Bible Diary for May 29th – June 4th

May 29th

7th Sunday of Easter
Feast of the Ascension of the Lord

1st Reading: Acts 1:1-11:
In the first part of my work, Theophilus, I wrote of all that Jesus did and taught, from the beginning until the day when he ascended to heaven. But first he had instructed, through the Holy Spirit, the apostles he had chosen. After his passion, he presented himself to them, giving many signs, that he was alive; over a period of forty days he appeared to them and taught them concerning the kingdom of God. Once, when he had been eating with them, he told them, “Do not leave Jerusalem but wait for the fulfillment of the Father’s promise about which I have spoken to you: John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit within a few days.”

When they had come together, they asked him, “Is it now that you will restore the kingdom of Israel?” And he answered, “It is not for you to know the time and the steps that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, even to the ends of the earth.” After Jesus said this, he was taken up before their eyes and a cloud hid him from their sight. While they were still looking up to heaven, where he went, suddenly, two men dressed in white stood beside them and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking up at the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will return in the same way as you have seen him go there.”

2nd Reading: Heb 9:24-28; 10:19-23:
Christ did not enter some sanctuary made by hands, a copy of the true one, but heaven itself. He is now in the presence of God, on our behalf. He had not to offer himself many times, as the high priest does: he, who, may return every year, because the blood is not his own. Otherwise, he would have suffered many times, from the creation of the world. But no; he manifested himself only now, at the end of the ages, to take away sin by sacrifice, and, as humans die only once, and afterward are judged, in the same way, Christ sacrificed himself, once to take away the sins of the multitude.

There will be no further question of sin, when he comes again, to save those waiting for him. So, my friends, we are assured of entering the Sanctuary, by the blood of Jesus who opened, for us, this new and living way, passing through the curtain, that is, his body. Because we have a high priest in charge of the house of God, let us approach, with a sincere heart, with full faith, interiorly cleansed from a bad conscience, and our bodies washed, with pure water. Let us hold fast to our hope, without wavering, because he, who promised, is faithful.

Gospel: Lk 24:46-53:
“So it was written: the Messiah had to suffer, and on the third day rise from the dead. Then repentance and forgiveness in his name would be proclaimed to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. And you are witnesses of these things. And that is why I will send you what my Father promised. So remain in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” Jesus led them almost as far as Bethany; then he lifted up his hands and blessed them. And as he blessed them, he withdrew, and was taken to heaven. They worshiped him, and then returned to Jerusalem full of joy; and they were continually in the temple, praising God.

It is revealing to hear the Apostles, in today’s first reading, ask Jesus: “Is it now that you will restore the kingdom of Israel?” In other words, these men are dreaming of political power. Even after they followed Jesus for three years, saw him shun any publicity about his Messiahship, declare to Pilate that his kingdom was not of this world, they stubbornly refuse to accept the idea that God is not interested in political power or in any other form of coercive power. His power is the power of love, nothing else. Here one can only admire the restrained reaction of Jesus to such a total incomprehension concerning his mission and their role in it.

At the same time, when the Spirit descends on them on the day of Pentecost, all this nonsense about political power is completely and permanently brushed aside like unsightly cobwebs. That is what the Spirit can do to each one of us: transform us from well-intentioned but blind slobs into people deeply in love with God and completely attuned to God’s values. What the teaching of Jesus, sublime as it was, could not achieve in three years, the Spirit achieved at one stroke. Let us ask the Spirit to change us as he changed the power-hungry apostles at one stroke. Let us examine the way we exercise our power over others in our various social roles. Do we try to dominate or do we endeavor to serve?

May 30th

St. Joan of Arc

1st Reading: Acts 19:1-8:
While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul traveled through the interior of the country and came to Ephesus. There, he found some disciples, whom he asked, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” They answered, “We have not even heard that anyone may receive the Holy Spirit.” Paul then asked, “What kind of baptism have you received?” And they answered, “The baptism of John.” Paul then explained, “John’s baptism was for conversion, but he himself said they should believe in the one who was to come, and that one is Jesus.”

Upon hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Paul laid his hands on them and the Holy Spirit came down upon them; and they began to speak in tongues and to prophesy. There were about twelve of them in all. Paul went into the synagogue; and for three months he preached and discussed there boldly, trying to convince them about the kingdom of God.

Gospel: Jn 16:29-33:
The disciples said to him, “Now you are speaking plainly and not in veiled language! Now we see that you know all things, even before we question you. Because of this we believe that you came from God.” Jesus answered them, “You say that you believe? The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and you will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have told you all this, so that in me you may have peace. You will have trouble in the world; but, courage! I have overcome the world.”

In today’s gospel reading we see the disciples stating overconfidently: “Now we see… we believe.” As usual, they tend to take credit for what is a pure grace of God. And Jesus is very careful to dispel their illusions and take them down a peg or two. They think they are pillars of faith? Well, every single one of them (yes, even John, the favorite disciple!) will abandon him at the moment of his arrest and flee like scared rabbits. The least that can be said is that Jesus never nourished any illusion on his disciples’ personal strength of character. “Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me,” says Jesus in this gospel scene.

And elsewhere Jesus specifies why this is so, “because I always do what is pleasing to him” (Jn 8:29). In other words, the union of wills is the source of the Father and the Son’s unbreakable unity. And this means for us that, whenever we unite our will to God’s will and sincerely want to obey him, he is always with us—even if we might interpret his will wrongly. In the eyes of God, sincerely trying to please him is what counts the most decisively.

May 31st

Visitation of the Blessed Mary the Virgin

1st Reading: Zep 3:14-18a:
Cry out with joy, O daughter of Zion; rejoice, O people of Israel! Sing joyfully with all your heart, daughter of Jerusalem! Yahweh has lifted your sentence and has driven your enemies away. Yahweh, the King of Israel is with you; do not fear any misfortune. On that day, they will say to Jerusalem: Do not be afraid nor let your hands tremble, for Yahweh your God is within you, Yahweh, saving warrior. He will jump for joy on seeing you, for he has revived his love. For you he will cry out with joy, as you do in the days of the feast. I will drive away the evil I warned you about, and you will no longer be shamed.

Gospel: Lk 1:39-56:
Mary then set out for a town in the hill country of Judah. She entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leapt in her womb. Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and, giving a loud cry, said, “You are most blessed among women; and blessed is the fruit of your womb! How is it, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? The moment your greeting sounded in my ears, the baby within me suddenly leapt for joy. Blessed are you, who believed that the Lord’s word would come true!”

And Mary said, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit exults in God, my savior! He has looked upon his servant, in her lowliness, and people, forever, will call me blessed. The Mighty One has done great things for me, Holy is his Name! From age to age, his mercy extends to those who live in his presence. He has acted with power and done wonders, and scattered the proud with their plans. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and lifted up those who are downtrodden. He has filled the hungry with good things, but has sent the rich away empty. He held out his hand to Israel, his servant, for he remembered his mercy, even as he promised to our fathers, to Abraham and his descendants forever.” Mary remained with Elizabeth about three months, and then returned home.

In ancient Israel the king could choose any of his sons to be king because there was as yet no special right of the first-born son to succeed his father. And the king had a wide choice because his harem could contain any number of wives and concubines, all eager to have one of their sons chosen. However, once the king had announced his choice, the particular wife or concubine who happened to be the mother of the chosen son officially became the Gebira or Great Lady (Queen Mother), that is, “the mother of my lord,” the king.

In today’s gospel reading we hear Elizabeth saying to Mary, “how is it that the mother of my Lord comes to me?” Obviously, she is fully aware that Mary is carrying in her womb the Messiah-King. And so, quite logically she marvels that the Great Lady, the Queen Mother should visit her. Well, for the next three months this Queen Mother served her cousin like a simple charwoman, no doubt taking on herself the heaviest domestic chores, since old Elizabeth could no longer perform them in her advanced state of pregnancy. Jesus said of himself that he had come to serve (Mt 10: 45), although he is our king. It was only fitting that his mother make herself a mere servant.

June 1st

St. Justin

1st Reading: Acts 20:28-38:
“Keep watch over yourselves, and over the whole flock the Holy Spirit has placed into your care. Shepherd the Church of the Lord that he has won, at the price of his own blood. I know that, after I leave, ruthless wolves will come among you and not spare the flock. And, from among you, some will arise, corrupting the truth, and inducing the disciples to follow them. Be on the watch, therefore, remembering that, for three years, night and day, I did not cease to warn everyone, even with tears. Now, I commend you to God, and to his grace filled word, which is able to make you grow and gain the inheritance that you shall share with all the saints.

“I have not looked for anyone’s silver, gold or clothing. You, yourselves, know, that these hands of mine have provided for both my needs and the needs of those who were with me. In every way, I have shown you that by working hard one must help the weak, remembering the words that the Lord Jesus himself said, ‘Happiness lies more in giving than in receiving.’” After this discourse, Paul knelt down with them and prayed. Then, they all began to weep and threw their arms around him and kissed him. They were deeply distressed because he had said that they would never see him again. And they went with him even to the ship.

Gospel: Jn 17:11b-19:
Holy Father, keep those you have given me in your name, so that they may be one, as we also are. When I was with them, I kept them safe in your name; and not one was lost, except the one who was already lost, and in this, the Scripture was fulfilled. And now I come to you; in the world I speak these things, so that those whom you gave me, might have joy—all my joy within themselves.

I have given them your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world, I do not ask you to remove them from the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Consecrate them in the truth. Your word is truth. I have sent them into the world as you sent me into the world; and for their sake, I go to the sacrifice by which I am consecrated, so that they too may be consecrated in truth.

In today’s gospel reading Jesus says about his followers something very important but which is not easy to understand correctly. On the one hand, he says to his Father, “I do not ask you to remove them from the world,” meaning that as a rule his followers will be ordinary people raising kids and making a living—not hermits or monks or solitaires living apart from the world. But, on the other hand, twice he insists in saying, “They are not of the world.” So here he clearly draws a line between his followers and the rest of the people living in the world.

His followers are not of the world, meaning that their values are completely different from the values of the world. In other words, they value forgiveness (not vengeance), respect for life (not abortion), conjugal fidelity (not divorce), premarital chastity (not sexual promiscuity), self-denial (not self-promotion), truthfulness (not lies), etc. For example, Christians profess what Jesus in today’s gospel reading is reported to have taught (and which is not found in the gospels): “Happiness lies more in giving than in receiving.” Our values are very different from those of the world, and our mission is to convince the world that our values bring true happiness. It is a great mission.

June 2nd

Sts. Marcellinus and Peter

1st Reading: Acts 22:30; 23:6-11:
Wishing to determine the truth about why Paul was being accused by the Jews, the commander freed him and ordered the chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin to convene. Then he brought Paul down and made him stand before them. Paul was aware that some were Sadducees and some Pharisees, so he called out before the Sanhedrin, “My brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of Pharisees; I am on trial for hope in the resurrection of the dead.” When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and Sadducees, and the group became divided. For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection or angels or spirits, while the Pharisees acknowledge all three.

A great uproar occurred, and some scribes belonging to the Pharisee party stood up and sharply argued, “We find nothing wrong with this man. Suppose a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?” The dispute was so serious that the commander, afraid that Paul would be torn to pieces by them, ordered his troops to go down and rescue Paul from their midst and take him into the compound. The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage. For just as you have borne witness to my cause in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness in Rome.”

Gospel: Jn 17:20-26:
“I pray not only for these, but also for those who through their word will believe in me. May they all be one, as you Father are in me and I am in you. May they be one in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory you have given me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. Thus they shall reach perfection in unity; and the world shall know that you have sent me, and that I have loved them, just as you loved me.

“Father, since you have given them to me, I want them to be with me where I am, and see the glory you gave me, for you loved me before the foundation of the world. Righteous Father, the world has not known you, but I have known you, and these have known that you have sent me. As I revealed your name to them, so will I continue to reveal it, so that the love with which you loved me may be in them, and I also may be in them.”

The background of today’s first reading is this. For many long centuries in Israel there was no belief in a real and positive afterlife, in a Heaven of bliss in God’s company. The Jews were convinced that after death everybody went down to the Sheol, a dark and gloomy place situated in the middle of the earth. This belief is all the more surprising that, living more than 400 years in Egypt, they were exposed to the Egyptians’ belief in an afterlife lived with the gods and which was a pleasant continuation of the present life.

Perhaps the Jews resisted these beliefs precisely because they were pagan beliefs… At any rate this rejection of a happy afterlife continued until the 2nd century B.C., when the death of many martyrs convinced Daniel (12:1-3) and others (2 Mac 12:38-46) that these martyrs deserved to live with God forever. But at the time of Jesus the more conservative Jews (the Sadducees) who accepted only the Pentateuch as Scripture, still rejected the idea of a blissful afterlife. And Paul, as we see in today’s first reading, astutely uses this doctrinal rift between Pharisees and Sadducees to save himself from prison. To know that a happy afterlife awaits us is one of our greatest blessings indeed.

June 3rd

Sts. Charles Lwanga and Companions
St. Kevin of Glendalough

1st Reading: Acts 25:13b-21:
As they were to stay there several days, Festus told the king about Paul’s case, and said to him, “We have here, a man, whom Felix left as a prisoner. When I was in Jerusalem, the chief priests, and the elders of the Jews, accused him, and asked me to sentence him. I told them, that it is not the custom of the Romans to hand over a man, without giving him an opportunity to defend himself in front of his accusers. So they came, and I took my seat, without delay, on the tribunal, and sent for the man.

“When the accusers had the floor, they did not accuse him of any of the crimes that I was led to think he had committed; instead, they quarreled with him, about religion, and about a certain Jesus, who has died, but whom Paul asserted to be alive. I did not know what to do about this case, so I asked Paul if he wanted to go to Jerusalem, to be tried there. But Paul appealed, to be judged by the emperor. So I ordered, that he be kept in custody until I send him to Caesar.”

Gospel: Jn 21:15-19:
After they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these do?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” And Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” A second time Jesus said to him, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” And Peter answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Look after my sheep.” And a third time he said to him, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was saddened because Jesus asked him a third time, “Do you love me?” and he said, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus then said, “Feed my sheep! Truly, I say to you, when you were young, you put on your belt and walked where you liked. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will put a belt around you, and lead you where you do not wish to go.” Jesus said this to make known the kind of death by which Peter was to glorify God. And he added, “Follow me!”

In today’s gospel reading we hear that three times Jesus asks Peter, “do you love me?”, and upon Peter’s strong positive answer, what does Jesus say? “I love you, Peter?” or “I forgive you your betrayal of last week, Peter?” No, Jesus turns Peter’s attention away from both of them and towards Peter’s brothers: “Take care of my flock, Peter.” At this point we can reflect on ourselves and on our relationship with Jesus. Like Peter, we are Jesus’ ardent followers. But, also like Peter, we have betrayed Jesus many times by not living out faithfully all his teachings.

So much so that we are ashamed of ourselves. But Jesus, as in the case of Peter, gives us an opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to him. He asks us, “Jim, Faye, Brian, Diane—do you love me?” Then after reassuring him that we do love him, although badly, what does he tell us? “Take care of my flock.” In other words, the best way to express our love for Jesus is to continue doing what we are doing: raising our kids, earning a decent living, earning a degree, serving our neighbor in need. Let us do this with our whole heart and Jesus will never leave our side.

June 4th

1st Reading: Acts 28:16-20, 30-31:
When he entered Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with the soldier who was guarding him. Three days later he called together the leaders of the Jews. When they had gathered he said to them, “My brothers, although I had done nothing against our people or our ancestral customs, I was handed over to the Romans as a prisoner from Jerusalem. After trying my case the Romans wanted to release me, because they found nothing against me deserving the death penalty.

But when the Jews objected, I was obliged to appeal to Caesar, even though I had no accusation to make against my own nation. This is the reason, then, I have requested to see you and to speak with you, for it is on account of the hope of Israel that I wear these chains.” He remained for two full years in his lodgings. He received all who came to him, and with complete assurance and without hindrance he proclaimed the Kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.

Gospel: Jn 21:20-25:
Peter looked back and saw that the disciple Jesus loved was following as well, the one who had reclined close to Jesus at the supper, and had asked him, “Lord, who is to betray you?” On seeing him, Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain until I come, is that any concern of yours? Follow me!” Because of this, the rumor spread in the community that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to Peter, “He will not die,” but, “Suppose I want him to remain until I come back, what concern is that of yours?” It is this disciple who testifies about the things and has written these things down, and we know that his testimony is true. But Jesus did many other things; if all were written down, I think the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.

The passage is the last part of John’s gospel. Peter would like to focus on John who reclined close to Jesus at Last Supper. How about him? Will he undergo the same? Jesus’ reply seems to mean it should not be his (Peter’s) concern. His concern should rather be following Jesus. The last paragraph introduces the gospel writer we know as John the Evangelist. He testifies or certifies that everything he has written in the gospel story is true. We understand the truth here as something to do for our salvation, not so much the accuracy of the data presented.

The writer limited his story to just a few episodes on the life of Jesus and that is enough for his audience. The reader or listener will come to know more about Jesus in the process when he is also doing God’s works and dying on his own cross for the love of Jesus. Each Christian should ask, “How about me?” What does Jesus want of me? The answer must be clear: “Follow Jesus.” Follow him as he is described in the gospel. Therefore, we must not stop reading and reflecting the gospel and acting accordingly.