Posts Tagged ‘Prayer and Meditation’

Prayer and Meditation for Tuesday, March 28, 2017 — “Rise, take up your mat, and walk.”

March 27, 2017

Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Lent
Lectionary: 245

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Reading 1 EZ 47:1-9, 12

The angel brought me, Ezekiel,
back to the entrance of the temple of the LORD,
and I saw water flowing out
from beneath the threshold of the temple toward the east,
for the façade of the temple was toward the east;
the water flowed down from the right side of the temple,
south of the altar.
He led me outside by the north gate,
and around to the outer gate facing the east,
where I saw water trickling from the right side.
Then when he had walked off to the east
with a measuring cord in his hand,
he measured off a thousand cubits
and had me wade through the water,
which was ankle-deep.
He measured off another thousand
and once more had me wade through the water,
which was now knee-deep.
Again he measured off a thousand and had me wade;
the water was up to my waist.
Once more he measured off a thousand,
but there was now a river through which I could not wade;
for the water had risen so high it had become a river
that could not be crossed except by swimming.
He asked me, “Have you seen this, son of man?”
Then he brought me to the bank of the river, where he had me sit.
Along the bank of the river I saw very many trees on both sides.
He said to me,
“This water flows into the eastern district down upon the Arabah,
and empties into the sea, the salt waters, which it makes fresh.
Wherever the river flows,
every sort of living creature that can multiply shall live,
and there shall be abundant fish,
for wherever this water comes the sea shall be made fresh.
Along both banks of the river, fruit trees of every kind shall grow;
their leaves shall not fade, nor their fruit fail.
Every month they shall bear fresh fruit,
for they shall be watered by the flow from the sanctuary.
Their fruit shall serve for food, and their leaves for medicine.”

Responsorial Psalm PS 46:2-3, 5-6, 8-9

R. (8) The Lord of hosts is with us; our stronghold is the God of Jacob.
God is our refuge and our strength,
an ever-present help in distress.
Therefore we fear not, though the earth be shaken
and mountains plunge into the depths of the sea.
R. The Lord of hosts is with us; our stronghold is the God of Jacob.
There is a stream whose runlets gladden the city of God,
the holy dwelling of the Most High.
God is in its midst; it shall not be disturbed;
God will help it at the break of dawn.
R. The Lord of hosts is with us; our stronghold is the God of Jacob.
The LORD of hosts is with us;
our stronghold is the God of Jacob.
Come! behold the deeds of the LORD,
the astounding things he has wrought on earth.
R. The Lord of hosts is with us; our stronghold is the God of Jacob.

Verse Before The Gospel  PS 51:12A, 14A

A clean heart create for me, O God;
give me back the joy of your salvation.

Gospel JN 5:1-16

There was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
Now there is in Jerusalem at the Sheep Gate
a pool called in Hebrew Bethesda, with five porticoes.
In these lay a large number of ill, blind, lame, and crippled.
One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years.
When Jesus saw him lying there
and knew that he had been ill for a long time, he said to him,
“Do you want to be well?”
The sick man answered him,
“Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool
when the water is stirred up;
while I am on my way, someone else gets down there before me.”
Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your mat, and walk.”
Immediately the man became well, took up his mat, and walked.

Now that day was a sabbath.
So the Jews said to the man who was cured,
“It is the sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.”
He answered them, “The man who made me well told me,
‘Take up your mat and walk.'”
They asked him,
“Who is the man who told you, ‘Take it up and walk’?”
The man who was healed did not know who it was,
for Jesus had slipped away, since there was a crowd there.
After this Jesus found him in the temple area and said to him,
“Look, you are well; do not sin any more,
so that nothing worse may happen to you.”
The man went and told the Jews
that Jesus was the one who had made him well.
Therefore, the Jews began to persecute Jesus
because he did this on a sabbath.

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Forgiven by Greg Olsen

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Homily for Ezekiel 47: 1-9, 12 From “The Divine Lamp”
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The passage always reminds me of the second strophe of the morning hymn of the Liturgy of the Hours  sung on the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross:

O Cross of Christ, immortal tree
On which our Saviour died,
The world is sheltered by your arms
That bore the Crucified.

Beginning with the early Church Fathers the passage was often interpreted in relation to Christ, the new temple (John 2:13-22), from whom blood and water issued (John 19:31-37). And in relation to the new creation (Rev 22:1-5). It also was used in association with baptism, particularly during the Easter Vigil when the catechumens were baptized:

 The second symbol of the Easter Vigil – the night of Baptism – is water. It appears in Sacred Scripture, and hence also in the inner structure of the Sacrament of Baptism, with two opposed meanings. On the one hand there is the sea, which appears as a force antagonistic to life on earth, continually threatening it; yet God has placed a limit upon it. Hence the book of Revelation says that in God’s new world, the sea will be no more (cf. Rev 21:1). It is the element of death. And so it becomes the symbolic representation of Jesus’ death on the Cross: Christ descended into the sea, into the waters of death, as Israel did into the Red Sea. Having risen from death, he gives us life. This means that Baptism is not only a cleansing, but a new birth: with Christ we, as it were, descend into the sea of death, so as to rise up again as new creatures.

 The other way in which we encounter water is in the form of the fresh spring that gives life, or the great river from which life comes forth. According to the earliest practice of the Church, Baptism had to be administered with water from a fresh spring. Without water there is no life. It is striking how much importance is attached to wells in Sacred Scripture. They are places from which life rises forth. Beside Jacob’s well, Christ spoke to the Samaritan woman of the new well, the water of true life. He reveals himself to her as the new, definitive Jacob, who opens up for humanity the well that is awaited: the inexhaustible source of life-giving water (cf.  John 4:5-15). Saint John tells us that a soldier with a lance struck the side of Jesus, and from his open side – from his pierced heart – there came out blood and water (cf.  John 19:34). The early Church saw in this a symbol of Baptism and Eucharist flowing from the pierced heart of Jesus. In his death, Jesus himself became the spring. The prophet Ezekiel saw a vision of the new Temple from which a spring issues forth that becomes a great life-giving river (cf.  Ezekiel 47:1-12). In a land which constantly suffered from drought and water shortage, this was a great vision of hope. Nascent Christianity understood: in Christ, this vision was fulfilled. He is the true, living Temple of God. He is the spring of living water. From him, the great river pours forth, which in Baptism renews the world and makes it fruitful; the great river of living water, his Gospel which makes the earth fertile. Jesus, however, prophesied something still greater. He said: “Whoever believes in me … out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38). In Baptism, the Lord makes us not only persons of light, but also sources from which living water bursts forth. We all know people like that, who leave us somehow refreshed and renewed; people who are like a fountain of fresh spring water. We do not necessarily have to think of great saints like Augustine, Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Avila, Mother Teresa of Calcutta and so on, people through whom rivers of living water truly entered into human history. Thanks be to God, we find them constantly even in our daily lives: people who are like a spring. Certainly, we also know the opposite: people who spread around themselves an atmosphere like a stagnant pool of stale, or even poisoned water. Let us ask the Lord, who has given us the grace of Baptism, for the gift always to be sources of pure, fresh water, bubbling up from the fountain of his truth and his love! (Pope Benedict XVI, Homily on Holy Saturday, 2009).

Suggested Books:

Interpretation: Ezekiel (A Bible Commentary for Preaching and Teaching). Joseph Blenkinsopp. Blenkinsopp is professor emeritus at Notre Dame University. The interpretation series was produced by authors from a variety of ecclesiastical traditions.

Ezekiel: A New Heart (International Theological Commentary). Father Bruce Vawter and Father L. J. Hoppe. The ITC is a series which includes contributors from a wide range of ecclesiastical traditions.

Ezekiel, Daniel: (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture). Stevenson and Glerup, editors. Commentary take from the fathers and early medieval writers. I’ve not yet read the book but I suspect I will find 47:1-12 interpreted christologically, with the temple being applied to Christ, the water to his passion, baptism, etc.

Ezekiel, With an Excursus on the Old Testament Priesthood. Father Aelred Cody, O.S.B.

https://thedivinelamp.wordpress.com/2012/03/17/my-notes-on-ezekiel-471-9-12/

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Art at the Top:

http://brandonvogt.com/christ-came-to-stir-the-waters/

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Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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28 MARCH, 2017, Tuesday, 4th Week of Lent
DO YOU WANT TO BE WELL AGAIN?

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ EZEKIEL 47:1-9,12; PS 45,2-3,5-6,8-9; JOHN 5,1-16]We are all in need of healing. We are all sick physically and wounded in different ways.  We are broken emotionally and psychologically.  Some of us are paralyzed spiritually by our bondage to sin, addiction to drugs, drink, smoking, bad habits and irregular relationships.  Most of all, those suffering from rare illnesses or terminal sicknesses cannot find cure, even with the best medical facilities in the world.  So it is not surprising that at a Jewish festival in Jerusalem, Jesus was surrounded by the sick. “Now at the Sheep Pool in Jerusalem there is a building, called Bethzatha in Hebrew, consisting of five porticos; and under these were crowds of sick people – blind, lame, paralyzed.”

It is significant that the building is named “Bethzatha”, which means “House of mercy.”  We are all in need of mercy.  Many of us long for mercy, but mercy never came.  Some of us are like the paralyzed man who waited almost a lifetime for someone to help him to receive God’s mercy.  But he never had a chance, for he said, “I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is disturbed; and while I am still on the way, someone else gets there before me.”  We too could be in the same situation as this man.  Something always gets in the way of our healing.  For 38 years he waited, but he never gave up hope. Such was the perseverance of this man.  How many of us would wait so long for God’s mercy?  Most of us would have given up.  But this man waited and waited for the time to come.  Indeed, God comes to those who wait on Him.  This is what the prophet says, “they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”  (Isa 40:31)

The scriptures tell us that the Lord comes to heal us.  The question is, “Do you want to be well again?”   This is an important question.  Many of us, like the man, do not understand the full import of Jesus’ question.  Like him, we are thinking of physical cure or short-term healing.  He was more concerned, like all of us who are sick, with solving the problem, for he said; “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is disturbed; and while I am still on the way, someone else gets there before me.”.  Most of us are concerned with short-term goals and immediate gratification of our needs.

But Jesus is more interested in granting us full healing of mind, body and spirit.  Not only that, the healing that Jesus comes to give is permanent.  When Jesus met him again, He warned him, “Now you are well again, be sure not to sin any more, or something worse may happen to you.” Clearly, the real healing that is needed is more the restoration of the soul.  What we need is peace in our hearts through forgiveness and reconciliation.  Many of our illnesses are caused by the failure to live an upright life.  This man sought physical health.  We do not realize that man is constituted of body and spirit.  If the body is sick, the mind and spirit will also be sick.  If the mind and spirit are sick, the body will also fall ill.  Like him, so many desire only physical restoration, but we do not take care of our other needs. That is why Jesus warned him that he might be physically able to walk, but his spiritual health was even more important.  The healing happened for him so that he could come to know God who alone can give life.   What he needed most was to live a life without sin, a life that was free from selfish ambition, vices and self. Otherwise, even with physical health, he would not be happy.  Some sick people with terminal illness are more at peace than those of us who are supposedly healthy but are full of anger, resentment, discontentment and hostile competition for power, wealth and power.  So if we do not repent of our sins out of true reverence and love for God, at least the thought of hurting ourselves and/or our loved ones even more, should motivate us to avoid sin and self-destruction.

Within this context, the sacrament of baptism is for the full restoration of the human person.  One is made a new creation.  It must be noted that the Sheep Pool is a symbol of the Baptismal font for the catechumens.  In entering the water, they are cleansed, renewed and restored.  This is in fulfillment of the first reading when we read of the water of Arabah giving life to the Israelites.  They were in exile and their temple was destroyed.  They lost all hope and meaning in life.  But the prophet assured them that the water would once again flow from the temple and become a river that gave life to every creature and plant.  Once again, the land would be fertile and there would be life again.  So too when we are baptized, we will be renewed with the grace of the Holy Spirit.  Whereas the pool of Bethzatha only gave physical healing, baptism heals the soul through the Holy Spirit. Unlike the pool which could cure only one person each time, baptism cures all humanity purchased by the blood of Christ.   It brings about the forgiveness of sins and the person is healed at its very core.  He is given new life, peace and the joy of the Holy Spirit.

But baptism alone is not sufficient.   Many are baptized but they do not grow in faith and most of all, in discipleship.   True healing means coming to know Jesus.  The man who was healed never bothered to find out the source of his healing.  He took his healing for granted.  So, too, when we are graced by God, be it in passing an exam, successfully finishing a project or cured of an illness, many of us never truly give thanks to God and reflect for ourselves what this means to us in terms of faith and life.  It is important to know that we depend on God and He is our everything.  Humility before God keeps us in our place so that none of us can become too arrogant or independent.

If we know that life and healing belongs to God, then we should be seeking to know Jesus more and more so that we can live like Him. Many seek baptism, but do not like living the life of Christ.  Baptism, just like confession, is not a matter of washing away our sins. It is not like going to a spiritual laundry.  Baptism and confession entail a real desire to turn away from sin and our idols to follow Christ our Lord.  Merely going through the ritual will not save us.  Rather, we must draw near to Christ each day.  We must come to the living water and draw life from Him, like the Samaritan woman. The prophet assures us that “Wherever the river flows, all living creatures teeming in it will live. Fish will be very plentiful, for wherever the water goes it brings health, and life teems wherever the river flows. They will bear new fruit every month, because this water comes from the sanctuary. And their fruit will be good to eat and the leaves medicinal.”

Furthermore, like the psalmist, in our struggle against sin, let us remember thatthe Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold.”  This is because “God is within, it cannot be shaken; God will help it at the dawning of the day. Come, consider the works of the Lord the redoubtable deeds he has done on the earth.”  Alone, we cannot overcome the temptations of the Evil One, but since our baptism incorporates us into the body of Christ, with Him as our head, we can win the battle against sin and evil.  We must allow God’s mercy and power to give us the strength to continue this fight against sin.

So all that is left now is for us to decide whether we want to allow God’s grace to work in and through us.  If Jesus could give strength to a hopeless paralyzed man, surely He can give hope to all of us.  But we must “get up and walk”.  We must cooperate with His grace.  He wants to free us from the power of sin and death, but not without our consent.  If we do not want to change and instead give excuses, like the man that no one helped him, then nothing is going to happen.  God has sent many people and prophets to us.  He has given us this season of Lent to come to self-awareness and repentance.  If we are serious about getting well again, then we need to get up and start walking towards Jesus.  Observing the Sabbath does not mean doing nothing, as what the religious leaders thought and taught.  Observing the Sabbath means to continue doing good, giving life and acting for God every moment of our lives.  So do not delay any longer.  No more lame excuses.  Go to Jesus for healing now, especially in the sacrament of reconciliation, or say ‘yes’ to Jesus in the sacrament of baptism.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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Jesus Walking on Water, Artist Kelly Pugh

Prayer and Meditation for Monday, March 27, 2017 — “There shall always be rejoicing and happiness.”

March 26, 2017

Monday of the Fourth Week of Lent
Lectionary: 244

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Jesus Life More Abundantly by Greg Olsen

Reading 1  IS 65:17-21

Thus says the LORD:
Lo, I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
The things of the past shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
Instead, there shall always be rejoicing and happiness
in what I create;
For I create Jerusalem to be a joy
and its people to be a delight;
I will rejoice in Jerusalem
and exult in my people.
No longer shall the sound of weeping be heard there,
or the sound of crying;
No longer shall there be in it
an infant who lives but a few days,
or an old man who does not round out his full lifetime;
He dies a mere youth who reaches but a hundred years,
and he who fails of a hundred shall be thought accursed.
They shall live in the houses they build,
and eat the fruit of the vineyards they plant.

Responsorial Psalm  PS 30:2 AND 4, 5-6, 11-12A AND 13B

R. (2a) I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me.
I will extol you, O LORD, for you drew me clear
and did not let my enemies rejoice over me.
O LORD, you brought me up from the nether world;
you preserved me from among those going down into the pit.
R. I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me.
Sing praise to the LORD, you his faithful ones,
and give thanks to his holy name.
For his anger lasts but a moment;
a lifetime, his good will.
At nightfall, weeping enters in,
but with the dawn, rejoicing.
R. I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me.
“Hear, O LORD, and have pity on me;
O LORD, be my helper.”
You changed my mourning into dancing;
O LORD, my God, forever will I give you thanks.
R. I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me.

Verse Before The Gospel  AM 5:14

Seek good and not evil so that you may live,
and the LORD will be with you.

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Jesus healing the royal official’s son at Capernaum by Joseph-Marie Vien, 1752.

Gospel  JN 4:43-54

At that time Jesus left [Samaria] for Galilee.
For Jesus himself testified
that a prophet has no honor in his native place.
When he came into Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him,
since they had seen all he had done in Jerusalem at the feast;
for they themselves had gone to the feast.

Then he returned to Cana in Galilee,
where he had made the water wine.
Now there was a royal official whose son was ill in Capernaum.
When he heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea,
he went to him and asked him to come down
and heal his son, who was near death.
Jesus said to him,
“Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe.”
The royal official said to him,
“Sir, come down before my child dies.”
Jesus said to him, “You may go; your son will live.”
The man believed what Jesus said to him and left.
While the man was on his way back,
his slaves met him and told him that his boy would live.
He asked them when he began to recover.
They told him,
“The fever left him yesterday, about one in the afternoon.”
The father realized that just at that time Jesus had said to him,
“Your son will live,”
and he and his whole household came to believe.
Now this was the second sign Jesus did
when he came to Galilee from Judea.

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Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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LEAVING THE PAST IN HOPE OF THE FUTURE
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ ISA 65:17-21; PS 29:2,4-6,11-13; JN 4:43-54]

We have just passed the halfway mark of Lent.  The feast of the resurrection is less than three weeks away.  It is therefore appropriate that the liturgy begins to focus on Christ who is the Resurrection and the life.   In the last three weeks, the emphasis was on repentance, renunciation of sins and spiritual exercises.  Presuming that we have taken the call to repentance seriously, we must now focus not on the past but on the future.  The spiritual exercises are not ends in themselves.  God does not want us to suffer.   As He told us before, we do not fast till the bridegroom is taken away from us.  (cf Mt 9:15)

So the purpose of the spiritual exercises is to make it possible for us to enter into a new life.  The first reading speaks of this hope when the Lord said, “Now I create new heavens and a new earth.  Be glad and rejoice for ever and ever for what I am creating, because I now create Jerusalem ‘Joy’ and her people ‘Gladness’.  I shall rejoice over Jerusalem and exult in my people.”   It is not about penance and mortification.  Those are the means, not the end.  Indeed, this is what the Lord always wanted for us, that we will always be a rejoicing people.

We are asked to leave our past behind. There is no point in always going back to the past.  “The past will not be remembered, and will come no more to men’s minds.”  How can we leave the past behind if not because of the future?  Those who have no hope for the future will keep going back to the nostalgic past or the hurtful past.  They will always either be lamenting the good old days or recalling the painful events of the past.  In truth, the good old days were not all that good, and the painful events were not as bad as they remember them today.  So long as we cling to the past, the future cannot be brought into the present.

Anticipating the future with hope will, however, help us to erase the past.  In life, only when we think of what is possible in the future, can we then let go of the past.  Like in a marriage, when we think of the future of our children and the hope of a happy family, we will be able to let go of the mistakes of our spouse.  Indeed, those who live with hope of a better tomorrow will always be ready to let go of the past, no matter how painful, hurtful or disappointing it might have been.  Those who give up on the future are those who live without hope.

If we are feeling thus, then we must turn to the source of our hope.  The gospel tells us that Jesus is our Hope. We can be sure that the man was desperate for the life of his son.  He stayed in Capernaum, 26 km away from Cana.  He must have travelled all the way there to look for Jesus to heal his son.  Parents would do anything to save their children.  He came to Jesus believing that only He could cure his son who was at the point of death.  The man said, “Sir, come down before my child dies.”   We too must turn to Jesus, the life giver, if we desire to live with hope for the future.  Only Jesus can provide us with real hope for a better life.

But this requires faith in Him.  Jesus was upset that His countrymen would not believe unless they “see signs and portents.”   There are some people who are like that, always seeking for one sign after another, miracle after miracle.   Those who are crazy over signs and miracles show that they lack faith.  It is like those people who need to be reassured of our love all the time by our gifts.  When we do not give them anything, they begin to feel insecure of our love. They are always asking for affirmation and confirmation of our love.

Today, we need to trust Jesus unconditionally. This was what the court official did.  Jesus did not want to go with him to Capernaum, not because it was too far away, but because He wanted pure faith from the man.  So He told the man to “Go home, your son will live.”  That was all the assurance he needed.  So in faith the man went home, believing in Jesus’ promise to heal His son.  We read that “while he was still on the journey back his servants met him with the news that his boy was alive.”   And he was told that “the fever left him yesterday at the seventh hour.”   And “this was exactly the time when Jesus had said, ‘Your son will live’.”   We must not repeat the same mistake of the Jews in always seeking for reassurance.  The evangelist noted, “on his arrival the Galileans received him well, having seen all that he had done at Jerusalem during the festival which they too had attended.”  Their reception of Jesus depended on His performance of the miracles.

Will we also have the courage to believe in Jesus even when things seem impossible?  When we pray, do we truly believe that Jesus can heal or solve our problems?   Do we believe against the odds that with Jesus, nothing is impossible and that He knows best?  To have faith in Jesus is to surrender our lives to Him.   To have faith in Jesus is to trust that whatever happens to us, He knows best.   Faith in Jesus is to trust in His power to save, perhaps not always in the way we want.  What if the court official had refused to go back and insisted that Jesus returned with him to heal the child?  By the time Jesus arrived, the child might have already died.  So too, we need to have confidence in the Lord.

So the question we need to ask ourselves today is whether we truly believe that Jesus is the Lord of life.  The psalmist said, “I will praise you, Lord; you have rescued me and have not let my enemies rejoice over me. O Lord, you have raised my soul from the dead, restored me to life from those who sink into the grave.”   If Jesus is the Lord of life, then we can entrust ourselves to Him.  The healing of the court official’s son and the changing of water into wine earlier on in Cana were signs of His identity as the Lord.  Just as He was the seventh jar of wine, so the boy was healed at the seventh hour.  In other words, Christ is the perfection of joy and the fullness of life as well.

Today, we must imitate Mary in Cana and the Court Official who responded to the Lord in faith.  Mary too did not know how Jesus would help the wedding couple when the wine ran out.  She left it entirely for the Lord to figure it out for she knows that Jesus was a man of compassion and would not leave them in the lurch.  “The Lord listened and had pity.  The Lord came to my help.  For me you have changed my mourning into dancing: O Lord my God, I will thank you for ever.”   Like the court official, we just trust that Jesus knows best in every situation.

Indeed, with faith in the Lord, we will never fear death as well, and even when we live, we live to the fullest.  The promise of the prophet in the first reading appears to be unrealistic.  “No more will the sound of weeping or the sound of cries be heard in her; in her, no more will be found the infant living a few days only, or the old man not living to the end of his days.  To die at the age of a hundred will be dying young; not to live to be a hundred will be the sign of a curse.  They will build houses and inhabit them, plant vineyards and eat their fruit.”  Is such a long life possible?  Of course, only if man does not destroy the order of creation and upset the biological, social and human ecology of life.

Most of the problems of humanity are the consequences of our not respecting creation.  It is the abuse of creation and the human body, like deforestation, pollution, uncontrolled killing of animals and fishes, over eating, over working without rest and a lack of a balance lifestyle that brings destruction to creation, causing man to be sick and die early from diseases like cancer, heart diseases, sexual diseases, hypertension, etc.  When we do not live a balanced life, we bring stress and division with our fellowmen wherever we go because we fail to recognize the importance of right relationship, moderation and respect for others.

But if we believe in Jesus, then we should live a simple life like Him, and use that life not to hoard things or allow our selfish pleasures to destroy our body, mind and spirit.  Rather, we will use the resources well for our good and well-being and the good of others.  This is what it means to believe in Jesus.   We must live a life of love and service, doing what we can, making time for God, for family and loved ones, and for the service of humanity.  If we walk the way of Jesus, then we will have fullness of life.  Joy and gladness are for those with pure hearts.  If we live without guilt and anger or greed, we will be at peace.   Ambition, unlawful and unrestrained pleasures, greed and egotism rob us of our happiness in life.  If we live a life of detachment, nothing can cause us to be unsettled or deprived. Simply living our lives responsibly with integrity will give us the peace and joy of life.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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Jesus — I am the light of the world — Art By Greg Olsen
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Commentary on John 4:43-54 from Living Space

This week we begin a semi-continuous reading of John’s gospel. Today, Jesus brings the promise of new life, now and in the future. Today’s Gospel follows immediately on the encounter of Jesus with the Samaritan woman. Jesus now goes back to Galilee from Samaria.

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In spite of what Jesus had said earlier about prophets not being welcomed in their own place, he was received well, because they had seen what Jesus had done in Jerusalem during his recent visit there.

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He returns to Cana, where he had performed his first sign, changing water into wine. A high official comes to ask Jesus to cure his son who is dying. Jesus’ first reaction is negative.

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He complains of people just looking for miracles, signs and wonders. The man ignores Jesus’ remarks and repeats his request for Jesus to come and heal his son before he dies.

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This, in itself, indicates the level of the man’s faith in Jesus. This is always the basic requirement for healing to take place. Jesus ignores the invitation to go to the man’s house.

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In the Synoptics it is the centurion who tells Jesus it is not necessary to go to his house. That was because he was a Gentile and knew that Jesus should not go there. (It is not certain if John’s account is another version of that story.)

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Here Jesus simply says: “Go home, your son will live.” The man believed what Jesus said and set off for his home. Before he gets home the official’s servants are coming out to tell him that his son is alive and well.

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On further enquiries, the father learns that the fever subsided just at the moment when Jesus promised that the boy would live. It was also the moment when the man, trusting in Jesus’ word, began his journey home.

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John tells us that this is the second of the seven “signs” that Jesus did. Its clear message is that Jesus brings life, eternal life that begins now. In John, eternal life begins as soon as we attach ourselves in total trust to Jesus and to his Way. Lent is a good time for us to renew our pledge to walk along his Way and to ask for a deep level of faith to do so.

The seven Signs in John are:

  1. The changing of water into wine at the marriage feast in Cana (2:1-11)
  2. The healing of the royal official’s son (4:46-54) [Today’s reading]
  3. The healing of a man who is crippled at the Bethesda pool (5:1-18)
  4. Feeding of the 5,000 (6:1-15)
  5. Jesus walking on the water (6:16-21)
  6. Healing of the man born blind (9:1-41)
  7. The raising of Lazarus (11:1-44)

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From Last Year:

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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07 MARCH 2016, Monday, 4th Week of Lent
THE JOY OF NEW LIFE COMES THROUGH FAITH IN CHRIST AT HIS WORD
SCRIPTURE READINGS: Isa 65:17-21; Ps 30: 2 & 4, 5-6, 11-12a, 13b; Jn 4:43-54We have just completed the first part of the season of Lent and entered into the second part.  Whereas the first part of Lent focused on the themes of spiritual life, the second part directs our attention to Christ’s passion, death and resurrection.   Hence, the theme of faith, especially in Jesus as the Messiah and His power to give life in anticipation of His passion and resurrection, is dominant during the next three weeks of Lent.

In the first reading, Isaiah prophesied the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the restoration of Israel.  The word that is used is “create.”  This reconstruction is portrayed in the context of the creation of a new heaven and a new earth.  Firstly, there will be no more untimely deaths.  Secondly, there will also be peace, security and success.  Indeed, the plan of God is more than just a reconstruction but a total re-creation.  Yes, it is His desire to “create Jerusalem to be a joy and its people to be a delight.”  This final prophecy of Isaiah certainly invites us to anticipate the joys of Easter, when new life is promised to us.

This is reaffirmed in today’s gospel message when St John recorded for us the second sign or mighty work of Jesus.  By healing the son of the official, Jesus demonstrated that He is the healer and the one who gives life.  This was the assurance of Jesus when He told the official, “Go home, your son will live.”  We too can look to Jesus for new life.  He has the power to make all things new for us, even in apparent hopeless situation.

However, for this new creation and new life to be a reality, we need to strengthen our relationship with the Lord.  This relationship with Jesus will determine the depth of our faith in Him.  What is faith?  Faith is to believe in Jesus.  It is very significant that the gospel story begins with Jesus leaving Samaria, where, we are told, “many of the Samaritans in that town believed in Jesus.” (Jn 4:39).  In contrast, when He arrived in Galilee, “the Galileans received him well, having seen all that he had done at Jerusalem during the festival…”  It is important to note that whereas the Samaritans believed in Jesus, the Jews in Galilee only welcomed Him, and only because they had seen His miracles.  Nothing is said about their believing.  There is a world of difference between giving Jesus a warm reception and having faith in Him.

In so doing, St John is highlighting the faith of the non-Jews, who showed greater faith in Jesus, than His fellowmen.  The Samaritans and the government official who were non-Jews, believed on Jesus’ word alone, without witnessing a miracle.  Whilst it is true that this was one instance when His own countryman did not reject Him, yet the reception given to Him based on His works of wonders did not tantamount to faith in Him.  Hence, He rebuked the crowd more than the official when He said, “So you will not believe unless you see signs and portents!”  Indeed, genuine faith in Jesus cannot be based on miracles but on His word and promises.  In the following two sequences, in the cure of the paralytic (5:1-47) and the multiplication of loaves (6:1-15), we see how miracles did not produce faith but rejection.

Hence, we need to reflect on the kind of relationship we have with Jesus.  Is our relationship with Jesus dependent on miracles and getting what we want from Him, or is it dependent on our faith in Him as the Christ?  Do we simply think well of Jesus, or do we confess from our hearts that He is the Christ?  During this season of Lent, are we simply welcoming Jesus, or do we have faith in Him? Today, we are called to imitate the faith of the pagan official.  What kind of faith did the official have? 

Firstly, it was a humble and courageous faith.  As a royal official, he swallowed his pride and traveled a long distance of twenty miles from Capernaum to see Jesus, someone who had no status except that of a carpenter in Nazareth. He was in need and was not bothered about what people would say.  Faith cannot survive so long as there is pride and fear of losing one’s reputation in life.  He was not afraid of risking his reputation by coming to Jesus for help.

Secondly, we are told that he had a persevering and growing faith.  He was not easily discouraged.  Even when he was reprimanded for seeking signs and wonders, he did not take offence.  He did not give up in despair.  Instead, he recognized that his faith needed to grow.   His faith, like many of us, is an imperfect faith.  Quite often, we too expect God to work miracles in our lives, according to how we want it to happen.  We do not trust that somehow Jesus would solve the problems we have in His own time and in His own way.  What is required is faith and trust in His wisdom.  We must not seek for signs but simply rely on His words.  We must carry on with our lives and trust that Jesus will, in His time, come to our help.  Indeed, the psalmist invites us to place our total trust in God for he is our refuge.

Hence, when Jesus declined to go back with him to heal the child personally, he accepted in faith the assurance of Jesus’ words, “Go, your son will live.” It must have been very hard for him to turn away and walk twenty miles home without Jesus, save for these words of assurance.  Truly, the height of faith is a trusting faith.  He was not afraid that he might return home to find that his son was not cured, thus making him a laughing stock with his people.  Indeed, we read “while he was still on the journey back his servants met him with the news that his boy was alive.”  Thus, it is clear that the royal official believed in Jesus even before he knew the miracle was performed.  The miracle only reinforced his faith in Jesus.  It is the essence of faith that we must believe; that whatever Jesus says or promises us, is as good as true.

Finally, we are told “he and all his household believed” in Jesus.  It was certainly not easy for him, a pagan, to come to accept Jesus as the Messiah, the anointed One of God, and bring others to faith.  Indeed, a man of faith will generate faith among others.  This was true for the Samaritan woman and the royal official. Conversion is therefore the consequence of encountering Jesus in person and surrendering ourselves in faith to Him.  Only this kind of faith can bring about new life.  Let us pray for this personal experience of Jesus as our Messiah so that we can tell people what we have heard and seen.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh
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Prayer and Meditation for Sunday, March 26, 2017 — Ending The Blindness With Light

March 25, 2017

Fourth Sunday of Lent
Lectionary: 31

Jesus Heals a Man Born Blind

Reading 1 1 SM 16:1B, 6-7, 10-13A

The LORD said to Samuel:
“Fill your horn with oil, and be on your way.
I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem,
for I have chosen my king from among his sons.”

As Jesse and his sons came to the sacrifice,
Samuel looked at Eliab and thought,
“Surely the LORD’s anointed is here before him.”
But the LORD said to Samuel:
“Do not judge from his appearance or from his lofty stature,
because I have rejected him.
Not as man sees does God see,
because man sees the appearance
but the LORD looks into the heart.”
In the same way Jesse presented seven sons before Samuel,
but Samuel said to Jesse,
“The LORD has not chosen any one of these.”
Then Samuel asked Jesse,
“Are these all the sons you have?”
Jesse replied,
“There is still the youngest, who is tending the sheep.”
Samuel said to Jesse,
“Send for him;
we will not begin the sacrificial banquet until he arrives here.”
Jesse sent and had the young man brought to them.
He was ruddy, a youth handsome to behold
and making a splendid appearance.
The LORD said,
“There—anoint him, for this is the one!”
Then Samuel, with the horn of oil in hand,
anointed David in the presence of his brothers;
and from that day on, the spirit of the LORD rushed upon David.

Responsorial Psalm PS 23: 1-3A, 3B-4, 5, 6

R. (1) The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
In verdant pastures he gives me repose;
beside restful waters he leads me;
he refreshes my soul.
R. The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.
He guides me in right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk in the dark valley
I fear no evil; for you are at my side
With your rod and your staff
that give me courage.
R. The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.
You spread the table before me
in the sight of my foes;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
R. The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.
Only goodness and kindness follow me
all the days of my life;
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
for years to come.
R. The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.

Reading 2 EPH 5:8-14

Brothers and sisters:
You were once darkness,
but now you are light in the Lord.
Live as children of light,
for light produces every kind of goodness
and righteousness and truth.
Try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.
Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness;
rather expose them, for it is shameful even to mention
the things done by them in secret;
but everything exposed by the light becomes visible,
for everything that becomes visible is light.
Therefore, it says:
“Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will give you light.”

Verse Before The Gospel JN 8:12

I am the light of the world, says the Lord;
whoever follows me will have the light of life.

Gospel JN 9:1-41

As Jesus passed by he saw a man blind from birth.
His disciples asked him,
“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents,
that he was born blind?”
Jesus answered,
“Neither he nor his parents sinned;
it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.
We have to do the works of the one who sent me while it is day.
Night is coming when no one can work.
While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
When he had said this, he spat on the ground
and made clay with the saliva,
and smeared the clay on his eyes,
and said to him,
“Go wash in the Pool of Siloam” —which means Sent—.
So he went and washed, and came back able to see.

His neighbors and those who had seen him earlier as a beggar said,
“Isn’t this the one who used to sit and beg?”
Some said, “It is, ”
but others said, “No, he just looks like him.”
He said, “I am.”
So they said to him, “How were your eyes opened?”
He replied,
“The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes
and told me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’
So I went there and washed and was able to see.”
And they said to him, “Where is he?”
He said, “I don’t know.”

They brought the one who was once blind to the Pharisees.
Now Jesus had made clay and opened his eyes on a sabbath.
So then the Pharisees also asked him how he was able to see.
He said to them,
“He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and now I can see.”
So some of the Pharisees said,
“This man is not from God,
because he does not keep the sabbath.”
But others said,
“How can a sinful man do such signs?”
And there was a division among them.
So they said to the blind man again,
“What do you have to say about him,
since he opened your eyes?”
He said, “He is a prophet.”

Now the Jews did not believe
that he had been blind and gained his sight
until they summoned the parents of the one who had gained his sight.
They asked them,
“Is this your son, who you say was born blind?
How does he now see?”
His parents answered and said,
“We know that this is our son and that he was born blind.
We do not know how he sees now,
nor do we know who opened his eyes.
Ask him, he is of age;
he can speak for himself.”
His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews,
for the Jews had already agreed
that if anyone acknowledged him as the Christ,
he would be expelled from the synagogue.
For this reason his parents said,
“He is of age; question him.”

So a second time they called the man who had been blind
and said to him, “Give God the praise!
We know that this man is a sinner.”
He replied,
“If he is a sinner, I do not know.
One thing I do know is that I was blind and now I see.”
So they said to him,
“What did he do to you?
How did he open your eyes?”
He answered them,
“I told you already and you did not listen.
Why do you want to hear it again?
Do you want to become his disciples, too?”
They ridiculed him and said,
“You are that man’s disciple;
we are disciples of Moses!
We know that God spoke to Moses,
but we do not know where this one is from.”
The man answered and said to them,
“This is what is so amazing,
that you do not know where he is from, yet he opened my eyes.
We know that God does not listen to sinners,
but if one is devout and does his will, he listens to him.
It is unheard of that anyone ever opened the eyes of a person born blind.
If this man were not from God,
he would not be able to do anything.”
They answered and said to him,
“You were born totally in sin,
and are you trying to teach us?”
Then they threw him out.

When Jesus heard that they had thrown him out,
he found him and said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
He answered and said,
“Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?”
Jesus said to him,
“You have seen him,
the one speaking with you is he.”
He said,
“I do believe, Lord,” and he worshiped him.
Then Jesus said,
“I came into this world for judgment,
so that those who do not see might see,
and those who do see might become blind.”

Some of the Pharisees who were with him heard this
and said to him, “Surely we are not also blind, are we?”
Jesus said to them,
“If you were blind, you would have no sin;
but now you are saying, ‘We see,’ so your sin remains.

Columbia River Gorge Light Rays at Sunset

Previous Photo: Mt. Adams and Mt. Rainier Next Photo: Mt. Biking in Washington

OrJN 9:1, 6-9, 13-17, 34-38

As Jesus passed by he saw a man blind from birth.
He spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva,
and smeared the clay on his eyes, and said to him,
“Go wash in the Pool of Siloam” — which means Sent —.
So he went and washed, and came back able to see.

His neighbors and those who had seen him earlier as a beggar said,
“Isn’t this the one who used to sit and beg?”
Some said, “It is, ”
but others said, “No, he just looks like him.”
He said, “I am.”

They brought the one who was once blind to the Pharisees.
Now Jesus had made clay and opened his eyes on a sabbath.
So then the Pharisees also asked him how he was able to see.
He said to them,
“He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and now I can see.”
So some of the Pharisees said,
“This man is not from God,
because he does not keep the sabbath.”
But others said,
“How can a sinful man do such signs?”
And there was a division among them.
So they said to the blind man again,
“What do you have to say about him,
since he opened your eyes?”
He said, “He is a prophet.”

They answered and said to him,
“You were born totally in sin,
and are you trying to teach us?”
Then they threw him out.

When Jesus heard that they had thrown him out,
he found him and said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
He answered and said,
“Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?”
Jesus said to him,
“You have seen him, and
the one speaking with you is he.”
He said,
“I do believe, Lord,” and he worshiped him.

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Video:

https://www.lds.org/bible-videos/videos/jesus-heals-a-man-born-blind?lang=eng

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Monastery of Christ in the Desert, Abiquiu, New Mexico

My sisters and brothers in the Lord,

“One thing I do know is that I was blind and now I see.” – the official people of religion are trying to convince the formerly blind man that Jesus is a fake.  The formerly blind man holds on the one thing:  I was blind and now I see!

For us today, the question really is this:  “Has Jesus changed my life at all?”  If Jesus has not touched my life, then it is difficult to cling to Jesus.  But if Jesus has touched me in some way, then it is not so difficult to cling to Him, no matter what others tell us.

The first reading today is about the choice of David to be the King of Israel.  David is not the eldest son, and yet he is chosen.  David is not particularly outstanding—even though he is presented as handsome and tall—yet he is chosen.  The teaching of this reading from the Book of Samuel—and it is common teaching in the Old Testament—is that God chooses freely and does not choose according to our ways of choosing.  So often in the Old Testament, a younger son is chosen.  So often in the Old Testament, the unexpected person is chosen.  Sometimes even the “less good” of two persons seems to be chosen.  God chooses and we are not always able to see why God chooses.

Why have I been chosen to follow the Lord?  Has the Lord done anything for me?  Do I give anything to the Lord?

The second reading is from the Letter to the Ephesians.  Here we are told:  “Try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.”  When we hear this kind of advice, we should not think that somehow God is calling us to follow a “mysterious” rule book of what makes God happy!  The only thing that is pleasing to the Lord is to seek Him personally with our heart, mind and soul.  God wants us and that which pleases God is when we seek Him and try to be present to Him every day.

The Gospel today is from Saint John:  the story of the man blind from birth who is given sight by Jesus.  The challenge, as so often in the Gospel of John, is that Jesus performs healings on the Sabbath, the day on which no one is supposed to work.  First of all, people think that someone bling from birth had to be involved in sin, either the parents or the person himself.  Jesus is clear that this is not the case.  Then the Pharisees enter into the picture and get upset with Jesus for this healing on the Sabbath.  No one wants to cross the religious authorities!

The focal point of the Gospel, however, is when Jesus says to the formerly blind man:  “You have seen the Son of Man, the one speaking with you is he.”  This is the same point from last Sunday when Jesus told the woman at the well:  “I am the Messiah, the one speaking to you.”

At some point, each of us must come to believe that Jesus is the Lord, Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus is the Son of Man.  Only then will we see that, like David, we are chosen.  Only then can we see what is really pleasing to God.  And only then will we see.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip

https://christdesert.org/

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Jesus Heals The Blind With Light

Jesus heals blind man

HERE’S MUD IN YOUR EYE. It seems odd of Jesus – if not rude – to mix up a tiny paste of mud from his own spit and smear it on the eyes of a blind man. But a Roman science book written in the same century Jesus lived says physicians used spit and mud as a treatment for eye disease. Art by Andrey Mironov.
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FOR SOMEONE WHO COULD STOP THE WIND with the word, it sure seems odd that Jesus needed to use a spit and mud poultice to heal blind people.

When Mother Nature dipped her blender into the Sea of Galilee, whipping up quite the storm, Jesus pulled the plug with just a few words: “Silence! Be still!” (Mark 4:39).

And when something pulled the plug on Lazarus, leaving him no more able to suck air than my old Hoover (rest in peace), Jesus fired him right back up with just a few more words: “Lazarus, come out!” (John 11:43).

So when Jesus came across a man born blind, why resort to this odd treatment:

“He [Jesus] spit on the ground. He made some mud and smeared it on the man’s eyes.  Then he said, ‘Go and wash off the mud in Siloam Pool,’” (John 9:6-7).

Here’s the Friday Fun Fact.

Doctors used spit and mud in Roman times to treat various diseases.

The treatments show up in a collection of 37 science books called Natural History, written by a Roman science writer named Pliny (A.D. 23-79).

Here are two of those ancient Roman treatments for eye problems:

  • “To cure inflammation of the eyes, wash the eyes each morning with spit from your overnight fast.”
  • “To protect your eyes from developing eye diseases….Each time you wash dust off your feet, touch your eyes three times with the muddy water.”

My son-in-law, Dr. Jonathan Eck, who is an optometrist at Vision Professionals of Leawood (yeah, a family promo), tells me that saliva does contain some antibacterial and antiviral properties.

But he is quick to add that it’s probably not a great idea to lick our wounds or rub spit in our eyes. He says we have safer and more effective options than the Romans had.

Bible experts trying to explain why Jesus bothered with this technique usually say he was trying to help build the man’s faith for what was about to happen by applying medical methods popular at the time.

But it’s just a guess. Bible writers don’t often answer the “why” questions – perhaps because they don’t know why.

For a little more background on this topic, see my earlier post: Jesus used a Roman Rx for blindness. Or for lots of info about how Jesus’ miracles sometimes tracked with Roman medical practices, buy my book: Understanding Jesus: A Guide to His Life and Times.

https://stephenmillerbooks.com/2014/03/why-did-jesus-spit-on-people/

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Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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ENLIGHTENED BY CHRIST OUR LIGHT
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ 1 SM 16:1, 6-7, 10-13; EPH 5:8-14; JN 9:1-41]

Many are seeking the wrong things in life.  We seek fulfillment of our physical needs.  We seek pleasure, thinking it is happiness.  We mistake lust for love; physical relationship for personal relationship.  This is because many of us are blind.  Like Samuel in today’s first reading, we judge from appearances. But the Lord said to Samuel, “God does not see as man sees; man looks at appearances but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Why are we blind?  This was the question posed by the disciples to Jesus.  “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, for him to have been born blind?”  Implied in this question is that physical suffering is due to one’s sins or the sins of our parents.  This was the common view held by the Jews.  They regarded illness and misfortunes as punishment for personal sins or the sins of their ancestors. There is certainly some relationship with regard to the principle of cause and effect.  However, this does not mean that every physical suffering or mishap is caused by sin, as if it is a punishment from God.

Hence, the response of Jesus was “‘neither he nor his parents sinned,’ Jesus answered, ‘he was born blind so that the works of God might be displayed in him.’”  Suffering, which is part and parcel of being human is permitted by God in order to help us perfect ourselves in holiness by growing in virtues and uniting ourselves to the sufferings of Christ our Redeemer, who, although innocent, bore in Himself the punishments our sins merited.  This explains why even our Lady and St. Joseph and all the Saints experienced intense suffering, thereby sharing in the redemptive suffering of Christ.

Consequently, more than just physical blindness, what is at stake in spiritual blindness?  The greatest tragedy is not being physically blind but to live in darkness.  Today’s gospel shows how the blind man came to confess Jesus as the messenger, prophet and Son of God; whereas the Pharisees persisted in not wanting to see or believe, despite the clear evidence before them. Although physically able to see, they were truly blind because they simply could not accept that Jesus could have healed the blind man.

Their spiritual blindness was due to their legalistic mindset.  As in previous occasions when Jesus healed the sick on the Sabbath, such as the paralyzed man beside the pool, he was perceived to have broken the Law.  The conclusion was that because Jesus did not keep the Sabbath, He could not be a man of God and His miracles were therefore not from God.  So, although the miracle was obvious to everyone, yet the Pharisees were so stubborn that they did not wish to see the significance of the event; not even after questioning the man himself and his parents.  The sin of the Pharisees was not in not seeing God in Christ, but in not letting Jesus, who is the light, open their eyes.

Such deliberate blindness is even more tragic.  Today, we continue to have people who refuse to recognize goodness and truth even when they see them. There are many self-righteous people who are so comfortable in their status quo that they do not want to change.  They insist on living in darkness.  Worst of all, many are so proud of themselves that they refuse to recognize the existence of God, less still to acknowledge Christ as the Light.   Thus, it is necessary that we turn to Jesus as the Light of the World.  The work of Jesus is to reveal to us the truth about life and about His Father.  He is the Light of the world because His life among men has given us the ultimate meaning of the world, of the purpose and goal of life.  He gave light to the eyes of the blind man by enlightening his soul, leading him to make an act of faith in His divinity.

Acceptance of Jesus as the Light is rectified through the Sacrament of baptism.  Indeed, the miracle in today’s gospel is seen by the Fathers of the Church as symbolizing the Sacrament of Baptism in which, through the medium of water, the soul is cleansed and receives the light of faith.  This is further reiterated by St. Paul who depicted baptism as true enlightenment.  In baptism, a person who was dead, that is separated from God by sin, moves out of darkness into the light.

Consequently, the liturgy invites all of us today, catechumens and those who are already baptized, to renew our act of faith in ChristWhat does this entail? Firstly, faith calls for obedience.  The healing of the blind man is reminiscent of the healing of Naaman. Unlike Naaman who reluctantly obeyed, the blind man obeyed promptly without asking questions or raising any objections.  Although physically blind, the blind man acted upon the order of Christ.   So faith requires that we take the words of Jesus seriously.  Without the obedience of faith, no change can take place.  Indeed, if many of us have yet to discover Christ as the Light of our lives, it is because we have not yet given ourselves to the gospel.  We must believe in His words!

Hence, faith is to believe. For John, believing is seeing.  Only when we believe, can we then see.  St Augustine defines theology as faith seeking further understanding.  Unless we believe, we cannot understand, since understanding of the deeper truth requires that we first surrender.  It is especially true in the case of love and relationship. Just by studying and observing people in love cannot help us to understand love unless we begin to love ourselves.  Thus, the question of Jesus to the blind man, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” is the climax and the central meaning of today’s gospel.  For John, sin is not so much doubting, but not believing in Jesus as the one who has been sent to reveal God’s goodness.

When we believe, we begin to understand more.  This is the process of coming to maturity in faith.  Such a journey of faith is typical of the journey of every man.  Conversion to Christ is a process. The blind man exemplifies this journey into faith.  It is significant that it was not the man who found Jesus but Jesus who found him!  Conversion for the blind man began the moment he obeyed Jesus’ command.  Conversion begins when Jesus seeks us out and we make ourselves available to His touch. He then opens our eyes to the truth, but we do not immediately understand.  As the gospel shows, the faith of the man himself deepened gradually. He first thought of Jesus as just a man, and then concluded that Jesus must be a prophet, and finally ended by acknowledging His divinity.

The corollary to accepting Jesus as the Son of God is living in the light.  There can be no dichotomy between faith and life, belief and morality.  Indeed, St. Paul exhorts us not to live in “darkness” as before our conversion. The proper course for a believer, for someone enlightened by faith, is to live differently.  The Christian is in a different position from that of a pagan.  As believers, we know Jesus and are therefore enlightened in the truth. The gospel must govern our behaviour and lifestyle.  Having been reborn in Christ, we are called to be the “light of the world” by living a life that is good and right and true.

By so doing, we become a witness to Christ, our Light.  By our new way of being and thinking and acting, we become a living example of what it means to live an enlightened life.  For this is what baptism is really all about – being enlightened in Christ and living an enlightened life.  By our word and example, we can throw light on all human realities, and thereby enlighten the world in distinguishing right from wrong.

Indeed, we must share in the same urgency that Jesus felt in His ministry.  He said, “As long as the day lasts, I must carry out the work of the one who sent me; the night will soon be here when no one can work.” As long as it is day, we must do the work of Him who sent us.  Night is coming, when no one can work.  This is the other aspect of baptism.  Incidentally, there is a play on the word “Siloam” which means to be sent.  Having been washed by the waters of baptism and enlightened by Christ, we are then sent to share in the work of God, which is the work of liberation and of healing and of compassion and of forgiveness. It is the work of love-filled living and giving – the work of bringing salvation.

And the reality is that we have plenty of work to do.  Today, people who live in worlds of blame and bitterness surround us. Everywhere there is so much that blinds people and prevent them from living in the freedom of love and truth that God had meant for us.  We must proclaim loudly by our lives and deeds that all this blindness, this blame, this bitterness, this bondage can be overcome by surrendering in faith to Christ.   Instead of assigning blame to our parents and the environment, all we need to do is to follow the master’s instructions and do all that we can to allow the work of God to be made manifest in and through us.

Finally, although being a witness to Christ would entail rejection by the world, just as the blind man was thrown out of the synagogue, we can take consolation that Jesus would seek us out to minister to us, just as He did for the blind man.  Through our sufferings in witnessing, like the blind man, we will see Jesus even more clearly.  For being loved by Jesus, we will begin to know and see who Jesus really is.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” — Prayer and Meditation for Saturday, March 25, 2017

March 24, 2017

Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord
Lectionary: 545

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Annunciation By Filippo Lippi 1449–59

Reading 1 IS 7:10-14; 8:10

The LORD spoke to Ahaz, saying:
Ask for a sign from the LORD, your God;
let it be deep as the nether world, or high as the sky!
But Ahaz answered,
“I will not ask! I will not tempt the LORD!”
Then Isaiah said:
Listen, O house of David!
Is it not enough for you to weary people,
must you also weary my God?
Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign:
the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son,
and shall name him Emmanuel,
which means “God is with us!”

Responsorial PsalmPS 40:7-8A, 8B-9, 10, 11

R. (8a and 9a) Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will.
Sacrifice or oblation you wished not,
but ears open to obedience you gave me.
Holocausts or sin-offerings you sought not;
then said I, “Behold I come.”
R. Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will.
“In the written scroll it is prescribed for me,
To do your will, O my God, is my delight,
and your law is within my heart!”
R. Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will.
I announced your justice in the vast assembly;
I did not restrain my lips, as you, O LORD, know.
R. Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will.
Your justice I kept not hid within my heart;
your faithfulness and your salvation I have spoken of;
I have made no secret of your kindness and your truth
in the vast assembly.
R. Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will.

Reading 2 HEB 10:4-10

Brothers and sisters:
It is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats
take away sins.
For this reason, when Christ came into the world, he said:

“Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,
but a body you prepared for me;
in holocausts and sin offerings you took no delight.
Then I said, ‘As is written of me in the scroll,
behold, I come to do your will, O God.'”

First he says, “Sacrifices and offerings,
holocausts and sin offerings,
you neither desired nor delighted in.”
These are offered according to the law.
Then he says, “Behold, I come to do your will.”
He takes away the first to establish the second.
By this “will,” we have been consecrated
through the offering of the Body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Verse Before The Gospel JN 1:14B

The Word of God became flesh and made his dwelling among us;
and we saw his glory.

Gospel LK 1:26-38

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.

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Annunciation, By Fra Angelico, 1438
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Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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THE PERFECT SACRIFICE OF LOVE
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ IS 7:10-14,8-10; PS 39:7-11; HEB 10:4-10; LK 1:26-38]

The Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord each year falls between the Lenten and Easter season.  At first thought, it might seem to be rather inappropriate to celebrate this solemnity within the Lenten season.  Yet this feast that we are celebrating is so intimately linked with the passion, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.  This is because both the feasts of the Annunciation and that of the passion and death of the Lord celebrate the sacrificial offering of God.

Indeed, the feast of the Annunciation celebrates that moment when the second person of the Trinity who was eternally with the Father before the creation of the world took human flesh in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.   The moment Mary consented to God’s will, God the Son became man in Jesus Christ.  For Jesus, it was an act of self-emptying.  As the letter of St Paul to the Philippians says, Christ Jesus, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.”  (Phil 2:6-8)   Indeed, Jesus offered Himself as the perfect sacrifice, for twice, He emptied Himself; first, of His divinity, and then of His humanity on the cross by His death.  By so doing, Jesus fulfilled the will of His Father, for His “will was for us to be made holy by the offering of his body made once and for all by Jesus Christ.”

But not only are we celebrating the perfect sacrifice of Christ, we are also celebrating the perfect sacrifice of the love of the Father.  For the Father to give Himself in His Son, it was also an act of perfect self-emptying.  The Father did not reserve the Son to Himself but gave Him up for us all.  St Paul wrote, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him?”  (Rom 8:32)  Such was the generosity of God.  Again, St John wrote, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  (Jn 3:16)  Together with Jesus, the Father sacrificed Himself for the love of humanity.  In both instances, it was an act of self-emptying.

The scripture readings of today make it clear that the perfect sacrifice is to offer oneself to God.  The letter of Hebrews says,  “Bulls’ blood and goats’ blood are useless for taking away sins, and that is what Christ said, on coming into the world: You wanted no sacrifice or obligation, prepared a body for me. You took no pleasure in holocausts or sacrifices for sin; then you said, just as I was commanded in the scroll of the book, ‘God here I am! I am coming to obey your will.’”  God does not need all our external sacrifices.  The psalmist says, “You do not ask for sacrifice and offerings, but an open ear.  You do not ask for holocaust and victim. Instead, here am I.”  All other sacrifices we offer are but an expression of the giving of oneself, but they are just a giving of a small part of what we have.  Few of us could be like the widow who gave all she had to the Temple treasury.

So what we are called to imitate in today’s celebration is the total giving of God the Father in Christ Jesus.  Mary for us is that perfect exemplar of what it means to give oneself totally to God in faith and trust.  The sacrifice of God is matched by the sacrifice of Mary.  God wants to give Himself completely to humanity by assuming our human flesh.  But He needs our cooperation.  Mary was asked to cooperate with God to bring forth the savior. In spite of all her fears, anxieties and lack of clarity on her future, she said “yes” to God without hesitation.  “I am the handmaid of the Lord, let what you have said be done to me.” By so doing, she was giving up her body and soul to God in obedience to His divine will.

Doing God’s will is more than just saying a single “yes”. This first answer required Mary to confirm to God’s will at every moment of her life.  This is true of every vocation, whether it is marriage, priesthood or a commitment we make to someone, like assuming an office.  Saying ‘yes’ is not so difficult but living out the ‘yes’ at every moment of the day and of the year is very daunting and challenging.  To say that we offer ourselves to our spouse or to the Church or to society is much easier said than done.  It calls for a total and daily dying to self.  Saying ‘yes’ is a lifelong commitment.  Jesus reminds us, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Mt 16:24f)  And that was what Mary did from the moment of the annunciation.  She gave herself each moment to the developments that followed, from the time of Joseph’s discovery of her pregnancy to the birth of Jesus, in His public ministry when He was misunderstood, till His death on the cross at Calvary.  At every moment, Mary said, “Thy will be done.”

Today, we are called to do likewise and follow Mary in giving ourselves to the Lord by doing His holy will.  The author of Hebrews reiterates this truth.  “You did not want what the Law lays down as the things to be offered, that is: the sacrifices, the oblations, the holocausts and the sacrifices for sin, and you took no pleasure in them; and then he says: Here I am! I am coming to obey your will.”  This means that we must be ready to say ‘yes’ to God in whatever we do.  We must not be like King Ahaz who insisted to do things his way in spite of the warning of the prophet Isaiah.  In his fear and anxiety that his kingdom would fall to the combined forces of Israel and Syria, he made an alliance with Assyria.  Even though he was offered a sign to confirm that it would not be so, he refused out of arrogance.  Hence, the Lord said, “Listen now, House of David: are you not satisfied with trying the patience with men without trying the patience of my God, too? The Lord himself, therefore, will give you a sign. It is this: the maiden is with child and will soon give birth to a son whom she will call Immanuel, a name which means ‘God-is-with-us’.”

Doing His will is of course impossible without faith.  We all face many challenges in life each day.  I am sure we are often at our wits end, trying to resolve our financial woes, the incorrigible ways of our loved ones at home, the politics in the office, the scandals that we see in our organization, etc.  That is why we need faith in order to do the will of God.  Mary shows us what faith in God is all about.  It was this faith that gave her the confidence to believe in the impossible.  The angel assured her, “”The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow. And so the child will be holy and will be called Son of God. Know this too: your kinswoman Elizabeth has, in her old age, herself conceived a son, and she whom people call barren is now in her sixth month, for nothing is impossible to God.”  Faith means to allow God’s grace to work on us in our lives.

As we celebrate the solemnity of the Annunciation, let us contemplate on their obedience to God’s will and the offering of themselves to the service of God and the plan of God’s salvation. We can do this most effectively by contemplating on the lives of Mary and Jesus as both are so intertwined.  There are two well-tested devotions in the Church that have inspired lives and moved hearts to be in union with the Lord and with Mary.  Firstly, we have the devotion to the Stations of the Cross.  This is a powerful devotion, for as we contemplate on His love for us on the cross, our hearts will be moved to love Him and to love our fellowmen, especially our enemies, as He did.  The other devotion of course is the Holy Rosary.  St John Paul II even wrote an apostolic letter encouraging us to contemplate on Christ and our Blessed mother by praying the rosary.  To make the contemplation of Christ’s sacrifice and that of Mary complete, He wisely added in the Luminous Mysteries.  Only by contemplating on the face of our Lord and the life of Mary, could we find strength also to offer ourselves completely to the Lord, doing His will at every moment in our lives.  So, together with Jesus and Mary especially during this season of Lent, let us renew our commitment to the Heavenly Father. “In the scroll of the book it stands written that I should do your will. My God, I delight in your law in the depth of my heart.”

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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Lectio Divina from the Carmelites
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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, 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, liberate an all-powerful force; I realise 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, the most beautiful thing imaginable that could happen to a person who believes in and loves God, 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 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” (Dt 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!” (Judges 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 furthest 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 favour

“Lord, if I enjoy favour 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 favour 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, scrutinising 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 realised, 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)…

A TIME OF PRAYER: PSALM 138

Ref. 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 of eternity.

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 Saviour. Amen.

http://ocarm.org/en/content/lectio/lectio-divina-annunciation-lord

Prayer and Meditation for Friday, March 24, 2017 — “Forgive all iniquity, receive what is good, render offering.” — “Heart, mind, soul and strength.” — “In you the orphan finds compassion.”

March 23, 2017

Friday of the Third Week of Lent
Lectionary: 241

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Getting closer to the Kingdom of Heaven?

Reading 1 HOS 14:2-10

Thus says the LORD:
Return, O Israel, to the LORD, your God;
you have collapsed through your guilt.
Take with you words,
and return to the LORD;
Say to him, “Forgive all iniquity,
and receive what is good, that we may render
as offerings the bullocks from our stalls.
Assyria will not save us,
nor shall we have horses to mount;
We shall say no more, ‘Our god,’
to the work of our hands;
for in you the orphan finds compassion.”

I will heal their defection, says the LORD,
I will love them freely;
for my wrath is turned away from them.
I will be like the dew for Israel:
he shall blossom like the lily;
He shall strike root like the Lebanon cedar,
and put forth his shoots.
His splendor shall be like the olive tree
and his fragrance like the Lebanon cedar.
Again they shall dwell in his shade
and raise grain;
They shall blossom like the vine,
and his fame shall be like the wine of Lebanon.

Ephraim! What more has he to do with idols?
I have humbled him, but I will prosper him.
“I am like a verdant cypress tree”–
Because of me you bear fruit!

Let him who is wise understand these things;
let him who is prudent know them.
Straight are the paths of the LORD,
in them the just walk,
but sinners stumble in them.

Responsorial Psalm PS 81:6C-8A, 8BC-9, 10-11AB, 14 AND 17

R. (see 11 and 9a) I am the Lord your God: hear my voice.
An unfamiliar speech I hear:
“I relieved his shoulder of the burden;
his hands were freed from the basket.
In distress you called, and I rescued you.”
R. I am the Lord your God: hear my voice.
“Unseen, I answered you in thunder;
I tested you at the waters of Meribah.
Hear, my people, and I will admonish you;
O Israel, will you not hear me?”
R. I am the Lord your God: hear my voice.
“There shall be no strange god among you
nor shall you worship any alien god.
I, the LORD, am your God
who led you forth from the land of Egypt.”
R. I am the Lord your God: hear my voice.
“If only my people would hear me,
and Israel walk in my ways,
I would feed them with the best of wheat,
and with honey from the rock I would fill them.”
R. I am the Lord your God: hear my voice.

Verse Before The Gospel  MT 4:17

Repent, says the Lord;
the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.

Gospel  MK 12:28-34

One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him,
“Which is the first of all the commandments?”
Jesus replied, “The first is this:
Hear, O Israel!
The Lord our God is Lord alone!
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind,
and with all your strength.

The second is this:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no other commandment greater than these.”
The scribe said to him, “Well said, teacher.
You are right in saying,
He is One and there is no other than he.
And to love him with all your heart,
with all your understanding,
with all your strength,
and to love your neighbor as yourself
is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
And when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding,
he said to him,
“You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”
And no one dared to ask him any more questions.

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Oliver Twist (Mark Lester) to Mr. Bumble (Harry Secombe): "Please sir, I want some more." -- from Oliver! (1968) directed by Carol Reed

 “In you the orphan finds compassion.”
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First Thought From Peace and Freedom
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God woke us up this morning with the thought: “Who measures human greatness?”
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Maybe to God, only the real saintly people merit a place called “human greatness.”
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The people that are pleasing to God are often selfless, compassionate, humble people working for others in daily service that is almost always overlooked when the spots leagues announce their nominations for the “Hall of Fame.”
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There is no Hall of fame here on earth for the selfless, compassionate, humble people working for others in daily service.
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Their reward is in heaven.
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The Gospel today closes with, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”
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That’s a good meditation topic every month or so. If we acknowledge that we may not be far from death, and we recall that only God can determine our lifetime’s successes and failures, we might change course and play by His rules — obey his commandments and return to our selfless, compassionate, humble, working for others in daily service selves that God always wants us to be.
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We can only find God after we start to live by His rules, seek his comfort, and serve Him. And that’s also how we find the human being God wants us to be.
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Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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THE RECIPE FOR HAPPINESS

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ HOSEA 14:2-10; PS 80:6,8-11,14,17; MARK 12:28-34]

What is the cause of our misery in life?  How is it that your happiness is so elusive?  Can one be truly happy in this life?  Happiness is ours only if we know where to find it.  Because of the lack of wisdom and understanding, we seek happiness at the wrong places.  The Lord says, “Let the wise man understand these words.  Let the intelligent man grasp their meaning. For the ways of the Lord are straight, and virtuous men walk in them, but sinners stumble.”

In the first place, we tend to seek happiness in our sins.  “The Lord says this:  Israel, come back to the Lord your God; your iniquity was the cause of your downfall.”  The world is demanding absolute freedom by promoting individuality, relativism and pragmatism.  If we look at our woes, they all come from our sins, of greed that leads to cheating and dishonesty; lust that leads to infidelity and family breakup; pride that leads to ambition, slander, selfishness and enmity; envy that leads to hatred; anger that leads to revenge, resentment, hatred and even killing;  sloth that leads to irresponsibility, causing others to suffer; gluttony that leads to ill-health.

Secondly, it is because we worship false gods.  We rely on ourselves and our ingenuity.  Like the Israelites, we rely on our military, technological might and power instead of on God. The truth, as Israel learnt is this:  “Assyria cannot save us, we will not ride horses any more, or say, ‘Our god!’ to what our own hands have made, for you are the one in whom orphans find compassion.”  We think power and strength can resolve all our problems.  The sad reality is that our leaders no longer have the foresight to consider the long term consequences and implications of what they do.  It is always from hindsight that we learn, albeit too late.  A case in point is population control.  Now, many countries are suffering the consequences of policies which were thought to be the solution to poverty.  Not only are they facing depopulation now, but also the lack of resources and manpower to look after the growing number of elderly.  Then, we promoted contraceptives and divorce and as a result, the institution of the family, the bedrock of society, is weakening.  Now, we want to promote same-sex union, etc.  Most of our policies are knee jerk reactions to the immediate needs, but we lack the wisdom to see ahead for our future generations.  We are keener to find solutions just for ourselves without thinking of the next generation. That is why policy makers have tremendous responsibility to ensure that what they do is not just good for today but also for tomorrow.

So what must we do to find real happiness?   We must turn back to the Lord.  “Provide yourself with words and come back to the Lord.  Say to him, ‘Take all iniquity away so that we may have happiness again and offer you our words of praise.’”  This is the first step.  Like the Israelites, let us humbly admit that we have not found happiness following the ways of the world.  The psalmist invites us to take heed of the warning of the Lord.  “I am the Lord your God: listen to my warning.  Let there be no foreign god among you, no worship of an alien god.  I am the Lord your God, who brought you from the land of Egypt.  O that my people would heed me, that Israel would walk in my ways!  But Israel I would feed with finest wheat and fill them with honey from the rock.”

The key to real happiness in life is simple and straight forward. The principles never change, and that was why Jesus cited from the Book of Deuteronomy, chapter 6:5  and Leviticus chapter 19:18; bringing together the commandments of love of God and neigbour.  When asked what the first of all the commandments was, Jesus replied, “This is the first: Listen, Israel, the Lord our God is the one Lord, and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: You must love your neighbour as yourself. There is no commandment great than these.”   They are called the greatest commandments because they hold the fundamental keys to real happiness in life, but they are not to be understood as rules to follow blindly or slavishly.

The commandment to love God is truly the foundation for everything in life.  So important is this commandment that the Jews would recite this Shema twice a day. “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”  (Dt 6:6-9)

Only when we love God with our whole being, can we truly become one with God in loving, thinking and doing.  This is what it means to love God with all our heart, mind and our strength.  When there is love, there is always a union of heart and mind as well.  Love enables us to understand a person intimately, to feel with the person.  Lovers and friends share intimacy simply because they are of one heart and mind.  When we are deeply in love, we will always give ourselves completely to the person.  So too, we are called to love God deeply so that God becomes the center, the foundation, the focus of our lives.  When we direct all our energy to God, then our lives will become like His.

The second commandment flows from the first.  If we truly love God, then we will also love our neighbours and have the strength to love them even when they do not love us.  Those who seek to love their neighbours without God’s love will fall into the temptation of humanism, where such love is rooted in human sentiment and compassion.  It is one of pity, guilt and also the desire for recognition and appreciation.  This is the pagan love that Jesus spoke about in the the scriptures.  But altruistic love is given simply because we see in them the face of God and the face of Christ.  We love them as much as we love God because they are loved by God.  The motivation is always rooted in our love for God.  We see everyone as Jesus sees them.  We love them because Jesus loves.  Indeed, when we love our friends, we also love their friends as well.  Their loved ones become ours, since our hearts sync with that of our friends.

But how is it possible for us to practise these commandments? We cannot love God with all our heart, mind and strength unless we are first loved by God.  This is what the Lord is saying through the prophet Hosea.  He assures us of His forgiveness, compassion and love. “I will heal their disloyalty; I will love them with all my heart, for my anger has turned from them.”  Most of all, the Lord guarantees fecundity for those who draw strength, wisdom and love from Him.  “I will fall like dew on Israel.  He shall bloom like the lily, and thrust out roots like the poplar, his shoots will spread far; He will have the beauty of the olive and the fragrance of Lebanon.  They will come back to live in my shade; they will grow corn that flourishes, they will cultivate vines as renowned as the wine of Helbon.  What has Ephraim to do with idols any more when it is I who hear his prayer and care for him?  I am like a cypress ever green, all your fruitfulness comes from me.”

So before we can even love God, let us come back to Him, be healed of our brokenness through the forgiveness of sins.  Then let us allow God to come to our lives as we spend time in prayer, worship, meditation and silent adoration before the Blessed Sacrament.  We need to bask ourselves in His love for renewal.  If we truly want to regain our focus in life, take time off to do a retreat, either a personal retreat or a guided retreat.  If Jesus needs time off to pray, what about us?  He too comes to His Father for renewal of His mission.  Like us, He needs consolation, inspiration and the love of His Father.   Be loved by the Lord!

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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LAST YEAR:
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Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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02 JUNE 2016, Thursday, 9th Week in Ordinary Time
STANDING UP FOR JESUS

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ 2 Timothy 2:8-15; Ps 24:4-5,8-10,14; Mark 12:28-34  ]

In our secular world today, it is increasingly difficult to stand up for Jesus and our faith.  We can expect opposition from without and even from within.  The bishop is not spared when he seeks to defend the Church’s position on the moral values of the gospel.  He is attacked not just by secularists but also by Catholics for not subscribing to the current trends of the world.  So, too, is our laity.  Many of us fear to evangelize our faith, much less to stand up for our beliefs as individuals or as members of Catholic organizations.   We are cowed into silence for fear of being criticized, labelled as conservative, out of touch or have our reputation destroyed.   Most of us try to speak in politically correct language so that no one can disagree with us.  The irony is that today we have a silent majority which holds traditional values and a vocal minority that seeks to impose their values on the majority of the peoples.

St Paul reminds us that only “If we hold firm, then we shall reign with him.  If we disown him, then he will disown us.”  Indeed, we are obliged as disciples of the Lord to be firm in what we believe.  By denying our beliefs, we end up disowning ourselves because we lose our identity, focus and meaning in life.  We are what we are because of our beliefs and values.   By not standing up to our faith, we will lose everything that we stand for and the future generations especially will suffer the loss of truth and values.

How do we stand firm in our faith?  How can we find the courage to defend our faith?  St Paul is our example of someone who would stand by his faith in Christ, through thick and thin, even unto death.  Indeed, we read in the first reading that he was in chains when he wrote to Timothy, “Remember the Good news that I carry, ‘Jesus Christ risen from the dead, sprung from the race of David; it is on account of this that I have my own hardships to bear, even to being chained like a criminal.”   How inspiring are his words and conviction when he said, “But they cannot chain up God’s news!”  Regardless of his limitations, he refused to allow time and situations to imprison the Good News of Jesus Christ that he has been called to share.  We too must also find new ways to proclaim the gospel.

Where did his strength to share the Good News come from?  Principally, it was because of his personal encounter with the Risen Lord at Damascus.  Indeed, it was this Good News of encountering the Risen Lord that he was ready to do anything for the Lord, including being chained up as a criminal.  Without a personal encounter with the Risen Lord, we would not be able to be as passionate as St Paul was.  So the fundamental pre-requisite for witnessing presumes that we have witnessed to the resurrection of our Lord.  If we have not yet encountered the power of the Risen Lord in our lives, then it would be very difficult to witness to Him.  Evangelization is the transmission and sharing of a person, not some ideology or doctrines.

Secondly, arising from this experience, St Paul felt the personal love of Jesus for him in allowing him to encounter Him.  When he thought of what the Lord had done for him, he could not but be filled with gratitude.  He wrote, “For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you.  For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.” (2 Cor 5:13-15)   Indeed, when we truly reflect on His passion and death for us on the cross, then we too will come to appreciate His love and sacrifices for us.  Only when we know His love for us, will we be ready to die for Him because we die for those who love us.

What was more was that the Lord not only revealed Himself to the undeserving Saul but chose him to be his apostles.  He wrote “You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism. I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it. But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles.“ (Gal 1:13,15,16)  Likewise, are we grateful that we have been given the gift of faith and the ministry?  Precisely, it is because we take our faith for granted and our ministry and vocation as if it is a career we chose on our own, that we lack gratitude for God’s blessings.  Instead of seeing it as a great privilege, we view it as a duty and a chore!

Indeed, this is a command of our Lord, that we love our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind and with all our strength; and to love our neighbour as ourselves.  Such a command appears to be unreasonable and even impossible, humanly speaking.  But this is not the case because it presupposes that we, like the Israelites, have encountered the power and mercy of the Living God.  We need to have our own Exodus Experience which, for us Christians, is the passion, death and resurrection of our Lord.  Without first experiencing the power of His resurrection and the love and mercy from His passion, it would not be Good News for us but simply a message, inspiring as it is, but not something we could relate to.

So what are the pre-requisites if we were to stand up for Jesus?  Firstly, we must cultivate the right attitudes of faith flowing from His love and mercy.  St Paul strived to be as generous as the Lord was to him.  He expressed his grateful love by extending the Good News he had been given to others.  In other words, he obeyed the commandment of the Lord to love his neighbours by sharing with them the Good News.  He wrote, “So I bear it all for the sake of those who are chosen, so that in the end they may have the salvation that is in Christ Jesus and the eternal glory that comes with it.”

Secondly, we must cling on to God’s fidelity to us.  St Paul assures us in our struggles that He will be with us, “If we have died with him, then we shall live with him.  If we hold firm, then we shall reign with him.  If we disown him, then he will disown us. We may be unfaithful, but he is always faithful, for he cannot disown his own self.”  In our times of trial, we might feel like giving up.  But thinking of how the Lord was faithful to the end, should give us strength and courage.  The letter to the Hebrews said that Jesus, “who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” (Heb 12:2b-4)  The psalmist affirms His faithfulness when he prayed, “His ways are faithfulness and love for those who keep his covenant and law. The Lord’s friendship is for those who revere him; to them he reveals his covenant.”

Thirdly, we must not compromise when it comes to the truth to be spoken and proclaimed. St Paul said, “Remind them of this; and tell them in the name of God that there is to be no wrangling about words: all that this ever achieves is the destruction of those who are listening.” We should not engage in useless arguments or try to twist the Word of God to suit us, like the Devil who tempted Jesus.   Rather, we need to be true to the Word of God and the Good News we have received.  Let us not contaminate the purity of our faith.

Fourthly, we need to constantly find strength and direction from the Lord in a world of relativism, with so many voices clamoring to be heard.   We need to be discerning and watchful of the current trends and values that are being promoted in the world and unconsciously adopted by our fellow Catholics because they are in the world.  More often than not, we subscribe to the values of the world simply because we are influenced by the mass media, movies and their secular friends.  That is why like the psalmist, we need to turn to the Lord for direction with the help of the authoritative teachers of the faith.  He prayed, “Lord, make me know your ways. Lord, teach me your paths. Make me walk in your truth, and teach me: for you are God my saviour.  In you I hope all day long. The Lord is good and upright. He shows the path to those who stray. He guides the humble in the right path. He teaches his way to the poor.”

Finally, let us persevere by keeping our conscience pure and focused on our Lord.  St Paul urges us, “Do all you can to present yourself in front of God as a man who has come through his trials, and a man who has no cause to be ashamed of his life’s work and has kept a straight course with the message of the truth.”  Indeed, in the final analysis, we must keep our focus on Christ alone.  Jesus warns us, “Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; 33 but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.” (Mt 10:32f)   Let us keep our eyes on the Good News, that is, the passion, death and resurrection of our Lord so that we keep remembering His love for us and how through His resurrection, hatred is overcome by love and death by new life.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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“The Kingdom of God Is Within You”

By David Treybig

Responding to a question from the Pharisees about when the Kingdom of God would come, Jesus said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:20-21). The first part of Jesus’ answer has been fairly easy to understand. Misunderstanding regarding the latter part however, has given many an incomplete picture of the Kingdom.

When Jesus came to earth, the Jews were looking for the Messiah to come and elevate the Jewish nation to prominence. Instead of hearing a message of repentance, they anticipated a Deliverer who would lead them in a successful liberation of their nation. And some of the religious authorities apparently believed that they—because of their careful investigation—would be the ones to first discover the promised Savior’s coming.

In the above-noted passage, Jesus told the Pharisees that their thinking was mistaken. Jesus’ first coming was to preach “the gospel of the kingdom of God” (Mark 1:14-15) and pay the penalty for mankind’s sins. Later, He would “appear a second time … for salvation” (Hebrews 9:28) and the establishment of the Kingdom of God here on earth.

How Jesus said the Kingdom of God would come

When Jesus returns, there will indeed be dramatic signs that all will be able to discern (Matthew 24:5-14, 21-27; Revelation 1:7). But in saying, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’” (Luke 17:20-21), Jesus was explaining to the Pharisees of that generation that, in spite of their meticulous efforts, their mistaken understanding would not allow them to identify the Messiah’s first coming.

Furthermore, they would not see the astonishing signs of His second coming—the signs for which they were looking. As Jesus noted, His second coming would be in another “day” (verse 24)—a time period long after the Pharisees to whom He was speaking had lived and died.

After telling the Pharisees that they wouldn’t be able to observe the coming of the Kingdom of God in the way they had anticipated, He said, “For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you” (verse 21).

In this passage, entos (the Greek word that is translated “within”) can also be translated “in the midst of” (Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words). The New American Standard Bible, the New International Version, the Modern King James Version and Green’s Literal Translation translate this phrase “in your midst.” In this sense, Jesus, the King of the coming Kingdom of God, was standing in the midst of the Pharisees. These translations are clearly better, for the Kingdom of God was not in the hearts of these Pharisees.

Living by the laws of the Kingdom

So what about the concept of the Kingdom of God being in our hearts? The Scriptures show that this subject should be on our minds. After all, we are supposed to pray for the Kingdom to come (Matthew 6:10) and Jesus told us to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (verse 33).

When we repent of our sins, are baptized and begin following the lead of the Holy Spirit, we voluntarily place ourselves under the laws and authority of the coming Kingdom of God.

Describing this process, Paul, who was being held prisoner in Rome at the time, explained, “He [God, the Father] has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love” (Colossians 1:13). So there is a sense of us being symbolically “conveyed,” “translated” (King James Version) or “transferred” (English Standard Version) into the Kingdom when we commit our lives to God and begin living as He instructs.

Our primary allegiance is transferred from all kingdoms of this world to God’s Kingdom. We are then subject to different laws (God’s laws) and belong to a different community (the Church of God).

The Holy Spirit helps us obey God’s laws. This spirit “of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7) gives us the ability to live by God’s laws even though we are still human with human weaknesses. Those who are led by the Spirit of God are called the “sons of God” (Romans 8:14). This same spirit empowers the Church to fulfill its commission. In this sense, we have the opportunity to taste or experience “the powers of the age to come” (Hebrews 6:4-5).

How we can enter the Kingdom of God

Even though the Bible speaks of our “citizenship” as being in heaven after we are baptized (Philippians 3:20), in order to enter the Kingdom of God, humans must be changed from flesh and blood into spirit, from mortal into immortal, at Jesus’ second coming (1 Corinthians 15:50-53; Hebrews 9:28). When the Kingdom of God comes to earth, it will rule over all the “kingdoms of this world” (Revelation 11:15).

Unfortunately, in reading Jesus’ statement that “the kingdom of God is within you,” many have mistakenly limited the Kingdom of God to a philosophical perspective or a way of thinking. In reality, the coming Kingdom of God is far more than what is in the hearts and minds of Jesus’ followers. In fact, it is the Kingdom that God’s faithful elect will enter at Christ’s return and that will be established here on earth.

http://lifehopeandtruth.com/prophecy/kingdom-of-god/the-kingdom-of-god-is-within-you/

Prayer and Meditation for Wednesday, March 22, 2017 — The Letter of The Law and The Kingdom of Heaven (With Art)

March 22, 2017

Wednesday of the Third Week of Lent
Lectionary: 239

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Thomas Aquinas by Fra Bartolommeo

Reading 1 DT 4:1, 5-9

Moses spoke to the people and said:
“Now, Israel, hear the statutes and decrees
which I am teaching you to observe,
that you may live, and may enter in and take possession of the land
which the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you.
Therefore, I teach you the statutes and decrees
as the LORD, my God, has commanded me,
that you may observe them in the land you are entering to occupy.
Observe them carefully,
for thus will you give evidence
of your wisdom and intelligence to the nations,
who will hear of all these statutes and say,
‘This great nation is truly a wise and intelligent people.’
For what great nation is there
that has gods so close to it as the LORD, our God, is to us
whenever we call upon him?
Or what great nation has statutes and decrees
that are as just as this whole law
which I am setting before you today?

“However, take care and be earnestly on your guard
not to forget the things which your own eyes have seen,
nor let them slip from your memory as long as you live,
but teach them to your children and to your children’s children.”

Responsorial Psalm PS 147:12-13, 15-16, 19-20

R. (12a) Praise the Lord, Jerusalem.
Glorify the LORD, O Jerusalem;
praise your God, O Zion.
For he has strengthened the bars of your gates;
he has blessed your children within you.
R. Praise the Lord, Jerusalem.
He sends forth his command to the earth;
swiftly runs his word!
He spreads snow like wool;
frost he strews like ashes.
R. Praise the Lord, Jerusalem.
He has proclaimed his word to Jacob,
his statutes and his ordinances to Israel.
He has not done thus for any other nation;
his ordinances he has not made known to them.
R. Praise the Lord, Jerusalem.

Verse Before The Gospel SEE JN 6:63C, 68C

Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life;
you have the words of everlasting life.

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Gospel MT 5:17-19

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.
I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.
Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away,
not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter

will pass from the law,
until all things have taken place.
Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these
commandments and teaches others to do so
will be called least in the Kingdom of heaven.
But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments
will be called greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.”
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Commentary on Matthew 5:17-19 From Living Space

In Matthew’s gospel especially, Jesus is shown as not being a maverick breakaway from the traditions of the Jews. He was not a heretic or a blasphemer. He was the last in the great line of prophets sent by God to his people. “Last of all God sent his Son.” And so, in today’s passage, he strongly emphasises that it is not his intention to abrogate the Jewish law but rather to develop and complete it. In the verses that immediately follow today’s passage Jesus gives six very clear examples of what he means. He quotes a number of moral situations contained in the Law and shows how he expects his followers not only to observe them but to go much further in understanding their underlying meaning.

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The Law is not to be downgraded in any way; rather it is to be transcended to a higher level. Up to the time of Jesus, and this is clearly exemplified in the Pharisees and Scribes as they appear in the gospels, perfect observance of the Law focused on external observance. Jesus will show that true observance must also be in the heart and mind.

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Christians, too, can become obsessed with external observance of Church laws and regulations. It can become a source of scrupulosity and fear. This can happen during the Lenten season when we are encouraged to do ‘penitential acts’. We need to remember that these acts do not stand on their own and only have meaning if they deepen our relationship with God. In all things, our ultimate guide must be the law of love. No truly loving act can ever be sinful, although at times it may violate the letter of a law.

Source http://livingspace.sacredspace.ie/l1034g/

Related:

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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ENTRANCE TEST TO ENTER THE PROMISED LAND

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ Dt 4:1,5-9; Ps 147:12-13,15-16,19-20; MT 5:17-19]

In the early Church, today’s mass was recommended for the Catechumens’ First Scrutiny before entering the Catholic Faith.  It was a necessary test before they could be accepted for baptism.  This first test concerns obedience to the laws.  Unless the Catechumens were ready to embrace the laws of God as taught in the scripture and especially by Christ, they could not be admitted into the faith. The litmus test that they must ratify is their desire to observe the commandments so that they might have life.

This was the same test that God gave to the people through Moses.  God was fully aware that once they entered the Promised Land, they would be surrounded by pagan neighbours. They would begin to mix with the original inhabitants.  Some inculturation would take place even in the area of worship of God.  They would be tempted by the Canaanites’ fertility gods and thereby forsake the God of the Exodus once they settled into a sedentary and agricultural life.   Furthermore, the Promised Land was a fertile land, a land filled with honey.  As they grew rich, they would be tempted to fall away from God, as most people do when they become rich and successful.  Success will get into their heads, and they will become arrogant and independent from God. In the light of the impending challenges, the Lord also warned them of the test before them; Moses said, “And now, Israel, take notice of the laws and customs that I teach you today, and observe them, that you may have life and may enter and take possession of the land that the Lord the God of your fathers is giving you. See, as the Lord my God has commanded me, I teach you the laws and customs that you are to observe in the land you are to enter and make your own.”

Since Moses used the word, “today” it also means that his instruction is still valid for us all.  Unless we observe the commandments of God, we will not have the fullness of life.  This was what Jesus said as well,  “Therefore, the man who infringes even one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be considered the least in the kingdom of heaven; but the man who keeps them and teaches them will be considered great in the kingdom of heaven.”   To enter into the Promised Land at Easter, we must return to the Laws of God, observe them so that we might have life.

But what is it that hinders us from being obedient to the laws of God?  Simply, it is because we have separated the laws from the person of God.  When the laws are separated from God Himself, the laws become an existence unto its own, alienated from life.  The laws become harsh, cold and burdensome.  This was what happened in the history of religions.  The laws were meant to help Israel live a harmonious and happy life.  But they either forsook the laws or became self-righteous, like the Pharisees and the scribes during the time of Jesus.  When laws are detached from God Himself, they become simply a set of rules, just like the laws in the civil courts or any organization.  In other words, the spirit of the laws is lost.

Now, the point is that the Spirit of the laws is identified with God.  He is the lawgiver.  The laws are not distinct from God Himself because He is the law.  His word is identical to Himself.  God expressed Himself therefore in Christ Jesus who is the Incarnated Word.  In Christ, God speaks completely and fully, not just in the words but in the being, life, conduct and actions of Jesus.  Thus, we say that Jesus is the Word of God.  By extension, we also say that the bible is the Word of God.  We have reverence for the Bible simply because it is God who is revered through the scriptures.  The laws of God are His wisdom and His fatherly advice to all His children, just like the words of our parents.  They are meant for our good and not to make our lives miserable.   They are meant to guide us to live fully.

Truly, the laws of God are the expression of His wisdom and concern for us.  “Keep them, observe them, and they will demonstrate to the peoples your wisdom and understanding. When they come to know of all these laws they will exclaim, ‘No other people is as wise and prudent as this great nation.’”  Just as parents, elders and statesmen pass on their knowledge and wisdom to their children through the sharing of their lives, their biography and the truths that they learnt, not just through study but through life itself, so too the laws of God are meant to be wisdom for His people so that they would not make the mistakes that others had before them. 

Indeed, God comes close to us when we observe His laws. This was what Moses said. “And indeed, what great nation is there that has its gods so near as the Lord our God is to us whenever we call to him? And what great nation is there that has laws and customs to match this whole Law that I put before you today?”  Through the laws, God comes into our lives as He guides us through them.  The psalmist rejoiced, “He sends out his word to the earth and swiftly runs his command.  He showers down snow white as wool, he scatters hoar-frost like ashes.  He makes his word known to Jacob, to Israel his laws and decrees.  He has not dealt thus with other nations; he has not taught them his decrees.”  To give us His laws is to give us Himself in person.

The test of the truth of the wisdom of His laws is in observing them.  Moses told the people. “Israel, take notice of the laws and customs that I teach you today, and observe them, that you may have life and may enter and take possession of the land that the Lord the God of your fathers is giving you.”  When we are obedient to the laws of God, there will be justice, charity and harmony among all peoples.  The Decalogue is given as the basic principles of life that everyone must observe at its minimum.  Beyond these Ten Commandments, the rest are elaboration for specific circumstances.  Of course, Jesus gave us His principles of life Himself, not in terms of prohibitions but in a positive and proactive manner, as in the Beatitudes, the Sermon on the Mount, and the call to love one another as He has loved us.

 

Thus, the key to observing the laws of God joyfully and not slavishly is when we are conscious that observing the laws of God is to love Him and to love our neighbours and ourselves.  Only those who know God and His love will learn to trust Him even when they do not understand the laws and its implication as this point of time.  It is like children obeying their parents.  When they are young, before they reach the age of understanding and reasoning, they simply obey their parents because they believe that their parents know best.  They even observe those rules that they do not understand, because they know that these are meant for their well-being.  Furthermore, observing the rules is the way they demonstrate their love for their parents, since these rules are in many ways an expression of their parents’ wisdom and conviction in life.

So if we want to find strength to observe the laws, we must rediscover the love of God.  His love must come first before the laws.  Indeed, these laws were given to the Israelites only after they had encountered the power of the Lord, His mercy and love in the Exodus.  For this reason, Moses gave an adjunction to the laws, “But take care what you do and be on your guard. Do not forget the things your eyes have seen, nor let them slip from your heart all the days of your life; rather, tell them to your children and your children’s children.”   In other words, cut off from the love of God as demonstrated at the Exodus, observing the laws do not make sense and become a burden.  No longer are they observed purely out of love for God who identifies Himself with the laws.

Jesus is for us the exemplar of what it means to observe the laws.  He stated categorically in no uncertain terms, “Do not imagine that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish but to complete them. I tell you solemnly, till heaven and earth disappear, not one dot, not one little stroke, shall disappear from the Law until its purpose is achieved.”  We must not think that Jesus was a lawless person.  Although He broke some of the religious laws and customs, it was done to recover the spirit of the laws, not the letter of the laws.  Jesus came to perfect the observance of the laws by linking obedience with love.   Without love, obedience is a burden. When laws are carried out with love for the person and not the laws themselves, we become more humane and more compassionate.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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James Tissot, Woe unto You, Scribes and Pharisees, Brooklyn Museum
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Reflection on Matthew 5:17-19

Do you remember the old Star Trek television series? It captured the imagination of an entire generation when it first came out. The crew of the starship USS Enterprise endeavored on a five–year mission—“to boldly go where no man has gone before.” “Go beyond!” That was the mission of the starship Enterprise and its crew. And each episode recounted their experiences as they boldly went forth.

Perhaps you’ve wished to live a Sci–Fi life. Work, school, church, and even your marriage and kids are a bit monotonous. There’s part of you that would like to embark on a Star Trek–like adventure. Yet, you realize this is fictitious. (It is fictitious, right?) Closer to our galaxy, have you ever longed to go beyond the natural realm? Do you aspire to live a supernatural life above your present circumstances? If so, the Bible has a definitive word for you. In Matthew 5:17–20, Jesus urges you and me to boldly go where we have never gone before. In these four verses, Jesus helps us understand how the commands of the Old Testament apply to our lives.1 In short, Jesus says, “We must go above and beyond.”

1. Fulfill the Law through Jesus (5:17–18). In this first section, we are called to recognize that Jesus has fulfilled the Old Testament. In 5:17, Jesus begins by saying, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets [the Old Testament2]; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.” This verse is one of the most important verses in the Bible. For here Jesus explains one of the reasons that He came to earth—He came to fulfill the entire Old Testament.3 Jesus’ first words are: “Do not think.”4Being the world’s greatest teacher, Jesus liked to clear up possible misunderstandings. Jesus is responding to the erroneous view that He came to “abolish” the Old Testament. Obviously, this is utter nonsense! The Old Testament was the Bible of the early church and it remains the only way that we can properly interpret the New Testament. Instead of abolishing the Old Testament, Jesus says, “I came” or “I have come”5 to point to His mission to fulfill the Old Testament.6 God’s Word was essential to the personal mission of Jesus’ life. Is this true for you as well? What role does God’s Word play in your goals, perspectives, and convictions? Do you run your life through the grid of the Scriptures?

Jesus states that He did not come to “abolish” the Old Testament. “Abolish” (kataluo) is a very strong word. In its other three usages in Matthew, the verb is used of demolishing a temple.7Jesus says, “I didn’t come to demolish the Old Testament”; instead, I came to “fulfill” it.8 The question is, “What did Jesus mean by the word fulfill?” This is one of the most debated questions in the New Testament. Yet, three points flesh out Jesus’ meaning.9

Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah. The word “fulfill” (pleroo) occurs numerous times in Matthew, and it normally means “to bring to its intended meaning.”10 “Fulfill” does not mean “to bring to an end.” Rather, it means, “to fill out, expand, or complete.”11 Concerning the Old Testament, we could say that Jesus “filled it up” or “filled it full” with meaning.12 Whether we study the furnishings of the temple, probe the messianic passages in the Psalms, or delve into the details of Isaiah 53, we see Jesus Christ. Just as the fetus is fulfilled in the adult human, so Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Testament.13 We could go so far as to say that the primary purpose of the Old Testament is to point to Christ.14 Therefore, Jesus does not contradict the Old Testament; He’s the culmination of it. The entire Old Testament points to Jesus and will be fulfilled in Him, down to the smallest detail.15

My wife, Lori, is an amazing artist. She will often pencil sketch various people and animals and then allow our children to color them in. Similarly, the Old Testament is the pencil sketch and Jesus is the portrait.16 When we color in the lines of the Old Testament, we can clearly and beautifully see Jesus. Have you sought to color in the pencil sketch of the Old Testament? Have you seen your Savior as you have read the Old Testament?

Jesus’ death fulfilled the Old Testament Law.17 The Law prescribed a system of sacrifices to deal with sin. For 1500 years, day after day, week after week, and especially year after year, the people brought their sacrifices. These offerings signified that sin brings punishment and only death and blood could release someone from that punishment. Those thousands of dead animals pointed forward to a sacrifice. That’s why John the Baptizer exclaimed, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).18 Through Jesus’ sinless life and sacrificial death, the penalty for sin has been paid. Christ provided a way of salvation that meets all Old Testament requirements and demands (Rom 3:21, 31).19When you believe in Christ as your Savior, you have fulfilled the Law and will not suffer the eternal consequences of breaking the Law. If you have never placed your faith in Christ’s death for your sins, please do so right now. The price has been paid; all you have to do is receive the provision God has made.

Jesus’ teaching fulfilled the Old Testament Law. In Deuteronomy 18:15–20, Moses prophesied that God would speak anew through a prophet like himself. The teaching of Jesus fleshes out and reveals the full depth of meaning in the Old Testament.20 Jesus was the final Interpreter of and Authority over the Law and its meaning, as other passages in Matthew indicate. Jesus restated some of the Old Testament Laws (19:18–19), but some He modified (5:31–32). Some He intensified (5:21–22, 27–28), and others He changed significantly (5:33–37, 38–42, 43–47). Some Laws He abrogated entirely (Mark 7:15–19). Jesus was not advocating the continuation of the traditional Jewish approach of adherence to the Law. Nor was He advocating that the Law be dismissed altogether. He was proclaiming that the meaning of the Law must be interpreted in light of His coming and in light of the profound changes introduced by His teaching.21

At this juncture, perhaps you are nodding your head and uttering hearty amen’s. “Yes, that’s right brother, we are not under law but under grace!” Now before you get too excited, you must recognize that although we are not under the Old Testament Law that doesn’t mean we are not under any law. I think about the young man who was tired of his parents’ rules about curfews, grooming, and chores around the house. He said, “I can’t wait until I’m old enough to get out of here so that I can join the Marines.” Poor guy! He was about to trade one set of rules for a different and, in many ways, stricter set of rules.22 In Matt 5:21–48, we will see that Jesus fills up and intensifies the meaning of many of the Old Testament Laws.

Jesus life, death, and teaching completely fulfilled the Old Testament Law. Consequently, every aspect of the Old Testament must be seen, interpreted, and lived out in the light of Jesus Christ.23 Think of a powerful searchlight scanning over the night sky. The way this light works is that a relatively small source of light is passed through a great lens, which magnifies it into a powerful radiance that spreads over the sky. Now, think of a laser beam. Here, the energy source is concentrated; its power source is transformed into a light of razor–sharp intensity. In Christ, the Law becomes both a searchlight and a laser. When the Law passes through the person and work of Christ, it is both focused and enlarged; its potential to illumine and guide us is both amplified and intensified.24 In light of this, we must go above and beyond.

In 5:18, Jesus explains the duration of the Law when He declares, “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not25 the smallest letter or stroke26 shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”27 The phrase, “For truly I say to you” or “I tell you the truth”28 is an authoritative statement backed up by all that Jesus is.29When we want to emphasize a statement we often say, “Now mark my words.” Jesus said that when it comes to the Bible, we can mark not only the words as true, but also every letter and even the smallest portions of letters. In other words, the Bible is binding, authoritative, and dependable. One implication of this is that to reject the Bible is to reject Jesus and accuse Him of being a liar! Many people who want to claim Jesus don’t want to accept the Bible as His Word. But Jesus ruled out that option when He tied His life and ministry to the fulfillment of Scripture.30

In 5:18, Jesus gives two lessons on the longevity and reliability of the Old Testament: one in astronomy and the other in penmanship.31 First, Jesus deals in astronomy. In this context “heaven” is describing the universe that God created. “Until heaven and earth pass away” is a vivid way of saying as long as this world lasts.32 The clause “until heaven and earth pass away” is qualified by the further clause “until all is accomplished.” Whatever was prophesied about in the Old Testament was temporary and would be fulfilled by Jesus Christ and His future kingdom.33

After gazing at the universe through a telescope, Christ examines the Law’s penmanship with a microscope.34Jesus argues that “not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” This statement by Christ provides us with one of the strongest affirmations in the Bible of the inerrancy of Scripture. Since Jesus is referring to the Old Testament, it is likely that in this penmanship lesson He is reflecting on the Hebrew language. The “smallest letter” of the Hebrew alphabet is the letter yodh.35 It is about the size of an apostrophe. The “stroke” refers to a serif, a minute distinguishing mark at the end of a Hebrew letter. In English, this would be akin to the tiny stroke that distinguishes a capital O and a capital Q. Jesus is saying that every dot or comma in the Bible is inspired by God. Furthermore, Christ’s lesson about letters is His emphatic way of saying that the Law and all its teachings will continue. What Jesus does and teaches complies with the Old Testament; but more, He completes the Old Testament.36 Those who have believed in Christ have through Him met all the requirements of the Law.37 Therefore, if we want to live a supernatural life, we must go above and beyond. This can only occur when we depend on the perfect righteousness of Christ.

[The Law was fulfilled in Jesus. Now we are exhorted to practically experience this fulfillment in our own individual lives.]

2. Follow the commandments of Jesus (5:19–20). Jesus moves from talking about the Law and the Prophets to talking about the kingdom. The way that we can live an “above and beyond life” is by believing in Christ and then seeking to obey Him. In 5:19, Jesus says, “Whoever then38annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he [or she] shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”39 There are several observations that are worth noting in this verse. First, the word “whoever” is a general all–encompassing term that applies to every disciple.40 This means that you and I must grapple with this verse. Second, Jesus’ use of the phrase “these commandments” does not refer to the Old Testament commandments (5:17–18). Rather, this is referring to the commandments found in the Sermon on the Mount.41 Jesus has already mentioned a few (5:13–14), and in 5:21–48, He gives six examples of how His commands “fulfill” the Law.42 (We will look at these commandments as we progress in our series.) Third, Jesus distinguishes between disciples in His eternal kingdom.43 The kingdom of heaven is not going to be a classless society. Some people will be greater than others. Some will be called “great,” and others will be called “least.”44 This means that some individuals will have a higher standing than others. Everyone will not be equal.45 But please notice that disobedient disciples are still in the kingdom of heaven. Even those who break Jesus’ commandments and teach others to do the same have the free gift of eternal life that cannot be lost. This is dependent, however, upon placing one’s faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation. Fourth, heavenly distinctions are determined by our view of the Scriptures. Our attitude toward the Scriptures brings smallness or greatness, honor or disgrace. We have two equations here: Disobedience + Deception = Dishonor and Obedience + Instruction = Honor. Specifically, how well you obey and teach the Scriptures determines your reward in the kingdom.46Finally, Jesus is the one who calls His disciples “great” or “least.”47Part of the reward of faithfulness is one’s eventual reputation. Our reputation, our name, what we’re “called” will be a part of our eternal reward. Jesus Himself will be the one who specifies that certain persons in the kingdom are great—and that is part of the point. You and I should live in such a way that God will regard us as great subjects of His kingdom. We must live above and beyond.

So let me ask you: What value do you place on God’s Word? How much of a “stickler” are you in your obedience to the Word? Greatness in Christ’s kingdom depends on maintaining a high view of Scripture. Your view of Scripture is the single greatest predictor of your spiritual health. If you love God’s Word and are applying it in your life, you are likely to be sound in every other area of your life. John Wesley (1703–1791), the founder of Methodism, said, “I am a Bible–bigot. I follow it in all things, both great and small.”48 Like Wesley, are you a Bible–bigot or are you a cafeteria Christian—picking and choosing what entrees appeal to you? I challenge you today to become an even greater man or woman of the Word. Here are some ideas to consider as you pursue this goal.49

  • Throw away your “Read through the Bible in a Year” programs. Before you label me a heretic, please recognize the need for baby steps. Many Christians bite off more than they can chew and end up feeling like failures. As a result, they give up on Bible reading because it doesn’t seem to work for their schedules. But who says you need to read the Bible through in a year? Since it took 1600 years to write, what’s the big hurry? Why not take two years to read the Bible instead of one? Why not spend four months on the Psalms and three months on Proverbs? Today, spend a bit of time in God’s Word. Shoot for five minutes, six days a week. Honestly, that is better than reading thirty minutes on one day of the week. Just take baby steps and see if your appetite grows. The Psalmist declares that God’s Word is “sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb” (Ps 19:10). Sure sounds better than a plateful of broccoli, doesn’t it?
  • Read the Bible in an understandable version. The New American Standard Bible Update that I preach from is designed for those with a twelfth-grade reading level. Admittedly, it is blocky, choppy, and at times awkwardly translated. However, when it comes to studying and preaching the Word, accuracy trumps readability. But when you are reading the Bible, it may be helpful to choose a version that isn’t so difficult to read. I would recommend the New Living Translation, New International Version, Contemporary English Version, and Today’s English Version. These Bibles are designed for those who have a reading level of approximately seventh-grade. They are fluid and easy to follow. If you have used a more literal version, these other versions can be a welcomed breath of fresh air that will bring the familiar Scriptures to life once again.
  • Read the Bible observantly. Perhaps you like detective and crime shows like I do. If so, when you read the Bible, look for clues that will help you see Jesus anew and afresh. Strive to grasp details that most people would not detect. When you read a passage, ask yourself “who, what, when, where, why, and how” questions. This will bring a new level of excitement to your Bible reading. Don’t just read a chapter a day to keep the devil away; read to discover. I have found that the best Bible students I know are the ones that ask the best questions. Take your time and simply pour over the Scriptures like a detective searching out clues and looking for evidence.
  • Learn to interpret the Bible correctly. There are several fundamental rules to apply in Bible study. (1) Pay careful attention to the context. (2) Look up key words. (3) Compare the passage you are studying with other Scriptures. (4) Consult scholars and other Bible students. Use commentaries and learn from other men and women in the church. Test your interpretations out on other believers to be sure that you’re not on the verge of starting your own cult of one.
  • Make application the goal of your Bible study. You would never think about eating without chewing. Reading the Bible without applying is like eating without chewing. We must always ask this question: How does the biblical truth that I have studied impact my life? Remember, the goal of Bible study is not just to inform, but to transform. These five suggestions will help you progress in your love for God’s Word. My prayer for you is that in your Bible study you go above and beyond.

Jesus concludes this passage in 5:20 with the key to the Sermon on the Mount: “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses50 that of the scribes and Pharisees,51 you will not52 enter the kingdom of heaven.” Stop and feel the weight of these words. This statement is a shocker! During Jesus’ ministry on earth, the scribes and Pharisees were considered to be the most holy and righteous people on earth.53 They were clergy, the professional do-gooders. So Jesus’ declaration is like saying, “Unless you are a greater philanthropist than Mother Theresa and a greater evangelist than Billy Graham and a greater social reformer than Martin Luther King and a greater prophet than Muhammad and more peaceable than Gandhi and wiser than Confucius and more holy than the Pope, you’re not getting into heaven, period.” Whew! What do you do with that?

We must recognize that the scribes and Pharisees prayed, fasted, tithed, and lived according to the rules. They were pretty good at obeying the external requirements of God’s Law, but they didn’t meet the punch line of the Sermon on the Mount.54 That comes in 5:48: “Therefore, you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” This takes the statement of 5:20 to its logical conclusion. God requires perfection—not relative perfection, where the standard is other people. The standard is God Himself—the kind of moral perfection that God Himself exhibits. This demand for perfection includes our internal thoughts, motives, and attitudes. This is where the scribes and Pharisees failed. They thought that religious performance made them acceptable to God. Yet, Jesus says that when we stand before God, we’ve got to do better than that. Jesus is not talking about beating the scribes and Pharisees at their own game, but about a different type of righteousness altogether.55 Entering into the kingdom has nothing to do with keeping the rules like the scribes and Pharisees.56 It has to do with Jesus Christ fulfilling the rules for you. No person apart from Christ can produce the righteousness that God commands. In kind, it is His kind; in degree, it is what mathematicians would call “the nth degree.” It is beyond calculation! Without God’s kind of righteousness, no one will enter the kingdom of heaven.57 We are sinners in need of a perfect Savior.

Read the rest:

https://bible.org/seriespage/3-above-and-beyond-matthew-517-20

Prayer and Meditation for Thursday, March 23, 2017 — “This is the nation that does not listen.” — “Walk in all the ways that I command you, so that you may prosper.”

March 22, 2017

Thursday of the Third Week of Lent
Lectionary: 240

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Christ Healing, by Rembrandt, 1649

Reading 1 JER 7:23-28

Thus says the LORD:
This is what I commanded my people:
Listen to my voice;
then I will be your God and you shall be my people.
Walk in all the ways that I command you,
so that you may prosper.

But they obeyed not, nor did they pay heed.
They walked in the hardness of their evil hearts
and turned their backs, not their faces, to me.
From the day that your fathers left the land of Egypt even to this day,
I have sent you untiringly all my servants the prophets.
Yet they have not obeyed me nor paid heed;
they have stiffened their necks and done worse than their fathers.
When you speak all these words to them,
they will not listen to you either;
when you call to them, they will not answer you.
Say to them:
This is the nation that does not listen
to the voice of the LORD, its God,
or take correction.
Faithfulness has disappeared;
the word itself is banished from their speech.

Responsorial Psalm PS 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9

R. (8) If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
Come, let us sing joyfully to the LORD;
let us acclaim the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us joyfully sing psalms to him.
R. If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
Come, let us bow down in worship;
let us kneel before the LORD who made us.
For he is our God,
and we are the people he shepherds, the flock he guides.
R. If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
Oh, that today you would hear his voice:
“Harden not your hearts as at Meribah,
as in the day of Massah in the desert,
Where your fathers tempted me;
they tested me though they had seen my works.”
R. If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.

Verse Before The Gospel JL 2:12-13

Even now, says the LORD,
return to me with your whole heart,
for I am gracious and merciful.

Gospel LK 11:14-23

Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute,
and when the demon had gone out,
the mute man spoke and the crowds were amazed.
Some of them said, “By the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons,
he drives out demons.”
Others, to test him, asked him for a sign from heaven.
But he knew their thoughts and said to them,
“Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste
and house will fall against house.
And if Satan is divided against himself,
how will his kingdom stand?
For you say that it is by Beelzebul that I drive out demons.
If I, then, drive out demons by Beelzebul,
by whom do your own people drive them out?
Therefore they will be your judges.
But if it is by the finger of God that I drive out demons,
then the Kingdom of God has come upon you.
When a strong man fully armed guards his palace,
his possessions are safe.
But when one stronger than he attacks and overcomes him,
he takes away the armor on which he relied
and distributes the spoils.
Whoever is not with me is against me,
and whoever does not gather with me scatters.”

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Sinners, the Bible and Jesus

It’s common to hear Christians saying things like “We’re all sinners who need God’s grace,” and “Whoever is without sin, let them cast the first stone.” Cliché-ish though they may be, they carry a great deal of truth. Any honest person recognizes her faults, carries her regrets, and wishes she might improve. It’s a good thing God is kind because we’re pretty much a mess. But if it’s good theology to recognize that we all are sinners, that assumption can also lead to misunderstanding when it comes to reading the Bible.

Many biblical authors recognize the universality of sin. In Romans 3:10-18, Paul rattles off a series of indictments against sinful humanity: no one is righteous; no one truly seeks God; all have turned aside; people use their tongues to deceive and to curse; people do not know the way of peace or the fear of God. Paul’s account represents no uniquely Christian insight; the Apostle is simple quoting a variety of passages from the Jewish Scriptures. Almost all of them come from the Psalms.

But if the Psalms acknowledge humankind’s universal sinful condition, they also discriminate between the righteous and the wicked. Psalm 1 begins by blessing those who do not take the path of sinners: the wicked cannot withstand the judgment, nor can they assemble among the righteous. God watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction. Psalm 34 celebrates how God rescues the righteous from their troubles, while evil brings death to the wicked. And Psalm 37 instructs its reader to heed the example of blameless and righteous persons.

Some Christians might be tempted to object. “Well, the Old Testament may divide the world between the righteous and the wicked, but the New Testament is a book of grace. In the New Testament we’re all sinners who stand in need of God’s grace.” That objection simply fails. For one thing, the Jewish Scriptures testify to God’s grace just as fully as do the New Testament writings. When God reveals the divine nature to Moses, God’s voice proclaims, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6, NRSV). The passage does go on to name God’s judgment against the guilty, a sentiment no less consistent in the New Testament than in the Jewish Scriptures. The biblical God, whether “Old” or “New” Testament, is a God of grace.

The New Testament itself discriminates between righteous people and sinners. When the anonymous woman comes to anoint Jesus in Luke 7:36-50, the storyteller leaves no question as to whether she’s a sinner: “a woman in the city, who was a sinner…” (NRSV). Thinking to himself, Jesus’ host surmises that if Jesus were a prophet, he would recognize her status as a sinner. And Jesus himself says aloud that her sins are “many.” The story singles out the woman as a sinner, leaving open the assumption that others in her world must be righteous.

Jesus himself acknowledges the distinction between righteous people and sinners, claiming that he comes to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance (Matthew 9:13; Mark 2:17; Luke 5:32). His parable of the sheep and the goats divides judgment according to the righteous and the, well, goats (Matthew 25:31-46), while his parable of the lost sheep reemphasizes the distinction between sinners who repent and those who do not need repentance (Matthew 18:12-14; Luke 15:3-7).

Hence, many parts of the Bible do distinguish righteous persons from wicked ones. We may ignore that distinction. Or we may rationalize it: “Oh, we’re all sinners, but Jesus makes us righteous before God.” Both choices will prevent us from understanding passages like the ones we’ve just reviewed.

Simply, in the biblical world some people were considered righteous and others wicked. We may even assume that some people regarded themselves as righteous, while others accepted their own status as sinners. We lack clear evidence, biblical or otherwise, as to what defined the two categories. Most scholars think, as I do, that the distinction boiled down to whether people basically tried to live according to Israel’s covenant with God. People who flagrantly disregarded the Law were sinners; others could stand among the righteous.

But there’s a hitch. Without clear criteria — and what clear criteria could there have been? — the distinction between sinners and the righteous amounted to a social verdict. Modern anthropologists would interpret this distinction in terms of labeling and deviance: labeling has to do with the values societies assign to individuals, and deviance involves how societies determine who counts among the unworthy. In other words, categories like “righteous” and “sinner” reflect social values that are subject to change from one period to another and from one culture to another.

Why does it matter? Jesus’ opponents routinely criticized Jesus for cavorting with “tax collectors and sinners” (Matthew 9:11; Mark 2:16; Luke 5:30). In turn, Jesus’ followers celebrated this reputation. They remembered that such people freely chose to follow Jesus (Matthew 9:10; Mark 2:15; Luke 15:1-2). They recalled how Jesus envisioned the tax collectors and prostitutes preceding the righteous in God’s new reign (Matthew 21:31-32).

The acknowledgement of tax collectors and prostitutes reveals something about sinners in Jesus’ day — and our own. Many people live in desperate circumstances. We may deplore their lifestyles, but we should also consider how they came to pass. No one in Jesus’ day grew up thinking, “I hope I’ll be a tax collector when I grow up” any more than young girls daydream about a life of prostitution today. Yet there they are: people corrupted by exploitative economics and people abused for others’ pleasure. Both “sinners” in society’s vision; both companions of Jesus in early Christian memory.

If you’d like to read more about the question of sinners and Jesus’ ministry among them, please read my book, ‘Sinners: Jesus and His Earliest Followers.’

Prayer and Meditation for Wednesday, March 22, 2017 — The Letter of The Law and The Kingdom of Heaven

March 21, 2017

See also:

Wednesday of the Third Week of Lent
Lectionary: 239

Reading 1 DT 4:1, 5-9

Moses spoke to the people and said:
“Now, Israel, hear the statutes and decrees
which I am teaching you to observe,
that you may live, and may enter in and take possession of the land
which the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you.
Therefore, I teach you the statutes and decrees
as the LORD, my God, has commanded me,
that you may observe them in the land you are entering to occupy.
Observe them carefully,
for thus will you give evidence
of your wisdom and intelligence to the nations,
who will hear of all these statutes and say,
‘This great nation is truly a wise and intelligent people.’
For what great nation is there
that has gods so close to it as the LORD, our God, is to us
whenever we call upon him?
Or what great nation has statutes and decrees
that are as just as this whole law
which I am setting before you today?

“However, take care and be earnestly on your guard
not to forget the things which your own eyes have seen,
nor let them slip from your memory as long as you live,
but teach them to your children and to your children’s children.”

Responsorial Psalm PS 147:12-13, 15-16, 19-20

R. (12a) Praise the Lord, Jerusalem.
Glorify the LORD, O Jerusalem;
praise your God, O Zion.
For he has strengthened the bars of your gates;
he has blessed your children within you.
R. Praise the Lord, Jerusalem.
He sends forth his command to the earth;
swiftly runs his word!
He spreads snow like wool;
frost he strews like ashes.
R. Praise the Lord, Jerusalem.
He has proclaimed his word to Jacob,
his statutes and his ordinances to Israel.
He has not done thus for any other nation;
his ordinances he has not made known to them.
R. Praise the Lord, Jerusalem.

Verse Before The Gospel SEE JN 6:63C, 68C

Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life;
you have the words of everlasting life.

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Gospel MT 5:17-19

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.
I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.
Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away,
not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter

will pass from the law,
until all things have taken place.
Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these
commandments and teaches others to do so
will be called least in the Kingdom of heaven.
But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments
will be called greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.”
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Commentary on Matthew 5:17-19 From Living Space

In Matthew’s gospel especially, Jesus is shown as not being a maverick breakaway from the traditions of the Jews. He was not a heretic or a blasphemer. He was the last in the great line of prophets sent by God to his people. “Last of all God sent his Son.” And so, in today’s passage, he strongly emphasises that it is not his intention to abrogate the Jewish law but rather to develop and complete it. In the verses that immediately follow today’s passage Jesus gives six very clear examples of what he means. He quotes a number of moral situations contained in the Law and shows how he expects his followers not only to observe them but to go much further in understanding their underlying meaning.

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The Law is not to be downgraded in any way; rather it is to be transcended to a higher level. Up to the time of Jesus, and this is clearly exemplified in the Pharisees and Scribes as they appear in the gospels, perfect observance of the Law focused on external observance. Jesus will show that true observance must also be in the heart and mind.

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Christians, too, can become obsessed with external observance of Church laws and regulations. It can become a source of scrupulosity and fear. This can happen during the Lenten season when we are encouraged to do ‘penitential acts’. We need to remember that these acts do not stand on their own and only have meaning if they deepen our relationship with God. In all things, our ultimate guide must be the law of love. No truly loving act can ever be sinful, although at times it may violate the letter of a law.

Source http://livingspace.sacredspace.ie/l1034g/

Related:

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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ENTRANCE TEST TO ENTER THE PROMISED LAND

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ Dt 4:1,5-9; Ps 147:12-13,15-16,19-20; MT 5:17-19]

In the early Church, today’s mass was recommended for the Catechumens’ First Scrutiny before entering the Catholic Faith.  It was a necessary test before they could be accepted for baptism.  This first test concerns obedience to the laws.  Unless the Catechumens were ready to embrace the laws of God as taught in the scripture and especially by Christ, they could not be admitted into the faith. The litmus test that they must ratify is their desire to observe the commandments so that they might have life.

This was the same test that God gave to the people through Moses.  God was fully aware that once they entered the Promised Land, they would be surrounded by pagan neighbours. They would begin to mix with the original inhabitants.  Some inculturation would take place even in the area of worship of God.  They would be tempted by the Canaanites’ fertility gods and thereby forsake the God of the Exodus once they settled into a sedentary and agricultural life.   Furthermore, the Promised Land was a fertile land, a land filled with honey.  As they grew rich, they would be tempted to fall away from God, as most people do when they become rich and successful.  Success will get into their heads, and they will become arrogant and independent from God. In the light of the impending challenges, the Lord also warned them of the test before them; Moses said, “And now, Israel, take notice of the laws and customs that I teach you today, and observe them, that you may have life and may enter and take possession of the land that the Lord the God of your fathers is giving you. See, as the Lord my God has commanded me, I teach you the laws and customs that you are to observe in the land you are to enter and make your own.”

Since Moses used the word, “today” it also means that his instruction is still valid for us all.  Unless we observe the commandments of God, we will not have the fullness of life.  This was what Jesus said as well,  “Therefore, the man who infringes even one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be considered the least in the kingdom of heaven; but the man who keeps them and teaches them will be considered great in the kingdom of heaven.”   To enter into the Promised Land at Easter, we must return to the Laws of God, observe them so that we might have life.

But what is it that hinders us from being obedient to the laws of God?  Simply, it is because we have separated the laws from the person of God.  When the laws are separated from God Himself, the laws become an existence unto its own, alienated from life.  The laws become harsh, cold and burdensome.  This was what happened in the history of religions.  The laws were meant to help Israel live a harmonious and happy life.  But they either forsook the laws or became self-righteous, like the Pharisees and the scribes during the time of Jesus.  When laws are detached from God Himself, they become simply a set of rules, just like the laws in the civil courts or any organization.  In other words, the spirit of the laws is lost.

Now, the point is that the Spirit of the laws is identified with God.  He is the lawgiver.  The laws are not distinct from God Himself because He is the law.  His word is identical to Himself.  God expressed Himself therefore in Christ Jesus who is the Incarnated Word.  In Christ, God speaks completely and fully, not just in the words but in the being, life, conduct and actions of Jesus.  Thus, we say that Jesus is the Word of God.  By extension, we also say that the bible is the Word of God.  We have reverence for the Bible simply because it is God who is revered through the scriptures.  The laws of God are His wisdom and His fatherly advice to all His children, just like the words of our parents.  They are meant for our good and not to make our lives miserable.   They are meant to guide us to live fully.

Truly, the laws of God are the expression of His wisdom and concern for us.  “Keep them, observe them, and they will demonstrate to the peoples your wisdom and understanding. When they come to know of all these laws they will exclaim, ‘No other people is as wise and prudent as this great nation.’”  Just as parents, elders and statesmen pass on their knowledge and wisdom to their children through the sharing of their lives, their biography and the truths that they learnt, not just through study but through life itself, so too the laws of God are meant to be wisdom for His people so that they would not make the mistakes that others had before them. 

Indeed, God comes close to us when we observe His laws. This was what Moses said. “And indeed, what great nation is there that has its gods so near as the Lord our God is to us whenever we call to him? And what great nation is there that has laws and customs to match this whole Law that I put before you today?”  Through the laws, God comes into our lives as He guides us through them.  The psalmist rejoiced, “He sends out his word to the earth and swiftly runs his command.  He showers down snow white as wool, he scatters hoar-frost like ashes.  He makes his word known to Jacob, to Israel his laws and decrees.  He has not dealt thus with other nations; he has not taught them his decrees.”  To give us His laws is to give us Himself in person.

The test of the truth of the wisdom of His laws is in observing them.  Moses told the people. “Israel, take notice of the laws and customs that I teach you today, and observe them, that you may have life and may enter and take possession of the land that the Lord the God of your fathers is giving you.”  When we are obedient to the laws of God, there will be justice, charity and harmony among all peoples.  The Decalogue is given as the basic principles of life that everyone must observe at its minimum.  Beyond these Ten Commandments, the rest are elaboration for specific circumstances.  Of course, Jesus gave us His principles of life Himself, not in terms of prohibitions but in a positive and proactive manner, as in the Beatitudes, the Sermon on the Mount, and the call to love one another as He has loved us.

 

Thus, the key to observing the laws of God joyfully and not slavishly is when we are conscious that observing the laws of God is to love Him and to love our neighbours and ourselves.  Only those who know God and His love will learn to trust Him even when they do not understand the laws and its implication as this point of time.  It is like children obeying their parents.  When they are young, before they reach the age of understanding and reasoning, they simply obey their parents because they believe that their parents know best.  They even observe those rules that they do not understand, because they know that these are meant for their well-being.  Furthermore, observing the rules is the way they demonstrate their love for their parents, since these rules are in many ways an expression of their parents’ wisdom and conviction in life.

So if we want to find strength to observe the laws, we must rediscover the love of God.  His love must come first before the laws.  Indeed, these laws were given to the Israelites only after they had encountered the power of the Lord, His mercy and love in the Exodus.  For this reason, Moses gave an adjunction to the laws, “But take care what you do and be on your guard. Do not forget the things your eyes have seen, nor let them slip from your heart all the days of your life; rather, tell them to your children and your children’s children.”   In other words, cut off from the love of God as demonstrated at the Exodus, observing the laws do not make sense and become a burden.  No longer are they observed purely out of love for God who identifies Himself with the laws.

Jesus is for us the exemplar of what it means to observe the laws.  He stated categorically in no uncertain terms, “Do not imagine that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish but to complete them. I tell you solemnly, till heaven and earth disappear, not one dot, not one little stroke, shall disappear from the Law until its purpose is achieved.”  We must not think that Jesus was a lawless person.  Although He broke some of the religious laws and customs, it was done to recover the spirit of the laws, not the letter of the laws.  Jesus came to perfect the observance of the laws by linking obedience with love.   Without love, obedience is a burden. When laws are carried out with love for the person and not the laws themselves, we become more humane and more compassionate.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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James Tissot, Woe unto You, Scribes and Pharisees, Brooklyn Museum
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Reflection on Matthew 5:17-19

Do you remember the old Star Trek television series? It captured the imagination of an entire generation when it first came out. The crew of the starship USS Enterprise endeavored on a five–year mission—“to boldly go where no man has gone before.” “Go beyond!” That was the mission of the starship Enterprise and its crew. And each episode recounted their experiences as they boldly went forth.

Perhaps you’ve wished to live a Sci–Fi life. Work, school, church, and even your marriage and kids are a bit monotonous. There’s part of you that would like to embark on a Star Trek–like adventure. Yet, you realize this is fictitious. (It is fictitious, right?) Closer to our galaxy, have you ever longed to go beyond the natural realm? Do you aspire to live a supernatural life above your present circumstances? If so, the Bible has a definitive word for you. In Matthew 5:17–20, Jesus urges you and me to boldly go where we have never gone before. In these four verses, Jesus helps us understand how the commands of the Old Testament apply to our lives.1 In short, Jesus says, “We must go above and beyond.”

1. Fulfill the Law through Jesus (5:17–18). In this first section, we are called to recognize that Jesus has fulfilled the Old Testament. In 5:17, Jesus begins by saying, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets [the Old Testament2]; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.” This verse is one of the most important verses in the Bible. For here Jesus explains one of the reasons that He came to earth—He came to fulfill the entire Old Testament.3 Jesus’ first words are: “Do not think.”4 Being the world’s greatest teacher, Jesus liked to clear up possible misunderstandings. Jesus is responding to the erroneous view that He came to “abolish” the Old Testament. Obviously, this is utter nonsense! The Old Testament was the Bible of the early church and it remains the only way that we can properly interpret the New Testament. Instead of abolishing the Old Testament, Jesus says, “I came” or “I have come”5 to point to His mission to fulfill the Old Testament.6 God’s Word was essential to the personal mission of Jesus’ life. Is this true for you as well? What role does God’s Word play in your goals, perspectives, and convictions? Do you run your life through the grid of the Scriptures?

Jesus states that He did not come to “abolish” the Old Testament. “Abolish” (kataluo) is a very strong word. In its other three usages in Matthew, the verb is used of demolishing a temple.7Jesus says, “I didn’t come to demolish the Old Testament”; instead, I came to “fulfill” it.8 The question is, “What did Jesus mean by the word fulfill?” This is one of the most debated questions in the New Testament. Yet, three points flesh out Jesus’ meaning.9

Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah. The word “fulfill” (pleroo) occurs numerous times in Matthew, and it normally means “to bring to its intended meaning.”10 “Fulfill” does not mean “to bring to an end.” Rather, it means, “to fill out, expand, or complete.”11 Concerning the Old Testament, we could say that Jesus “filled it up” or “filled it full” with meaning.12 Whether we study the furnishings of the temple, probe the messianic passages in the Psalms, or delve into the details of Isaiah 53, we see Jesus Christ. Just as the fetus is fulfilled in the adult human, so Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Testament.13 We could go so far as to say that the primary purpose of the Old Testament is to point to Christ.14 Therefore, Jesus does not contradict the Old Testament; He’s the culmination of it. The entire Old Testament points to Jesus and will be fulfilled in Him, down to the smallest detail.15

My wife, Lori, is an amazing artist. She will often pencil sketch various people and animals and then allow our children to color them in. Similarly, the Old Testament is the pencil sketch and Jesus is the portrait.16 When we color in the lines of the Old Testament, we can clearly and beautifully see Jesus. Have you sought to color in the pencil sketch of the Old Testament? Have you seen your Savior as you have read the Old Testament?

Jesus’ death fulfilled the Old Testament Law.17 The Law prescribed a system of sacrifices to deal with sin. For 1500 years, day after day, week after week, and especially year after year, the people brought their sacrifices. These offerings signified that sin brings punishment and only death and blood could release someone from that punishment. Those thousands of dead animals pointed forward to a sacrifice. That’s why John the Baptizer exclaimed, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).18 Through Jesus’ sinless life and sacrificial death, the penalty for sin has been paid. Christ provided a way of salvation that meets all Old Testament requirements and demands (Rom 3:21, 31).19 When you believe in Christ as your Savior, you have fulfilled the Law and will not suffer the eternal consequences of breaking the Law. If you have never placed your faith in Christ’s death for your sins, please do so right now. The price has been paid; all you have to do is receive the provision God has made.

Jesus’ teaching fulfilled the Old Testament Law. In Deuteronomy 18:15–20, Moses prophesied that God would speak anew through a prophet like himself. The teaching of Jesus fleshes out and reveals the full depth of meaning in the Old Testament.20 Jesus was the final Interpreter of and Authority over the Law and its meaning, as other passages in Matthew indicate. Jesus restated some of the Old Testament Laws (19:18–19), but some He modified (5:31–32). Some He intensified (5:21–22, 27–28), and others He changed significantly (5:33–37, 38–42, 43–47). Some Laws He abrogated entirely (Mark 7:15–19). Jesus was not advocating the continuation of the traditional Jewish approach of adherence to the Law. Nor was He advocating that the Law be dismissed altogether. He was proclaiming that the meaning of the Law must be interpreted in light of His coming and in light of the profound changes introduced by His teaching.21

At this juncture, perhaps you are nodding your head and uttering hearty amen’s. “Yes, that’s right brother, we are not under law but under grace!” Now before you get too excited, you must recognize that although we are not under the Old Testament Law that doesn’t mean we are not under any law. I think about the young man who was tired of his parents’ rules about curfews, grooming, and chores around the house. He said, “I can’t wait until I’m old enough to get out of here so that I can join the Marines.” Poor guy! He was about to trade one set of rules for a different and, in many ways, stricter set of rules.22 In Matt 5:21–48, we will see that Jesus fills up and intensifies the meaning of many of the Old Testament Laws.

Jesus life, death, and teaching completely fulfilled the Old Testament Law. Consequently, every aspect of the Old Testament must be seen, interpreted, and lived out in the light of Jesus Christ.23 Think of a powerful searchlight scanning over the night sky. The way this light works is that a relatively small source of light is passed through a great lens, which magnifies it into a powerful radiance that spreads over the sky. Now, think of a laser beam. Here, the energy source is concentrated; its power source is transformed into a light of razor–sharp intensity. In Christ, the Law becomes both a searchlight and a laser. When the Law passes through the person and work of Christ, it is both focused and enlarged; its potential to illumine and guide us is both amplified and intensified.24 In light of this, we must go above and beyond.

In 5:18, Jesus explains the duration of the Law when He declares, “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not25 the smallest letter or stroke26 shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”27 The phrase, “For truly I say to you” or “I tell you the truth”28 is an authoritative statement backed up by all that Jesus is.29 When we want to emphasize a statement we often say, “Now mark my words.” Jesus said that when it comes to the Bible, we can mark not only the words as true, but also every letter and even the smallest portions of letters. In other words, the Bible is binding, authoritative, and dependable. One implication of this is that to reject the Bible is to reject Jesus and accuse Him of being a liar! Many people who want to claim Jesus don’t want to accept the Bible as His Word. But Jesus ruled out that option when He tied His life and ministry to the fulfillment of Scripture.30

In 5:18, Jesus gives two lessons on the longevity and reliability of the Old Testament: one in astronomy and the other in penmanship.31 First, Jesus deals in astronomy. In this context “heaven” is describing the universe that God created. “Until heaven and earth pass away” is a vivid way of saying as long as this world lasts.32 The clause “until heaven and earth pass away” is qualified by the further clause “until all is accomplished.” Whatever was prophesied about in the Old Testament was temporary and would be fulfilled by Jesus Christ and His future kingdom.33

After gazing at the universe through a telescope, Christ examines the Law’s penmanship with a microscope.34Jesus argues that “not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” This statement by Christ provides us with one of the strongest affirmations in the Bible of the inerrancy of Scripture. Since Jesus is referring to the Old Testament, it is likely that in this penmanship lesson He is reflecting on the Hebrew language. The “smallest letter” of the Hebrew alphabet is the letter yodh.35 It is about the size of an apostrophe. The “stroke” refers to a serif, a minute distinguishing mark at the end of a Hebrew letter. In English, this would be akin to the tiny stroke that distinguishes a capital O and a capital Q. Jesus is saying that every dot or comma in the Bible is inspired by God. Furthermore, Christ’s lesson about letters is His emphatic way of saying that the Law and all its teachings will continue. What Jesus does and teaches complies with the Old Testament; but more, He completes the Old Testament.36 Those who have believed in Christ have through Him met all the requirements of the Law.37 Therefore, if we want to live a supernatural life, we must go above and beyond. This can only occur when we depend on the perfect righteousness of Christ.

[The Law was fulfilled in Jesus. Now we are exhorted to practically experience this fulfillment in our own individual lives.]

2. Follow the commandments of Jesus (5:19–20). Jesus moves from talking about the Law and the Prophets to talking about the kingdom. The way that we can live an “above and beyond life” is by believing in Christ and then seeking to obey Him. In 5:19, Jesus says, “Whoever then38 annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he [or she] shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”39 There are several observations that are worth noting in this verse. First, the word “whoever” is a general all–encompassing term that applies to every disciple.40 This means that you and I must grapple with this verse. Second, Jesus’ use of the phrase “these commandments” does not refer to the Old Testament commandments (5:17–18). Rather, this is referring to the commandments found in the Sermon on the Mount.41 Jesus has already mentioned a few (5:13–14), and in 5:21–48, He gives six examples of how His commands “fulfill” the Law.42 (We will look at these commandments as we progress in our series.) Third, Jesus distinguishes between disciples in His eternal kingdom.43 The kingdom of heaven is not going to be a classless society. Some people will be greater than others. Some will be called “great,” and others will be called “least.”44 This means that some individuals will have a higher standing than others. Everyone will not be equal.45 But please notice that disobedient disciples are still in the kingdom of heaven. Even those who break Jesus’ commandments and teach others to do the same have the free gift of eternal life that cannot be lost. This is dependent, however, upon placing one’s faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation. Fourth, heavenly distinctions are determined by our view of the Scriptures. Our attitude toward the Scriptures brings smallness or greatness, honor or disgrace. We have two equations here: Disobedience + Deception = Dishonor and Obedience + Instruction = Honor. Specifically, how well you obey and teach the Scriptures determines your reward in the kingdom.46 Finally, Jesus is the one who calls His disciples “great” or “least.”47Part of the reward of faithfulness is one’s eventual reputation. Our reputation, our name, what we’re “called” will be a part of our eternal reward. Jesus Himself will be the one who specifies that certain persons in the kingdom are great—and that is part of the point. You and I should live in such a way that God will regard us as great subjects of His kingdom. We must live above and beyond.

So let me ask you: What value do you place on God’s Word? How much of a “stickler” are you in your obedience to the Word? Greatness in Christ’s kingdom depends on maintaining a high view of Scripture. Your view of Scripture is the single greatest predictor of your spiritual health. If you love God’s Word and are applying it in your life, you are likely to be sound in every other area of your life. John Wesley (1703–1791), the founder of Methodism, said, “I am a Bible–bigot. I follow it in all things, both great and small.”48 Like Wesley, are you a Bible–bigot or are you a cafeteria Christian—picking and choosing what entrees appeal to you? I challenge you today to become an even greater man or woman of the Word. Here are some ideas to consider as you pursue this goal.49

  • Throw away your “Read through the Bible in a Year” programs. Before you label me a heretic, please recognize the need for baby steps. Many Christians bite off more than they can chew and end up feeling like failures. As a result, they give up on Bible reading because it doesn’t seem to work for their schedules. But who says you need to read the Bible through in a year? Since it took 1600 years to write, what’s the big hurry? Why not take two years to read the Bible instead of one? Why not spend four months on the Psalms and three months on Proverbs? Today, spend a bit of time in God’s Word. Shoot for five minutes, six days a week. Honestly, that is better than reading thirty minutes on one day of the week. Just take baby steps and see if your appetite grows. The Psalmist declares that God’s Word is “sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb” (Ps 19:10). Sure sounds better than a plateful of broccoli, doesn’t it?
  • Read the Bible in an understandable version. The New American Standard Bible Update that I preach from is designed for those with a twelfth-grade reading level. Admittedly, it is blocky, choppy, and at times awkwardly translated. However, when it comes to studying and preaching the Word, accuracy trumps readability. But when you are reading the Bible, it may be helpful to choose a version that isn’t so difficult to read. I would recommend the New Living Translation, New International Version, Contemporary English Version, and Today’s English Version. These Bibles are designed for those who have a reading level of approximately seventh-grade. They are fluid and easy to follow. If you have used a more literal version, these other versions can be a welcomed breath of fresh air that will bring the familiar Scriptures to life once again.
  • Read the Bible observantly. Perhaps you like detective and crime shows like I do. If so, when you read the Bible, look for clues that will help you see Jesus anew and afresh. Strive to grasp details that most people would not detect. When you read a passage, ask yourself “who, what, when, where, why, and how” questions. This will bring a new level of excitement to your Bible reading. Don’t just read a chapter a day to keep the devil away; read to discover. I have found that the best Bible students I know are the ones that ask the best questions. Take your time and simply pour over the Scriptures like a detective searching out clues and looking for evidence.
  • Learn to interpret the Bible correctly. There are several fundamental rules to apply in Bible study. (1) Pay careful attention to the context. (2) Look up key words. (3) Compare the passage you are studying with other Scriptures. (4) Consult scholars and other Bible students. Use commentaries and learn from other men and women in the church. Test your interpretations out on other believers to be sure that you’re not on the verge of starting your own cult of one.
  • Make application the goal of your Bible study. You would never think about eating without chewing. Reading the Bible without applying is like eating without chewing. We must always ask this question: How does the biblical truth that I have studied impact my life? Remember, the goal of Bible study is not just to inform, but to transform. These five suggestions will help you progress in your love for God’s Word. My prayer for you is that in your Bible study you go above and beyond.

Jesus concludes this passage in 5:20 with the key to the Sermon on the Mount: “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses50 that of the scribes and Pharisees,51 you will not52 enter the kingdom of heaven.” Stop and feel the weight of these words. This statement is a shocker! During Jesus’ ministry on earth, the scribes and Pharisees were considered to be the most holy and righteous people on earth.53 They were clergy, the professional do-gooders. So Jesus’ declaration is like saying, “Unless you are a greater philanthropist than Mother Theresa and a greater evangelist than Billy Graham and a greater social reformer than Martin Luther King and a greater prophet than Muhammad and more peaceable than Gandhi and wiser than Confucius and more holy than the Pope, you’re not getting into heaven, period.” Whew! What do you do with that?

We must recognize that the scribes and Pharisees prayed, fasted, tithed, and lived according to the rules. They were pretty good at obeying the external requirements of God’s Law, but they didn’t meet the punch line of the Sermon on the Mount.54 That comes in 5:48: “Therefore, you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” This takes the statement of 5:20 to its logical conclusion. God requires perfection—not relative perfection, where the standard is other people. The standard is God Himself—the kind of moral perfection that God Himself exhibits. This demand for perfection includes our internal thoughts, motives, and attitudes. This is where the scribes and Pharisees failed. They thought that religious performance made them acceptable to God. Yet, Jesus says that when we stand before God, we’ve got to do better than that. Jesus is not talking about beating the scribes and Pharisees at their own game, but about a different type of righteousness altogether.55 Entering into the kingdom has nothing to do with keeping the rules like the scribes and Pharisees.56 It has to do with Jesus Christ fulfilling the rules for you. No person apart from Christ can produce the righteousness that God commands. In kind, it is His kind; in degree, it is what mathematicians would call “the nth degree.” It is beyond calculation! Without God’s kind of righteousness, no one will enter the kingdom of heaven.57 We are sinners in need of a perfect Savior.

Read the rest:

https://bible.org/seriespage/3-above-and-beyond-matthew-517-20

Prayer and Meditation for Tuesday, March 21, 2017

March 20, 2017

Tuesday of the Third Week of Lent
Lectionary: 238

Unmerciful Master and Wicked Servant

Reading 1 DN 3:25, 34-43

Azariah stood up in the fire and prayed aloud:

“For your name’s sake, O Lord, do not deliver us up forever,
or make void your covenant.
Do not take away your mercy from us,
for the sake of Abraham, your beloved,
Isaac your servant, and Israel your holy one,
To whom you promised to multiply their offspring
like the stars of heaven,
or the sand on the shore of the sea.
For we are reduced, O Lord, beyond any other nation,
brought low everywhere in the world this day
because of our sins.
We have in our day no prince, prophet, or leader,
no burnt offering, sacrifice, oblation, or incense,
no place to offer first fruits, to find favor with you.
But with contrite heart and humble spirit
let us be received;
As though it were burnt offerings of rams and bullocks,
or thousands of fat lambs,
So let our sacrifice be in your presence today
as we follow you unreservedly;
for those who trust in you cannot be put to shame.
And now we follow you with our whole heart,
we fear you and we pray to you.
Do not let us be put to shame,
but deal with us in your kindness and great mercy.
Deliver us by your wonders,
and bring glory to your name, O Lord.”

http://catholic-resources.org/Art/Dore-NT.htm

Woodcut by by Gustave Doré (1832-1883)

Responsorial Psalm PS 25:4-5AB, 6 AND 7BC, 8-9

R. (6a) Remember your mercies, O Lord.
Your ways, O LORD, make known to me;
teach me your paths,
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my savior.
R. Remember your mercies, O Lord.
Remember that your compassion, O LORD,
and your kindness are from of old.
In your kindness remember me,
because of your goodness, O LORD.
R. Remember your mercies, O Lord.
Good and upright is the LORD;
thus he shows sinners the way.
He guides the humble to justice,
he teaches the humble his way.
R. Remember your mercies, O Lord.

Verse Before The Gospel JL 2:12-13

Even now, says the LORD,
return to me with your whole heart;
for I am gracious and merciful.

Gospel MT 18:21-35

Peter approached Jesus and asked him,
“Lord, if my brother sins against me,
how often must I forgive him?
As many as seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.
That is why the Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king
who decided to settle accounts with his servants.
When he began the accounting,
a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount.
Since he had no way of paying it back,
his master ordered him to be sold,
along with his wife, his children, and all his property,
in payment of the debt.
At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said,
‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.’
Moved with compassion the master of that servant
let him go and forgave him the loan.
When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants
who owed him a much smaller amount.
He seized him and started to choke him, demanding,
‘Pay back what you owe.’
Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him,
‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’
But he refused.
Instead, he had him put in prison
until he paid back the debt.
Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened,
they were deeply disturbed, and went to their master
and reported the whole affair.
His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant!
I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to.
Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant,
as I had pity on you?’
Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers
until he should pay back the whole debt.
So will my heavenly Father do to you,
unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.”

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Commentary on Matthew 18:21-35 from Living Space

This passage makes a crucial link between God forgiving us and our forgiving others. Peter asks how many times he should forgive another and offers what he regards as a very generous seven times. Jesus multiplies that by eleven. In other words our readiness to forgive should be without limit.

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The reason is that that is the way God himself acts towards us. Supposing we only had seven chances of being forgiven our sins in our lifetime? Supposing we were to confess our sins to a priest and were told: “Sorry, you have used up your quota.” Don’t we expect that every single time we genuinely repent we can renew our relationship with God?

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Jesus is simply telling us that, if we are to be his followers, we must act on the same basis with other people. To make his teaching clear he tells the parable of the two servants. The one with the huge debt is forgiven by the king. He then proceeds to throttle another servant who owes what is, in comparison, a paltry amount.
As indicated in the parable, there is no real proportion between the offence of our sins against an all-holy God and those made against us by others. And every time we say the Lord’s Prayer we commit ourselves to this: “Forgive us our sins JUST AS we forgive those who sin against us.” It is indeed a courageous prayer to make. Do we really mean what we say? Do we even think about it when we pray it?

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We could make a couple of extra comments:

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– This teaching does not mean turning a blind eye to a person who keeps on doing hurt to us. Forgiveness is more than just saying words; it involves the restoring of a broken relationship. It involves the healing of both sides. It may be necessary to make some proactive but totally non-violent response. Our main concern should not be ourselves but the well-being of the other person whose actions are really hurting him/her.

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– Forgiveness is not purely a unilateral act. It is only complete when there is reconciliation between the two parties. It is difficult for me fully to forgive when the other party remains totally unrepentant. Even God’s forgiveness cannot get through in such circumstances (remember the Prodigal Son whose healing only began when he came to his senses and returned to his Father). The injured party has to work on bringing about a healing of the wound of division between both sides. Only then is the forgiveness complete. That may take a long time.

Source http://livingspace.sacredspace.ie/l1033g/

Related:

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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NO MERCY WITHOUT MERCY

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ Daniel 3:25-43; Ps 24:4-9; Matthew 18:21-35]

We are all in need of mercy.  This is because we are all sinners.  We are weak and often succumb to temptations, or simply because we have a wounded nature.   We get angry.  We are impatient.  We are envious of those who are better than us because we feel insecure.  We cannot control our appetites because we greedy.  We steal and hoard because we are afraid that we do not have enough. Because of our biological drive for sexual union and intimacy we cannot resist the sin of lust. We are proud because we want independence, respect and control over others.

Therefore, being a sinner is a fact.  Other than our Lord Jesus Christ and our Blessed Mother, no one is exempted from falling into sin.  To think that we are without sin is to call God a liar.  St John in no uncertain terms said, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 Jn 1:8)  For this reason, we must be ever ready to forgive each other simply because we are fellow sinners.  Hence, when Peter asked the Lord,  “Lord, how often must I forgive my brother if he wrongs me? As often as seven times?” Jesus answered, “Not seven, I tell you, but seventy-seven times.”  In other words, seven being the complete number, it means “always”, without exception.

Forgiveness is something we cannot withhold from anyone.  Firstly, God forgives us completely. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  (1 Jn 1:9) God is portrayed as the master who forgave the servant who owed him ten thousand talents, which is probably 7 billion US dollars in today’s terms.  Of course this is an exaggeration.  But it underscores the point that God loves us and has given us so much and have forgiven all our sins.  He has paid the price for our sins with the blood of His only Son.  (cf 1 Jn 1:7) So what audacity do we have to ask for God’s forgiveness for our many sins when we cannot forgive the weaknesses of our fellowmen?

Secondly, forgiving others is the only way to receive the full forgiveness given to us by God.  Indeed, the Lord warns us, “And that is how my heavenly Father will deal with you unless you each forgive your brother from your heart.”   By not forgiving, we are in truth not forgiving ourselves.  Many of us fail to realize that healing can be complete only when we forgive those who have hurt us.  Being forgiven by God is not enough.  We are to be reconciled with God and with others.  This explains why many go for confession asking for forgiveness for their sins and yet do not find true and lasting healing because they have not yet released their own grievances against those who hurt them.  This was basically the sin of the merciless servant.  The master forgave him for his enormous debt but he was not able to forgive the little debt his fellow servant owed him.  As a consequence, when the master heard of he said, “You wicked servant, I cancelled all that debt of yours when you appealed to me. Were you not bound, then, to have pity on your fellow servant just as I had pity on you?”

How is it that we find it so difficult to forgive?  Firstly, it is because we are not fully aware of our own imperfections and sinfulness.  We tend to look at others who sinned against us.  Our eyes are always focused on others, judging them.  Again the Lord warns us, “For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.”  (Mt 7:2)  St James also warned us, “judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy; yet mercy triumphs over judgment.”  (Jms 2:13)  If “the master handed him over to the torturers till he should pay all his debt”, it was because it was necessary for him to learn about his own sins so that he could forgive the sins of others.  The servant needs time to reflect for himself his own sins and God’s abundant mercy.  Only then, could he truly forgive his fellow servant.

Indeed, the season of Lent is a time for us to reflect on our sins.  If we find ourselves lacking forgiveness and not able to let go of our hurts, we should begin reflecting on ourselves, our own sins.  We must keep the words of Jesus in mind. “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”  (Mt 7:3-5)  Coming to consciousness of our many sins will help us to be more realistic in judging others.  We will come to realize that we are actually even a worse sinner than them!

This was what the Israelites did in the first reading.  Azariah reflected on the outcome of the sins of Israel.  “Lord, now we are the least of all the nations, now we are despised throughout the world, today, because of our sins. We have at this time no leader, no prophet, no prince, no holocaust, no sacrifice, no oblation, no incense, no place where we can offer you the first-fruits and win your favour.”   Through the consequences of their sins, they came to realize their mistakes.   Instead of excusing themselves, he prayed, “may the contrite soul, the humbled spirit be as acceptable to you as holocausts of rams and bullocks, as thousands of fattened lambs: such let our sacrifice be to you today, and may it be your will that we follow you wholeheartedly, since those who put their trust in you will not be disappointed.”

We too must make time to think through our own life.  The real obstacle to healing is that not many of us spend sufficient time to reflect on our mistakes in life.  When we have a break down in relationship, we only think of assigning blame to the other party.  We are always excusing ourselves but not others.  We only see things from our perspective and not from the other party.  We need to put ourselves in the shoes of others if we are to see everything more objectively.  Unless we learn from our lessons, we cannot grow in self-awareness and be purified in love.  We need to be contrite for true healing to take place.  With the Israelites, we pray, “And now we put our whole heart into following you, into fearing you and seeking your face once more. Do not disappoint us; treat us gently, as you yourself are gentle and very merciful. Grant us deliverance worthy of your wonderful deeds, let your name win glory, Lord.”

We must also avoid applying double standards with respect to our sins and the sins of others.  Indeed, when it comes to our wrongs, we are ever ready to excuse ourselves and ask for leniency, like the unforgiving servant.  But when it comes to the sins of others, we would not make excuses for them.  We demand justice and punishment.  We have no mercy for them.  We are presumptuous and self-righteous. Indeed, those of us who use double standards in dishing out punishment to those who have done us wrong, but would forgive ourselves or our loved ones, show that we are partial in our judgements.  How many of us would be like the legendary Justice Bao who would render judgement equally to all, without regard for the rich or poor, the powerful or the ordinary man?

Even then, God is no Justice Bao!  He is not simply a just God but the God of mercy.  His justice is His mercy!  We can pray with confidence llike Azariah who say, “Oh! Do not abandon us forever, for the sake of your name; do not repudiate your covenant, do not withdraw your favour from us, for the sake of Abraham, your friend, of Isaac your servant, and of Israel your holy one, to whom you promised descendants as countless as the stars of heaven and as the grains of sand on the seashore.”   God, like the master, is ever ready to excuse us as Jesus did on the cross when He prayed to His Father, “Forgive them for they know not what they are doing!”  (Lk 23:34)  Truly, the psalmist says, “Remember your mercy, Lord, and the love you have shown from of old.  Do not remember the sins of my youth because of your goodness, O Lord.  The Lord is good and upright.  He shows the path to those who stray.  He guides the humble in the right path; he teaches his way to the poor.”

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh
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Prayer and Meditation for Monday, March 20, 2017 — Saint Joseph Shows Us How To Be Father, Husband, Worker

March 19, 2017

Solemnity of Saint Joseph, spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Lectionary: 543

On The Road to Bethlehem by Joseph Brickey

Reading 1  2 SM 7:4-5A, 12-14A, 16

The LORD spoke to Nathan and said:
“Go, tell my servant David,
‘When your time comes and you rest with your ancestors,
I will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins,
and I will make his kingdom firm.
It is he who shall build a house for my name.
And I will make his royal throne firm forever.
I will be a father to him,
and he shall be a son to me.
Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me;
your throne shall stand firm forever.'”

Responsorial Psalm PS 89:2-3, 4-5, 27 AND 29

R. (37) The son of David will live for ever.
The promises of the LORD I will sing forever;
through all generations my mouth shall proclaim your faithfulness,
For you have said, “My kindness is established forever”;
in heaven you have confirmed your faithfulness.
R. The son of David will live for ever.
“I have made a covenant with my chosen one,
I have sworn to David my servant:
Forever will I confirm your posterity
and establish your throne for all generations.”
R. The son of David will live for ever.
“He shall say of me, ‘You are my father,
my God, the Rock, my savior.’
Forever I will maintain my kindness toward him,
and my covenant with him stands firm.”
R. The son of David will live for ever.

Reading 2 ROM 4:13, 16-18, 22

Brothers and sisters:
It was not through the law
that the promise was made to Abraham and his descendants
that he would inherit the world,
but through the righteousness that comes from faith.
For this reason, it depends on faith,
so that it may be a gift,
and the promise may be guaranteed to all his descendants,
not to those who only adhere to the law
but to those who follow the faith of Abraham,
who is the father of all of us, as it is written,
I have made you father of many nations.
He is our father in the sight of God,
in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead
and calls into being what does not exist.
He believed, hoping against hope,
that he would become the father of many nations,
according to what was said, Thus shall your descendants be.
That is why it was credited to him as righteousness.

Verse Before The Gospel PS 84:5

Blessed are those who dwell in your house, O Lord;
they never cease to praise you.

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Joseph, Mary and Jesus — “Flight into Egypt”

Gospel MT 1:16, 18-21, 24A

Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary.
Of her was born Jesus who is called the Christ.

Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.
When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph,
but before they lived together,
she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.
Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man,
yet unwilling to expose her to shame,
decided to divorce her quietly.
Such was his intention when, behold,
the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said,
“Joseph, son of David,
do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.
For it is through the Holy Spirit
that this child has been conceived in her.
She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus,
because he will save his people from their sins.”
When Joseph awoke,
he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him
and took his wife into his home.

Or LK 2:41-51A

Each year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover,
and when he was twelve years old,
they went up according to festival custom.
After they had completed its days, as they were returning,
the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem,
but his parents did not know it.
Thinking that he was in the caravan,
they journeyed for a day
and looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances,
but not finding him,
they returned to Jerusalem to look for him.
After three days they found him in the temple,
sitting in the midst of the teachers,
listening to them and asking them questions,
and all who heard him were astounded
at his understanding and his answers.
When his parents saw him,
they were astonished,
and his mother said to him,
“Son, why have you done this to us?
Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.”
And he said to them,
“Why were you looking for me?
Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
But they did not understand what he said to them.
He went down with them and came to Nazareth,
and was obedient to them.

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We must remember that Jesus knew in detail the whole course his earthly life would take from his conception onwards (cf. note on Lk 2:52). This is shown by what he says in reply to his parents. Mary and Joseph realized that his reply contained a deeper meaning which they did not grasp. They grew to understand it as the life of their Child unfolded. Mary’s and Joseph’s faith and their reverencetowards the Child led them not to ask any further questions but to reflect on Jesus’ words and behavior in this instance, as they had done so on other occasions.

The Gospel sums up Jesus’ life in Nazareth in just three words: “erat subditus illis”, he was obedient to them. “Jesus obeys, and he obeys Joseph and Mary. God has come to the world to obey, and to obey creatures. Admittedly they were very perfect creatures — Holy Mary, our mother, greater than whom God alone; and that most chaste man Joseph. But they are only creatures, and yet Jesus, who is God, obeyed them. We have to love God so as to love his will and desire to respond to his calls. They come to us through the duties of our ordinary life — duties of state, profession, work, family, social life, our own and other people’s difficulties, friendship, eagerness to do what is right and just” (St. J. Escriva, “Christ Is Passing By”, 17).

Jesus lived like any other inhabitant of Nazareth, working at the same trade as St Joseph and earning his living by the sweat of his brow. “His hidden years are not without significance, nor were they simply a preparation for the years which were to come after–those of his public life. Since 1928 I have understood clearly that God wants our Lord’s whole life to be an example for Christians. I saw this with special reference to his hidden life, the years he spent working side by side with ordinary men. Our Lord wants many people to ratify their vocation during years of quiet, unspectacular living. Obeying God’s will always means leaving our selfishness behind, but there is no reason why it should entail cutting ourselves off from the normal life of ordinary people who share the same status, work and social position with us.

“I dream–and the dream has come true–of multitudes of God’s children, sanctifying themselves as ordinary citizens, sharing the ambitions and endeavors of their colleagues and friends. I want to shout to them about this divine truth: If you are there in the middle of ordinary life, it doesn’t mean Christ has forgotten about you or hasn’t called you. He has invited you to stay among the activities and concerns of the world. He wants you to know that your human vocation, your professsion, your talents, are not omitted from his divine plans. He has sanctified them and made them a most acceptable offering to his Father” (St. J. Escriva, “Christ Is Passing By”, 20).

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Source: “The Navarre Bible: Text and Commentaries”.  Biblical text from the Revised Standard Version and New Vulgate. Commentaries by members of the Faculty of Theology, University of Navarre, Spain.

See also:

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Author Devin Schadt wrote “Joseph’s Way — The Calling To Fatherly Greatness” to help all men with relationships, parenting and living as a Christian husband.

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Devin Schadt talks to us about how we can translate The Word — and the lessons of Jesus and the saints —  into the best kind of a Christian life; especially for fathers.
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Today’s scripture readings reminded me of this passage in Schadt’s book, “Joseph’s Way” — “Both Adam and the New Adam establish the pace for the dynamism of love, or absence thereof. The former established the paradigm of neglect, selfishness and lust while the latter set the paradigm of responsibility, of self giving, of complete self-donation.”
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How do we, each of us, become the rock? How do we keep the keys to heaven? (Matthew 16:18-19). How do we become “the cornerstone” even if we were once sinful and felt rejected? (Psalm 118:22). How do we “pour ourselves out” (Isaiah 58:10) and become people of self-donation?
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Over and over again, Christ urges us to “go the extra mile,” (Matthew 5:41) and He tells us that through faith and prayer, He will always meet our needs — giving us what we need when we need it to complete our mission for Him.
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John Francis Carey
Peace and Freedom
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God, I offer myself to Thee-
To build with me
and to do with me as Thou wilt.
Relieve me of the bondage of self,
that I may better do Thy will.
Take away my difficulties,
that victory over them may bear witness
to those I would help of Thy Power,
Thy Love, and Thy Way of life.
May I do Thy will always!
Thank you, God, Amen!

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Related:

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From 2016:

Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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FAITH IN THE UNFOLDING OF gOD’S PLAN IN OUR LIVES

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ 2 SM 7:4-5;12-14,16; ROM 4:13;16-18,22; MT 1:16,18-21,24 OR LK 2:41-51]

Many of us live in anxiety and fear of tomorrow.  We worry about our job, our health and our loved ones.  We worry about the education of our children, whether they will do well in their studies.  We are always worried that we do not have enough money to sustain us and our loved ones.  Such fears and concerns are normal and understandable.  But when we look at our life many years down the road, we would come to realize that most of these fears are quite unnecessary. In fact, our health would have been better, our lives more joyful and happier had we not been so anxious. Anxiety causes us to have high blood pressure and hypertension, and sometimes insomnia.  Worse still, it leads us to vices, like gambling, cheating and drinking.

This is because we trust only in ourselves.  Weaklings as we are, our lives are always fragile.  We cannot guarantee or predict what will happen tomorrow.  We are not in full control of our lives.  But we want to be in charge.  We do not want to live in faith.  Because we take things into our own hands instead of relying on God’s grace, we often end up messing the plans of God as Abraham did when he was impatient waiting for the promised son.  He did not live by faith and took Hagar a slave to conceive a son for him.  This lack of trust in God’s plan caused more problems for humanity later.  This is also true for ourselves.

What we need is to have faith in God’s fidelity to us. All the three readings unveil to us the marvellous and irrevocable plan of God. No matter what we human beings do to contradict the plan of God, His plan would unfold all the same.  God is faithful to His promises.  This is the centrality of today’s scripture readings so beautifully expressed by the psalmist.  “I will sing forever of your love, O Lord; through all ages my mouth will proclaim your truth.  Of this I am sure, that your love lasts forever, that your truth is firmly established as the heavens. I have made a covenant with my chosen one; I will establish your dynasty forever and set up your throne through all ages.”

We see first and foremost God’s fidelity to Abraham when He called him to move out of his comfort zone of Ur, the land of the Chaldeans, and to journey to an unknown land that God would show Him. There was no guarantee but it was just a promise that he would be “the father of many nations” and “his descendants will be as many as the stars.”  Based on that promise, he set out to a foreign land fraught with dangers from weather and enemies. Certainly, Abraham would have wondered many times when the promise of God would be fulfilled.  In truth, he did not see it in his life time completely, except for the birth of Isaac. “Though it seemed Abraham’s hope could not be fulfilled, he hoped and he believed, and through doing what he did became the father of many nations exactly as he had been promised.”  On hindsight, we see that God fulfilled His promises beyond our imagination.  He is the Father of faith and hence of many generations.  Through him, the great religions were born, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  We are all his children in faith.

In the first reading, we see the promise of a nation fulfilled. Then the Davidic dynasty was established.  Under the reign of King David, the nation flourished. All the Twelve tribes were united under one Israel.  But God went further in promising King David that his kingdom would last forever.  Through the prophet Nathan, God said, “I will preserve the offspring of your body after you and make his sovereignty secure. I will be a father to him and he a son to me. Your House and your sovereignty will always stand secure before me and your throne be established forever.”

When David heard these words, we can be sure that he did not fully grasp the meaning.  At most, he would have thought that his son and descendants would continue to perpetuate the dynasty he had started.  Even that is not realistic.  Did he really believe that his kingdom will last forever when history has shown that kingdoms rise and fall regardless how powerful and great they are?  Even great powers like Assyria, Babylon and Persia; Greece and Rome in the ancient days had fallen.  In our times, countries like Spain, Portugal and Britain were once powerful countries, but their influence is much less today.  All earthly kingdoms have come and gone.

Yet, we see once again the fidelity of God to His plan for humanity. God is faithful to His promises. What we cannot conceive, God could do. God had planned that His Son would come from the line of David and establish forever the sovereignty of God.  From hindsight, the prophecy of Nathan now makes sense, when God said to David, “It is he who shall build a house for my name, and I will make his royal throne secure forever. I will be a father to him and he a son to me.”  Although it was true that the king in the Old Testament was considered a son of God, yet the full understanding of the Fatherhood of God is realized only with the birth of Christ, His son. When Christ was on earth, His message was simply the kingdom of God.  Christ, by His death and resurrection, established the kingdom of the Father forever and ever.

What does it mean for us when we celebrate the feast of St Joseph? We must imitate him in his receptivity to the plan of God. The idea of him being a foster father was never in the mind of Joseph. All he wanted was a normal family.  He was certainly like the rest of us.  But God had other plans for him.  God said to him, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because she has conceived what is in her by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you must name him Jesus, because he is the one who is to save his people from their sins.”  When God revealed His plan to Joseph, he could have revolted or insisted on going his own way.  He could have said, “No, I want to have a normal married life.” But he was receptive and obedient to God’s will.

How many of us are receptive to the unexpected changes in our life and adapt accordingly?  Many of us are afraid of change.  We want the comfortable and secure life we are used to having.  Whether at work, at home or in church, we resist change. We want to do things the same old ways but at the same time, we give lip service to progress. When called upon the Lord to undertake certain tasks and responsibilities, we shy away because it means changing the routine and status quo.  How many of us would be like Joseph, who upon hearing the voice of God,  woke up and took the risk of accepting Mary to be his wife?   Many of us do not live a fruitful and meaningful life because we are like a frog that will not come out of our well.  We must learn to adapt and take risks in responding to the call of God and the unimaginable will happen.

Secondly, we are called to imitate the faith of Joseph in cooperating with God’s plan.  “When Joseph woke up he did what the angel of the Lord had told him to do.”. We can be sure that he could not understand how Mary could conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit.  It seemed too farfetched.  He would also have wondered what all these would entail.  But he trusted in the Lord. He believed that God would be faithful to His promise.  This is the same faith of Abraham.  We might never know exactly how the plan of God would evolve.  What is important is that like Joseph, our task is to cooperate with the plan of God.  We need to walk by faith, not by sight. God in His own time will bring about the maturity of His plan for us.  This was the case of Abraham as St Paul wrote, “I have made you the ancestor of many nations – Abraham is our father in the eyes of God, in whom he put his faith, and who brings the dead to life and calls into being what does not exist.”   We must do all we can whilst leaving God to determine how events will unfold.  Faith does not mean doing nothing; it requires us to cooperate with Him.

Thirdly, having faith in God means to live in hope. “Though it seemed Abraham’s hope could not be fulfilled, he hoped and he believed, and through doing what he did became the father of many nations exactly as he had been promised: Your descendants will be as many as the stars. This is the faith that was ‘considered as justifying him’.”   Without hope, we will give up.  But hope must be sustained by faith.  If we continue to live on in spite of the trials and difficulties facing us, it is because we have hope that we will be able to overcome them.

Conversely, only faith can help us to persevere in hope. This is what St Paul tells us. “The promise of inheriting the world was not made to Abraham and his descendants on account of any law but on account of the righteousness which consists in faith.” Truly, “what fulfils the promise depends on faith, so that it may be a free gift and be available to all of Abraham’s descendants, not only those who belong to the Law but also those who belong to the faith of Abraham who is the Father of all of us.” In this way, the promise of God to unfold His plans in our lives will also be realized in any one of us who has faith like our forefathers. Let us therefore walk by faith not by sight (2 Cor 5:7).

So today, as we celebrate the feast of St Joseph, let us in faith walk confidently in the ways of the Lord.  Let us not be too worried about the future.  We too pray with the psalmist, “You are my father, my God, the rock who saves me.”  And God assures us, “I will keep my love for him always; with him my covenant shall last.”  He is reliable and although things may not work out the way we think, we can be sure that it will work out in ways beyond our imagination.  With St Paul we say, “O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!”  (Rom 11:33)

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh

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From 2016:

Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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19 MARCH 2016, Saturday, St Joseph, Spouse of the B.V.M.
ST JOSEPH PATRON OF HOLY WORKS OF MERCY AND SPOUSE OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY
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SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ 2SAM 7:4-5, 12-14, 16; PS 88:2-5, 27,29; ROM 4:13, 16-18, 22; MATT 1:16, 18-21, 24 ]Today, we celebrate the solemnity of St Joseph, the spouse of our Blessed Mother Mary and the foster father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It must not have been easy for Joseph to assume this role.  St Joseph was a common man who desired what everyone hopes for in life.   He was an ordinary carpenter and he hoped to settle down and raise a family.  Everything seemed to be going well with St Joseph as Mary was betrothed to him in marriage. He must have thought that his life and future were all cut out for him.   Mary certainly must have been known to him and his relatives as a decent God-fearing girl. He would have looked forward to the day of his marriage. Yet, the truth is that man proposes, God disposes.  Our plans are not always His plans.  God had chosen Mary to be the mother of the Saviour and she would conceive Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit. This was told to Mary by the angel Gabriel.If we were Joseph and were told that our future wife is pregnant in the power of the Holy Spirit, how would we react and what would we do?  Would we believe her?  Would we think that she was either lying, gone berserk or even been unfaithful to us?  We would be totally lost and devastated at such news.   So we can imagine what St Joseph must have gone through when Mary broke the news to him.  It was too good to be true on one hand and too sad to be true on the other; but on both counts it went against logic.  No one would believe them, even if St Joseph were to give Mary the benefit of the doubt.   We can be sure that St Joseph went through days of torment and sleepless nights.  Utmost in the mind of St Joseph was how to explain this situation and secondarily how to protect Mary.

This predicament that St Joseph had to go through was not made easier because he was known to be a just man.  This is to say, he was God-fearing and law abiding.  He would not do anything against the Law of Moses.   He was obedient to the commandments.  He was a man of justice and of integrity.  He was known to be a diligent, hardworking and responsible worker.  So how could he be just and yet merciful to Mary?   This is the crux of today’s celebration when we contemplate on St Joseph as the patron of works of mercy and as spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

How can one be just and yet merciful?  Very often, justice and mercy seem to be in conflict.  Being merciful implies that we bend the laws whereas justice is based on rights and fairness, reward and punishment.   So there is always this tension within us of wanting to be just to all and yet at times compassion implies that we let an offender go free without being punished for the sufferings and wrongs he has caused to others. Truly, very often we are caught in such dilemma, more so when that person who commits an offence or sin is someone we know personally and love dearly.  On one hand, we are able to feel with that person and empathize with him or her.  On the other hand, justice must be done, especially in a case of a criminal offence.   Either way, we are paralyzed in our decision.  Either way, our heart will be broken.

How did St Joseph resolve this conundrum? The apparent conflict between justice and mercy can only be resolved by faith in God’s mercy and grace.  It is faith in the mercy and grace of God that saves us.  God saves us not because of our good works but because of His mercy.  Indeed, this is what the Church wants the world to know, that God is merciful and compassionate.  The jubilee year of mercy is to underscore the mercy of God and His forgiving love.  Whilst we must seek to be just, yet mercy is greater than justice, forgiveness better than revenge.  St Joseph in this sense was made to realize that we are justified by faith, not good works.  It is not good works or the law that saves us but the mercy of God.  Recognizing that God’s justice is His mercy, he was careful not to allow his fidelity to the laws to make him harsh.   Even though He initially thought that Mary could have been unfaithful, Joseph wanted to do what was just and yet merciful.  He did not take revenge, nor was he presumptuous in condemning Mary of a sin she did not commit and of which her pregnancy could not be explained.

This requires us to have faith in the transforming power of God’s grace.   Just as Mary accepted in faith the angel’s message, Joseph was asked to trust in God’s plan.  Although it was difficult to accept or to believe, he submitted to God’s plan in faith.  St Joseph was a man of deep faith.  He knew that God was faithful. Joseph knew from scripture that God is always with the just man.  He just knew that somehow God would come to his aid and see him through all his trials.  He also knew that God’s grace can transform sinners as well.  Hence, we must not give up on sinners.  There are no incorrigible sinners or hopeless people.   So when we have faith in His grace, we know He works both in just and unjust people.

This faith comes about through understanding in deep prayer and intimacy with God.  We know from scriptures that Joseph was a quiet man, but a man of deep faith and contemplation.  He was always attentive to the voice of God.  So God spoke to him in a dream and revealed to him His plan for our salvation.  Although his mind was made up, he was not wilful or too proud to listen.  So it was his contemplative spirit that enabled him to hear the Word of God so clearly that the gospel says, “When Joseph woke up he did what the angel of the Lord had told him to do.

The ability to accept the will of God is aided by a better understanding of the fulfillment of God’s plan.  When St Joseph was informed by the angel in a dream of how the plan of God was being fulfilled, he understood and gave his full cooperation to the plan of God.   Understanding the beauty of God’s plan and His divine providence enabled him to surrender even when things were not clear to him.  God has a plan for sinners too.  He makes all things good if they cooperate with His grace.  In other words, we are called to walk by faith, not by sight.  This does not mean that we be rash in believing what people say.  Walking by faith means to walk in trust, but it also requires us to be responsible in clarifying and verifying whether the voice we hear is truly the Word of God and His will.  This was what Mary did when asked to be the mother of the Lord.  Unlike Zechariah, she was not lacking faith but she needed the angel to help her confirm the message she had heard.  So too, if we were to take the leap of faith, it would come through prayer and study in the process of discernment.

Today as we celebrate the Solemnity of St Joseph we are asked to imitate His example of justice in mercy. Being just itself is an act of mercy.  As Christians we need to observe the very basic foundation of mercy which is justice. We need to be fair to our workers and those under us.  We must ensure that they are reasonably paid and we must be compassionate to them in times of sickness and family problems. Justice and impartiality in our actions and treatment of our workers or family members is the most basic justice.  We must be careful not to pass judgement on people based on hearsay without verification or investigation.  This is where we as Church must avoid gossiping, slandering, and false accusations.

But we must also go beyond justice to compassion and forgiveness.  In the Church we are all sinners.  We must be ready to forgive and let go.  At times we do not understand, but like St Joseph, we must hand over judgment to God and not take it upon ourselves.  St Joseph could not explain the situation, but not for once did he judge Mary or make any accusation against her.  He just noted the fact that she was indeed pregnant, but as to who caused the pregnancy, he made no judgment.  All he wanted to do was to see how to resolve this matter without scandal and without causing hurt to anyone.  That is why when we speak of compassion, this does not mean that we are exempted from doing the right thing.  We do what is permitted within the laws and yet, at the same time, we must be careful not to judge the intentions of the heart.  We must leave judgment and vengeance to the Lord.   With Jesus, we say, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they were doing.”

This presupposes we have contemplated on God’s mercy.  Unless we are first and foremost recipients of God’s mercy, we cannot show mercy to others.  His mercy is only given to those in need of His mercy.  Proud and self-righteous people do not need mercy because they trust only in themselves and their good works.   To be like St Joseph who is just and merciful, we must be aware of our sins and failures.   If there is a lack of contrition and self-awareness on our part, we will not be able to receive or be moved by His mercy.  Reflection on one’s misery and wretchedness should make us realize that we are not in a position to judge others because there is a plank in our eyes.  We should instead see our sins in our fellowmen so that their sins would evoke our gratitude for God’s mercy and sorrow for them instead of anger and condemnation.

But being sorry for our sins is not yet redemption as we will fall into despair like St Peter or, worse still, into scrupulosity.  Such fear of God will not make us holy but only robs the joy of the gospel from our lives.  If there is no joy in us we have nothing to share with others.  A further consideration of God’s patience and mercy for us is critical to transform us to be like St Joseph – just and yet not judgmental; kind and merciful towards others.  Only faith in His unconditional love and mercy can heal our wounds and assuage our fears.  Without experiencing mercy from God either for our sins or remembering those times when He came to our aid in hopeless and difficult situations, we will never be able to appreciate the power and mercy of God; and as a result lack power to proclaim and share His mercy with others.

Beyond forgiveness and compassion for the sins and weaknesses of our brothers and sisters, we mustalso reach out to those in need, in distress and in pain.  This is what we are invited to do today if we love St Joseph who is the protector of our Blessed Mother, defender of widows and orphans and the dying.  Like St Joseph, we must be ready to assist and to help the universal Church.  We are called to help the People of God and the world.  We must come to the aid of widows, orphans and those in trouble.  St Joseph could be all these to us only because he had gone through all these pains in his life and identified with those who were and had been in such situations.  We too can be like St Joseph, a man of mercy and compassion, provided we are also able to identify with the sufferings and pains of our fellowmen and most of all, with the heart of God.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh