Bible Diary for September 4th – September 10th
23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
1st Reading: Wis 9:13-18b:
Indeed, who can know the intentions of God? Who can discern the plan of the Lord? For human reasoning is timid, our notions misleading; a perishable body is a burden for the soul and our tent of clay weighs down the active mind. We are barely able to know about the things of earth and it is a struggle to understand what is close to us; who then may hope to understand heavenly things? Who has ever known your will unless you first gave him Wisdom and sent down your holy spirit to him? In this way you directed the human race on the right path; they learned what pleases you and were saved by Wisdom.
2nd Reading: Phlm 9-10, 12-17:
Yet I prefer to request you, in love. The one talking is Paul, the old man, now prisoner for Christ. And my request is on behalf of Onesimus, whose father I have become while I was in prison. In returning him to you, I am sending you my own heart. I would have liked to keep him at my side, to serve me, on your behalf, while I am in prison for the gospel, but I did not want to do anything without your agreement, nor impose a good deed upon you without your free consent. Perhaps Onesimus has been parted from you for a while so that you may have him back forever, no longer as a slave, but better than a slave. For he is a very dear brother to me, and he will be even dearer to you. And so, because of our friendship, receive him, as if he were I myself.
Gospel: Lk 14:25- 33:
One day, when large crowds were walking along with Jesus, he turned and said to them, “If you come to me, unwilling to sacrifice your love for your father and mother, your spouse and children, your brothers and sisters, and indeed yourself, you cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not follow me, carrying his own cross, cannot be my disciple. Do you build a house without first sitting down to count the cost, to see whether you have enough to complete it? Otherwise, if you, have laid the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone will make fun of you: ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’
And when a king wages war against another king, does he go to fight without first sitting down to consider whether his ten thousand can stand against the twenty thousand of his opponent? And if not, while the other is still a long way off, he sends messengers for peace talks. In the same way, none of you may become my disciple, if he doesn’t give up everything he has. However good the salt may be, if the salt has lost taste, you cannot make it salty again. It is fit for neither soil nor manure. Let them throw it away. Listen then, if you have ears!”
At the time of Paul, human slavery was universally practiced throughout the Roman Empire. People were bought and sold like any commodity. The Christians of the time, being a very small fraction of the population, were in no position to oppose slavery. If they had, they would antagonized the whole world against the Christian faith. Nevertheless, by treating slaves as “brothers” in the word of Paul as we have it in today’s second reading, they sowed a revolutionary seed which in time would uproot slavery. Now something must be said about the circumstances that led Paul to write to Philemon. The latter had a slave called Onesimus, who had run away and who had ended up in Rome, where under the influence of Paul, he converted to Christ.
Paul kept him on as an aid for a while, but decided to send him back to Philemon (to whom he still legally belonged), with the hope that Philemon would take him back, not just as a slave but as a brother in Christ. Paul could ask this of Philemon because the latter was himself a convert of Paul and, therefore, owed him the treasure of his Christian Faith. This letter is a masterpiece of a gentle tact which all of us should imitate in our dealings with each other. Let us ask the Lord to give us the courage to fight against all forms of enslavement. Today let us give our support to a cause promoting some form of freedom: freedom from drug abuse, child molestation, wife beating, prostitution, etc.
St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta
1st Reading: 1 Cor 5:1-8:
You have become news, with, a case of immorality, and such a case, that is not even found among pagans. Yes, one of you has taken, as wife, his own stepmother. And you feel proud! Should you not be in mourning, instead, and expel the one who did such a thing? For my part, although I am physically absent, my spirit is with you and, as if present, I have already passed sentence on the man who committed such a sin.
Let us meet together, you and my spirit, and in the name of our Lord Jesus, and with his power, you shall deliver him to Satan, for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit be saved in the day of Judgment. This is not the time to praise yourselves. Do you not know that a little yeast makes the whole mass of dough rise? Throw out, then, the old yeast and be new dough. If Christ became our Passover, you should be unleavened bread. Let us celebrate, therefore, the Passover, no longer with old yeast, which is sin and perversity; let us have unleavened bread, that is purity and sincerity.
Gospel: Lk 6:6-11:
On another Sabbath, Jesus entered the synagogue and began teaching. There was a man with a paralyzed right hand, and the teachers of the law and the Pharisees watched him: Would Jesus heal the man on the Sabbath? If he did, they could accuse him. But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to the man, “Get up, and stand in the middle.” Then he spoke to them, “I want to ask you: what is allowed by the law on the Sabbath? To do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?” And Jesus looked around at them all. Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored, becoming as healthy as the other. But they were furious, and began to discuss with one another how they could deal with Jesus.
At the time of Jesus, whenever a Pharisee was asked: “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good?” he would answer: “Not if it is work (except in immediate danger of death).” In other words, for him the ritual/legal order prevailed over the moral order. What was Jesus’ answer to the same question? “Yes, unconditionally, even when there is no danger of death, because the one thing that decides whether or not an action should be allowed on the Sabbath is its moral goodness.”
In other words, for Jesus the moral order prevails over the ritual/legal order. For him, it cannot be the meaning of the Sabbath precept to prohibit a morally good act such as an act of love, because the omission of a good action is itself evil. And the Sabbath rest was instituted only by reason of God’s loving interest in the welfare of humans. These considerations form the background of today’s gospel reading. Rules—including God’s commandments, of course—are for the total good of the human person. As the apostle Paul teaches: “All things are yours… and you are Christ’s (1 Cor 3:21-23).”
1st Reading: 1 Cor 6:1-11:
When you have a complaint against a brother, how dare you bring it before pagan judges, instead of bringing it before God’s people? Do you not know, that you shall one day judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you incapable of judging such simple problems? Do you not know, that we will even judge the angels? And could you not decide everyday affairs? But when you have ordinary cases to be judged, you bring them before those who are of no account in the Church! Shame on you! Is there not even one among you wise enough to be the arbiter among believers? But no.
One of you brings a suit against another one, and files that suit before unbelievers. It is already a failure that you have suits against each other. Why do you not rather suffer wrong and receive some damage? But no. You wrong and injure others, and those are your brothers and sisters. Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Make no mistake about it: those who lead sexually immoral lives, or worship idols, or who are adulterers, perverts, sodomites, or thieves, exploiters, drunkards, slanderers or embezzlers will not inherit the kingdom of heaven. Some of you were like that, but you have been cleansed, and consecrated to God and have been set right with God, by the name of the Lord Jesus, and the Spirit of our God.
Gospel: Lk 6:12-19:
At this time, Jesus went out into the hills to pray, spending the whole night in prayer with God. When day came, he called his disciples to him, and chose Twelve of them, whom he called ‘apostles’: Simon, whom he named Peter, and his brother Andrew; James and John; Philip and Bartholomew; Matthew and Thomas; James son of Alpheus and Simon called the Zealot; Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who would be the traitor.
Coming down the hill with them Jesus stood in an open plain. Many of his disciples were there, and a large crowd of people, who had come from all parts of Judea and Jerusalem, and from the coastal cities of Tyre and Sidon. They gathered to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. And people troubled by unclean spirits were cured. The entire crowd tried to touch him, because of the power that went out from him and healed them all.
“At this time, Jesus went out into the hills to pray, spending the whole night in prayer with God.” The evangelist Luke regularly presents Jesus praying at important moments of his ministry (Lk 3:21; 6:12; 9:18, 28; 11:1; 22:32, 41; 23:46), eight times in all. This practice of Jesus should set us thinking. If he, “true God from true God,” in the words of the Creed, feels the need to pray, do we not have a much greater need than he? The topic of prayer is always a source of uneasiness for most of us.
Why? Because our conscience tells us that we do not pray enough. Why not? Because, we answer, we cannot find the time to pray, due to our busy schedule. Such an answer betrays a wrong approach to prayer. If we wait to be able to find the time to pray, we will rarely or never pray, because too many things will crowd prayer out of our lives. The right approach to prayer is something like this: “I will make time for prayer and give it the top priority of my day.” An iron determination of this sort should inspire us.
1st Reading: 1 Cor 7:25-31:
With regard to those who remain virgins, I have no special commandment from the Lord, but I give some advice, hoping that I am worthy of trust by the mercy of the Lord. I think this is good in these hard times in which we live. It is good for someone to remain as he is. If you are married, do not try to divorce your wife; if you are not married, do not marry. He who marries does not sin, nor does the young girl sin who marries. Yet they will face disturbing experiences, and I would like to spare you. I say this, brothers and sisters: time is running out, and those who are married must live as if not married; those who weep as if not weeping; those who are happy as if they were not happy; those buying something as if they had not bought it, and those enjoying the present life as if they were not enjoying it. For the order of this world is vanishing.
Gospel: Lk 6:20-26:
Then, looking at his disciples, Jesus said, “Fortunate are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours. Fortunate are you, who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Fortunate are you, who weep now, for you will laugh. Fortunate are you, when people hate you, when they reject you and insult you and number you among criminals, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for a great reward is kept for you in heaven. Remember, that is how the ancestors of the people treated the prophets. But alas for you, who have wealth, for you have been comforted now. Alas for you, who are full, for you will go hungry. Alas for you, who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep. Alas for you, when people speak well of you, for that is how the ancestors of the people treated the false prophets.
Imagine this scenario. Two men happen to guess the number being drawn at the National Lottery. The prize is ten million dollars. So the two men end up with five million dollars each. A substantial sum on any reckoning. Now one of these two men is a multi-billionaire. The five million he won will add about one percent to his present worth. That’s peanuts for him. The other man is a ditch-digger for city sewers. With his backbreaking job he can hardly support his wife and five children.
When people hear of the good fortune of these two men, everyone will rejoice over the ditch-digger’s good fortune and will forget about the multi-billionaire. Why? Because it is the ditch-digger who will benefit most from his lottery win. His whole life will be transformed for the better henceforth. This imagined scenario (which does happen every now and then) can explain why Jesus calls “fortunate” the poor, the hungry, the mourners, etc. It is not because he glorifies these conditions. It is because these conditions will improve drastically with his coming because we, his disciples, will see to it that they improve.
Birth of the Virgin Mary
1st Reading: Rom 8:28-30 (or Mic 5:1-4a):
We know that in everything God works for the good of those who love him, whom he has called, according to his plan. Those whom he knew beforehand, he has also predestined, to be like his Son, similar to him, so, that, he may be the Firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And so, those whom God predestined, he called; and those whom he called, he makes righteous; and to those whom he makes righteous, he will give his glory.
Gospel: Mt 1:1-16, 18-23:
This is the account of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham. Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers. Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah (their mother was Tamar), Perez was the father of Hezron, and Hezron of Aram. Aram was the father of Aminadab, Aminadab of Nahshon, Nahshon of Salmon. Salmon was the father of Boaz. His mother was Rahab. Boaz was the father of Obed. His mother was Ruth. Obed was the father of Jesse. Jesse was the father of David, the king. David was the father of Solomon. His mother had been Uriah’s wife.
After the deportation to Babylon, Jechoniah was the father of Salathiel and Salathiel of Zerubbabel. Zerubbabel was the father of Abiud, Abiud of Eliakim, and Eliakim of Azor. Azor was the father of Zadok, Zadok the father of Akim, and Akim the father of Eliud. Eliud was the father of Eleazar, Eleazar of Matthan, and Matthan of Jacob. Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and from her came Jesus who is called the Christ —the Messiah. This is how Jesus Christ was born: Mary his mother had been given to Joseph in marriage, but before they lived together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.
Then Joseph, her husband, made plans to divorce her in all secrecy. He was an upright man, and in no way did he want to disgrace her. While he was pondering over this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, descendant of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. She has conceived by the Holy Spirit, and now she will bear a son. You shall call him ‘Jesus’ for he will save his people from their sins.” All this happened in order to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: The virgin will conceive and bear a son, and he will be called Emmanuel, which means: God-with-us.
Today’s first reading begins with these words of the apostle Paul: “In everything God works for the good of those who love him.” Now there are two ways one can understand the words “God works.” One of these is wrong, the other is right. The wrong one goes like this. God in heaven is like a Super Puppeteer and we, humans, are his puppets. And from heaven God pulls the strings, manipulating people and events. As Paul says, he works in such a way that, if we pray enough and trust him enough, everything will conspire to make our life easy and painless. If this does not happen, it is because we have not trusted him enough.
A lot of Christians believe this scenario, although blunt reality contradicts it at every turn. The right way of understanding “God works” goes like this. God respects human freedom completely and lets events happen (including natural disasters, wars, famines, etc.). But he works in people, inspiring them to act in this way or that way, to seek him in all circumstances good or bad. If humans follow his gentle promptings, they will grow in holiness, whatever their outward circumstances. Reality confirms this. Saints are not magically protected from toothaches. But, instead of cursing, they find God in their toothaches.
St. Peter Claver
1st Reading: 1 Cor 9:16-19, 22b-27:
Because I cannot boast of announcing the gospel: I am bound to do it. Woe to me, if I do not preach the gospel! If I preached voluntarily, I could expect my reward, but I have been trusted with this office, against my will. How can I, then, deserve a reward? In announcing the gospel, I will do it freely, without making use of the rights given to me by the gospel. So, feeling free with everybody, I have become everybody’s slave, in order to gain a greater number. So, I made myself all things to all people, in order to save, by all possible means, some of them.
This, I do, for the gospel, so that I, too, have a share of it. Have you not learned anything from the stadium? Many run, but only one gets the prize. Run, therefore, intending to win it, as athletes, who impose upon themselves a rigorous discipline. Yet, for them the wreath is of laurels which wither, while for us, it does not wither. So, then, I run, knowing where I go. I box, but not aimlessly in the air. I punish my body and control it, lest, after preaching to others, I myself should be rejected.
Gospel: Lk 6:39-42:
And Jesus offered this example, “Can a blind person lead another blind person? Surely both will fall into a ditch. A disciple is not above the master; but when fully trained, he will be like the master. So why do you pay attention to the speck in your brother’s eye, while you have a log in your eye, and are not conscious of it? How can you say to your neighbor, ‘Friend, let me take this speck out of your eye,’ when you can’t remove the log in your own? You hypocrite! First remove the log from your own eye, and then you will see clearly enough to remove the speck from your neighbor’s eye.
It is an old saying that a tree is judged by its fruits. Someone may present a virtuous appearance. But how do they speak of others? How do they treat others? Our outward deeds reveal our inward condition. Whether we do good or bad, we draw on what is stored in our hearts. Yet we are quick to focus on what others do and say without examining ourselves. Perhaps it is our own sins and weaknesses that enable us see others’ failings with such accuracy!
1st Reading: 1 Cor 10:14-22:
Therefore, dear friends, shun the cult of idols. I address you as intelligent persons; judge what I say. The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a communion with the blood of Christ? And the bread that we break, is it not a communion with the body of Christ? The bread is one, and so we, though many, form one body, sharing the one bread. Consider the Israelites. For them, to eat of the victim is to come into communion with its altar.
What does all that mean? That the meat is really consecrated to the idol, or that the idol is a being. However, when the pagans offer a sacrifice, the sacrifice goes to the demons, not to God. I do not want you to come into fellowship with demons. You cannot drink, at the same time, from the cup of the Lord and from the cup of demons. You cannot share in the table of the Lord and in the table of the demons. Do we want, perhaps, to provoke the jealousy of the Lord? Could we be stronger than he?
Gospel: Lk 6:43-49:
No healthy tree bears bad fruit, no poor tree bears good fruit. And each tree is known by the fruit it bears: you don’t gather figs from thorns, or grapes from brambles. Similarly, the good person draws good things from the good stored in his heart, and an evil person draws evil things from the evil stored in his heart. For the mouth speaks from the fullness of the heart. Why do you call me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ and do not do what I say?
I will show you what the one is like, who comes to me, and listens to my words, and acts accordingly. That person is like the builder who dug deep, and laid the foundations of his house on rock. The river overflowed, and the stream dashed against the house, but could not carry it off because the house had been well built. But the one who listens and does not act, is like a man who built his house on the ground without a foundation. The flood burst against it, and the house fell at once: and what a terrible disaster that was!”
Every now and then we come across controversial figures. Controversial because their ideas on the Christian life are new and startling, a bit shocking to staid believers, but greatly praised by more adventurous Christians. How do we assess such controversial figures? In today’s gospel reading Jesus gives us a criterion which enables us to assess correctly the people who claim a role of ideological leadership among Christians: “Each tree is known by the fruit it bears,” Jesus tells us. And he specifies: “A good person draws good things from the good stored in his heart, and an evil person draws evil things from the evil stored in his heart.”
Well and good. But what are the “good things” Jesus is referring to? Here Paul can help us when he teaches us about the fruit produced by the Holy Spirit. “The fruit of the Spirit,” he writes to the Galatians, “is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22-23). Previously, he had written that the opposite fruits are: “immorality… sorcery, hatred, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions… drinking bouts, orgies” (vv.19-21) With these criteria, we can assess any controversial figure.