Bible Diary for March 27th – April 2nd

March 27th

4th Sunday of Lent

1st Reading: Jos 5:9a, 10-12:
Then Yahweh said to Joshua: “Today I have removed from you the shame of Egypt.” The Israelites encamped in Gilgal where they celebrated the Passover on the evening of the fourteenth day of the month in the plains of Jericho. On the following day, they ate of the produce of the land: unleavened bread and roasted grain on that very day. And from that day on when they ate of the produce of the land, the manna ceased. There was no more manna for the Israelites, and that year they ate of the fruit of the land of Canaan.

2nd Reading: 2 Cor 5:17-21:
For that same reason, the one who is in Christ is a new creature. For him, the old things have passed away; a new world has come. All this is the work of God, who, in Christ, reconciled us to himself, and who entrusted to us the ministry of reconciliation. Because, in Christ, God reconciled the world with himself, no longer taking into account their trespasses, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we present ourselves as ambassadors, in the name of Christ, as if God, himself, makes an appeal to you, through us. Let God reconcile you; this, we ask you, in the name of Christ. He had no sin, but God made him bear our sin, so, that, in him, we might share the holiness of God.

Gospel: Lk 15:1-3, 11-32:
Meanwhile tax collectors and sinners were seeking the company of Jesus, all of them eager to hear what he had to say. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law frowned at this, muttering, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So Jesus told them this parable: “There was a man with two sons. The younger said to his father, ‘Give me my share of the estate.’ So the father divided his property between them. Some days later, the younger son gathered all his belongings and started off for a distant land, where he squandered his wealth in loose living. Having spent everything, he was hard pressed when a severe famine broke out in that land.

“So he hired himself out to a well-to-do citizen of that place, and was sent to work on a pig farm. So famished was he, that he longed to fill his stomach even with the food given to the pigs, but no one offered him anything. Finally coming to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will get up and go back to my father, and say to him, Father, I have sinned against God, and before you. I no longer deserve to be called your son. Treat me then as one of your hired servants.’ With that thought in mind, he set off for his father’s house. He was still a long way off, when his father caught sight of him.

“His father was so deeply moved with compassion that he ran out to meet him, threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. The son said, ‘Father, I have sinned against Heaven and before you. I no longer deserve to be called your son.’ But the father turned to his servants: ‘Quick!’ he said. ‘Bring out the finest robe and put it on him! Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet! Take the fattened calf and kill it! We shall celebrate and have a feast, for this son of mine was dead, and has come back to life; he was lost, and is found!’ And the celebration began.

“Meanwhile, the elder son had been working in the fields. As he returned and approached the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what it was all about. The servant answered, ‘Your brother has come home safe and sound, and your father is so happy about it that he has ordered this celebration, and killed the fattened calf.’ The elder son became angry, and refused to go in. His father came out and pleaded with him. The son, very indignant, said, ‘Look, I have slaved for you all these years.

“Never have I disobeyed your orders. Yet you have never given me even a young goat to celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours returns, after squandering your property with loose women, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ The father said, ‘My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But this brother of yours was dead, and has come back to life; he was lost, and is found. And for that we had to rejoice and be glad.’”

Today’s second reading, an excerpt from the apostle Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians, is all about reconciliation–particularly about reconciliation between God and us. Now when we speak of a reconciliation occurring between humans, we usually imply that two parties, who were previously unfriendly towards each other, became friendly once more, that both parties have changed in their attitude towards each other.

Because of this, many Christians, when they hear today’s Pauline excerpt, imagine that there was a time when God was angry at us, but that eventually something (the death of Jesus on the cross for our sake?) made him change his opposition to us. However, nothing is further from Paul’s mind. Whenever Paul uses the verb “reconcile” about God (7 times), with absolute consistency not once does he say that God has been reconciled and not once does he say that we have reconciled him to us. It is always God who reconciles and we who are being reconciled.

Why? Because God, who is pure love (1 Jn 4:8, 16), has never ceased loving us, even when we were turning our backs on him. As Paul writes so poignantly to the Romans: “While we were enemies we were reconciled to God” (Rom 5:19). It is always God who reconciles us to him, never the opposite. WHY? Because God never ceases loving us, even when we turn our back on him. Let us bask in the unconditional love God has for us—as when we warm ourselves in the rays of the sun. Let us work to reconcile to God someone we know who is far from him.

March 28th

1st Reading: Is 65:17-21:
I now create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind again. Be glad forever and rejoice in what I create; for I create Jerusalem to be a joy and its people to be a delight. I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people. The sound of distress and the voice of weeping will not be heard in it any more. You will no longer know of dead children or of adults who do not live out a lifetime. One who reaches a hundred years will have died a mere youth, but one who fails to reach a hundred will be considered accursed. They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant crops and eat their fruit.

Gospel: Jn 4:43-54:
When the two days were over, Jesus left for Galilee. Jesus himself said that no prophet is recognized in his own country. Yet the Galileans welcomed him when he arrived, because of all the things which he had done in Jerusalem during the Festival, and which they had seen. For they, too, had gone to the feast. Jesus went back to Cana of Galilee, where he had changed the water into wine. At Capernaum there was an official, whose son was ill, and when he heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went and asked him to come and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. Jesus said, “Unless you see signs and wonders, you will not believe!”

The official said, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” And Jesus replied, “Go, your son lives!” The man had faith in the word that Jesus spoke to him, and went his way. As he was approaching his house, his servants met him, and gave him the good news, “Your son has recovered!” So he asked them at what hour the child began to recover, and they said to him, “The fever left him yesterday, at about one o’clock in the afternoon.” And the father realized that that was the time when Jesus had told him, “Your son lives!” And he became a believer, he and all his family. Jesus performed this second miraculous sign when he returned from Judea to Galilee.

The miracle stories in the Gospel of John are signs, that is, beyond the visible event or act, there is a greater spiritual reality or truth that is being taught. Thus, the 1st sign, the miracle of the water being transformed into wine at Cana was a sign of the inauguration of the “New Covenant“ that Jesus was to bring about by his Passion. The 2nd miracle, the cure of the son of the Official, was a sign of the extent of the redemption Jesus was to accomplish. Previous to this miracle we have Jesus’ dialogue with Nicodemus (representing the Jews) and the encounter of Jesus and the Samaritan woman (representing the “lost tribes of Israel“).

With this miracle Jesus makes it clear that salvation is not only for the children of Abraham but is extended to non-Jews. The Official in this Gospel episode was probably a pagan or Roman centurion. The story is very similar to the one we read in Matthew 8:5. Moreover, co-relating this miracle with our first reading, we find the deeper significance of the cure of the son of the Official. Isaiah prophesies the defeat of death with the coming of the “new heavens and a new earth.“ Jesus will conquer sin, sickness, death! Oh how blest are we, too, who are non-Jews to be included in Christ Jesus’ work of salvation!

March 29th

1st Reading: Ez 47:1-9, 12:
The angel brought me, Ezekiel, back to the entrance of the temple of the Lord, and I saw water flowing out from beneath the threshold of the temple toward the east, for the façade of the temple was toward the east; the water flowed down from the right side of the temple, south of the altar. He led me outside by the north gate, and around to the outer gate facing the east, where I saw water trickling from the right side. Then when he had walked off to the east with a measuring cord in his hand, he measured off a thousand cubits and had me wade through the water, which was ankle-deep.

He measured off another thousand and once more had me wade through the water, which was now knee-deep. Again he measured off a thousand and had me wade; the water was up to my waist. Once more he measured off a thousand, but there was now a river through which I could not wade; for the water had risen so high it had become a river that could not be crossed except by swimming. He asked me, “Have you seen this, son of man?” Then he brought me to the bank of the river, where he had me sit. Along the bank of the river I saw very many trees on both sides.

He said to me, “This water flows into the eastern district down upon the Arabah, and empties into the sea, the salt waters, which it makes fresh. Wherever the river flows, every sort of living creature that can multiply shall live, and there shall be abundant fish, for wherever this water comes the sea shall be made fresh. Along both banks of the river, fruit trees of every kind shall grow; their leaves shall not fade, nor their fruit fail. Every month they shall bear fresh fruit, for they shall be watered by the flow from the sanctuary. Their fruit shall serve for food, and their leaves for medicine.”

Gospel: Jn 5:1-16:
There was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem at the Sheep Gate a pool called in Hebrew Bethesda, with five porticoes. In these lay a large number of ill, blind, lame, and crippled. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been ill for a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be well?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; while I am on my way, someone else gets down there before me.” Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your mat, and walk.” Immediately the man became well, took up his mat, and walked.

Now that day was a sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who was cured, “It is the sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.” He answered them, “The man who made me well told me, ‘Take up your mat and walk.’“ They asked him, “Who is the man who told you, ‘Take it up and walk’?” The man who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had slipped away, since there was a crowd there. After this Jesus found him in the temple area and said to him, “Look, you are well; do not sin any more, so that nothing worse may happen to you.” The man went and told the Jews that Jesus was the one who had made him well. Therefore, the Jews began to persecute Jesus because he did this on a sabbath.

The temple of Jerusalem had many gates. One of these was known as the Sheep Gate. It was through this gate that the Jews passed through to bring their lamb sacrifices for their sin offerings. Outside of this gate lay the pool of Bethzatha where many sick lay on pallets waiting to be healed. They believed that when the angel stirred the pool the one that goes into the water first would get healed. It was in this area that Jesus worked the 3rd sign. Again, what is the significance of this miracle? Bethzatha, the name of the pool, is translated “house of mercy.“ The people who gather around the pool are the sick. They all wait to receive some mercy from God.

When Jesus cures the paralyzed man, therefore, he extends God’s mercy! Jesus is the true “angel” or messenger of God who comes to grant mercy! This miracle cure happens by the Sheep Gate, however! It also signified that the gift of mercy will be given by the true Sheep Gate, Jesus! It will be the result, too, of the true Lamb of God who will be sacrificed on Good Friday! With this miracle, Jesus tells us that he will grant us mercy by becoming the Lamb of sacrifice! By His wounds we are healed! Praise be the Lord!

March 30th

1st Reading: Is 49:8-15:
Thus says the Lord:
In a time of favor I answer you, on the day of salvation I help you; and I have kept you and given you as a covenant to the people, to restore the land and allot the desolate heritages, saying to the prisoners: Come out! To those in darkness: Show yourselves! Along the ways they shall find pasture, on every bare height shall their pastures be. They shall not hunger or thirst, nor shall the scorching wind or the sun strike them; for he who pities them leads them and guides them beside springs of water.

I will cut a road through all my mountains, and make my highways level. See, some shall come from afar, others from the north and the west, and some from the land of Syene. Sing out, O heavens, and rejoice, O earth, break forth into song, you mountains. For the Lord comforts his people and shows mercy to his afflicted. But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.” Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.

Gospel: Jn 5:17-30:
Jesus answered the Jews:
“My Father is at work until now, so I am at work.” For this reason they tried all the more to kill him, because he not only broke the Sabbath but he also called God his own father, making himself equal to God. Jesus answered and said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, the Son cannot do anything on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for what he does, the Son will do also. For the Father loves the Son and shows him everything that he himself does, and he will show him greater works than these, so that you may be amazed. For just as the Father raises the dead and gives life, so also does the Son give life to whomever he wishes.

Nor does the Father judge anyone, but he has given all judgment to the Son, so that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes in the one who sent me has eternal life and will not come to condemnation, but has passed from death to life. Amen, amen, I say to you, the hour is coming and is now here when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in himself, so also he gave to the Son the possession of life in himself.

And he gave him power to exercise judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not be amazed at this, because the hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and will come out, those who have done good deeds to the resurrection of life, but those who have done wicked deeds to the resurrection of condemnation. “I cannot do anything on my own; I judge as I hear, and my judgment is just, because I do not seek my own will but the will of the one who sent me.”

One of the most painful moments in the history of Israel was their exile to Babylon. At that time they felt that Yahweh had abandoned them. The prophets, especially Isaiah, was sent to remind them that it was because they had been unfaithful to the Covenant that the Lord God had punished them. But only for a while. The anger of God is but a while. Isaiah then tells the Israelites that they will be restored to their homeland. They will have a “homecoming!“

In a beautiful hymn Isaiah sings: “Can a woman forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child of her womb?“ Yes, indeed, the Lord does punish us for our sins, but in the end His mercy endures. Lent is the time when we are reminded of our sins and at the same time it is a time to remember that our God invites us back to return to Him. Lent is the “favorable time“ for the return of “prodigal sons and daughters“ to the Father’s house. It is time for a “homecoming!“

March 31st

1st Reading: Ex 32:7-14:
Then Yahweh said to Moses, “Go down at once, for your people, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. They have quickly turned from the way I commanded them and have made for themselves a molten calf; they have bowed down before it and sacrificed to it and said: ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you out of Egypt.’” And Yahweh said to Moses, “I see that these people are a stiff-necked people. Now just leave me that my anger may blaze against them. I will destroy them, but of you I will make a great nation.”

But Moses calmed the anger of Yahweh, his God, and said, “Why, O Yahweh, should your anger burst against your people whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with such great power and with a mighty hand? Let not the Egyptians say: ‘Yahweh brought them out with evil intent, for he wanted to kill them in the mountains and wipe them from the face of the earth.’ Turn away from the heat of your anger and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember your servants, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and the promise you yourself swore: I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land I spoke about I will give to them as an everlasting inheritance.” Yahweh then changed his mind and would not yet harm his people.

Gospel: Jn 5:31-47:
Jesus said to the Jews:
“If I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is not true. But there is another who testifies on my behalf, and I know that the testimony he gives on my behalf is true. You sent emissaries to John, and he testified to the truth. I do not accept human testimony, but I say this so that you may be saved. He was a burning and shining lamp, and for a while you were content to rejoice in his light. But I have testimony greater than John’s. The works that the Father gave me to accomplish, these works that I perform testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me. Moreover, the Father who sent me has testified on my behalf.

“But you have never heard his voice nor seen his form, and you do not have his word remaining in you, because you do not believe in the one whom he has sent. You search the Scriptures, because you think you have eternal life through them; even they testify on my behalf. But you do not want to come to me to have life. I do not accept human praise; moreover, I know that you do not have the love of God in you. I came in the name of my Father, but you do not accept me; yet if another comes in his own name, you will accept him.

“How can you believe, when you accept praise from one another and do not seek the praise that comes from the only God? Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father: the one who will accuse you is Moses, in whom you have placed your hope. For if you had believed Moses, you would have believed me, because he wrote about me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?”

Today’s first reading is all about God getting angry and calming down after a while. And similar scenes are described many times throughout the Bible, so much so that many Christians are afraid of God the Father—not Jesus, only of his angry Father. But what exactly does the Bible mean to say here? Simply that anything that harms humans is incompatible with God’s will, who loves all humans as his children. And this incompatibility is expressed by stating that some things make God angry. But this way of speaking is only a metaphor, because God is not in time and cannot change.

Nothing can affect him because, as the philosophers say, he is Pure Act. He cannot be calm, get angry, and become calm again—all things which require time, and there is no past-present-future in God. But we are affected by God’s so called anger if we have caused it, because this means that we have harmed a fellow human. As long as we do not repent of it, we will not be in a right relationship with God. There is no anger in God, only pure love.

April 1st

1st Reading: Wis 2:1a, 12-22:
Led by mistaken reasons they think, “Life is short and sad and there is no cure for death. Let us set a trap for the righteous, for he annoys us and opposes our way of life; he reproaches us for our breaches of the law and accuses us of being false to our upbringing. He claims knowledge of God and calls himself son of the Lord. He has become a reproach to our way of thinking; even to meet him is burdensome to us. He does not live like others and behaves strangely. According to him we have low standards, so he keeps aloof from us as if we were unclean. He emphasizes the happy end of the righteous and boasts of having God as father.

“Let us see the truth of what he says and find out what his end will be. If the righteous is a son of God, God will defend him and deliver him from his adversaries. Let us humble and torture him to prove his self-control and test his patience. When we have condemned him to a shameful death, we may test his words.” This is the way they reason, but they are mistaken, blinded by their malice. They do not know the mysteries of God nor do they hope for the reward of a holy life; they do not believe that the blameless will be recompensed.

Gospel: Jn 7:1-2, 10, 25-30:
After this, Jesus went around Galilee; he would not go about in Judea, because the Jews wanted to kill him. Now the Jewish feast of the Tents was at hand. But after his brothers had gone to the festival, he also went up, not publicly but in secret. Some of the people of Jerusalem said, “Is this not the man they want to kill? And here he is speaking freely, and they don’t say a word to him? Can it be, that the rulers know that this is really the Christ?

Yet we know where this man comes from; but when the Christ appears, no one will know where he comes from.” So Jesus announced in a loud voice in the temple court where he was teaching, “You say that you know me and know where I come from! I have not come of myself; I was sent by the One who is true, and you don’t know him. I know him, for I come from him, and he sent me.” They would have arrested him, but no one laid hands on him because his time had not yet come.

Like many stories in the Bible, the story of Cain and Abel epitomizes a universal characteristic of human nature. In this case it is the fact that a person’s genuine goodness produces in others a reaction of violent rejection. Of Abel, the Bible says that, on the occasion when he made an offering to God, he “brought one of the best firstlings of his flock” (Gen 4:4). This is not said of Cain’s offering. In fact, since God did not accept it, the Bible hints that Cain had offered only his second best fruit of the soil. “Cain greatly resented this,” the text adds.

And, as the story unfolds, we see that Cain’s hate for Abel brings him to murder Abel. In both of today’s readings we see at work the same typical reaction of hate when someone is confronted with genuine goodness: in the Book of Wisdom we see evil men plotting the death of a righteous man, and in John’s gospel we see how the enemies of Jesus are plotting to kill him. Why this negative reaction on the part of evil men? Because, by contrast, genuine goodness shows them for what they are. And who wants to see how ugly one is?

April 2nd

St. Francis of Paola

1st Reading: Jer 11:18-20:
Yahweh made it known to me and so I know! And you let me see their scheming: “Take care, even your kinsfolk and your own family are false with you, and behind your back they freely criticize you. Do not trust them when they approach you in a friendly way.” But I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter. I did not know it was against me that they were plotting, “Let us feed him with trials and remove him from the land of the living and let his name never be mentioned again.” Yahweh, God of Hosts, you who judge with justice and know everyone’s heart and intentions, let me see your vengeance on them, for to you I have entrusted my cause.

Gospel: Jn 7:40-53:
Many who had been listening to these words began to say, “This is the Prophet.” Others said, “This is the Christ.” But some wondered, “Would the Christ come from Galilee? Doesn’t Scripture say that the Christ is a descendant of David and from Bethlehem, the city of David?” The crowd was divided over him. Some wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him. The officers of the temple went back to the chief priests, who asked them, “Why didn’t you bring him?” The officers answered, “No one ever spoke like this man.”

The Pharisees then said, “So you, too, have been led astray! Have any of the rulers or any of the Pharisees believed in him? Only these cursed people, who have no knowledge of the law!” Yet one of them, Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier, spoke out, “Does our law condemn people without first hearing them and knowing the facts?” They replied, “Do you, too, come from Galilee? Look it up and see for yourself that no prophet is to come from Galilee.” And they all went home.

Nicodemus is a minor figure in the New Testament, but an interesting one because, although he appears only three times on the gospel scene, we can witness how he gradually evolved from being an honest coward to being a courageous believer. Nicodemus is first mentioned in John’s gospel when he comes at night to investigate Jesus (Jn 3). Since he interviews Jesus at night, it is obviously because he does not want to be seen in public with him. As member of the Sanhedrin, he cannot risk his reputation of impartiality, prudence, loyalty to the Law.

Our Nicodemus is cautious, circumspect, timid. He is definitely a coward, but an honest one since he does go to the trouble of interviewing Jesus. Ironically, the name Nicodemus in Greek means “conqueror of the people.” Then, in today’s gospel episode, we see Nicodemus timidly defending the right of Jesus to a fair hearing. And he is insulted for this. Finally, we see Nicodemus helping Joseph of Arimathea bury Jesus (Jn 19:39). He even provides a large and costly quantity of spices for this. At this point we suspect that the honest coward has become an honest and courageous believer.