Bible Diary for March 20th – 26th

March 20th

3rd Sunday of Lent

1st Reading: Ex 3:1–8a, 13–15:
Moses pastured the sheep of Jethro his father-in-law, priest of Midian. One day he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the Mountain of God. The Angel of Yahweh appeared to him by means of a flame of fire in the middle of a bush. Moses saw that although the bush was on fire it did not burn up. Moses thought, “I will go and see this amazing sight, why is the bush not burning up?” Yahweh saw that Moses was drawing near to look, and God called to him from the middle of the bush, “Moses! Moses!” He replied, “Here I am.” Yahweh said to him, “Do not come near; take off your sandals because the place where you are standing is holy ground.”

And God continued, “I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” Moses hid his face lest his eyes look on God. Yahweh said, “I have seen the humiliation of my people in Egypt and I hear their cry when they are cruelly treated by their taskmasters. I know their suffering. I have come down to free them from the power of the Egyptians and to bring them up from that land to a beautiful spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the territory of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites.

Moses answered God, “If I go to the Israelites and say to them: ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ they will ask me: ‘What is his name?’ What shall I answer them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO AM. This is what you will say to the sons of Israel: ‘I AM sent me to you.” God then said to Moses, “You will say to the Israelites: ‘YAHWEH, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob, has sent me.’ That will be my name forever, and by this name they shall call upon me for all generations to come.”

2nd Reading: 1 Cor 10:1–6, 10–12:
Let me remind you, brothers and sisters, about our ancestors. All of them were under the cloud and all crossed the sea. All underwent the baptism of the land and of the sea to join Moses and all of them ate from the same spiritual manna and all of them drank from the same spiritual drink. For you know that they drank from a spiritual rock following them, and the rock was Christ. However, most of them did not please God, and the desert was strewn with their bodies. All of this happened as an example for us, so that we might not become people of evil desires, as they did. Nor grumble as some of them did and were cut down by the destroying angel. These things happened to them as an example, and they were written as a warning for us, as the last times come upon us. Therefore, if you think you stand, beware, lest you fall.

Gospel: Lk 13:1–9:
One day some persons told Jesus what had occurred in the Temple: Pilate had Galileans killed and their blood mingled with the blood of their sacrifices. Jesus replied, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this? I tell you: no. But unless you change your ways, you will all perish as they did. “And those eighteen persons in Siloah who were crushed when the tower fell, do you think they were more guilty than all the others in Jerusalem? I tell you: no. But unless you change your ways, you will all perish as they did.”

And Jesus continued with this story, “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard and he came looking for fruit on it, but found none. Then he said to the gardener: ‘Look here, for three years now I have been looking for figs on this tree and I have found none. Cut it down, why should it use up the ground?’ The gardener replied: ‘Leave it one more year, so that I may dig around it and add some fertilizer; and perhaps it will bear fruit from now on. But if it doesn’t, you can cut it down.”

Two contrasting images strike us today: the burning bush and the barren fig. The bush throbs with fieriness that does not destroy but energizes Moses into his mission. The barren fig tree has a certain deadness that negates life. Which image resembles you the most? What can you do to be on fire with God’s life? “If you think you stand, beware, lest you fall.” It is easy to fall. We need God’s grace to be standing and fruitful. Let us pray for His grace so that we may not be found wanting. You are the fig tree in the vineyard. God comes looking for fruit. What does he find? List three fruit(s) of the Spirit (see Gal 5:22-23) you will pray for during the remainder of the Lent.

March 21st

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 added, “No prophet is honored in his own country. Truly, I say to you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens withheld rain for three years and six months and a great famine came over the whole land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow of Zarephath, in the country of Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha, the prophet, and no one was healed except Naaman, the Syrian.” On hearing these words, the whole assembly became indignant. They rose up and brought him out of the town, to the edge of the hill on which Nazareth is built, intending to throw him down the cliff. But he passed through their midst and went his way.

We see in the gospel that Jesus was treated with bias and antagonism instead of hospitality and generosity from his townspeople when he returned to Nazareth, leading him to exclaim, “No prophet is honored in his own country.” In their narrow-minded pride they felt slighted that Jesus, who came from their town had not worked there the wonders he had worked elsewhere. They lacked one thing—faith in Jesus and in the God who sent him.

They were blinded by their sense of familiarity and entitlement. We can easily identify with this story in our experiences of rejection especially when we fail to meet others’ expectations or when others think they know us too well that they cannot accept any change in us. The phrase, “familiarity breeds contempt” expresses our human tendency to be blinded to the value of what we have, taking for granted the goodness in us and in others. Jesus’ message seems clear. We need to have faith in a God of surprises and to be properly disposed for God to work wonders in and through us. Do we remain in God and have faith in God in good and bad times as the gospel challenges us?

March 22nd

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:
Then Peter asked him, “Lord, how many times must I forgive the offenses of my brother or sister? Seven times?” Jesus answered, “No, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. This story throws light on the kingdom of Heaven: A king decided to settle accounts with his servants. Among the first of them was one who owed him ten thousand pieces of gold. As the man could not repay the debt, the king commanded that he be sold as a slave with his wife, his children and all his goods, as repayment. The servant threw himself at the feet of the king and said, ‘Give me time, and I will pay you back everything.’

“The king took pity on him, and not only set him free, but even canceled his debt. When this servant left the king’s presence, he met one of his fellow servants, who owed him a hundred pieces of silver. He grabbed him by the throat and almost choked him, shouting, ‘Pay me what you owe!’ His fellow servant threw himself at his feet and begged him, ‘Give me time, and I will pay everything.’ But the other did not agree, and sent him to prison until he had paid all his debt. Now the servants of the king saw what had happened. They were extremely upset, and so they went and reported everything to their lord.

“Then the lord summoned his servant and said, ‘Wicked servant, I forgave you all that you owed me when you begged me to do so. Weren’t you bound to have pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?’ The lord was now angry. He handed the wicked servant over to be punished, until he had paid the whole debt.” Jesus added, “So will my heavenly Father do with you, unless you sincerely forgive your brothers and sisters.”

The Lenten season is replete with readings that challenge us to put into practice the gospel teachings. Forgiveness is one of them. From today’s parable we can glean its characteristics and our difficulty as humans to practice it. God’s forgiveness is not quantifiable because of its very nature as prodigal and lavish. It is immeasurable using human standards. When Peter questioned Jesus how many times must one forgive, he was asking for a quantity, but Jesus replied with an equation that symbolizes the unquantifiability of forgiveness. Forgiveness is not only relational but also mutual and trusting, echoing a phrase from the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

We know this in principle, but often our hurts are greater than our capacity to forgive, thus we cannot forgive from the heart without God’s grace. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting, condoning, or favoring what was done. Nor does it mean disregarding or excusing cruelty or injustice. Forgiveness is a decision to move forward in our relationships, to go beyond our vengeful reaction when we are hurt. It means breaking the cycle of evil that revenge perpetuates. Do we sincerely desire to forgive those who have hurt us?

March 23rd

St. Turibius

1st Reading: Dt 4:1, 5-9:
And now, Israel, listen to the norms and laws which I teach that you may put them into practice. And you will live and enter and take possession of the land which Yahweh, the God of your fathers, gives you. See, as Yahweh, my God, ordered me, I am teaching you the norms and the laws that you may put them into practice in the land you are going to enter and have as your own. If you observe and practice them, other peoples will regard you as wise and intelligent.

When they come to know of all these laws, they will say, “There is no people as wise and as intelligent as this great nation.“ For in truth, is there a nation as great as ours, whose gods are as near to it as Yahweh, our God, is to us whenever we call upon him? And is there a nation as great as ours whose norms and laws are as just as this Law which I give you today? But be careful and be on your guard. Do not forget these things which your own eyes have seen nor let them depart from your heart as long as you live. But on the contrary, teach them to your children and to your children’s children.

Gospel: Mt 5:17-19:
Do not think that I have come to annul the Law and the Prophets. I have not come to annul them but to fulfill them. I tell you this: as long as heaven and earth last, not the smallest letter or dot in the Law will change until all is fulfilled. So then, whoever breaks the least important of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be the least in the kingdom of heaven. On the other hand, whoever obeys them, and teaches others to do the same, will be great in the kingdom of heaven.

Teenagers who go through the rebellious stage of their development would sometimes test authorities by breaking laws. Not appreciating the role of laws in life and in society, they discover that there are consequences in doing so. Laws are necessary to human society. Without them, there can only be chaos and anarchy. In today’s gospel, Jesus is referring to the Mosaic law, as summarized in the Ten Commandments. These laws are valid at all times as they are part of the natural law, consisting of factors necessary for humans to live together in society with respect, justice and peace.

Laws are intended to enhance life and their interpretation and observance are meant to be consistent with their spirit. However, a narrow interpretation of and rigid adherence to the laws can kill the spirit and will no longer promote life and right relationships. Jesus lives out the spirit of the law by personifying God’s love, the fulfillment of the law that enhances life. He is “the way, the truth, and the life,” the fullest expression of how we as humans are to respond to God’s love. As both the medium and the message, Jesus invites us to follow in his footsteps.

March 24th

St. Oscar Romero

1st Reading: Jer 7:23-28:
One thing I did command them: Listen to my voice and I will be your God and you will be my people. Walk in the way I command you and all will be well with you. But they did not listen and paid no attention; they followed the bad habits of their stubborn heart and turned away from me. From the time I brought their forebearers out of Egypt until this day I have continually sent them my servants, the prophets, but this stiff-necked people did not listen. They paid no attention and were worse than their forebearers. You may say all these things to them but they will not listen; you will call them but they will not answer. This is a nation that did not obey Yahweh and refused to be disciplined; truth has perished and is no longer heard from their lips.

Gospel: Lk 11:14-23:
One day Jesus was driving out a demon, which was mute. When the demon had been driven out, the mute person could speak, and the people were amazed. Yet some of them said, “He drives out demons by the power of Beelzebul, the chief of the demons.” Others wanted to put him to the test, by asking him for a heavenly sign. But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them, “Every nation divided by civil war is on the road to ruin, and will fall. If Satan also is divided, his empire is coming to an end. How can you say that I drive out demons by calling upon Beelzebul?

“If I drive them out by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons drive out demons? They will be your judges, then. But if I drive out demons by the finger of God; would not this mean that the kingdom of God, has come upon you? As long as a man, strong and well armed, guards his house, his goods are safe. But when a stronger man attacks and overcomes him, the challenger takes away all the weapons he relied on, and disposes of his spoils. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me, scatters.”

Today’s gospel invites us to reflect on the gift and the power of speech. We are presented with two opposing images: a mute who lacks the power of speech but was able to speak again after Jesus drove out the demon from the person; and the religious people who used their power of speech to engage in rumor-mongering, spreading rumors that Jesus’ power was from Beelzebul, the “lord of the dung heap.” They did not dispute Jesus’ power to heal and to drive out demons; they wanted to discredit him by spreading a slanderous rumor about the source of his power.

Jesus used the demonic experience to confront the idiotic slanderous rumors the Pharisees had planted in people’s minds. He wanted people to realize that slander may be worse than a demon. It has the power to divide people against one another, poisoning the minds of the hearers and causing them to doubt the truth. Rumors will spread like wild fire for as long as there are rumormongers. How do we use the gift of speech that God has given us? Do we use it to affirm goodness and proclaim truth or do we use it to spread lies and half-truths?

March 25th

Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord

1st Reading: Is 7:10–14; 8:10:
Once again Yahweh addressed Ahaz, “Ask for a sign from Yahweh your God, let it come either from the deepest depths or from the heights of heaven.” But Ahaz answered, “I will not ask, I will not put Yahweh to the test.” Then Isaiah said, “Now listen, descendants of David. Have you not been satisfied trying the patience of people, that you also try the patience of my God? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: Devise a plan and it will be thwarted, make a resolve and it will not stand, for God-is-with-us.

2nd Reading: Heb 10:4–10:
Brothers and sisters: It is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats take away sins. For this reason, when Christ came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; in holocausts and sin offerings you took no delight. Then I said, ‘As is written of me in the scroll, behold, I come to do your will, O God.’” First he says, “Sacrifices and offerings, holocausts and sin offerings, you neither desired nor delighted in.” These are offered according to the law. Then he says, “Behold, I come to do your will.” He takes away the first to establish the second. By this “will,” we have been consecrated through the offering of the Body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Gospel: Lk 1:26–38:
In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth. He was sent to a virgin, who was betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the family of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. The angel came to her and said, “Rejoice, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” Mary was troubled at these words, wondering what this greeting could mean. But the angel said, “Do not fear, Mary, for God has looked kindly on you. You shall conceive and bear a son, and you shall call him Jesus. He will be great, and shall rightly be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the kingdom of David, his ancestor; he will rule over the people of Jacob forever, and his reign shall have no end.”

Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore, the holy child to be born of you shall be called Son of God. Even your relative Elizabeth is expecting a son in her old age, although she was unable to have a child; and she is now in her sixth month. With God nothing is impossible.” Then Mary said, “I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me as you have said.” And the angel left her.

Today on the Feast of the Annunciation, our focus is on the person of Mary—who she is to us, who she is to the world. To ask, “who is she,” will evoke myriads of answers, depending on our perspectives of her. Today we are invited to consider her as a person of faith, standing before us in her humanity, struggling with the daily demands of her life and the meaning of the troubling words of the angel’s greeting. Yet Mary believed God’s promises even when they seemed impossible. She was open to do God’s will, even if it seemed difficult or costly.

God’s invitation is always disturbing and disruptive of our familiar routines in life. It calls us to change, to look at life with new sets of eyes and listen with new ears. Mary is showing us how to respond to God’s invitation. She is asking us to prepare our hearts for her Son and to journey with him in his mission. She invites us to participate with her in giving birth to Jesus, in raising him, in listening to him, in watching and waiting with him, in weeping and mourning for him, and in becoming his disciple.

March 26th

1st Reading: Hos 6:1-6:
Come, let us return to Yahweh. He who shattered us to pieces, will heal us as well; he has struck us down, but he will bind up our wounds. Two days later he will bring us back to life; on the third day, he will raise us up, and we shall live in his presence. Let us strive to know Yahweh. His coming is as certain as the dawn; his judgment will burst forth like the light; he will come to us as showers come, like spring rain that waters the earth. O Ephraim, what shall I do with you? O Judah, how shall I deal with you? This love of yours is like morning mist, like morning dew that quickly disappears. This is why I smote you through the prophets, and have slain you by the words of my mouth. For it is love that I desire, not sacrifice; it is knowledge of God, not burnt offerings.

Gospel: Lk 18:9-14:
Jesus told another parable to some people, fully convinced of their own righteousness, who looked down on others: “Two men went up to the temple to pray; one was a Pharisee, and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself, and said, ‘I thank you, God, that I am not like other people, grasping, crooked, adulterous, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and give a tenth of all my income to the temple.’ In the meantime the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.’ I tell you, when this man went back to his house, he had been reconciled with God, but not the other. For whoever makes himself out to be great will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be raised up.”

In today’s gospel, Jesus uses a parable to teach us the proper attitude and stance in prayer. The parable presents to us two characters and their attitudes and ways of praying. There is a temptation to interpret this parable in a simplistic way, like neatly dividing humanity between the righteous, law-abiding people and the sinners. In reality, it’s not a matter of black or white; it is all grey because if we are honest with ourselves, we find both characters in us. We need some degree of self-awareness to be able to identify which character predominates at certain times in our life. The Pharisee’s prayer is full of himself, setting himself as the standard for virtues that must be emulated for having been diligent in following the Mosaic Law but not realizing that he was full of spiritual pride. This kind of attitude divides the community instead of unifying it; perpetuating prejudice and the separation between the “we” and the “they” which often happens in society and sometimes even in religious communities. We all should strive to pray like the Publican who was aware of being a sinner and nothing else before God, being totally dependent on God’s divine mercy.