communicated to you,” Yahweh says, “Your wound is incurable, your injury is grievous. There is no one to plead your cause. There is a remedy for an ulcer but no healing for you! … Because of your great crime and grievous sin I have done this to you. …

Yahweh says, “I will restore my people into Jacob’s tent and have pity on his dwellings… Their leader will be one of themselves, their ruler shall emerge from their midst. I will bring him close to me for who would dare to approach me? You shall be my people and I shall be your God.”

Gospel: Mt 14:22-36 (or Mt 15:1-2, 10-14):
Immediately, Jesus obliged his disciples to get into the boat and go ahead of him to the other side, while he sent the crowd away. And having sent the people away, he went up the mountain by himself, to pray. At nightfall, he was there alone. Meanwhile, the boat was very far from land, dangerously rocked by the waves, for the wind was against it. At daybreak, Jesus came to them, walking on the sea. When they saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, thinking that it was a ghost. And they cried out in fear.

But at once, Jesus said to them, “Courage! Don’t be afraid. It’s me!” Peter answered, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Jesus said to him, “Come!” And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water to go to Jesus. But seeing the strong wind, he was afraid, and began to sink; and he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately stretched out his hand and took hold of him, saying, “Man of little faith, why did you doubt?”

As they got into the boat, the wind dropped. Then those in the boat bowed down before Jesus, saying, “Truly, you are the Son of God!” They came ashore at Gennesaret. The local people recognized Jesus and spread the news throughout the region. So they brought to him all the sick people, begging him to let them touch just the hem of his cloak. All who touched it became perfectly well.

Today’s gospel reading contains two important lessons for us, followers of Jesus, and both these lessons are learned from Peter’s behavior. First, although we tend to concentrate more on Jesus’ criticism of Peter’s “little faith,” we forget that, initially, Peter did muster the courage to leave the security of his boat and try to walk on the raging water.

As an experienced fisherman who had lived all his life fishing in the Sea of Galilee, he knew perfectly well that humans cannot walk on water because water is not solid enough a surface to allow that. Yet, he disregarded a lifetime of experience and gamely stepped out on the water. If that is not faith, what else is it? The second lesson we learn is this one. As long as Peter kept his eyes fixed on Jesus and walked towards Jesus, he could do the impossible.

But, the moment he took his eyes off Jesus and instead paid attention to the danger surrounding him, he began to sink. In other words, if we take Jesus at his word (“Come!”), we can do extraordinary things. But we must not let ourselves become impressed by obstacles. We must just always look at Jesus in complete faith. Then everything becomes possible.

August 3rd

1st Reading: Jer 31:1-7:
Yahweh declares that when that time comes he will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they will be his people. Thus says Yahweh: The people who survived the sword have found grace in the desert. As Israel was seeking for his rest Yahweh appeared from afar saying, I have loved you with a love everlasting, so I have kept for you my mercy. I will restore you again, and you shall be rebuilt, O virgin Israel!

You will take up your tambourines and go out dancing joyfully. You will plant vineyards again on the hills of Samaria, and the farmers who plant them will enjoy their fruit. There shall be a day when watchmen will call out on the hills of Ephraim, “Come, let us go to Zion, to Yahweh our God!” For Yahweh says this, “Shout with joy for Jacob; rejoice for the greatest of nations. Proclaim your praise and say: ‘Yahweh has saved his people, the remnant of Israel!’

Gospel: Mt 15:21-28:
Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from the area, came and cried out, “Lord, Son of David, have pity on me! My daughter is tormented by a demon.” But Jesus did not answer her, not even a word. So his disciples approached him and said, “Send her away! See how she is shouting after us.” Then Jesus said to her, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the nation of Israel.”

But the woman was already kneeling before Jesus, and said, “Sir, help me!” Jesus answered, “It is not right to take the bread from the children and throw it to puppies.” The woman replied, “That is true, sir, but even puppies eat the crumbs which fall from their master’s table.” Then Jesus said, “Woman, how great is your faith! Let it be as you wish.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

In order to understand the depth of today’s gospel scene, we have to notice a few details. First, Jesus and the Twelve are traveling outside of Palestine, in modern Lebanon, therefore in pagan territory, where Jews are required to have no contact with the local population. Second, Jesus’ mission is to announce the Good News of the Kingdom to the Chosen People of Israel, not to pagans. And so, Israel is his sole concern. Later on, he will eventually send his disciples to all the world (Mt 28:16-20), but now is the time of Israel.

Third, since in the end Jesus does indeed answer the petition of the woman, it is clear that his initial two refusals to do so are merely meant to test the woman’s faith and to induce her to deepen her faith by overcoming Jesus’ resistance—to the utter delight of Jesus! Fourth, the woman is not asking anything for herself, and this makes her request even more poignant, and her courage even more daring. In her love for her daughter, she is ready to stoop like a dog under Jesus’ table. One of the lessons of this story is that, often enough, God delays answering our prayers so that we may grow in faith.

August 4th

St. John Vianney

1st Reading: Jer 31:31-34:
The time is coming—it is Yahweh who speaks—when I will forge a new Covenant with the people of Israel and the people of Judah. It will not be like the one I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and led them out of Egypt. For they broke my Covenant although I was their Master, Yahweh declares.

This is the Covenant I shall make with Israel after that time: I will put my law within them and write it on their hearts; I will be their God and they will be my people. And they will not have to teach each other, neighbor or brother, saying: ‘Know Yahweh,’ because they will all know me, from the greatest to the lowliest, for I will forgive their wrongdoing and no longer remember their sin.”

Gospel: Mt 16:13-23:
After that, Jesus came to Caesarea Philippi. He asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They said, “For some of them, you are John the Baptist; for others Elijah, or Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” Jesus asked them, “But you, who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus replied, “It is well for you, Simon Barjona, for it is not flesh or blood that has revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And now I say to you: You are Peter; and on this Rock I will build my Church; and never will the powers of death overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven: whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you unbind on earth shall be unbound in heaven.” Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.

From that day, Jesus began to make it clear to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem; that he would suffer many things from the Jewish authorities, the chief priests and the teachers of the law; and that he would be killed and be raised on the third day. Then Peter took him aside and began to reproach him, “Never, Lord! No, this must never happen to you!” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle in my path. You are thinking not as God does, but as people do.”

When God proclaimed the Ten Commandments to Moses, with his own finger (Ex 31:18) he inscribed these commandments on two stone tablets which he entrusted to Moses (Ex 24:12; 32:15-6; Dt 5:22). And, in the subsequent history of Israel, we observe that Israel repeatedly broke her covenant with God. In other words, there was God’s will expressed on the stone tablets, and there was Israel’s own will expressed in her refusal to obey the Commandments.

This was possible because the Commandments were distinct from Israel, extraneous to her. But in today’s first reading we learn that God has a plan to change all this dualism. Through the mouth of Jeremiah he says: “I will put my law within them and write it on their hearts.” Which means that the law will be henceforth no longer external to Israel.

Instead it will become merged with Israel’ heart. And because of this, it will become impossible for Israel to break the law, since the law and Israel will have become one. Here we have a New Covenant, new because it is no longer written on stone tablets but on human hearts, and therefore has become unbreakable. Is God’s law part of our deep self, so much so that obeying it seems as natural as our heart beat?

August 5th

1st Reading: Nh 2:1, 3; 3:1-3, 6-7:
See, there on the mountains, the feet of one who brings good news, one who proclaims peace. Judah, celebrate your feasts and carry out your vows. For the wicked have been destroyed, they will not attack you any more. Yahweh will now restore Jacob’s magnificence, like Israel’s splendor. For they had been plundered, laid waste as a ravaged vineyard. Woe to the bloody city, city of lies and booty, O city of unending plunder!

But what! Crack of whips, rumble of wheels and clatter of hoofs! See the frenzied chargers, the flashing swords and glittering spears, the heaps of the wounded, the dead and dying —we trip over corpses! I will pelt you with filth, I will treat you with contempt and make of you a shameful show, so that all who look on you will turn their backs in disgust and say: Nineveh—a city of lust—is in ruins. Who will mourn for her? Where can we find one to comfort her?

Gospel: Mt 16:24-28:
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If you want to follow me, deny yourself. Take up your cross and follow me. For whoever chooses to save his life will lose it, but the one who loses his life, for my sake, will find it. What will one gain by winning the whole world, if he destroys his soul? Or what can a person give, in exchange for his life?

Know, that the Son of Man will come, in the glory of his Father with the holy angels, and he will reward each one according to his deeds. Truly, I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death, before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

On the topic of suffering, it is easy to become confused. On the one hand, everything nowadays is geared towards making our lives easier with pre-cooked meals, time-saving devices, machines doing our work for us, etc. When we listen to the mass media, we get the impression that suffering is bad and must be avoided at all costs. On the other hand, we hear Jesus telling us in today’s gospel reading that we have to deny ourselves and take up our cross.

Is Jesus glorifying suffering? Are Christians masochists? The answer to this apparent dilemma is simple: there are two kinds of suffering (like two kinds of cholesterol, of fat, etc.,), a good kind and a bad kind, or the necessary and the unnecessary. The unnecessary suffering is the one that I impose on others through my selfishness or that I bring upon myself through my neglect, my excesses.

The necessary suffering is the one involved in growing up, in facing my limitations, in giving up a harmful habit, in helping others, etc. Jesus teaches us to fight the unnecessary suffering by feeding the hungry, visiting the lonely, etc. (cf. the Last Judgment in Mt 25:31-46) and to embrace the necessary suffering. His is a recipe for happiness.

August 6th

Transfiguration of the Lord

1st Reading: Dn 7:9-10, 13-14:
I looked and saw the following: Some thrones were set in place and One of Great Age took his seat. His robe was white, as snow, his hair, white as washed wool. His throne was flames of fire with wheels of blazing fire. A river of fire sprang forth and flowed before him. Thousands upon thousands served him and a countless multitude stood before him.

I continued watching the nocturnal vision: One like a son of man came on the clouds of heaven. He faced the One of Great Age and was brought into his presence. Dominion, honor and kingship were given him, and all the peoples and nations of every language served him. His dominion is eternal and shall never pass away; his kingdom will never be destroyed.

2nd Reading: 2 P 1:16-19:
Indeed, what we taught you about the power, and the return of Christ Jesus our Lord, was not drawn from myths or formulated theories. We, ourselves, were eyewitnesses of his majesty, when he received glory and honor from God, the Father, when, from the magnificent glory, this most extraordinary word came upon him: “This is my beloved Son, this is my Chosen One.”

We, ourselves, heard this voice from heaven, when we were with him on the holy mountain. Therefore, we believe most firmly in the message of the prophets, which you should consider rightly, as a lamp shining in a dark place, until the break of day, when the Morning Star shines in your hearts.

Gospel: Lk 9:28b-36:
He (Jesus) took Peter, John and James, and went up the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the aspect of his face was changed, and his clothing became dazzling white. Two men were talking with Jesus: Moses and Elijah. Appearing in the glory of heaven, Moses and Elijah spoke to Jesus about his departure from this life, which was to take place in Jerusalem.

Peter and his companions had fallen asleep; but they awoke suddenly, and they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As Moses and Elijah were about to leave, Peter—not knowing what to say—said to Jesus, “Master, how good it is for us to be here! Let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” And no sooner had he spoken, than a cloud appeared and covered them; and the disciples were afraid as they entered the cloud.

Then these words came from the cloud, “This is my Son, my Beloved, listen to him.” And after the voice had spoken, Jesus was there alone. The disciples kept this to themselves at the time, telling no one of anything they had seen.

Why did Jesus show his inner glory to Peter, James and John on a particular occasion? The answer to this question is given in the opening words of today’s gospel reading: “About eight days after Jesus had said this…” Said what? In the paragraphs immediately preceding, we read that Jesus made the first prediction of his impending suffering and death. And so, Luke tells us that the Transfiguration is directly connected to this frightful revelation.

The rest is easy to guess: by showing his inner glory, Jesus wants to strengthen Peter, James and John so that, upon witnessing his Passion, they might not lose all faith in his ultimate victory (also predicted along with the Passion). Well and good, but what concern is all that to us? It is of great concern, because we, too, occasionally get a glimpse of Christ’s glory—we call these glimpses spiritual consolations, those interior movements inflaming us with love for God, increasing our faith and hope.

These little “transfigurations” are meant to strengthen us against the times when we will find ourselves in spiritual desolation. During times of consolation, let us remain humble, remembering how weak we are without God’s felt presence.