Bible Diary Week of August 7th-August 13th

August 7th

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
St. Cajetan and St. Sixtus II and Companions

1st Reading: Wis 18:6-9:
That night had been foretold to our ancestors, and knowing in what promise they trusted, they could rejoice in all surety. Your people waited for both the salvation of the just and the downfall of their enemies, for the very punishment of our enemies brought glory to the people you have called—that is, to us. The holy race secretly offered the Passover sacrifice and really agreed on this worthy pact: that they would share alike both blessings and dangers. And forthwith they began to sing the hymns of their fathers.

2nd Reading: Heb 11:1-2, 8-19:
Faith is the assurance of what we hope for, being certain of what we cannot see. Because of their faith, our ancestors were approved. It was by faith, that Abraham, called by God, set out for a country that would be given to him as an inheritance; for he parted without knowing where he was going. By faith, he lived as a stranger in that promised land. There, he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, beneficiaries of the same promise. Indeed, he looked forward to that city of solid foundation, of which God is the architect and builder.

By faith, Sarah, herself, received power to become a mother, in spite of her advanced age; since she believed that, he, who had made the promise, would be faithful. Therefore, from an almost impotent man, were born descendants, as numerous as the stars of heaven, as many as the grains of sand on the seashore. Death found all these people strong in their faith. They had not received what was promised, but they had looked ahead, and had rejoiced in it, from afar, saying that they were foreigners and travelers on earth. Those who speak in this way prove, that they are looking for their own country. For, if they had longed for the land they had left, it would have been easy for them to return, but no, they aspired to a better city, that is, a supernatural one; so God, who prepared the city for them, is not ashamed of being called their God.

By faith, Abraham went to offer Isaac, when God tested him. And so, he, who had received the promise of God, offered his only son, although God had told him: Isaac’s descendants will bear your name. Abraham reasoned, that God is capable even of raising the dead, and he received back his son, which has a figurative meaning.

Gospel: Lk 12:32-48:
Do not be afraid, little flock, for it has pleased your Father to give you the kingdom. Sell what you have and give alms. Get yourselves purses that do not wear out, and an inexhaustible treasure in the heavens, where no thief comes and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. Be ready, dressed for service, and keep your lamps lit, like people waiting for their master to return from the wedding. As soon as he comes and knocks, they will open the door to him. Happy are those servants whom the master finds wide-awake when he comes.

Truly, I tell you, he will put on an apron, and have them sit at table, and he will wait on them. Happy are those servants, if he finds them awake when he comes at midnight or daybreak! Pay attention to this: If the master of the house had known at what time the thief would come, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man will come at an hour you do not expect.” Peter said, “Lord, did you tell this parable only for us, or for everyone?” And the Lord replied, “Imagine, then, the wise and faithful steward, whom the master sets over his other servants, to give them wheat at the proper time. Fortunate is this servant if his master, on coming home, finds him doing his work. Truly, I say to you, the master will put him in charge of all his property.”

But it may be that the steward thinks, ‘My Lord delays in coming,’ and he begins to abuse the male servants and the servant girls, eating and drinking and getting drunk. Then the master will come on a day he does not expect, and at an hour he doesn’t know. He will cut him off, and send him to the same fate as the unfaithful. The servant who knew his master’s will, but did not prepare and do what his master wanted, will be soundly beaten; but the one who does unconsciously what deserves punishment, shall receive fewer blows. Much will be required of the one who has been given much, and more will be asked of the one who has been entrusted with more.

Do not be afraid, little flock, for it has pleased your Father to give you the kingdom. Sell what you have Today’s gospel reading presents a series of parables which all stage servants waiting for their master to return and spending their waiting time in various ways. Some of them use it wisely and are ready when their master returns, and all goes well with them. But some others use their time badly, forgetting that they will be accountable to their master, and things go bad with them in the end. Twice in these parables Jesus warns us that he “will come on a day… at an hour” a servant does not expect.

Now this coming of Jesus refers to two distinct comings: his coming at the end of the world and his coming when we die. Now few of us will witness the end of the world, but all of us will die. And none of us knows at what time death will come. Worldly wisdom tells us to forget about death and its somber perspective, and instead to “live it up.” Heavenly wisdom tells us to look forward to our death as a going home because, as the second reading reminds us, we are “foreigners and travelers on earth.” How are we using out own waiting time? Let us pray that we be prepared when Christ comes to fetch us. Today I will begin preparing for my death by giving away what clutters my closet and could be useful to somebody.

August 8th

St. Dominic

1st Reading: Ez 1:2-5, 24-28c:
On the fifth of the month (it was the fifth year of the exile of king Jehoiachin) the word of Yahweh came to Ezekiel, son of Buzi, the priest, in the land of the Chaldeans by the banks of the Kebar. There the hand of Yahweh was upon me. I looked: a windstorm came from the north bringing a great cloud. A fiery light inside it lit up all around it, while at the center there was something like a glowing metal. In the center were what appeared to be four creatures with the same form; I heard the noise of their wings when they moved, similar to the roar of many waters, similar to the voice of the Most High, the noise of a multitude or of a camp.

When they were not moving they lowered their wings. I heard a noise above the platform over their heads. Above it was a throne resembling a sapphire; and high on this throne was a figure similar to that of a man. Then I saw a light as of glowing bronze, as if fire enveloped him from his waist upwards. And from his waist downwards it was as if fire gave radiance around him. The surrounding light was like a rainbow in the clouds after a day of rain. This vision was the likeness of Yahweh’s glory. On seeing it I fell on my face; and then I heard a voice speaking.

Gospel: Mt 17:22-27:
While Jesus was in Galilee with the Twelve, he said to them, “The Son of Man will be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. But he will rise on the third day.” The Twelve were deeply grieved. When they returned to Capernaum, the temple tax collectors came to Peter and asked him, “Does your master pay the temple tax?” He answered, “Yes.”

Peter then entered the house; and immediately, Jesus asked him, “What do you think, Simon? Who pay taxes or tribute to the kings of the earth: their sons or strangers and aliens?” Peter replied, “Strangers and aliens.” And Jesus told him, “The sons, then, are tax-free. But, so as not to offend these people, go to the sea, throw in a hook, and open the mouth of the first fish you catch. You will find a coin in it. Take the coin and give it to them for you and for me.”

The historical background of today’s gospel episode is that, at the time of Jesus (that is, before the temple of Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 A.D.), every male Jew of nineteen years old and older had to make an annual contribution for the upkeep of the temple (cf. Ex 30:11-16; Neh 10:33; 2 Chr 24:6, 9). Now, since Jesus and his followers belong to the Kingdom of heaven, according to Jesus’ reasoning in this passage, they are not bound to pay a tax imposed on those who are not of the Kingdom.

This is all the more true in the case of Jesus because, in the strict sense of the word, he is the “Son of the King.” Therefore, the King’s tax (God’s tax) is not for Jesus and his “brothers.” Once this point is made clear to Peter, then Jesus goes on to say that, even though he and Peter have no obligation to pay the temple tax because of their very special relationship to God, nevertheless they will pay it “so as not to offend the people” collecting that tax. This teaching of Jesus should inspire our own behavior. Our charity towards our neighbor should be such that, as much as is reasonably possible, we should avoid giving offense.

August 9th

St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

1st Reading: Ez 2:8–3:4:
Listen then, son of man, to what I say, and don’t be a rebel among rebels. Open your mouth and take in what I’m about to say.” I looked and saw a hand stretched out in front of me holding a scroll. He unrolled it before me; on both sides were written lamentations, groaning and woes. He said to me, “Son of man, eat what is given to you. Eat this scroll and then go; speak to the people of Israel.” I opened my mouth and he made me eat the scroll; and then he said to me, “Eat and fill yourself with this scroll that I’m giving you.” I ate it; and it tasted as sweet as honey. He said, “Son of man, go to the Israelites; speak to them with my words.

Gospel: Mt 18:1-5, 10, 12-14:
At that time, the disciples came to Jesus and asked him, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Then Jesus called a little child, set the child in the midst of the disciples, and said, “I assure you, that, unless you change, and become like little children, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble, like this child, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, and whoever receives such a child, in my name, receives me. See that you do not despise any of these little ones; for I tell you, their angels in heaven continually see the face of my heavenly Father.”

What do you think of this? If someone has a hundred sheep and one of them strays, won’t he leave the ninety-nine on the hillside, and go to look for the stray one? And I tell you, when he finally finds it, he is more pleased about it, than about the ninety-nine that did not go astray. It is the same with your Father in heaven. Your Father in heaven doesn’t want even one of these little ones to perish.

Most people spontaneously associate childhood with innocence. And, in a sense, they are right, because children do not murder or rob banks or embezzle funds or commit arson. But they demonstrate all the bad traits of adults, only on a much smaller scale. They can be coldly cruel (v.g. by torturing animals), mendacious, selfish, bad-tempered, prejudiced, discriminatory, etc. And so, when Jesus sets up a child as a model to imitate, he is not thinking of a child’s so-called “innocence.” This is a sentimental notion of the West, not a notion entertained in the Near-East.

But what children all have in common is their utter dependence on adults for their well-being and even for their very survival. They have no illusion on that count. They know they are powerless, and they acknowledge it constantly. That, Jesus tell us, should be our own stance in reference to our heavenly Father. Without him, we can do nothing. To become aware of it and to acknowledge it in complete humility is to achieve real greatness in the eyes of God. “Whoever becomes humble, like this child, is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.”

August 10th

St. Lawrence

1st Reading: 2 Cor 9:6-10:
Remember: the one who sows meagerly will reap meagerly, and there shall be generous harvests for the one who sows generously. Each of you should give as you decided personally, and not reluctantly, as if obliged. God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to fill you with every good thing, so that you have enough of everything, at all times, and may give abundantly for any good work. Scripture says: He distributed, he gave to the poor, his good works last forever. God, who provides the sower with seed, will also provide him with the bread he eats. He will multiply the seed for you and also increase the interest on your good works.

Gospel: Jn 12:24-26:
Truly, I say to you, unless the grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Those who love their life destroy it, and those who despise their life in this world save it even to everlasting life. Whoever wants to serve me, let him follow me; and wherever I am, there shall my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.

When we give someone a birthday present, for example, it could be for various reasons, reasons very different from one another. It could be because the recipient is my boss and everyone in the office is expected to give him a birthday gift. And so, it may happen that I make a birthday gift, not because I like my boss (in fact, it may be that I hate his guts) but because of the social pressure involved. Then I make my gift reluctantly (practically under duress), not willingly and readily.

However, if I happen to love my boss, it will be a pleasure for me to make him a gift. In today’s first reading the apostle Paul tells us that “God loves a cheerful giver.” Why? Probably because the cheerful giver loves the beneficiary of his gift, and God looks more at our heart (what inspires our gift) than at our gift itself. Many generous Christians do many things for God. But they constantly drag their feet while doing those things. Obviously their heart is not in them. Those Christians should ask God to change their heart, to fill it with love, so that eventually they become cheerful givers, the ones really pleasing to God.

August 11th

St. Clare

1st Reading: Ez 12:1-12:
This word of Yahweh came to me, “Son of man, you live in the midst of a house of rebels: they have eyes for seeing but do not see; they have ears for hearing but do not hear; for they are a house of rebels. Because of this, son of man, prepare for yourself an exile’s baggage in their sight, … Say, ‘I am a sign for you,’ for what I have done will happen to them: They will be deported, exiled. The prince among them shall shoulder his baggage in the dark and depart.

Gospel: Mt 18:21–19:1:
Then Peter asked him, “Lord, how many times must I forgive the offenses of my brother or sister? Seven times?” Jesus answered, “No, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. This story throws light on the kingdom of Heaven: A king decided to settle accounts with his servants. Among the first of them was one who owed him ten thousand pieces of gold. As the man could not repay the debt, the king commanded that he be sold as a slave with his wife, his children and all his goods, as repayment. The servant threw himself at the feet of the king and said, ‘Give me time, and I will pay you back everything.’ The king took pity on him, and not only set him free, but even canceled his debt. When this servant left the king’s presence, he met one of his fellow servants, who owed him a hundred pieces of silver.

He grabbed him by the throat and almost choked him, shouting, ‘Pay me what you owe!’ His fellow servant threw himself at his feet and begged him, ‘Give me time, and I will pay everything.’ But the other did not agree, and sent him to prison until he had paid all his debt. Now the servants of the king saw what had happened. They were extremely upset, and so they went and reported everything to their lord. Then the lord summoned his servant and said, ‘Wicked servant, I forgave you all that you owed me when you begged me to do so. Weren’t you bound to have pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?’

The lord was now angry. He handed the wicked servant over to be punished, until he had paid the whole debt.” Jesus added, “So will my heavenly Father do with you, unless you sincerely forgive your brothers and sisters.” When Jesus had finished these sayings, he left Galilee and arrived at the border of Judea, on the other side of the Jordan River.

In the parable presented in today’s gospel reading, the English translation used says that the first servant owed his master “ten thousand pieces of gold.” But the original text has the words “ten thousand talents.” This is an absolutely fabulous sum; it combines the highest existing currency at the time of Jesus with the highest number used in the calculations of the time. So we are talking here of a debt beyond imagination. In the dynamics of this parable (which is more an allegory than a parable), the master represents God and the servant with the incalculable debt represents a sinner.

Jesus is here telling us why we should forgive our brothers and sisters, however often they give us offense. It is because we ourselves have been forgiven so much more, and therefore should reciprocate by forgiving our offenders seventy seven times or always. This teaching of Jesus is not easy to accept, especially when we have been seriously and repeatedly wronged by someone. Yet, to hold a grudge is a loser’s game because it simply poisons our life and robs us of our peace of heart. That is why we must try to forgive others for God’s sake, but even more so for our own sake.

August 12th

St. Jane Frances de Chantal

1st Reading: Ez 16:1-15, 60, 63:
The word of Yahweh came to me in these terms, “Son of man, make known to Jerusalem its sins. You say on my behalf: Your beginning was in Canaan; there, you were born. Your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite. On the day you were born, your cord was not cut; you were not bathed in water to make you clean; you were not rubbed with salt, nor were you wrapped in cloth. There was no one to look with pity on you… But I passed by; and saw you, immersed in your blood. I said to you, in the midst of your blood, “Live!” I made you grow, like a plant of the field.

…But you relied on your beauty; you trusted in your fame; and you began to give yourself to every passerby, like a prostitute. But I will remember my Covenant with you in the days of your youth, and, make in your favor, an eternal Covenant. So that you may remember, be ashamed, and never open your mouth again, because of your humiliation, when I have pardoned you for all you have done,” word of Yahweh.

Gospel: Mt 19:3-12:
Some Pharisees approached him. They wanted to test him and asked, “Is a man allowed to divorce his wife for any reason he wants?” Jesus replied, “Have you not read, that, in the beginning, the Creator made them male and female? And the Creator said: Therefore, a man shall leave father and mother, and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one body. So, they are no longer two, but one body. Let no one separate what God has joined.” They asked him, “Then why did Moses command us to write a bill of dismissal in order to divorce?”

Jesus replied, “Moses knew the hardness of your hearts, so he allowed you to divorce your wives; but it was not so in the beginning. Therefore, I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, unless it be for immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” The disciples said, “If that is the condition of a married man, it is better not to marry.” Jesus said to them, “Not everybody can accept what you have just said, but only those who have received this gift. There are eunuchs born so, from their mother’s womb. Some have been made that way by others. But there are some who have given up the possibility of marriage, for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who can accept it, accept it.”

In today’s gospel reading, which presents Jesus’ absolute prohibition of divorce, there seems to be an exception to this prohibition, since Jesus specifies that divorce is not possible “unless it be for immorality” (porneia in the Greek text)! Some explanatory remarks might be useful here. First, Matthew is the only gospel containing this so-called “exceptive clause.” All other parallel texts have no such clause (Mk 10:11-12; Lk 16:18; 1 Cor 7:10-11). Second, in Matthew’s community, the rabbis had allowed pagan converts who were married to close relatives (marriages prohibited by the Mosaic law—cf. Lev 18: 6-18) to remain in such marriages, considered incestuous in Jewish law.

Here Matthew applies the law of Jesus by saying: divorce is prohibited, except in the case of incestuous marriages, which should be dissolved. In other words, the “exceptive clause” constitutes no real exception to the absolute prohibition of divorce when the marriage is lawful. This absolute stance of Jesus might appear hard to some Christians. But it is the only stance which can save us from social chaos. A look at our divorce-prone society should convince us of that. How many millions of children are deprived of at least one parent because of divorce and grow up in an abnormal setting?

August 13th

St. Pontian and St. Hippolytus

1st Reading: Ez 18:1-10, 13b, 30-32:
The word of Yahweh came to me in these terms, “Why are you applying this proverb to the land of Israel: ‘The parents have eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge?’ As I live, word of Yahweh, this proverb will no longer be quoted in Israel. All life is in my hands, the life of the parent and the life of the child are mine. The lives of both are in my hands; so, the one who sins will die. Imagine a man who is righteous and practices what is just and right.

He does not eat at the mountain shrines, or look towards the filthy idols of Israel, does not defile his neighbor’s wife, or have intercourse with a woman during her period; he molests no one, pays what he owes, does not steal, gives food to the hungry and clothes to the naked, demands no interest on a loan and doesn’t lend for interest, refrains from injustice, practices true justice, man to man, follows my decrees and obeys my laws in acting loyally. Because such a man is truly righteous, he will live, word of Yahweh. But perhaps this man has a son, who steals and sheds blood, committing crimes which his father never did.

Because he has committed all these abominations he will die: his guilt will fall upon him. That is why I will judge you, Israel, each one according to his ways, word of Yahweh. Come back, turn away from your offenses, that you may not deserve punishment. Free yourselves from all the offenses you have committed and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why should you die, Israel? I do not want the death of anyone, word of Yahweh, but that you be converted and live!”

Gospel: Mt 19:13-15:
Then little children were brought to Jesus, that he might lay his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples scolded those who brought them. Jesus then said, “Let the children be! Don’t hinder them from coming to me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to those who are humble, like these children.” Jesus laid his hands on them and went away.

Today’s first reading, taken from Ezekiel, is a clear illustration that there is an overarching theological dynamics contained within the Bible, a dynamic which deploys itself across centuries. Here is how this works in the present case about personal responsibility. During centuries before Ezekiel’s time, people thought in terms of collective responsibility. Each member of a given clan shared the honor or shame of his clan, his clan’s responsibility in good or bad actions.

And so, it was considered normal that, for example, a whole city like Sodom be destroyed, even though it might contain a small minority of good people (Gen 18) or that a great-grand-son be punished for the sins of his great-grand-father (cf. Jer 31:29-31). But in today’s reading we are told that the regime of collective responsibility is no longer valid and is replaced by the regime of personal responsibility. There are other examples in the Bible where we see an evolution in the inspired authors’ understanding of God’s will. This evolution is even more manifest in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5—7), where Jesus clearly annuls, corrects or radicalizes ways of thinking found in the Old Testament. The Bible is a living book, not a dead letter.