Bible Diary for March 6th – 12th

March 6th

1st Sunday of Lent
St. Colette

1st Reading: Dt 26:4-10:
Then the priest shall take the large basket from your hands and place it before the altar of Yahweh, your God, and you shall say these words before Yahweh, “My father was a wandering Aramean. He went down to Egypt to find refuge there, while still few in number; but in that country, he became a great and powerful nation. The Egyptians maltreated us, oppressed us and subjected us to harsh slavery. So we called to Yahweh, the God of our ancestors, and Yahweh listened to us.

“He saw our humiliation, our hard labor and the oppression to which we were subjected. He brought us out of Egypt with a firm hand, manifesting his power with signs and awesome wonders. And he brought us here to give us this land flowing with milk and honey. So now I bring and offer the first fruits of the land which you, Yahweh, have given me.”

2nd Reading: Rom 10:8-13:
True righteousness, coming from faith, also says: The word of God is near you, on your lips and in your hearts. This is the message that we preach, and this is faith. You are saved, if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord, and, in your heart, you believe that God raised him from the dead. By believing from the heart, you obtain true righteousness; by confessing the faith with your lips, you are saved. For Scripture says: No one who believes in him will be ashamed. Here, there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; all have the same Lord, who is very generous with whoever calls on him. Truly, all who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.

Gospel: Lk 4:1-13:
Jesus was now full of the Holy Spirit. As he returned from the Jordan, the Spirit led him into the desert, where he was tempted by the devil for forty days. He did not eat anything during that time, and at the end he was hungry. The devil then said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to turn into bread.” But Jesus answered, “Scripture says: People cannot live on bread alone.” Then the devil took him up to a high place, and showed him, in a flash, all the nations of the world. And he said to Jesus, “I can give you power over all the nations; and their wealth will be yours; for power and wealth have been delivered to me; and I give them to whom I wish. All this will be yours, provided you worship me.”

But Jesus replied, “Scripture says: You shall worship the Lord your God and serve him alone.” Then the devil took him up to Jerusalem, and set him on the highest wall of the temple; and he said, “If you are God’s Son, throw yourself down from here; for it is written: God will order his angels to take care of you; and again: They will hold you in their hands, lest you hurt your foot on the stones.” But Jesus replied, “It is written: You shall not challenge the Lord your God.” When the devil had exhausted every way of tempting Jesus, he left him, to return another time.

Today’s gospel reading presents Jesus being tempted in the desert “for forty days,” as Luke specifies, thus hinting that the three temptations he reports are only a sampling of many similar temptations. The fact that Jesus was tempted should reassure us that there is nothing intrinsically wrong in being tempted. What is wrong is to give in to temptation. But temptations can be excellent for our spiritual health. In fact, in its presentation of James’ letter, The New American Bible has a big caption which reads: “THE VALUE OF TRIALS AND TEMPTATIONS.”

So! Temptations are valuable for our Christian life—provided certain conditions are met on our part, such as the following ones: we must be fundamentally oriented towards Christ, we try to lead a disciplined life of good habits and solid virtues, we avoid what could be a source of temptation for us (different for each person), we reveal our temptations to an experienced Christian who can guide us in the future, we resist a temptation by simply occupying our minds with something more interesting, we study our week points (sensuality, pride, laziness, etc.) and actively work to improve them. If we do our share in this work, God will do the rest. Let us ask the Lord to strengthen us when we are tempted. Today try to unearth your greatest weakness and try to devise a sound strategy to deal with it.

March 7th

Sts. Perpetua and Felicity

1st Reading: Lv 19:1-2, 11-18:
The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the whole assembly of the children of Israel and tell them: Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy. You shall not steal. You shall not lie or speak falsely to one another. You shall not swear falsely by my name, thus profaning the name of your God. I am the Lord. You shall not defraud or rob your neighbor. You shall not withhold overnight the wages of your day laborer. You shall not curse the deaf, or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but you shall fear your God.

“I am the Lord. You shall not act dishonestly in rendering judgment. Show neither partiality to the weak nor deference to the mighty, but judge your fellow men justly. You shall not go about spreading slander among your kin; nor shall you stand by idly when your neighbor’s life is at stake. I am the Lord. You shall not bear hatred for your brother in your heart. Though you may have to reprove him, do not incur sin because of him. Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your fellow countrymen. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.”

Gospel: Mt 25:31-46:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory with all his angels, he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be brought before him; and, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, so will he do with them, placing the sheep on his right hand and the goats on his left. The king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, blessed of my Father! Take possession of the kingdom prepared for you from the beginning of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger, and you welcomed me into your home. I was naked, and you clothed me. I was sick, and you visited me. I was in prison, and you came to see me.’

“Then the righteous will ask him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, and give you food; thirsty, and give you something to drink; or a stranger, and welcome you; or naked, and clothe you? When did we see you sick, or in prison, and go to see you?’ The king will answer, ‘Truly I say to you: just as you did it for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Go, cursed people, out of my sight, into the eternal fire, which has been prepared for the devil and his angels!

“‘For I was hungry, and you did not give me anything to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not welcome me into your house; I was naked, and you did not clothe me; I was sick, and in prison, and you did not visit me.’ They, too, will ask, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, thirsty, naked or a stranger, sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ The king will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you: just as you did not do it for one of the least of these, you did not do it for me.’ And these will go into eternal punishment; but the just, to eternal life.”

“Love your neighbor as yourself.” This injunction of God, as we find it in today’s first reading, may sound baffling to some Christians who wrongly equate love of self with selfishness. But those are in reality two quite different—and opposite—loves. This is how it all works out. Our selves are created by God, who declares them “very good” (Gen 1:31). Therefore, ourselves deserve to be loved, because they are indeed lovable. Unfortunately, sin destroyed the harmony existing within the self. The self was fractured into two selves from then on: one of these retained its natural goodness, its natural attraction to God as to the self’s supreme fulfillment.

Under God’s grace, that self gives itself more and more to its Creator and Lover. But the other fragmented part of man—let us call this his ego—remained stubbornly fixated in its rebellion against God, in its desire to be the center of the universe. Since the original sin of Adam and Eve, all humans are thus born with a fragmented inner nature having two sides, the self and the ego. Since then, each of us must choose between loving the good self-turned toward God and neighbor or loving the ego and becoming a monster of egoism. Thus the love of the self is highly desirable. It is the very opposite of ego-love or egotism.

March 8th

St. John of God

1st Reading: Is 55:10-11:
As the rain and the snow come down from the heavens and do not return till they have watered the earth, making it yield seed for the sower and food for others to eat, so is my word that goes forth out of my mouth: it will not return to me idle, but it shall accomplish my will, the purpose for which it has been sent.

Gospel: Mt 6:7-15:
When you pray, do not use a lot of words, as the pagans do; for they believe that, the more they say, the more chance they have of being heard. Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need, even before you ask him. This, then, is how you should pray: Our Father in heaven, holy be your name, your kingdom, come, your will, be done on earth, as in heaven. Give us today, our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we forgive those who are in debt to us. Do not bring us to the test, but deliver us from the evil one. If you forgive others their wrongdoings, your Father in heaven will also forgive yours. If you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive you.

“Do not bring us to the test.” As they stand in today’s gospel reading, these words do not make much sense. First of all, the Greek text speaks here of peirasmos. This word can mean “test” (33 times in the New Testament) or “temptation” (21 times in the New Testament). Here it can hardly mean “test” because James (1:2-4) tells us that the testing of our faith is an excellent thing, certainly not something to be protected from. Consequently, the text becomes “do not bring us into temptation.”

But this makes no theological sense because surely God would not want to tempt us to sin, and so we should not have to ask him not to do such a thing! The only valid translation for this sixth petition of the Our Father is based on the Hebrew meaning of the expression “bring” as equivalent to “make enter into, make consent.” With the negation (“do not”) placed at the right place, the request becomes something like this: keep us from giving in to temptation, do not let us give in to temptation, see to it that we do not give in to temptation—or some equivalent formula. This request makes perfect sense. We ask God to protect us from our abysmal weakness.

March 9th

St. Frances of Rome

1st Reading: Jon 3:1-10:
The word of Yahweh came to Jonah a second time: “Go to Nineveh, the great city, and announce to them the message I give you.” In obedience to the word of Yahweh, Jonah went to Nineveh. It was a very large city, and it took three days just to cross it. So Jonah walked a single day’s journey and began proclaiming, “Forty days more and Nineveh will be destroyed.” The people of the city believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. Upon hearing the news, the king of Nineveh got up from his throne, took off his royal robe, put on sackcloth and sat down in ashes.

He issued a proclamation throughout Nineveh: “By the decree of the king and his nobles, no people or beasts, herd or flock, will taste anything; neither will they eat nor drink. But let people and beasts be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call aloud to God, turn from his evil ways and violence. Who knows? God may yet relent, turn from his fierce anger and spare us.” When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not carry out the destruction he had threatened upon them.

Gospel: Lk 11:29-32:
As the crowd increased, Jesus spoke the following words: “People of the present time are troubled people. They ask for a sign, but no sign will be given to them except the sign of Jonah. As Jonah became a sign for the people of Nineveh, so will the Son of Man be a sign for this generation. The Queen of the South will rise up on Judgment Day with the people of these times and accuse them, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and here, there is greater than Solomon. The people of Nineveh will rise up on Judgment Day with the people of these times and accuse them, for Jonah’s preaching made them turn from their sins, and here, there is greater than Jonah.

Today’s two readings both emphasize the need for repentance. And the time of Lent is a time when we should examine our lives and try to make them better lives by eliminating whatever sinful habits may have crept into them without our being too much aware of it. Now for some people it is easy to put a name on their most glaring failures: adulterous relationship, mean gossip, drunken sprees, drugs, slandering talk, etc. Their work is all cut out for them, if they seriously want to repent and reform their lives.

But for many good Christians, who try hard to please God in all things, it is a real challenge to find something to repent about—or so they honestly think. Well, here maybe we could mention a very common sin and one which is hardly ever confessed or repented. What is that common sin? It is the sin of ingratitude. We are all constantly showered by God with countless gifts (our five senses to start with, our family and friends, the Christian faith, etc.) and we hardly ever remember to say: Thank you, Lord! Let us change all that during this Lent.

March 10th

1st Reading: Est C:12, 14-16, 23-25:
Seized with anguish in her fear of death, queen Esther likewise had recourse to the Lord. Then she prayed to the Lord God of Israel: My Lord, you who stand alone, come to my help; I am alone and have no help but you. Through my own choice I am endangering my life. As a child I was wont to hear from the people of the land of my forebears that you, O Lord, chose Israel from among all people, and our fathers from among their ancestors to be your lasting heritage; that you did for them, all that you have promised. Remember us, Lord; reveal yourself in the time of our calamity. Give me courage, King of gods and master of all power. Make my words persuasive when I face the lion; turn his heart against our enemy, that the latter and his like may be brought to their end. Save us by your hand; help me who am alone and have none but you, O Lord.

Gospel: Mt 7:7-12:
Ask, and you will receive; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened. For everyone who asks, receives; whoever seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Would any of you give a stone to your son, when he asks for bread? Or give him a snake, when he asks for a fish? However bad you may be, you know how to give good things to your children. How much more, then, will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him! So, do to others whatever you would that others do to you: there, you have the law and the prophets.

Today’s gospel reading ends with what has been called over the centuries the Golden Rule: “Do to others whatever you would want that others do to you. There you have the law and the prophets.” In other words, this command of Jesus summarizes the whole Bible and the whole will of God in a nutshell. However, it is easy to misunderstand this Golden rule in the direction of the self-serving motto: smile at the world and the world will smile back at you. This would completely betray the intention of Jesus. We do not treat other people well so that other people treat us well in return.

This Golden Rule is what we call in highbrow talk a heuristic principle—from the Greek verb heuriskein, to find. It works like this. In order to find out how to love my neighbor in a particular situation, I ask myself this question: if I were presently in my neighbor’s shoes what would I want people do to me? The answer will then come out loud and clear: help me carry this load, give me your seat, help me with this income tax form, babysit my kids, etc. Then I will treat the other person as I would want to be treated in his/ her situation. The Golden Rule is a quick way to find out how to love.

March 11th

1st Reading: Ezk 18:21-28:
If the sinner turns from his sin, observes my decrees and practices what is right and just, he will live; he will not die. None of the sins he committed will be charged against him; he will live, as a consequence of his righteous deeds. Do I want the death of the sinner?—word of Yahweh. Do I not, rather, want him to turn from his ways and live? But if the righteous man turns away from what is good, and commits sins as the wicked do, will he live?

His righteous deeds will no longer be credited to him; but he will die, because of his infidelity and his sins. But you say: Yahweh’s way is not just! Why, Israel! Is my position wrong? Is it not rather that yours is wrong? If the righteous man turns from his righteous deeds, and sins, then he dies, because of his sins. And if the wicked man does what is good and right, after turning from the sins he committed, he will save his life. He will live and not die, because he has opened his eyes; and turned from the sins he had committed.

Gospel: Mt 5:20-26:
I tell you, if your sense of right and wrong is not keener than that of the Lawyers and the Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. You have heard, that it was said to our people in the past: Do not commit murder; anyone who murders will have to face trial. But now, I tell you: whoever gets angry with a brother or sister will have to face trial. Whoever insults a brother or sister is liable, to be brought before the council. Whoever calls a brother or sister “Fool!” is liable, of being thrown into the fire of hell.

So, if you are about to offer your gift at the altar, and you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there, in front of the altar; go at once, and make peace with your brother, and then come back and offer your gift to God. Don’t forget this: be reconciled with your opponent quickly when you are together on the way to court. Otherwise he will turn you over to the judge, who will hand you over to the police, who will put you in jail. There, you will stay, until you have paid the last penny.

There is something quite remarkable in the words of Jesus as we hear them in today’s gospel reading. There Jesus imagines a mini-drama going on in someone’s mind—let us call him Shimon. Well, Shimon has decided to bring a young lamb to the temple and there to offer it in thanksgiving for the birth of a healthy son. However, on his way to the temple he suddenly remembers that his neighbor, Dan, gave him the cold shoulder that morning by not reacting to his greetings.

Obviously Dan has some grievance against him. What is it? Shimon has no idea. What to do now? Well, Jesus tells him, forget about the temple offering. What is more important than rituals is the moral life (“do good and avoid evil”). Go first and mend your fences with Dan. Make peace with him first. That is much more important than any liturgical action. Once you made peace with Dan, then you can take care of your offering. Few Christians understand this. They think that the Mass is more important than relationships. It is not. The love of neighbor will always be more important (and much, much more difficult) than going to church.

March 12th

1st Reading: Dt 26:16-19:
On this day, Yahweh, your God, commands you to fulfill these norms and these commandments. Obey them now and put them into practice with all your heart and with all your soul. Today Yahweh has declared to you that he will be your God, and so you shall follow his ways, observing his norms, his commandments and his laws, and listening to his voice. Today Yahweh has declared that you will be his very own people even as he had promised you, and you must obey all his commandments. He, for his part, will give you honor, renown and glory, and set you high above all the nations he has made, and you will become a nation consecrated to Yahweh, your God, as he has declared.

Gospel: Mt 5:43-48:
You have heard, that it was said: Love your neighbor and do not do good to your enemy. But this I tell you: love your enemies; and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in Heaven. For he makes his sun rise on both the wicked and the good; and he gives rain to both the just and the unjust. If you love those who love you, what is special about that? Do not even tax collectors do as much? And if you are friendly only to your friends, what is so exceptional about that? Do not even the pagans do as much? As for you, be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

To many Christians Jesus’ injunction to love our enemies appears to be an impossible demand on his part. “How can I love that bastard Joe and that bitch Jane when I feel like tearing them to shreds?” The operative word here is feel. Those Christians, brainwashed as they are by the media, are convinced that love is essentially a feeling. Now, since they feel only negative feelings toward their enemies, they cannot imagine how they can reverse those negative feelings into positive feelings merely on the strength of Jesus’ command.

And, of course, they cannot, and that is not what Jesus is asking them to do. But love is not basically a feeling. It is an act of the will—sometimes accompanied by positive feelings, but not always. This means that by a free act of my will I can ignore my negative feelings for Joe and Jane and force myself to love them in action. Here Luke’s version of these verses of Matthew is clear: “Do good to those who hate you… bless… pray… lend money” (Lk 6:27-36). These are all actions I can perform regardless of my negative feelings. And that is all Jesus asks of us: to love in action. And, if we do that, we will soon experience a change in our negative feelings.