The relationship with the divine is this demand of love, humility, and self-offering.
Sunday, January 6, 2019
The Magi’s journey of faith
The adoration of the child Jesus as King and Lord
1. Opening prayer
Merciful Father, You have called me to meet You in this word of the Gospel, because You wish that I may have life, You wish to give me yourself. Send, I pray You, Your Holy Spirit upon me so that I may let myself be led along
the holy way of this passage of Scripture. May I, today, get out of my prison to set out on a journey to seek You. May I recognize the star that You have lit as a sign of Your love on my journey to follow it tirelessly, intensely, committing my whole life.
May I, finally, enter Your house and there see the Lord; may I bend low humbly before You to adore You and offer my life to You, all that I am and all that I have. Lord, by Your grace, may I return by a new route, without ever passing through the old paths
a) Placing the passage
in its context:
This passage belongs to the first two chapters of Matthew’s Gospel, which constitute a kind of prologue to the whole work. We are
presented with the historical origin of the Messiah as son of David, as well as His divine origin as Jesus Christ, God-with-us. Matthew immediately leads us into a very deep and engaging meditation, placing before us a choice about the people he introduces
in his story: we either recognize and welcome the Lord who is just born, or we remain indifferent, even to wanting to eliminate Him and kill Him. This passage offers us the beautiful story of the journey of the Magi, who come from afar because they want to
seek and welcome, love and adore the Lord Jesus. But their long journey and tireless search, and the conversion of their hearts, are facts that speak of us, facts already written on the scroll of our own sacred story.
b) An aid to the reading of the passage:
The passage may be divided into two main parts,
determined by the location where the scenes take place: the first part (2: 1-9a) takes place in Jerusalem, and the second part is focused around Bethlehem (2: 9b-12).
Mt 2: 1-2: The passage begins with the place
and time of the birth of Jesus: in Bethlehem of Judea, at the time of king Herod. Within this quite specific description, the Magi suddenly appear, coming from afar, and arriving in Jerusalem under the guidance of a star. It is they who announce the birth
of the Lord king. They ask where they might find Him because they wish to adore Him.
Mt 2: 3-6: On hearing the words of the Magi, king Herod, and with him all of Jerusalem, is disturbed and afraid.
Rather than welcoming the Lord and joining Him, they seek to eliminate Him. Herod calls the authorities of the Jewish people and the experts in scripture. It is they, with the help of ancient prophecies, who reveal Bethlehem as the place to find the Messiah.
Mt 2: 7-8: Herod calls the Magi in secret because he wants to use them for his own evil ends. His detailed interest is entirely directed towards the elimination of Christ.
Mt 2: 9a: The Magi, urged by strength of faith and led by the star, leave again and go towards Bethlehem.
Mt 2: 9b-11: The star reappears, moves with the Magi and
leads them to the exact spot where the Lord Jesus is. Full of joy, they enter the house and prostrate themselves. They offer precious gifts because they recognize that He is king and Lord.
Mt 2: 12: When they have contemplated and adored the Lord, the Magi receive a revelation from God. It is He who speaks to them. They are new men. They have in them a new heaven and a new earth. They are free of the deceits of Herod
and therefore they go back to their lives by an entirely new way
c) The text:
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, "Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage." When
King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, He inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They said to him, "In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it has been
written through the prophet: And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; since from you shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd my people Israel." Then Herod called the magi secretly and ascertained from them the time
of the star's appearance. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and search diligently for the child. When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage." After their audience with the king they set out. And behold, the star
that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him
homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.
3. A moment of prayerful silence
I listen deeply to the silent voice of the Lord and let the breath of the Spirit
come to me and infuse me. In this silence I seek the Lord and repeat in my heart: “Where are You, my God?”
4. A few questions
a) I take the first words that come from the mouths of the Magi and make them my own: “Where is the infant king of the Jews?” Do I really feel attracted
to the place where the Lord is because I desire to be with Him? Am I ready to leave the dark and old places of my habits and my comfort, to undertake a journey of faith in search of Jesus?
have come to adore Him”. Here the Word of the Lord tests me and puts me through a crucible: do I really live in a relationship of love with God? Am I able to open my life in His presence and allow Him to enter into my very heartbeats?
c) “From you will come a leader who will shepherd My people”. Am I capable of placing and giving my whole existence to the guidance of the Lord? To trust
in Him, in His love, in His real presence, even though He remains invisible?
d) “Going into the house they saw the child”. It is precisely
because they accept to go into the house, to enter into communion, to give themselves fully and truly, that their eyes can see, contemplate, and recognize. Am I not aware of the fact that the more I stay outside, the more I am distant from the life of my brothers
and sisters and the more I become sad and empty?
5. A key to the reading
I look for some key words, some basic themes, that may guide and help me better penetrate the meaning of this passage of the Gospel, so that my life may be enlightened and changed by this Word of the Lord.
* The journey: This passage seems to be given the theme of a journey, an exodus, a going out. The Magi, these mysterious characters, get moving, go far away from their land and
go seeking the king, the Lord. Matthew presents this fact by means of some verbs that proceed along with the development of the event: “came, we have come, sent them, go, set out, went before them, going into, not
to go back, returned.” The physical journey of the Magi hides a much more important and meaningful journey: the journey of faith. This is the movement of the soul born from a desire to meet and know the Lord. At the same time it is God’s
invitation which calls and attracts us with His own power. It is He who gets us to stand up and sets us in motion and who offers us signs and does not cease to walk with us. Scripture gives us many important examples, and these help us enter into this path
of grace and blessings. God said to Abraham: “Leave your country, your family and your father’s house, for the land I will show you” (Gen 12:1). Jacob was also a pilgrim of faith and conversion. It is written about him: “Jacob left
Beersheba and set out for Haran” (Gen 28:10), and: “Moving on, Jacob went to the land of the sons of the East” (Gen 29:1). Many years later, the Lord spoke to him and said: “Go back to the land of your forefathers and to your kindred;
and I will be with you” (Gen 31:3). Moses was also a man on a journey. God Himself showed him the way, the exodus, in his heart, and made his whole life a long march of salvation for him and for his brothers and sisters. “So come, I send you to
Pharaoh to bring the sons of Israel, My people, out of Egypt!” (Ex 3:10). As the new people of God, we are the children of the promise and of the new covenant and are called to go out, setting out on a journey in the footsteps of the Lord Jesus. The
exodus never ceased. The liberation that comes from faith is always active. Let us look at Jesus, at His apostles, at Paul: not one of them stands still, not one of them hides. All these witnesses speak to us today by their deeds and they repeat: “Blessed
is he who finds in You his strength and one who decides in his heart to go on the holy journey” (Ps 83:6).
* The star: This is
a very important and central element in this passage because the star has the role of guiding the Magi to their destination, enlightening their nights along the journey, indicating precisely the place of the presence of the Lord, and giving great joy to their
hearts. Throughout the Bible, stars appear as signs of blessing and glory, almost as a personification of God, who does not abandon His people, and at the same time, is a personification of the people that does not forget its God and praises and blesses him
(cfr. Ps 148:3; Bar 3:34). The word star appears for the first time in Scripture in Genesis 1:16. On the fourth day the story of creation tells us of the appearance in the heavens of the sun, the moon and stars, as signs and as light, to
set order and give light. The Jewish term for “star” kokhab is very beautiful and full of meaning. In fact, the letters that make up the word reveal the immensity of the presence that these celestial elements bring with them.
We find two letters kaf, which signify “hand” and which enclose the letter waw which means man. Thus, within the stars there are two hands, kaf and kaf, that lovingly hold within them waw, man. These are the hands of God that never cease to hold
us, if only we entrust ourselves to them. Then appears the letter bet, which means house. Thus, the stars speak of our journey towards our house, our constant migration, from whence we have come, from the day of our creation and even from all
eternity. Often God compares the descendants of Abraham to the stars in the heavens, almost as if each person is a star, born to give light in the night: “Look up to heaven and count the stars if you can” and then He adds: “Such will be your
descendants” (Gen 15:5). Jesus is also a star, the star that takes its rise from Jacob (Num 24:17), which rises from on high and is the radiant morning star as the Apocalypse says (22:16). By taking on flesh the infinite love of God, which bends itself
down towards us, His children, opens the palms of His hands to gather and welcome us. Only such love can give our infinite weakness the capacity and courage, the perseverance and joy of accepting to leave and to go on the long and arduous journey of faith
which takes us to Bethlehem, to the place where God appears to us.
* The adoration: The act of adoration is as old as humankind itself, because
since the beginning, the relationship with the divine has been accompanied by this demand of love, humility, and self-offering. Before the greatness of God, we little people feel and discover that we are nothing, a speck of dust, a drop from a bucket. In the
Old Testament, the act of adoration appears as an act of deep love towards the Lord, an act that demands the involvement of the whole person. It involves the mind, the will to choose, love full of desire and a body that bows and prostrates itself even to the
ground. It is said in several places that the act of adoration is accompanied by a prostration with the face touching the ground. The face of man, his gaze, his breath returns to the dust whence he has his origin and there he recognizes himself as creature
of God, as a breath of God’s nostrils. “Come in, let us bow, prostrate ourselves, and kneel in front of Yahweh our maker” (Ps 94:6). This is the invitation of Scripture to us every day which shows us the way to walk so that we may again and
again come to the truth and therefore live fully.
The New Testament goes even deeper in its spiritual reflection on this fact and seems to want to accompany us on a pedagogical journey of conversion and maturity
in our interior life. In the Gospels we see the disciples, men and women, adoring the Lord Jesus after His resurrection (Mt 28:9; Lk 24:52) because they recognize Him as God. Jesus’ words in His dialogue with the Samaritan woman give us a deep insight
into the truth of this act, which after all, involves the whole of life and is an attitude of the heart. Adoration is for God the Father and does not happen here or there but in Spirit and in truth, which is in the Spirit and the Son, Jesus. We must not deceive
ourselves. It is not by moving from one place to another, nor by seeking this or that spiritual person, that we can adore our God. The movement, the journey, is an interior one and takes place in our deepest being and is a complete surrender of ourselves,
our life, and our whole being, to the wings of the Holy Spirit and into the arms of Jesus which are wide open on the cross and ever ready to attract all things to himself. St. Peter says clearly: “Simply reverence the Lord Christ in your hearts”
(1 Pt 3:15). The act of bowing to the ground, of prostrating ourselves before the Lord comes from the heart. If we let ourselves be touched and reach into our hearts, if we allow the Lord to enter our hearts, that sacred space, then He will change us completely,
transforming the whole of our person to make of us new men and women.
6. A moment of prayer: Psalm 84
hymn concerning the trust of man
on his journey to the house of God
Res. I have seen Your star, Lord,
and I have come to adore You!
How lovely are Your dwelling-places, YHWH Sabaoth.
My whole being yearns and pines for Yahweh's courts,
My heart and my body cry out for joy to the living
Even the sparrow has found a home, the swallow a nest to place its young: Your altars, YHWH Sabaoth, my King and my God.
How blessed are those who live in
they shall praise You continually.
Blessed those who find their strength in You,
whose hearts are set
As they pass through the Valley of the Balsam,
they make there a water-hole,
and -- a further blessing
-- early rain fills it.
They make their way from height to height,
God shows himself to them in Zion.
YHWH Sabaoth, hear
listen, God of Jacob.
God, our shield, look,
and see the face of Your anointed.
Better one day in Your courts than a thousand at my own devices,
to stand on the threshold of God's house
than to live in the tents of the wicked.
For Yahweh God is a rampart and shield,
he gives grace and glory;
Yahweh refuses nothing good to those whose life is blameless.
blessed is he who trusts in You.
7. Closing prayer
Lord, my Father, I have really seen Your star, I have opened my eyes to Your presence of love and salvation and I have received the light of life.
I have contemplated the night changed into light, pain into joy and solitude into communion; yes, all this happened before You, in Your Word.
You have led me through the desert; You have led me to Your house and opened the door for me to enter.
There I saw You, Your
Son Jesus, saviour of my life; there I prayed and adored, I cried and found Your smile, I kept silence and learned to speak. In Your house, merciful Father, I have found life once more!
And now I am
going back, I have resumed my journey, but the way is not the one I took before and my life is not what it was before. Your Word has left me with a new heart, capable of opening itself to love, to listen, to welcome and become home to so many brothers and
sisters whom You have placed in my way. I was not aware, Lord, but You have made me into a child again, You have given birth to me with Jesus. Thank You, Father, my Father!
Sunday, December 30, 2018
Mary and Joseph find Jesus
Among the doctors in the Temple in Jerusalem
Luke 2: 41-52
Father in heaven, You are my creator. You welcome me through Jesus Christ Your Son. You guide me by Your Holy Spirit. Enlighten my mind so that I may understand the meaning of the life You have granted
me, the plan You have for me and for those You have placed at my side. Enkindle fire in my heart so that I may follow Your revelation joyfully and enthusiastically. Strengthen my weak will, unite it to the will of others so that together we may do Your will
and thus build the world as one family more and more in Your image. You who live and reign forever and ever. Amen.
2. LECTIO: A READING OF LK 2:41-52
Each year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, and when he was twelve years old, they went up according to festival custom. After they had completed its days, as they were returning, the boy Jesus
remained behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Thinking that he was in the caravan, they journeyed for a day and looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances, but not finding him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him. After
three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, and all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother
said to him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they
did not understand what he said to them. He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man.
3. A TIME OF SILENCE
that the Word of God may enter our hearts and enlighten our lives.
4. MEDITATIO: A FEW QUESTIONS
to direct our meditation and practice.
Why does Luke, the Evangelist, tell us this story
in Jesus’ life? Where is the climax, the center of the passage? There are times when family (community) relationships become tense and difficult and misunderstandings take place. Do we seek autonomy and independence? Who or what becomes more important
at a particular time in our life? Can we organize hierarchically our relationships, our self-affirmation, our values, our tasks, our morality? Today, we often find “extended” families (multi-ethnic communities) with re-married parents, partners,
daughters and sons, sisters and brothers, grandparents, parents of one partner and not of the other. On whom can we rely? Can we submit to one person or just rebel?
A KEY TO THE READING
We find ourselves among the so-called infancy stories according to Luke (chap. 1-2). This is the final passage, a theological and Christological prologue rather that a historical one,
where we are presented with motifs that recur later in Luke’s catechesis: the Temple, the journey towards Jerusalem, divine filiation, the poor, the merciful Father, etc. Reading back, in Jesus’ childhood there already appear signs of His future
life. Mary and Joseph take Jesus to Jerusalem to take part in one of the three pilgrimages (the Passover, Pentecost and the feast of the Tabernacles) prescribed by the law (Deut 16:16). During the seven days of the feast, people took part in the cult and listened
to the Rabbis, who discussed beneath the portico of the Temple. “The boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem”, the city the Lord chosen for His throne (2 Kings 21:4-7; Jer 3:17; Zech 3:2), and where the Temple is found (Ps 68:30; 76:3; 135:21), the
only place of worship for the Jews (Jn 4:20). Jerusalem is the place where “all that was written by the prophets concerning the Son of man will be fulfilled” (Lk 18:21), the place of “His departure” (Lk 9:31,51; 24:18) and of His appearances
after the resurrection (Lk 24:33,36-49). His parents “sought Him” anxiously and troubled (2:44,45,48,49). How is it possible to lose a son, not to realize that Jesus is not in the caravan? Is it Christ who has to follow others or vice versa? “Three
days later” the “passion” ends, and they find Jesus in the Temple, among the doctors, teaching to the amazement of all. The characteristics of His mission begin to unfold and this mission is summarized in the first words that Jesus speaks
in Luke’s Gospel “Why were you looking for Me? Did you not know that I must be busy with My Father’s affairs?” But who is His father? Why seek Him? This is the same father mentioned in Jesus’ last words, in Luke, on the cross:
“Father, into Your hands I commend My spirit” (23:46) and at the ascension into heaven “And now I am sending down to you what the Father has promised” (24:49). Above all, we must seek to obey God, as Peter well understood after Pentecost
(Acts 5:29), seek the Kingdom of God and His justice (Mt 6:33), seek the Father in prayer (Mt 7:7-8), seek Jesus (Jn 1:38) and follow Him. Jesus proclaims His dependence - “I must” – on His heavenly Father. He reveals the Father in His immense
goodness (Lk 15), but He thus creates a distance, a break, with His family. Before all affective ties, all personal fulfillment, all affairs… comes God’s project. “Father, if You are willing, take this cup away from Me. Nevertheless, let
Your will be done, not Mine” (Lk 22:42). Simeon’s prophecy (Lk 2:34) begins to happen for Mary, “but they did not understand”. His parents’ lack of understanding is also that of His disciples concerning the foretelling of the
passion (18:34). Rebel? Submit? Walk away? Jesus “went down with them and came to Nazareth and lived under their authority”, says Luke, and Mary “stored up all these things in her heart”. Mary’s attitude expresses the development
of faith in a person who grows and progresses in knowledge of the mystery. Jesus reveals that obedience to God is the essential condition for fulfilling one’s life, for a way of sharing in the family and in community. Obedience to the Father is what
makes us brothers and sisters, teaches us to obey each other, to listen to each other and recognize God’s plan in each other. Such an atmosphere creates the conditions necessary to grow “in wisdom, in stature, and in favour with God and men”
and to journey together.
6. ORATIO: PSALM 83 (84)
The pilgrim’s hymn
How lovely is Thy dwelling place,
O Lord of hosts!
My soul longs, yea, faints for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.
Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may lay her young, at Thy altars,
O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in Thy house,
ever singing Thy praise!
Blessed are the men whose strength is in Thee,
in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
As they go through the valley of Baca
they make it a place of springs;
the early rain also covers it with pools.
They go from strength to strength;
the God of gods will be seen in Zion.
O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer; give ear,
O God of Jacob!
7. CONTEMPLATIO: CLOSING PRAYER
I thank You, Father,
Lord of heaven and earth, because You have revealed to me Your goodness and Your love. You really are the only One who can give full meaning to my life. I love my father, but You are my Father; I love my mother, but You are my Mother. Even if I had not known
the love of my parents, I know that You are love, You are with me and You are waiting for me in Your eternal dwelling place prepared for me from the beginning of creation. Grant that, together with me, the members of my family, sisters and brothers, all those
who journey in community with me, may do Your will so as to foreshadow on earth and then enjoy in heaven the wonders of Your love. Amen
Sunday, December 16, 2018
John the Baptist’s preaching
in preparation for the coming of the Kingdom
Come, Spirit Creator, enlighten our minds and fill the hearts You have created with Your grace. Be light to our intellect, ardent flame in our hearts; heal our wounds with the balsam of Your
love. Light of eternal wisdom, reveal to us the mystery of God the Father and of the Son united in one single love. Amen.
b) Gospel reading
The crowds asked John the Baptist, “What should we do?” He said to them in reply, “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.” Even tax
collectors came to be baptized and they said to him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He answered them, “Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.” Soldiers also asked him, “And what is it that we should do?” He told
them, “Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages.” Now the people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Christ. John answered them all, saying,
“I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the
wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” Exhorting them in many other ways, he preached good news to the people.
Prayerful silent time
that the Word of God may enter into our hearts and enlighten our life.
a) A key to the reading
An integral part of Luke’s Gospel message is the need for conversion: metanoia,
that is, a change of mind to a way of thinking and acting that is divine. Very often we meet in Luke’s Gospel scenes where the mercy of God manifests itself in Jesus Christ towards the poor and humble of heart (Lk 1:46-55; 2:1-20; 5:12-31; 6:17-38).
These scenes stand in contrast to the severe treatment reserved for the rich and proud whose heart is hard and closed to God and the needy neighbor (Lk 16:19-31; 17:1-3).
The text of this Sunday’s liturgy presents us with this theme. The passage, 3:10-18, is part of Luke’s presentation of John the Baptist’s preaching in preparation for the mystery of Jesus. John the Baptist proclaims the imminent coming
of the day of the Lord: “Brood of vipers, who warned you to fly from the retribution that is coming?” (Lk 3:7).
The prophets had proclaimed the coming
of this day of wrath and salvation, as also the coming of a messenger known as Elijah (Sir 48:11), who would prepare the way before the Lord (Mal 3:1-5). In Christian tradition, John the Baptist is the messenger who prepares for the day of the coming of the
Lord Jesus, the Messiah: “someone is coming, someone who is more powerful than I am” (Lk 3:16). In fact, John’s ministry takes place at a time of great messianic expectations: “A feeling of expectancy had grown among the people”
(Lk 3:15) and asks of the Baptist whether he is the Messiah. Later, this question is put to Jesus too (Lk 9:7-9, 18-21) who then reveals His identity in the implicit confirmation of the profession of faith made by Peter.
In verses 3:1-18 of Luke’s Gospel, we have everything concerning the ministry and mission of John the Baptist. He was sent to baptize as a sign of repentance and to preach the conversion that
brings salvation: “produce the appropriate fruits” (Lk 3:7); “I baptize you with water” (Lk 3:16). Through his preaching, John “announced the good news” (Lk 3:18) that salvation was not only reserved for some of the elect
but is offered to all, including publicans and soldiers (Lk 3:10-14), to all those who live and act justly and with charity.
Jesus, in His turn, will further clarify
this truth by His merciful attitude towards publicans, sinners and those marginalized (Lk 7:1-10, 36-50; 17:11-19; 18:9-14). In fact, the theme of salvation became tied to the coming of the Kingdom of God, which is in our midst (Lk 17:20-21) and implies social
justice and equality among all people (Lk 3:10-14). Hence salvation is not just an abstract and personal quality but is real and collective. This salvation is offered to us by God in those who are baptized with the Holy Spirit and fire (Lk 3:16b). “His
winnowing-fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn; but the chaff he will burn in a fire that will never go out” (Lk 3:17).
Following the Gospel story, we see that several times Jesus will make similar references concerning the coming of the Kingdom through warnings and parables (Lk 13:1-5; 17:22-37). We can say that in looking at the ministry and mission of Jesus, Luke
lets us see the perfecting of the proclamation and preaching of John. Here we may remember what Jesus said in the synagogue in Nazareth, “This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen” (Lk 4:21).
b) A few questions to direct our meditation and practice.
a) The need for conversion: metanoia,
that is, changing one’s imperfect way of thinking to the divine way of thinking and acting. Do I feel this need?
b) God’s mercy towards the poor and humble of heart manifests itself in Jesus Christ.
Do I identify myself with these?
c) “A feeling of expectancy had grown among the people” (Lk 3:15). The early Christians anxiously awaited the second
coming of the Lord: “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come’ Let everyone who listens answer, ‘Come’ “ (Rev 22:17). Do I await the coming of the Lord, or am I so busy with material life that I am inordinately attached to all
d) In Christian tradition, John the Baptist is the messenger who prepares the people for the first coming of the Lord Jesus, the Messiah. The Church
has received the same mission of preparing the way of the Lord who will come: “I shall indeed be with you soon!” (Rev 22:20). What can I do to prepare for the second coming of the Lord?
e) Salvation is not reserved for a few elect but is offered to all, including those considered “unworthy” of the salvation of God. In Jesus’ time, those included among the “unworthy” were the
publicans and pagans. Who are those frequently considered “unworthy” of salvation in our day?
f) The theme of salvation is closely related to the coming
of the Kingdom of God and has social justice implications: “Now I am making the whole of creation new” (Rev 21: 5). What can I do to promote justice in a way that will affect the structures of social injustice?
a) Psalm 97 (96, 1-7, 10-12)
The Lord reigns; let the earth rejoice;
let the many
coastlands be glad!
Clouds and thick darkness are round about Him;
righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne.
Fire goes before Him,
and burns up His adversaries round about.
His lightnings light up the world;
sees and trembles.
The mountains melt like wax before the Lord,
before the Lord of all the earth.
The heavens proclaim
and all the peoples behold His glory.
All worshipers of images are put to shame,
who make their boast
in worthless idols;
all gods bow down before Him.
The Lord loves those who hate evil;
He preserves the lives of His saints;
He delivers them from the hand of the wicked.
Light dawns for the righteous,
and joy for the upright in heart.
Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous,
and give thanks to His holy name!
Word, splendor of the Father, in the fullness of time You came down from heaven to redeem the world. Your Gospel of peace frees us from every fault, pours out light into our minds and hope
into our hearts. When, among the splendors of heaven, You will return as judge, welcome us to Your right hand in the assembly of the blessed. Praise be to Christ our Lord, to the Father and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now and will be
Contemplation is knowing how to adhere with one’s mind and heart
to the Lord who by His Word transforms us into new beings who always do His will. “Knowing these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (Jn 13:17)
Sunday, November 11, 2018
Jesus, the Scribes and the widow
The different way of accounting in the Kingdom of God
1. OPENING PRAYER
Lord Jesus, send Your Spirit to help us to read the scriptures with the same mind that You read them to the disciples on the way to Emmaus. In the light of the Word, written in the Bible, You helped them to discover the presence
of God in the disturbing events of Your sentence and death. Thus, the cross that seemed to be the end of all hope became for them the source of life and of resurrection.
Create in us silence so that we may listen to Your voice in creation and in the scriptures, in events and in people, above all in the poor and suffering. May your word guide us so that we too, like the two disciples on the way to Emmaus, may experience
the force of Your resurrection and witness to others that You are alive in our midst as source of fraternity, justice and peace. We ask this of You, Jesus, son of Mary, who revealed to us the Father and sent us Your Spirit. Amen.
a) A key to the reading:
The Gospel text of this Sunday presents us with two opposing but connected facts: on the
one hand, we have Jesus criticizing the scribes who used religion to exploit poor widows; and on the other hand, we have the example of the poor widow who gave to the temple even what she had to live on. These facts are relevant even today!
b) A division of the text to help with the reading:
Mark 12:38-40: Jesus criticizes the exploitation of the scribes
Mark 12:41-42: Jesus watches people who place their alms in the treasury of the temple Mark 12:43-44: Jesus reveals the value of the poor widow’s action
In the course of his teaching Jesus said to the crowds, "Beware of the scribes, who like to go around in long robes and accept greetings in the marketplaces,
seats of honour in synagogues, and places of honour at banquets. They devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext recite lengthy prayers. They will receive a very severe condemnation." He sat down opposite the treasury and observed how the crowd put
money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents. Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them, "Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors
to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood." or Mk 12:41-44 Jesus sat down opposite the treasury and observed how the crowd put money into the treasury.
Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents. Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them, "Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For
they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood."
3. A MOMENT OF PRAYERFUL SILENCE
so that the Word of God may penetrate and enlighten our life.
4. SOME QUESTIONS
to help us in our personal reflection.
a) What pleased or struck you most in this text? Why?
b) What does Jesus criticize and what does He praise in the doctors of the law?
c) What social
and religious imbalances of that period do we find in the text?
d) How is it that the widow’s two coins are of more value than the great amount put in by the rich? Look carefully at the text and see what
follows. Why does Jesus praise the poor widow?
e) What message does this text convey to us today?
5. FOR THOSE WHO WISH TO GO DEEPER INTO THE THEME
a) Yesterday’s and today’s context:
● The context in Jesus’ time.
Mark’s text 12:38-44 recounts the last part of Jesus’ activities in Jerusalem (Mk 11:1 to 12:44). Those were very intense days, full of conflicts:
the driving out of the sellers in the temple (Mk 11:12-26), many discussions with the authorities: (Mk 11:27 to 12:12), with the Pharisees, with the Herodians and the Sadducees (Mk 12:13-27) and with the doctors of the law (Mk 12:28-37). This Sunday’s
text (Mk 12:38-44) reports a final word of criticism by Jesus concerning the bad behavior of the doctors of the law (Mk 12:38-40) and a word of praise for the good behavior of the widow. Almost at the end of His activities in Jerusalem, Jesus sits in front
of the treasury where people were putting their alms for the temple. Jesus draws the disciples’ attention to the action of a poor widow and teaches them the value of sharing (Mk 12:41-44).
● The context in Mark’s time.
During the first forty years of the Church’s history, from the 30’s to the 70’s, the Christian communities, for the most part, were made up of poor
people (1Cor 1:26). Later some rich people or those who had various problems joined them. The social tensions that existed in the Roman Empire began to be felt in the life of the communities. For instance, divisions came to the fore when the communities came
together to celebrate the Lord’s supper (1Cor 11:20-22), or when they met together (Jas 2:1-4). Thus, the teaching concerning the action of the widow was very real for them. It was like looking into a mirror, because Jesus compares the behaviour of the
rich to that of the poor.
● Today’s context.
Jesus praises the poor widow because she could
share more than the rich people did. Many poor today do the same. People say, “The poor never allow another poor person to die of hunger.” But sometimes even this is not true. Donna Cícera, a poor lady who went from the country to
the periphery of a great city used to say, “In the country, I was very poor, but I always had something to share with another poor person who knocked on my door. Now that I am in the city, when I see a poor person who knocks on my door, I hide for shame
because I have nothing to share!” Thus we see on the one hand rich people who have everything, and on the other poor people who have almost nothing to share, and yet share the little they have.
b) A commentary on the text:
Mark 12:38-40: Jesus criticizes the doctors of the law.
Jesus draws His disciples’ attention to the hypocritical and exploiting behaviour of some doctors of the law. “doctors” or scribes were those who taught people the law of God. But they taught it only by word,
because their lives witnessed to the opposite. They liked going about the squares wearing long tunics, accepting the greetings of people, taking first places in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets. In other words, they were people who wished to
appear important. They used their knowledge and their profession as a means of climbing the social ladder and of enriching themselves, and not for serving. They liked to visit widows and recite long prayers in exchange for money! Jesus ends by saying, “The
more severe will be the sentence they receive!”
Mark 12:41-42: The almsgiving of the widow.
Jesus and the disciples were seated in front of the treasury of the temple and watched people placing their alms in the treasury. The poor gave a few cents, the rich put in bills of great value. The treasury became full. All gave something for the upkeep of
the cult, to support the priests and for the maintenance of the temple. Some of the money was used to help the poor, since in those days there was no social security. The poor depended on public charity. The neediest among the poor were the orphans and widows.
They had nothing. They completely depended on the charity of others. But, even though they had nothing, they made an effort to share with others the little they had. Thus, a very poor widow places her alms in the treasury, just a few cents!
Mark 12:43-44: Jesus shows us where to find God’s will.
of greater value: the few cents of the widow or the thousand coins of the rich? For the disciples, the thousand coins of the rich were far more useful to perform acts of charity than the widow’s few cents. They thought that peoples’ problems could
be solved by means of a lot of money. On the occasion of the multiplication of the loaves, they said to Jesus, “Are we to go and spend two hundred denarii on bread for them to eat?” (Mk 6:37) Indeed, for those who think this way, the two cents
of the widow are of no use. But Jesus says, “This poor widow has put more in than all who have contributed to the treasury”. Jesus has different criteria. In calling the attention of the disciples to the action of the widow, He teaches them and
us where we must look for the manifestation of God’s will, that is, in sharing. If today we shared the goods that God has placed in the universe for the whole of humanity, there would be neither poverty nor hunger. There would be enough for all and there
would be some left over for others.
c) Further information: Almsgiving, sharing, wealth
The practice of almsgiving was very important for the Jews. It was considered a “good work” (Mt 6:1-4), because the law of the Old Testament said: “There will never cease to be poor people in the
country, and that is why I am giving you this command: Always be open handed with your brother, and with anyone in your country who is in need and poor” (Deut 15:11). Alms placed in the treasury, whether for the cult or for the maintenance
of the temple or for those in need, orphans and widows, were considered an act pleasing to God. Almsgiving was a way of sharing with others, a way of recognizing that all goods and gifts belong to God and that we are but administrators of these gifts, so that
there may be abundance in this life for all.
It was from the book of Exodus that the people of Israel learned the importance of almsgiving, of sharing. The forty
years’ journey in the desert was necessary to overcome the desire for accumulation that came from the Pharaoh of Egypt and that was well implanted in the minds of the people. It was easy to leave Pharaoh’s country. It was difficult to free oneself
of Pharaoh’s mentality. The ideology of the great is false and deceiving. It was necessary to experience hunger in the desert so to learn that what is necessary for life is for all. This is what the manna teaches: “No one who had collected more
had too much, no one who had collected less had too little” (Ex 16:18).
But the tendency to accumulate was there all the time and was very strong. And it
constantly reappears in the human heart. It is precisely because of this tendency to accumulate that the great empires in the history of humanity were formed. The desire to possess and to accumulate is at the very heart of the ideology of these human empires
or kingdoms. Jesus points to the conversion required to enter the Kingdom of God. He says to the rich young man, “Go and sell what you own and give the money to the poor” (Mk 10:21). This same requirement is echoed in the other Gospels: “Sell
your possessions and give to those in need. Get yourselves purses that do not wear out, treasure that will not fail you, in heaven where no thief can reach it and no moth destroy it” (Lk 12:33-34; Mt 6:9-20). Then Jesus adds the reason
for this demand: “For wherever your treasure is, that is where your heart will be too”.
The practice of sharing, of almsgiving and of solidarity
is one of the marks of the Spirit of Jesus, given to us on Pentecost (Acts 2:1-13), and that He wishes to make present in the communities. The result of the outpouring of the Spirit is precisely this: “None of the members was ever in want, as
all those who owned land or houses would sell them, and bring the money from the sale of them, to present it to the apostles” (Acts 4:34-35ª; 2:44-45). These alms received by the apostles were not accumulated but were rather “then
distributed to any who might be in need” (Acts 4:35b; 2:45).
On the one hand, the arrival of rich people into the communities made it possible
to expand Christianity, because these offered better conditions to the missionary movement. However, on the other hand, the accumulation of goods blocked the movement of solidarity and sharing inspired by the force of the Spirit of Pentecost. James wishes
to help such people to understand that they had gone the wrong way: “Well now you rich! Lament, weep for the miseries that are coming to you. Your wealth is rotting, your clothes are all moth-eaten.” (Jas 5:1-3). We all need
to become students of that poor widow who shared what she had to live on, so as to learn the way to the Kingdom (Mk 12:41-44).
6. PRAYING A PSALM 62 (61)
is strength and love
In God alone there is rest for my soul,
from Him comes my safety;
He alone is my rock,
my stronghold so that I stand unshaken.
How much longer will you set on a victim,
all together, intent
like a rampart already leaning over,
a wall already damaged?
Trickery is their only plan,
deception their only pleasure,
with lies on their lips they pronounce a blessing,
with a curse in their hearts.
Rest in God alone, my soul!
He is the source of my hope.
He alone is my rock,
my safety, my stronghold,
so that I stand unwavering.
In God is my safety and my glory,
the rock of my strength.
In God is my refuge;
trust in Him, you people, at all times.
Pour out your hearts to Him,
God is a refuge for us.
Ordinary people are a mere puff of wind,
important people a delusion;
on the scales together,
and they are lighter than a puff of wind.
Put no trust in extortion,
no empty hopes in robbery;
however much wealth may multiply,
do not set your heart on it.
Once God has spoken,
twice have I heard this:
Strength belongs to God,
to You, Lord, faithful love;
and You repay everyone as their deeds
7. FINAL PRAYER
Lord Jesus, we thank You for the word that has enabled us to understand better the will of the Father. May Your Spirit enlighten
our actions and grant us the strength to practice that which Your Word has revealed to us. May we, like Mary, Your mother, not only listen to but also practice the Word. You who live and reign with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit forever and ever.
Sunday, October 21, 2018
Leaders must serve
1. OPENING PRAYER
God of peace and forgiveness, You have given us Christ as an example of total service, even to giving us His very life; grant
us to find favor in Your sight that we may share the cup of Your will to its dregs and live in the generous and fruitful service of each other.
a) The context:
This episode comes straight after the third prediction of the Passion (Mk 10:32-34). As on the occasions of the other predictions, the disciples’ reaction
is not positive: two of them are worried about who is going to be first in the Kingdom and the others become indignant. This tells us that the disciples had difficulty accepting the painful destiny of their Master and understanding the mystery of the Kingdom.
The two who come with a request – James and John – are brothers and are part of the group of friends of Jesus (Mk 1:19-20). Their nickname is boanerges (“sons of thunder” Mk 3:17). They were a little
b) The text:
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus and said to him, "Teacher,
we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." He replied, "What do you wish me to do for you?" They answered him, "Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left." Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are
asking. Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?" They said to him, "We can." Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink, you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized;
but to sit at my right or at my left is not mine to give but is for those for whom it has been prepared." When the ten heard this, they became indignant at James and John. Jesus summoned them and said to them, "You know that those who are recognized as rulers
over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.
For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many."
3. A MOMENT OF SILENT PRAYER
to re-read the text with our heart and to recognize in the words and structure, the presence of the mystery of the living God.
4. SOME QUESTIONS
to see the important points in the text and begin to assimilate them.
a) Why were the disciples so anxious to take the first places?
b) Does Jesus’
reply make sense?
c) What does Jesus mean by the cup to drink and the baptism to be baptized?
d) On what does Jesus base service in the community?
5. SOME DEEPENING OF THE READING
”Grant us to sit, one at Your right hand and one at Your left, in Your glory”
Even though they were careful in the way they phrased their question, it is clear that they were quite ambitious. According to tradition, they may have been cousins of Jesus, and therefore – according to Eastern law
– they had a special right, as members of the family. In any case, it is clear that they have understood nothing about what Jesus was about to do. He was on the way to the ignominy of the cross, and they still had not understood Him. Jesus’ true
power did not consist in distributing places of honor, but in asking them to share His tragic destiny: “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink?”
cup that I drink you will drink”
The dialogue concerning the cup and the baptism (vv. 38-39) is obviously parallel. But it is not easy to understand how the two disciples can drink the cup and be baptized, unless one thinks of the
martyrdom both of them suffered later. By these two images, Jesus seems to evoke His violent death, which He foretells as an absolute obligation of fidelity to the Father. The reply to their request to sit next to Him is evasive: but we can understand
that it means that their way is not the right way to obtain the request.
“The ten began to be indignant”
they too share the same ambition. However, this verse seems to be an editorial addition to connect two episodes, which originally were not placed together. This changes the subject completely. But the fact that their indignation is recorded is probably based
on some other episode where the disciples do not appear in a good light and is therefore authentic.
“Those who are supposed to rule over the
Gentiles lord it over them… But it shall not be so among you”
Jesus is referring to political leaders of His time, and really this is also the style of political leadership
in all times. On the other hand, the community of disciples must be ruled by service. Two terms express this service in a gradual manner. Jesus first speaks of “servant” (diakonos) and then of “slave” (doulos). One
cannot choose whom one will serve: one must be a slave of all, thus overturning the worldly order.
“For the Son of man also…”
Here we find the basis of the constitutional law of the community: to follow the Master’s style, by giving, like Him, one’s life in the spirit of service; thus becoming truly “lords” through the gift of one’s
life, not by just pretending. It is difficult to interpret “ransom” or redemption, as Fr. X. Léon Dufour says, we can understand this well when we reflect on the words that Jesus speaks at the Last Supper. Then Jesus’ whole life appears
in the light of “ransom”, of fidelity to the very end for the freedom of humankind. He deprives Himself of freedom so that He can give freedom, to ransom those who have no freedom.
Thus the statutes
of the community of disciples is characterized by service, by a lack of ambition, by a life given and destined for the ransom of others.
A prayer for justice and peace
Sing to Him a new song,
play skillfully on the strings,
with loud shouts.
For the word of the Lord is upright;
and all His work is done in faithfulness.
He loves righteousness and justice;
the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord.
By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,
and all their host by the breath of His mouth.
He gathered the waters of the sea as in a bottle;
He put the deeps in storehouses.
Let all the earth fear the Lord,
let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him!
For He spoke, and it came to be;
He commanded, and it stood firm.
The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing;
He frustrates the plans of the peoples.
The counsel of the Lord stands for ever,
the thoughts of His heart to all generations.
Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,
the people whom He has chosen as His heritage!
The Lord looks down from heaven,
He sees all the sons of men;
He sits enthroned
He looks forth on all the inhabitants of the earth,
He who fashions the hearts of them all,
and observes all
7. CLOSING PRAYER
Lord our God, keep Your Son’s disciples from the easy ways of popularity, of cheap glory, and lead them to the ways
of the poor and scourged of the earth, so that they may recognize in their faces the face of the Master and Redeemer. Give them eyes to see possible ways of peace and solidarity; ears to hear the requests for meaning and salvation of so many people who seek;
enrich their hearts with generous fidelity and a sensitivity and understanding so that they may walk along the way and be true and sincere witnesses to the glory that shines in the crucified resurrected and victorious One. Who lives and reigns gloriously with
You, Father, forever and ever. Amen.
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