Bible Diary for March 13th – 19th

March 13th

2nd Sunday of Lent

1st Reading: Gen 15:5-12, 17-18:
Then Yahweh brought him outside and said to him, “Look up at the sky and count the stars if you can. Your descendants will be like that.” Abram believed Yahweh who, because of this, held him to be an upright man. And he said, “I am Yahweh who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land as your possession.” Then Abram asked, “My Lord, how am I to know that it shall be mine?” Yahweh replied, “Bring me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtle dove and a young pigeon.”

Abram brought all these animals, cut them in two, and laid each half facing its other half, but he did not cut the birds in half. The birds of prey came down upon them, but Abram drove them away. As the sun was going down, a deep sleep came over Abram, and a dreadful darkness took hold of him. When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot and a flaming torch passed between the halves of the victims. On that day Yahweh made a Covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants I have given this country from the river of Egypt to the Great River, the Euphrates.

2nd Reading: Phil 3:17–4:1:
Unite in imitating me, brothers and sisters, and look at those who walk in our way of life. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. I have said it to you many times, and now I repeat it with tears: they are heading for ruin; their belly is their god, and they feel proud of what should be their shame. They only think of earthly things. For us, our citizenship is in heaven, from where we await the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ, the Lord. He will transfigure our lowly body, making it like his own body, radiant in glory, through the power which is his, to submit everything to himself. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for you, my glory and crown, be steadfast in the Lord.

Gospel: Lk 9:28b-36:
About eight days after Jesus had said all this, he 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.

Today’s first reading shows how far God is ready to go in order to revive a person’s flagging spirit. Abraham has been promised the possession of the vast tract of land lying between present-day Egypt and present-day Iraq. (Gen 12:7; 13:14-15; 15:7). But time passes and nothing seems to change in Abraham’s situation. So in the end Abraham asks for a sign that would help him believe in God’s promise: “O Lord God, how am I to know that I will possess it?” In answer, God submits himself to a humbling ritual.

It consists in cutting in half some animals, in walking between the divided pieces of animals while invoking on oneself a fate similar to that of the slaughtered beasts if one should fail to keep one’s word. God here is represented by the flaming torch. The gospel scene presents us with a similar act of condescension on the part of Jesus. In order to strengthen the flagging faith of his disciples during the coming ordeal of his passion and death, he shows them some of his divine glory. Let us implore God’s strength in order to face out problems with courage. Today we will say a word of comfort to someone who looks depressed.

March 14th

1st Reading: Dn 9:4b–10:
I prayed to Yahweh, my God, and made this confession: “Lord God, great and to be feared, you keep your Covenant and love for those who love you and observe your commandments. We have sinned, we have not been just, we have been rebels, and have turned away from your commandments and laws. We have not listened to your servants, the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, leaders, fathers and to all the people of the land.

“Lord, justice is yours, but ours is a face full of shame, as it is to this day—we, the people of Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the whole of Israel, near and far away, in all the lands where you have dispersed us because of the infidelity we have committed against you.  Ours is the  shame, O Lord for we, our kings,  princes, fathers, have sinned against you. We hope for pardon and mercy from the Lord, because we have rebelled against him.  We have not listened to the voice of Yahweh, our God, or followed the laws which he has given us through his servants, the prophets.”

Gospel: Lk 6:36–38:
Jesus said to his disciples, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Don’t be a judge of others and you will not be judged; do not condemn and you will not be condemned; forgive and you will be forgiven; give and it will be given to you, and you will receive in your sack good measure, pressed down, full and running over. For the measure you give will be the measure you receive back.”

I have a friend who is a good human being and takes her faith very seriously. But there is a problem: she is constantly worried about the Last Judgment. One of her regular refrains is, “I just hope I go to heaven and do not end up in purgatory or hell.” And I sadly discern a genuine fear in her. There is a simple means to avoid “ending up in purgatory or hell,” and today’s gospel offers it to us: Stop judging others, and there would not be a judgment for you either! How can God judge someone who refuses to judge others? And once we stop judging others, we can easily forgive their offenses and give of ourselves generously to them. God will then generously forgive our offenses and reward us with Himself.

March 15th

1st Reading: Is 1:10, 16-20:
Hear the warning of Yahweh, rulers of Sodom. Listen to the word of God, people of Gomorrah. Wash and make yourselves clean. Remove from my sight the evil of your deeds. Put an end to your wickedness and learn to do good. Seek justice and keep in line the abusers; give the fatherless their rights and defend the widow. Come, says Yahweh, let us reason together. Though your sins be like scarlet, they will be white as snow; though they be as crimson red, they will be white as wool. If you will obey me, you will eat the goods of the earth; but if you resist and rebel, the sword will eat you instead. Truly Yahweh has spoken.

Gospel: Mt 23:1-12:
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples. “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees have sat down on the chair of Moses. So you shall do and observe all they say; but do not do as they do, for they do not do what they say. They tie up heavy burdens and load them on the shoulders of the people, but they do not even lift a finger to move them. They do everything in order to be seen by people: they wear very wide bands of the law around their foreheads, and robes with large tassels.

They enjoy the first places at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues, and they like being greeted in the marketplace, and being called ‘Master’ by the people. But you, do not let yourselves be called Master, because you have only one Master, and all of you are brothers and sisters. Neither should you call anyone on earth Father, because you have only one Father, he who is in heaven. Nor should you be called Leader, because Christ is the only Leader for you. Let the greatest among you be the servant of all. For whoever makes himself great shall be humbled, and whoever humbles himself shall be made great.

“They do not do what they say,” says Jesus of the scribes and Pharisees of his time. That indeed is the characteristic of hypocrites, is it not? Yes, it is. And we secretly congratulate ourselves for not being hypocrites. Yet, if we stopped ourselves in our tracks, sat down a few minutes, and examined in detail our behavior during the past 24 hours, would we find that we always and invariably do as we say, act according to our professed principles, follow through with our resolutions? Maybe we do all that. Then we are probably ready for canonization…

Most of us, ordinary humans, have difficulty living up to our high Christian ideals. Always doing what we say we do is not always easy. In fact, at times it is excruciatingly difficult. Pharisees also “do everything in order to be seen by people.” Again, before throwing stones at anyone, maybe we should sit down and ask ourselves: During the past 24 hours, would I have done anything differently if I had the absolute certainty that nobody was watching me? When do we act purely for God, regardless of who is watching? There is perhaps a little Pharisee inside many of us…

March 16th

1st Reading: Jer 18:18-20:
Then, they said, “Come, let us plot against Jeremiah, for even without him, there will be priests to interpret the teachings of the law; there will always be wise men to impart counsel and prophets to proclaim the word. Come, let us accuse him and strike him down instead of listening to what he says.” Hear me, O Yahweh! Listen to what my accusers say. Is evil the reward for good? Why do they dig a grave for me? Remember how I stood before you to speak well on their behalf so that your anger might subside.

Gospel: Mt 20:17-28:
When Jesus was going to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside and said to them, “See, we are going to Jerusalem. There, the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law; and they will condemn him to death. They will hand him over to the foreigners, who will mock him, scourge him and crucify him. But he will be raised to life on the third day.” 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.”

Even to the very end of his life, Jesus was completely misunderstood. This is made perfectly clear in today’s gospel reading. This reading presents Jesus as explaining to the Twelve his coming Passion and death in terms which could not have been more graphic and explicit. Yet, right after this prediction, two of the Twelve ask through the mouth of their mother that they be given important jobs in the coming order of things—as if Jesus was about to be crowned king of Israel! When asked if they are ready to share Jesus’ destiny (drink the same cup), they cockily reply that they can, totally unaware that Jesus’ destiny will involve a shameful public execution.

Meanwhile the other ten get angry at James and John. They, two, have understood nothing of Jesus’ dire prediction about his imminent death, a death on a cross. They want to have big jobs, too, in the new order of things. How Jesus must have felt at a loss when confronted with such a wrong understanding of everything he has been trying to teach these obtuse disciples of his! So now he dots the i’s and crosses the t’s. A real follower of his must be “the servant of all.” Nothing above that.

March 17th

St. Patrick
St. Joseph of Arimathea

1st Reading: Jer 17:5-10:
Thus says the Lord: Cursed is the man who trusts in human beings, who seeks his strength in flesh, whose heart turns away from the Lord. He is like a barren bush in the desert that enjoys no change of season, But stands in a lava waste, a salt and empty earth. Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose hope is the Lord. He is like a tree planted beside the waters that stretches out its roots to the stream: It fears not the heat when it comes, its leaves stay green; In the year of drought it shows no distress, but still bears fruit. More tortuous than all else is the human heart, beyond remedy; who can understand it? I, the Lord, alone probe the mind and test the heart, to reward everyone according to his ways, according to the merit of his deeds.

Gospel: Lk 16:19-31:
“Once there was a rich man who dressed in purple and fine linen and feasted every day. At his gate lay Lazarus, a poor man covered with sores, who longed to eat just the scraps falling from the rich man’s table. Even dogs used to come and lick his sores. It happened that the poor man died, and angels carried him to take his place with Abraham. The rich man also died, and was buried. From the netherworld where he was in torment, the rich man looked up and saw Abraham afar off, and with him Lazarus at rest. He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me, and send Lazarus, with the tip of his finger dipped in water, to cool my tongue, for I suffer so much in this fire!’

Abraham replied, ‘My son, remember that in your lifetime you were well-off, while the lot of Lazarus was misfortune. Now he is in comfort, and you are in agony. But that is not all. Between your place and ours a great chasm has been fixed, so that no one can cross over from here to you, or from your side to us.’ The rich man implored once more, ‘Then I beg you, Father Abraham, send Lazarus to my father’s house, where my five brothers live.

‘Let him warn them, so that they may not end up in this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.’ But the rich man said, ‘No, Father Abraham; but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ Abraham said, ‘If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be convinced, even if someone rises from the dead.’”

“Most deceitful is the heart,” God tells us in today’s first reading. Anyone who has dared to look at himself or herself long and hard (for example, by means of regular examinations of conscience) knows how true this is. Well, we have a vivid illustration of this truth in today’s gospel parable, which stages a rich man (mercifully anonymous) who enjoys a life of luxury at a stone’s throw away from a dying beggar, Lazarus. Was the rich man aware of Lazarus’ miserable life? Of course he was for, once, in the netherworld he mentions him to God by name.

Yet, he never lifted a finger to lessen Lazarus’ poverty. No doubt he had succeeded in rationalizing his inaction by any number of reasonings: Am I Providence? Those wretches should be cared for by the Government not by honest taxpayers like me. You help one beggar and you’re soon invaded by hundreds of them… “Most deceitful is the heart.” It is easy to blind ourselves to what we do not want to see. Forty thousand people die every day of hunger worldwide, yet the rich countries spend fortunes on perfumes and weight-reducing treatments…

March 18th

St. Cyril of Jerusalem

1st Reading: Gn 37:3-4, 12-13a, 17b-28a:
Israel loved Joseph best of all his sons, for he was the child of his old age; and he had made him a long tunic. When his brothers saw that their father loved him best of all his sons, they hated him so much that they would not even greet him. One day, when his brothers had gone to pasture their father’s flocks at Shechem, Israel said to Joseph, “Your brothers, you know, are tending our flocks at Shechem. Get ready; I will send you to them.” So Joseph went after his brothers and caught up with them in Dothan. They noticed him from a distance, and before he came up to them, they plotted to kill him.

They said to one another: “Here comes that master dreamer! Come on, let us kill him and throw him into one of the cisterns here; we could say that a wild beast devoured him. We shall then see what comes of his dreams.” When Reuben heard this, he tried to save him from their hands, saying, “We must not take his life. Instead of shedding blood,” he continued, “just throw him into that cistern there in the desert; but do not kill him outright.” His purpose was to rescue him from their hands and return him to his father.

So when Joseph came up to them, they stripped him of the long tunic he had on; then they took him and threw him into the cistern, which was empty and dry. They then sat down to their meal. Looking up, they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, their camels laden with gum, balm and resin to be taken down to Egypt. Judah said to his brothers: “What is to be gained by killing our brother and concealing his blood? Rather, let us sell him to these Ishmaelites, instead of doing away with him ourselves. After all, he is our brother, our own flesh.” His brothers agreed. They sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver.

Gospel: Mt 21:33-43, 45-46:
Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders of the people: “Hear another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a hedge around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a tower. Then he leased it to tenants and went on a journey. When vintage time drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to obtain his produce. But the tenants seized the servants and one they beat, another they killed, and a third they stoned. Again he sent other servants, more numerous than the first ones, but they treated them in the same way. Finally, he sent his son to them, thinking, ‘They will respect my son.’

But when the tenants saw the son, they said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and acquire his inheritance.’ They seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?” They answered him, “He will put those wretched men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the proper times.”

Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures: The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; by the Lord has this been done, and it is wonderful in our eyes? Therefore, I say to you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.” When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they knew that he was speaking about them. And although they were attempting to arrest him, they feared the crowds, for they regarded him as a prophet.

Not many people understand the difference between envy and jealousy Yet, the difference between the two is considerable. To be jealous is to be possessive of something we have and over-fearful of losing it. To envy is to desire to have for oneself something possessed by another. Today’s two readings are about cases of envy. The half-brothers of Joseph begrudge him two things they do not have and that he has: the preferential love of his father Jacob, and the gift of symbolic and prophetic dreams. When they plan to kill him, twice they refer to this gift: “Here comes the specialist in dreams… Then we’ll see what his dreams were all about!”

In Jesus’ parable, the evil tenants want to kill the owner’s son so that they will take possession of the latter’s property. They envy his status as future owner: “Let us kill him and his inheritance will be ours.” In both cases envy inspires to commit murder or to attempt committing murder. No wonder that envy is classified as one of the Seven Deadly Sins! We should always be on guard against envy. Instead of begrudging other people’s gifts, let us celebrate them.

March 19th

St. Joseph, husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary

1st Reading: 2 Sm 7:4-5a, 12-14a, 16:
But that very night, Yahweh’s word came to Nathan, “Go and tell my servant David, this is what Yahweh says: When the time comes for you to rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your son after you, the one born of you; and I will make his reign secure. He shall build a house for my name and I will firmly establish his kingship forever. I will be a father to him and he shall be my son. Your house and your reign shall last forever before me, and your throne shall be forever firm.”

2nd Reading: Rom 4:13, 16-18, 22:
If God promised Abraham, or rather his descendants, that the world would belong to him, this was not because of his obeying the law, but because he was just, and a friend of God, through faith. For that reason, faith is the way, and all is given, by grace; and the promises of Abraham are fulfilled for all his descendants, not only for his children according to the law, but, also, for all the others, who have believed. Abraham is the father of all of us, as it is written: I will make you the father of many nations.

He is our father, in the eyes of Him, who gives life to the dead, and calls into existence, what does not yet exist, for this is the God in whom he believed. Abraham believed, and hoped against all expectation, thus, becoming the father of many nations, as he had been told: See how many will be your descendants. This was taken into account, for him to attain righteousness.

Gospel: Mt 1:16, 18-21, 24a:
Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and from her came Jesus who is called the Christ—the Messiah. This is how Jesus Christ was born: Mary his mother had been given to Joseph in marriage, but before they lived together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph, her husband, made plans to divorce her in all secrecy. He was an upright man, and in no way did he want to disgrace her. While he was pondering over this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, descendant of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. She has conceived by the Holy Spirit, and now she will bear a son. You shall call him ‘Jesus’ for he will save his people from their sins.” When Joseph awoke, he did what the angel of the Lord had told him to do.

Today we are celebrating St. Joseph the husband of Mary and the guardian of Jesus. If we asked at random, say, a hundred Christians, “Apart from Jesus Christ, who is the greatest man of history?” what percentage of them would think of choosing Joseph, the humble carpenter of Nazareth of whom not a single word is reported in the gospel? Yet, of him Pope Leo XIII wrote in his Encyclical Letter Quamquam Pluries (August 15, 1889), “more than any other person Joseph approached that super eminent dignity by which the Mother of God is raised far above all created natures.”

Not surprisingly, in 1870 Pope Pius IX solemnly proclaimed Joseph as Patron of the Universal Church. What did Joseph accomplish which places him above all other saints after Mary? He taught Jesus how to be a man, a real man—a person of utter fidelity, courage, reliability. The greatness of Joseph is that he taught Jesus the art of living—as well as the art of dying. And that is the greatness of any real father.