Jesus in His farewell discourse: “Now”. “Now has the Son of man been glorified”.

Lectio Divina

Monday, March 25, 2019

God’s covenant with humanity


Mary’s yes and our yes


Luke 1:26-38

 

1. Opening prayer

Merciful Father, in this holy time of prayer and of listening to Your Word, send also to me Your holy angel that I may receive the proclamation of salvation and that, after opening my heart, I may offer my yes to Love. Let, I beg You, the Holy Spirit overshadow me as an overwhelming power. From now on, Father, I do not wish to express anything other than my “Yes!” and to say to You: “Behold, I am here for You. Do unto me whatever pleases You.”  Amen.

2. Reading

a) The context of the passage:

The story of the annunciation takes us from the temple, a holy place par excellence, to the house, to the intimacy of a personal meeting of God with His creature; it leads us into ourselves, into the deepest part of our being and our story, where God alone can reach and touch us. The announcement of the birth of John the Baptist had opened the sterile womb of Elizabeth, thus overcoming the absolute powerlessness of humankind and transforming it into the ability to collaborate with God. On the other hand, the announcement of the birth of Jesus, knocks on the door of a fertile womb of the one who is “full of grace” and awaits a reply: it is God who waits for our yes so as to work everything in us.

b) An aid to the reading of this passage:

vv. 26-27: The first two verses place us at the time and sacred space of the event on which we are meditating and which we relive: we are in the sixth month from the conception of John the Baptist and in Nazareth, a city in Galilee, the land of the marginalized and unclean. Here God has come down to speak with a virgin, to speak to our hearts.

The people involved in this unsettling event are presented to us: Gabriel, the messenger of God, a young woman called Mary and her spouse Joseph of the royal house of David. We too are made welcome into this company and are called to enter into the mystery.

vv. 28-29: These are the very first words of the dialogue between God and His creature: just a few words, a mere breath, but all-powerful words that disturb the heart, that question deeply the meaning of human life, plans and expectations. The angel announces joy, grace and the presence of God; Mary is disturbed and asks herself how can any of this be happening to her. Where can such a joy come from? How can such a great grace, that can change her very being, be hers?

vv. 30-33: These are the central verses of the excerpt: it is the explosion of the announcement, the manifestation of the gift of God, of His omnipotence in the life of human beings. Gabriel, the strong, speaks of Jesus: the eternal king, the Savior, the God made child, the humble all-powerful. He speaks of Mary, of her womb, of her life that she was chosen to be the gateway to welcoming God in this world and into the lives of all people. Even at this stage of the events, God begins to draw near, to knock. He stands, attentive, by the door of the heart of Mary,  and even now by our house, our hearts…

v. 34: Mary, faced with God’s proposal, allows herself to stand naked. She allows herself to be read to her very depths. She speaks of herself, her heart, her wishes. She knows that for God the impossible is possible; she does not doubt or harden her heart and mind;  she does not count the cost; she only wants to be fully available, open, and allows herself to be reached by that humanly impossible touch, but one already written, already realized in God. In a gesture of utter poverty, she places before God her virginity, her not knowing man. This is a complete and absolute surrender of self, full of faith and trust. It is her preliminary yes.

vv. 35-37: God, most humble, gives an answer; the all-powerful bends over the fragility of this woman, who represents each one of us. The dialogue continues; the covenant grows and is strengthened. God reveals the how. He speaks of the Holy Spirit, of the fruitful overshadowing, which does no violence, does not break, but preserves intact. He speaks of the human experience of Elizabeth. He reveals another impossible thing made possible; almost like a guarantee or security. And then comes the last word when one must make a choice: to say yes or no, believe or doubt, dissolve or harden oneself, to open the door or close it. “Nothing is impossible for God.”

v. 38: The last verse seems to contain an infinity. Mary says her “Here I am.” She opens herself wide to God and then the meeting, the union takes place forever. God enters into the human and the human becomes the place of God: these are the most sublime nuptials possible on earth. And yet, the Gospel ends on a sad and hard note: Mary stays alone; the angel leaves. What remains, however, is the yes pronounced to God and God’s presence; what remains is real life.

c) The Text:

The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin's name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, "Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you." But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his Kingdom there will be no end." But Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?" And the angel said to her in reply, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God." Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word." Then the angel departed from her.

3. A moment of prayerful silence

I have read and listened to the words of the Gospel. Now I stand in silence … God is present, at the door, and asks for shelter, yes, even from me and from my poor life …

4. A few questions

a) God’s announcement, His angel, enters my life, stands before me and speaks to me. Am I prepared to welcome Him, to give Him space, to listen to Him attentively?

b) Suddenly I receive an upsetting announcement. God speaks to me of joy, grace and presence: all the things that I have been seeking for so long, always. Who can make me really happy? Am I willing to trust in His happiness and His presence?

c) Not much is needed, just a movement of the heart, of my being; He is already aware of this. He is already overwhelming me with light and love. He says to me, “You have found favor in My sight.”  So, I please God? He finds me pleasant, loveable? Yes, that is how it really is. Why is it that I would not believe it before? Why have I not listened to Him?

d) The Lord Jesus wants to come into this world also through me; He wants to reach my brothers and sisters through the paths of my life, of my being. Would I lead Him astray? Would I refuse Him, keep Him at a distance? Would I wipe Him out of my story, my life?

5. A key to the reading

Some important and strong words that resonate in this Gospel passage.

● Rejoice!

This is a really strange greeting from God to His creature; it seems hard to explain and perhaps even senseless. And yet, for centuries it resonated in the pages of Sacred Scripture and thus also on the lips of the Hebrew people. Rejoice, be glad, exult! Many times the prophets had repeated this gentle breath of God and had shouted the silent beat of His heart for His people, His remnant. I read this in Joel: “Land, do not be afraid; be glad, rejoice, for Yahweh has done great things… (2:21-23); in Zephaniah: “Shout for joy, daughter of Zion, Israel, shout aloud! Rejoice, exult with all your heart, daughter of Jerusalem! Yahweh has repealed your sentence” (3:14); in Zechariah: “Sing, rejoice, daughter of Zion, for now I am coming to live among you – Yahweh declares!” (2, 14). I read and listen to it today; I say it also in my heart, in my life; a joy is announced to me, a new happiness, never before experienced. I rediscover the great things that the Lord has done for me; I experience the freedom that comes from His pardon: I am no longer sentenced, but graced forever; I live the experience of the presence of the Lord next to me, in me. Yes, He has come to dwell in our midst; He is once more setting up His tent in the land of my heart, of my existence. Lord, as the psalm says, You rejoice in Your creatures (Ps 104:31); and I too rejoice in You, give thanks to You; my joy is in You (Ps 104:34).

● The Lord is with you

These simple and enlightened words,  pronounced by the angel to Mary, release an all-powerful force; I realize that these words alone would suffice to save my life, to lift me up again from whatever fall or humiliation, to bring me back when I go astray. The fact that He, my Lord, is with me, keeps me alive, gives me courage and trust to go on being. If I am, it is because He is with me. Who knows but that the experience of Isaac told in Scripture might not be valid for me, when one day Abimelech came to Isaac with his men to tell him, “It became clear to us that Yahweh was with you” (Gen 26:28) and then asked to become friends and form an alliance. Would that the same thing might be said of me; would that I could show that the Lord is truly with me, in my life, in my desires, in my affections, in my choices and actions; would that others might meet Him through me. Perhaps for this, it is necessary for me to absorb more of the presence of God, for me to eat and drink of Him.

Let me go to the school of Scripture, to read and re-read some passages where the voice of the Lord tells me again and again of this truth and, while He speaks, to be transformed, ever more in-dwelt. “Remain for the present in that country; I shall be with you and bless you” (Gen 26:3). “To Joshua son of Nun, Yahweh gave this order: Be strong and stand firm, for you are to be the one to bring the Israelites into the country which I have promised them on oath, and I myself shall be with you” (Deut 31:23). “They will fight against you but will not overcome you, because I am with you to save you and rescue you” (Jer 15:20). “The angel of Yahweh appeared to him and said: Yahweh is with you, valiant warrior!” (Judg 6:12). “Yahweh appeared to him the same night and said, ‘I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you. I shall bless you and multiply your offspring for My servant Abraham’s sake’” (Gen 26:24). “Be sure, I am with you; I shall keep you safe wherever you go, and bring you back to this country, for I shall never desert you until I have done what I have promised you” (Gen 28:15). “Do not be afraid, for I am with you; do not be alarmed, for I am your God. I give you strength, truly I help you, truly I hold you firm with my saving right hand” (Is 41:10)

● Do not be afraid

The Bible is packed with this pronouncement full of kindness; like a river of mercy, these words are found throughout the sacred books, from Genesis to the Apocalypse. It is the Father who repeats to His children not to be afraid, because He is with them; He will not abandon them; He will not forget them; He will not leave them in the hands of their enemies. It is like a declaration of love from God to humanity, to each one of us; it is a pledge of fidelity that is relayed from hand to hand, from heart to heart, and finally comes down to us. Abraham heard these words and after him his son Isaac, then the patriarchs, Moses, Joshua, David, Solomon and, with them, Jeremiah and all the prophets. No one is excluded from this embrace of salvation that the Father offers His children, even those farthest from Him, most rebellious against Him. Mary knows how to listen to these words and knows how to believe full of faith, in an attitude of absolute surrender.  She listens and believes, welcomes and lives for us too. She is the strong and courageous woman who opens herself to the coming of God, letting go of all fears, incredulity and a closed spirit. She repeats these same words of God in our lives and invites us to believe like her.

● You enjoy God’s favor

“Lord, if I enjoy favor in your sight…”. This is the prayer that time and time again comes out of the lips and hearts of those who seek refuge in the Lord. The Scriptures tell us about such people.  We come across them in our crossroads when we know not where to go, when we feel hounded by solitude or by temptation, when we experience abandonment, betrayals, heavy defeats of our own existence. When we no longer have anyone and we fail to find even ourselves, then we too, like them, find ourselves praying by repeating these same words: “Lord, if I enjoy favor in your sight…”. Who knows how often we have repeated these words, even alone and in silence. But today, here in this simple passage of the Gospel, we are forestalled, we are welcomed in anticipation; we need no longer plead, because we have already found everything that we always sought and much more. We have received freely. We are overwhelmed and now we can overflow!

● Nothing is impossible to God

I have nearly come to the end of this strong journey of grace and liberation; I now come across a word that shakes me in my depths. My faith is being sifted; the Lord is testing me, scrutinizing me, testing my heart. What the angel says here in front of Mary, had already been proclaimed many times in the Old Testament; now the time has come for the fulfilment;  now all the impossible things come to pass. God becomes man; the Lord becomes friend, brother; the distant is very close. And I, even I, small and poor as I am, am given to share in the immensity of this gift, this grace; I am told that in my life too the impossible becomes possible. I only have to believe, to give my consent. But this means that I have to allow myself to be shattered by the power of God; to surrender to Him, who will transform me, free me and renew me. Not even this is impossible. Yes, I can be reborn today, here and now, by the grace of the voice that has spoken to me, that has reached me even to the very depths of my heart. I seek and transcribe the passages of Scripture that repeat this truth. And as I write them, as I re-read them and say them slowly, devouring every word, and what they say takes place in me… Genesis 18:14; Job 42:2; Jeremiah 32:17; Jeremiah 32:27; Zechariah 8:6; Matthew 19:26; Luke 18:27.

● Here I am

Now I cannot escape, nor can I avoid the conclusion. I knew from the beginning that here, in this word, so small and yet so full, so final, that God was waiting for me. The appointment of love, of the covenant between Him and me had been fixed precisely on this word, just a gentle voice, just a kiss. I am unsettled by the richness of the presence I feel in this “Here I am!”; I need not make much effort to recall the number of times that God first pronounced and repeated these words to me. He is the ‘Here I am’ made man, absolutely faithful, unforgettable. I only need to tune into Him, only find His footprints in the sand of my poverty, of my desert; I only need to welcome His infinite love that never ceases to seek me, to stay close to me, to walk with me wherever I go. The “Here I am” has already been pronounced and realized. It is already real. How many before me and how many today have experienced this! I am not alone. I still remain silent, listening before I reply…

“Here I am!” (Is 65:1) God repeats; Mary replies, “Here I am, I am the servant of the Lord”; and Christ says, “I come to do Your will” (Ps 39:8)…

6. A time of prayer: Psalm 138

 Father, into Your hands I commend my life.

Yahweh, You examine me and know me,
You know when I sit, when I rise,
You understand my thoughts from afar.
You watch when I walk or lie down,
You know every detail of my conduct.
A word is not yet on my tongue before You,
Yahweh, know all about it.
You fence me in, behind and in front,
You have laid Your hand upon me.
Such amazing knowledge is beyond me,
a height to which I cannot attain.
Where shall I go to escape Your spirit?
Where shall I flee from Your presence?
If I scale the heavens You are there,
if I lie flat in Sheol, there You are.

You created my inmost self,
knit me together in my mother's womb.
For so many marvels I thank You;
a wonder am I, and all Your works are wonders.
You knew me through and through,
How hard for me to grasp Your thoughts,
how many, God, there are!
If I count them, they are more than the grains of sand;
if I come to an end, I am still with You.
God, examine me and know my heart,
test me and know my concerns.
Make sure that I am not on my way to ruin,
and guide me on the road to eternity.

7. Closing prayer

Father, You came down to me; You have come to me; You have touched my heart; You have spoken to me and promised joy, presence and salvation. By the grace of the Holy Spirit, who overshadows me, I, together with Mary, have been able to say to You yes, the “Here I am” of my life for you. Now there remains only the force of Your promise, of Your truth: “You are to conceive and bear Jesus.” Lord, here is the womb of my life, of my being, of all that I am and have, open before You. I place all things in You, in Your heart. Enter, come, come down again, I beg You, and make me fruitful, make me one who gives birth to Christ in this world. May the overflowing love I receive from You find its fullness and truth in touching the brothers and sisters that You place beside me. May our meeting, Father, be open, a gift to all. May Jesus be the Savior. Amen.

Lectio Divina

 

Sunday, March 17, 2019

 

The Transfiguration of Jesus


A new way of fulfilling the prophecies


Luke 9:28-36

 

1. Opening prayer

Lord Jesus, send Your Spirit to help us 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 silence in us 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 the Father to us and sent us Your Spirit. Amen.

 

2. Reading

a) A key to the reading:

 

A few days earlier, Jesus had said that He, the Son of Man, had to be tried and crucified by the authorities (Lk 9:22; Mk 8:31). According to the information in the gospels of Mark and Matthew, the disciples, especially Peter, did not understand what Jesus had said and were scandalized by the news (Mt 16:22; Mk 8:32). Jesus reacted strongly and turned to Peter calling him Satan (Mt 16:23; Mk 8:33). This was because Jesus’ words did not correspond with the ideal of the glorious Messiah whom they imagined. Luke does not mention Peter’s reaction and Jesus’ strong reply, but he does describe, as do the other Evangelists, the episode of the Transfiguration. Luke sees the Transfiguration as an aid to the disciples so that they may be able to get over the scandal and change their idea of the Messiah (Lk 9:28-36). Taking the three disciples with Him, Jesus goes up the mountain to pray, and while He is praying, is transfigured. As we read the text, it is good to note what follows: “Who appears with Jesus on the mountain to converse with Him? What is the theme of their conversation? What is the disciples’ attitude?”

b) A division of the text as an aid to the reading:

i) Luke 9:28: The moment of crisis
ii) Luke 9:29: The change that takes place during the prayer
iii) Luke 9:30-31: The appearance of the two men and their conversation with Jesus
iv) Luke 9:32-34: The disciples’ reaction
v) Luke 9:35-36: The Father’s voice

 

c) The text:

 

Jesus took Peter, John, and James and went up the mountain to pray. While he was praying his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem. Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep, but becoming fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As they were about to part from him, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good that we are here; let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." But he did not know what he was saying. While he was still speaking, a cloud came and cast a shadow over them, and they became frightened when they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, "This is my chosen Son; listen to him." After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. They fell silent and did not at that time tell anyone what they had seen.

 

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 did you like most in this episode of the Transfiguration? Why?
b) Who are those who go to the mountain with Jesus? Why do they go?
c) Moses and Elijah appear on the mountain next to Jesus. What is the significance of these two people from the Old Testament for Jesus, for the disciples, for the community in the 80s and for us today?
d) Which prophecy from the Old Testament is fulfilled in the words of the Father concerning Jesus?
e) What is the disciples’ attitude during this episode?
f) Has there been a transfiguration in your life? How have such experiences of transfiguration helped you to fulfill your mission better?
g) Compare Luke’s description of the Transfiguration of Jesus (Lk 9:28-36) with his description of the agony of Jesus in the Garden (Lk 22:39-46). Try to see whether there are any similarities. What is the significance of these similarities?

 

5. A key to the reading

for those who wish to go deeper into the theme.

a) The context of Jesus’ discourse:

In the two previous chapters of Luke’s Gospel, the innovation brought by Jesus highlights the tensions between the New and the Old Testaments. In the end, Jesus realized that no one had understood His meaning, much less His person. People thought that He was like John the Baptist, Elijah or some other prophet (Lk 9:18-19). The disciples accepted Him as the Messiah, but a glorious Messiah, according to the expectations issued by the government and the official religion of the temple (Lk 9:20-21). Jesus tried to explain to His disciples that the journey foreseen by the prophets was one of suffering because of its commitment to the excluded, and that a disciple could only be a disciple if he/she took up his/her cross (Lk 9:22-26). But Jesus did not meet with much success. It is in such a context of crisis that the Transfiguration takes place.
In the 30s, the experience of the Transfiguration had a very important significance in the life of Jesus and the disciples. It helped them overcome the crisis of faith and to change their ideals concerning the Messiah. In the 80s, when Luke was writing for the Christian communities in Greece, the meaning of the Transfiguration had already been deepened and broadened. In the light of Jesus’ resurrection and of the spread of the Good News among the pagans in almost every country, from Palestine to Italy, the experience of the Transfiguration began to be seen as a confirmation of the faith of the Christian communities in Jesus, Son of God. The two meanings are present in the description and interpretation of the Transfiguration in Luke’s Gospel.

 

b) A commentary on the text:

Luke 9:28: The moment of crisis.
On several occasions Jesus entered into conflict with the people and the religious and civil authorities of his time (Lk 4:28-29;5:21-20;6:2-11;7:30.39;8:37;9:9). He knew they would not allow Him to do the things He did. Sooner or later they would catch Him. Besides, in that society, the proclamation of the Kingdom, as Jesus did, was not to be tolerated. He either had to withdraw or face death! There were no other alternatives. Jesus did not withdraw. Hence the cross appears on the horizon, not just as a possibility but as a certainty (Lk 9:22). Together with the cross there also appears the temptation to go on with the idea of the Glorious Messiah and not of the Crucified, suffering servant, announced by the prophet Isaiah (Mk 8:32-33). At this difficult moment Jesus goes up the mountain to pray, taking with Him Peter, James and John. Through His prayer, Jesus seeks strength not to lose sense of direction in His mission (cf. Mk 1:35).

Luke 9:29: The change that takes place during the prayer.
As soon as Jesus starts praying, His appearance changes and He appears glorious. His face changes and His clothes become white and shining. It is the glory that the disciples imagined for the Messiah. This transformation told them clearly that Jesus was indeed the Messiah expected by all. But what follows the episode of the Transfiguration will point out that the way to glory is quite different from what they imagined. The Transfiguration will be a call to conversion.

 

Luke 9:30-31: Two men appear speaking with Jesus.
Together with Jesus and in the same glorious state there appear Moses and Elijah, the two major exponents of the Old Testament, representing the Law and the Prophets. They speak with Jesus about “the Exodus brought to fulfilment in Jerusalem”. Thus, in front of the disciples, the Law and the Prophets confirm that Jesus is truly the glorious Messiah, promised in the Old Testament and awaited by the whole people. They further confirm that the way to glory is through the painful way of the exodus. Jesus’ exodus is His passion, death and resurrection. Through His “exodus” Jesus breaks the dominion of the false idea concerning the Messiah spread by the government and by the official religion and that held all ensnared in the vision of a glorious, nationalistic messiah. The experience of the Transfiguration confirmed that Jesus as Messiah Servant constituted an aid to free them from their wrong ideas concerning the Messiah and to discover the real meaning of the Kingdom of God.

Luke 9:32-34: The disciples’ reaction.
The disciples were in deep sleep. When they woke up, they saw Jesus in His glory and the two men with Him. But Peter’s reaction shows that they were not aware of the real meaning of the glory in which Jesus appeared to them. As often happens with us, they were only aware of what concerned them. The rest escapes their attention. “Master, it is good for us to be here!” And they do not want to get off the mountain any more! When it is question of the cross, whether on the Mount of the Transfiguration or on the Mount of Olives (Lk 22:45), they sleep! They prefer the glory to the cross! They do not like to speak or hear of the cross. They want to make sure of the moment of glory on the mountain, to extend it, and they offer to build three tents. Peter did not know what he was saying.


While Peter was speaking, a cloud descended from on high and covered them with its shadow. Luke says that the disciples became afraid when the cloud enfolded them. The cloud is the symbol of the presence of God. The cloud accompanied the multitude on their journey through the desert (Ex 40:34-38; Num 10:11-12). When Jesus ascended into heaven, He was covered by a cloud and they no longer saw Him (Acts 1:9). This was a sign that Jesus had entered forever into God’s world.

 

Luke 9:35-36: The Father’s voice.
A voice is heard from the cloud that says: “This is My Son, the Chosen, listen to Him”. With this same sentence the prophet Isaiah had proclaimed the Messiah-Servant (Isa 42:1). First Moses and Elijah, now God Himself presents Jesus as the Messiah-Servant who will come to glory through the cross. The voice ends with a final admonition: “Listen to Him!” As the heavenly voice speaks, Moses and Elijah disappear and only Jesus is left. This signifies that from now on only He will interpret the scriptures and the will of God. He is the Word of God for the disciples: “Listen to Him!”


The proclamation “This is My Son, the Chosen; listen to Him” was very important for the community of the late 80s. Through this assertion God the Father confirmed the faith of Christians in Jesus as Son of God. In Jesus’ time, that is, in the 30s, the expression Son of Man pointed to a very high dignity and mission. Jesus Himself gave a relative meaning to the term by saying that all were children of God (cf. John 10:33-35). But for some the title Son of God became a resume of all titles, over one hundred that the first Christians gave Jesus in the second half of the first century. In succeeding centuries, it was the title of Son of God that the Church concentrated all its faith in the person of Jesus.

 

c) A deepening:

i) The Transfiguration is told in three of the Gospels: Matthew (Mt 17:1-9), Mark (Mk 9:2-8) and Luke (Lk 9:28-36). This is a sign that this episode contained a very important message. As we said, it was a matter of great help to Jesus, to His disciples and to the first communities. It confirmed Jesus in His mission as Messiah-Servant. It helped the disciples to overcome the crisis that the cross and suffering caused them. It led the communities to deepen their faith in Jesus, Son of God, the One who revealed the Father and who became the new key to the interpretation of the Law and the Prophets. The Transfiguration continues to be of help in overcoming the crisis that the cross and suffering provoke today. The three sleeping disciples are a reflection of all of us. The voice of the Father is directed to us as it was to them: “This is My Son, the Chosen; listen to Him!”

 

ii) In Luke’s Gospel there is a great similarity between the scene of the Transfiguration (Lk 9:28-36) and the scene of the agony of Jesus in the Garden of Olives (Lk 22:39-46). We may note the following: in both scenes Jesus goes up the mountain to pray and takes with Him three disciples, Peter, James and John. On both occasions, Jesus’ appearance is transformed and He is transfigured before them; glorious at the Transfiguration, perspiring blood in the Garden of Olives. Both times heavenly figures appear to comfort Him, Moses and Elijah and an angel from heaven. Both in the Transfiguration and in the Agony, the disciples sleep, they seem to be outside the event and they seem not to understand anything. At the end of both episodes, Jesus is reunited with His disciples. Doubtless, Luke intended to emphasize the resemblance between these two episodes. What would that be? Perhaps it is to show that understanding takes time and effort, even for the Apostles, so we should persevere and not be asleep, especially at those crucial moments in our lives when He is revealing Himself to us personally. It is in meditating and praying that we shall come to understand the meaning that goes beyond words, and to perceive the intention of the author. The Holy Spirit will guide us.

iii) Luke describes the Transfiguration. There are times in our life when suffering is such that we might think: “God has abandoned me! He is no longer with me!” And then suddenly we realize that He has never deserted us, but that we had our eyes bandaged and were not aware of the presence of God. Then everything is changed and transfigured. It is the transfiguration! This happens every day in our lives.

 

6. Psalm 42 (41)

“My soul thirsts for the living God!”

As a dear longs for flowing streams,
so longs my soul for Thee, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When shall I come and behold the face of God?

My tears have been my food day and night,
while men say to me continually, "Where is your God?"
These things I remember, as I pour out my soul:
how I went with the throng,
and led them in procession to the house of God,
with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving,
a multitude keeping festival.

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him,
my help and my God.
My soul is cast down within me;
therefore I remember Thee from the land of Jordan
and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep at the roar of Your torrents;
all Thy waves and breakers have gone over me.

By day the Lord commands His steadfast love;
and at night His song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life.
I say to God, my rock:
"Why hast Thou forgotten me?
Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?"
As with a deadly wound in my body,
my adversaries taunt me,
while they say to me continually,
"Where is your God?"

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him,
my help and my God.

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 what 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. Amen.

Lectio Divina

Sunday, March 10, 2019

The temptations of Jesus.
Victory by means of prayer and the Bible
Luke 4:1-13

1. LECTIO

a) Initial Prayer

Oh Lord, at the beginning of this Lenten time You invite me to meditate, once more, on the account of the temptations, so that I may discover the heart of the spiritual struggle and, above all, so that I may experience victory over evil.


Holy Spirit, “visit our minds” because frequently, many thoughts proliferate in our mind which make us feel that we are in the power of the uproar of many voices. The fire of love also purifies our senses and our heart so that they may be docile and available to the voice of Your Word. Enlighten us (accende lumen sensibus, infunde amorem cordibus) so that our senses may be ready to dialogue with You. If the fire of Your love blazes up in our heart, over and above our aridity, it can flood the true life, which is fullness of joy.

 

b) Reading of the Gospel:

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and when they were over he was hungry. The devil said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread." Jesus answered him, "It is written, One does not live on bread alone." Then he took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant. The devil said to him, "I shall give to you all this power and glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I may give it to whomever I wish. All this will be yours, if you worship me." Jesus said to him in reply, "It is written: You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve." Then he led him to Jerusalem, made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written: He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you, and: With their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone." Jesus said to him in reply, "It also says, You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test." When the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from him for a time.

c) Moment of prayerful silence:

To listen, silence is necessary: of the soul, of the spirit, of the senses, and also exterior silence, with the purpose of listening to what the Word of God intends to communicate.

2. MEDITATIO

a) Key for the reading:

Luke, with the refinement of a narrator, mentions in 4:1-44 some aspects of the ministry of Jesus after His baptism, among them the temptations of the devil. In fact, he says that Jesus, “Filled with the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert, for forty days” (Lk 4:1-2). Such an episode in the life of Jesus is something preliminary to His ministry, but it can also be understood as the moment of transition from the ministry of John the Baptist to that of Jesus. In Mark such an account of the temptations is more generic. In Matthew, it is said that Jesus “was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil” (Mt 4:1), these last words attribute the experience of the temptations to an influence which is at the same time heavenly and diabolical.

The Lukan account modifies Matthew’s text in such a way as to show that Jesus, “filled with the Holy Spirit”, leaves the Jordan on His own initiative and is led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, where “He is tempted by the devil” (4:2). The meaning which Luke wants to give to the temptations of Jesus is that those were an initiative of the devil and not a programmed experience of the Holy Spirit (S. Brown). It is as if Luke wanted to keep clearly distinct the person of the devil from the person of the Holy Spirit.

Another element to be kept in mind is the order in which Luke places the temptations: desert – sight of the kingdoms of the world – pinnacle of Jerusalem. In Matthew, instead, the order varies: desert – pinnacle – high mountain. Exegetes discuss  which is the original disposition, but they have not arrived at a unanimous opinion.

The difference could be explained beginning with the third temptation (the culminating one): for Matthew the “mountain” is the summit of the temptation because in his Gospel he places all his interest on the theme of the mountain (we just have to remember the Sermon on the Mount, the presentation of Jesus as “the new Moses”); for Luke, instead, the last temptation takes place on the pinnacle of the temple of Jerusalem because one of the great interests of his Gospel is the city of Jerusalem (Jesus in Luke’s account is on the way toward Jerusalem where salvation is definitively fulfilled) (Fitzmyer).

The reader can legitimately ask himself, “In Luke, just as in Matthew, were there possible witnesses to the temptations of Jesus?” The answer is certainly negative. From the account of Luke it appears clearly that Jesus and the devil are completely alone. Jesus’ answers to the devil are taken from Sacred Scripture; they are quotations from the Old Testament. Jesus faces the temptations, and particularly that of the worship which the devil intends from Jesus Himself, having recourse to the Word of God as bread of life, as protection from God. The recourse to the Word of God contained in the book of Deuteronomy, considered by exegetes as a long meditation on the law, shows Luke’s intention to recall this episode in the life of Jesus with  God’s plan,  who wishes to save the human race.

Did these temptations take place historically? Why do some, among believers and non-believers, hold that such temptations are only some fantasy about Jesus, some invention of a story? Such questions are extremely important. Certainly, it is not possible to give a literal and unsophisticated explanation, or perhaps to think that these could have happened in an external way. Dupont’s explanation seems to offer an alternative: “Jesus speaks about an experience which He has lived, but translated into a figurative language, adapted to strike the minds of His listeners” (Les Tentations de Jesus au Desert, 128). More than considering them as an external fact, the temptations are considered as a concrete experience in the life of Jesus.

It seems to me that this is the principal reason which has guided Luke and the other evangelists in transmitting those scenes. The opinions of those who hold that the temptations of Jesus are fictitious or invented are deprived of foundation, neither is it possible to share the opinion of Dupont himself, when he says that these were “a purely spiritual dialogue that Jesus had with the devil” (Dupont, 125).

Looking within the New Testament (Jn 6:26-34; 7:1-4; Heb 4:15;5,2;2,17a) it is clear that the temptations were an evident truth in the life of Jesus. The explanation of Raymond Brown is interesting and can be shared: “Matthew and Luke would have done no injustice to historical reality by dramatizing such temptations within a scene, and by masking the true tempter by placing this provocation on his lips” (the Gospel According to John, 308). In synthesis we could say that the historicity of the temptations of Jesus or the taking root of these in the experience of Jesus might be described with a “figurative language” (Dupont) or “dramatized” (Raymond Brown). One must distinguish the content (the temptations in the experience of Jesus) from its container (the figurative or dramatized language). It is possible that these two interpretations are much more correct than those which interpret them in a purely literal sense.

 

An additional key to the reading:

 

However, these intellectual interpretations, that this episode in Jesus’ life as transmitted to us through the gospel, are “dramatizations” or speaking figuratively, also fall short and can be misleading. In the book “On Heaven and Earth,” Pope Francis, the then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, said, “I believe that the devil exists” and “his greatest achievement in these times has been to make us believe he doesn’t exist.” As for the existence of the devil, theologian Monsignor Corrado Balducci points out that "Satan is mentioned about 300 times in the New Testament, much more than the Holy Spirit.”

In a week we will celebrate Jesus' Transfiguration on the mountain. This is not an abstract dramatization, but rather that Moses and Elijah appeared and the three disciples actually heard the voice of God, yet to accept that the Son of God might actually and verbally turn away Satan, we find it incredulous. In Pope Francis' Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete Et Exsultate, we read: "Hence, we should not think of the devil as a myth, a representation, a symbol, a figure of speech or an idea" (161).

Without witnesses to the event, Dupont and Brown resort to examining the event in terms of modern empirical standards. Yet, turning to Gaudete Et Exsultate again, we read "We will not admit the existence of the devil if we insist on regarding life by empirical standards alone, without a supernatural understanding. It is precisely the conviction that this malign power is present in our midst that enables us to understand how evil can at times have so much destructive force." (160) This represents the old Gnostic desire to shape events according to what the human intellect can easily and completely grasp, and to replace divine mystery with something more easily understood or identified with. While the three temptations do have symbolic meaning, it should not detract from its realism as well. "Evil is not only an abstract idea or the absence of good. Evil is a person, Satan: the Evil One. Satan is the angel who opposes God and who desires to disrupt the power of God in our lives." - Bishop James Conley, Southern Nebraska Register.

Jesus himself identifies Satan as someone He has seen: “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Lk 10:18). “The prince of this world is coming,” he says, “against me he can do nothing” (Jn 14:30), as well as in Jn 16:11 and Jn 12:31. By claiming that the evangelist must be "dramatizing" these events, or merely using figurative descriptions, Dupont and Brown enter into a form of rationalism that denies how Jesus spoke at other times. From a literary style point of view, we would not expect every event to be transmitted as a quotation, nor would we expect Him to return to the disciples saying "guess what happened to me in the desert..." In that age, with its cultural and religious obsession with sin and Satan, this direct exchange would have been treated respectfully as it was passed down. We cannot directly infer it to be figurative merely because it isn't a direct quotation or is without human witnesses.

The temptations do share a common theme though, one of division. To separate Jesus from the Father, from His disciples, and from His mission should He accept his (Satan's) proposals. In his address to new bishops in missionary territories in 2016, Pope Francis advised: "Divisions are the weapon that the devil has most at hand to destroy the Church from within.” These divisions are at play today once we move our understanding of gospel events from faith to rationalism or pragmatism.

Father Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap, the Pontifical Household preacher, puts it well in his 1st Lenten homily in 2008: If many people find belief in demons absurd, it is because they take their beliefs from books, they pass their lives in libraries and at desks... How could a person know anything about Satan if he has never encountered the reality of Satan, but only the idea of Satan in cultural, religious and ethnological traditions? They treat this question with great certainty and a feeling of superiority, doing away with it all as so much "medieval obscurantism." But it is a false certainty.

It is like someone who brags about not being afraid of lions and proves this by pointing out that he has seen many paintings and pictures of lions and was never frightened by them. On the other hand, it is entirely normal and consistent for those who do not believe in God to not believe in the devil. The episode of Jesus’ temptations in the desert that is read on the First Sunday of Lent helps us to have some clarity on this subject.

First of all, do demons exist? That is, does the word “demon” truly indicate some personal being with intelligence and will, or is it simply a symbol, a manner of speaking that refers to the sum of the world’s moral evil, the collective unconscious, collective alienation, etc.? Many intellectuals do not believe in demons in the first sense. But it must be noted that many great writers, such as Goethe and Dostoyevsky, took Satan’s existence very seriously. Baudelaire, who was certainly no angel, said that “the demon’s greatest trick is to make people believe that he does not exist.” - Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic .

St Teresa, who battled Satan, and St John of the Cross, firmly believed in Satan as a being, as did Pope Paul VI: "one of the greatest needs is the defense from that evil which is called the Devil. Evil is not merely a lack of something but an effective agent, a living spiritual being, perverted and perverting. A terrible reality, mysterious and frightening..."

Thus, we don't have to abandon a literal or historical view of these events merely because it defies our modernist senses. Moreover, it would be overly presumptive to redefine Luke's narrative, of an interaction between the Son of God and the Prince of Evil, as something that must have occurred on merely human terms or in the imagination.

To continue:

Luke intends to remind us in these scenes that the temptations were addressed to Jesus by an external agent. They are not the result of a psychological crisis or because He finds Himself in a personal conflict with someone. The temptations, rather, lead back to the “temptations” which Jesus experienced in His ministry: hostility, opposition, rejection. Such “temptations” were real and concrete in His life. He had no recourse to His divine power to solve them. These trials were a form of “diabolical seducing” (Fitzmyer), a provocation to use His divine power to change the stones into bread and to manifest Himself in eccentric ways.

The temptations end with this expression: “Having exhausted every way of putting Him to the test, the devil left Jesus (4:13). Therefore, the three scenes which contain the temptations are to be considered as the expression of all temptations or trials which Jesus had to face. But the fundamental point is that Jesus, insofar as He is the Son, faced and overcame the “temptation”. Furthermore,  He was tested and tried in His fidelity to the Father and was found to be faithful.

A last consideration regarding the third temptation. In the first two temptations the devil provoked Jesus to use His divine Sonship to deny His human finiteness, to avoid providing for Himself bread like all men, requiring from Him an illusory omnipotence. In both of these, Jesus does not respond, saying, “I do not want to!”, but appeals to the law of God, His Father: “It is written… it has been said…” A wonderful lesson. But the devil does not give in and presents a third provocation, the strongest of all: to save Himself from death. In one word, to throw Himself down from the pinnacle meant a sure death. The devil quotes scripture, Psalm 91, to invite Jesus to the magic and spectacular use of divine protection, and in the last instance, to the denial of death. This passage in the Gospel of Luke launches a strong warning: the erroneous use of the Word of God can be the occasion of temptations. How is that? My way of relating myself to the Bible is placed in crisis especially when I use it only to give moral teachings to others who are in difficulty or in a state of crisis. We refer to certain pseudo-spiritual discourses which are addressed to those who are in difficulty: “Are you anguished? There is nothing else you can do but pray and everything will be solved”. This means to ignore the consistency of the anguish which a person has and which frequently stems from a biochemical fact or a psycho-social difficulty, or a mistaken way of placing oneself before God. It would be more coherent to say: Pray and ask the Lord to guide you in having recourse to the human mediation of the doctor or of a wise and knowledgeable friend so that they can help you in lessening or curing you of your anguish. One cannot propose biblical phrases, in a magic way, to others, neglecting to use the human mediation. “The frequent temptation is that of making a bible of one’s own moral, instead of listening to the moral teachings of the Bible.” (X. Thévenot).

An additional key to the reading:

However, both sides of this argument tend to be too simplistic, and just as it would be mistaken to advise a hungry person to just pray for a meal to appear, it is just as erroneous to reduce St John of the Cross' Dark Night to a mere psycho-social difficulty, as well as St Terese's visions, or St Paul of the Cross or St Teresa of Calcutta's difficulties. We are then left with the task of discerning between these two recourses. St Ignatius of Loyola, who himself experienced suffering on both physical and spiritual levels, offers much guidance on discernment in these matters. A spiritual director can also help. Satan uses division to separate us from God, and Gnosticism, pragmatism, rationalism, and empiricism all have elements that drive us to decide "this I can do" and "this other maybe God could help", letting us decide, in a typically ever growing circle, that we can do without God, and relegating Him out of our lives.

The contemporary world expects God to come like earthquakes and thunder, rolling in to fix things. If that were so, there would be no opportunity for faith and no free will. God speaks as in a small whispering sound (1 Kings 19:11-12), and when we don't hear it, we think He hasn't answered. Even more relevant would be to pray for guidance on where help or consolation is to be found, whether it be spiritual or physical, including recourse to the sacraments, Eucharistic Adoration, or the Rosary as well as finding a friend. Every hardship can be an opportunity to increase one's faith, even if it means doing some of the work oneself. "Amen, I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you" (Mt 17:20).

In this time of Lent I am invited to get close to the Word of God with the following attitude: a tireless and prayerful devotion to the Word of God, reading it with a constant bond of union with the great traditions of the Church, and in dialogue with the problems of humanity today.

3. ORATIO

a) Psalm 119:

How blessed are those whose way is blameless,
who walk in the law of Yahweh!
Blessed are those who observe His instructions,
who seek Him with all their hearts,

Let us renew ourselves in the Spirit
And put on the new man
Jesus Christ, our Lord,
in justice and in true sanctity.
 (St. Paul).

and, doing no evil,
who walk in His ways.
You lay down Your precepts
to be carefully kept.

Let us follow Jesus Christ
and serve Him
with a pure heart and good conscience. 
(Rule of Carmel)

May my ways be steady
in doing Your will.
Then I shall not be shamed,
if my gaze is fixed on Your commandments.

Let us follow Jesus Christ
and serve Him
with a pure heart and good conscience. 
(Rule of Carmel)

I thank You with a sincere heart
for teaching me Your upright judgments.
I shall do Your will;
do not ever abandon me wholly.

Let us renew ourselves in the Spirit
And put on the new man
Christ Jesus, our Lord,
created according to God the Father
in justice and in true sanctity. Amen 
(St. Paul).

b) Final Prayer:

Lord, we look for You and we desire to see Your face, grant us that one day, removing the veil, we may be able to contemplate it.
We seek You in Scripture which speaks to us of You and under the veil of wisdom, the fruit of human searching.
We look for You in the radiant faces of our brothers and sisters, in the marks of Your Passion in the bodies of the suffering.
Every creature is signed by Your mark, every thing reveals a ray of Your invisible beauty.
You are revealed in the service of the brother, You revealed Yourself to the brother by the faithful love which never diminishes.
Not the eyes but the heart has a vision of You, with simplicity and truth we try to speak with You.

4.  CONTEMPLATIO

To prolong our meditation we suggest a reflection of Benedict XVI:
“Lent is the privileged time of an interior pilgrimage toward the One who is the source of mercy. It is a pilgrimage in which He Himself accompanies us through the desert of our poverty, supporting us on the way toward the intense joy of Easter. Even in the “dark valley” of which the Psalmist speaks (Psalm 23:4), while the tempter suggests that we be dispersed or proposes an illusory hope in the work of our hands, God takes care of us and supports us. […] Lent wants to lead us in view of the victory of Christ over every evil which oppresses man. In turning to the Divine Master, in converting ourselves to Him, in experiencing His mercy, we discover a “look” which penetrates in the depth of ourselves and which can encourage each one of us.”

Lectio Divina: Ash Wednesday

Lectio Divina

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Ash Wednesday
The meaning of prayer, almsgiving and fasting
The way to spend the time of Lent well
Matthew 6:1-6,16-18

 

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.

2. READING

a) A key to the reading:

The Gospel of Ash Wednesday is taken from the Sermon on the Mount and offers us help in understanding the practice of the three works of mercy: prayer, almsgiving and fasting and the way to spend the time of Lent well. The manner of practicing these three works has changed over the centuries, according to the culture and customs of people and their state of health. Old people today still remember when there was a strict and compulsory fast of forty days throughout Lent. In spite of changes in the practice of the works of mercy, there still is the human and Christian obligation (i) to share our goods with the poor (almsgiving), (ii) to live in contact with the Creator (prayer) and (iii) to be able to control our urges and desires (fasting). The words of Jesus on which we meditate can give us the necessary creativity to find new forms of living these three practices so important in the life of Christians.

b) A division of the text to assist in the reading:

Matthew 6:1: A general key to the understanding of the teaching that follows
Matthew 6:2: How not to go about almsgiving
Matthew 6:3-4: How to go about almsgiving
Matthew 6:5: How not to pray
Matthew 6:6: How to pray
Matthew 6:16: How not to fast
Matthew 6:17-18: How to fast

c) Text:

Jesus said to his disciples: "Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father. When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. "When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. "When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you."

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 touched you or pleased you most in this text?
b) What is the meaning of Jesus’ initial warning?
c) What does Jesus criticize and teach about almsgiving? Make a resume for yourself.
d) What does Jesus criticize and teach about prayer? Make a resume for yourself.
e) What does Jesus criticize and teach about fasting? Make a resume for yourself.

5. FOR THOSE WHO WISH TO GO DEEPER INTO THE THEME

a) The context:

Jesus speaks of three things: almsgiving (Mt 6:1-6), prayer (Mt 6:5-15) and fasting (Mt 6:16-18). These were the three works of mercy of the Jews. Jesus criticizes the fact that they practice these works to be seen by others (Mt 6:1). He will not allow that the practice of justice and mercy be used as a means to social promotion within the community (Mt 6:2, 5, 16). In the words of Jesus there comes to light a new kind of relationship with God that is revealed to us. He says, “Your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you" (Mt 6:4),” Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him” (Mt 6:8), “If you forgive others their failings, your heavenly Father will forgive you yours” (Mt 6:14). Jesus presents us with a new way of approaching the heart of God. A meditation on His words concerning the works of mercy may help us discover this new way.

b) A commentary on the text:

Matthew 6:1: A general key to an understanding of the teaching that follows

Jesus says, “ Be careful not to parade your uprightness in public to attract attention; otherwise you will lose all reward from your Father in heaven.”  The justice referred to by Jesus is the place where God wants us to be. The way there is found in the Law of God. Jesus warns that it is not enough to observe the law so as to be praised by people. Earlier He had said, “For I tell you, if your uprightness does not surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of Heaven" (Mt 5:26). In reading these words we must not only think of the Pharisees of Jesus time, but above all of the Pharisee that is dormant in each one of us. Had Joseph, Mary’s spouse, followed the justice of the law of the Pharisees, he would have had to renounce Mary. But he was just (Mt 1:19), and already possessed the new justice proclaimed by Jesus. That is why he broke the ancient law and saved Mary’s and Jesus’ lives. The new justice proclaimed by Jesus rests on another foundation, springs from another source. We must build our peace from the inside, not in what we do for God, but in what God does for us. This is the general key to an understanding of the teaching of Jesus on the works of mercy. In what follows, Matthew applies this general principle to the practice of almsgiving, prayer and fasting. Didactically, he first expresses what must not be and then immediately teaches what should be.

Matthew 6:2: How not to go about almsgiving

The wrong way of giving alms, then and now, is that of doing it in public so as to be acknowledged and acclaimed by others. We often see on pews of churches the words: Gift of such-and-such a family. On television, politicians love to appear as great benefactors of humanity on occasions of inaugurations of public works at the service of the community. Jesus says, “Those who act thus have already had their reward.”

Matthew 6:3-4: How to go about almsgiving

The correct way of giving alms is this: Your left hand must not know what your right hand is doing! In other words, we must give alms in such a way that not even I must feel that I am doing something good that deserves a reward from God and praise from others. Almsgiving is an obligation. It is a way of sharing something that I have with those who have nothing. In a family, what belongs to one belongs to all. Jesus praises the example of the widow who gave of what was needed for herself (Mk 12:44).

Matthew 6:5: How not to pray

Speaking of the wrong way of praying, Jesus mentions some strange practices and customs of His day. When the trumpet sounded for morning, midday and evening prayer, there were those who sought to be in the middle of the road to pray solemnly with arms outstretched so as to be seen by all and thus be considered as pious people. Others took up extravagant poses in the synagogue so as to draw the attention of the community.

Matthew 6:6: How to pray

So as to leave no doubt, Jesus over-emphasizes the manner of praying. He says that we must pray in secret, only before God the Father. No one will see you. Maybe before others you may even seem to be a person who does not pray. This does not matter! Even of Jesus it was said, “He is not God!” That is because Jesus often prayed at night and did not care what others thought. What matters is to have one’s conscience at peace and to know that God is the Father who welcomes me, not because of what I do for God or because of the satisfaction that I seek in the eyes of others, who appreciate me as one who is pious and prays.

Matthew 6:16: How not to fast

Jesus criticizes wrong practices concerning fasting. There were those who bore a sad face, did not wash, wore torn clothes, did not comb their hair, so that all could see that they were fasting in a perfect manner.

Matthew 6:17-18: How to fast

Jesus suggests the opposite: When you fast, put scent on your head, wash your face, so that no one may know that you are fasting, only Your Father who is in heaven.

As we said earlier, it is a new manner of accessing the heart of God that is opening before our eyes. For our own interior peace, Jesus does not ask what we do for God, but what God does for us. Almsgiving, prayer and fasting are not currency to buy God’s favor, but are our response of gratitude for the love received and experienced.

c) Further information:

i) The broader context of Matthew s Gospel

Matthew’s Gospel was written for a community of converted Jews who were experiencing a deep crisis of identity in relation to their past. After their conversion to Jesus, they continued to live according to their old traditions and frequented the synagogue, together with their relatives and friends, just as before. But they suffered because of the strong pressure from their Jewish friends who did not accept Jesus as the Messiah. This tension grew after the year 70 AD. When in 66 AD the revolt of the Jews against Rome broke out, two groups refused to take part, the Pharisees and the Jewish Christians. Both groups held that going against Rome had nothing to do with the coming of the Messiah, as some thought. After the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in the year 70, all the other Jewish groups disappeared. Only the Pharisees and the Jewish Christians remained. Both groups claimed to be the heirs of the promise of the prophets and, thus, the tension grew between brothers, because of the inheritance. The Pharisees reorganized the rest of the people and took an ever-stronger position against the Christians, who ended by being excommunicated from the synagogues. This excommunication rekindled the whole problem of identity. Now the Christians were officially and formally separated from the people of the promise. They could no longer frequent their synagogue, their rabbis. And they asked themselves, “Who are the real people of God: they or us? On whose side is God? Is Jesus really the Messiah?”

Thus, Matthew writes his Gospel (1) for this group of Christians, as a Gospel of consolation for those who had been excommunicated and persecuted by the Jews, helping them to overcome the trauma of breaking away; (2) as a Gospel of revelation, showing that Jesus is the true Messiah, the new Moses, who fulfills the promises; (3) as a Gospel of the new practice, showing how they must achieve true justice, greater than the justice of the Pharisees.

ii) A key to the Sermon on the Mount

The Sermon on the Mount is the first of five sermons in Matthew’s Gospel. It describes the conditions that will allow a person to enter the Kingdom of God: the way in, the new reading of the law, the new way of looking at and practicing the works of mercy; the new way of living in community. In a word, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus communicates the new way of looking at the things of Life and the Kingdom. The following is a division that serves as a key to reading:

Mt 5:1-16: The way in

Mt 5:1-10: The eight Beatitudes help us to see where the kingdom is already present (among the poor and persecuted) and where it will be soon (among the other six groups).

Mt 5:12-16: Jesus addresses His words of consolation to His disciples and warns that anyone who lives the beatitudes will be persecuted (Mt 5:11-12), but his or her life will have meaning because he/she will be the salt of the earth (Mt 5:13) and the light of the world (Mt 5:14-16).

Mt 5:17-to-6:18: The new relationship with God: A new Justice

Mt 5:17-48: The new justice must be greater than that of the Pharisees

Jesus radicalizes the law, that is, He brings it back to its roots, to its main and ultimate purpose which is to serve life, justice, love and truth. The commandments of the law point to a new way of life, avoided by the Pharisees (Mt 5:17-20).

Jesus immediately presents various examples as to how the commandments of the Law of God given to Moses are to be understood: “of old it was said, but I say to you” (Mt 5:21-48)

Mt 6:1-18: The new justice must not seek reward or merit (This is the Gospel of this Ash Wednesday).

Mt 6:19-34: The new relationship to the goods of this world: a new vision of creation

Jesus comes to grips with the primary needs of life: food, clothing, house and health. This is the part of life that causes most anxiety in people. Jesus teaches how to relate to material goods and to the riches of the world: do not accumulate goods (Mt 6:19-21); do not look at the world with sad eyes (Mt 6:22-23); do not serve God and money at the same time (Mt 6:24); do not worry about food and drink (Mt 6:23-34).

Mt 7:1-29: The new relationship with people: a new life in community

Do not seek the straw in your brother’s eye (Mt 7:1-5); do not cast pearls before swine (Mt 7:6); Do not be afraid of asking for things from God (Mt 7:7-11); observe the golden rule (Mt 7:12); seek the narrow and difficult path (Mt 7:13-14); be wary of false prophets (Mt 7:15-20); do not just talk but do (Mt 7:21-23); the community built on these principles will stand in spite of raging storms (Mt 7:24-27). The outcome of these words is a new awareness in the face of the scribes and doctors (Mt 7:28-29).

7. FINAL PRAYER

Lord Jesus, we thank 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 what 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. Amen.

Lectio Divina:

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Jesus connects the Bible to life
The people of Nazareth do not like Jesus and drive Him away
Luke 4:21-30

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 silence in us 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 the Father to us and sent us Your Spirit. Amen.

2. READING

a) A key to the reading:

On the 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time, the Liturgy presents us with the conflict that arose between Jesus and the people of Nazareth. This happens on a Saturday during the celebration of the Word in the synagogue, after Jesus reads a text from the prophet Isaiah. Jesus quotes the prophet Isaiah, presenting His plan of action, and immediately adds a very brief comment. At first, they are all amazed and happy. But when they realize the significance of Jesus’ plan concerning their lives, they rebel and want to kill Him.

 

These kinds of conflicts exist today. We accept others as long as they act in conformity with our ideas, but when they decide to welcome into the community people whom we exclude, then we are in conflict. This is what happened in Nazareth.

 
This Sunday’s Gospel begins with verse 21, a brief comment made by Jesus. We take the liberty to include in the comment the preceding verses 16-20. This allows us to read the text from Isaiah quoted by Jesus and to better understand the conflict. As we read, it is good for us to note two things: “How does Jesus actualize the text of Isaiah? What reactions does this actualization of the text of Isaiah produce in the people?”

 

b) A division of the text to help with the reading:

Luke 4:16: Jesus arrives in Nazareth and takes part in the community meeting.
Luke 4:17-19: Jesus reads from the prophet Isaiah.
Luke 4:20-21: Jesus connects the Bible to life before an attentive public.
Luke 4:22: The contradictory reactions of the public.
Luke 4:23-24: Jesus criticizes the people’s reaction.
Luke 4:25-27: Jesus sheds light on the bible, quoting Elijah and Elisha.
Luke 4:28-30: The furious reaction of the people, who want to kill Jesus.

 

b) Text:

He came to Nazareth, where he had grown up, and went according to his custom into the synagogue on the Sabbath day. He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord." Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him.

 

Jesus began speaking in the synagogue, saying: "Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing." And all spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They also asked, "Isn't this the son of Joseph?" He said to them, "Surely you will quote me this proverb, 'Physician, cure yourself,' and say, 'Do here in your native place the things that we heard were done in Capernaum.'" And he said, "Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place. Indeed, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah when the sky was closed for three and a half years and a severe famine spread over the entire land. It was to none of these that Elijah was sent, but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon. Again, there were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha the prophet; yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian." When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury. They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong. But Jesus passed through the midst of them and went away.

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 the text? Why? 
b) On what day, where, how, and through whom does Jesus present His plan?
c) What is the content of Jesus’ plan? Who are the excluded He wants to welcome? 
d) How does Jesus actualize Isaiah’s text? 
e) How do the people react? Why? 
f) Could Jesus’ plan of action also be ours? Who are the excluded that we should welcome into our community today?

5. FOR THOSE WHO WISH TO GO DEEPER INTO THE TEXT

 

a) The historical context so as to locate the text:

In ancient Israel, the large family or clan, or community, was the basis of social life. It provided protection to families and people, it guaranteed possession of the land, it was the principal vehicle of tradition, and a guardian of the people’s identity. It was a concrete way of incarnating the love of God in the love of neighbor. To defend the clan, or the community, was equivalent to defending the Covenant with God.

 
In Jesus’ days, a double slavery marked people’s lives and contributed to the disintegration of the community: (i) the slavery of the politics of Herod Antipas’ government (4 BC to 39 AD) and (ii) the slavery of the official religion. Because of the exploitation and repression of Herod Antipas’ politics, supported by the Roman Empire, many people had no fixed home and were excluded and unemployed (Lk 14:21; Mt 20:3,5-6).

 

The community was weakened. Families and individuals had no help, no defence. The official religion, maintained by the religious authorities of the time, instead of strengthening the community so that it could welcome the excluded, added to this slavery. God’s Law was used to legitimize the exclusion or marginalization of many people: women, children, Samaritans, foreigners, lepers, the possessed, publicans, the sick, the mutilated, paraplegics. It was the opposite of the fraternity God wanted for all! Thus, the political and economic situation and the religious ideology all conspired to weaken the local community and prevented the manifestation of the Kingdom of God.

 
Jesus reacts to this situation of His people and presents a plan of action that will change it. Jesus’ experience of God as the Father of love, gives Him the ability to evaluate reality and to see what was wrong with the lives of His people.

 

b) A commentary on the text:

Luke 4:16: Jesus arrives in Nazareth and takes part in the community meeting. 
Moved by the Holy Spirit, Jesus goes to Galilee and begins to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom of God (Lk 4:14). He goes to villages teaching in synagogues and finally arrives in Nazareth. He goes back to the community of His childhood for thirty years where He had taken part in the weekly meetings. On the Saturday after His arrival, Jesus goes to the synagogue to take part in the celebration as usual and gets up to read.

 

Luke 4:17-19: Jesus reads a passage from the prophet Isaiah. 
In those days, there were two readings during the Saturday celebrations. The first dealt with the Law of God, was taken from the Pentateuch and was fixed. The second was taken from the historical or prophetical books, and was chosen by the reader. The reader could choose. Jesus chose the text from Isaiah that presents a summary of the mission of the Servant of God, and that reflected the situation of the people of Galilee at the time. In the name of God, Jesus takes up His position in defence of the life of His people, takes on His mission as Servant of God, and, using Isaiah’s words, proclaims before all, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, for He has anointed Me to bring the good news to the afflicted. He has sent Me to proclaim liberty to captives, sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim a year of favour from the Lord" (Isa 61:1-2). He takes up an ancient tradition of the prophets and proclaims “a year of favour from the Lord”. This expression was equivalent to proclaiming a jubilee year, so Jesus invites the people of His town to begin anew, to rewrite history at its very roots (Deut 15:1-11; Lev 25:8-17).

Luke 4:20-21: Jesus connects the Bible to life before an attentive public. 
When He had finished reading, Jesus gave the book back to the servant and sat down. Jesus is not yet the coordinator of the community. He is a lay person and as such takes part in the celebration like all the others. He had been away from the community for many weeks, had then joined John the Baptist’s movement and was baptized by John in the Jordan (Lk 3:21-22). Moreover, He had spent more than forty days in the desert, reflecting on His mission (Lk 4:1-2). The Saturday after His return to the community, Jesus is invited to read. All are attentive and curious: “What will He say?” Jesus’ comment is very brief indeed. He actualizes the text, connects it with the people’s lives, saying, This text is being fulfilled today even as you are listening.”

 

Luke 4:22: The contradictory reactions of the people.
The people’s reaction is ambivalent. At first their attitude is one of attention, wonder and acclamation. Then, immediately, there is a negative reaction. They say, “This is Joseph’s son, surely!” Why are they scandalized? Because Jesus speaks of welcoming the poor, the blind, prisoners and the oppressed. They do not accept His proposal. And so, just when Jesus presents His project to welcome the excluded, He Himself is excluded! 


But there is another motive too. It is important to note the details of the quotations that Jesus uses from the Old Testament. In the commentary on Luke 3:4-6 on the second Sunday of Advent, Luke gives a longer quotation from Isaiah to show that the opening to gentiles had already been foreseen by the prophets. Here we have something like this. Jesus quotes the text from Isaiah up to the point where it says "to proclaim a year of favor from the Lord", and leaves out the rest of the sentence that says "and a day of vindication by our God, to comfort all who mourn" (Is 61:2b). The people of Nazareth challenge the fact that Jesus left out the part on vindication. They wanted the day of the coming of the Kingdom to be a day of vindication against the oppressors of the people. Thus those who mourned would have regained their rights. But if that were  so, then the advent, the coming of the Kingdom, would not have changed an unjust system. Jesus rejects this way of thinking. He rejects vengeance. His experience of God, Father, helped Him better understand the exact meaning of the prophecies. His reaction, unlike that of the people of Nazareth, shows us that the old image of God as a severe and vengeful judge was stronger than the Good News of God, a loving Father who welcomes those excluded.

 

Luke 4:23-24: Jesus criticizes the people’s reaction.

 
Jesus interprets the people’s reaction and considers it a form of envy: “Physician, heal yourself. Whatever things we have heard of as done in Capernaum, do here, also in your own country!” Jesus was well know throughout Galilee (Lk 4:14) and the people of Nazareth were not pleased that Jesus, a son of their land, worked good things in other peoples’ lands and not in His own. But there is a deeper reason for the reaction. Even if Jesus had worked in Nazareth the things He had worked in Capernaum, they would still not have believed in Him. They knew Jesus. “Who is He to teach us? Is He not Joseph’s son?” (Lk 4:22). “Is He not the carpenter?” (cf Mk 6:3-4) Today  this happens so often: when a lay person preaches in church, many will not accept that. They leave and say, “He or she is like us: he or she knows nothing!” They cannot believe that God can speak through the most ordinary people. Mark adds that Jesus is hurt by His people’s unbelief (Mk 6).

 

Luke 4:23-27: Jesus sheds light on the Bible quoting Elijah and Elisha. 
In order to confirm that His mission is really that of welcoming the excluded, Jesus uses two well known passages of the bible, the story of Elijah and that of Elisha. Both reflect the closed mentality of the people of Nazareth and criticize them. In Elijah’s time there were many widows in Israel, but Elijah was sent to a foreign widow from Zarephath (1 Kings 17:7-16). In Elisha’s time there were many lepers in Israel, but Elisha was sent to a foreigner from Syria (2 Kings 5:14). Again we see Luke’s concern to show that openness towards pagans came from Jesus Himself. Jesus faced the same difficulties that the communities in Luke’s time faced.

 

Luke 4:28-30: The furious reaction of the people who want to kill Jesus. 
The mention of these two passages from the Bible produces greater anger in the people. The community of Nazareth even wants to kill Jesus. He remains calm. Other people’s anger will not distract Him from His purpose. Luke shows how difficult it is to overcome a mentality of privilege and of closure towards others. The same thing happens today. Many of us Catholics grow up with a mentality that leads us to believe that we are better than others and that the others must become like us in order to be saved. Jesus never thought this way.

 

c) Further information:

 

The meaning of a jubilee year:

In 2000, Pope John Paul II invited Catholics to celebrate the jubilee. Celebrating important dates is part of life. This allows us to rediscover and revive our initial enthusiasm. In the bible, “the Jubilee Year” was an important law. At first, it was decreed that every seventh year, sold or leased lands were to return to the clan of origin. Everyone was to be able to go back to his property. This prevented the formation of stagnant funds and guaranteed a living for families. During a Jubilee Year lands were to be sold back, slaves were to be redeemed and debts cancelled (cf. Deut 15:1-18). The celebration of a Jubilee Year every seven years was not easy (cf Jeremiah 34:8-16). After the exile began the custom of celebrating every fifty years, that is, every seven times seven years (Lev 25:8-17). The purpose of a Jubilee Year was, and still is, to re-affirm the rights of the poor, welcome the excluded, and reintegrate them into society. The jubilee was a legal instrument to go back to the deep sense of the Law of God. It was an occasion to take stock of the course travelled, to discover and correct errors and to begin everything anew. Jesus begins His preaching by proclaiming a new jubilee, a “Year of favor from the Lord”.

6. PRAYING WITH PSALM 72 (71)

“He will free the poor who cry!”

God, endow the king with Your own fair judgement, 
the Son of the king with Your own saving justice,
that He may rule your people with justice, 
and Your poor with fair judgment.

Mountains and hills, 
bring peace to the people! 
With justice He will judge the poor of the people; 
He will save the children of the needy and crush their oppressors.
In the sight of the sun and the moon He will endure, age after age.

He will come down like rain on mown grass, 
like showers moistening the land.
In His days uprightness shall flourish, 
and peace in plenty till the moon is no more.
His empire shall stretch from sea to sea, 
from the river to the limits of the earth.

The Beast will cower before Him, 
His enemies lick the dust;
the kings of Tarshish and the islands will pay Him tribute. 
The kings of Sheba and Saba will offer gifts;
all kings will do Him homage, 
all nations become His servants.

For He rescues the needy who call to Him, 
and the poor who have no one to help.
He has pity on the weak and the needy,
and saves the needy from death.
From oppression and violence He redeems their lives, 
their blood is precious in His sight.

Long may He live; may the gold of Sheba be given Him!
Prayer will be offered for Him constantly, 
and blessings invoked on Him all day.
May wheat abound in the land, 
waving on the heights of the hills, 
like Lebanon with its fruits and flowers at their best, 
like the grasses of the earth.

May His name be blessed for ever, 
and endure in the sight of the sun. 
In Him shall be blessed every race in the world, 
and all nations call Him blessed.
Blessed be Yahweh, 
the God of Israel, 
who alone works wonders;
blessed for ever His glorious name. 
May the whole world be filled with His glory! 
Amen! Amen!

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 what 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. Amen.

 

Latest comments

26.03 | 17:36

Have a Blessed Holy Week!
Holy Week is the most important week in the Church year! It is a time when we celebrate in a special way the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. We remember his actions, reflect on his messages, and recommit to living as his d

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01.09 | 02:56

I enjoy these prayers, and resort to them whenever I want to pray but don't know how!

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15.08 | 13:01

Thank you for your valuable comments much appreciated.

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14.08 | 13:57

My daily devotion and yearly novena.

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