Memorial of Saint Leo the Great, Pope and Doctor of the Church
Reading 1 PHLM 7-20
I have experienced much joy and encouragement from your love,
because the hearts of the holy ones
have been refreshed by you, brother.
Therefore, although I have the full right in Christ
to order you to do what is proper,
I rather urge you out of love,
being as I am, Paul, an old man,
and now also a prisoner for Christ Jesus.
I urge you on behalf of my child Onesimus,
whose father I have become in my imprisonment,
who was once useless to you but is now useful to both you and me.
I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you.
I should have liked to retain him for myself,
so that he might serve me on your behalf
in my imprisonment for the Gospel,
but I did not want to do anything without your consent,
so that the good you do might not be forced but voluntary.
Perhaps this is why he was away from you for a while,
that you might have him back forever,
no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a brother,
beloved especially to me, but even more so to you,
as a man and in the Lord.
So if you regard me as a partner, welcome him as you would me.
And if he has done you any injustice
or owes you anything, charge it to me.
I, Paul, write this in my own hand: I will pay.
May I not tell you that you owe me your very self.
Yes, brother, may I profit from you in the Lord.
Refresh my heart in Christ.
Responsorial Psalm PS 146:7, 8-9A, 9BC-10
The LORD secures justice for the oppressed,
gives food to the hungry.
The LORD sets captives free.
R. Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob.
The LORD gives sight to the blind.
The LORD raises up those who were bowed down;
the LORD loves the just.
The LORD protects strangers.
R. Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob.
The fatherless and the widow he sustains,
but the way of the wicked he thwarts.
The LORD shall reign forever;
your God, O Zion, through all generations. Alleluia.
R. Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob.
I am the vine, you are the branches, says the Lord:
whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel LK 17:20-25
Asked by the Pharisees when the Kingdom of God would come,
Jesus said in reply,
“The coming of the Kingdom of God cannot be observed,
and no one will announce, ‘Look, here it is,’ or, ‘There it is.’
For behold, the Kingdom of God is among you.”
Then he said to his disciples,
“The days will come when you will long to see
one of the days of the Son of Man, but you will not see it.
There will be those who will say to you,
‘Look, there he is,’ or ‘Look, here he is.’
Do not go off, do not run in pursuit.
For just as lightning flashes
and lights up the sky from one side to the other,
so will the Son of Man be in his day.
But first he must suffer greatly and be rejected by this generation.”
As we come towards the end of the Liturgical year, the theme of the liturgy focuses on Christian hope. Hope is an essential component of the Christian faith. Without hope, there is no faith. As Christians, we are called to give hope to a hopeless people. Hence we must be people of hope. When we give hope to a downtrodden people, we are saying to them that they will live and that they have a future.
Today, in the gospel, Jesus gave His disciples hope. They too would have been disheartened in the face of suffering. They too would have been looking towards the coming of the Kingdom, the visitation of God in times of persecution. But Jesus warned them, “Make no move; do not set off in pursuit; for as the lightning flashing from one part of heaven lights up the other, so will be the Son of Man when his day comes. But first he must suffer grievously and be rejected by this generation.’” Where is this kingdom to be found? Jesus told them, “You must know, the kingdom of God is among you.” These words of Jesus can be interpreted in two senses.
Firstly, it means, “The kingdom of God is within you.” Within this context, we can appreciate why Jesus told the Pharisees that “The coming of the kingdom of God does not admit of observation and there will be no one to say, “Look here! Look there!” Clearly, this would mean that the kingdom grows imperceptibly within us, observable only in faith. The kingdom works in men’s hearts, not so much to produce new things but new people. Indeed, we are all growing, perhaps slowly for some, but surely. We might not be able to see it for ourselves but somehow growth is taking place. We might think that God’s grace is not operating, especially when we are going through difficult and challenging times, but His grace is at work in ways beyond our understanding. Hence we must be patient, especially when we deal with people in whose lives we wish to see changes, or when our ministry and projects seem to be bearing few fruits.
Secondly, our hope and foundation for the growth of the kingdom within us is rooted in that the kingdom of God is already among us. Jesus tells us, “The kingdom of God is among you.” Jesus is for us the very embodiment of the kingdom even though the Pharisees did not recognize Him. In His life, words and deeds, especially in His passion and resurrection, Jesus manifested the fullness of the kingdom. We too must ask God to open our eyes to see the goodness and the ways in which God’s love and presence are already present. The real reason why God is not seen is because we often look for His kingdom in the wrong places. Humility and gratitude are virtues that will help us to see the mercy and love of God in our lives. The Pharisees were too proud of their knowledge and self-righteousness to be able to see God, who manifested Himself in Christ. Hence, Jesus Himself reminded us that this kingdom could only come through the cross. Thus He said for Himself and for us, “But first he must suffer grievously and be rejected by this generation.” In our suffering or rather because of our suffering and helplessness God’s power and mercy is shown even more clearly. Isn’t this the experience of the psalmist when he wrote, “The Lord secures justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets captives free. The Lord gives sight to the blind. The Lord raises up those who were bowed down; the Lord loves the just. The Lord protects strangers.”
In this respect, we have St Paul and Philemon who are the exemplars of people who inspire hope for their fellow Christians. St Paul praised Philemon when he was told by the brothers how the latter had “put new heart into the saints.” Paul wrote, “I am so delighted, and comforted, to know of your love.” Philemon must have been a man with a big heart, capable of love and generosity. We do not doubt that Philemon tried his best to live the life of the kingdom.
St Paul himself too inspired hope when he gave new life to the runaway slave, Onesimus. Paul took him under his tutelage and won him over by his tender love. Without St Paul giving him shelter and protection, Onesimus would probably have died, or if caught, he would have been executed. Onesimus, a slave whose name meant “useful”, was given hope by St Paul when he was then thought useless by his master. Not only did St Paul have hope in Onesimus but he remained hopeful that Philemon would accept his slave back and treat him with charity and compassion, like a brother in Christ. Otherwise St Paul would not have made up his mind to send Onesimus back to him and the latter himself would not have had the courage to return as well.
If St Paul and Philemon were people who inspired hope, it was because both had a common love for each other, a love that was founded in Christ. Indeed, when Paul appealed to Philemon, he did not appeal to his authority as an apostle but that of a friend in Christ. He wrote to Philemon saying, “So if all that we have in common means anything to you, welcome him as you would me; but if he has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, then let me pay for it. “
St Paul also appealed to the love of Christ in Philemon. By appealing to his sympathy and love alone, St Paul drew out the goodness in him. It is very true in life that when we affirm a person’s goodness, he grows even more in goodness. Affirmation and hope in another person will help a person to grow much more than destructive criticisms. For this reason, we must temper criticisms, even if these are constructive and sincere, with affirmations of love and encouragement. Yes, we can learn from St Paul who always expected the best from others. Paul was an optimistic person. He did not allow negativism to destroy his hope in those he met. And isn’t it true that to “expect the best from others is often to be more than half way to getting the best.” (William Barclay)
The truth that love is transforming is demonstrated in Onesimus. This was what happened to Onesimus. St Paul said, “He was of no use to you before, but he will be useful to you now, as he has been to me. I am sending him back to you, and with him – I could say – a part of my own self.” St Paul had imparted some of his spirit to Onesimus, so much so that he was no longer the disobedient slave. Indeed, St Paul said to Philemon that Onesimus was “not a slave any more, but something better than a slave, a dear brother; especially dear to me, but how much more to you, as a blood-brother as well as a brother in the Lord.” Hence, in Christ, the useless person is made useful. Christianity transforms people. As Christians we must always welcome back those who have made mistakes in their lives. Only through love, can we transform the man.
In the light of how the Kingdom is coming, let us learn from St Paul that the best way to prepare for the kingdom is not to indulge in vain speculation but to faithfully and humbly do our duty and all within the perspective of hope. Concretely, it is to live the life of the kingdom and to help others to live this life of the kingdom with us. Instead of being anxious about the date of the coming of the kingdom, we must attend to this life by cooperating with the grace of the kingdom at work within us. Regardless of whatever situation we are in, we must live in hope, trusting that as we cooperate with His grace, God will see that His reign is established eventually. Those who live in hope will surely inspire hope in others. And our hope is certain because it is found in Christ Himself.
Jesus was asked by some Pharisees when the Kingdom of God would come.
In their mind, it was a definitive time that would be suddenly realised by the arrival of a triumphant Messiah-King. Jesus says it is not going to be like that at all. The Kingdom cannot be found by looking around for telltale signs so that you can say it is ‘here’ or ‘there’.
No, says Jesus, “the reign of God is already in your midst”. In other words, it is right in front of them. It is first of all in the very person of Jesus, who is the embodiment of the God’s Reign. He is the Messiah-King. He is the living incarnation of God’s loving power revealed in his authoritative teaching, in his many healings of the sick, in his freeing of those from the power of evil spirits and in his compassion for the sinner and the outcast. All are clear evidence of the reign of God “in their midst”.
In every age, there are people who get worked up about the “final coming of Christ”. The recent end of the millennium was such a time. But, instead of focusing on a date in the calendar we should be focusing on the realities of our everyday lives where, to those with eyes to see, the reign of God can easily be discerned working in other people’s lives and in our own. Wherever people are reflecting in their lives the vision of life, the values that Jesus revealed to us, the Kingdom is there. And such people are not confined to the Church. They can be and are found everywhere.
Jesus then turns to his disciples telling them they will long to see the “one day of the Son of Man” but will not see it. In the very early Church many were convinced that Jesus would make his final coming in their own lifetime. It is likely that, from time to time, certain events were interpreted as signs of that final coming. People were saying that “he is to found in this place or that”. But by the time Luke’s gospel was written most of that first generation of Christians had died and there was still no sign of Jesus’ coming. The ‘days’ following his expected coming may have all the more been longed for during times of severe persecution when they looked for relief and help from their pain. An anxiety reflected in the story of the disciples’ trying to wake a sleeping Jesus while their boat is threatened by mountainous seas (Mark 4:35-41).
Jesus says that, when his day does come, it will “be like the lightning that flashes from one end of the sky to the other”. It will be both sudden and everywhere. In the meantime, Jesus “must suffer much and be rejected by the present age”. Words which clearly refer to his own suffering and death but which can also be applied to the whole Risen Christ, including the Church, his risen Body, down to our own age.
So, on the one hand, the reign of God is already here among us and we need look no further than the daily experiences of our own lives to know and experience the power and presence of Jesus. On the other hand, the time of that final coming which will “wipe every tear from our eyes” and be the end of all suffering and rejection is not for us to decide – nor to be anxious about.
As we approach the end of the liturgical calendar year, the Church now focuses on the theme of the Second Coming of Christ. Like the Pharisees and the Jews in the gospel, we too are curious about the end of time. We too indulge in all sorts of speculation. Will the world come to an end? Will it be destroyed? When will it come? What signs will precede the Day of the Lord?
When we ask these questions, it shows that we are influenced by the Scriptures, especially the Old Testament’s understanding of the Day of the Lord. In the Old Testament, the prophets described the end time as the “Day of the Lord.” It would be a day when God would manifest Himself in all His glory and power, judging all of humanity, punishing His enemies and sinners whilst rewarding the just. It will be a day of judgment, not just for Israel but for all the nations. (cf Amos 5:18-20) At the same time, in the book of Daniel, the Day of the Lord is associated with the Son of Man. (cf Dn 7:13-14) He will be the judge of all the nations, the living and the dead, on behalf of Yahweh, and then God’s Kingdom will finally be established. Within this context, we can appreciate Jesus’ usage of the term “Son of man” to self-designate Himself, since it has messianic connotations in connection with the Day of the Lord. His Second Coming will bring about the work of restoration and final judgment and the full realization of the Kingdom of God.
Even then, it will be helpful to recognize the two different strands of interpretation with respect to the Day of the Lord. In apocalyptic eschatology, the end of time is conceived in terms of the destruction of the earth so that there will be a new heaven and a new earth. This is very much the understanding in the prophecy of Joel. We see this also in the Letter of Peter, “Looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat … Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for a new heaven and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:12-13) However, another view, namely, the prophetic eschatological position, holds that this earth and heaven will not be destroyed but be created totally new through a radical transformation. “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create; for behold, I create a Jerusalem as a rejoicing, and her people a joy. (Isaiah 65:17-19)
Regardless of whichever view we hold with respect to the end of time, one thing is certain, we will know when the Day of the Lord comes. Speaking about the New Covenant, Jeremiah said, “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time … I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Jer 31:33-34) So no special sign is needed to know the coming of Christ or the Day of the Lord because all will recognize Him, His presence and power as clearly as the lightning in the sky, considering that in the Desert, it would be even so strikingly seen since the sky is almost always clear.
Of course, the Day of the Lord is not only to be understood as coming at the end of time but it in fact it has already come. This accounts for Jesus’ reply to the Pharisees that “the kingdom of God is among you.” In other words, Jesus is the Kingdom of God in person. In Him, God reigns as seen in His authoritative preaching, in His works of healing and exorcisms and in His behavior of welcoming and mixing with sinners, especially having meals with them. Of course the religious leaders could not accept the truth of what Jesus taught and His identity as the Messiah and the Son of God.
The coming of God’s Kingdom, according to Jesus, is not so much seen in the cosmological phenomena but in a person who submits Himself to the rule of God, the rule of love. Jesus in that sense is the sure sign, for in Him God reigns, both in His life on earth and especially at His passion, death and resurrection. In His death, we see the love of God made visible. In His resurrection, we see already the glory and power of God’s victory over sin and death. Hence, He said, “for as the lightning flashing from one part of heaven lights up the other, so will the Son of Man when his day comes. But first he must suffer grievously and be rejected by this generation.” So if we could confidently claim that the Kingdom of God has already come, it is but our declaration that in Christ, the powers of darkness and sin have been overcome. We who submit ourselves to Christ’s rule will share in His victory over Satan, sin and death too.
On the other hand, the kingdom is already here existentially in our hearts when Jesus lives in us. The Kingdom of God is not just near us but is within us. “Whoever loves me will keep my word; and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.” (Jn 14:23) The moment when we allow Him to reign in our hearts; the moment when we live the gospel life that He has shown and taught us, especially living out the beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount, we are living under the reign of the Kingdom. But this is not possible by our own strength, except with the divine assistance of the Holy Spirit. Only with God’s grace can the Kingdom enter into our lives.
Consequently, for the kingdom to take root in our hearts and minds, we must receive the Holy Spirit, as the first reading from the book of wisdom instructs us. The author of Wisdom describes wisdom in feminine terms, calling her “the breath of the power of God, pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty; hence nothing impure can find a way into her. She is a reflection of the eternal light, untarnished mirror of God’s active power, image of his goodness. Although alone, she can do all; herself unchanging, she makes all things new. In each generation, she passes into holy souls, she makes them friends of God and prophets; for God loves only the man who lives with Wisdom.” The last verse is significant; that only the man who lives with Wisdom is loved by God.
Wisdom is not only a gift of the Holy Spirit but also a personification of the Word of God, since the Word is identical with Wisdom. Jesus, in St John’s gospel, is the Word of God made flesh. Again the psalmist sings praises to the Word of God. He says, “Your word is for ever, O Lord. According to your ordinances they still stand firm: all things serve you. The revelation of your words sheds light, giving understanding to the simple. Let your countenance shine upon your servant, and teach me your statutes.” So wisdom stands both for the Spirit of God and the Word of God. Jesus, who is the Word of God, imparts us the Holy Spirit upon His resurrection. And what better way is there to receive the Wisdom of God in the Holy Spirit than through the celebration of the Eucharist and the Sacraments where Jesus comes to live in us and transform our hearts and minds?
By welcoming Jesus and His Spirit into our hearts, the love of God will dwell in us. The Father and the Son who live in us in the Holy Spirit will transform our hearts and empower us to live the Trinitarian life of love and unity. So let us consciously continue to immerse ourselves in the Word of God in prayer so that His Spirit dwells in us and gives us His gifts of intelligence, holiness, purity, steadfastness, benevolence and goodness to live the life of God in our lives.
Commentary on Wisdom 7:22-8:1 From Living Space
Today’s passage is a hymn to Wisdom. It reflects much of Greek philosophical influence affecting the Jewish author. He treats Wisdom as a person and gives his own version of earlier personifications. In so far as Wisdom is identified with God as its origin, we might rephrase John to say that “in the beginning there was Wisdom and the Wisdom was with God and the Wisdom was God”.
The writer describes both the nature and origin of Wisdom and begins by listing 21 attributes of Wisdom. Borrowing freely from the vocabulary of Greek philosophy, the author next points out the various characteristics of Wisdom and concludes by identifying it with divine providence – in the last sentence of our reading.
The eulogy begins with a listing of 21 attributes of Wisdom, divided into three sets of seven each, that is, the multiplication of seven (for perfection) by three (for divinity). It is, in the thinking of the time, the most perfect of perfect numbers. The attributes are set out as follows so that each one can be looked at and considered separately. (Alternative translations from the New American Bible are given in parentheses for a number of attributes.)
For within Wisdom is a spirit
mobile (or agile)
incisive (or clear)
unsullied (or unstained)
lucid (or certain)
benevolent (or loving the good)
shrewd (or keen)
irresistible (or unhampered)
friendly to other people (or kindly)
steadfast (or firm)
dependable (or secure)
unperturbed (or tranquil)
all-surveying (or all-seeing)
penetrating all intelligent, pure and most subtle of spirits
(or pervading all spirits, be they intelligent, pure and very subtle)
There then follow some other attributes of Wisdom:
She is quicker to move than any other movement.
She is so pure, she pervades and permeates all things.
Wisdom is totally devoid of any deception or distortion; she provides a clear vision which “pervades and permeates all things”.
She is a breath of the power of God, “a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty”. The Spirit of God is also described as a movement of air – a ‘breath’ or a ‘wind’. Speaking to Nicodemus Jesus said: “The wind blows where it will… so it is with everyone begotten of the Spirit” (John 3:8), where there is a play on the word pneuma, meaning both ‘spirit’ and ‘wind’. Similarly at Pentecost the coming of the Spirit is accompanied by a wind blowing through the place where the disciples are gathered. Similarly, on the cross Jesus’ death is described as giving out the pneuma – which can be both his final breath and also his Spirit. “Then Jesus bowed his head, and handed over his Spirit/breath (pneuma)” (John 19:30) – Pentecost on the cross.
The ‘glory of the Almighty’ is the ‘eternal light’ that is God. In the Old Testament God is never called ‘light’. Some earlier texts already hinted at the concept of a transcendent light emanating from God, illuminating the faithful or his nation, being the radiance of his glory, or residing with him but it will only be in the First Letter of John that we read explicitly “God is light” (1 John 1:5). Jesus himself will say virtually the same thing: “I AM the Light of the World” (John 8:12).
Wisdom is a reflection of the eternal light of God, “an untarnished mirror of God’s active power and the image of his goodness”. When we are possessed by true wisdom we are already in touch with God, with his power which is his love and with his goodness.
There is a loftiness and exclusiveness about Wisdom, for she is unique. “Although she is alone, she can do everything.” Though herself unchanging and unchangeable, she changes the world through her insight and unending creativity.
In generation after generation she has passed into the lives of good people, making them “into God’s friends and prophets”. In the Old Testament such friends were Abraham and Moses. Jesus, as the Son of God, called his disciples his friends. Prophets include not only the great prophets and inspired scribes, but all who, by their holy life and intimacy with God, penetrate into the knowledge of his will and his mysteries, and so become his authorised ‘interpreters’ to enlighten their fellows. Among these will be the many outstanding spiritual and theological writers and preachers who have given new insights into living with God and for God.
“God loves only those who dwell with Wisdom.” Of course, God, who is Love, extends that love infinitely and equally to every single person and thing he has created. It is never withdrawn. But obviously, there is a special relationship with those who open their hearts and respond totally to the Love extended to them and who, in turn, pass that Love on to all those who come into their lives.
There is a brightness to Wisdom that is unique. “More splendid than the sun, she outshines all the constellations.” Since those words were written, we know so much more about the enormity of the constellations and the galaxies and yet the statement remains perfectly valid. “Compared with light, she takes first place, for light must yield to night.” Nothing can avail against Wisdom, which contains all Truth, Goodness and Beauty.
And, at the end, Wisdom is linked with the loving Providence of God which governs our world: “She reaches from one end of the world to the other and governs the whole world for its good.” The attributes that Paul gives to love in his famous passage in his First Letter to the Corinthians can also be applied to Wisdom. Divine Wisdom embraces both Truth and Love.
To be a friend of God, then, is to share his Wisdom, that is, to see and understand reality as he does. This is the most precious thing we can have in life for it gives meaning and direction to everything that we experience. It is to live in a light that is never extinguished and against which evil is impotent.
Let us pray today for this wisdom that will guide our lives and bring us the happiness, peace and security which we constantly seek.
Tags: Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, For just as lightning flashes, Lk 17:20-25, November 10 2016, phlm 7-20, Prayer and Meditation, Psalm 146, Saint Leo the Great, so will the Son of Man be in his day, The days will come when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, The LORD secures justice for the oppressed