Bible Diary for March 12th – March 18th
3rd Sunday in Lent
1st Reading: Ex 17:3-7:
In those days, in their thirst for water, the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “Why did you ever make us leave Egypt? Was it just to have us die here of thirst with our children and our livestock?” So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? a little more and they will stone me!” The Lord answered Moses, “Go over there in front of the people, along with some of the elders of Israel, holding in your hand, as you go, the staff with which you struck the river. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock in Horeb. Strike the rock, and the water will flow from it for the people to drink.” This Moses did, in the presence of the elders of Israel. The place was called Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled there and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord in our midst or not?”
2nd Reading: Rom 5:1-2, 5-8:
Brothers and sisters: Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith to this grace in which we stand, and we boast in hope of the glory of God. And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For Christ, while we were still helpless, died at the appointed time for the ungodly. Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.
Gospel: Jn 4:5-42:
Jesus came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there. Jesus, tired from his journey, sat down there at the well. It was about noon. A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” His disciples had gone into the town to buy food. The Samaritan woman said to him, “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” —For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.— Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink, ‘ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
The woman said to him, “Sir, you do not even have a bucket and the cistern is deep; where then can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this cistern and drank from it himself with his children and his flocks?” Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” Jesus said to her, “Go call your husband and come back.” The woman answered and said to him, “I do not have a husband.” Jesus answered her, “You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’ For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true.”
The woman said to him, “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain; but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You people worship what you do not understand; we worship what we understand, because salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him. God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Christ; when he comes, he will tell us everything.”
Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one speaking with you.” At that moment his disciples returned, and were amazed that he was talking with a woman, but still no one said, “What are you looking for?” or “Why are you talking with her?” The woman left her water jar and went into the town and said to the people, “Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Christ?” They went out of the town and came to him. Meanwhile, the disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat of which you do not know.” So the disciples said to one another, “Could someone have brought him something to eat?”
Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish his work. Do you not say, ‘In four months the harvest will be here’? I tell you, look up and see the fields ripe for the harvest. The reaper is already receiving payment and gathering crops for eternal life, so that the sower and reaper can rejoice together. For here the saying is verified that ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap what you have not worked for; others have done the work, and you are sharing the fruits of their work.”
Many of the Samaritans of that town began to believe in him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me everything I have done.” When the Samaritans came to him, they invited him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. Many more began to believe in him because of his word, and they said to the woman, “We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world.”
Moses provides drinking water from hard rock for Israel. Jesus provides living waters to the spiritually thirsty Samaritan woman and her people. Paul reflects on the highest gifts of God: virtues of faith, hope, and love. The Samaritan woman returned to town leaving the water jar at the well. Whether accidental or deliberate, it communicates something: she braved the midday sun and came alone to fetch water that she desperately needed; but on meeting Jesus, she received a higher gift, and freely shared it with her community. Once transformed, like Paul, the material needs became dispensable. Like Mary, she chose wisely. Along with the Samaritan woman, let us ask Jesus to give us the living water that wells up to eternal life. Share your Christ-experience with someone today.
1st Reading: 2 Kgs 5:1-15ab:
Naaman, the army commander of the king of Aram, was highly esteemed and respected by his master, for through him the Lord had brought victory to Aram. But valiant as he was, the man was a leper. Now the Arameans had captured in a raid on the land of Israel a little girl, who became the servant of Naaman’s wife. “If only my master would present himself to the prophet in Samaria,” she said to her mistress, “he would cure him of his leprosy.” Naaman went and told his lord just what the slave girl from the land of Israel had said. “Go,” said the king of Aram. “I will send along a letter to the king of Israel.” So Naaman set out, taking along ten silver talents, six thousand gold pieces, and ten festal garments.
To the king of Israel he brought the letter, which read: “With this letter I am sending my servant Naaman to you, that you may cure him of his leprosy.” When he read the letter, the king of Israel tore his garments and exclaimed: “Am I a god with power over life and death, that this man should send someone to me to be cured of leprosy? Take note! You can see he is only looking for a quarrel with me!” When Elisha, the man of God, heard that the king of Israel had torn his garments, he sent word to the king: “Why have you torn your garments? Let him come to me and find out that there is a prophet in Israel.” Naaman came with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. The prophet sent him the message: “Go and wash seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will heal, and you will be clean.”
But Naaman went away angry, saying, “I thought that he would surely come out and stand there to invoke the Lord his God, and would move his hand over the spot, and thus cure the leprosy. Are not the rivers of Damascus, the Abana and the Pharpar, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be cleansed?” With this, he turned about in anger and left. But his servants came up and reasoned with him. “My father,” they said, “if the prophet had told you to do something extraordinary, would you not have done it? All the more now, since he said to you, ‘Wash and be clean,’ should you do as he said.” So Naaman went down and plunged into the Jordan seven times at the word of the man of God. His flesh became again like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean. He returned with his whole retinue to the man of God. On his arrival he stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel.”
Gospel: Lk 4:24-30:
Jesus said to the people in the synagogue at Nazareth: “Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place. Indeed, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah when the sky was closed for three and a half years and a severe famine spread over the entire land. It was to none of these that Elijah was sent, but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon. Again, there were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha the prophet; yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury. They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong. But he passed through the midst of them and went away.
We begin this week with a celebration of the father of the holy family of Nazareth. And we will conclude with a celebration of the mother of the holy family. Joseph was a pious Jew who followed the Law conscientiously. He obeyed the prescriptions of the Law even when it would be painful. When, therefore, he discovered that Mary, his betrothed wife was already pregnant before they could even live together, he knew that the Law mandated him to divorce Mary. He could only painfully conclude that there was somebody who had a greater right to Mary than himself. But he would do so quietly for he loved Mary whom he did not want to be disgraced or even be stoned to death for the presumed sin of adultery.
An angel of God appears to Joseph in a dream, however, revealing to him to continue his marriage with Mary for the child in her womb was not of man but of the Holy Spirit. Joseph the just man obeys. He had the faith of his fathers. Like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob he believed that “nothing is impossible with God.” He obeyed! We pray that like Joseph we may have the courage to obey God’s law even when it is difficult. Like Joseph we also pray that we may always have compassion in imposing the law. Most of all we pray that we may listen to our God who speaks to us in many ways, even in dreams.
1st Reading: Dn 3:25, 34-43:
Azariah stood up in the fire and prayed aloud: “For your name’s sake, O Lord, do not deliver us up forever, or make void your covenant. Do not take away your mercy from us, for the sake of Abraham, your beloved, Isaac your servant, and Israel your holy one, To whom you promised to multiply their offspring like the stars of heaven, or the sand on the shore of the sea. For we are reduced, O Lord, beyond any other nation, brought low everywhere in the world this day because of our sins.
We have in our day no prince, prophet, or leader, no burnt offering, sacrifice, oblation, or incense, no place to offer first fruits, to find favor with you. But with contrite heart and humble spirit let us be received; As though it were burnt offerings of rams and bullocks, or thousands of fat lambs, So let our sacrifice be in your presence today as we follow you unreservedly; for those who trust in you cannot be put to shame. And now we follow you with our whole heart, we fear you and we pray to you. Do not let us be put to shame, but deal with us in your kindness and great mercy. Deliver us by your wonders, and bring glory to your name, O Lord.”
Gospel: Mt 18:21-35:
Peter approached Jesus and asked him, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times. That is why the Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who decided to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the accounting, a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount. Since he had no way of paying it back, his master ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, his children, and all his property, in payment of the debt. At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.’
Moved with compassion the master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan. When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount. He seized him and started to choke him, demanding, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ But he refused. Instead, he had him put in prison until he paid back the debt. Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened, they were deeply disturbed, and went to their master and reported the whole affair.
His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?’ Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.”
Our constant prayer is always “Lord, have mercy on me!” This is the substance of the prayer of Azariah in the book of Daniel in our first reading. The book of Proverbs tells us: “For a righteous man falls seven times (Proverbs 24:16).” We have to always remember that we need to be forgiven. Daily! So we also pray the “Our Father” and daily pray for forgiveness. The parable of the unforgiving servant in the Gospel of today reminds us that our God forgives us our trespasses over and over. In the Latin translation of the Our Father we beg forgiveness for our “debts.”
The parable tells us that our “debt” is so astronomically unpayable so the Lord simply forgives us! And so, as we have been forgiven so much, so we must in turn be forgiving of the miniscule offenses of our fellow servants. The parable reminds us that the greatest ingratitude to our merciful God that we can commit is to be unforgiving of “debts” of our fellow sinners. The warning of the Lord is very clear! Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Refuse to forgive, and you may in turn be refused forgiveness! Are you ready to forgive?
1st Reading: Dt 4:1, 5-9:
Moses spoke to the people and said: “Now, Israel, hear the statutes and decrees which I am teaching you to observe, that you may live, and may enter in and take possession of the land which the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you. Therefore, I teach you the statutes and decrees as the Lord, my God, has commanded me, that you may observe them in the land you are entering to occupy. Observe them carefully, for thus will you give evidence of your wisdom and intelligence to the nations, who will hear of all these statutes and say, ‘This great nation is truly a wise and intelligent people.’
For what great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the Lord, our God, is to us whenever we call upon him? Or what great nation has statutes and decrees that are as just as this whole law which I am setting before you today? “However, take care and be earnestly on your guard not to forget the things which your own eyes have seen, nor let them slip from your memory as long as you live, but teach them to your children and to your children’s children.”
Gospel: Mt 5:17-19:
Jesus said to his disciples: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the Kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.”
The greatness of any nation is measured by the Law that guides it. The Law enshrines the values of a people. That which a people considers valuable and important is carved on stone. Such was the case of Israel, the people of God. The Torah guided the life of Israel. The Law given at Sinai contain the fundamental laws of any society. In fact, all nations follow the prescriptions of the Law. The first tablet guides religious life, and the second tablet guides human relationships. Even if one were not a Christian believer, still the first tablet remains applicable in its essence, honor and devotion to a diety or superior being.
The second tablet on the other hand establishes laws without which any human society cannot exist. What would society be if the second tablet were discarded? Can you imagine a society that would not respect life, property, and relationships? Can you imagine a society that does not believe in truth? What if murder, theft, and lying, and adultery were no longer deemed wrong? Would there be justice in such a society? Would there be honor among people? Would there be peace? When, therefore, any nation tries to do away with these fundamental laws society would be on the road to perdition. The collapse of great empires were all due to their moral depravity. May it not happen to us!
1st Reading: Jer 7:23-28:
Thus says the Lord: This is what I commanded my people: Listen to my voice; then I will be your God and you shall be my people. Walk in all the ways that I command you, so that you may prosper. But they obeyed not, nor did they pay heed. They walked in the hardness of their evil hearts and turned their backs, not their faces, to me. From the day that your fathers left the land of Egypt even to this day, I have sent you untiringly all my servants the prophets. Yet they have not obeyed me nor paid heed; they have stiffened their necks and done worse than their fathers. When you speak all these words to them, they will not listen to you either; when you call to them, they will not answer you. Say to them: This is the nation that does not listen to the voice of the Lord, its God, or take correction. Faithfulness has disappeared; the word itself is banished from their speech.
Gospel: Lk 11:14-23:
Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute, and when the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke and the crowds were amazed. Some of them said, “By the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons, he drives out demons.” Others, to test him, asked him for a sign from heaven. But he knew their thoughts and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste and house will fall against house. And if Satan is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that it is by Beelzebul that I drive out demons.
“If I, then, drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your own people drive them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the finger of God that I drive out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you. When a strong man fully armed guards his palace, his possessions are safe. But when one stronger than he attacks and overcomes him, he takes away the armor on which he relied and distributes the spoils. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.”
The principal complaint of Yahweh about his people in the Old Testament was that they were a “stiff-necked” people. There are three things that characterized the “stiff-neckedness“ of Israel: (1) they had amnesia, they tended to forget the works of the Lord, (2) they persisted in their evil ways despite frequent admonition from the prophets, (3) even when being corrected they remained obstinate. In other words, they did not listen to Yahweh.
Thus, “Listen,” is the fundamental command of the Lord. Israel had the great privilege of having the 10 commandments to guide them. Yet despite the clear guidelines the Lord had given them they repeatedly disobeyed the Law. Time and again prophets came; but all to no avail. They were indeed a “stiff-necked” people. May we not become “stiff-necked” people. May we instead repent of our evil ways, remember the mercies of the Lord, turn to the Lord in penance, mend our ways. This season of Lent is the time to “turn our necks to the Lord” in humble penance and trust in Divine mercy.
St. Joseph of Arimathea
1st Reading: Hos 14:2-10:
Thus says the Lord: Return, O Israel, to the Lord, your God; you have collapsed through your guilt. Take with you words, and return to the Lord; Say to him, “Forgive all iniquity, and receive what is good, that we may render as offerings the bullocks from our stalls. Assyria will not save us, nor shall we have horses to mount; We shall say no more, ‘Our god,’ to the work of our hands; for in you the orphan finds compassion.” I will heal their defection, says the Lord, I will love them freely; for my wrath is turned away from them.
I will be like the dew for Israel: he shall blossom like the lily; He shall strike root like the Lebanon cedar, and put forth his shoots. His splendor shall be like the olive tree and his fragrance like the Lebanon cedar. Again they shall dwell in his shade and raise grain; They shall blossom like the vine, and his fame shall be like the wine of Lebanon. Ephraim! What more has he to do with idols? I have humbled him, but I will prosper him. “I am like a verdant cypress tree”– Because of me you bear fruit! Let him who is wise understand these things; let him who is prudent know them. Straight are the paths of the Lord, in them the just walk, but sinners stumble in them.
Gospel: Mk 12:28-34:
One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” Jesus replied, “The first is this: Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.” The scribe said to him, “Well said, teacher. You are right in saying, He is One and there is no other than he. And to love him with all your heart, with all your understanding, with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding, he said to him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” And no one dared to ask him any more questions.
“Almost, but not quite” is a phrase we use to console those who missed the grade. It tells them that just a little more and they would have made it. It is a complement but hardly an accolade. A grade of 74 is almost 75. It is not yet enough to pass, nonetheless. Such is the grade of the teacher of the law who interviewed Jesus. “You are not far from the kingdom” said Jesus. He was almost in but not yet inside, unfortunately. Why was the wise teacher still outside? Because he knew the truth, but knew it only in his head.
To be part of kingdom one must not only know the truth in ones’ head but also to know it in one’s heart, that is, to live by it. The one “best in religion” is not really the one who has a grade of 95 in the test examination but the one who practices his faith. One may know the definition of love, but if one does not actually love what good is the knowledge of it? In the Gospel of Luke version of this episode the interlocutor would further ask “who is my neighbor?” Jesus will then answer with the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Those who belong to the kingdom are not so much those who know as much as those who do! Are you in the kingdom? Or are you “almost in, but not yet quite?”
St. Cyril of Jerusalem
1st Reading: Hos 6:1-6:
“Come, let us return to the Lord, it is he who has rent, but he will heal us; he has struck us, but he will bind our wounds. He will revive us after two days; on the third day he will raise us up, to live in his presence. Let us know, let us strive to know the Lord; as certain as the dawn is his coming, and his judgment shines forth like the light of day! He will come to us like the rain, like spring rain that waters the earth.” What can I do with you, Ephraim? What can I do with you, Judah? Your piety is like a morning cloud, like the dew that early passes away. For this reason I smote them through the prophets, I slew them by the words of my mouth; For it is love that I desire, not sacrifice, and knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.
Gospel: Lk 18:9-14:
Jesus addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else. “Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity — greedy, dishonest, adulterous — or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’ But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’ I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Let us transport ourselves to the time of the Annunciation. Mary was betrothed to Joseph. They were not yet living together. Mary is asked to conceive a child in her womb by “The Holy Spirit.” When Joseph would see her already pregnant before their marriage how would she explain her pregnancy? How would Joseph react? Would Joseph conclude she had been unfaithful? Would Joseph accept her explanation that the Holy Spirit is the one responsible for her pregnancy? Difficult questions. But these all too human questions, difficult as they, are hardly the real questions. The Lord God had made a most difficult proposition to Mary. She probably didn’t know all the implications of her “be it done to me according to your word.”
Only later on, much later on, will she understand the full meaning of “Yes” to the Father’s request. Little did she know that by her Fiat she had set in motion the reason for the Incarnation, that her Son would become the sacrificial lamb on Calvary. Little did she know that by her “Yes” she was cooperating with the redemption of the world but at the cost of own soul being pierced with that of her Son. As we honor Mary today we must ask her to teach us her faith in God. When I said my “yes” to become a priest, little did I know the many trials and difficulties I would encounter in my journey. But like Mary I have to continually say “yes” to God’s will. Like Mary, we are all part of God’s marvelous plan of redemption. It is good to cooperate with God in his work of redemption. We all can become like Mary, the mother of our Savior, as we say “yes” to the little sufferings we have to bear for our faith!