(*1) Col 1:24ff. Paul, privileged to spread the Christian faith, endures his sufferings for the sake of the Church.
(*2) 1 Cor 5:1ff. Excommunication for an unlawful marriage. We must banish corruption, to celebrate the new Passover.
(*3) Luke 6:6ff. Jesus heals the man with a withered hand on the Sabbath, to the chagrin of his opponents.
Jesus did not enter the synagogue to stir up a quarrel nor to prove his miraculous power. But at once he sensed a trap by his enemies to put him in a negative light. A disabled man was being "used" to make Jesus look like a law-breaker - how calloused a ploy, to use the man's handicap in order to gather evidence against Jesus. There is a common tendency to put restrictions on the love of God, just as narrow-minded people tried to limit Jesus' outreach and exclude individuals or whole groups from his help. But the power of Jesus cannot be bound with a heavy load of rigid traditions. So many facile, false reasons can be advanced: Sabbath, the wrong day of the week for a miracle; fear to side with a poor, the unemployed, or the disabled; prejudices about race or nationality; inability to correct a powerful, influential person, even for the scandal of marrying his own father's wife. In the readings people advance many reasons why God should not act generously and miraculously.
The hope of forming one body, of Christ and all his members, cannot be accomplished any more easily than Christ's action of restoring the impaired hand and thereby stirring up the frenzied anger of his opponents. Yet Paul's patient effort to reconcile all men and women brings great joy and satisfaction. Since this ideal is so glorious, Paul feels himself, even in the midst of struggle, to be impelled by a powerful force urging him on.
In 1 Cor 5(*2), Paul would not tolerate a compromise in public morality, no matter how influential the person may be. He speaks of the "lewd conduct" of a man who is cohabiting with his stepmother. Most probably the father is deceased, but still this type of marriage was seriously scandalous in Jewish eyes (Lev 20:11). Paul demands therefore, "Get rid of the old yeast," for just a little of it would spoil the whole batch. He takes the occasion to speak of the sincerity expected of Christ's followers. Although union with Christ is open to all, regardless of race or nationality, still it comes at the cost of fidelity and self-control. To be one body in Christ (1 Cor 12:12,27) means that the purifying spirit of Jesus must flow through all the members.
I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. I became its servant according to God's commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints.
To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil and struggle with all the energy that he powerfully inspires within me.
It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and of a kind that is not found even among pagans; for a man is living with his father's wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. For though absent in body I am present in spirit, and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment in the name of the Lord Jesus on the man who has done such a thing. When you are assembled, and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.
Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us, therefore, celebrate the festival, no with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
On another sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught, and there was a man there whose right hand was withered. The scribes and the Pharisees watched him to see whether he would cure on the sabbath, so that they might find an accusation against him. Even though he knew what they were thinking, he said to the man who had the withered hand, "Come and stand here." He got up and stood there. Then Jesus said to them, "I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to destroy it?" After looking around at all of them, he said to him, "Stretch out your hand." He did so, and his hand was restored. But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.
(*2) 1 Cor 6:1ff. No lawsuits before pagan courts! Christians should resolve their disputes among themselves.
(*3) Luke 6:12ff. Jesus spends the night in prayer and afterwards calls the twelve; then teaches and heals.
We note a dramatic transition from death to life in Colossians(*1) , from
public wrangling to a new life in Jesus and the Spirit in 1 Corinthians(*2);
and in the Gospel from night-time to a new dawn. Night is the time of death
and contention, as well as of rebirth and new awareness. At night we can lose
our healthy inhibitions and self-control, and be swept into any number of
evil actions or thoughts. Paul links with darkness a devastating list of sins
which excludes from God's kingdom, suggesting sins that he found or suspected
Some sins, like miserliness, may not seem as serious as others on the
list, but all the sins have to be understood in the larger setting at
But night is also a time of struggle against evil. Paul names these forces of evil as superhuman agents, "principalities and powers," over whom Christ triumphed, "leading them off captive"(*1) . Locked in such struggle, we cannot be victorious without Jesus. We are advised in Colossians: Continue to live in Christ Jesus the Lord, in the spirit in which you received him. Be rooted in him and built up in him.
Night can also be a time of profound, silent prayer. Jesus went out to the mountain to pray, spending the night in communion with God. Silent prayer of such intense surrender turns into a dynamic time of new life. "Even when you were dead in sin, God gave you new life in company with Christ." After being restored by the night of prayer, at daybreak he called his disciples and selected twelve of them to be his apostles. Jesus proceeded to share his life by teaching and by healing all who came to him. "Power went out from him which cured all."
As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aide, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.
When one of you has a grievance against a brother, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, matters pertaining to this life! If then you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who are least esteemed by the church? I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no man among you wise enough to decide between members of the brotherhood, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers?
To have lawsuits at all with one another is defeat for you. Why not rather
suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and
defraud, and that even your own brethren. Do you not know that the
unrighteous will not inherit the
Now during those days he went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God. And when day came, he called his disciples and chose twelve of them, whom he also named apostles: Simon, whom he named Peter, and his brother Andrew, and James, and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James son of Alphaeus, and Simon, who was called the Zealot, and Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.
He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of
his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea,
(*2) 1 Cor 7:25ff. Christians are free to marry or to remain single, but all should live in the awareness that this world is passing away.
(*3) Luke 6:20ff. The Beatitudes, spoken on the plain to a large crowd.
We have here no lasting city. The seriousness of Luke's Beatitudes becomes more apparent as we compare them with Matthew's which are somewhat theoretical and more general. Luke's are more simple and direct. Matthew's are addressed not to the crowd, but to the disciples who alone follow Jesus up the mountain, and are phrased in the third person, "How blessed are the poor in spirit, for the reign of God is theirs." Luke portrays Jesus as coming down the mountain to a level stretch where many of his disciples and a large crowd of people came to hear him. His Beatitudes are closer to Jesus' original words, phrased in the second person: Blessed you who are poor; the reign of God is yours.. you who hunger; you shall be filled. Luke, therefore, is not writing a general, catechetical discourse but is specifically and immediately addressing "you poor" and "you who hunger." As we carefully re-read this Gospel, we are told, rather bluntly, that God accomplishes more with our poverty than with our wealth, more with our fith than with our activity. Poverty and faith have nothing to lose and an almost infinite variety of choices before them. Wealth and specialization restrict a person's options and weigh that person down with anxieties. Yet, we feel the need of more direction, and for this we turn to the epistles.
To the Corinthians(*2) Paul admits that "I have not received any commandment from the Lord" on the matters now to be discussed. He proceeds to give the results of his own reflection. The first direction then for us, as we face problems and questions is to place ourselves in God's presence and to think the matter through. The Scriptures may not always give the final answer, as difficulties arise that were not addressed by the writers of the Bible. He advises them to arrive at a careful decision. They are not to rush into marriage nor are they to remain in the single state as the easy way out of responsibility. Once married, or settled in the single state whether it be within religious community or with secular careers, one is not to be overly possessive. Husbands and wives are not related as owners of property but are united in the Lord. Those who buy and sell should never overlook God's statement: The land shall not be sold in perpetuity; for the land is mine. And you are but aliens who have become my tenant (Lev 25:23).
Still other directives for living in a world that is passing away came from today's reading(*2) from Colossians. This exhortation constitutes one of the finest, most stirring calls to living a heavenly existence on earth, "Be intent on things above... put on the new person... formed anew in the image of the Creator." Paul is not afraid to translate these magnificent statements into practical language: put to death fornication, uncleanness, evil desires, put aside anger, quick temper, malice, insults, foul language. stop lying to one another. The centre point where all discussion stops always turns out to be unity, trust and charity. Here he states our new life in Christ where "there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, foreigners, Scythian, slave or free person." Paul's final directive here is engraven on many banners and should be cut into the flesh of our heart, "Christ is everything in all of you."
So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.
Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient. These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life. But now you must get rid of all such things - anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!
Now concerning the unmarried, I have no command of the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord's mercy is trustworthy. I think that in view of the present distress it is well for a person to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek marriage. But if you marry, you do not sin, and if a girl marries she does not sin. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that. I mean, brethren, the appointed time has grown very short; from now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the form of this world is passing away.
Then he looked up at his disciples and said: "Blessed are you who are
poor, for yours is the
"But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. "Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. "Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. "Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.
(*2) 1 Cor 8:1ff. Knowledge inflates but love upbuilds. We should never wound the conscience of the weak.
(*3) Luke 6:27ff. Be compassionate, as your Father is compassionate. Give with joy and generosity.
The biblical goals often reach beyond our normal human limits. Paul goes so far as to state(*2) that he will never again eat meat, if meat is an occasion of sin to another. In Colossians the entire list of expectations relies on the opening statement of who we really are, "Because you are God's chosen ones." If that is who we are, then we should act no differently. The goal of love is not beyond our nature as "God's chosen ones, holy and beloved." God's choice has drawn us into the life of Jesus. If we are all "members of the one body"(*2), then Christ's inspiration and grace flow through us like breath or like blood. We breathe in his responses to life like air through our nostrils. Before we act, Christ is already alive within us. His heart is the signal to regulate our heart; his breath or spirit purifies our lungs and blood. He is giving us health and strength. Moreover, as "members of one body," we all exist in an extraordinary bond of intimacy with one another. Our instinctive reaction to one another ught to be concern, kindness, patience, humility.
Writing First Corinthians Paul was practical and specific. Knowledge inflates us like a bag of wind. We argue speculatively and forget the fact of scandal. Some people can be so obsessed with theological correctness, that they have lost contact with reality. Part of any true dedication to Jesus is a refined sense of concern for people with weak consciences. Paul uses the example of meat dedicated to the gods. Because those "gods" are really "no-gods," we are free to eat all food. But if a neighbour does not yet make these distinctions and their weak consciences are scandalized and injured, then as Paul puts it bluntly: you have sinned against a neighbour for whom Christ died. Therefore, you are sinning against Christ.
In this same spirit we should re-read the Gospel and seek to understand Christ's expectations, like: bless those who curse you, turn the other cheek, and love your enemy. These statements reflect the supreme law of Christian life.
As God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that "all of us possess knowledge." "Knowledge" puffs up, but love builds up. If any one imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if one loves God, one is known by him.
Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that "an idol has no real existence," and that "there is no God but one." For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth - as indeed there are many "gods" and many "lords" - yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.
However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through being hitherto accustomed to idols, eat food as really offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. And so by your knowledge this weak man is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food is a cause of my brother's falling, I will never eat meat, lest I cause my brother to fall.
Jesus said to them: "I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. RuleDo to others as you would have them do to you. "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
"Do not judge, and you will not be judged;do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back."
(*1) 1 Tim 1:1ff. Grace has been granted to Paul in overflowing measure, along with faith and love in Christ Jesus.
(*2) 1 Cor 9:16ff. Paul's apostolic ministry: he makes himself the slave of all, to win them for Christ.
(*3) Luke 6:39ff. Can the blind lead the blind? Don't focus on the speck in the eye of a neighbour.
The readings centre mostly on leadership but their application reaches out to all human relationships. Very positively too we are asked to interact with one another, not so much as superior to inferior but as recognizing the unique gift of each person. It is because of diversity of strength and grace that problems arise and helpful direction is necessary.
What Paul writes about himself in First Timothy is true of each of us. At times we all act out of ignorance and misguided zeal and so appear arrogant to others. We are also recipients of the grace of our Lord, granted in overflowing measure. Such abundant grace solves many problems, converting a persecutor like Saul of Tarsus into a missionary like Paul who belongs to a world mission. Yet overflowing zeal can raise still other problems. Each of us, like Paul in confronting Peter on the question of Gentile conversions (Gal 2:14), can appear arrogant, demanding and difficult. The problem is no longer our ignorance but now our brilliant insight that others do not share.
The Scriptures ask us to respect, admire and learn from the gifts of one
another. Otherwise, in our ignorance we will not only be arrogant but also
like a blind man trying to guide another blind person. Both will fall into
the pit, both teacher and student. Each of us needs the wisdom of others to
balance our own special insights and strengths. We find this complementarity
of gifts in regard to Paul and Peter. We are told by Paul himself that the
pillars of the church in
Only when the Church blends the works of all these early missionaries into the New Testament and in later writings, can a proper balance be achieved. We too need the Church to keep all of our gifts united, at the service of all, lest the body of the Lord be misshapen or psychologically imbalanced.
Again in that extraordinarily practical document, First Corinthians(*2), some of the lines are masterpieces of eternal wisdom. We nod in recognition as we read: I have made myself all things to all, in order to save at least some of them; I discipline my own body and master it for fear that after having preached to others I myself should be rejected. Paul is certainly affirming our earlier reflection to learn from the goodness of others and to adapt ourselves to their needs and possibilities.
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Saviour and of Christ Jesus our hope, To Timothy, my loyal child in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission. What then is my reward? Just this: that in my preaching I may make the gospel free of charge, not making full use of my right in the gospel.
For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Well, I do not run aimlessly, I do not box as one beating the air; but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
He also told them a parable: "Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher. Why do you see the speck in your neighbour's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbour, 'Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye,' when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour's eye.
(*1) 1 Tim 1:15ff. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Anyone - even Paul - can have the grace of conversion.
(*2) 1 Cor 10:14ff. By the cup of blessing and the bread we break, we achieve unity in the body of Christ.
(*3) Luke 6:43ff. A.good tree produces good fruit. The house of faith built securely on rock, survives the flood.
A centre for our meditation today is how Jesus Christ displays his infinite patience(*1) . Patience is the virtue of that person who has built on rock. When evil times hit, when the heavens pour down uncontrollable floods, that house remains standing if it is built with deep foundations in the rocky subterrain.
"Rock" takes on any number of important symbolical meanings in
the Bible, but all of them converge on strength, consistency, fidelity, and
continuity. In Num 20:11, the rock is struck by Moses' rod and produces sweet
water. In 1 Cor 10:4 this rock follows the Israelites through the desert as a
continuous source of water. The rock, says Paul, is Christ. In Ps 81:17 it
even produces honey. In Isa 28:16 the rock supports the
As these and other passages are stitched together, rock indicates the steady assurance of God's grace, the presence of God in temple or church, the human representatives of God as Rock. Patience builds this kind of house.
Impatient persons build on sand and so are not dependable. They act or react impulsively. Anger takes control of them before they can think. Rash words are spoken that cannot be obliterated from people's memories. Within all this haste wisdom is lost. When difficulties come, this person is not dependable. "When the torrent rushed on it, it immediately fell in and was completely destroyed."
The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners - of whom I am the foremost. But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory forever and ever. Amen.
Therefore, my beloved, shun the worship of idols. I speak as to sensible
men; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing which we bless, is
it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is
it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we
who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. Consider the
"No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; for each tree is known by its own fruit. Figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.
"Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I tell you? I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them. That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, immediately it fell, and great was the ruin of that house."
(*1) 1 Tim 2:1ff. Prayers for the civil authorities that life may be peaceful, since God desires the good of all.
(*2) 1 Cor 11:17ff. The Eucharistic meal can be seriously profaned by divisions based on class and wealth.
(*3) Luke 7:1ff. The Roman centurion has greater faith than all
Different sides of the Church's mission are seen in today's texts. While First Timothy proclaims the Gospel's outreach to the world, the Roman centurion in Luke 7 shows how well prepared the world can be and Paul's Letter(*2) shows how much the Gentile community stands in need of correction, to return to Gospel values. The mission statements in First Timothy are clear and engaging: God wants all to be saved and to know the truth; Jesus gave himself as ransom for all; and Paul has a mission to all nations.
Since God wants the salvation of all, we must conclude that the bulk of the human race are being saved without explicit acceptance of the Gospel. Much less than fifty percent of the world's population is Christian. Therefore the preaching of the Gospel does not make the difference between heaven and hell for an individual; rather the difference is between the joy and strength of knowing Jesus and the difficulty and unclarity of living without his clear guidance. Paul prays not only that all may be saved but that they also "come to know the truth." Truth sets free and envigorates, it brings greater peace and self-respect. The truth, according to Paul, consists in this: since God is one, all his children form one human family. The mediator between God and ourselves, is also one, the man Christ Jesus.
In(*3) the new person, a Gentile centurion, shows up with even stronger
faith than existed in
Those who are proselytized can themselves teach the parent church. Believers can become hardened to their faith, take it for granted, use it for their selfish benefit, and even lose their wholesome natural virtues. An instance of such back-sliding was already corroding a church founded by Paul(*2). The Corinthians were not united charitably and peacefully but split apart between the wealthy and the poor, or into groups attached to different spiritual masters, (Paul or Cephas or Apollos,) or according to their selfish appetite for food and drink. All this was showing up at the time of the Eucharist. In this context Paul repeats the ancient eucharistic tradition. The one body belongs to Christ, the one blood is that of Christ. The Corinthians are united with Jesus' death and in hope of his second coming. They must regroup together, share sufferings and hope together, for they are all ransomed by the same Lord, Jesus.
(1) 1 Timothy 2:1-8
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all - this was attested at the right time. For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.
I desire, then, that in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument.
But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you
come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first
lace, when you assemble as a church, I hear that there are divisions among
you; and I partly believe it, for there must be factions among you in order
that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. When you meet
together, it is not the Lord's supper that you eat. For in eating, each one
goes ahead with his own meal, and one is hungry and another is drunk. What!
Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, "This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.
So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait upon one another.
After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he
Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the
centurion sent friends to say to him, "Lord, do not trouble yourself,
for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not
presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be
healed. For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and
I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes, and to another, 'Come,' and he comes, and to
my slave, 'Do this,' and the slave does it." When Jesus heard this he
was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said,
"I tell you, not even in
(*1) 1 Tim 3:1ff. The qualities of bishop, deacon and deaconess - hospitable, respected, truthful, good managers.
(*2) 1 Cor 12:12ff. The body is one and has many members. Many gifts all at the service of the one body of Christ.
(*3) Luke 7:11ff. Jesus raises to life the dead son of a widow at Naim. The people respond with awe.
If we read today's scriptural selection in reverse, beginning with the Gospel, then First Corinthians(*2), and finally First Timothy(*1) , we can detect stages of development within church leadership. In the Gospel, at the sight of a dead man being carried to his grave, the only son of a widowed mother, Jesus acts spontaneously to work a miracle. In First Corinthians, the miracle-worker is named fourth in line along with such offices in the church as apostle, prophet, teacher, healer and others. In First Timothy the offices of apostle or miracle worker are not mentioned at all, and the focus is now on the roles of bishop, deacon, deaconess and (later) on presbyter and widow.
As the church expanded in number and spread throughout the Mediterranean world, and faced crises of internal leadership and external persecution, its need of careful organization grew. We can see this paralleled in the development of an individual's life. Children and youth are filled with hope and seem willing to tackle giants and become anything they choose; as young adults, they must choose a definite way of life yet they still bring new spirit and creative innovation within the office or vocation; finally, as mature men and women they settle down into their role or job with caution, wisdom and strength. Yet some important ideas come to mind as we meditate on the evolution of roles in the church.
First, the development from the more charismatic to the more organizational is normal and necessary. If the more charismatic and freer type of leadership is chronologically closer to Jesus, the later church is also called the body of Christ in the Scriptures. Paul's phrase in First Corinthians says (translated literally): The body is one and has many members, but all the members, many though they are, are one body as is Christ. He reflects on the pastoral or practical question, which of these is best adapted to the needs of church life.
Secondly, it is apparent that the more charismatic types of leadership are fraught with more danger. Throughout the Bible miraculous feats were not always sign of God's approval. Some of Moses' miracles were matched by Pharaoh's magicians (Exod 7:22; 8:3). Miracles can result in mad fervor where religion becomes a cult, and the leader exercises absolute and often lucrative control. On the other hand, we must recognize the presence of the miraculous in biblical religion and in church history. Whether in the church or in our own personal lives, we must never lose faith in miracles nor forget the beautiful memories of Jesus, the compassionate miracle worker.
A third observation: concern for others should drive us to expend ourselves generously for the poor, the sick, the helpless, the needy. We will be amazed at the results; they might even be miraculous. Perhaps one of the deadliest cancers in middle age and beyond, in church life as well as in civil administration, is the quiet acceptance of monotony, mediocrity and heavy passivity. To live happy lives we must always be ready for a miracle around the corner.
This combination of human prudence and divine wonder induces a healthy spirit within church and within each human life. The virtues expected of bishop, deacon and deaconess are admirable indeed: irreproachable, married only once, of even temper, self-controlled, modest, hospitable, not addicted to drink, a good manager of one's own household, holding fast to the divinely revealed faith with a clear conscience. To hope for all these virtues in one person must implies a belief in miracles in the everyday life of God's people.
The saying is sure: whoever aspires to the office of bishop desires a noble task. Now a bishop must be above reproach, married only once, temperate, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an apt teacher, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way - for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how can he take care of God's church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may be puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace and the snare of the devil.
Deacons likewise must be serious, not double-tongued, not indulging in much wine, not greedy for money; they must hold fast to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them first be tested; then, if they prove themselves blameless, let them serve as deacons. Women likewise must be serious, not slanderers, but temperate, faithful in all things. Let deacons be married only once, and let them manage their children and their households well; for those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and great boldness in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body - Jews or Greeks, slaves or free - and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the organs in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single organ, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to he hand, "I have no need of you," nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you." On the contrary, the parts of the body which seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those parts of the body which we think less honourable we invest with the greater honour, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not reqire. But God has so composed the body, giving the greater honour to the inferior part, that there may be no discord in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together.
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators, speakers in various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.
Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a
large crowd went with him. As he approached the gate of the town, a man who
had died was being carried out. He was his mother's only son, and she was a
widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. When the Lord saw her,
he had compassion for her and said to her, "Do not weep." Then he
came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said,
"Young man, I say to you, rise!" The dead man sat up and began to
speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized all of them; and they
glorified God, saying, "A great prophet has risen among us!" and
"God has looked favourably on his people!" This word about him
(*1) 1 Tim 3:14ff. The church is entrusted with the mystery of salvation: Jesus, believed in throughout the world.
(*2) 1 Cor 12:13ff. Hymn to charity, the supreme virtue, which will outlast faith and hope into eternity.
(*3) Luke 7:31ff. The self-centred cannot respond to others, whether to dance to a tune or mourn to a dirge.
The key word today is household. We are all "members of God's household." Like any family, God's household is the scene of a wonderful treasure of mystery. It treasures many wise sayings and sings its traditional hymns. First Timothy quotes a confession of faith, popular among believers. The Gospel cites a bit of ancient wisdom, echoing the Book of Proverbs and repeated from parent to child, rabbi to student. Paul most probably did not compose the hymn to charity but drew on a well-known hymnic statement of the early church.
A family holds this diversity of tradition as the parents, children and grandchildren, the relatives and neighbours pass through the different phases of life, from birth to death, from innocent faith to tried and nature faith, from gifts that divide and instigate envy to gifts that are now the source of enrichment and family pride.
A good family is never monotonous and its members are gifted in very many ways. In the reading from First Corinthians(*2), Paul speaks of many of these talents: prophecy, full knowledge, comprehension of mysteries, confidence to move mountains, generosity in feeding the poor, willing to die heroically. But the greater the intensity of these talents, the greater the problems that arise in the family and the church. Paul does not want any talent to be suppressed, but calls some of these gifted people "a noisy gong," "a clanging cymbal." Such people, he states "put on airs" and become snobbish. They can be rude, self-seeking or prone to anger, whereas all true gifts should be united in love. There are in the end three things that last: faith, hope, and love, and the greatest of these is love.
To love in such an outstanding way, the members of God's household cannot be egotistic individuals, but people who thrust outward into the family, neighbourhood and church. If there is strength in unity, these are the people who strengthen the church.
I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these instructions to you so that, if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth. Without any doubt, the mystery of our religion is great: He was revealed in flesh, vindicated in spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among Gentiles, believed in throughout the world, taken up in glory.
But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends; as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect; but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
"To what then will I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, 'We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not weep.' For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, 'He has a demon'; the Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, 'Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' Nevertheless, wisdom is vindicated by all her children."
(*1) 1 Tim 4:12ff. The newly ordained Timothy must exercised the ministry entrusted to him by the laying on of hands.
(*2) 1 Cor 15:1ff.
The Gospel Paul preached is the one that he himself received, and has not proved fruitless.
(*3) Luke 7:36ff. The parable of the generous money-lender illustrates the conversion of the once-sinful woman.
We are all called to minister to others, some as priests and pastoral carers, others as teachers, nurses and counselors, others as relatives and neighbours. There is no single way of responding to others, not even if these be children in the same family or adults in the identical social or cultural bracket. The three biblical passages for today call our attention to various aspects of serving and helping one another.
First of all, as we find in First Corinthians(*2), we must be anchored in the Gospel. This announcement of good news reaches back to Jesus and continues in the church. Paul writes with a keen sense of tradition: "I remind you of the Gospel I preached to you... and in which you stand firm.... I handed on to you first of all what I myself received." Paul summarizes this gospel of salvation: Christ died for our sins, was buried and rose again; was seen by Cephas, the Twelve, many others and "last of all... by me... the least of the apostles."
In preaching the good news of Jesus Christ, Paul is also conscious of the church and of those whom Jesus placed in leadership roles: first Peter, then the Twelve and a larger group of five hundred, afterwards James who led the Jewish Christians, and finally Paul himself. We are advised to minister to one another within the faith of Jesus' death and resurrection and within the visible bond of church unity. Faith and unity are both seen in a human, humble and hopeful way. Faith declares that Jesus died "for our sins" and unity is enclosed within Paul's humble attestation, "I am the least of the apostles,... I do not deserve even the name." We minister to one another in the faith that Jesus died for the sins of each of us. We never lord it over others, we the least of all.
At other times we must encourage and support another who may be ignored or may feel diffident, as Paul wrote to Timothy, "because of your youth." The exhortation to Timothy is a classic combination of strong support, self-confidence and avuncular advice. Youth stands in need of respect for its talents, appreciation of its ideals, assurance of its ability to teach and preach, acceptance of its genuine leadership gained by natural talent, training and divine call within the church.
Finally, we come to the sharp contrast of attitudes and responses in the Gospel. Jesus can be stern with the pure and proud, tender and protective towards the humble and repentant. Jesus grounds his teaching in the parable of God's generous initiative in loving and forgiving. In fact, the person with heavier debts of sin seems to be loved more by God than the other person with lighter debts. God can seem unjust, until we remember that pride is a greater sin than sexual excess. At first, we may think that the woman, a public sinner in town, is the one who owes the five hundred gold pieces to God, and that the Pharisee has the small debt of only fifty gold pieces. There is still hope for the proud, if the woman can be forgiven this easily.
We minister towards one another, within the Gospel and authority of the church, with encouragement and esteem for the young, with concern for the repentant, with stern dedication to God's love in the case of the proud and self-righteous.
Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I arrive, give attention to the public reading of scripture, to exhorting, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you through prophecy with the laying on of hands by the council of elders. Put these things into practice, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress. Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; continue in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.
Now I would remind you, brethren, in what terms I preached to you the gospel, which you received, in which you stand, by which you are saved, if you hold it fast - unless you believed in vain.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that
Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was
buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the
scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he
appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are
still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then
to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also
to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle,
because I persecuted the
One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him - that she is a sinner." Jesus spoke up and said to him, "Simon, I have something to say to you." "Teacher," he replied, "Speak." "A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?" Simon answered, "I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt." nd Jesus said to him, "You have judged rightly." Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little." Then he said to her, "Your sins are forgiven." But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, "Who is this who even forgives sins?" And he said to the woman, "our faith has saved you; go in peace."
(*1) 1 Tim 6:2ff. Exhortation to sound doctrine, integrity about wealth, gentleness, living one's profession of faith.
(*2) 1 Cor 15:12ff. If our hopes are limited to this life only, we folowers of Christ are the most pitiable of all people.
(*3) Luke 8:1ff. Jesus journeyed with the twelve and the women, preaching
the good news of the
Contrasting with the sombre reading from Timothy(*1) , and the argumentative tone in the discussion on the resurrection(*2), is the tone of enthusiasm, hope and achievement in(*3). While the Gospel has more appeal, the other texts also have their necessary place in our lives. Sometimes we need to be sobered up from intense excitement.
Luke's brief account mirrors the first springtime of Jesus' apostolate.
The scene is idyllic, that of a glorious tour in which the Lord is winning
everyone for the kingdom. The community of disciples around him, the
apostles, the women and "many others," impress us with their serene
way of life. Some of them had been cured of serious illness or physical
handicap. The "seven devils" from which Magdalene had been released
do not necessarily mean sinfulness, much less demonic possession, but do
suggest a profound cure that Jesus had worked in her. Sickness and death were
reflected the reign of evil in the world and must be totally conquered and
removed within the
If Paul sounds argumentative, in the reading from Corinthians(*2), it is because he cannot afford to give an inch on the point under discussion. To deny the resurrection is to deny the dignity of the human body. Some of his Corinthians had succumbed to sexual excesses which compromised the sacred dignity of the body, which, along with the spirit, had been batpised into Christ. Misuse of the body leads to bodily corruption, whereas its association with the physical resurrection of Jesus marks it for life everlasting in the final resurrection of all flesh.
First Timothy comes to our help in calmer moments. After we have completed a stretch of joy, peace and accomplishment, it may be time to settle down and review the situation. We need to interrelate events and achievements, to take stock where we have gone, to realize the scope of what we have done and who we are. Perhaps, we need most of all a time of silence, prayer and settling in the Lord.
Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful to them on the ground that they are members of the church; rather they must serve them all the more, since those who benefit by their service are believers and beloved.
Teach and urge these duties. Whoever teaches otherwise and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that is in accordance with godliness, is conceited, understanding nothing, and has a morbid craving for controversy and for disputes about words. From these come envy, dissension, slander, base suspicions, and wrangling among those who are depraved in mind and bereft of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.
But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
Now if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied.
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and
bringing the good news of the
(*1) 1 Tim 6:13ff. Living without reproach until Jesus Christ appears, coming down from on high.
(*2) 1 Cor 15:25ff. What is sown as mutable rises to new, incorruptible life. Our bodies will resemble the risen Jesus.
(*3) Luke 8:4ff. The parable of the seed and the sower is explained only to the apostles to whom all mysteries are revealed.
The Mysterious Potential
A divine potential simmers in the depths of each human being. Both Jesus and his apostle Paul compare it to a seed, buried in the ground. Looking at the seed before it is planted, one hardly suspects what a flower is to develop from it. The process by which the seed "dies" or disintegrates within the earth cannot be rushed. It needs not only time but also a silent waiting within the dark, warm earth.
Our inner life is mystery, linked to the heavenly person whose likeness we bear(*2), and God's action within us is told in parables (Gospel). While we cannot yet grasp the mode of existence God plans for us in heaven, yet we already feel the stirrings of our future life within us, as a pregnant mother sense her child. In one way this mystery seems so fragile, even non-existent in its gradual, silent evolution; in another way it is the deepest, truest part of ourselves. We have the ability to ignore and suppress the mystery, yet tenaciously the seed preserves its life and by its very dissolution as a seed it grows into its new stage of life.
First Timothy urges us to respect those secret stirrings of new life as God's command to us. Our truest self, not yet visible, is like a divine word of command. To know ourselves we must be attuned to our deepest hopes and desires. Then we are charged to keep God's commands faithfully. If we ask "for how long?" the answer is simply, "until Jesus Christ appears." These secret parts of ourselves will outlast all trials and be the source of our new existence. We dare not deny or compromise this mystery which is our very self.
Another reflection on this mystery comes from Paul to the Corinthians(*2). Part of ourself is "subject to decay" and must die; not that this dying part is bad or useless, for once it existed as a lovely flower or bloom. After the flower fades away, the seed developes, and then the seed, sown in the ground, must disintegrate. At first the whole process seems very frustrating, but let us not forget that flowers impart joy and color to life even though they are intended to die. Our true self emerges in direct continuity with our former self, as a new plant grows out of the seed, yet surpassing the old in unimaginable ways. Weakness is sown, and strength rises up. Paul's resurrection faith makes him the most profoundly optimistic of religion teachers.
Matthew's explanation of the parable of the sower gives us further pointers about life. As the seed, God's word, can fall on the footpaths and there be trampled down, so life's mystery must not be subjected to every person's advice and be easily subjected to anyone's opinion. If the seed is scattered on rocky ground where it cannot take root but quickly dries up, we must allow God's inspiration to sink its roots deeply into our lives and become a part of ourselves. Neither should the seed be dispersed amid briars, as it would be if we lose ourselves in a whirlwind pursuit of pleasure, and lose our taste for prayer, reflection and the self-denial which every mature person needs. Finally, the seed that falls on good ground and yields a plentiful harvest suggests how the grace of God must be thoroughly integrated into ourselves. The harvest depends on the quality of our lives over a long period of time.
In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will bring about at the right time - he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honour and eternal dominion. Amen.
But some one will ask, "How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?" You foolish man! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body which is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain.
So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, "The first man Adam became a living being;" the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual which is first but the physical, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.
When a great crowd gathered and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable: "A sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell on the path and was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. Some fell on the rock; and as it grew up, it withered for lack of moisture. Some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew with it and choked it. Some fell into good soil, and when it grew, it produced a hundredfold." As he said this, he called out, "Let anyone with ears to hear listen!"
Then his disciples asked him what this parable meant. He said, "To
you it has been given to know the secrets of the
"Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. The ones on the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. The ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe only for a while and in a time of testing fall away. As for what fell among the thorns, these are the ones who hear; but as they go on their way, they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. But as for that in the good soil, these are the ones who, when they hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance.
(*1) Ezra 1:1ff. Cyrus allows the Jews return home and orders their neighbours to help them rebuild their temple.
(*2) Prov 3:27ff. Practical guidelines for dealing justly and honourably with one's neighbour.
(*3) Luke 8:16ff. A lamp must go on a lampstand, to brighten the house. Whoever has spiritual depth will be given more.
The Power Of Cryptic Statements
This short gospel text is a good introduction to two weeks of readings(*2)
Jesus' cryptic statement in the Gospel, "The one who has, will be given more; the one who has not, will lose even that little." can perhaps be paraphrased: the one who has time to pray and reflect will be given more; the one who has not taken the time to turn to God and friends for advice will lose even the little wisdom that he or she possesses. The sapiential books in particular remind us that the Bible is not a child's answer book but an adult's reflection book. The variety of postexilic prophets leads to the same conclusion.
Mature reflection must always take into consideration one's relation with one's neighbours. This is the topic of the short essay from Proverbs,(*2). Each line is as down to earth as sidewalks and working clothes. "Say not to your neighbour, Go and come back again, when you can give at once. Do not quarrel with a person without cause. Do not envy the lawless person." Typical of the sapiential literature, the responses are moderate and possible. For these writers, the cardinal sins are extremism and radicalism. The sage even seems to permit "quarrels" or "envy" - but not without cause nor with the lawless person.
The sapiential literature(*2), like the narratives and prophets in cycle
I, comes from the postexilic age. We are introduced to this long, generally bleak
and unexciting period, from 539 B.C. onward, by the Book of Ezra. The
Israelites, dragged into exile in 597 and 587 B.C. when the Babylonians twice
The returning Israelites had to leave everything behind. We know from
other documentation that life in
"There is nothing hidden that will not be exposed." Those moments are heroic and demanding; they do not share the moderation of the sapiential literature. Evidently we need both parts of the Bible for the diverse needs and challenges of our life. There is a time to be "pampered" or quietly prodded by the sapiential style; there is another time to be shaken up by prophets. At times we leave behind our past, at other times we seek our future.
In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, in order that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, the Lord stirred up the spirit of King Cyrus of Persia so that he sent a herald throughout all his kingdom, and also in a written edict declared: "Thus says King Cyrus of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem in Judah. Any of those among you who are of his people - may their God be with them! - are now permitted to go up to Jerusalem in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel - he is the God who is in Jerusalem; and let all survivors, in whatever place they reside, be assisted by the people of their place with silver and gold, with goods and with animals, besides freewill offerings for the house of God in Jerusalem."
The heads of the families of
Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.
Do not say to your neighbour, "Go, and come again, tomorrow I will give it" - when you have it with you.
Do not plan harm against your neighbour who lives trustingly beside you.
Do not quarrel with anyone without cause, when no harm has been done to you.
Do not envy the violent and do not choose any of their ways; for the perverse are an abomination to the Lord, but the upright are in his confidence.
The Lord's curse is on the house of the wicked, but he blesses the abode of the righteous.
Toward the scorners he is scornful, but to the humble he shows favour.
"No one after lighting a lamp hides it under a jar, or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a lampstand, so that those who enter may see the light. For nothing is hidden that will not be disclosed, nor is anything secret that will not become known and come to light. Then pay attention to how you listen; for to those who have, more will be given; and from those who do not have, even what they seem to have will be taken away."
(*1) Ezra 6:7ff. With prophetic encouragement and financial help from
(*2) Prov 21:1ff. This prudent advice for self-control is drawn from the major collection of Solomon's proverbs.
(*3) Luke 8:19ff. "My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it."
We must belong to the total world and not isolate ourselves in the sanctuary or in the pages of the Bible. We must be interested in politics, local, national and international, higher learning, economics and finance, being both cautious scholars and threatening prophets. As we form our decisions from this wide background, we are drawn into a world family and in such a setting can arrive at the will of God for us.
Within the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah we observe the foundation of Judaism into the shape it had ihn the days of Jesus, and as it would survive the destruction of the second temple by the Romans in A.D. 66. Judaism supplied the strength and principles by which the people maintained their identity even into our own time. Religion was associated with every aspect of life, and life found its meaning and value within religious faith. Even though the Book of Ezra seems monotonous, foreign and impractical to us, the reason for our difficulty lies in the close interaction of this book with real life of Judaism. We ourselves cannot duplicate the details nor form identical judgments, but we are being continuously challenged to unite our religion and our life just as intimately.
A different type of organization is reflected in the Book of Proverbs(*2).
The wise sayings in this book cluster around the names of great sages:
Solomon (10:1-22:16; chaps. 25-29), an Egyptian Scribe, Amen-em-Ope (22:17-
24:22), Agur (30:1-6), and Lemuel (31:1-9). These individuals probably led
Most of the sapiential literature, notably the Book of Proverbs, defers very little to temple and religious authority and concentrates on common sense and ancient wisdom. What has succeeded for so many years, even centuries, has an exceptional lasting power. It has no special set of prerequisites to understand its message. Just be open, honest, reflective, humble, strong, the basic qualities of human nature as it was originally created by God and as it has spread throughout the world. All the world knows and accepts the wisdom of Proverbs: The one who makes a fortune by a lying tongue is chasing a bubble over deadly snares.
Whether we take the more "religious" route of Ezra or the more "secular" way of Proverbs(*2), we must arrive at a healthy openness to the real world and form ties with men and women everywhere. Perhaps that was the intention of Jesus in his enigmatic reply sent by a messenger to his mother Mary and his brothers. Jesus' words may even have seemed a repudiation of his own immediate relatives when he said, "My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it." Therefore, truly to know that word we must be in contact with everyone who is sincere, virtuous, obedient and responsive to life.
let the work on this house of God alone; let the governor of the
Jews and the elders of the Jews rebuild this house of God on its site.
Moreover I make a decree regarding what you shall do for these elders of the
Jews for the rebuilding of this house of God: the cost is to be paid to these
people, in full and without delay, from the royal revenue, the tribute of the
province Beyond the River. May the God who has established his name there
overthrow any king or people that shall put forth a hand to alter this, or to
destroy this house of God in
So the elders of the Jews built and prospered, through the prophesying of
the prophet Haggai and Zechariah son of Iddo. They finished their building by
command of the God of Israel and by decree of Cyrus, Darius, and King
On the fourteenth day of the first month the returned exiles kept the
passover. For both the priests and the Levites had purified themselves; all
of them were clean. So they killed the passover lamb for all the returned
exiles, for their fellow priests, and for themselves. It was eaten by the
The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.
All deeds are right in the sight of the doer, but the Lord weighs the heart.
To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.
Haughty eyes and a proud heart - the lamp of the wicked - are sin.
The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to want.
The getting of treasures by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapor and a snare of death.
The souls of the wicked desire evil; their neighbours find no mercy in their eyes.
When a scoffer is punished, the simple become wiser; when the wise are instructed, they increase in knowledge.
The Righteous One observes the house of the wicked; he casts the wicked down to ruin.
If you close your ear to the cry of the poor, you will cry out and not be heard.
Then his mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him because of the crowd. And he was told, "Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you." But he said to them, "My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it."
(*1) Ezra 9:5ff. At the time of the evening sacrifice, Ezra acknowledges God's mercy for the remnant of the people.
(*2) Prov 30:5ff. In praise of moderation and sufficiency.
(*3) Luke 9:1ff. Jesus sends the twelve out on their mission. They are to travel light, dependent only on alms.
The diversity of the biblical message is again impressive today. We need all of the options it proposes, for its variety is not a matter of passages more inspired or less inspired. Holy Scripture is a pastoral document, and we have to decide, through prayer, guidance and community wisdom, which parts of it are best adapted to our current situation. Ezra expects us to be satisfied with small achievements and Proverbs with healthy moderation. The gospel sends us out like the twelve, poor, dependent and enthusiastic over the reign of God now in our midst. It paints an attractive ideal, brimming over with contagious joy and simple trust.
Ezra takes on the role of another Moses, being the parent of legal Judaism as was Moses of Israel's basic covenant with God. Although the Jews began their return to the Promised Land in 537 B.C., about all they accomplished in that generation was to rebuild a very modest temple. They were discouraged and covetous and some even sold other Jews into slavery for payment of a debt. The situation was still as Zechariah described it, "a day of small beginnings" (Zech 4:10) when Ezra set himself to straighten out the confusion and guide the people with clear direction. He reedited the Books of Moses and demanded compliance to them, and began a series of oral interpretations of the law that developed several centuries later into the famous Talmud.
He begins by confessing aloud the sins of the people, identifying himself
with the people in their guilt and wretchedness, "My God, I am too
ashamed to raise my face to you, for our wicked deeds are heaped up above our
heads." Then he addressed the people, whose social status in the
The Book of Proverbs sobers us up in still another way. In this reading for(*2), we are no longer poor and disgraced as in the time of Ezra. We even have the opportunity to amass wealth and keep climbing upward. In our determination to get ahead, armed as we are with prestige and learning, we are tempted to twist truth and law to our own benefit and to the harm of others. We become greedy, and as we read elsewhere in Proverbs, greed, like lust, starves the soul and it never has enough (Prov 13.19). We need to be warned - and we are! These words were not minted for the low income days of Ezra but for a later different period.
Finally, we come to the happy days of Jesus, sending out the twelve, overcoming demons, curing diseases, proclaiming the reign of God. Traveling missionaries are freely cared for, so they need not carry bread or money, not even staff and traveling bag. Whenever we meet such joy and confidence, it is our privilege to rejoice and thank God. Occasionally the shadow of a living saint crosses our path in a member of our family or parish, of our neighbourhood or acquaintance. We should encourage their ideals, stand by them, support them, receive them into our homes. Then the reign of God will be in our midst.
At the evening sacrifice I got up from my fasting, with my garments and my mantle torn, and fell on my knees, spread out my hands to the Lord my God, and said,
"O my God, I am too ashamed and embarrassed to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens. From the days of our ancestors to this day we have been deep in guilt, and for our iniquities we, our kings, and our priests have been handed over to the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, to plundering, and to utter shame, as is now the case. But now for a brief moment favour has been shown by the Lord our God, who has left us a remnant, and given us a stake in his holy place, in order that he may brighten our eyes and grant us a little sustenance in our slavery. For we are slaves; yet our God has not forsaken us in our slavery, but has extended to us his steadfast love before the kings of Persia, to give us new life to set up the house of our God, to repair its ruins, and to give us a wall in Judea and Jerusalem.
Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.
Do not add to his words, or else he will rebuke you, and you will be found a liar.
Two things I ask of you; do not deny them to me before I die:
Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that I need, or I shall be full, and deny you, and say, "Who is the Lord?" or I shall be poor, and steal, and profane the name of my God.
Then Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority
over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the
(*1) Hag 1:1ff. In providing for their own needs, which are never satisfied, the people neglect to build the temple.
(*2) Eccl 1:2ff. Nothing is new under the sun. Vanity of vanities; all is vanity!
(*3) Luke 9:7ff. Herod was perplexed about Jesus and became very curious to see him.
People can be faced with economic confusion, as reflected in the prophecy of Haggai(*1) ; or they are simply too tired to try anything new, as in Ecclesiastes(*2); or again their religion consists of curiosity, born of moral confusion, as was the case with Herod the tetrarch. But no situation is hopeless, for the Bible is not the story of sin and hell but of sin and conversion.
"Economic confusion" may not be the best way to pinpoint the scene facing the prophet Haggai. His very name means feastday, quite appropriate for the development within his five short sermons. Haggai began to prophesy around 520 B.C., some nineteen years after the first caravan of Jews returned from exile. Those were long, discouraging years when the great vision of a new people of God collapsed and the returned exiles barely survived from month to month in the relatively barrent hills of Judea. As Haggai describes it: You have sown much, but have brought in little; you have eaten, but have not been satisfied; You have drunk, but have not been exhilarated. Twice he calls on this tired, lethargic people, "Consider your ways."
The prophet makes one simple demand, "Fetch lumber and build the house" of the Lord. He says it in plain, unadorned Hebrew. All other prophets spoke in poetry with eloquent symbols and parables. Haggai was not going to write high literature in a corner slum or produce the golden poetry of an Isaiah or the wrenching pathos of a Jeremiah. But alone of all the prophets, Haggai lived to see his mission accomplished. In 515 B.C. the temple was completed, as we read last Tuesday(*1) : The elders of the Jews continued to make progress in the building, supported by the message of the prophets, and finished the building according to the command of the God of Israel and the decrees of Cyrus and Darius (Ezra 6:14).
Haggai reminds us not only to put aside any pompous airs and address the practical side of people's lives, but also to realize the crucial importance of temple or church and of community and family prayer. Without a strong symbol that we are a people of God, with spiritual and moral aspirations, we easily sink into materialism. Even in our poverty we will still cling to our trinkets and be jealous of others for theirs. Without community or family prayer, we will miss the encouragement to be men and women of prayer. Without prayer we end up saying, what's the use of it all?
Another type of ennui can set in when we have too much, too easily. Etched into the memory of the world are those opening lines of Ecclesiastes or Qoheleth. The name is probably a title, given or accepted, which means the assembly-preacher. But it is clear from reading the entire book that this assembly was not a liturgical one nor was the preacher any ordained minister. This wise cynic, this troubling questioner, this tongue-in-check jokester, this affluent teacher who owned so much yet called it all a puff of wind, this sage keeps us guessing from the opening word: Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth, vanity of vanities. All things are vanity.
Qoheleth forces us to pray in a different way than Haggai; we are not called to liturgy and feastday but to take a long, hard look at life. We are to contemplate life as it is and to admit that it is all very boring-unless we begin to seek the way of wisdom, "It is from the hand of God" (2:24), from beginning to end, the work which God has done" (3:11), "rather, fear God." (5:6), "God made humankind straight, but people have had recourse to many calculations" (7:29). He ends his twelfth and last chapter with these words: The last word, when all is heard: fear God and keep his commandments, for this is all for man and woman, because God will bring to judgment every work, with all its hidden qualities, whether good or bad (12:13-14). The end result may not seem like exalted spirituality, yet it is no small accomplishment to shake loose the complacent and begin the work of conversion.
Finally, we have the sad portrait of Herod the Tetrarch, for whom religion was a curiosity, a temporary pill to soothe conscience, a clever way of winning allegiance. It is tragic to think that his wish to see the Nazarene prophet was fulfilled only when for political reasons Pilate sent him the captive Jesus. We are told that "Herod was extremely pleased to see Jesus" (Luke 23:8). Religion, like Jesus, can be used for politics and pleasure, the saddest way to relieve boredom.
In the second year of King Darius, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the prophet Haggai to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest: Thus says the Lord of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord's house.
Then the word of the Lord came by the prophet Haggai, saying:
Is it a time for you yourselves to live in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? Now therefore thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider how you have fared. You have sown much, and harvested little; you eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill; you clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; and you that earn wages earn wages to put them into a bag with holes.
Thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider how you have fared. Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honoured, says the Lord.
Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
What do people gain from all the toil at which they toil under the sun?
A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises and the sun goes down, and hurries to the place where it rises.
The wind blows to the south, and goes around to the north; round and round goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns.
All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they continue to flow.
All things are wearisome; more than one can express; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, or the ear filled with hearing.
What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there a thing of which it is said, "See, this is new"?
It has already been, in the ages before us.
The people of long ago are not remembered, nor will there be any remembrance of people yet to come by those who come after them.
Now Herod the ruler heard about all that had taken place, and he was perplexed, because it was said by some that John had been raised from the dead, by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the ancient prophets had arisen.
Herod said, "John I beheaded; but who is this about whom I hear such things?" And he tried to see him.
The Lord remembers his covenant. Soon he will make the new temple more glorious than Solomon's.
(*2) Eccl 3:1ff. There is an appointed time for everything. Yearning for the timeless stirs in the human heart.
(*3) Luke 9:18ff. Peter confesses Jesus as the Messiah. Our Lord then announces his suffering, death and resurrection.
All of life's stages are represented in today's texts. Even though each of us individually may identify with only one of these stages at this particular moment, we must come to a peaceful acceptance of our past and we need to prepare in advance for what lies ahead. Moreover as each of us lives in family, parish, neighbourhood, work or residence, we mingle with others in all the stages of human existence.
Haggai does not deny memories but puts them to their proper use. Without
dodging the issue of discouragement, he asks the people, "Who is left
among you that saw this house in its former glory the temple built by Solomon
and demolished by the Babylonians? And how do you see it now? Does it not
seem like nothing in your eyes?" But if the prophet can draw upon one
memory, he is entitled to summon others. Next he refers to the days of Moses
and the covenant at Mount Sinai, "This is the pact that I made with you
when you came out of
By means of these good memories Haggai evokes a recollection of
Next comes the long stretch of decision, acceptance and patience. For this we turn from Haggai to Ecclesiastes(*2). We quote his lines, "There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens. A time to be born, and a time to die," etc. Ecclesiastes combines purpose ("an appointed time for everything") with the "timeless" and monotonous. We never seem to complete the pursuit of our desires and objectives. We interpret this reaction as a healthy way of making decisions and an equally healthy way of knowing that "here we have no lasting city; we are seeking one which is to come" (Hebrews 13:14).
The New Testament will recognize a supremely new "moment" in the coming of Jesus (Hebrews 12:26). Out of the scorching trial of the exile and the monotonous days afterwards God drew this statement of messianic hope. We too will be surprised by the spiritual insight achieved through suffering and perseverance.
In the second year of King Darius, in the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the prophet Haggai, saying:
Speak now to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of
Yet now take courage, O Zerubbabel, says the Lord; take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord; work, for I am with you, says the Lord of hosts, according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear.
For thus says the Lord of hosts: Once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; and I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with splendour, says the Lord of hosts.
The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the Lord of hosts. The latter splendour of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts; and in this place I will give prosperity, says the Lord of hosts.
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.
What gain have the workers from their toil?
I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with.
He has made everything suitable for its time; moreover he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginnng to the end.
Once when Jesus was praying alone, with only the disciples near him, he asked them, "Who do the crowds say that I am?" They answered, "John the Baptist; but others, Elijah; and still others, that one of the ancient prophets has arisen." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered, "The Messiah of God."
He sternly ordered and commanded them not to tell anyone, saying, "The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised."
(*1) Zech 2:5ff. In a vision
(*2) Eccl 11:9ff. Classic images for the process of ageing and of dying, to Illustrate the "vanity of vanities."
(*3) Luke 9:43ff. Jesus' enigmatic prophecy of his death. The disciples fear to question him about its meaning.
The Scriptures provide two quite different signals about the future. Zechariah's prophecy is strong in symbolic expressions of hope, while Jesus speaks bluntly and sternly about his death. Ecclesiastes is not rhapsodic but very imaginative or rhetorical about old age and death. Without the practical reminders given by Ecclesiastes and Luke, the hopes in Zechariah might deserve the charge of "pie in the sky," often thrown in the face of religion.
The text from Zechariah is taken from a series of visions in the early part of the prophecy. Visions are necessary for survival when times are bleak, and Zechariah lived during the early postexilic period when the temple was still in ruins, the people ever more indifferent and their high priest, Joshua, was clad in filthy garments (Zech 3:3). It was this prophet who coined the phrase, "day of small beginnings" (4:10), but under the impact of the prophets Ezekiel, Jeremiah and Isaiah 40-55, Zechariah dreams of a better future: Jerusalem, so peaceful that no walls are necessary; Jerusalem, like an "open country" because of the multitude of its people and and having the glory of the Lord in its midst.
Zechariah's message is that we never have a good reason for staying gloomy
and pessimistic. Each element of our sorrow can be transformed into a reason
for hope. The prophet speaks out in God's name, "I am determined to
Soon however, Ecclesiastes turns his pen away from the portrait of the young and begins to paint his extraordinary vignette of old age and death. We cannot help but think of lonely old people, sitting all day long with their silent companions, staring into space: the sun is darkened; the grinders are idle; they who look through the window grow blind; all the singing maidens are silenced. We need these words lest we forget the aged and the dying. One day we too will join their ranks and we need to be told that such is the stuff of inspiration. Even while he says "vanity of vanities" at these last years, the preacher knows that God is ever present.
Certainly Jesus was there, with the lonely and the dying. He prepared
himself and his disciples for the difficult time. His words were clear,
"the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of men." If the
disciples failed to understand this warning, it was because they were
unwilling to believe their ears. For this reason they would not question him
about it, lest Jesus reinforce what they thought he said. He repeated the
warning as he drew closer to
For I will be a wall of fire all around it, says the Lord, and I will be the glory within it."
Up, up! Flee from the land of the north, says the Lord; for I have spread you abroad like the four winds of heaven, says the Lord.
Up! Escape to
For thus said the Lord of hosts (after his glory sent me) regarding the nations that plundered you: Truly, one who touches you touches the apple of my eye.
See now, I am going to raise my hand against them, and they shall become plunder for their own slaves. Then you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent me.
Sing and rejoice, O daughter
Many nations shall join themselves to the Lord on that day, and shall be my people; and I will dwell in your midst. And you shall know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you.
Rejoice, young man, while you are young, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Follow the inclination of your heart and the desire of your eyes, but know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment.
Banish anxiety from your mind, and put away pain from your body; for youth and the dawn of life are vanity.
Remember your creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come, and the years draw near when you will say, "I have no pleasure in them;" before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return with the rain; in the day when the guards of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, and the women who grind cease working because they are few, and those who look through the windows see dimly; when the doors on the street are shut, and the sound of the grinding is low, and one rises up at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of song are brought low; when one is afraid of heights, and terrors are in the road; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along and desire fails; because all must go to their eternal home, and the mourners will go about the streets; before the silver cord is snapped, and the golden bowl is broken, and the pitcher is broken at the fountain, and the wheel broken at the cistern, and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the breath returns to God who gave it.
Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher; all is vanity.
And all the crowd were astounded at the greatness of God. While everyone was amazed at all that he was doing, he said to his disciples, "Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands." But they did not understand this saying; its meaning was concealed from them, so that they could not perceive it. And they were afraid to ask him about this saying.
(*1) Zech 8:1ff.
(*2) Job 1:6ff. Satan is allowed to try Job, first with loss of property and then with the death of his children.
(*3) Luke 9:46ff. With the example of a little child Jesus declares the least to be the greatest.
Children remain the key to reflection through all three readings and give
a glimpse of the new Jerusalem, Zechariah pictures the city with "boys
and girls playing in the streets"(*1) . In the prologue to the Book of
Job the loss of sons and daughters brings out lament, "Naked I came out
from my mother's womb, and naked shall I go back again"(*2). Finally, in
the gospel Jesus turns to children to teach about the "greatest in the
So often they demonstrate where adults fail. Children manifest life and enthusiasm where many people in Zechariah's day were simply dragging themselves through life to the grave. The prophet's preaching about new life and bright future was received with a yawn. On his advice and that of Haggai the people had rebuilt the temple. Yet it was on such a small scale that many of them "cried out in sorrow" (Ezra 3:12). The splendid vision of a new Jerusalem seemed impossible in the people's eyes. Zechariah, however, quickly asks the question on the part of God, "Shall it... be impossible in my eyes also?"
Because of the children, the prophet returns in many ways to God's
If we are to believe in the hereafter, we must think of children. Children
force us to think also in terms of family and that means the sharing of
possessions with the wider family. Children appear in our first passage from
the Book of Job(*2), and here our discussion moves in another direction. We
are reading from the prose prologue, which with the epilog at the end, forms
the context for the dramatic dialogue within the central part of the book.
This prose section turns out to be the most ancient part and belonged to the
patrimony of the
Children make us ponder the mysterious source of life. As adults, we cannot control life as though we were God. At the same time we do not act solely on instinct, like animals. We must think and consider all of the responsibilities of life. Yet, there must also remain a secret part of life which belongs solely to God. Not only in the process of conception, pregnancy and birth, but also in many other important moments of our existence, we do our best when we follow intuitions or inspirations which take even ourselves by surprise.
Children quarrel, yes, but they quickly make up again. The gospel presents us with two scenes of envy and pettiness. The disciples were arguing, "which of them was the greatest." Jesus turns to children and says to welcome a child is to welcome him, and "The least one among you is the greatest." This statement is all the more puzzling if it includes Jesus. Is he the least? He is, supremely, the child of his Father, always in the attitude of receiving the Father's life and as a child he is receiving it totally.
The word of the Lord of hosts came to me, saying: Thus says the Lord of
hosts: I am jealous for
Thus says the Lord: I will return to
Thus says the Lord of hosts: Old men and old women shall again sit in the
Thus says the Lord of hosts: Even though it seems impossible to the remnant of this people in these days, should it also seem impossible to me, says the Lord of hosts?
Thus says the Lord of hosts: I will save my people from the east country
and from the west country; and I will bring them to live in
One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. The Lord said to Satan, "Where have you come from? Satan answered the Lord, "From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it." The Lord said to Satan, "Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil." Then Satan answered the Lord, "Does Job fear God for nothing? Have you not put a fence around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face." The Lord said to Satan, "Very well, all that he has is in your power; only do not stretch out your hand against him!" So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.
One day when his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in the eldest brother's house, a messenger came to Job and said, "The oxen were ploughing and the donkeys were feeding beside them, and the Sabeans fell on them and carried them off, and killed the servants with the edge of the sword; I alone have escaped to tell you." While he was still speaking, another came and said, "The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants, and consumed them; I alone have escaped to tell you." While he was still speaking, another came and said, "The Chaldeans formed three columns, made a raid on the camels and carried them off, and killed the servants with the edge of the sword; I alone have escaped to tell you." While he was still speaking, another came and said, "Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother's house, and suddenly a great wind came across the desert, struck the four corners of the house, and it fell on the young people, and they are dead; I lone have escaped to tell you."
Then Job arose, tore his robe, shaved his head, and fell on the ground and worshipped. He said, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, an naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord." In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong-doing.
An argument arose among them as to which one of them was the greatest. But Jesus, aware of their inner thoughts, took a little child and put it by his side, and said to them, "Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me; for the least among all of you is the greatest."
John answered, "Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us." But Jesus said to him, "Do not stop him; for whoever is not against you is for you."
(*1) Zech 8:20ff. Peoples of every nationality shall take hold of the Jew by the edge of his garment and say, "Let us go with you, for God is with you."
(*2) Job 3 Job curses the day of his birth and wishes that he had been stillborn.
(*3) Luke 9:51ff. The long journey narrative begins as Jesus proceeds
Today we are invited to share in a journey to
In Zechariah we journey with the contagious excitement of a large group
going up to the temple where they will find the living God. In Job(*2), a
sad, despondent person is among those who wait for a death that is long
delayed. In the Gospel, the long "journey narrative" is introduced
by Luke; Jesus resolves to go toward
We of the twenty-first century are being asked to look on all of our changes, transitions and "journeys" as a step towards union with Jesus and with all our brothers and sisters in worship. Each sorrow enables us to fastened to his cross (Gal 5:24) or "crucified with Christ" (Gal 2:19). Every joy calls us to be with him, "raised so we too may live a new life" (Rom 6:4). Whether in sorrow or joy we are joined with many brothers and sisters who assemble in worship for the Eucharist around Christ's body "given for you" and his blood "shed for you" (Luke 22:19-20).
At the same time with with the Book of Job the Bible gives us food for times of sorrow and dejection. Among the stages of dying are anger and depression, real moments which cannot be denied or hurried. The text from Job may seem so negative as to be almost blasphemous, "Perish the day in which I was born.... Why did I not perish at birth?.... Or why was I not buried away like an untimely birth, like babes that have never seen light?" But at the very end of the text is a significant line. Job represents those persons whose path is hidden from them, and whom God has hemmed in.
Today we begin Luke's long journey narrative. All the way to the end of
ch. 19, Luke assembles sayings of Jesus which Matthew and Mark scatter
elsewhere in their stories. Luke thereby makes a theological (not a
geographical) statement that everything points mystically towards
Luke opens this journey narrative with the incident at
(1) Zc 8:20-23
Thus says the Lord of hosts: Peoples shall yet coe, the inhabitants of
many cities; the inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying,
"Come, let us go to entreat the favour of the Lord, and to seek the Lord
of hosts; I myself am going." Many peoples and strong nations shall come
to seek the Lord of hosts in
Thus says the Lord of hosts: In those days ten men from nations of every language shall take hold of a Jew, grasping his garment and saying, "Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you."
After this Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth.
Job said: "Let the day perish in which I was born, and the night that said, 'A man-child is conceived.'
"Why did I not die at birth, come forth from the womb and expire?
Why were there knees to receive me, or breasts for me to suck?
Now I would be lying down and quiet;
I would be asleep; then I would be at rest with kings and counselors of the earth who rebuild ruins for themselves, or with princes who have gold, who fill their houses with silver.
Or why was I not buried like a stillborn child, like an infant that never sees the light?
There the wicked cease from troubling, and there the weary are at rest.
"Why is light given to one in misery, and life to the bitter in soul, who long for death, but it does not come, and dig for it more than for hidden treasures; who rejoice exceedingly, and are glad when they find the grave?
Why is light given to one who cannot see the way, whom God has fenced in?
When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to
(*1) Neh 2:1ff. Nehemiah is allowed to go to
(*2) Job 9:1ff. Job confesses God's omnipotent control of the universe and his mysterious guidance of life.
(*3) Luke 9:57ff. Jesus responds to prospective followers by a series of stern statements.
In career terms, Nehemiah had it made, as personal valet to the Persian king, Artaxerxes I (464-423 B.C.). An incidental detail indicates his rank or position at court, as the one who first tasted the king's food and drink, to prove that nothing poisonous was being offered the monarch. He was daily in the royal retinue, and was therefore in a position to make requests or to interpret events and people. Yet he was sad because the city of his ancestors lay in ruins. Even though the temple had been rebuilt at the urging of Haggai and Zechariah, it was open to hostile invaders and no one could muster much energy to rebuild on a decent scale. The great prophecies of Ezekiel and Second Isaiah, spoken during the Babylonian exile, must have seemed to Nehemiah like visions without substance, mere whistling in the dark.
His gloom was so visible that the king asked what ailed him. To find the right words, Nehemiah prayed to the God of heaven and then made his request to be allowed go to Israel and speed up the rebuilding. He even got down to practical nuts-and-bolts issues like letters of introduction to local governors along the route of his return and requiring Asaph, the keeper of the royal park, to provide wood for the city gates, temple-citadel and his own residence. Nehemiah's account ends with a reference that the favour of the Lord was on me.
Job also takes us back to that austere period after the exile as well as forward to personal crises in our lives. Today he is replying to Bildad, the second of his three friends who had journeyed to give him sympathy and comfort. In many ways chapter nine summarizes the entire Book of Job: no one can be justified before God, God is wise in heart and mighty in strength... "Should he come near me, I see him not; How much less can I give him any answer." The magnificent poem to God's overpowering control of the universe, beyond human scrutiny and comprehension, which concludes the Book in chaps. 38-41, is already sketched for us in today's reading. Like Job, we too must live long within the dark cloud of mystery, in order to learn the way of faith and humility before God. Quick answers, like quick food and instant wealth, are generally not the best for physical health and psychological peace. Yet, once we have learned to recognize the inner groaning of the Spirit "as we await the redemption of our bodies" (Rom 823) and to be inwardly at peace with hopes as yet unfulfilled, then God calls us like Nehemiah to summon all of our human talents and to seize the opportunity to act with prudence and courage.
Very few people can live heroically on a continuous day-by-day basis, nor should life be planned that way. Yet, harsh moments come to each disciple, and then we need to turn and hear again the stern words of Jesus: The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. Let the dead bury their dead. Whoever puts his hand to the plough but keeps looking back is unfit for the reign of God. Today's reading sets a pattern for one's entire life, a life that includes long delays, great opportunities for human talents, heroic decisions of faith. For this day's "today" we need to discern which of the readings are most appropriate, yet even today it is necessary to prepare for tomorrow and its new, unexpected demands.
In the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine
was served him, I carried the wine and gave it to the king. Now, I had never
been sad in his presence before. So the king said to me, "Why is your
face sad, since you are not sick? This can only be sadness of the
heart." Then I was very much afraid. I said to the king, "May the
king live forever! Why should my face not be sad, when the city, the place of
my ancestors' graves, lies waste, and its gates have been destroyed by
fire?" Then the king said to me, "What do you request?" So I
prayed to the God of heaven. Then I said to the king, "If it pleases the
king, and if your servant has found favour with you, I ask that you send me
Then Job answered:
"Indeed I know that this is so; but how can a mortal be just before God?
If one wished to contend with him, one could not answer him once in a thousand.
He is wise in heart, and mighty in strength - who has resisted him, and succeeded?
- he who removes mountains, and they do not know it, when he overturns them in his anger; who shakes the earth out of its place, and its pillars tremble; who commands the sun, and it does not rise; who seals up the stars; who alone stretched out the heavens and trampled the waves of the Sea; who made the Bear and Orion, the Pleiades and the chambers of the south; who does great things beyond understanding, and marvellous things without number.
Look, he passes by me, and I do not see him; he moves on, but I do not perceive him.
He snatches away; who can stop him?
Who will say to him, 'What are you doing?'
How then can I answer him, choosing my words with him?
Though I am innocent, I cannot answer him;
I must appeal for mercy to my accuser.
If I summoned him and he answered me,
I do not believe that he would listen to my voice.
As they were going along the road, someone said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go." And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head."
To another he said, "Follow me." But he said, "Lord, first
let me go and bury my father." But Jesus said to him, "Let the dead
bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the
(*1) Neh 8:1ff. Ezra get the people to renew their loyalty to the Torah, to worship God and to share their gifts.
(*2) Job 19:21ff. Job again takes his case directly to God who will appear as his vindicator.
(*3) Luke 10:1ff. Jesus sends out the seventy-two disciples to announce the reign of God.
Urgent Sense of
We sense an urgency in each of these readings. Ezra assembles all the people, even the "children old enough to understand " what was read from the Torah or ancient Books of Moses. Job wants his words to be "cut in the rock forever" "with an iron chisel and with lead." Jesus sends out the seventy-two disciples with no provisions, lest they be hampered in their keen and rapid announcement that the reign of God is at hand. While all these texts share a sense of critical need to act at once in a decisive way, they part company in their vision of the future. Ezra foresees a long stretch of time on earth, for which he prepares his people by renewing the covenant and by teaching them the Torah. Job cuts through all human means of justification and reaches out directly towards God's immediate presence. Jesus announces that Job's wish is fulfilled in the reign of God. Yet, we also know that this reign, inaugurated by the Gospel, did not lead at once to a glorious paradise but rather to the long period of church histor, still awaiting the second coming of Jesus.
We stand in need of all of these three texts, not for any single moment in life, and maybe not for today. One text may seem to suffice at this time. Yet, we need to be prepared for the many tomorrows that lie ahead, lest we reject the Lord's messenger, and when it is too late, we see only the dust of our mistake, shaken from the messenger's feet. Jesus told his messengers, "If the people of any town you enter do not welcome you, go into its streets and say, 'We shake the dust of this town from our feet as testimony against you. But know that the reign of God is near.'" At certain crossroads of life we are afforded the luxury of much time, and like Ezra we can prepare punctiliously. Other moments, just as serious in their outcome, come quickly and leave us no time, only our good (or bad) instincts for an immediate decision. Sometimes we have opportunity enough afterwards to correct mistakes, at other times like Job or the towns that rejected the Lord's messengers, our decisions are "cut in stone, forever." Forthe rest of our life, possibly for eternity, we must live with the consequences.
Ezra has his place even today. We need someone to stand up and to speak with authority. He read plainly from the book of the law of God, interpreting it so that all could understand what was read. He did not intend the Torah to bring sorrow. When he saw the people in tears, he corrected them, this time in a different tone, "Today is sacred to the Lord your God. Do not be sad, and do not weep... Go, eat rich foods and drink sweet drinks, and allot portions for those with nothing prepared. He combined joy with discipline and so became the founder of Judaism, the way of life which beats in the heart of the Jewish people even today, whether that heart weeps or laughs.
While Ezra mustered their energy for the long haul and parceled it out carefully for ordinary days and generously for festivals, Job is faced with the once-in-twenty years challenge, maybe the once-in-a-lifetime ordeal. Human comforters, with their ancient wisdom and respected advice, simply intensified his agony. Job does not want theological explanations but called out, "Pity me, pity, O you my friends... Why do you hound me as though you were divine?" Then he takes his case directly to God. Each of us too at singular crises may be face to face with the awesome God in the depth of our conscience.
Jesus brings us a major imperative with the message, "The reign of
God is at hand." Our reaction is as serious in its results as the fate
All the people gathered together into the square before the Water Gate.
They told the scribe Ezra to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the
Lord had given to
And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, "This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep." For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. Then he said to them, "Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength." So the Levites stilled all the people, saying, "Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved." And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them.
Have pity on me, have pity on me, O you my friends, for the hand of God has touched me!
Why do you, like God, pursue me, never satisfied with my flesh?
"O that my words were written down!
O that they were inscribed in a book!
O that with an iron pen and with lead they were engraved on a rock forever!
For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him
in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to
them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore
ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest. Go on
your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.
Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever
house you enter, first say, 'Peace to this house!' And if anyone is there who
shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will
return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they
provide, for the labourer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house
to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is
set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, 'The
(*1) Bar 1:15ff. From our time in
(*2) Job 38:1ff. Only if Job is himself divine, with the knowledge of hidden things, can he challenge God.
(*3) Luke 10:13ff.
The readings today are full of memories, some of which make us sad, while
others reduced us like Job to "dust and ashes" (Job 42:6). Yet,
each reading is "gospel" for us, good news of salvation through
Jesus, the promise of a transformed existence. Today's text from Baruch dates
to the Babylonian exile (587-539 B.C.), and the verse immediately preceding
refers the autumnal feast of Tabernacles. A collection was being taken up, to
be sent to
Baruch insists that the fault is ours, not God's: we should blush with shame, for we have been disobedient; we went off after the desires of our own heart. Yet the same merciful God of the exodus is with us today. We are asked to repent, to reform our ways, to set our faces towards our good inspirations and yes, most of all to be men and women of hope.
Hopes do not make the future easy. Today's text(*2), summarizes God's overwhelming address to Job out of the storm and whirlwind. Because Job had questioned God's providential care, he must be like a fellow-god: so Job is asked, "Have you walked about in the depths of the abyss? Do you know the way to the dwelling place of light? Do you command the morning light and show dawn its place?"
We too tend to question God's wisdom. Yet we carry that wonderful memory of having taken part in the secret council of God, like Job and again like Jeremiah (Jer 23:18,22). If life's hopes and demands seem too divine and overtaxing on our human strength, we are reminded how much we belong to God's family. Like Moses in the desert, we have experienced the goodness, even the miracles of God. In the gospel, Jesus reminds us again of these miracles and holds out to us, even when melancholy and without hope, a new life, miraculously transformed.
And you shall say: The Lord our God is in the right, but there is open shame
on us today, on the people of
Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:
"Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place,so that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth and the wicked be shaken out of it?
It is changed like clay under the seal, and it is dyed like a garment.
Light is withheld from the wicked, and their uplifted arm is broken."
Have you entered into the springs of the sea, or walked in the recesses of the deep?
Have the gates of death been revealed to you, or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?
Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?
Declare, if you know all this.
"Where is the way to the dwelling of light, and where is the place of darkness,that you may take it to its territory and that you may discern the paths to its home?Surely you know, for you were born then, and the number of your days is great!
Then Job answered the Lord:
"See, I am of small account; what shall I answer you?
I lay my hand on my mouth.I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but will proceed no further."
"Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you,
"Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me."
(*1) Bar 4:5ff.
(*2) Job 42.
After Job repents of his omplaints, he is blessed more abundantly than ever before.
(*3) Luke 10:17ff. When the disciples return jubilant, Jesus rejoices in the graces reserved for the humble of heart.
The secret stirring beneath the surface in Baruch and Job comes
marvellously to the surface in Jesus' prayerful rejoicing in the Holy Spirit,
"what you have hidden from the learned and the clever, you have revealed
to the merest children." One mystery crops up when a city as stately and
as endowed with promise as
Mystery, like a child, can never be mastered by anger or pride, not with success and prosperity, not even with academic learning and syllogistic reasoning. Anger and pride deprive us of delicacy and concern, so necessary to approach any mystery in life. Learning and reasoning deal so much with what can be controlled that the intuitive and the marvellous are overlooked. Success and prosperity so involve us in materiality and in worldliness, that our sense of the other-world or inner-world is blurred and denied. The three readings for today invite us to take the time to stop and meditate, to let our spirit slip beneath surface concerns and quick answers, and to be at prayer with Jesus.
Baruch brings to mind all the photos of
Very similar to sorrowful
Finally, the gospel allows us a rare glimpse into the deepest of all mysteries, the prayer of Jesus. The gospels, especially that of Luke, frequently enough speak of Jesus at prayer, but seldom do they do more than preserve a reverent silence around such moments. Here he suddenly becomes silent, overcome by a hidden power. Rejoicing in the Holy Spirit, he thanks the Father that "what you have hidden from the learned and the clever, you have revealed to merest children." We can only hope to remain so delicately sensitive and grateful in the midst of any triumph or success we may achieve.
Take courage, my people, who perpetuate
Listen, you neighbours of
Take courage, my children, and cry to God, for you will be remembered by the one who brought this upon you. For just as you were disposed to go astray from God, return with tenfold zeal to seek him. For the one who brought these calamities upon you will bring you everlasting joy with your salvation.
Then Job answered the Lord:"I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.'Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?'
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you;therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes."
The Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; and he had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand donkeys. He also had seven sons and three daughters. He named the first Jemimah, the second Keziah, and the third Keren-happuch. In all the land there were no women so beautiful as Job's daughters; and their father gave them an inheritance along with their brothers. After this Job lived one hundred and forty years, and saw his children, and his children's children, four generations. And Job died, old and full of days.
The seventy returned with joy, saying, "Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!" He said to them, "I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven."
At that same hour Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him."
Then turning to the disciples, Jesus said to them privately, "Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it."
(*1) Jonah 1:1ff. Jonah tries to flee from God, but the sailors throw him overboard and a whale brings him to dry land.
(*2) Gal 1:6ff. Paul's gospel is no mere human invention but a true revelation; there is no other authentic gospel.
(*3) Luke 10:25ff. The parable of the Good Samaritan, to explain "who is my neighbour?"
Today's texts deal with divine reversals. Sometimes we may resemble Jonah who attempted to use the sea to flee away from the God of earth and sea. But God has wonderful ways of bringing us back to our senses, extraordinary ways to correct even our orthodox theology by appealing to pagans and heretics. It can seem whimsical on God's part, to advise us, who possess the truth, by means of our enemies who are wrong.
The dramatic reversals begin with the 1st
God is determined to teach
Dramatic reversals take a different twist in the letter to the Galatians(*2),
where Paul insists on the authentic truth of his gospel, namely that in the
community based on Christ there is no distinction based on Jew or Greek,
slave or free person, male or female, for all are united in Jesus (Gal 3:28).
This statement, which we will read again on Saturday of this week(*2), is the
keystone to Paul's entire ministry. This insight came to him directly - he
did not learn it from Peter or any of the other apostles. Jesus had sent the
twelve apostles to the "lost sheep of the house of
A hint of this new openness to outsiders was given by the author of the
Book of Jonah. Another comes from today's gospel. A lawyer-theologian posed a
problem to Jesus about everlasting life, one of the deepest and most serious
of all theological questions, and then tried to justify himself because he
already knew the the answer. He asked, "Who is my neighbour?" Jesus
turned to the Samaritans for an answer, to a people who were despised and
How do we regard our "Samaritan" or "Assyrian" neighbour, those we hate or look down on, who are ignorant and willfully wrong, who have harmed us and taken advantage of us. Listen, Jesus tells us, listen to them as they teach you how to pray and to follow God's holy will. Listen as they silently turn aside and care for their wounded enemy along the road. Listen, because we who are correct can be so biased and self-righteous, so proud and pious that we miss the signals of wonder and goodness flashed through the darkness to keep us on the course of God's blessed will.
Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai, saying, "Go at
But Jonah set out to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid his fare and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.
But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and such a mighty storm came upon the sea that the ship threatened to break up. Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried to his god. They threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea, to lighten it for them. Jonah, meanwhile, had gone down into the hold of the ship and had lain down, and was fast asleep. The captain came and said to him, "What are you doing sound asleep? Get up, call on your god! Perhaps the god will spare us a thought so that we do not perish."
The sailors said to one another, "Come, let us cast lots, so that we may know on whose account this calamity has come upon us." So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. Then they said to him, "Tell us why this calamity has come upon us. What is your occupation? Where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?"
"I am a Hebrew," he replied. "I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land." Then the men were even more afraid, and said to him, "What is this that you have done!" For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them so.
Then they said to him, "What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?" For the sea was growing more and more tempestuous. He said to them, "Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you; for I know it is because of me that this great storm has come upon you." Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring the ship back to land, but they could not, for the sea grew more an more stormy against them.
Then they cried out to the Lord, "Please, O Lord, we pray, do not let us perish on account of this man's life. Do not make us guilty of innocent blood; for you, O Lord, have done as it pleased you." So they picked Jonah up and threw him into the sea; and the sea ceased from its raging. Then the men feared the Lord even more, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.
But the Lord provided a large fish to swallow up Jonah; and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish, saying, "I called to the Lord out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice. Then the Lord spoke to the fish, and it spewed Jonah out upon the dry land.
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel - not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed! As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed!
Am I now seeking human approval, or God's approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ.
For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he said, "what must I do to inherit eternal lie?" He said to him, "What is written in the law? What do you read there?" He answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself." And he said to him, "You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live."
But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, "And who is my
neighbour?" Jesus replied, "A man was going down from
(*1) Jonah 3:1ff. At the preaching of Jonah, the people of
(*2) Gal 1:13ff. Paul persecutes the Jesus movement, then his conversion,
and going to
(*3) Luke 10:38ff. Jesus defends Mary's receptivity, while Martha busied herself with the hospitality.
While good intentions can drive one to overactivity and even to misguided zeal, the Scriptures defend human activity and good works as essential to salvation. For interpreting today's scripture readings we must keep in mind this healthy balance between contemplation and action, and remember that each of us reflects, simultaneously, Martha and Mary, Paul and Peter, Jonah and the the Ninevites. Each of these becomes a symbol for us. This outlook does not deny their individual reality but enshrines Paul's view that "everything in the Scriptures was written for our instruction" (Rom 15:4).
Jonah was a man of action, though not always good action. As we saw
yesterday, when ordered to
In the Book of Jonah repentance did not consist simply in the ritual acts of sackcloth and ashes. All persons were required to "turn from their evil ways," a phrase repeated twice in this short book, and therefore essential for true conversion. Both ritual and moral action were expected. In Galatians(*2), Paul was not converted in order to spend his life in prayer but rather to "spread among the gentiles the good news of Jesus." Martha, too, fits the pattern of many good, active people in the Gospel of Luke.
Still, the role of Mary begins to emerge as also a valid option. First of
all, note how Moses, the founder of biblical religion, ascends into the
clouds as he went up on mount Sinai and "stayed there for forty days and
forty nights" (Exod 24:18). Later we are told that during his time spent
in writing the law, Moses refrained from "eating any food or drinking any
water" (Exod 34:28). The king of
Turning to the gospel, we are not surprised at Jesus' words to Martha, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and upset about many things; one thing only is required. Mary has chosen the better portion." In a very true sense, Jesus was speaking to the "Mary spirit" that should exist in Martha and belongs to each of us. It is not good to be so active as to be "anxious and upset." Then, we are always in need to be reminded of the secret, inner vision of our lives.
The "better portion," praised by Jesus in no ways makes the other portion unimportant or unnecessary; it makes our activity full of spirit and soul, direction and wisdom, love and concern. We each need to be both Martha and Mary.
The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, "Get up, go
Jonah began to go into the city, going a day's walk. And he cried out,
"Forty days more, and
When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.
You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism. I was violently
Then after three years I did go up to
Gospel: Luke 10:38-42
Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me." But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her."
(*1) Jonah 4:1ff. Jonah complains and wants to die, enraged that the
compassionate God has spared
(*2) Gal 2:1ff. Paul openly corrects Peter for compromising the principle of the equality of all believers.
(*3) Luke 11:1ff. The Lucan version of the Our Father stresses daily needs and daily temptation.
We have already noted the paradoxes in the Book of Jonah. The prophet who
claimed to worship the Lord "who made the sea and the dry land"
seeks to flee from the Lord" by taking a long sea voyage. Today's
paradox is even more poignant. Jonah knew his Torah very well and would know
that God is "merciful and gracious, slow to anger and rich in
kindness" (Exod 34:7). So Jonah feared to preach in the name of such a
God, who would have compassion on Jonah's enemies, the people of
In Galatians(*2), Paul states the origin and validity of his message that gentiles are "coheirs" with Jesus in the promises of Abraham. This was no revolt for, prompted by a revelation he laid out for the scrutiny of the original band of apostles and disciples the gospel he preached to the gentiles. It is summarized in a famous statement, to be read later this week (Saturday): Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, all are one in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:28).
While the Torah retained its value as a guideline (Rom 15:4), nonetheless
gentiles were redeemed immediately by faith in Jesus. Circumcision and
dietary laws were no longer obligatory. Paul was so convinced of this new
freedom in Christ Jesus, that when Peter came to
In order to harmonize the principles of God's Kingdom with daily life, freedom in Christ Jesus with the demands of the apostolate, we need patience with people's difficulties and long-standing habits. Life is not concentrated on the single moment of death or of Christ's second coming, but is to be embraced in its own rhythms, day by day. Luke, therefore, adapted the Our Father, so as no longer to refer to a single, crucial moment as in Matthew 6:9-13 but to the extended and continuous practice of the faith.
Like Peter in today's reading from Galatians, we too succumb to temptation and sin. Our good intentions are marred by fear and false motives. We need the strength of daily prayer and even of daily Eucharist. Luke's Our Father quickly became the prayer before holy communion in the early church. The blend of principles with daily needs was to leave no single moment of life unaffected.
(1) Jo 4:1-11
But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord and said, "O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live." And the Lord said, "Is it right for you to be angry?"
Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city. The Lord God appointed a bush, and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east win, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. He said, "It is better for me to die than to live."
But God said to Jonah, "Is it right for you to be angry about the
bush?" And he said, "Yes, angry enough to die." Then the Lord
said, "You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labour
and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a
night. And should I not be concerned about
Then after fourteen years I went up again to
On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel for the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel for the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter making him an apostle to the circumcised also worked through me in sending me to the Gentiles), and when James and Cephas and John, who were acknowledged pillars, recognized the grace that had been given to me, they gave to Barnabas and me the right hand of fellowship, agreeing that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. They asked only one thing, that we remember the poor, which was actually what I was eager to do.
But when Cephas came to
He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples."
He said to them, "When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial."
(*1) Mal 3:13ff. It seems that religion brings no material benefit. Yet on the day of the Lord all justice will be revealed.
(*2) Gal 3:1ff. Paul asks the Galatians how they received the Spirit, by observance of the law or by faith ?
(*3) Luke 11:5-ff Jesus teaches perseverance in prayer, confident of the Father's love to all who ask it.
The Power of Perseverance
Perseverance is based on the assurance that we already possess what we seek. No one can keep on asking all through the night if they were not already being sustained by God's Holy Spirit. We already treasure this Holy Spirit within us, as temples of God (1 Cor 3:16). If we believe, it is under the impulse of God's mysterious presence. Faith accepts and acts on that which remains unseen. Paul wrote to the Romans that this "Spirit witnesses within our spirit that we are truly God's children" (Rom 8:16).
We have been using the more religious word, "perseverance." In(*3), Luke brings our discussion much closer to earth by citing a more secular word, "persistence". While "perseverance" connotes the way to heaven, "persistence" almost has an unappropriate taste of stubbornness about it. Such indeed is the tone and attitude of Jesus' short parable.
The social law of that country and culture demands an open door even to someone who comes, in the middle of the night. But we do not bang on the door of a neighbour in the middle of the night in order to obtain some bread. Jesus is not arguing what is right or wrong. The point of a parable is kept for the last line. The neighbour obliges, not because of friendship but because of the other person's persistence, and then gives as much as he needs.
Perseverance and persistence carry a note of annoyance and trouble, but most of all require an enduring faith that hopes will not be frustrated. A bond between the neighbours is being deepened beyond the laws of friendship. A new sense of admiration can ensue, once the shock of midnight banging and family disturbance levels off. Jesus takes the parable further by appealing to parents' care and attention towards their children. Does a mother give a snake when a child asks for fish? He acknowledges the basic goodness and fidelity of every human being, yet he also wants our relationships to deepen and become still more reliable:, with God's help. If you, with all your sins, know how to give your children good things, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him. God gives part of himself, his own Holy Spirit so that our own good actions manifest his divine goodness and reach beyond our dreams and expectations.
Paul also(*2) does not want his converts to slip back into earlier, immature habits. Not that these ways were all that wicked, only that they were not good enough. We should not regulate our external actions simply by conventional norms. The spirit of love should reach beyond custom and habit, and like the neighbour who persists knocking in the darkness, we too should extend our hopes to new and even to heroic expressions of love. Such generosity is possible for people "before whose eyes Jesus Christ was displayed to view on the cross." With such love before our eyes, how can we be mean in what we can expect of ourselves and of our neighbour.
As mentioned already, persistence implies a certain amount of stubbornness and annoyance. It can also bring a dose of discouragement. As the prophet Malachi points out(*1) , law-abiding people begin to ask: What do we profit by keeping God's command? Must we call the proud blessed? Can evildoers tempt God with impunity? Here, Malachi makes clear that good people need to be purified and corrected. Religion, like friendship and love, is not a commodity to be "used" nor should its effectiveness be gauged by external results. But Malachi also has a hopeful message for those who persevere under the guidance of God's Holy Spirit, "they shall be mine, my own special possession, I will have compassion on them, and shine on them with healing rays."
You have spoken harsh words against me, says the Lord. Yet you say, "How have we spoken against you?"
You have said, "It is vain to serve God. What do we profit by keeping his command or by going about as mourners before the Lord of hosts?
Now we count the arrogant happy; evildoers not only prosper, but when they put God to the test they escape."
Then those who revered the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord took note and listened, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who revered the Lord and thought on his name.
They shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, my special possession on the day when I act, and I will spare them as parents spare their children who serve them.
Then once more you shall see the difference between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him.
You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly exhibited as crucified! The only thing I want to learn from you is this: Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? Having started with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh? Did you experience so much for nothing? - if it really was for nothing. Well then, does God supply you with the Spirit and work miracles among you by your doing the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard?
And he said to them, "Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, 'Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.' And he answers from within, 'Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.' I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.
"So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"
(*1) Joel 1:13ff. A solemn fast is proclaimed to avert the plague, which evokes the tradition of the fearful "day of the Lord."
(*2) Gal 3:7ff. Justification is by faith as seen in Abraham, and is offered us through the death of Christ.
(*3) Luke 11:15ff. Jesus casts out devils by the finger of God, not by Beelzebul, as claimed by his detractors.
One of the favourite methods of answering a question, among the rabbis and with Jesus, is to ask another question. While our culture demands instant answers, the Bible tries to induce a meditative attitude in God's presence. This God is beyond our comprehension and rational control, as the Book of Sirach so eloquently says, "More than this we need not add; let the last word be, God is all in all." (Sir 43:28).
Paul picks up this idea(*2), and moves with it in an entirely different direction than the prophet Joel. His doctrine about justification by faith does not deny the efficacy and necessity of good works, but like the prophets whom Paul quotes very frequently, we cannot rely just on our works, no matter how good they may be, for works are visible and so can always be judged. They will seldom achieve the perfection and goals of the laws that God has laid down. Therefore, Paul quotes from Deuteronomy, "Cursed be that one who fails any of the provisions of this law." And all the people shall answer, "Amen." (Deut 27:26)
Jesus acknowledges the existence of supernatural forces of good and evil, devils and angels. He wrestles with these mighty powers and must silence his opponents who accuse him out of envy and fear, "by Beelzebul, he casts out devils!" No indeed, he replies, but it is with God's help that he faces down the power of evil. So we too cannot rely simply on our own unaided strength, but make God our refuge in the day of evil.
Put on sackcloth and lament, you priests; wail, you ministers of the altar. Come, pass the night in sackcloth, you ministers of my God! Grain offering and drink offering are withheld from the house of your God.
Sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly. Gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land to the house of the Lord your God, and cry out to the Lord.
Alas for the day! For the day of the Lord is near, and as destruction from the Almighty it comes.
Blow the trumpet in
so, you see, those who believe are the descendants of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, declared the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "All the Gentiles shall be blessed in you." For this reason, those who believe are blessed with Abraham who believed.
For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the things written in the book of the law." Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law; for "The one who is righteous will live by faith." But the law does not rest on faith; on the contrary "Whoever does the works of the law will live by them." Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us - for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree" - in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.
But some of them said, "He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the ruler
of the demons." Others, to test him, kept demanding from him a sign from
heaven. But he knew what they were thinking and said to them, "Every
kingdom divided against itself becomes a desert, and house falls on house. If
Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? - for you
say that I cast out the demons by Beelzebul. Now if I cast out the demons by
Beelzebul, by whom do your exorcists cast them out? Therefore they will be
your judges. But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out the demons,
"When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it wanders through waterless regions looking for a resting place, but not finding any, it says, 'I will return to my house from which I came.' When it comes, it finds it swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and live there; and the last state of that person is worse than the first."
(*1) Joel 4:12ff. Prophecy of a severe judgment, followed by a time of peace and prosperity on God's holy mountain.
(*2) Gal 3:33ff. In Christ, all the baptized are equally children of God, Jew or gentile, slave or free, male or female.
(*3) Luke 11:27ff. More blessed than the womb that bore Jesus is the one who hears God's word and keeps it.
A sword of sorrow seems to be wielded in all three readings. Joel
announces severe judgment against the nations, in the
Even if such symbols are not to be taken literally, they are to be taken
seriously. As blood is seen as "the seat of life" (Lev 17:11), Joel
warns that the life of all the created universe must be re-consecrated to God
in the valley of decision. We must rethink our entire existence, and evaluate
our loyalty to family, country, race and even our church, if the Lord is to
be our refuge and our stronghold. We reconsider our relationship with
foreigners and with business, employment and government, possibly what is
meant by the references to
The sword of God's word reaches the sensitive heart of life in Paul's Letter to the Galatians(*2), to strike down all false, artificial boundaries between "Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female." Paul writes: All of you who have been baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with him. The pain and humility by which divisions and grievances may be healed are usually more difficult than the offence which initially provoked the differences. Paul summons us to this "valley of decision," to heal old wounds and family disputes, to become "one in Christ Jesus."
No one escapes the sharp sword of God's words, not even Jesus' own blessed mother. Her role does not stop with her physical motherhood and her gentle, life-giving care of the infant Jesus at her breast. She too was to listen continually to God's word and to act on its new inspirations. In Luke's gospel, Mary is presented in just that way, treasuring God's word, spoken through her wide reach of neighbours, and reflecting on them in her heart (Luke 2:19). We too must listen again this day to God's word and act on it with new faith and confidence, and reach out with new bonds of love to our faith-family across the world, as close to us as brothers and sisters.
Let the nations rouse themselves, and come up to the
Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Go in, tread, for the wine press is full. The vats overflow, for their wickedness is great. Multitudes, multitudes, in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision. The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining.
The Lord roars from
In that day the mountains shall drip sweet wine, the hills shall flow with
milk, and all the stream beds of
But the scripture has imprisoned all things under the power of sin, so that what was promised through faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.
Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.
As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise.
While Jesus was speaking, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, "Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!" But he said, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!"
(*1) Rom 1:1ff. Paul is to proclaim to gentiles the good news of Jesus, descended from David but recognised as Son of God by the resurrection.
(*2) Gal 4:22ff. Through faith we are born free, heirs to God's promises. It was for liberty that Christ freed us.
(*3) Luke 11:29ff. The people of
The Last Shall be First
Some people with little or no knowledge of Jesus manifest a gentleness,
honesty and generosity which puts to shame many Christian believers. The
gospel gives us excellent examples of this. While, of course, Jesus was
comparing the gentiles with his Jewish compatriots, the story was written for
Christian communities. The queen of the south represents Africa, long known
in the Bible through references to Kush or
An explanation for this can be found by reflecting on Paul's letter to the Galatians(*2), and to the Romans(*1) . In many ways the Galatians epistle was a trial run for the ideas developed more extensively in the Romans, which is Paul's most careful synthesis of his gospel and will be read for the coming four weeks, the 28th to the 31st in ordinary time(*1) .
Galatians introduced an antithesis which Romans will make famous, the opposition between flesh and spirit, the way of nature and the way of God's promises. This image evokes a series of Old Testament passages which speak of several heirs to the promise born of very elderly or sterile couples: Isaac, son of Abraham and Sarah in their old age (Gen 18:11); Samson, whose mother had been "barren and had borne no children" (Judg 13:2); Samuel, whose mother, "Hannah was childless" up to that time (1 Samuel 1:2).
Paul's reasoning in Galatians is in a style very strange for us. In fact,
he who knew
Each of us, he seems to say, contains in ourselves not one but two births. We are born of the flesh in the natural order, and born of the spirit in the supernatural order. The first follows a law that is irreversible - conception, birth, life in the flesh. Paul compares this to Judaism with its multiple laws for each moment of human existence. Our second birth through the Spirit far surpasses our fleshly human ability and potency, and it leads to eternal life. Flesh is doomed to die; spirit is promised eternal life. The spirit co-exists with our human, fleshly self and liberates us from its slavery to death.
This double birth is modelled in Jesus, according to Paul's opening words
to the Romans(*1) . Jesus was descended from David "according to the
flesh" but was made Son of God in power, "by his resurrection from
the dead." Salvation comes through the Spirit, not only in Jesus' case
but even throughout the Old Testament when children of the promise, like
Isaac or Samuel, were conceived miraculously.
The impulse of the Spirit exists with all men and women throughout the world. We too have the benefit of the Scriptures, the sacred liturgy and a long tradition of saints. All of us can remember wonderful moments in our own lives when the Holy Spirit brought us the fruits of love, joy and peace. We are able to anticipate eternal life and its joy here on earth, for the Spirit of Jesus, greater than Solomon or Jonah, dwells within the fleshly temple of our bodies.
Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, To all God's beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and the
other by a free woman. One, the child of the slave, was born according to the
flesh; the other, the child of the free woman, was born through the promise.
Now this is an allegory: these women are two covenants. One woman, in fact,
is Hagar, from
But the other woman corresponds to the
So then, friends, we are children, not of the slave but of the free woman. For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, "This generation is
an evil generation; it asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it
except the sign of Jonah. For just as Jonah became a sign to the people of
(*1) Rom 1:16ff. Failure to glorify God leads to many immoral excesses. The gift of justice by which we are saved begins and ends with faith.
(*2) Gal 5:1ff. In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor the lack of it counts any more; only faith which expresses itself through love.
(*3) Luke 11:37ff. Interior cleanliness is far more important than exterior cleanliness. If you give what you have as alms, all will be wiped clean for you.
In today's reading from Romans(*1) , we hear of the visible manifestation of God's eternal power within the created world and are gradually led to the invisible reality of God himself. The gospel seems to say that the condition of the inside of the cup is more important than the outside, and generosity more effective than the washing of hands. Romans moves from the outside in, the gospel from the inside out. Galatians(*2), seems to hit the happy medium: there ought to be a harmonious blending of faith and love, flesh and spirit, inner and outer cleanliness. If such an integral and peaceful wholeness exists in us, then Paul's ideal of perfect liberty will be ours.
The Epistle to the Romans is not easily interpreted. Paul's ideas seem to shimmer as he glides from one aspect of salvation to another. We can bring the ideas back into focus if we recall the key phrase, so prominent in Galatians (3:11) and now repeated as a dominant theme for the entire Epistle to the Romans, "The just one lives by faith."
Paul is quoting from the prophet Habakkuk, who introduced a signal change into Israelite prophecy. Up till his time (605 B.C.) the message addressed by the prophets, was in the form of a divine oracle. But Habakkuk flung human questions back to God, and these too became a "word of God". After Habakkuk's second question, however, God closed the conversation with a statement that was to be inscribed with letters so large (as on a billboard) that one can read it "on the run" (Hab 2:3). His word "will not disappoint," says the Lord. Therefore, "if it delays, wait for it." The message was simply, "the just one lives by faith."
"Faith" here implies fidelity and trust over the long run. It recognizes that the mysteries spread across the universe are also deeply imbedded in each person's soul.. The "justice" signifies that God, humanity, and the entire created universe live up to what they are. Actions flow from nature. God is just when. he lives up to his covenantal promises. When Paul writes, "in the gospel is revealed the justice of God which begins and ends with faith," he means to say that God fulfills these convenantal promises in a way beyond all expectation, yet true to his own compassionate self.
This Holy Spirit is innerly present throughout the universe, slowly but surely revealing God's invisible realities. Thus the stakes of life are high. It is not a matter of "natural goodness" but of fidelity to a supernatural spirit within each person. The law of the flesh must give way to the law of the spirit. We are set free from laws about circumcision and legal cleanliness, clean and unclean foods, so that we can follow the more demanding law of the spirit, which is love and everlasting fidelity.
Jesus makes the demand more explicit, "give what you have as alms." love, therefore, is to be concerned about the needy and generous in attending to them. Then, he concluded, "all will be wiped clean for you." This is a curious thought. The poor and the needy generally have a more difficult time with cleanliness than the wealthy and the leisured class. The poor work longer hours, are involved with dirt, grease and dust, and do not have at hand all the conveniences of hot and cold running water, privacy and energy. Could this be why Jesus had not properly washed his hands before sitting down to eat at the Pharisee's house?
For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, "The one who is righteous will live by faith."
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; for though they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools; and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Listen! I, Paul, am telling you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you. Once again I testify to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obliged to obey the entire law. You who want to be justified by the law have cut yourselves off from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love.
While he was speaking, a Pharisee invited him to dine with him; so he went in and took his place at the table. The Pharisee was amazed to see that he did not first wash before dinner. Then the Lord said to him, "Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? So give for alms those things that are within; and see, everything will be clean for you.
(*1) Rom 2:11ff. "By judging others you convict yourself." All are under the same set of criteria, the Jew first, and then the gentile.
(*2) Gal 5:18ff. Paul contrasts the fruits of the flesh with those of the spirit. "Those who belong to Christ have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires."
(*3) Luke 11:42ff. Woe to Pharisees and lawyers who insist on impossible legal details yet neglect to share with others in the justice and love of God.
The Scriptures insist on freedom and the primacy of love, but also warn us against the excess of libertinism and individualism. In today's text from Galatians(*2), Paul minces no words in stating what obviously proceeds from the undisciplined flesh: lewd conduct, impurity, envy, envy, drunkenness and the rest.
Jesus' words in the gospel are carefully nuanced. While contrasting the way that the Pharisees paid their tithes, while neglecting justice and the love of God, Jesus concludes that the latter are more important, but immediately adds, "without omitting the other." He did not mount any campaign against the Jewish or Mosaic law. In fact, he observed it carefully and always had a sensible reason for departing from it. When he permits a freer way of acting, he is generally defending his disciples, e.g., plucking and rubbing grain on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1).
As we meditate more deeply, we first note the danger of stressing external details and in judging others accordingly. The more that we multiply rules and regulations, the more we take control of other people's lives. With control over other people's lives comes a propensity to judge them. At the same time we ourselves are in ever greater danger of imagining ourselves to be holy because we are exact in externals. Our insistence on externals makes it all too easy to be judgmental.
Jesus did not deny the validity of rules and regulations, in this case, the requirement to pay tithes. So we should not be in the habit of neglecting these things. Yet he stresed the more important need for justice and the love of God. It is good for us to question our motives in obeying rules and in seeking to be proper and correct in external details. Some consider the appearance of a home more essential than the happy life within the home. We may look good just because that is expected of us. But if we are in the habit of passing judgment on family, community and people at large, we have probably lost touch with the more central values of love.
As we read further in today's text from Romans, we meet several important sentences which throw new light on the question of judging others. Paul writes, "With God there is no favouritism." This reminds us of the different scale of values and the important cultural diversity between Jew and Greek. It is so easy, at least at first, for a person from one culture or background, to judge severely a person from a different background. There are absolute truths, of course, but on the scale of values these truths will take different colorations within different cultures.
Furthermore, each person has the capability of living a good life, whether Jew or Greek. We are asked to look for this goodness in others before we drag them before our hastily convoked court of law. Jesus, moreover, adds another bit of important advice. Before we begin to judge others harshly, we are asked first to "lift a finger to lighten" their burden. Perhaps then we would be in such admiration of their goodness and patience, that negative attitudes would be choked off.
Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things. You say, "We know that God's judgment on those who do such things is in accordance with truth." Do you imagine, whoever you are, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you despise the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not realize that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God's righteous judgment will be revealed. For he will repay according to each one's deeds: to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honour and immortality, he will give eternal life; while for those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be anguish and distress for everone who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honour and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality.
But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the
works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness,
idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions,
factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning
you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the
By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.
"But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herb of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these you ought to have practiced, without neglecting the others. Woe to you Pharisees! For you love to have the seat of honour in the synagogues and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces. Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without realizing it."
One of the lawyers answered him, "Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us too." And he said, "Woe also to you lawyers! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not lift a finger to ease them.
(*1) Rom 3:21ff.
All have sinned, Jews and Gentiles alike, and are now undeservedly justified by faith in Jesus Christ, whose blood was shed for all.
(*2) Eph 1:3ff. God chose us in Christ before the world began, to be holy and blameless in his sight, and be united under Christ's headship.
(*3) Luke 11:47ff. In opposing Jesus and plotting his death, the Pharisees and Lawyers have taken sides with those who killed the prophets of old.
Romans and Ephesians(*2), are important theological statements. In Romans Paul explores the basis of his gospel and entire ministry: namely, that all people, whatever their race, are spiritually dependent on Jesus. Ephesians, which may be a composite document drawn from Paul's writings and preaching, begins with an early church hymn of wonder and adoration. By contrast, today's gospel is similar to the "woe" or "curse" passages of the Old Testament.
Many rich theological phrases bring depth and Old Testament resonance to Paul's writings, each with its own specific nuance of meaning. Such words include: justice of God, the glory of God, redemption, blood, the law or Torah, choice by God, divine favour, mystery, fullness of time, Christ's headship. For our meditation we choose one of these, namely blood, which occurs in all three readings for today. Through Christ's blood he achieves expiation for all who believe (Romans); through his blood we have been redeemed (Ephesians); his blood joins that of all the prophets shed since the foundation of the world (Luke). Clearly a positive life-giving meaning is assigned to the blood of Christ.
The key text on blood in the Old Testament is in the liturgical book of Leviticus, where blood evokes a whole series of meanings and emotions, the most basic being that the life of a living body is in its blood (Lev 17:11). It is, therefore, as life, and not as the symbol of death, that the blood of Christ mysteriously unites us with God and with one another. Blood was sprinkled on the altar and on the people when the covenant of life was sealed between Yahweh and the Israelites (Exod 24:6-8). Each of us is a single, living person when warm blood flows from heart to head and hands and feet uniting all the members.
When Paul writes to the Romans, "through his blood God made Christ the means of expiation for all who believe," he is saying that Christ's death and resurrection have established a bond of life in all who are one in Christ Jesus. The focus of attention is not on the death (even though this agonizing event is not to be overlooked), but on the new life which the risen Christ suffuses into our midst. Because this "life" or "blood" of Christ is so pure, vigorous and divine, we are cleansed of all impurities within our system and are granted a supernatural energy and perception.
Ephesians not only stresses the same bond of unity established by blood , but it also extends this unity to "before the world began." If this gift of life in Christ Jesus is wholly undeserved, a term used today by Paul in Romans, it is because God freely decided to love us and to gift us with life, before we even existed. This sweep of the eternal benevolence is a frequent referent in Ephesians. If only our love for others could be swept along so freely and so effectively.
Jesus also returns to the theme of blood in his controversy with a group of Pharisees and lawyers. When he condemns them for erecting monumental tombs over the graves of the prophets, it is not that he is opposed to honouring the prophets. Typical of the blood-symbolism, Jesus wants to honour the dead, not so much by concentrating on their dead bones nor even on their dead memory, but by continuing their life and imitating their selfless concern for others, especially for the poor and for others in desperate need; we too are meant to stand up for the cause of justice, for other people's dignity and rights.
But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.
Then what becomes of boasting? It is excluded. By what law? By that of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one; and he will justify the circumcised on the ground of faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith.
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your ancestors killed. So you are witnesses and approve of the deeds of your ancestors; for they killed them, and you build their tombs. Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, 'I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute,' so that this generation may be charged with the blood of all the prophets shed since the foundation of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, it will be charged against this generation. Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge; you did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering."
When he went outside, the scribes and the Pharisees began to be very hostile toward him and to cross-examine him about many things, lying in wait for him, to catch him in something he might say.
(*1) Rom 4:1ff. When one believes believes in the provident God who takes care of us, this faith is credited as justice. This is how Abraham was justified.
(*2) Eph 1:11ff. We are sealed with the Holy Spirit, the first payment to the people that God has made his own to praise his glory.
(*3) Luke 12:1ff. Do not be fearful. What you hear or say in secret, proclaim from the rooftops. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot touch your soul.
At our centre is an inner dignity, strength and holiness that far surpass any good works we do and puts us at ease before our divine Judge, living on earth yet already enjoying heavenly peace. That's how today's reading from Ephesians(*2) sees us, as having received from God something like a "down payment," or "first installment," of eternal life. It is as a pregnant woman, who already possesses new life, unborn, within her. She has an assurance, but must wait for the birth. She can discern the future child, but is still guessing what the child will really be like. In Ephesians we are said to be "sealed with the Holy Spirit," the pledge of our inheritance.
Paul can offer no credible explanation for the gift, except that we were "chosen, predestined" by our loving God. We were loved before we loved in return, we were carefully chosen to be God's very own people. Our life is meant to be lived in praise to God's glory. If our entire life and its growth and fulfillment are due entirely to God, how free and uninhibited we can be.
The exuberance of Ephesians flattens out a bit as we turn to the Epistle to the Romans(*1) . Romans tends to be sober and cautious due to the atmosphere of controversy. Paul is still battling against the "Judaizers" of the early Church who demanded the full observance of the Mosaic law from every disciple of Jesus. He turns to the example of Abraham, to illustrate that justification is by faith rather than by works. Not only does the Torah state clearly, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as justice," but it is also an indisputable fact that Abraham preceded Moses by hundreds of years, and therefore did not observe the Mosaic law. If this part of Paul's argument is so obvious that he may seem guilty of overkill, it may be meant to counter a tradition that Abraham knew in advance by revelation the entire Mosaic law, obeyed it and so was blessed. Such seems to be the position of the sage, Ben Sirach, "Abraham, father of many peoples,... observed the precepts of the Most High,... and when tested,he was found loyal. Therefore, God promised him with an oath that in his descendants the nations would be blessed (Sir 44:19-21).
Paul disdains this later tradition and takes his case back to Genesis. First came God's choice and call (Gen 12), then Abraham's faith (Gen 15) and only later did he demand circumcision (Gen 17) and prove himself faithful in the test (Gen 22). If God's gift to Abraham, and like Abraham now to the gentiles, was so freely bestowed, then Paul and ourselves need no longer think of past sins. Nor will we be concerned about offenses against a law that is no longer binding on us.
The exuberance and liberty of spirit returns again in the gospel. What was said in the dark we are to proclaim from rooftops. If our merciful God is concerned about sparrows, then "fear nothing. You are more precious than a whole flock of sparrows."
Justification by faith in this God liberates us more than from the law. It makes us free, confident and already part-way to heaven.
What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness." Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness. So also David speaks of the blessedness of those to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works:
"Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the one against whom the Lord will not reckon sin."
In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God's own people, to the praise of his glory.
Meanwhile, when the crowd gathered by the thousands, so that they trampled on one another, he began to speak first to his disciples, "Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees, that is, their hypocrisy. Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops.
"I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that can do nothing more. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God's sight. But even the hairs of your head are all counted. Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.
(*1) Rom 4:13ff. Hoping against hope, Abraham became the father of many nations, believing in the life-giving power of God.
(*2) Eph 1:18ff. May God enlighten your inner vision that you may know the great hope to which you are called.
(*3) Luke 12:8ff. Do not worry how to defend yourselves. The Holy Spirit will teach you at that moment all that should be said.
Abraham's hoping against hope(*1) , must have seemed odd, even to Sarah his wife. Who would ever think that this elderly couple would not only be the parents of "a great nation" but that all the communities of the earth would be blessed through them (Gen 12:2-3). A person without Abraham's faith would call this man's hope simply "ridiculous."
Whenever a situation turns out to be humanly hopeless, we should recall Abraham and Sarah. Such situations calling for radical decision come often enough in individual lives, and within church history too. Death is one such moment for everyone. Radical conversion is another. A decision for marriage, priesthood, religious life or particular secular career is still another.
Abraham appears again, four or five centuries later during the Babylonian
exile. The fate of
Paul calls us to "look to Abraham... and to Sarah," so that the
Lord may have pity on all our ruins and turn our desert existence into a
Those with intimate union with Jesus realize how disastrous is a word spoken against the Holy Spirit, who is there to inspire us with courage and vision at any moment of crisis. "The Holy Spirit will teach you at that moment all that should be said."
For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith.
For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, as it is written, "I have made you the father of many nations") - in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become "the father of many nations," according to what was said, "So numerous shall your descendants be."
I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.
I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
"And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before he angels of God; but whoever denies me before others will be denied before the angels of God. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. When they bring you before the synagogues, the rulers, and the authorities, do not worry about how you are to defend yourselves or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say."
(*1) Rom 4:20ff. Like Abraham our faith will be credited to us if we believe in Jesus' resurrection, who was raised up for our justification.
(*2) Eph 2:1ff. God brought us to life with Christ and in Christ when we were dead in sin. We are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus.
(*3) Luke 12:13ff. Avoid greed in all its forms. A person may be wealthy, but mere possessions do not guarantee that our life is worthwhile.
If the Scriptures insist frequently on justification by faith, they are not condemning good works, as though we were to do nothing but believe and pray. We have the example of Jesus, who went about doing good, preaching, healing, listening, defending, encouraging, giving alms to the poor. If faith meant the absence of good works, then many of the prophets went astray, especially those like Isaiah who preached a strong message of faith and of works.
Paul's favourite author was Isaiah, responsible for that stirring, if
almost untranslatable couplet: Unless your faith is firm, You shall not be
affirmed (Isa 7:9). This same prophet also stressed good works. When Isaiah
The gospel reminds us of possible faults of seemingly good people. They can be greedy and miserable about preserving what they have amassed diligently and properly. They can find total security in wealth and respectability. To this streak in most of us, Jesus gives this warning: Avoid greed in all its forms....Possessions do not guarantee life... Do not grow rich for oneself instead of growing rich in the sight of the Lord.
No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. Therefore his faith "was reckoned to him as righteousness." Now the words, "it was reckoned to him," were written not for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.
You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ - by grace you have been saved - and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God - not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepare beforehand to be our way of life.
Someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me." But he said to him, "Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?" And he said to them, "Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions." Then he told them a parable: "The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, 'What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?' Then he said, I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, 'Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.' But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God."
He said to his disciples, "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you - you of little faith! And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that ou need them. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.
(*1) Rom 5:12ff. Through Adam, sin and death exist in us all; through Jesus Christ, grace and justice exist in everyone who believes. Grace has far surpassed sin.
(*2) Eph 2:12ff. In the flesh of Christ, nailed to the cross, God has broken down the barrier of hostility between Jew and gentile, to form one new people.
(*3) Luke 12:35ff. It will go well for those servants whom the master finds wide awake at his return. He will set them at table and wait on them.
By the time Luke wrote his gospel, the early church was no longer obsessed with the proximate return of Jesus in glory. The urgency of waiting for the Day of the Lord was no longer directed to a once-for-all coming of Jesus in glory to end the present condition of the world and usher in the everlasting kingdom. As with the Our Father, Luke thinks of the daily presence of the Lord Jesus in our neighbour and in contemporary events. We must be waiting, always ready to open the door of our heart, and of our possessions, should Jesus come even at midnight or before sunrise. Whatever happens anytime, anywhere, must be received as though Jesus were here in person.
But in another point, Jesus overturns oriental custom and sets us back to the drawing board of our own theology and organization of life. Normally, when the master returned, his servants waited on him. Jesus recognized this custom at another time in addressing the disciples (Luke 17:7-10). Now the reverse is to happen: The master will put on an apron, seat the servants at table, and proceed to wait on them. In our service of receiving others in our heart or home, it is we who benefit most. When we try to be of service to others, it is they who heap good gifts on us.
Perhaps the greatest gift will come through our realization that our family extends to many brothers and sisters. Paul addresses clearly in Ephesians(*2): You are strangers and aliens no longer. You are fellow citizens of the saints and members of God's household.
Sacrifice goes into this enterprise. No one forms family and community with others, even with one's own flesh and blood, without carrying the cross with Jesus. But our sacrifice becomes one with his, in so far as his goodness inspires us to follow his example, and his Holy Spirit sustains us. What is said of breaking down the barrier between Jew and gentile can now be repeated in ourselves as we open our lives hospitably to all who knock at our door.
Our lives, like Christ's become a sacred sacrifice. Our bodies are built into a "temple,... a dwelling place for God in the Spirit." Charity and hospitality form us into a world family, dying and rising to new life in Jesus, consecrated as a sacred temple for adoration and holiness in the Spirit.
This basic sense of unity helps us better understand Paul's words to the Romans(*1) . We are all one through Adam and again through Jesus. Through Adam we share in the sins, prejudices and weaknesses, inherent in our human family. Through Jesus there is "overflowing grace" tto grace our lives. Paul writes, "Despite the increase of sin, grace far surpasses it,... leading to eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord."
Each good attempt is a sacred action within God's holy temple. Each moment of our life takes place in "a dwelling place for God in the Spirit."
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned.
But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man's trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many. If, because of the one man's trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.
Therefore just as one man's trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man's act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. For just as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous. But law came in, with the result that the trespass multiplied; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, just as sin exercised dominion in death, so grace might also exercise dominion through justification leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the
For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.
"Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.
(*1) Rom 6:12ff. Submit yourself in obedience to God's justice. Offer yourself to God as a person who has come from death to life.
(*2) Eph 3:2ff. Paul is commissioned to preach to the gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, the mystery now revealed by his Spirit.
(*3) Luke 12:39ff. Be on guard. The Son of Man will come when you least expect it.
From the point of view of Romans we are "men and women who have come back from the dead to life," and the risen Christ dwells within us. Luke seems to say in the gospel that Jesus has gone on a long journey and has disappeared across the horizon. The Epistle to Ephesians(*2) brings these divergent ideas together. Simultaneously, we already possess the mystery of Christ in us, and we are still seeking the fullness of this mystery.
As we read the gospel again , the divergence does not seem quite so severe as at first. We are advised to live daily, even moment by moment, as though the Son of Man were at the door, already knocking and ready to come in. Another key to the readings occurs in the word "servant" or "slave," at least for Romans and Luke. Paul advises us to be "obedient slaves of justice." The biblical word "justice" embraces much more than integrity and concern for the distribution of this world's goods. It goes back to God's utter fidelity in being true to himself and to his promises. To Moses on Mount Sinai Yahweh proclaimed himself as "a merciful and gracious God... rich in kindness and fidelity" (Exod 34:6). Therefore, as "obedient slaves to justice," we must live with an awareness of God's marvellous plan of salvation.
If we are "slaves of justice," we are true to our most inward self, to our authentic personality, to our image of God before creation, to the most wonderful possibilities of our life in God's dreams for us. The term slave also occurs repeatedly in the gospel. Here Jesus tells the parable of the unworthy steward who began to abuse the housemen and servant girls, to eat and to get drunk. This steward is a slave himself, only of a higher position, but has forgotten most elementary norms of justice and concern for others. The wise steward-slave was to be a just and faithful in his service.
In writing to the Ephesians(*2), Paul concentrates on the far horizons. He is lost in a wonderful insight, an extraordinary revelation. We should note the repetition of such phrases as: God's secret plan, the mystery of Christ, the unfathomable riches of Christ, the mysterious design hidden in God, the Creator of all. God's age-old purpose has existed before creation and controlled the making of the universe. It exists now throughout the world, whether people realize it or not, accept it or not.
Linked with the gospel, this Ephesians text takes on another nuance. The master comes unexpectedly from all corners of the universe. Jesus is knocking at our door, literally everywhere. He is rising to new life in people and places where we would least expect it. Such is "God's secret plan." We, as chief stewards of the house, must not mistreat nor abuse anyone. We need to care tenderly for each person. We need to be very solicitous about the use of God's good earth. Any moment, any time Jesus will come and knock.
Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
What ten? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.
Surely you have already heard of the commission of God's grace that was given me for you, and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words, a reading of which will enable you to perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ. In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God's grace that was given me by the working of his power. Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him.
"But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour."
Peter said, "Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for everyone?" And the Lord said, "Who then is the faithful and prudent manager whom his master will put in charge of his slaves, to give them their allowance of food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. Truly I tell you,he will put that one in charge of all his possessions. But if that slave says to himself, 'My master is delayed in coming,' and if he begins to beat the other slaves, men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and put him with the unfaithful. That slave who knew what his master wanted, but did not prepare himself or do what was wanted, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know and did what deserved a beating will receive a light beating. From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one o whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.
(*1) Rom 6:19ff. Freed from sin and slaves of God, you tend towards eternal life.
This is the gift of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
(*2) Eph 3:14ff. May you grasp the depth of Christ's love, surpassing all knowledge and so attain to the fullness of God himself.
(*3) Luke 12:49ff. I have come to light a fire on the earth, a baptism to receive.
I have not come for peace but for division.
The imagery or symbolism of today's readings sets up a series of paradoxes. For instance, in Romans Paul speaks of being slaves of God; in this case the Lord is a slave-master. God is called father or parent in Ephesians(*2). And then Jesus' words in Luke that "I have not come to establish peace but division" openly clash with his other assurance " 'Peace' is my farewell to you, my peace is my gift to you" (John 14:27). Ephesians has already said that Christ is our peace "who has made the two one by breaking down the barrier of hostility." We must meditate longer, allow the Scriptures to sink more deeply within us and so experience their harmony in a new way.
The reading from Ephesians centres on God's love for us - a love that always reaches beneath logic and rational control. If we are able to explain fully to another's satisfaction or even to our own, why we love someone, such love is shallow and suspect. In Ephesians, therefore, love is surrounded with mystery. Deep love in a sense makes "slaves" of us, but not a slavery wherein we grovel in fear but a slavery which sets us joyfully on the way to eternal life, freed from shame and fear. Our bodies acquire a new dignity as "servants of justice." If we are swept beyond our control and risk everything for the sake of life in Christ and eternal life, we experience a new level of love and a new integrity surrounds us, body and soul.
In the gospel Jesus appears enslaved to love and to the Father's holy
will. The language is strong in its echo of inner emotions, "How I wish
the blaze were ignited!" Jesus was swept beyond his human understanding,
almost beyond his human tolerance and patience. The references are clearly to
his passion and death, particularly as Luke develops the theme of Jesus'
ministry, with him "firmly resolved to go towards
We can return to Jesus' other words with a deeper appreciation of their force and implication: "Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? I assure you, the contrary is true; I have come for division." It is not so surprising that serious division will split families into quarreling factions, each misunderstanding the other. Yet, such division is only temporary. In the flesh of Jesus, where the separation was felt most severely, we find a unifying power that breaks down all barriers and makes one chosen people of Jew and gentile, male and female, slave and free. All are one in Christ Jesus. Only in this way can the justice of God, the fulfillment of God's promises and of God's personal love and fidelity, be accomplished.
I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification.
When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death. But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
I pray therefore that you may not lose heart over my sufferings for you; they are your glory.
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Gospel: Luke 12:49-53
"I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No,I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law."
(*1) Rom 7:18ff. I do not achieve the good things I aim at, but do wrong without wanting to. Who can free me from this dilemma? Only God, through Jesus Christ.
(*2) Eph 4:1ff. One body and one spirit, one hope given to all of you by your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all.
(*3) Luke 12:54ff. If you can judge rain or hot weather in the offing, why can you not interpret the present time?
The "one hope given to us all" mentioned in Ephesians(*2) sets a context for meditating on Romans and on the gospel. Hope is perhaps the most difficult of virtues to appreciate and safeguard, since in many ways Faith and Love are more obvious. Faith can be clarified by studying the Bible and Church documents. Love can be practiced in our relationships and responding to the manifest needs of our neighbour. Of the three great virtues, Hope is the most intangible. Paul writes that "Hope is not hope if its object is seen... And hoping for what we cannot see means awaiting it with patient endurance" (Rom 8:24-25).
The hopes mentioned in prophecy are usually somewhat vague and generic,
and applicable in different ways. In fact, tomorrow's reading from Ephesians
adapts an Old Testament prophecy by reversing it. While the Hebrew original
says that God "ascended on high and received men as gifts," Paul's
version is that God "ascended on high... and gave gifts to men."
Hopes are like the distant horizon of a sky which is continually changing
color and shifting in cloud formation.
One's hopes also vary with one's age, health and family. They also vary from person to person. Even identical twins can reach towards their future differently. Hope induces ambition and action, stirs up desires and plans, makes people selfish or fearful. Hope induces important personality changes, and can easily degenerate into greed and selfish passion.
Little wonder that when Paul writes about the "one hope given to all" he also admonishes us to live a life worthy of the calling we have received, with perfect humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another in love. While cherishing our hope, we should "Make every effort to preserve the unity of the spirit." He knew how much patience and forebearance are needed, in order to live in harmony with other gifted people, who also bristled with energy and ambition!
In Romans Paul takes another view of hope and of hopeful, gifted people. He views the situation, not in calm detachment as though from a distance but from inside, namely, from within himself. He was one of God's most gifted and creative apostles, but a thorn in the flesh for many early Christians, especially for Peter and many others of Jewish extraction. Sometimes he becomes frustrated and despondent and feels that "no good dwells in me." At other times he reacts so impulsively that it was done "against my will." Paul agonizes at length over this situation: My inner self agrees with the law of God, but I see in myself another law at war with the law of my mind. This leads to the impassioned "What a wretched person I am. Who can free me from this body under the power of death?"
Yet, Paul does not end up in futile moaning, but adds, "All praise to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord!" He candidly expresses those very human moments of confusion, precipitated by the hopes for what is unseen, by the energy to do always the best and by the ever present danger of stubbornness, impulsiveness, pride and selfishness. today's gospel from Luke shows how impulsiveness can be turned into a necessary virtue. Some important chances do not come a second time, when failure to act would mean losing the opportunity. Some graces belong to the "day" and the "hour," the "proper time" - the "kairos", a favourite biblical term. Kairos is not just a moment like any other in time (for which the Greeks used the word chronos) but a very special moment with tremendous implications. The moment must be seized and promptly, for the sake of charity, conversion, and fidelity. The stakes are high, and not to decide is itself a negative decision.
We are to act for God with the same energy as we dispatch other practical decisions in our life. The natural virtue is put to the service of the religious activity, the body is at the service of the soul.
For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin.
I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ's gift. Therefore it is said, "When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people." (When it says, "He ascended," what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.)
He also said to the crowds, "When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, 'It is going to rain'; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, 'There will be scorching heat'; and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?
"And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right? Thus, when you go with your accuser before a magistrate, on the way make an effort to settle the case, or you may be dragged before the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer throw you in prison. I ell you, you will never get out until you have paid the very last penny."
(*1) Rom 8:1ff. God sent his son to us so that we can live according to the spirit. The Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead will bring to life our mortal body.
(*2) Eph 4:7ff. Christ, risen from the dead, sends his gifts into our midst, giving us apostles and evangelists, so that his members may be firmly joined together.
(*3) Luke 13:1ff. Those who suffer are not always those who sin. But all must yield some good fruit - or the tree may be cut down.
Our Scriptures propose an ideal of close union of people among themselves and with God. The Bible seldom thinks of an individual as isolated, but always as a member of a race or nation, family or clan, and in the New Testament this relationship reaches out to all the earth. The Epistle to the Romans builds on a major position expressed already in chapter 5 that through one man, Adam, sin entered the world and that likewise, through one man, Jesus Christ, the grace of God is freely available to all. For Paul, we all share the same flesh and we are all gifted by the same Holy Spirit. "Flesh" for him indicates weakness and instability; while "Spirit" indicates life, strength, permanence, purity and sacredness. It is spirit that gives character, tonal quality, dignity and integrity.
The bonds uniting us are highlighted in Ephesians(*2). Together we form the one "body of Christ," still growing to full stature and forming "that perfect human being who is Christ." Through him the whole body grows and the members are joined firmly together. The theme of unity in(*3) is perhaps not as clear, yet somehow we realize that the Galileans, slaughtered under Pontius Pilate, or those other unfortunates who were killed by a falling tower at Siloam, were also linked with other men and women. Their fate shows how the innocent may suffer along with the guilty. While it is true that suffering awaits sinful people, it is not true that suffering people are always sinners. Yet, much of the pain and discouragement suffered by people is caused by someone's sinfulness, so close are the bonds of flesh, nationality, race and family.
On the positive side, all of us together form the one body of Christ (Ephesians), and we have each received specific gifts. Paul enumerates some of them: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, in roles of service for the faithful to build up the body of Christ. This diversity is for the good of the whole community, just as the variety of parts in the human body provides for its rich and varied functions. This analogy is more fully developed in I Corinthians, "God has set each member of the body in the place he wanted it to be. If all the members were alike, where would the body be?" (1 Cor 12:14ff).
Of course, the analogy must be carefully applied to the life of the community. Ideally, each member rejoices in the others and is assisted by them. However the variety of gifts and roles can provoke envy, antagonism, and even domination. The administrator must beware of over-administering, the teacher not try to resolve all problems speculatively, the practical-minded person not totally abandon study and reflection, or the spiritual-minded person leave everything to prayer. Each gift must function in a genuine role of service "to build up the body of Christ," and therefore must cooperate with and depend on others, even while serving them.
If we share a common bond of flesh and spirit, as we read in Romans, then we are both dragged down and built up by one another. The same person's talents can help and complement us, or annoy and threaten us.
As we live in close interaction, all of us one family with one another and with Jesus, we suffer together, we lift one another up. Together we sorrow for each other's sins, so that together we bear fruit. If we do not transmit life together, we are like the persons whom Jesus warned, "You will all come to the same dreadful end unless you reform." Or again, "If the tree does not bear good fruit, it shall be cut down."
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God's law - indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.
But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ's gift. Therefore it is said, "When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people." (When it says, "He ascended," what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.)
The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people's trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in very way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body's growth in building itself up in love.
At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans
whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, "Do
you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse
sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you
will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the
Then he told this parable: "A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, 'See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?' He replied, 'Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next ear, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'"
(*1) Rom 8:12ff. In the Spirit, we are God's children; he is our "Abba - Father". We suffer with Christ so as to be glorified with him.
(*2) Eph 4:32ff. Be kind to one another, mutually forgiving, and imitating God, and following high ideals of holiness after the example of Jesus.
(*3) Luke 13:10ff. Jesus cures an arthritic woman on the sabbath; indignation among the leaders but rejoicing for everyone else.
The Spirit of God moves in our hearts and through our lives in very practical ways. Chapter 8 of Romans may be called the "Gospel of the Holy Spirit" and strongly affirms the power of God within our lives. Ephesians(*2) calls for human virtues to enhance our earthly existence. In the gospel, Jesus argues from common sense against religious conservatism, for a better application of the Ten Commandments. A devout lay person, without theological education but gifted with integrity and wholesome natural virtue, has his or her day in court. The secular becomes sacred, and the earth is appreciated as God's creation, the temple where all say, 'Glory.' (Ps 29:9).
The arthritic woman, "badly stooped," the person tottering step by step, leaning on a cane, lest they collapse to the ground from their bent back - is a too common sight to anyone who has traveled or lived in under-developed countries. They have spent their strength and twisted their bodies out of shape by back-breaking labour in rice fields, transplanting individual young stalks, or at the harvest picking up the stray shoots of rice. They have looked so long at the earth that they physically cannot look up to the heavens. But though bent over, these old folk are spiritually strong. Their words carry an enormous common sense, their decisions cut through idle discussion and questioning. Their calloused hands handle the infant grandchild with delicate care, their weakened eyes still carry a sparkle of pride and peace.
Jesus saw one such woman while teaching on a sabbath day in one of the synagogues. He knew what was proper to do on the sabbath, and could not rest till every man and woman was re-created to the divine image. In the Ten Commandments, according to Exodus, the reason for resting on the sabbath is that after thw work of creation God "rested on the sabbath day" (Exod 20:11); but on this particular sabbath, Jesus could not enjoy his sabbath rest until the work of creation was completed and this woman was remade to the divine image.
At the sight of her, Jesus called out a creative word, "Woman, you are free of your infirmity!" then laid his hand on her, and immediately she stood up straight and began thanking God. His action was prompted by divine wisdom and his conviction of what the sabbath was supposed to be. When the synagogue ruler became indignant that the healing was on the sabbath, Jesus' response comes from the impulse of mercy and from the spirit of common sense imbedded in his heart. "You hypocrites. Which of you does not let his ox or ass out of the stall on the sabbath to water it? Should not this woman be released from her shackles on the sabbath?"
In a more theological vein, Paul recognizes the mysterious presence of God's spirit within humankind: The Spirit makes our spirit aware that we are children of God(*1) . In tomorrow's reading, the text is even more pointed, "The whole created world eagerly awaits the revelation of the children of God." Jesus' words to the stooped woman echo this hope; his healing word calling out to her responds to the hope of the created eagerly awaiting that revelation.
Ephesians also deals with the same alertness to the Spirit(*2). It advises us to practice the typically good virtues of human nature: kindness, compassion and forgiveness, yet it also elevates the motives for those natural virtues, "Follow the way of love, even as Christ loved you." It sternly warns against sins that common sense will immediately condemn, such as lewdness, promiscuousness and lust.
To sum up, grace heightens our awareness of natural goodness and actually builds on it. Our crippled or handicapped neighbours often hold the key to our understanding of God's revelation in Jesus.
So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh - for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, "Abba! Father!" it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ - if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
But fornication and impurity of any kind, or greed, must not even be
mentioned among you, as is proper among saints. Entirely out of place is
obscene, silly, and vulgar talk; but instead, let there be thanksgiving. Be
sure of this, that no fornicator or impure person, or one who is greedy (that
is, an idolater), has any inheritance in the
Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be associated with them. For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light.
Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, "Woman, you are set free from your ailment." When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, "There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day." But the Lord answered him and said, "You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day" When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at al the wonderful things that he was doing.
(*1) Rom 8: 18ff. We hope for what we cannot see, yet the object of our hopes is already within us, as we await the full effects of our adoption as God's children.
(*2) Eph 5: 21ff. Love between spouses foreshadows the mystery of Christ's love for the church.
(*3) Luke 13:18ff. The reign of God is like a mustard seed planted in the garden, and like yeast that is kneaded into dough, to make it rise.
Deep within our human nature is planted a seed that will grow in surprising ways; there is an inner "yeast" to transform us as in the dough that is baked into fresh bread, the staff of life. The whole created world eagerly awaits the revelation of what is already stirring within it, and of ourselves as children of God(*1) . Marriage, one of the most basic, elementary of human institutions, mirrors the mystery of Christ's love for the church(*2).
These texts of Romans and Ephesians sparkle in all directions with magnificent, exciting possibilities. They clearly state that every human being across the planet earth carries the seed of eternal life, the source of transformation into Jesus Christ, of hopes beyond understanding; also that every marriage union is a sacred mystery, not only because God is the author of sexuality but because every marriage foreshadows the union between Christ and the church. We are reminded that all those millions of non-Christians throughout the world also carry within themselves the seed or image or hope of eternal life. The extraordinary goodness which we find among the pagan world of Buddhists or Hindus, or the strong monotheistic religion of Islam, represents and inward groaning for what is yet to be revealed.
Christian hope is not centred on looking heavenward but attends to the details of human life. Ephesians(*2) suggests that marriage, family and marital love are spirited by the example and the immediate presence of Jesus. Where there is faithful, fruitful marriage, it is a powerful image of Jesus' love for the church. Both aspects of love, within marriage and within the church, result in holiness. It is helpful to apply to marriage, as is intended in this passage from Ephesians, what is said of Christ's love for the church: He gave himself up for her to make her holy.
The statements about wives' "submissiveness to their husbands" should be interpreted according to the culture and customs of that ancient time. This same larger section of Ephesians also speaks of slaves and their obligation to "obey your human master" (Eph 6:5). No one would quote this today to support slavery, that was also part of culture of that time.
If we seek our place in the reign of God, we must reverence the hidden mustard seed of divine possibility in our lives. We must be like the woman who so kneads the yeast into the dough that other people's lives rise with freshness, life and dignity.
(1) Romans 8:18-25
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Saviour. Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, so as to present the church to himself in splendour, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind - yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish. In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, because we are members of his body. "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church. Each of you, however, should love his wife as himself, and a wife should respect her husband.
He said therefore, "What is the
And again he said, "To what should I compare the
(*1) Rom 8:26ff. The Spirit helps us in our weakness to pray as we ought. All things work together for the good of those whom God has called.
(*2) Eph 6:1ff. Advice to parents and children, masters and slaves. Each one must respond to the other with reverence, sincerity and patience.
(*3) Luke 13:22ff. Enter by the narrow door. Surprising people will come from distant places while others who considered themselves insiders will be excluded.
We might experience two opposite reactions to today's readings. On the one hand, the way of salvation does not seem too difficult, especially if, as in Romans "the Spirit helps us in our weakness" and "all things work together for our good," or as in Ephesians(*2) our normal human relationships can continue, with patience, reverence and honesty. But then, when we turn to the gospel we get the opposite impression - that eternal life is so elusive that it almost seems foolish to try to attain it. We are left to puzzle at the enigmatic one-liner, "Some who are last will be first and some who are first will be last."
Luke may give us the clue for harmonizing all three readings and applying their meaning to ourselves. These statements are like proverbs which are meant to provoke our thinking rather than give quick answers. Like icebergs they may conceal more than they reveal.
We listen again to these familiar, mystifying words: Try to come in through the narrow door. Many will try to enter and be unable. Some who are last will be first and some who are first will be last. Is the Lord saying that in each of us there are some hidden inspirations which will be our salvation? Right now we may overlook them or even try to silence them. We crowd them out with many activities and distractions, excuses and arguments. Perhaps, "the narrow door" which leads us to a new, transformed existence is some niggling inspiration or other: to forgive a person who has hurt or even injured us, to help a neighbour or relative in their old age or sickness, to follow a call to dedicate some part of our time to religious or charitable service, perhaps to follow some vocation of service, to spend some time each day in prayer and in reflection. A decision that seems small, may also turn my life around. What I had put in last place in my scale of values, now appears first; my former first concerns now take lat place.
From this background we can re-read the sayings from Romans and Ephesians. "The Spirit helps in our weakness" "to pray as we ought" and to express "with groanings that cannot be expressed in speech." For God has "predestined us to share the image of his Son."
Ephesians(*2) may seem even further away from Jesus' proverbial remarks, by clearly stating the obvious about everyday ethics, "Children, obey your parents in the Lord. Parents, do not anger your children. Slaves, obey your human masters. Masters, stop threatening your slaves." Yet, Paul adds some qualifying remarks: Parents are to train and instruct their children in a way "befitting the Lord." Slaves are to show their masters "the sincerity you owe to Christ." And each one, whether slave or free, "will be repaid by the Lord." These qualifying remarks transform each statement into specifically Christian counsel. Again, therefore, what seems accidental, gives new direction, and what hardly drew our attention, turns out to be the "narrow door" that leads to salvation.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. "Honor your father and mother" - this is the first commandment with a promise: "so that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth."
And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ; not only while being watched, and in order to please them, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. Render service with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not to men and women, knowing that whatever good we do, we will receive the same again from the Lord, whether we are slaves or free.
And, masters, do the same to them. Stop threatening them, for you know that both of you have the same Master in heaven, and with him there is no partiality.
Jesus went through one town and village after another, teaching as he made
his way to
(*1) Rom 8:31ff. Nothing can separate us from the love of God that comes to us in Christ Jesus.
(*2) Eph 6:10ff. Put on the armour of God, for our battle ultimately is against unseen evil spirits. Pray in the Spirit, using petitions of every sort.
(*3) Luke 13:31ff. When Pharisees warn Jesus against Herod's plans to
seize him, he laments over
The Scriptures mince no words in warning us about the battle against evil in which we are all engaged. Whether expressed in terms of "trial or distress, or persecution, or hunger" or in more symbolic language as "principalities and powers"(*2) the battle for goodness and integrity is fought against overwhelming odds. Yet the same passages also offer a motif of confidence, almost suggesting that the battle is already over and won. Paul writes, "Who will separate us from the love of Christ?" and "Draw strength from the Lord and his mighty power. Put on the armour of God"(*2).
We must take seriously the double position: 1) "our battle ultimately is not against human forces but "against principalities and powers"; and 2) nothing "will be able to separate us from the love of God that comes to us in Christ Jesus, our Lord." The excelling love of God is real, but it does not make dispense us from the struggle. We are required to face, each in our own way, "trial or distress, or persecution, or hunger, etc." These problems and sorrows will still rend our heart but they are not excuses for giving in to depression or panic, or failure to face up to the crises in our lives.
Paul offers a perpetual source of new strength for coping with these trials, "in all this we are more than conquerors because of him who loved us." Love is, then, the secret ingredient in our response to life. We must keep ever before our eyes the image of Jesus and the love which prompted his obedience to the will of the Father: Will not he who for our sake did not spare his own Son, grant us all things besides?
In Ephesians(*2) other helps are provided for us in our struggle, including the prayer of intercessions: Pray constantly and attentively for all in the holy company. Pray for me... Pray that I may have courage.
The gospel recognizes the certainty of Jesus' struggle with death: On the
third day my purpose is accomplished. No prophet can be allowed to die
anywhere except in
What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.
Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, "For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. Pray also for me, so that when I speak, message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.
At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, "Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you." He said to them, "Go and tell that fox for me, 'Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jersalem.'
(*1) Rom 9:1ff. The grief and pain in Paul's heart for the sake of his fellow Israelites, who have not recognised the Messiah.
(*2) Phil 1:1ff. God who has begun the good work in you will carry it through to completion. How I long for each of you with the affections of Christ Jesus.
(*3) Luke 14:1ff. While at dinner on the sabbath Jesus ignored sabbath curfew and cured a man suffering from dropsy, which scandalised some who saw it.
Different loving responses are seen in these Scriptures: sorrowing love and regret over the failure of the people to recognize Jesus as messiah(*1) ; the affection of Paul for his favourite church-group, the Philippians(*2); the courageous love of Jesus towards the ailing man, despite the spying tactics of certain Pharisees (gospel).
For Paul Judaism remained a "mystery," the word with which he
will summarize his lengthy discussion in tomorrow's reading from Romans
(11:25). Particularly in these three chapters (Rm 9-11) he tackles the thomy
issue head on and writes very carefully about it. He formulates the relation
Paul continues this tradition and affirms the absolute nature of God's
He writes just as intimately and lovingly to the Christians at
"I think of you... constantly rejoicing. I hold all of you dear. I long for each of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. My prayer is that your love may more and more abound." We can be grateful for this insight into Paul's character. He was no stoic, no distant ascetic, no hard-nosed theologian, no stern administrator. He was much more, even if those traits do appear at times. Because he was so affectionate and sensitive, he could not write calmly nor react phlegmatically to people. The excitable side of Paul's character is also manifest in his correspondence with the Corinthians and the Galatians. Paul paid a heavy price for his apostolate, not only in physical pain (labours and imprisonments, beatings, shipwreck, hunger and thirst, etc.-2 Cor 11:23-27), but also in his inner life ("that daily tension, pressing on me, my anxiety for all the churches"-2 Cor 11:28).
Even in such an affectionate letter, Paul keeps up his concern for the spread of the gospel. One sentence expresses this relationship very well: I give thanks to my God every time I think of you - which is constantly, in every prayer I utter-rejoicing as I plead on your behalf, at the way you have all continually helped promote the gospel from the very first day. Paul, therefore, experienced all the heights and depths, the vicissitudes of strong faithful love within marriage, family and community.
While today's gospel is written in the literary style of a "conflict story," we should not overlook the silent interchange of love and confidence between two people seated opposite each other at table: between Jesus and the man with dropsy. What turmoil of hope, gratitude and affection must have raced through the sick man's mind. He sat in silence, and no words are recorded between him and Jesus, as Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, "Is it lawful to cure on the Sabbath or not?" When Luke adds, "At this they kept silent," the silence must have been loaded with a thousand and one reactions. On the part of Jesus and the sick man the silence spoke more eloquently than words, about the strength of love and the power of compassion. Jesus was risking his entire ministry and the regard of the most powerful people in Judaism, for the sake of an unnamed sick man, who is quickly lost to sight after he was cured.
He took him; he healed him; he sent him on his way. Jesus did not attempt to possess and profit from his love or from his miracle. We must always love, whether overcome with regret, or swept along by affection, or surrounded by confrontation.
I am speaking the truth in Christ - I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit - I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.
Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ
Jesus who are in
I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God's grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus.
And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.
On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely. Just then, in front of him, there was a man who had dropsy. And Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, "Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath, or not?" But they were silent. So Jesus took him and healed him, and sent him away. Then he said to them, "If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a sabbath day?" And they could not reply to this.
(*1) Rom 11:1ff
(*2) Phil 1:18ff. I long to be freed from this life and to be with Christ, yet it is more urgent that I remain alive for your sake, so that Christ be proclaimed.
(*3) Luke 14:1ff- Take the lowest place at a wedding party. The one who humbles himself shall be exalted.
Scripture urges us to listen anew to a quiet call at the centre of our being. Here we are "with Christ" and here we long for that fuller union with Christ after our death. As we see in today's Scripture, it is so easy to be distracted from Jesus, not so much by wilful sins but to those lesser sins that plague good people. Often enough it seems easier to convert a great sinner from grave offenses than to convince a good person to repent of small transgressions.
The Christians at
Unlike the evangelists Paul's gospel does not record the words and deeds of Jesus. Rather his gospel is about the risen Jesus, alive now within the community. Every action and word among the believers becomes an action or statement of the "body of Christ." What joy filled the heart of Paul and what holiness was transmitted to others, by simply mentioning the name "Christ." With this name he felt he could sweep aside all envy and envy among the faithful.
In Romans Christ is now the treasure and the vocation of the gentiles.
This unusual turn of events brings Paul to think of his own people, the
Israelites, who as a group refused to recognize Jesus as Lord and Messiah,
though many of them did become disciples. Yet, as Paul sees it, as a nation,
they were overcome by blindness. Rather than discuss the baffling
"mystery" of Judaism's destiny, our meditation here can focus on
Paul's word, "blindness." How much anger and impatience would be
spared, how much kindness and gentleness manifested, if we would stop judging
people's motives. Even if we are in the right, our approach to others would
be so much more in accord with Scripture if we would only attribute good
intentions and divine grace to those who differ with us. "God has not
rejected his people whom he foreknew." Also, the divergent viewpoint in
our neighbour may enable us to see our own position of faith all the more
clearly. "Blindness has come on part of
Too many good people want to be known and recognized for their goodness, too many of us pull rank and "sit in the place of honour." In today's parable Jesus is kind enough to adapt himself to this common weakness of saintly people. "Sit in the lowest place... so that the host will say, 'My friend, come up higher,' then you will win esteem." It seems that Jesus is saying: if you must win esteem, at least go about it in a proper, civilized way. The gospel ends with the most difficult commandment of all, humility. The commandment to be humble is the stumbling block of believers and even they have to see an exaltation offered as a reward.
I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an
Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God
has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the
scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against
So I ask, have they stumbled so as to fall? By no means! But through their
stumbling salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make
So that you may not claim to be wiser than you are, brothers and sisters,
I want you to understand this mystery: a hardening has come upon part of
What does it matter? Just this, that Christ is proclaimed in every way, whether out of false motives or true; and in that I rejoice.
Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance. It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be put to shame in any way, but that by my speaking with all boldness, Christ will be exalted now as always in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labour for me; and I do not know which I prefer. I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith, so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again.
On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.
When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honour, he told them a parable. "When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honour, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, 'Give this person your place,' and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, 'Friend, move up higher'; then you will be honoured in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted."
(*1) Rom 11:29ff. Paul concludes his discussion about the interaction of
(*2) Phil 2:1ff. That his joy be complete, Paul begs for humility to banish all rivalry or conceit. Each of us should look towards the interests of others.
(*3) Luke 14:12ff. In preparing a banquet invite beggars, the crippled, the lame and the blind. You will be repaid in the resurrection of the just.
Because God will reward us above what we deserve, we should not be too concerned about the exact measure of our merits. If God is generous it behooves us not to argue our rights. What if he gave us only what we deserve? In the reading from Romans Paul concludes his discussion about Israelites and gentiles by stressing the disobedience of all which required that the divine mercy be shown to all, a powerful example of God's inscrutable judgments and unsearchable ways.
We need to reflect further on the mystery of the divine mercy. What is it that God is communicating to us when we experience mercy? Paul draws on a number of favourite Old Testament texts to announce the mysterious depths of it: Isa 40:13; Ps 139:6, 17-18; Wis 9:13. He writes: How deep are the riches and the wisdom and the knowledge of God. How inscrutable his judgments, how unsearchable his ways. For "who has known the mind of the Lord?... Who has given him anything so as to deserve return?" From Ps 139 we learn that this mercy goes back to our conception. "You knit me together in my mother's womb," to every moment of one's lifetime. "Your eyes have seen my actions; in your book they are written." And from the teaching of Jesus, it is clear that our access to the mystery of God's mercy is linked to our relationships with others: Blessed are they who show mercy; mercy shall be theirs (Matthew 5:7).
In Philippians(*2) Paul translates that general call to "show mercy" into specifics: unanimity, unity of spirit and ideals, no rivalry or conceit, thinking humbly of self and respecting others, sincerely caring for the interests of others. By such means we do not deprive those who receive our mercy of their human dignity; they remain our brothers and sisters, members of our one large family. Paul also explains the attitude and the unity of spirit that is the true setting for mercy: In the name of the encouragement which you owe me in Christ, in the name of the solace that love can give, of fellowship in spirit, compassion and pity, I beg you make my joy complete. We note how exquisitely Paul combines the notions of obligation and spontaneity in Christian life. In one and the same text he refers to that "which you owe me" and that which "I beg you" to do.
The gospel gives a concrete example of what showing mercy can mean: When you have a reception, invite beggars and the crippled, the lame and the blind. If our memory is good, we will recall moments when God invited us in our own crippled, beggarly state to a banquet of joy - the joy of forgiveness, the joy of new life. We may recall times of depression when we were blind to hope, paralyzed to joy and crippled, without energy to go forward. Yet God gently laid his hand on our feeble eyes and legs; and we found our hopes revived, our strength restored.
If Jesus assures us that we will be repaid "in the resurrection of the just," we can affirm that promise from our own experiences. We have already felt the power of the resurrection within ourselves. Therefore it is wiser to perform acts of mercy not so that others can repay us, but rather to do so freely, for the reward promised by God. His recompense to us may be locked in mystery, but it is as certain as the words of Jesus, and will give us a foretaste of the resurrection even now on earth.
The gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.
O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! "For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?" "Or who has given a gift to him, to receive a gift in return?" For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen.
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.
He said also to the one who had invited him, "When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."
(*1) Rom 12:5ff. Though we are many, we are one body in Christ, endowed with a variety of gifts. Love one another with the affection of brothers and sisters.
(*2) Phil 2:5ff. Your attitude must be that of Christ himself, who took the form of a servant and gave his all for us. Therefore, God highly exalted him.
(*3) Luke 14:15ff. God invites poor people from the streets and the alleyways - all sorts of places. Those who turn down the invitation must stay away.
Our deepest hope is poured into us by God and offers us great future prospects. We cannot ignore or reject it, without losing out in the process. Furthermore, hope is not bestowed on us by God simply for our private, individual enjoyment. Unless it is shared, it is lost. The ever-hopeful watchword of Paul is, "Rejoice in hope." The reading from Romans begins with the need to share our gifts, because we are "one body in Christ and individually members one of another." Each one, compared to a member of the human body, must serve the entire body exercise one's gifts in such a way that the hand is never thinking just of the hand but of the mouth to which it offers food, and the mouth is never so absorbed with chewing as to overlook whether the stomach can digest the food and nourish the other parts of the body, including both arm and mouth.
He enumerates seven of the gifts bestowed on individual members of the church, the body of the Lord: 1. prophecy, in accordance with faith, so that the bond of unity in Christ be strengthened; 2. ministry, to represent the church in serving others in their material or physical needs; 3. teaching, that the mystery of Jesus be ever more profoundly appreciated; 4. exhortation, like parents joyfully encouraging then-children in their talents; 5. almsgiving from one's private resources, generously and graciously; 6. administration which should recognize its subordinate place on the list of gifts and act "with love"; 7. works of mercy, to be cheerfully performed. Not only does the entire church depend on the right functioning of each member within the body, but each member will shrivel and weaken, unless properly exercised.
In Philippians(*2) Paul draws on an early church hymn to Jesus, calling on us to submerge ourselves in the loving bond of community and there exercise a loving ministry of service, like his. Our basic attitude to life must be that of Christ himself. As eternal Son of God, Jesus did not deem his divine status something to be doggedly retained, but he "emptied himself" of his status, to be born as a human being. We are advised to live so fully as a member of the church that we are emptied of self-serving and focus on the interest of Christ's body.
The Gospel reinforces this principle. We should not set our own individual goals against Christ's invitation into the church and into community. Remembering how helpless and impoverished we would be, left to our own devices only, we take our part in welcoming others into the hospitable family of God.
so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death - even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
One of the dinner guests, on hearing this, said to him, "Blessed is
anyone who will eat bread in the
(*1) Rom 13:8ff. Owe no debt to anyone except the debt that binds us to love one another. Love never does any wrong; it is the fulfillment of the law.
(*2) Phil 2:12ff. Prove yourselves children of God, innocent and straightforward. God begets in you every measure of desire or achievement. You give me cause to boast.
(*3) Luke 14:25ff. No one can be my disciple unless that one renounce all possessions, even father and mother, spouse and children, indeed one's very self.
Today's gospel is rather grim, so fortunately we do not read it in isolation but can balance it with today's other Scriptures. True, there are difficult moments when the gospel must be heard in stark, heroic loneliness, but normally our Christian life is lived within the bonds of union of family, community and church. Together with family and friends we form the one body of the Lord, and as Paul writes, "the eye cannot say to the hand, 'I do not need you,' any more than the head can say to the feet, 'I do not need you "' (I Cor 12:21).
In the concluding section of Romans (chaps. 12-16) Paul follows his general practice of becoming very practical and of urging fidelity to Christian virtues. Today he quotes from the Ten Commandments, and adds: all other commandments are summed up in this one commandment, "You shall love your neighbour as yourself." Love is the one and only debt we really have towards the community. Each is dependent on the other and each enriches the other. There is written into our human nature a law of mutual help and mutual subordination. Love then is the fulfillment of such a law, for love preserves and cherishes the unity essential for a healthy body.
With less symbolic language, Paul points out in Philippians(*2) how the body functions smoothly and healthily. He advises us: In everything you do, act without grumbling or arguing; prove yourselves innocent and straightforward, children of God beyond reproach. He then refers to "the day of Christ," i.e., that of his death. At that time he will even be able "to boast that I did not run the race in vain or work to no purpose." He also adds these important words: Even if my life is to be sacrificed for your faith, I am glad of it. May you be glad too, and rejoice with me.
Jesus' statement, therefore, about turning one's back on father and mother and family must not be interpreted against the broad, biblical insistence on the first two commandments of love for God and for one's neighbour. Who is a closer neighbour than one's family? If there are times, hopefully rare, when we must act in such a way that causes grief to others - such as when parents discipline their children, or friends correct one another - even this must be done in love. Like Jesus, we too should suffer with those whom we involuntarily cause to suffer; and like Jesus our mutual bearing of the cross is life-giving and transforming. This heroic form of love is the ultimate fulfillment of the law.
Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet;" and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, "Love your neighbour as yourself." Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.
Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Do all things without murmuring and arguing, so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world. I is by your holding fast to the word of life that I can boast on the day of Christ that I did not run in vain or labour in vain. But even if I am being poured out as a libation over the sacrifice and the offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you - and in the same way you also must be glad and rejoice with me.
Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them "Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.' Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.
(*1) Rom 14:7ff. Both in life and in death we belong to God, in our risen Lord Jesus. Reverencing him, we do not act as judge of our fellow-men.
(*2) Phil 3:3ff. Though Paul has shared in the priveleges of the
circumcised People of God [
(*3) Luke 15:1ff. Ther eis more joy in heaven over finding the one lost sheep or the one lost coin than over the ninety-nine virtuous folk who had no need to repent.
In Luke's account, Jesus never misses an opportunity to join in a dinner-party. Many of the great discourses in this gospel were delivered at the dining table of his wealthy hosts. Both parables(*3) conclude with a happy retriever of lost goods [a lost sheep or lost silver pieces] inviting friends and neighbours in and bidding them, 'Rejoice with me!' and such happy occasion are compared with God's own joy in heaven over one repentant sinner, which is greater than over the ninety-nine righteous who have no need to repent.
Each of us is reflected both in the ninety-nine sheep that are always accountable, and in the one lost sheep that wanders off and is reluctant to live under control. We have ideas and talents that understand and try to carefully direct. They are always with us and we are quietly proud of them, since because of them we receive compliments and awards. These constitute ninety-nine righteous percent of ourselves that has "no need to repent." But perhaps God has also poured an unpredictable and unruly talent or quality into us. Stretching the parable a bit, we might say that this easily lost part of ourselves can be a special moment of time or a unique opportunity crossing our path, chances and graces so fleeting that they can easily pass us by. All of us possess some talents and inspirations, for ourselves or the church, for our family, neighbourhood or country, that seem too idealistic even to talk about. They might be spoiled or injured by ridicule or simply by cool indifference. Or they might turn out to deman so much of ourselves that we try to suppress them. Such inspirations could become crucial turning points in our lives - whether to forgive another and be reconciled, to volunteer assistance badly needed by a marginalised group, or to make a clear decision for marriage for priesthood or for some other vocational choice.
The parable assures us that the lost sheep and lost coin in each of us can be found. We must leave aside the ninety-nine other aspects of ourselves and seek this one, fleeting aspect. But are we ready and willing to light a lamp and sweep the house of our existence diligently, till we discover the lost coin?
This provides a viewpoint for re-reading Romans(*1) . Every part of ourselves and of our existence "in life and in death" belongs to the Lord. For Paul goes on to say, "That is why Christ died and came to life again." If the price of detaching ourselves from the security of the ninety-nine percent is high, it is done in union with the Christ who died for us; if we venture out to find and claim our lost sheep, it is with Christ who rose to the life of resurrection.
With this viewpoint too we can also understand Paul's injunction against harshly judging one's neighbour. We judge from the evidence we see; but what we see may be just the ninety-nine, the one other being lost to view. Our judgment seldom takes into consideration the rediscovering of the lost sheep or coin, which cannot easily be seen. But when the lost one is found, the ninety-nine are also inspired with new meaning, for Jesus wants all of his people to share in his identity as the shepherd who never ceases to care for those outside the margins, the lost ones that he came to find.
We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.
Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written, "As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God." So then, each of us will be accountable to God.
For it is we who are the circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and boast in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh - even though I, too, have reason for confidence in the flesh.
If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more:
circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of
Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.
Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them." So he told them this parable: "Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbours, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.' Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
"Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbours, saying, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.' Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."
(*1) Rom 15:14ff. Paul marvels at what God has done through him among the gentiles, in a priestly service of gathering them into the people of God.
(*2) Phil 3:17ff. We eagerly await the coming of our Lord, who will give new form to out mortal bodies, patterned on his own glorified body.
(*3) Luke 16:1ff. The worldly often take more initiative than the other-worldly, and the owner credits his devious employee for being so enterprising.
Based on what motives and attitudes do we act out our lives? All too many are workaholics, distracted from any serious reflection on our basic motives or even about the end-result of our excessive activism. A hurricane sweeps through our lives and drives other people as well. To correct this frenetic motion Scriptures declares that "by waiting and by calm you shall be saved" (Isa 30:15). Yet the Scriptures do not canonize inactivity. We have the example of Paul, apostle of the gentiles, world traveller in the second part of the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 13-28), prolific writer of letters, many of them preserved in the New Testament. In today's text he even boasts of the work he has done for God. We can study his writings for signs of how to modulate our own activity.
The spirit by which Paul was quite consciously motivated was the Holy Spirit, the spirit of adoption through which we become "heirs with Christ" (Rom 8:15,17). Paul was at the service of Christ Jesus, and achieved only what the Spirit prompted him to do. Courage spurred him on to undertake difficult tasks, to preach where Christ's name was unknown. Yet amid draining demands Paul did not succumb to relentless activism nor to a blind drive to get it done, but found time to keep a corner of his heart for long stretches of contemplation, "eagerly awaiting the coming of our saviour." His ideal was to inspire and minister to the new life within the heart of the believer. "as gently as any nursing mother with her little ones" (I Thess 2:7) and warmly appreciating what God was accomplishing in and through others also. Paul furthered the charisms and talents of each person in the community, and this he saw as a "priestly duty," fostering the heart of the believer to become a pleasing sacrifice to God.
In this way, Paul was at once an instrument of the Spirit and a minister of Christ. He could even urge the Philippians to "be imitators of me"(*2). Yet, while Paul strove to imitate Jesus, he seldom refers to Jesus' earthly life, and his message is quite different in tone from those of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Paul's Jesus is the risen Lord, dwelling within him, sharing with him the spirit of total self-giving. The apostolate, therefore, carries a glow of hope and enthusiasm, for already "our citizenship is in heaven." Paul was and remained an apostle of hope. We read in today's text: Christ will give a new form to this lowly body of ours and remake it according to the pattern of his glorified body.
Turning to the gospel, we move from the elevated spirituality of Paul to a plainer, more common-sense language. We are called on to be enterprising and to act with initiative. Jesus notes how worldly people possess these qualities more abundantly than the other-worldly. But in making good use of our bodies and human talents, we are serving the God who created us in the divine image and likeness (Gen 1:26) and to offer spiritual sacrifice to God who dwells within us as the temple of divine glory (2 Cor 6:16).
I myself feel confident about you, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to instruct one another. Nevertheless on some points I have written to you rather boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to boast of my work for God. For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to win obedience from the Gentiles, by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God, so that from Jerusalem and as far around as Illyricum I have fully proclaimed the good news of Christ. Thus I make it my ambition to proclaim the good news, not where Christ has already been named, so that I do not build on someone else's foundation, but as it is written, "Thoe who have never been told of him shall see, and those who have never heard of him shall understand."
Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.
Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.
Then Jesus said to the disciples, "There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, 'What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.' Then the manager said to himself, 'What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.' So, summoning his master's debtors one by one, he asked the first, 'How much do you owe my master?' He answered, 'A hundred jugs of olive oil.' He said to him, 'Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.' Then he asked another, 'And how much do you owe?' He replied, 'A hundred containers of wheat.' He said to him, 'Take your bill and make it eighty.' And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; or the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.
(*1) Rom 16:passim
Greeting to Paul's co-workers. A final prayer in honour of the mystery hidden for ages and finally made known in the world-wide gospel.
(*2) Phil 4:10ff. In Jesus I have strength for my imprisonment. It was kind of you to share my hardships by sending a gift for my needs.
(*3) Luke 16:9ff. A series of maxims about worldly goods and the service of God.
God, creator of the universe and the designer of our body and mind, does not want us to despise the earth or to reduce ourselves to passive automatons. Everything is to be put to the service of God and of one another. If yesterday Jesus reproached his "other-worldly" disciples for not showing the enterprising initiative of the "worldly," today Paul greets and commends his active co-workers in the service of the gospel and stresses how he can cope in all circumstances, whether eating well or going hungry(*2). The gospel, again as yesterday, clearly tells us to make good use of this world's goods.
The list of co-workers in the final chapter of Romans is long and
witnesses to Paul's recognition of talents and enterprise in others. The list
begins with Prisca and
Clearly, Paul did not run a one-man show, but believed in team ministry
and endorsed the talents and vocation of others. Nor was Paul anti-woman. In
this list women receive as much attention as they do in Luke's gospel. In
naming the Jewish couple, "Prisca and
This poses the question whether we too are conscious of the many people who cooperate with us. Do we call attention to our co-workers and give them proper recognition in the presence of others? Do we win for them the appreciation of the church, the way that Paul writes, "Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks to them."
The text from Philippians(*2) gives us another example of living maturely within one's environment and even of making a virtue out of necessity. Paul writes: Whatever my situation, I have learned to be content. I know what it is to have plenty and how to go hungry. Most of us would cringe at admitting in a public document that "I know... how to eat well and... to be well provided for" and might confine our remarks to our hardships for the gospel and for the neighbour. We also might hesitate to state openly how others have helped us. Here again Paul shows a very healthy spontaneity in thanking his "dear Philippians," for their gifts. These did more than make Paul's life pleasant; they comforted him at a time when... "not a single congregation except yourselves shared with me... something for my needs."
We too should express our dependency on others even while knowing how to maintain our human dignity and self-respect. Paul, moreover, advises us to share our own selves, our time, our insights, our ability to work with hands and head, our sympathetic listening. Thereby, as each gives to the other, there is an "ever-growing balance" of each one's receiving. All have the dignity of knowing that they give what is helpful and even necessary to the other.
The gospel, as in the preceding days, says unambiguously that we are to make good use of this world's goods. If we are faithful in these small matters, we can be trusted in greater things. Yet, do not be the slave of money. And in financial matters, very often what humans think important, God holds in contempt.
Greet Prisca and Aquila, who work with me in Christ Jesus, and who risked
their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the
churches of the Gentiles. Greet also the church in their house. Greet my
beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert in
Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you. I Tertius, the writer of this letter, greet you in the Lord. Gaius, who is host to me and to the whole church, greets you. Erastus, the city treasurer, and our brother Quartus, greet you.
Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith - to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen.
I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it. Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. In any case, it was kind of you to share my distress.
You Philippians indeed know that in the early days of the gospel, when I
And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.
"Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth."
The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this, and they ridiculed him. So he said to them, "You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of others; but God knows your heats; for what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God.
(*2) Tit 1:1ff. The blessings of the faith and the hope of eternal life. The qualities desirable in a church leader.
(*3) Luke 17:1ff. Instruction on scandal, forgiveness and faith.
Scripture urges us to reach outward and to be all-embracing, like the very spirit of God. At the same time we must attend to our inward heart, think of the Lord, and practice self-control and compassionate understanding. As we meditate on the texts for today, we are helped to form a healthy balance between concern for the world outside us and a silent quest for inner peace.
This week draws on the Book of Wisdom, the last of the sapiential books to be written; the 33rd and 34th weeks, on the two Books of Maccabees and the Prophecy of Daniel, where the Jews suffered for their fidelity to the Mosaic law in its prescriptions for daily and family living. The Book of Daniel, like Maccabees, reflects an era of intense persecution; and particularly in Daniel we have a glimpse of the glorious coming of the Son of Man on the clouds of heaven. cycle II for weeks 33 and 34 reads from the New Testament counterpart to Daniel, the Book of Revelation.
We are to live with two feet firmly planted on earth. The Old Testament
often strikes us as a very earthy document, yet no less valuable for that.
God accepts us whoever we are and wherever we happen to live, whatever may be
our family or neighbourhood setting. Already in its opening essay, the Book of
Wisdom introduces many practical pointers or warnings for this steady
positioning of ourselves: seeking integrity of heart; avoiding foolish
advice; not putting God to the test; the duty to rebuke injustice; keeping
guard over our tongue. We note the sense of God's presence within this
practical counsel: for God listens to all that is said. The wise Jewish
The same interaction of ideals with homely advice and hard-nosed common sense is evident in the Epistle to Titus(*2). This reads like a very late document, lacking the enthusiasm of earlier letters and drawing on some painfully acquired wisdom.
Paul writes in loving, paternal tones, calling Titus "my true child
in our common faith," but he also trusts in the good sense of Titus,
"I left you in
Today's gospel tackles one of the most difficult problems among people who are high-minded, trustful and idealistic: they can easily be scandalized. Some will say that such people just need to be more streetwise and hardened to life, but Jesus defends such innocence and warns against giving scandal. Paul wrote similarly, that if his eating meat causes scandal to his brothers and sisters, he will never again eat it (I Cor 10:28).
On the other hand, these idealistic people often find it difficult to forgive. Because virtue comes as second nature to them, they cannot appreciate the force of temptation felt by others, or they are so obsessed with their own criteria of holiness and their own scale of values, that they fail to see the goodness and the different values in the other. The inability of such pious folk to forgive may turn out to be a still greater scandal to the less devout, less religious person. One's quest for holiness needs to be balanced by faith in God's activity in the lives of others.
(1) Wisdom 1:1-7
Love righteousness, you rulers of the earth, think of the Lord in goodness and seek him with sincerity of heart; because he is found by those who do not put him to the test, and manifests himself to those who do not distrust him.
For perverse thoughts separate people from God, and when his power is tested, it exposes the foolish; because wisdom will not enter a deceitful soul, or dwell in a body enslaved to sin.
For a holy and disciplined spirit will flee from deceit, and will leave foolish thoughts behind, and will be ashamed at the approach of unrighteousness.
For wisdom is a kindly spirit, but will not free blasphemers from the guilt of their words; because God is witness of their inmost feelings, and a true observer of their hearts, and a hearer of their tongues.
Because the spirit of the Lord has filled the world, and that which holds all things together knows what is said,
Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God's elect and the knowledge of the truth that is in accordance with godliness, in the hope of eternal life that God, who never lies, promised before the ages began - in due time he revealed his word through the proclamation with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Saviour, To Titus, my loyal child in the faith we share: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Saviour.
I left you behind in
Jesus said to his disciples, "Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come! It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble. Be on your guard! If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, 'I repent,' you must forgive."
The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!" The Lord replied, "If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it would obey you.
(*2) Titus 2:1ff. Practical instructions are given for different groups, so that all may live good lives while awaiting the return of our Saviour Christ Jesus.
(*3) Luke 17:7ff. Having done what is commanded, we ought to reckon ourselves as merely servants who have done no more than is our duty.
A theme for today's meditation is provided in Wisdom(*1) , that God formed us to be imperishable and in the image of the divine nature. Each of us, regardless of nationality or race, gender or wealth, is equally created to image God's divine nature. Therefore, as the Epistle to Titus puts it(*2), nothing earthly and perishable can ultimately meet our needs and desires, for we await a still greater hope, "the appearance of the glory of the great God and of our Saviour Christ Jesus." At that moment our reward will so surpass our expectations and all our endeavours, that we will exclaim, "We are useless servants, who have done no more than our duty."
We begin this mortal life, created to the divine image; we end it by discovering the fullness of that image in Jesus Christ, when he appears in glory. In between, we pass along a human path of life. Human life on planet earth, somehow or other in God's mysterious ways, helps to bring out the full glory of our divine image, even to "perfect" it, if our understanding of Hebrews is correct.
The reading from Wisdom, the latest of the Old Testament books, reinforces this understanding of life. It praises those who have paid for their ideals with their lives, "As gold in the furnace, God proved them, and as sacrificial offerings he took them himself." Then follows a phrase difficult to grasp and accept, "God tried them and found them worthy of himself." Earthly life provides the furnace that tries and refines the divine image within us. Similarly we read in Hebrews, "after being chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed."
The trials we face are the normal jolts of life, faults of ignorance and impetuosity, the result of human frailty. Yet we are told that - on another level - it is God who is trying us and making us worthy of himself. We can never adequately explain this, not even with the cross of Jesus before our eyes. Yet there is consolation in realizing that somehow God is writing straight with crooked lines and that our unavoidable sufferings have a life-giving place in God's plans. The Book of Wisdom is so certain of this that it adds, "Those who trust in God shall understand truth, and the faithful shall abide with him in love... for his care is with his elect."
In the letter to Titus(*2), we find that Paul respects the limits of local culture, yet also sets our human life within a divine framework, what in the Book of Wisdom would be our divine image. Today's text begins with the requirement that our speech be "consistent with sound doctrine" and goes on to be more specific about this sound doctrine: it is about the "glory of the great God and of our Saviour Christ Jesus." What we do on earth is closely related to how we shall receive Jesus in his glorious second coming.
In between, Paul is quite pragmatic. Both his words here and the gospel accept cultural structures which are not acceptable today. Jesus refers to slavery and to what a master can expect from the slave. For work well done the master would not necessarily show any gratitude, because the slave was only carrying out his orders. Jesus is not endorsing slavery, though he was preparing the way for its abolition by emphasizing the dignity of everyone. At the end, if we trust, we will not only understand truth, as Wisdom promises us, but we will also be absorbed within a joy and glory far surpassing our human merits. Everything will seem useless by comparison.
God created us for incorruption, and made us in the image of his own eternity, but through the devil's envy death entered the world, and those who belong to his company experience it.
But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them.
In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be a disaster, and their going from us to be their destruction; but they are at peace.
For though in the sight of others they were punished, their hope is full of immortality.
Having been disciplined a little, they will receive great good, because God tested them and found them worthy of himself; like gold in the furnace he tried them, and like a sacrificial burnt offering he accepted them.
In the time of their visitation they will shine forth, and will run like sparks through the stubble.
They will govern nations and rule over peoples, and the Lord will reign over them forever.
Those who trust in him will understand truth, and the faithful will abide with him in love, because grace and mercy are upon his holy ones, and he watches over his elect.
But as for you, teach what is consistent with sound doctrine.
Tell the older men to be temperate, serious, prudent, and sound in faith, in love, and in endurance. Likewise, tell the older women to be reverent in behavior, not to be slanderers or slaves to drink; they are to teach what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be self-controlled, chaste, good managers of the household, kind, being submissive to their husbands, so that the word of God may not be discredited.
Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. Show yourself in all respects a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, gravity, and sound speech that cannot be censured; then any opponent will be put to shame, having nothing evil to say of us.
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.
"Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from ploughing or tending sheep in the field, 'Come here at once and take your place at the table'? Would you not rather say to him, 'Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink'? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, 'We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!'"
(*2) Titus 3:1ff. While urging us to responsible behaviour, privately and publicly, Paul states that we are saved by the Spirit, lavished on us through Jesus Christ.
(*3) Luke 17:11ff. Of ten lepers healed by Jesus, only one, a Samaritan, returned to give thanks. "Your faith," Jesus says to him, "has saved you."
Jesus states very clearly, "Your faith has saved you." We stand in need of such faith, able to recognise our total dependency on God for life and for its good use, and also for its cooperation with others and towards eternal life. By faith God enables us to put our best self to the service of one another, and so to give praise to our Maker. This injunction to live within bonds of love and community, is expressed very simply. To the Samaritan who "threw himself at his feet," Jesus replied, "Stand up and go on your way." He stands up with dignity and joy, healed of the dreadful disease of leprosy, and goes his way, no longer forbidden to live with others, no longer ostracized as unclean, resuming life as it ought to be, now blessed with good health and gratitude to God.
Along with this encouraging remark of Jesus the gospel contains a sad commentary on human life. For 'Were not all ten made whole? Where are the other nine? Was there no one to return and give thanks to God except this foreigner?' At that time, in the eyes of most Jews the Samaritans were scorned, feared and avoided, after long history of mutual distrust. Some five centuries earlier, the Jews had refused to allow the Samaritans to cooperate in rebuilding the temple (Ezra 4) and in return the Samaritans built their own temple on Mt. Gerizim and tended to side against the Jews in later wars. Jesus' words were noted this antagonism but were trying to break it down and show that even Samaritans could have true faith.
Perhaps it was their sudden return to good health that distracted the other nine so that they forgot about Jesus and failed in the normal human courtesy of returning to thank Jesus for their cure. Strangely enough, God's finest gifts - life, strength, the ability to think imaginatively and to act creatively - easily become the means by which we not only forget God but also turn against against our neighbours and even our own family. With good reason the Book of Wisdom warn us about the proper use of life and talents. It admonishes us that "The Lord made the great as well as the small, and provides for all alike; but for those in power a rigorous scrutiny awaits."
The Letter to Titus(*2) expresses the same conviction about faith in a somewhat different way. First it gives a list of practical instructions: to be loyally subject to civil government; not to be slanderous or quarrelsome; to display perfect courtesy towards everyone. All these virtues seem within our normal ability, yet Paul ends by stating, "God has saved us, not because of any good deed we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us and justified us by his grace." No virtue is possible without God's Spirit given us through Jesus Christ.
Where we are at our best, we stand in particular need of instruction. The Book of Wisdom advises us to "learn wisdom that you may not sin." Whoever stands in authority or power over others is warned all the more seriously to "keep the holy precepts." We can too easily use them to our own advantage and unjustly dominate others. Scripture and prayer, consequently, are all the more essential when one is healthy and talented. We can too easily forget about returning to the Lord and offering gratitude for our gift of life.
Listen therefore, O kings, and understand; learn, O judges of the ends of the earth.
Give ear, you that rule over multitudes, and boast of many nations.
For your dominion was given you from the Lord, and your sovereignty from the Most High; he will search out your works and inquire into your plans.
Because as servants of his kingdom you did not rule rightly, or keep the law, or walk according to the purpose of God, he will come upon you terribly and swiftly, because severe judgment falls on those in high places.
For the lowliest may be pardoned in mercy, but the mighty will be mightily tested.
For the Lord of all will not stand in awe of anyone, or show deference to greatness; because he himself made both small and great, and he takes thought for all alike.
But a strict inquiry is in store for the mighty.
To you then, O monarchs, my words are directed, so that you may learn wisdom and not transgress.
For they will be made holy who observe holy things in holiness, and those who have been taught them will find a defense.
Therefore set your desire on my words; long for them, and you will be instructed.
Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show every courtesy to everyone.
For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, despicable, hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between
(*2) Phlm 7ff. Paul asks Philemon to receive his runaway slave Onesimus as a beloved brother, who can again be useful both to Paul and to Philemon.
(*3) Luke 17:20ff. The reign of God is not "here" nor "there" but already in your midst. Before coming, the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected.
At the centre of life lies the wisdom of God or according to Luke's gospel, the reign of God. This wisdom "penetrates and pervades all things" according to the first(*1) . And according to the letter to Philemon(*2) this bond of love includes a wide range of acquaintances. In the introduction, Paul calls Philemon "our beloved friend and fellow worker," and in today's first sentence he expresses his "great joy and comfort in your love, because through you the hearts of God's people have been refreshed."
We in turn are called to unite and integrate, and to form such a bond of union that we can reach out to find each man and woman our brother and our sister, our source of "joy and comfort." The other may seem as distant from us as a runaway slave and yet become like a neighbour to us. In passing we should note that the New Testament does not directly take issue with slavery, but indirectly supplies the data that eventually made church and society realize how grossly injust it was. For instance, Jesus was equal to God yet willing "to empty himself and take the form of a slave" (Phil 2:7). Furthermore, "All of you who have been baptized into Christ are clothed in him. So among you there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female. All are one in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:27-28). It is the inner bond of faith and love, of respect and honour that heals the social injustices of slavery and enables each us to integrate our proper bonds with others.
The Book of Wisdom sees this integration as done through wisdom, this virtue that is God's supreme gift. According to the latin, Vulgate translation, wisdom "reaches from end to end mightily and governs all things sweetly." Such is the way of divine wisdom: mightily and sweetly. The bond which unites is as mighty as God is strong and loyal, as sweet as God is compassionate and good - always and everywhere.
But we become impatient when God's wisdom eludes us and like the
questioners(*3), we press Jesus for an answer, "When will the reign of
God come?" In replying, Jesus immediately puts aside one part of the
question, when. The
Intimately, personally rooted within us, is the
There is in her a spirit that is intelligent, holy, unique, manifold, subtle, mobile, clear, unpolluted, distinct, invulnerable, loving the good, keen, irresistible, beneficent, humane, steadfast, sure, free from anxiety, all-powerful, overseeing all, and penetrating through all spirits that are intelligent, pure, and altogether subtle.
For wisdom is more mobile than any motion; because of her pureness she pervades and penetrates all things.
For she is a breath of the power of God, and a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty; therefore nothing defiled gains entrance into her.
For she is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness.
Although she is but one, she can do all things, and while remaining in herself, she renews all things; in every generation she passes into holy souls and makes them friends of God, and prophets; for God loves nothing so much as the person who lives with wisdom.
She is more beautiful than the sun, and excels every constellation of the stars.
Compared with the light she is found to be superior, for it is succeeded by the night, but against wisdom evil does not prevail.
She reaches mightily from one end of the earth to the other, and she orders all things well.
I have indeed received much joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, my brother.
For this reason, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love - and I, Paul, do this as an old man, and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus. I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment.
Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me. I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel; but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced. Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother - especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.
So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it. I say nothing about your owing me even your own self. Yes, brother, let me have this benefit from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ. Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.
Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the
Then he said to the disciples, "The days are coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. They will say to you, 'Look there!' or 'Look here!' Do not go, do not set off in pursuit. For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day. But first he must endure much suffering and be rejected by this generation.
(*2) 2 John 4ff. Love one another and acknowledge that Jesus Christ has come incarnate in the flesh.
(*3) Luke 17:26ff. The Son of Man comes suddenly. Remember
It can easily happen, that God's good gifts distract us from God. Because they are so good, they can substitute for God and stifle any desire to think about life beyond this world or about the God who is invisibly present behind this good world of ours. Much closer to home, once the good meal is on the table, we seldom remember to thank the cook. Parents who lavish toys and gifts on their children are quickly and easily taken for granted. Yet the Book of Wisdom puts it very plainly: For from the greatness and the beauty of created things, their original author, by analogy, is seen.
A somewhat similar idea occurs in our reading from the Second Letter of John(*2) who finds great joy in finding some of his Christians walking in the path of truth, and loving one another. For the path of truth leads through our home and family, our religious communities and daily obligations. Here is where we love with compassion, forgiveness and forbearance, with joy and hope. From this interaction we learn the meaning of God's compassion and forgiveness towards us, and his joy in us. If we are always seeking God, the creator behind the beauty and greatness of our world, the Lover who inspires our love and gentleness, then we will always be ready for the coming of the Son of Man. Even if he comes without warning, we are ready.
The Book of Wisdom raises any number of important questions for the agnostic and atheist as much as for the religious person. It states, "They are distracted by what they see, because the things seen are fair." For religious people even certain habits of prayer and worship can be an obstacle to really knowing God, if the rubrics of worship become more important than the One to whom we pray. Similarly, parents can be so concerned about the impression that their children give to the neighbours, that fear of shame becomes more important than love for children.
The ultimate guidance on such matters is given in the gospel. The Son of Man will break through all our face-saving devices and false concerns. Jesus repeats the statement, difficult indeed, yet found in all four Gospels (Luke 9:24; Matthew 10:39; Mark 8:35; John 12:25) that "Whoever tries to spare their life, will lose it; whoever seems to forfeit it, will keep it."
While living fully and enthusiastically, we must always seek to look behind the veil of goodness and greatness to see the Creator. While loving one another, we need to be rooted in the love of Jesus, so as to deepend our own loving. If we forget God, our love will become shallow and even selfish; and such love does not last.
It seems as if only if we are willing to share with others, will God trust us to keep our life; and to keep it, we must find it with Jesus, who truly enables us to love one another.
For all people who were ignorant of God were foolish by nature; and they were unable from the good things that are seen to know the one who exists, nor did they recognize the artisan while paying heed to his works; but they supposed that either fire or wind or swift air, or the circle of the stars, or turbulent water, or the luminaries of heaven were the gods that rule the world.
If through delight in the beauty of these things people assumed them to be gods, let them know how much better than these is their Lord, for the author of beauty created them.
And if people were amazed at their power and working, let them perceive from them how much more powerful is the one who formed them.
For from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator.
Yet these people are little to be blamed, for perhaps they go astray while seeking God and desiring to find him.
For while they live among his works, they keep searching, and they trust in what they see, because the things that are seen are beautiful.
Yet again, not even they are to be excused; for if they had the power to know so much that they could investigate the world, how did they fail to find sooner the Lord of these things?
I was overjoyed to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we have been commanded by the Father. But now, dear lady, I ask you, not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but one we have had from the beginning, let us love one another. And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment just as you have heard it from the beginning - you must walk in it.
Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh; any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist! Be on your guard, so that you do not lose what we have worked for, but may receive a full reward. Everyone who does not abide in the teaching of Christ, but goes beyond it, does not have God; whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.
Just as it was in the days of Noah, so too it will be in the days of the
Son of Man. They were eating and drinking, and marrying and being given in
marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and
destroyed all of them. Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot: they were
eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on the
day that Lot left Sodom, it rained fire and sulfur from heaven and destroyed
all of them - it will be like that on the day that the Son of Man is
revealed. On that day, anyone on the housetop who has belongings in the house
must not come down to take them away; and likewise anyone in the field must
not turn back. Remember
(*2) 3 John 5ff. Exhortation to provide hospitality and other help for traveling missionaries.
(*3) Luke 18:1ff. God will act in response to persistent prayer. He will provide swift justice. But will he find any faith on the earth?
Most of us will occasionally go the extra mile (Matthew 5:41). Today's texts ask for fidelity over the long haul, not necessarily for the single heroic act but rather the heroism of staying with the daily routine of family or work, of community or apostolate. What we are expected to do seems very ordinary, but it takes God's extraordinary grace to keep at it.
We may seem to be getting nowhere and yet we are accomplishing much, by
simply keeping the family intact or the business still functioning or the
parish a place of prayer and goodwill. The gospel addresses this paradox of
getting nowhere and accomplishing very much, as exemplified in the widow who
kept coming to the judge, demanding her rights. Finally the judge found that
this widow was wearing him out, and so settled matters in her favour. Monica,
the mother of
This final verse in the gospel is probably a later addition to the original parable about the widow. No other parable in the gospels ends on a question-mark. The editor added this "floating" remark of Jesus that could fit into many different occasions, to voice our own question. When he comes, will he find faith on the earth? Originally it probably referred to the long trial of the Roman persecution but it speaks to any number of situations.
When the Son of Man comes, like the all-powerful word in today's reading
from the Book of Wisdom(*1) , he will appear suddenly and act dramatically
and definitively. The all-powerful word will leap down as of old, and lead
his people out of bondage, through every barrier and difficulty, even the
The Third Epistle of John(*2) is urging Christians to do their small part in the work of evangelization. Again the key word is fidelity: Beloved, you demonstrate fidelity by all that you do for the ministers of the gospel even though they are strangers. Such people can even become pests in their small requests for time and lodging and money. Yet John adds, "Help them to continue their journey." One of the most effective ways to be ready when the Son of Man returns, suddenly and even fiercely, is to further the apostolate of the word, each of us in our own way. Then when the all-powerful word bounds from his heavenly throne, we will find ourselves ready and waiting to greet him.
For while gentle silence enveloped all things, and night in its swift course was now half gone, your all-powerful word leaped from heaven, from the royal throne, into the midst of the land that was doomed, a stern warriorcarrying the sharp sword of your authentic command, and stood and filled all things with death, and touched heaven while standing on the earth.
For the whole creation in its nature was fashioned anew, complying with your commands, so that your children might be kept unharmed.
The cloud was seen overshadowing the camp, and dry land emerging where
water had stood before, an unhindered way out of the
For they ranged like horses, and leaped like lambs, praising you, O Lord, who delivered them.
Beloved, you do faithfully whatever you do for the friends, even though they are strangers to you; they have testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on in a manner worthy of God; for they began their journey for the sake of Christ, accepting no support from non-believers. Therefore we ought to support such people, so that we may become co-workers with the truth.
Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, "In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, 'Grant me justice against my opponent.' For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, 'Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.'"
(*1) 1 Macc 1:1ff. Great persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes, the
abomination of desolation in the temple, terrible affliction on
(*2) Rev 1:1ff. The revelation to the exiled preacher, John, on the
(*3) Luke 18:35ff. At the entrance to Jericho Jesus cures the blind man, who then begins to praise God and follow him.
During the last two weeks of the church year it is not surprising that the readings focus on the violent end of one era and on the hope for a new and holier age. The era of the Maccabees was the historical background for the visionary book of Daniel, which in turn greatly influenced the New Testament Book of Revelation. Luke's gospel brings us to the end of Jesus' public ministry, to the place where his passion and death is about to unfold.
This liturgical arrangement follows contemporary Scripture scholarship, which sees Daniel and Revelation not as literal predictions of the exact date and circumstances of the end of the world, but as dramatic challenges to put aside the past and to begin a new and more consecrated way of life. The focus is not on when the world will end, but on the need for strong hope in the midst of violent persecution and to adopt changes in our way of living.
The blind man at the
Our own conversion may not be as total nor as dramatic, but it is still
very real and just as necessary. Perhaps we are like the people of
From them came forth a sinful root, Antiochus Epiphanes, son of King
Antiochus; he had been a hostage in
In those days certain renegades came out from
Then the king wrote to his whole kingdom that all should be one people,
and that all should give up their particular customs. All the Gentiles
accepted the command of the king. Many even from
Now on the fifteenth day of Chislev, in the one hundred forty-fifth year,
they erected a desolating sacrilege on the altar of burnt offering. They also
built altars in the surrounding towns of
The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place; he made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who hear and who keep what is written in it; for the time is near.
John to the seven churches that are in
"To the angel of the church in
"I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance. I know that you cannot tolerate evildoers; you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them to be false. I also know that you are enduring patiently and bearing up for the sake of my name, and that you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then from what you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.
As he approached
(*1) 2 Macc 6:18ff. The old man, Eleazar, refused to be disloyal to Yahweh and in his martyrdom he gave an unforgettable example of virtue for the whole nation.
(*2) Rev 3:1ff. A warning first to the
(*3) Luke 19:1ff. Jesus dines with the repentant tax collector, Zacchaeus, for he has come to search out and save what was lost.
The final verse in today's Gospel provides the key for interpreting many other stories about Jesus, whose mission was "to search out and to save what was lost." This is variously exemplified by the gospel and by the other two readings, from Maccabees and Revelation(*2). Jesus' words can be turned around and paradoxically rephrased: we cannot be found unless we lose ourselves; unless we are found by Jesus, we cannot be saved.
To be found by Jesus meant that Zacchaeus had to give up and lose much of
himself. First of all, his dignity by climbing up the sycamore tree, and then
much of his wealth by paying back fourfold those he had defrauded. We cannot
help commenting that Jesus too had to lose his dignity as a "holy
man," by going to dine at the home of the unclean sinner. Zacchaeus,
after all, was even "chief tax collector" in the important city of
When Jesus came to the spot where Zacchaeus had climbed the sycamore tree, he looked up and said, "Zacchaeus, hurry down!" - for he had seen a spirit of repentance in Zacchaeus' heart. Jesus may then have lost still more of his dignity, by inviting himself to Zacchaeus' house. Indeed, "the Son of Man has come to search out and save what was lost."
In the story of Eleazar not only did his lifestyle change due to his fidelity to the Law, but it was ended dramatically by martyrdom. Again, by losing, he gained much, for while dying, he confessed, "I am suffering with joy in my soul because of my devotion to him," the Lord God. Eleazar benefitted not only for himself but for the entire nation, in providing such an unforgettable example of virtue.
Mostly our decisions are about things much less dramatic and therefore
more easily overlooked. It is easy to be lukewarm, like the
The Church at
(1) 2 Maccabees 6:18-31
Eleazar, one of the scribes in high position, a man now advanced in age and of noble presence, was being forced to open his mouth to eat swine's flesh. But he, welcoming death with honour rather than life with pollution, went up to the rack of his own accord, spitting out the flesh, as all ought to go who have the courage to refuse things that it is not right to taste, even for the natural love of life.
Those who were in charge of that unlawful sacrifice took the man aside because of their long acquaintance with him, and privately urged him to bring meat of his own providing, proper for him to use, and to pretend that he was eating the flesh of the sacrificial meal that had been commanded by the king, so that by doing this he might be saved from death, and be treated kindly on account of his old friendship with them. But making a high resolve, worthy of his years and the dignity of his old age and the gray hairs that he had reached with distinction and his excellent life even from childhood, and moreover according to the holy God-given law, he declared himself quickly, telling them to send him to Hades.
"Such pretense is not worthy of our time of life," he said, "for many of the young might suppose that Eleazar in his ninetieth year had gone over to an alien religion, and through my pretense, for the sake of living a brief moment longer, they would be led astray because of me, while I defile and disgrace my old age. Even if for the present I would avoid the punishment of mortals, yet whether I live or die I will not escape the hands of the Almighty. Therefore, by bravely giving up my life now, I will show myself worthy of my old age and leave to the young a noble example of how to die a good death willingly and nobly for the revered and holy laws."
When he had said this, he went at once to the rack. Those who a little before had acted toward him with goodwill now changed to ill will, because the words he had uttered were in their opinion sheer madness. When he was about to die under the blows, he groaned aloud and said: "It is clear to the Lord in his holy knowledge that, though I might have been saved from death, I am enduring terrible sufferings in my body under this beating, but in my soul I am glad to suffer these things because I fear him." So in this way he died, leaving in his death an example of nobility and a memorial of courage, not only to the young but to the great body of his nation.
"And to the angel of the church in
"I know your works; you have a name of being alive, but you are dead.
Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is on the point of death, for I have
not found your works perfect in the sight of my God. Remember then what you
received and heard; obey it, and repent. If you do not wake up, I will come
like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you. Yet you
have still a few persons in
And to the angel of the church in
(*1) 2 Macc 7:1ff. The mother of seven sons not only witnesses their martyrdom but even urges them to die out of loyalty to God and to the covenant.
(*2) Rev 4:1ff. Vision of God, seated majestically in heaven, surrounded by twenty-four elders and four living creatures and adored as eternal Creator.
(*3) Luke 19:11ff. Parable about a man who entrusts his property to his servants; returning as king, he rewards those who increased their share of the investment.
While the reading from Second Maccabees portrays the most tragic moment of family life yet promises hope for the future, the reading from Revelation(*2) gives a vision of the final reward. The gospel takes a long view of one's entire life. We need those exceptional insights of faith, as in the Book of Revelation, so that when the seriously tested, our faith can sustain us. The gospel supports us in a different way, by practical advice on living a productive life. If we do not live by bread alone, neither do we live by visions alone.
The reading from Maccabees has the clearest Old Testament statement about
the resurrection of the body at the end of time. It mirrors the popular piety
of a lay group which eventually evolved into the Pharisees, who resisted the
theological conservatism of the
The faith of the Maccabean mother rested solidly on her conviction of God's faithful blood bond with her and her seven children, which endures through the barrier of death and the tomb. In a vibrant act of faith and love, the mother also confessed faith in God's creation of the universe. Creation and pregnancy are linked together in her thought: God loves his creation with the same concern that a mother has for a child in her womb, a love that surrounds a person even through trials, death and the new resurrection.
The vision in the Book of Revelation invites us to let our religious experiences flood over us, like the roar of many waters, the flashing of thunder and the flaming of torches. All of us hold memories of peak religious experiences: our first communion, perhaps, decisions to be of service to others, moments when God seemed especially near, moments of peace after sorrow. At times we have tasted God's closeness in intimate union; at other times we have sensed the wonder of his majesty and glory. When our world seems to be falling apart through severe trial or disappointment, we can recall those moments when the world seemed full of joy - precious moments when we savoured the reality of the living God.
In(*3) parable, Jesus is likely referring to a king all too well-known in Israel, Herod the Great, who had to flee for his life from Jerusalem, made his way to Rome and charmed the emperor into naming him king of Israel, and then returned to Palestine to take over. The parable warns us that the king will return - and therefore we must be prudent and loyal, industrious and honest, for one day we will be called to answer for our use of time and talents. "Use them or lose them" is a phrase that applies to our human abilities. We can paraphrase Jesus' words, "Whoever puts their talents to the service of others will be given more; but the one who has nothing he is willing to share will lose the little that he has."
If we are baffled by the last sentence of Jesus, about the king's having his enemies slain in his presence, it may simply be because that is what king Herod did on his return from exile. It is hardly that he is warning of a vengeful God, for his central teaching is about God's power and goodness. The faith he teaches is always of a God whom we can call upon as "Abba, Father!"
It happened also that seven brothers and their mother were arrested and were being compelled by the king, under torture with whips and thongs, to partake of unlawful swine's flesh.
The mother was especially admirable and worthy of honourable Although she saw her seven sons perish within a single day, she bore it with good courage because of her hope in the Lord. She encouraged each of them in the language of their ancestors. Filled with a noble spirit, she reinforced her woman's reasoning with a man's courage, and said to them, "I do not know how you came into being in my womb. It was not I who gave you life and breath, nor I who set in order the elements within each of you. Therefore the Creator of the world, who shaped the beginning of humankind and devised the origin of all things, will in his mercy give life and breath back to you again, since you now forget yourselves for the sake of his laws."
Antiochus felt that he was being treated with contempt, and he was suspicious of her reproachful tone. The youngest brother being still alive, Antiochus not only appealed to him in words, but promised with oaths that he would make him rich and enviable if he would turn from the ways of his ancestors, and that he would take him for his Friend and entrust him with public affairs. Since the young man would not listen to him at all, the king called the mother to him and urged her to advise the youth to save himself. After much urging on his part, she undertook to persuade her son. But, leaning close to him, she spoke in their native language as follows, deriding the cruel tyrant: "My son, have pity on me. I carried you nine months in my womb, and nursed you for three years, and have reared you and brought you up to this point in your life, and have taken care of you. I beg you, my child, to look at the heaven and the earth and see everything that is in them, and recognize that God did not make them out of things hat existed. And in the same way the human race came into being. Do not fear this butcher, but prove worthy of your brothers. Accept death, so that in God's mercy I may get you back again along with your brothers."
While she was still speaking, the young man said, "What are you waiting for? I will not obey the king's command, but I obey the command of the law that was given to our ancestors through Moses. But you, who have contrived all sorts of evil against the Hebrews, will certainly not escape the hands of God.
After this I looked, and there in heaven a door stood open! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, "Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this." At once I was in the spirit, and there in heaven stood a throne, with one seated on the throne! And the one seated there looks like jasper and carnelian, and around the throne is a rainbow that looks like an emerald. Around the throne are twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones are twenty-four elders, dressed in white robes, with golden crowns on their heads. Coming from the throne are flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and in front of the throne burn seven flaming torches, which are the seven spirits of God; and in front of the throne there is something like a sea of glass, like crystal.
Around the throne, and on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with a face like a human face, and the fourth living creature like a flying eagle. And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and inside. Day and night without ceasing they sing, "Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God the Almighty, who was and is and is to come."
And whenever the living creatures give glory and honour and thanks to the one who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall before the one who is seated on the throne and worship the one who lives forever and ever; they cast their crowns before the throne, singing,
"You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created."
As they were listenig to this, he went on to tell a parable, because he
When he returned, having received royal power, he ordered these slaves, to whom he had given the money, to be summoned so that he might find out what they had gained by trading. The first came forward and said, 'Lord, your pound has made ten more pounds.' He said to him, 'Well done, good slave! Because you have been trustworthy in a very small thing, take charge of ten cities.' Then the second came, saying, 'Lord, your pound has made five pounds.' He said to him, 'And you, rule oer five cities.' Then the other came, saying, 'Lord, here is your pound. I wrapped it up in a piece of cloth, for I was afraid of you, because you are a harsh man; you take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.' He said to him, 'I will judge you by your own words, you wicked slave! You knew, did you, that I was a harsh man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? Why then did you not put my money into the bank? Then when I returned, I could have collected it with interest.' He said to the bystaders, 'Take the pound from him and give it to the one who has ten pounds.' (And they said to him, 'Lord, he has ten pounds!') 'I tell you, to all those who have, more will be given; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. But as for these enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them - bring them here and slaughter them in my presence.'"
After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to
(*1) 1 Macc 2:15ff. Mattathias and his seven sons begin the Maccabee revolt against foreign oppression and stem the tide of apostasy.
(*2) Rev 5:1ff. The lamb who was slain opens the seals on the scroll and receives homage as saviour who purchased a world kingdom by blood.
(*3) Luke 19:41ff. Jesus weeps over the forthcoming destruction of
Not surprisingly, tears and warnings mark the readings for the final two
weeks of the Church year. In the Books of Maccabees and Revelation, from
which our readings come, no victory comes easily; always there are tears -
even in heaven. John, caught up in ecstasy on the
How were we purchased? Not in the crass sense of a price paid to God, but because Jesus united himself so intimately with human flesh and blood that he became totally immersed in us - and we in him. His love and obedience, his death and resurrection became our family treasure, our inheritance. All God's children were forgiven in him, for the Father saw us as intimately bonded with our elder brother, Jesus.
No wonder that only the Lamb who had been slain can open the scroll with the seven seals. Jesus has experienced to the fullest extent the trials and joys, the collapses and triumphs of our human existence. He alone knows their secret core, and can direct their development and lead us into the vision of heavenly joy. Through him, we all become "priests to serve our God," that is, to turn each human experience into one of worship in God's presence.
His was a fidelity like that of Mattathias and his seven sons. The old man would not succumb to bribery or fear, "I and my children and my kinsfolk will keep to the covenant of our ancestors. God forbid that we should forsake the law and the commandments." It is not for us to judge the subsequent military violence of Mattathias; we have never been in such desperate circumstances. But whatever severe trial may come upon us, we must muster his kind of decisiveness. Such moments are never simple or easy. As we anticipate such moments we must be prepared to stand with Jesus as he wept over Jerusalem, for his tears were not only a sign of great sorrow, but equally they flowed from the great love in his heart.
The king's officers who were enforcing the apostasy came to the town of
But Mattathias answered and said in a loud voice: "Even if all the nations that live under the rule of the king obey him, and have chosen to obey his commandments, everyone of them abandoning the religion of their ancestors, I and my sons and my brothers will continue to live by the covenant of our ancestors. Far be it from us to desert the law and the ordinances. We will not obey the king's words by turning aside from our religion to the right hand or to the left."
When he had finished speaking these words, a Jew came forward in the sight of all to offer sacrifice on the altar in Modein, according to the king's command. When Mattathias saw it, he burned with zeal and his heart was stirred. He gave vent to righteous anger; he ran and killed him on the altar. At the same time he killed the king's officer who was forcing them to sacrifice, and he tore down the altar. Thus he burned with zeal for the law, just as Phinehas did against Zimri son of Salu.
Then Mattathias cried out in the town with a loud voice, saying: "Let every one who is zealous for the law and supports the covenant come out with me!" Then he and his sons fled to the hills and left all that they had in the town.
At that time many who were seeking righteousness and justice went down to the wilderness to live there.
Then I saw in the right hand of the one seated on the throne a scroll written on the inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals; and I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, "Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?" And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it. And I began to weep bitterly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. Then one of the elders said to me, "Do not weep. See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals."
Then I saw between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. He went and took the scroll from the right hand of the one who was seated on the throne. When he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell before the Lamb, each holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.
They sing a new song: "You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God saints from every tribe and language and people and nation; you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God, and they will reign on earth."
As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, "If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God."
(*1) I Macc 4:36ff. The temple is purified and rededicated, at the first ever celebration of the feast of Hannukah.
(*2) Rev 10:8ff. John is told to eat the small scroll, which was sweet to his palate but sour in the stomach.
(*3) Luke 19:45ff. Jesus cleanses the temple of traders and merchants. While the chief priests wanted to destroy him, the people hung on his words.
All three readings are linked to the purification and reconsecration of
God's temple. In I Maccabees this happens in
The interaction between world and temple is most clearly seen towards the end of Revelation when John sees "a new heaven and new earth... a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, beautiful as a bride" (Rev 21:1-2). The transformation of the universe will mean that heaven and earth will merge, and in the midst of the new Jerusalem God will be enthroned. This vision helps us to understand better the stern action of Jesus in the gospel.
Jesus has wept over
To purify the temple means to let God be supreme in our lives. That means that our business and financial dealings as well as our politics must be moderated by God's law of justice and compassion. We should bring every aspect of our daily lives - family and neighbourhood, work and recreation - into the temple, so that these can be purified, sanctified and placed under God's protection. At first, this program seems sweet and easy. Think of John in today's reading from Revelation(*2): when he ate the scroll, given to him by the angel. At first, it tasted "sweet as honey" but later, as the price of his dedication to God the words tasted sour. We feel unable to integrate God's desires with the secular part of our life and our stomach is upset. Jesus' words and presence may be as stern as in(*3) today. While Luke does not say, as the other gospels do that Jesus made a whip of cord and lashed the money changers out of the temple, he cannot entirely smooth out the violent confrontation between Jesus, the merchantsand the religious leaders, who now looked for a way to destroy him.
When there is conflict in our lives, remember that while at times we may want to give up on some aspect of the Gospel, we basically want to follow Jesus and be among those who were "hanging on his words." It is good to remember when his words were indeed "sweet to our palate," and we enthusiastically embraced them. As we renew our attachment to him, God can say of us, "My house is a house of prayer." Every part of life, home and family, work and play, can contribute to the depth and sincerity of our prayer, with God enthroned everywhere in our being.
First Maccabees tells of the origin of the feast of Hanukkah (= Dedication), generally celebrated in our month of December. It is marked with a great use of lights; there is a special Hanukkah candelabrum, for rededication means that God's light illumines all of life; nothing is anymore hidden from him. The new heavens and the new earth have appeared, with the new Jerusalem at their centre, beautiful as a bride.
Then Judas and his brothers said, "See, our enemies are crushed; let
us go up to cleanse the sanctuary and dedicate it." So all the army
assembled and went up to
Early in the morning on the twenty-fifth day of the ninth month, which is the month of Chislev, in the one hundred forty-eighth year, they rose and offered sacrifice, as the law directs, on the new altar of burnt offering that they had built. At the very season and on the very day that the Gentiles had profaned it, it was dedicated with songs and harps and lutes and cymbals. All the people fell on their faces and worshipped and blessed Heaven, who had prospered them. So they celebrated the dedication of the altar for eight days, and joyfully offered burnt offerings; they offered a sacrifice of well-being and a thanksgiving offering. They decorated the front of the temple with golden crowns and small shields; they restored the gates and the chambers for the priests, and fitted them with doors. There was very great joy among the people, and the disgrace brought by the Gentiles was removed.
Then Judas and his brothers and all the assembly of
Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me again, saying, "Go, take the scroll that is open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land." So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll; and he said to me, "Take it, and eat; it will be bitter to your stomach, but sweet as honey in your mouth." So I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it; it was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach was made bitter.
Then they said to me, "You must prophesy again about many peoples and nations and languages and kings."
Then he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling things there; and he said, "It is written, 'My house shall be a house of prayer'; but you have made it a den of robbers."
Every day he was teaching in the temple. The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people kept looking for a way to kill him; but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were spellbound by what they heard.
(*1) 1 Macc 6:1ff. Antiochus IV Epiphanes sees his plans for empire and renown collapsing and attributes his failures to his persecution of the Jews.
(*2) Rev 11:4ff. The two prophets, powerful to control rain and sunshine, are slain but after three and a half days they are taken up to heaven in glory.
(*3) Luke 20:27ff. Jesus defends the resurrection of the dead by stating that God is the God of the living, not of the dead.
The readings seem to provide more questions than answers, yet all three
rely on a strong faith which ultimately supports us better than rational
arguments. In First Maccabees international political events seem to justify
fidelity to God. The tyrant, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, is defeated in his plans
to impose uniformity on his empire, even to the extent of demanding of the
Jewish people complete conformity to his pagan religion. Then, in
Revelation(*2) we find ourselves again in the midst of persecution of
Christianity by the
The Maccabee story shows that military victory is not a final, definitive
conclusion. Although this era ends with the firm establishment of the
Maccabeans, later to be called Hasmoneans, as kings of
The proper religious attitude is faith and perseverance, fidelity over the long haul. Such faith will also lead us to ultimate victory and peace. The Book of Revelation(*2) provides a long-term view. It traces the history of the "two witnesses." The passage is complicated, redolent of many Old Testament images and personages, reaching through the Books of Kings with the account of Elijah, the story of Moses in the Pentateuch, the account of the High priest Joshua and the Davidic governor of the postexilic age, Zerubbabel in the Prophecy of Zechariah. Ultimately God was true to his witnesses and brought them up to heaven in a cloud.
The purification of our lives and of our world may be more intense than we even imagine. History must take its full course, at times with seeming foolishness and weakness. History takes its course in strange ways, as instanced in the Gospel. First the awkward story of the woman who was obliged to marry seven brothers, one after another, and then becomes the enigmatic factor in the story. "At the resurrection, whose wife will she be?" It is only a story - and it is told by Jesus' enemies - yet it was told and repeated, to the chagrin of women. Jesus does not lower himself to the level of the questioners but answers the question in a different way, to bear upon life after death and the mysterious form which our bodies will take at that time, mysterious, yet full of life, and by that life we testify to the God of the living. The ultimate answer, for which we should risk everything, our history and our human fate on earth, rests in the divine mystery of God's heart. mystery. Yet we already live within that myster, feel its attraction, and live off its strength, for already we are part of this earth and part of the life in heaven.
King Antiochus was going through the upper provinces when he heard that
Then someone came to him in Persia and reported that the armies that had gone into the land of Judah had been routed; that Lysias had gone first with a strong force, but had turned and fled before the Jews; that the Jews had grown strong from the arms, supplies, and abundant spoils that they had taken from the armies they had cut down; that they had torn down the abomination that he had erected on the altar in Jerusalem; and that they had surrounded the sanctuary with high walls as before, and also Beth-zur, his town.
When the king heard this news, he was astounded and badly shaken. He took
to his bed and became sick from disappointment, because things had not turned
out for him as he had planned. He lay there for many days, because deep
disappointment continually gripped him, and he realized that he was dying. So
he called all his Friends and said to them, "Sleep has departed from my
eyes and I am downhearted with worry. I said to myself, "To what
distress I have come! And into what a great flood I now am plunged! For I was
kind and beloved in my power.' But now I remember the wrong I did in
These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. And if anyone wants to harm them, fire pours from their mouth and consumes their foes; anyone who wants to harm them must be killed in this manner. They have authority to shut the sky, so that no rain may fall during the days of their prophesying, and they have authority over the waters to turn them into blood, and to strike the earth with every kind of plague, as often as they desire.
When they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the
bottomless pit will make war on them and conquer them and kill them, and
their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city that is
Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question, "Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man's brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her."
Jesus said to them, "Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive." Then some of the scribes answered, "Teacher, you have spoken well." For they no longer dared to ask him another question.
(*1) Dan 1:1ff. Through obedience to God's laws, Daniel and his companions
are more respected than all magicians and counselors in the
(*2) Rev 14:1ff. The hundred and forty-four thousand follow the lamb and sing a new hymn before the throne. They are the first fruits of humankind.
(*3) Luke 21:1ff. The widow drops two copper coins into the treasury, more than she could afford. Her mite means more than the biggest of wealthy benefactions.
With God we cannot compromise but are asked to give ourselves totally and to follow his will unconditionally. This ultimate commitment is repeatedly brought home to us during the last week of the Church year as we read from Daniel and from the Book of Revelation(*2). At the roots of our existence, at the base of our reasoning, as the ultimate test of our loyalty, we must be unreservedly on the side of God. The point at which one church year ends and another begins, shows that we are given another chance. We are allowed time to correct our previous mistakes.
Daniel and the three companions were at a turning point in their lives.
Their former existence in the
Revelation(*2) allows us to see the eventual destiny of people like Daniel. They have suffered as everyone must, have even endured martyrdom, and are now numbered among the 144,000 elect who follow the Lamb who had been slain. The Greek text calls them "virgins," to be understood in the symbolical sense of people totally committed to the one they love, like a bride and groom on the day of their wedding. These are the saints who share the marriage feast of the lamb in heaven.
Our personal dedication to God will keep us always on target, sustain us through life and enable us to turn again to God after momentary lapses. The trials of life do not destroy but purify the person of faith. Even sins are an opportunity to trust ourselves less and to rely all the more fully on God in the future. At the end, then, we will be among the 144,000 and the numberless throng who enter the marriage feast, and for our full and final experience of the love of God. But like Daniel, we need to show signs of this consecration during our lifetime, whether fasting with the entire church during lent, or praying with a family during its time of death or sickness. Or at times there may be an inspiration to go the extra mile and give our shirt as well as our outer cloak (Matthew 5:40-42).
In the gospel we have the touching example of the widow who drops two copper coins into the treasury. Jesus declares that by giving what she could not afford, it was worth more than the wealthiest donation. We too must be ready when the spirit inspires us to give in ways that hurt, ways that also unite us with Jesus who gave himself totally on the cross for us. The widow dropped in her two copper coins, never realizing that anyone saw what she was doing, never thinking that she would be remembered throughout the world. Only when the time comes will each of us know the real value of what we seek to give to our neighbour and to God.
In the third year of the reign of King Jehoiakim of
The Lord let King Jehoiakim of
Then the king commanded his palace master Ashpenaz to bring some of the Israelites of the royal family and of the nobility, young men without physical defect and handsome, versed in every branch of wisdom, endowed with knowledge and insight, and competent to serve in the king's palace; they were to be taught the literature and language of the Chaldeans.
The king assigned them a daily portion of the royal rations of food and
wine. They were to be educated for three years, so that at the end of that
time they could be stationed in the king's court. Among them were Daniel,
Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, from the tribe of
But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the royal rations of food and wine; so he asked the palace master to allow him not to defile himself. Now God allowed Daniel to receive favour and compassion from the palace master. The palace master said to Daniel, "I am afraid of my lord the king; he has appointed your food and your drink. If he should see you in poorer condition than the other young men of your own age, you would endanger my head with the king."
Then Daniel asked the guard whom the palace master had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: "Please test your servants for ten days. Let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. You can then compare our appearance with the appearance of the young men who eat the royal rations, and deal with your servants according to what you observe." So he agreed to this proposal and tested them for ten days.
At the end of ten days it was observed that they appeared better and fatter than all the young men who had been eating the royal rations. So the guard continued to withdraw their royal rations and the wine they were to drink, and gave them vegetables. To these four young men God gave knowledge and skill in every aspect of literature and wisdom; Daniel also had insight into all visions and dreams. At the end of the time that the king had set for them to be brought in, the palace master brought them into the presence of Nebuchadnezzar, and the king spoke with them. And among them all, no one was found to compare with Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah; therefore they were stationed in the king's court. In every matter of wisdom and understanding concerning which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.
Then I looked, and there was the Lamb, standing on
He looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. He said, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on."
(*1) Dan 2:31ff. The vision of the four kingdoms, eventually destroyed by a stone from the mountain, which proceeded to fill the whole earth.
(*2) Rev 14:14ff. The earth is harvested, first of wheat and then the grapes. The ripe grapes are thrown into the winepress of God's wrath.
(*3) Luke 21:5ff. Take care not to be misled about the end of the world by self-proclaimed saviours. The end does not follow immediately.
As already noted, we are near the end of one church year and the beginning of another. Here we meet some of the most controversial literature in the Bible, dealing with the end of the world, which also ranks among the most popular parts of the Bible. We must be careful in interpreting it, as the language is highly symbolical. Indeed, Jesus declares, "Take care not to be misled." The liturgy provides the surest way to apply these passages to our lives, bidding us take responsibility for our actions, examine where we are spiritually, and honestly face God. Yet the end gives place to a new beginning. With the dawn of Advent and four weeks later with the birth of the Saviour, we are given a new chance, a new lease of life. The end and the beginning, responsibly taking stock and mercifully beginning over again, are equally important.
As we look back, we may see so many efforts, badly inspired, controlled by
personal interests and pride. We see a statue, similar to that shown in
Nebuchadnezzar's vision(*1) . This statue with its four principal sections
represented the four great kingdoms, as the Israelites remembered them: of
the Babylonians, Medes, Persians and Greeks. No matter how colossal they
were, and seemingly invincible, they collapsed. A stone hewn from the
mountains struck the feet of the statue which were partly iron and partly
tile and smashed them. This stone stood for
The bible's message is that world empires, material wealth, political clout - none of these forces can last forever; and our faith will outlast them all. What God achieves in our lives through prayer and faith, through perseverance in the midst of trials, through obedience to his will and our conscience, becomes... a kingdom that shall never be destroyed. But the trials will be severe. We may pass through several difficult harvestings but eventually, as in the Book of Revelation(*2) the good deeds, like the wheat, will be harvested by the Son of Man who comes on the cloud; all evil will be cut from the branches like ripe grapes and thrown into the winepress of God's wrath. There will be times of accounting and taking stock, for God will not let things just drift for ever.
We must be people of sincerity and honesty, not just bluffing our way along. We have to attempt justice towards our neighbour, characterized by sympathetic understanding of the human situation. If we have been disappointed with others, perhaps cheated and lied to, we may tend to summon the end of the world for these people - no second chance, let them be totally condemned! Perhaps we need to look at them again, through the eyes of Jesus, who sees to the heart of things. Guided by his spirit, we, the stone hewn from the mountains, can become a new kingdom of God. We must extend this hope to others as well, as we look forward to a new year of grace, beginning in Advent.
"You were looking, O king, and lo! there was a great statue. This statue was huge, its brilliance extraordinary; it was standing before you, and its appearance was frightening. The head of that statue was of fine gold, its chest and arms of silver, its middle and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay. As you looked on, a stone was cut out, not by human hands, and it struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and broke them in pieces. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold, were all broken in pieces and became like the chaff of the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away, so that not a trace of them could be found. But the stone that struck the statue became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.
"This was the dream; now we will tell the king its interpretation. You, O king, the king of kings - to whom the God of heaven has given the kingdom, the power, the might, and the glory, into whose hand he has given human beings, wherever they live, the wild animals of the field, and the birds of the air, and whom he has established as ruler over them all - you are the head of gold. After you shall arise another kingdom inferior to yours, and yet a third kingdom of bronze, which shall rule over the whole earth.
And there shall be a fourth kingdom, strong as iron; just as iron crushes and smashes everything,it shall crush and shatter all these. As you saw the feet and toes partly of potter's clay and partly of iron, it shall be a divided kingdom; but some of the strength of iron shall be in it, as you saw the iron mixed with the clay. As the toes of the feet were part iron and part clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong and partly brittle. As you saw the iron mixed with clay, so will they mix with one another in marriage, but they will not hold together, just as iron does not mix with clay. And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall this kingdom be left to another people. It shall crush all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever; just as you saw that a stone was cut from the mountain not by hands, and that it crushed the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold. The great God has informed the king what sall be hereafter. The dream is certain, and its interpretation trustworthy."
Then I looked, and there was a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one like the Son of Man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand! Another angel came out of the temple, calling with a loud voice to the one who sat on the cloud, "Use your sickle and reap, for the hour to reap has come, because the harvest of the earth is fully ripe." So the one who sat on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was reaped.
Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. Then another angel came out from the altar, the angel who has authority over fire, and he called with a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, "Use your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe." So the angel swung his sickle over the earth and gathered the vintage of the earth, and he threw it into the great wine press of the wrath of God. And the wine press was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the wine press, as high as a horse's bridle, for a distance of about two hundred miles.
When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, "As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down."
They asked him, "Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?" And he said, "Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, 'I am he!' and, 'The time is near!' Do not go after them.
"When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately." Then he aid to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.
(*1) Dan 5. While Belshazzar was drinking from the temple vessels stolen
(*2) Rev 15:1ff. In a single vision John sees the seven angels with the seven final plagues and hears the song of victory from the saints who overcame the beast.
(*3) Luke 21:12ff. The disciples of Jesus will be persecuted, yet not a hair of their head will be harmed.
The final sentence of the gospel, perhaps later added to Jesus' words as commentary and application, directs our meditation today. "By patience you will save your lives." It is another one of those floating comments that can fit into many situations. It occurred earlier in Luke 8:15 in a somewhat adapted form, where the seed bore fruit "through patience." It recurs in Paul's call to "patiently do what is right" (Rom 2:7). In another passage of Romans, this same word, patience, becomes a major link, "affliction produces patience, and patience produces character, and character produces hope, a hope that will not leave us disappointed, because the love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Rom 5:3-5).
The Greek word for patience or endurance (hypomoné) reflects a strong inner attitude of perseverance, consistency, dependability. With this in mind, we can re-read today's scriptures and first of all, the gospel. Persecution cannot break such a steady person, nor can family relationships that seem to be strained beyond all limits. "You will be delivered up even by your parents, brothers, sisters, relatives and friends." In times such as this, we must continue in our loyalty to God. We need the conviction that sooner or later God will justify us, and at that moment because of continued fidelity our family and community will reunite. In the meanwhile Jesus promises "I will give you a wisdom which none of your opponents can take exception to or contradict." Our words will be prompted by true love and honest fidelity. Such words will have power to persuade and will gradually bear their good fruit.
People of "patient endurance" can, according to Revelation(*2),
join in the song that Moses, the servant of God sang after leading the people
To people of patience and loyalty, God has a consoling message in the book of Daniel: Mene, Tekel, Peres. These words are fearful to those who squandered God's graces and sat banquetting with the King Belshazzars of this world, making merry while the poor suffered. But to the prophet Daniel, the words spoke of consolation and reward. Mene- God has numbered your kingdom, which will certainly come to an end; Tekel- God has weighed you on the scales; Peres- God will divide the kingdom and bring into it those who persevered till the end.
Truly, "by patience you will save your lives" and the lives of
all your loved ones. This line, which can fit into many different moments of
our lives and enable us to carry onward towards the promised land, has a nice
ring in the Latin translation of
King Belshazzar made a great festival for a thousand of his lords, and he
was drinking wine in the presence of the thousand. Under the influence of the
wine, Belshazzar commanded that they bring in the vessels of gold and silver
that his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple in
Immediately the fingers of a human hand appeared and began writing on the
plaster of the wall of the royal palace, next to the lampstand. The king was
watching the hand as it wrote. Then the king's face turned pale, and his
thoughts terrified him. His limbs gave way, and his knees knocked together.
Then Daniel was brought in before the king. The king said to Daniel, "So
you are Daniel, one of the exiles of Judah, whom my father the king brought
Then Daniel answered in the presence of the king, "Let your gifts be for yourself, or give your rewards to someone else! Nevertheless I will read the writing to the king and let him know the interpretation. You have exalted yourself against the Lord of heaven! The vessels of his temple have been brought in before you, and you and your lords, your wives and your concubines have been drinking wine from them. You have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone, which do not see or hear or know; but the God in whose power is your very breath, and to whom belong all your ways, you have not honoured. "So from his presence the hand was sent and this writing was inscribed. And this is the writing that was inscribed: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, and PARSIN. This is the interpretation of the matter: MENE, God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; TEKEL, you have been weighed on the scales and found wanting; PERES, your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians."
Then I saw another portent in heaven, great and amazing: seven angels with seven plagues, which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is ended.
And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands. And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb:
"Great and amazing are your deeds, Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, King of the nations! Lord, who will not fear and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your judgments have been revealed."
"But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.
(*1) Dan 6:12ff. Daniel is saved from the lion's den; the king recognizes Yahweh as deliverer and saviour, working signs and wonders in heaven and on earth.
(*2) Rev 18:1ff.
(*3) Luke 21:20ff.
While Mark 13 combines the prophecy about the fall of
The Book of Daniel draws on older traditions that reached back into the
Babylonian exile and had become part of
Daniel advises the people that God is preparing a letter to the nations and peoples of every language. This letter will proclaim that Yahweh, the God of Israel's ancestors, is the living God, enduring forever, whose kingdom shall not be destroyed, and his dominion shall be without end. While the monotonous years provide the opportunity to appreciate and safeguard our prayer and fidelity with God, the tempestuous period of trial becomes a divinely appointed way of casting down those walls and sharing our God and our family with the world.
Such moments, according to Revelation(*2), will avenge the blood of God's servants. False joys will be unmasked; futile waste of energy trying to build flimsy securities will be brought to an end; all the buying and selling of world merchants will stop. The ultimate shape of the future always rests in God's hands, and in the end God achieves the victory beyond all human endeavour.
Then they approached the king and said concerning the interdict, "O
king! Did you not sign an interdict, that anyone who prays to anyone, divine
or human, within thirty days except to you,O king, shall be thrown into a den
of lions?" The king answered, "The thing stands fast, according to
the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be revoked." Then they
responded to the king, "Daniel, one of the exiles from
Then the king gave the command, and Daniel was brought and thrown into the den of lions. The king said to Daniel, "May your God, whom you faithfully serve, deliver you!" A stone was brought and laid on the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet and with the signet of his lords, so that nothing might be changed concerning Daniel. Then the king went to his palace and spent the night fasting; no food was brought to him, and sleep fled from him.
Then, at break of day, the king got up and hurried to the den of lions. When he came near the den where Daniel was, he cried out anxiously to Daniel, "O Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God whom you faithfully serve been able to deliver you from the lions?" Daniel then said to the king, "O king, live forever! My God sent his angel and shut the lions' mouths so that they would not hurt me, because I was found blameless before him; and also before you, O king, I have done no wrong." Then the king was exceedingly glad and commanded that Daniel be taken up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no kind of harm was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.
The king gave a command, and those who had accused Daniel were brought and thrown into the den of lions - they, their children, and their wives. Before they reached the bottom of the den the lions overpowered them and broke all their bones in pieces. Then King Darius wrote to all peoples and nations of every language throughout the whole world: "May you have abundant prosperity! I make a decree, that in all my royal dominion people should tremble and fear before the God of Daniel: For he is the living God, enduring forever. His kingdom shall never be destroyed, and his dominion has no end. He delivers and rescues, he works signs and wonders in heaven and on earth; for he has saved Daniel from the power of the lions." So this Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian.
(2) Revelation 18:1-2, 21-23; 19:1-3, 9
After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great
authority; and the earth was made bright with his splendour. He called out
with a mighty voice, "Fallen, fallen is
Then a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, "With such violence Babylon the great city will be thrown down, and will be found no more; and the sound of harpists and minstrels and of flutists an trumpeters will be heard in you no more; and an artisan of any trade will be found in you no more; and the sound of the millstone will be heard in you no more; and the light of a lamp will shine in you no more; and the voice of bridegroom and bride will be heard in you no more; for your merchants were the magnates of the earth, and all nations were deceived by your sorcery.
After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying,
"Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power to our God, for his judgments are true and just; he has judged the great whore who corrupted the earth with her fornication, and he has avenged on her the blood of his servants." Once more they said, "Hallelujah! The smoke goes up from her forever and ever."
And the angel said to me, "Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb." And he said to me, "These are true words of God."
Gospel: Luke 21:20-28
"When you see
"There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in a cloud' with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."
(*1) Dan 7:2ff. The terrifying vision of the four beasts, countered by the Ancient One enthroned in glory, and the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven.
(*2) Rev 20:1ff. Satan is chained for a thousand years. Those whose names are written in the book of life are summoned to a new holy city.
(*3) Luke 21:29ff. When you see these things happen, know that the reign of God is near. My word will not pass away.
While the 1st
The symbolism in Daniel and Revelation is drawn from a long, rich heritage that blends ritual and folklore, Israelite and non-Israelite images. Put simply, apocalyptic symbolism comes from a school of thought convinced that God's mystery is so transcendent and yet so close to us, so overwhelming and yet so immediately at hand, so creative of a new world order, that even the most menacing of present realities will not prevent the triumph of God's will upon the earth.
Today's imagery from the Book of Daniel comes from the four great empires
of Israelite memory: Babylonian, Medes, Persian and Greek. The little horn
that displaced three other horns would be
A similar setting lies behind the Book of Revelation(*2), when persecution
The fig tree is in full bloom and the harvest is near, yet in our lives,
of family and church, in our neighbourhood and world, we have to be realists.
A strange recommendation: to be realists amid the weird symbols of the
apocalyptic seers. Realists in digging beneath the surface and silently and
perceptively listening to the mysterious message. This message will not go
away, for it is the word of God, anticipating the new heavens and the new
earth. Weird as it may seem right now, our world will be transformed into the
I, Daniel, saw in my vision by night the four winds of heaven stirring up the great sea, and four great beasts came up out of the sea, different from one another. The first was like a lion and had eagles' wings. Then, as I watched, its wings were plucked off, and it was lifted up from the ground and made to stand on two feet like a human being; and a human mind was given to it. Another beast appeared, a second one, that looked like a bear. It was raised up on one side, had three tusks in its mouth among its teeth and was told, "Arise, devour many bodies!" After this, as I watched, another appeared, like a leopard. The beast had four wings of a bird on its back and four heads; and dominion was given to it.
After this I saw in the visions by night a fourth beast, terrifying and dreadful and exceedingly strong. It had great iron teeth an was devouring, breaking in pieces, and stamping what was left with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that preceded it, and it had ten horns. I was considering the horns, when another horn appeared, a little one coming up among them; to make room for it, three of the earlier horns were plucked up by the roots. There were eyes like human eyes in this horn, and a mouth speaking arrogantly.
As I watched, thrones were set in place, and an Ancient One took his throne, his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames, and its wheels were burning fire. A stream of fire issued and flowed out from his presence. A thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood attending him. The court sat in judgment, and the books were opened. I watched then because of the noise of the arrogant words that the horn was speaking. And as I watched, the beast was put to death, and its body destroyed and given over to be burned with fire. As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but their lives were prolonged for a season and a time.
As I watched in the night visions, I saw one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven. And he came to the Ancient One and was presented before him. To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.
Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and locked and sealed it over him, so that he would deceive the nations no more, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be let out for a little while.
Then I saw thrones, and those seated on them were given authority to judge. I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony to Jesus and for the word of God. They had not worshipped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years.
Then I saw a great white throne and the one who sat on it; the earth and the heaven fled from his presence, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, the book of life. And the dead were judged according to their works, as recorded in the books. And the sea gave up the dead that were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and all were judged according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire; and anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
Then he told them a parable: "Look at the fig tree and all the trees;
as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer
is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know
(*1) Dan 7:15ff. Daniel begs for an explanation of the vision. The persecuted saints, loyal to God's covenant, will eventually receive the kingdom.
(*2) Rev 22:1ff. The river of life, flowing from God's throne in the new Jerusalem, the vision of the Lamb, and the promise that He is coming soon.
(*3) Luke 21:34ff. The great day comes suddenly. Be on your guard. Pray constantly to stand secure before the Son of Man.
This final day of the church's year continues the call to blend practical realism with an exalted hope. We need to see the heavy clouds from both sides; on one side, darkness and signs of persecution, on the other side, bright sunlight and the enjoyment of eternal peace. The readings affirm that the transition from darkness to light will be certain and sudden. Meanwhile one must live with faith in God's eternal plan for us and for the entire world. Whether in darkness or light, we are not alone but are united with all of God's holy ones.
In Daniel(*1) , the prophet writes how he was terrified by the visions of the mind. The great persecution still raged and the beast made war against the holy ones and was "victorious until the Ancient One arrived." Daniel was living in the midst of that period of time when the beast reigned, "for a year, two years, and a half-year." Three and a half years is a symbolical number for great distress which must extend its full course but must also end. It may be tedious to trace the symbolism of numbers through the Bible, but the Scriptures affirm that we must persevere through the entire time of trial, and that this time will certainly end. Only at the end will we see everything in proper perspective and for now many details remain wrapped in darkness.
Though his gospel was composed after one such period of severe trial (the destruction of the Holy City of Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70) Luke actually wrote during a peaceful breathing-space. Therefore, he warns, "Be on guard lest your spirits become bloated with indulgence and drunkenness and worldly cares. The great day will suddenly close in on you like a trap." It seems that faith thrives more during adversity than during peace and financial prosperity. So Luke also advises, "Pray constantly." Live in God's presence and then you will "stand secure before the Son of Man" when he comes in full glory.
Revelation(*2) views the momentous crises of earthly existence from the
perspective of final glory. Here is the silver lining to the clouds, the end
of the three and a half years of trial. The seer of Patmos feels himself
already standing with one foot within the heavenly
The thirty-four weeks of the church year are coming to an end. They do so with an announcement that the Lord Jesus will come suddenly, soon and gloriously. We have been gifted with the long preparation of the church year. We will now be further graced with four weeks of special alertness during Advent. Since in our life's pilgrimage we are surrounded by all of this spiritual force, we can lay aside every hindrance of sin, and with eyes fixed on Jesus, persevere in running the race which lies ahead, to reach the glorious destiny he has won for us.
As for me, Daniel, my spirit was troubled within me, and the visions of my head terrified me. I approached one of the attendants to ask him the truth concerning all this. So he said that he would disclose to me the interpretation of the matter: "As for these four great beasts, four kings shall arise out of the earth. But the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever - forever and ever."
Then I desired to know the truth concerning the fourth beast, which was different from all the rest, exceedingly terrifying, with its teeth of iron and claws of bronze, and which devoured and broke in pieces, and stamped what was left with its feet; and concerning the ten horns that were on its head, and concerning the other horn, which came up and to make room for which three of them fell out - the horn that had eyes and a mouth that spoke arrogantly, and that seemed greater than the others.
As I looked, this horn made war with the holy ones and was prevailing over them, until the Ancient One came; then judgment was given for the holy ones of the Most High, and the time arrived when the holy ones gained possession of the kingdom.
This is what he said: "As for the fourth beast, there shall be a fourth kingdom on earth that shall be different from all the other kingdoms; it shall devour the whole earth, and trample it down, and break it to pieces. As for the ten horns, out of this kingdom ten kings shall arise, and another shall arise after them. This one shall be different from the former ones, and shall put down three kings. He shall speak words against the Most High, shall wear out the holy ones of the Most High, and shall attempt to change the sacred seasons and the law; and they shall be given into his power for a time, two times, and half a time. Then the court shall sit in judgment, and his dominion shall be taken away, to be consumed and totally destroyed. The kingship and dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the holy ones of the Most High; their kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey them."
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.
And he said to me, "These words are trustworthy and true, for the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place."
"See, I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book."
Gospel: Luke 21:34-36
"Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man."