Bible Diary for June 26th – July 2nd

June 26th

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time

1st Reading: 1 Kgs 19:16b, 19-21:
And Elisha, son of Shaphat, from Abel Meholah, you shall anoint as prophet in your place. Elijah left. He found Elisha, son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen; he was following the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and cast his cloak over him. Elisha left the oxen, ran after Elijah and said, “Let me say goodbye to my father and mother; then I will follow you.” Elijah said to him, “Return if you want, don’t worry about what I did.” However, Elisha turned back, took the yoke of oxen and slew them. He roasted their meat on the pieces of the yoke and gave it to his people who ate of it. After this, he followed Elijah and began ministering to him.

2nd Reading: Gal 5:1, 13-18:
Christ freed us, to make us really free. So remain firm, and do not submit, again, to the yoke of slavery. You, brothers and sisters, were called to enjoy freedom; I am not speaking of that freedom which gives free rein to the desires of the flesh, but of that which makes you slaves of one another through love. For the whole law is summed up in this sentence: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. But if you bite and tear each other to pieces, be careful lest you all perish. Therefore, I say to you: walk according to the Spirit and do not give way to the desires of the flesh! For the desires of the flesh war against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are opposed to the flesh. Both are in conflict with each other, so that you cannot do everything you would like. But when you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law.

Gospel: Lk 9:51-62:
As the time drew near when Jesus would be taken up to heaven, he made up his mind to go to Jerusalem. He sent ahead of him some messengers, who entered a Samaritan village to prepare a lodging for him. But the people would not receive him, because he was on his way to Jerusalem. Seeing this, James and John, his disciples, said, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to reduce them to ashes?” Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they went on to another village. As they went on their way, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another, Jesus said, “Follow me!” But he answered, “Let me go back now, for, first, I want to bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their dead; as for you, leave them, and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Another said to him, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say goodbye to my family.” And Jesus said to him, “Whoever has put his hand to the plow, and looks back, is not fit for the kingdom of God.”

When we look at the lives of people who have achieved greatness in their field by producing outstanding results (be it in sports, the arts, science, etc.), we notice that all of them have paid their accomplishments with great sacrifices. Think only, for instance, of how Olympic gold medal winners have had to undergo a rigorous training for months and years in order to reach their level of performance. Think of how many failed experiments researchers in science must go through before they make their momentous discovery. In the fine arts it is the same thing. Michelangelo spent four years on his back with his arms raised above his head to paint the ceiling of the Sistine chapel.

As the Greek proverb says: “Chalepa ta kala–the beautiful things are difficult.” Not surprisingly, this law of excellence also applies to the things of the soul. In the area of moral and spiritual excellence, as Jesus reminds us in today’s gospel reading, to follow him means to be ready to give up, if need be, material security, family, friends, one’s own “comfort zone” and face a life of self-denial. But doing this brings so much inner freedom that no one regrets having followed Jesus. Let us ask Christ to give us the courage to follow him in all things. Let us examine ourselves with ruthless honesty. Are we the slaves of anything?

June 27th

St. Cyril of Alexandria

1st Reading: Am 2:6-10, 13-16:
Yahweh says this, “Because Israel has sinned, not once but three times; and even more, I will not relent; They sell the just for money and the needy for a pair of sandals; they tread on the head of the poor and trample them upon the dust of the earth, while they silence the right of the afflicted; a man and his father go to the same woman to profane my holy name; they stretch out upon garments taken in pledge, beside every altar; they take the wine of those they swindle and are drunk in the house of their God. It was I who destroyed the Amorites before them, whose height was like the height of the cedar; a people as sturdy as an oak.

I destroyed their fruit above and their roots below. It was I who brought you up from the land of Egypt and led you forty years in the wilderness to take possession of the land of the Amorites. Behold, I will crush you to the ground, as a cart does when it is full of sheaves. The swift shall be unable to flee and the strong man shall lose his strength. The warrior shall not save himself nor the bowman stand his ground. The swift of foot shall not escape nor the horseman save himself. Even the most stout-hearted among the warriors shall flee away naked on that day,” says Yahweh.

Gospel: Mt 8:18-22:
When Jesus saw the crowd pressing around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. A teacher of the law approached him; and said, “Master, I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Another disciple said to him “Lord, let me go and bury my father first.” But Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their dead.”

When we think of courage, we usually imagine someone jumping into a raging torrent to save a drowning child or a firefighter racing into a burning house to save its inhabitants or a quadriplegic restoring the use of his or her limbs through persevering and grueling efforts or even a lion tamer facing a cage full of lions. But all these instances of courage illustrate especially one kind of courage: physical courage. Yet, there is another kind of courage which we could call intellectual courage (the scientist who perseveres in his quest for the truth) or moral courage (the defender of truth, of beauty, of virtue).

The saint we remember today was a man of great intellectual and moral courage. As bishop of Alexandria for 20 years, Cyril had to struggle against the heresy of Nestorius, who refused to give to Mary the title of Mother of God, contending that Mary was only the mother of the man Jesus. Finally in 431 the Council of Ephesus solemnly declared Mary to be the Mother of God. To fight for the truth we believe in is an eminently great form of courage. May we all pray to receive it from the Spirit.

June 28th

St. Irenaeus of Lyons

1st Reading: Am 3:1-8; 4:11-12:
Hear this word which Yahweh speaks against you, people of Israel, against the whole family which he brought up from the land of Egypt. “Only you have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will call you to account for all your wrongdoings.” Do two walk together unless they have agreed? Does a lion roar in the forest when it has no prey? Does a young lion growl in its den unless it has seized something? Does a bird get caught in a snare if the snare has not been baited? Does a tiger spring up from the ground unless it has caught something? If a trumpet sounds in a city, will the people not be frightened?

If disaster strikes a city, has not Yahweh caused it? Yet Yahweh does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants, the prophets. If the lion roars, who will not be afraid? If Yahweh speaks, who will not prophesy? “I overthrew you, a divine punishment, as happened to Sodom and Gomorrah; you were like a brand snatched from the blaze, yet you never returned to me,” says Yahweh. “Therefore, I will deal with you in my own way, Israel, and since I will do this to you, prepare, Israel, to meet your God!”

Gospel: Mt 8:23-27:
Jesus got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Without warning, a fierce storm burst upon the lake, with waves sweeping the boat. But Jesus was asleep. The disciples woke him up and cried, “Lord save us! We are lost!” But Jesus answered, “Why are you so afraid, you of little faith?” Then he stood up and rebuked the wind and sea; and it became completely calm. The disciples were astonished. They said, “What kind of man is he? Even the winds and the sea obey him.”

In today’s gospel reading we are told that “without warning, a fierce storm burst upon the lake.” How is it possible that a storm can come “without warning”? And how could experienced fishermen like the disciples not see the storm coming? The answer to these questions lies in the topography of Palestine. The Sea of Galilee, where this storm occurs, lies at 600 feet below sea level, but on each side of it are high elevations of about 1,500 feet in the West and of 3,000 feet in the East.

When cold winds blow from the East on the Syrian plateau and hit the deep chasm of the Sea of Galilee (3,000 feet below), they immediately drop (cold air goes down) and force the hot air on the surface of the Sea of Galilee to go up, thus creating a strong atmospheric convection. This agitates the surface of the sea, creating huge waves (up to 20 feet). Nothing announces such phenomena. They can happen when the sky is cloudless. What is surprising is that the disciples feared for their lives with Jesus on board. Since he claimed to be God’s Son, how could they think for a moment that God would let his Son drown and they with him?

June 29th

Sts. Peter and Paul

1st Reading: Acts 12:1-11:
In those days, King Herod laid hands upon some members of the Church to harm them. He had James, the brother of John, killed by the sword, and when he saw that this was pleasing to the Jews he proceeded to arrest Peter also. –It was the feast of Unleavened Bread.– He had him taken into custody and put in prison under the guard of four squads of four soldiers each. He intended to bring him before the people after Passover. Peter thus was being kept in prison, but prayer by the Church was fervently being made to God on his behalf.

On the very night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter, secured by double chains, was sleeping between two soldiers, while outside the door guards kept watch on the prison. Suddenly the angel of the Lord stood by him and a light shone in the cell. He tapped Peter on the side and awakened him, saying, “Get up quickly.” The chains fell from his wrists. The angel said to him, “Put on your belt and your sandals.” He did so. Then he said to him, “Put on your cloak and follow me.”

So he followed him out, not realizing that what was happening through the angel was real; he thought he was seeing a vision. They passed the first guard, then the second, and came to the iron gate leading out to the city, which opened for them by itself. They emerged and made their way down an alley, and suddenly the angel left him. Then Peter recovered his senses and said, “Now I know for certain that the Lord sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people had been expecting.”

2nd Reading: 2 Tim 4:6-8, 17-18:
As for me, I am already poured out as a libation, and the moment of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, with which the Lord, the just judge, will reward me, on that day, and not only me, but all those who have longed for his glorious coming. But the Lord was at my side, giving me strength, to proclaim the word fully, and let all the pagans hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will save me from all evil, bringing me to his heavenly kingdom. Glory to him forever and ever. Amen!

Gospel: Mt 16:13-19:
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.”

One of the great differences between Christians and Muslims is that Islam is essentially a “religion of the book,” as it calls itself, since all its basic tenets are contained in the Koran. Some Protestants also claim that Christianity is a “religion of the book” because, according to them, it is founded only on the Bible (“Scriptura sola”). But these Protestants forget that Jesus never wrote anything, and certainly not a book. What he did was choose disciples whom he taught for three years, imparting to them his vision of life. Then he sent them into the world to communicate this vision.

Among these disciples two stand out for their complete devotion to him and their utter dedication to the mission of spreading Jesus’ Good News—Peter and Paul, whom we celebrate today. This means that Christianity is much more a “religion of people” than a “religion of the book.” It is people that Jesus sends forth to “make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19). It is people who are imprisoned for him and die for him. And all of us are part of this human chain connecting us with the apostles and Jesus Christ. Let us be proud of our ancestors in the faith.

June 30th

First Martyrs of the Roman Church

1st Reading: Am 7:10-17:
Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, then sent word to king Jeroboam of Israel, “Amos is conspiring against you in the very center of Israel; what he says goes too far. These are his very words: Jeroboam shall die by the sword and Israel shall be exiled from its land.” Amaziah then said to Amos, “Off with you, seer, go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there by prophesying. But never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is a king’s Sanctuary and a national shrine.”

Amos replied to Amaziah, “I am not a prophet or one of the fellow prophets. I am a breeder of sheep and a dresser of sycamore trees. But Yahweh took me from shepherding the flock and said to me: Go, prophesy to my people Israel. Now hear the word of Yahweh, you who say: No more prophecy against Israel, no more insults against the family of Isaac! This is what Yahweh says: Your wife shall be made a harlot in the city, your sons and daughters shall fall by the sword, your land shall be divided up and given to others, and you, yourself, shall die in a foreign land, for Israel shall be driven far from its land.”

Gospel: Mt 9:1-8:
Jesus got back into the boat, crossed the lake again, and came to his hometown. Here, they brought to him a paralyzed man, lying on a bed. Jesus saw their faith and said to the paralytic, “Courage, my son! Your sins are forgiven.” Some teachers of the law said within themselves, “This man insults God.” Jesus was aware of what they were thinking; and said, “Why have you such evil thoughts? Which is easier to say: ‘Your sins are forgiven’ or ‘Stand up and walk’? But that you may know, that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins,” he said to the paralyzed man, “Stand up! Take your stretcher and go home!” The man got up, and went home. When the crowds saw this, they were filled with awe, and praised God for giving such power to human beings.

We are remembering today the dozens of nameless Christians who perished during the first persecution inflicted on Christians, the one of depraved and brutal Emperor Nero, who hounded them mercilessly between the years 64 and 68, until death by suicide in 68 ended his horrible reign. The pretext for this persecution was the following. Nero was infatuated with Greek architecture and wanted to rebuild a particular section of Rome in that style. So at night he sent his henchmen to set it on fire and thus destroy it completely.

But when the public rumor pointed at him as the instigator of the fire, he needed scapegoats to blame for it. So he blamed the Christians and launched a vast persecution throughout Rome and its suburbs. Some Christians were dressed into animal skins and hunted down in the imperial parks, while others were made living torches to light the road for Nero’s nocturnal chariot rides. Are there persecutions in our day? Yes, there are. A top Vatican official (on May 28, 2013 on Vatican Radio) said that around 100,000 Christians are killed every year for their faith. To be a true Christian is to be ready to die for Christ. Are we true Christians?

July 1st

St. Junipero Serra

1st Reading: Am 8:4-6, 9-12:
Hear this, you, who trample on the needy, to do away with the weak of the land. You who say, “When will the new moon or the Sabbath feast be over that we may open the store and sell our grain? Let us lower the measure and raise the price; let us cheat and tamper with the scales, and even sell the refuse with the whole grain. We will buy up the poor for money and the needy for a pair of sandals.”

Yahweh says, “On that day, I will make the sun go down at noon; and darken the earth in broad daylight. I will turn your festivals into mourning and all your singing into wailing. Every one will mourn, covered with sackcloth; and every head will be shaved. I will make them mourn, as for an only son, and bring their day to a bitter end.” Yahweh says, “Days are coming when I will send famine upon the land; not hunger for bread or thirst for water, but for hearing the word of Yahweh. Men will stagger from sea to sea, wander to and fro, from north to east, searching for the word of Yahweh; but they will not find it.

Gospel: Mt 9:9-13:
As Jesus moved on from there, he saw a man named Matthew, at his seat in the customhouse; and he said to him, “Follow me!” And Matthew got up and followed him. Now it happened, while Jesus was at table in Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners joined Jesus and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why is it, that your master eats with sinners and tax collectors?” When Jesus heard this, he said, “Healthy people do not need a doctor, but sick people do. Go, and find out what this means: What I want is mercy, not sacrifice. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

When a country invades another country and occupies it for a time, the invaders always find among the local population a certain number of shameless citizens who will accept to collaborate with the invaders if it profits them. Naturally these traitors are heartily detested by the rest of the local population. At the time of Jesus the Romans were occupying Palestine and bleeding it with all kinds of heavy taxes. But they paid local citizens to collect these taxes for them, thus making these tax collectors their collaborators. For this reason the Jewish population at large rightly looked on these collaborators as shameless traitors—“sinners” in the vocabulary of the Pharisees.

In today’s gospel reading we see Jesus choosing one of the tax collectors, Matthew by name (or Levi, according to another tradition), to be an apostle. And, quite understandably, the Pharisees take offense at this. Who wouldn’t? But Jesus is above our petty categories. However dark a person’s past may be, everything becomes possible when Jesus enters the picture. And this applies to each one of us. We may think that we are too dumb or too old or too evil to be chosen by Jesus, but he will never give up on us.

July 2nd

1st Reading: Am 9:11-15:
On that day, I shall restore the fallen hut of David and wall up its breaches, and raise its ruined walls; and so build it as in days of old. They shall conquer the remnant of Edom, and the neighboring nations, upon which my name has been called.” Thus says Yahweh, the one who will do this. Yahweh says also, “The days are coming when the plowman will overtake the reaper and the treader of grapes overtake the sower. The mountains shall drip sweet wine and all the hills shall melt. I shall bring back the exiles of my people Israel; they will rebuild the desolate cities and dwell in them. They will plant vineyards and drink their wine; they will have orchards and eat their fruit. I shall plant them in their own country and they shall never again be rooted up from the land which I have given them,” says Yahweh your God.

Gospel: Mt 9:14-17:
Then the disciples of John came to him with the question, “How is it, that we and the Pharisees fast on many occasions, but not your disciples?” Jesus answered them, “How can you expect wedding guests to mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The time will come, when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then, they will fast. No one patches an old coat with a piece of unshrunken cloth, for the patch will shrink and tear an even bigger hole in the coat. In the same way, you don’t put new wine into old wine skins. If you do, the wine skins will burst and the wine will be spilt. No, you put new wine into fresh skins; then both are preserved.”

Before Cardinal Prosper Lambertini became Pope Benedict XIV (1675-1758), he was commissioned by the current Pope to revise the outdated norms for the canonization of saints and to draw up new ones based on the common characteristics of past saints. The Cardinal studied the matter in depth and produced a two volume outline of the new norms of canonization. Now the first third of the first volume is all about finding if the potential saint was joyful. If he or she was not outstandingly joyful, then there is no need to go any further: the candidate is simply not a canonizable saint. Is this so very surprising? If God is Uncreated Joy, how can anybody close to him not be full of joy?

All the saints were persons conspicuous for their sense of joy. In today’s gospel reading Jesus explains why his disciples are not fasting. “How can you expect wedding guests to mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?” This is the explanation for the saints’ joy. They are so united to Jesus that, for all practical purposes, the Bridegroom is always with them. All of us can experience constant joy. The secret for that is to choose Jesus once and for all.